Art By Leah Bae
Since March 2020, Pepperdine University has communicated in an unclear manner regarding COVID-19 updates, staffing changes, International Program updates and the future of the University. In a remote setting, it is vital for the University to provide transparent and timely information.
This is not a new conversation in the Pepperdine community, and the Graphic staff has addressed the issue before. With all communication being conducted online, we are bringing it to the table again, to call for clear, timely communication.
The Need for Timely Communication
The University delivering important updates sporadically puts students in a difficult position when it comes to planning for the upcoming semester. The University should consider the effect these changes have on students when deciding when to release information.
In a July 22 email to the Pepperdine community, President Jim Gash announced that the University would conduct the fall 2020 semester online, less than a month before the start of the semester. This decision left students with little time to plan alternative living arrangements.
So far, the University and Housing and Residence Life plan for the fall 2021 semester is to be in person. While these plans provide hope, the University should remain realistic.
In the event of continued closure, or partial reopening, the University should release the announcement as soon as possible before the fall semester to give students the time to make financial and academic decisions accordingly.
Students who rely on communication from Pepperdine to make financial decisions include those who may want to sign apartment leases or find other living accommodations for the upcoming academic year.
In addition, in an April 12 email to the Pepperdine community, Dean Michael Feltner announced that the University would not give a final decision on the status of commencement until April 26, giving students less than a month to plan. The longer the University waits to announce a decision, the harder it will be for students to make accommodations to travel to Malibu.
The Need for Clear Communication
Not only does the University need to emphasize providing prompt communication, but also practice intentional communication.
On Feb. 6, the University laid off its two full-time Convocation employees, Gus Peterson and Annelise Graf, without an explanation or clear information regarding the future of Spiritual Life at Pepperdine. At this point, students do not know what the Convocation requirements will be next year.
When attending a University known for its Christian culture and religious life, students deserve to know what the religious aspect of the school will look like, rather than suddenly hearing that the full-time staff members in the Convocation office are no longer employed by the University without further information.
In addition, Pepperdine announced the closure of the Shanghai international program in a March 10 email to the Pepperdine community. The reasoning behind the closure was unclear and left many students upset.
Furthermore, the IP Office is encouraging students who aspire to participate in study abroad programs to make financial and academic plans for the upcoming year.
Instead of acting as if there will be a traditional study abroad experience, the University should be realistic about challenges for the upcoming year so students will know whether it is worth their time and money to even go abroad.
It is also important for the University to have active communication regarding the number of COVID-19 cases within the Pepperdine community. Within the past month, there was a COVID-19 outbreak among athletes on campus, forcing four sports teams to shut down. The University did not communicate that with the whole community. Instead, President Gash announced in an April 7 President’s Briefing that the University was proud to partially reopen campus after managing cases well.
“This is the final stretch of a very long race we’ve been running together, but the finish line is near,” Gash said.
Not only does this imply a better condition of campus than reality, but it is also grossly insensitive to the struggles of the Cross Country/Track team after the recent termination of their coach.
On April 11, HRL announced in an email to students living in the Drescher Campus Apartments that 65 residents had to move out of their apartments and to first-year housing due to an outbreak on campus. Again, this information was not communicated with the whole Pepperdine community.
From the University’s social media, the Malibu campus looks to be open, causing students and faculty to likely feel comfortable visiting campus for classes or to use the facilities, without knowing that COVID-19 is spreading within the community.
The University should provide clear, weekly updates to faculty and students in an email about where outbreaks are happening and what the University is doing to address the situation. In addition, Pepperdine should provide clear data for students and faculty to assess before assuming that the campus is safe and ready to visit.
It can be tempting to say “the pandemic is almost over,” however, COVID-19 has no time stamp. There are still people struggling financially, emotionally, physically and mentally. While the optimism is appreciated, it also gets students’ hopes up, only to be let down one more time. Improved communication from the University about honest, upfront updates regarding campus life at Pepperdine would help mitigate disappointment and allow students to make better judgments when considering life on campus.
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