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Westminster president holds student forum to gauge concerns around COVID-19

President Beth Dobkin and Provost Debbie Tahmassebi address the COVID-19 pandemic in an online student forum April 14. The forum was held for students to directly ask questions and express concerns surrounding the college’s response to the pandemic. (Lewis Figun Westbrook)

Westminster College President Beth Dobkin addressed COVID-19 concerns Tuesday through an open student forum on Microsoft Teams.

Dobkin, along with other staff, discussed topics related to COVID-19 with undergraduate and graduate students. Among the topics discussed were the college’s plans for managing courses and timelines for returning to normal campus operations. 

Students voiced their concerns about the level of preparation for long-term online learning. Dobkin said with the help of Canvas and the teachers, Westminster was much more prepared than other colleges of a similar size. 

Jack Jorgenson, a junior aviation major, voiced his concerns about getting the credits required for graduation since flight operations have been canceled. 

“A lot of our classes that are now virtual don’t count towards our FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] credits and towards the training we’re required to be doing,” Jorgenson said. 

Aviation students falling behind becomes more problematic as the Spring 2021 deadline for their graduation approaches.

Dobkin and Provost Debbie Tahmassebi said they are working to see what they can do in terms of FAA restrictions for flying since the situation is rapidly shifting with the global pandemic. 

President Dobkin is hopeful classes can go back to normal come the Fall semester, referring to the advancements we’ve seen in medical technology to test for COVID-19.  

“It starts to become unhealthy, as well, to not be able to engage in the activities that make us human,” Dobkin said. “I’m really hopeful that the Fall will be a great Fall.”

A decision regarding when campus life will return to normal has not been made in order to avoid closing campus for the summer when it might be able to open sooner, according to Provost Tahmassebi. 

Westminster, at this point, does not plan on hiring freezes for the fall, according to President Dobkin.

“It goes back to that idea of scale and size,” Dobkin said. “When you’re in an organization like Westminster most of the jobs are pretty unique. A hiring freeze means you aren’t going to hire anyone for any reason and that doesn’t usually make sense for an institution like Westminster.”

Dobkin said the student forums will be exploring the idea to have more frequent student forums to see where students are at in the process. She also encourages all students to reach out to her office with any questions or concerns.

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Riley Levine is a fourth-year student at Westminster College majoring in communication with a minor in art. Riley is interested in the visual arts and hopes to find a career in film or graphic design. In his free time, Riley enjoys skiing, hiking and camping with friends and family.

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