Goodson urges TCC to stay the course in mission for equity

President also discusses pandemic and plan to reopen

Dr. Leigh Goodson, president of Tulsa Community College, said the death of George Floyd and the ensuing outcry for racial justice give greater urgency to TCC’s mission to promote learning equity for all students.

In a lengthy interview June 3 with the TCC Connection, Goodson expressed solidarity with students and employees who choose to peacefully protest and speak out against injustice.

“Peaceful protest is absolutely something that I would support…. I think it’s exercising free speech in the United States of America and that’s something that consistently sets us apart from other nations. It’s also really important in terms of forming public opinion. Like I said at the beginning, it is absolutely deplorable what happened to George Floyd, and that needs to be heard,” Goodson said.

She was asked her personal reaction to the May 25 death of Floyd during his arrest by Minneapolis police.

“It makes me very sad,” she said. “I think it’s painful to know that there are people who think it’s okay to do that, because there’s nothing okay about what happened.”

As president of TCC, what message would she share to the college community?

“It is not good enough to just not be a racist. You have to be against racism, and you have to be willing to say that actions like that are not okay,” Goodson said, adding these words were shared by Eunice Tarver, provost at Northeast Campus and assistant vice president for Diversity and Inclusion, and are drawn from the work of award-winning scholar Ibram X. Kendi.

Goodson urged the TCC community to stay the course in its mission of inclusion and equity, and she recounted its five tenets: “You belong here. Everyone can learn. Community is our middle name. Quality education is affordable. Excellence is our culture.”

She added, “We play an incredibly important part in changing the culture of our nation and more specifically our community, through equity in student success, making sure that no matter where you come from, or what home you go home to, you have the same opportunity to succeed at Tulsa Community College, in closing the achievement gap, and making education accessible, not just accessible but attainable for every population. Putting individuals in a position to find a family-sustaining wage is the way to create equity.”

TCC will offer programs and forums in the weeks ahead in response to the larger social movements underway nationally, Goodson said. Several forums are being promoted through TCC’s marketing email The Daily. The first Zoom forum was held June 4 on the topic of policing.

To unite the community in study, the TCC Common Book for 2020-21 will be “Tulsa 1921: Reporting a Massacre,” a chronicle of news accounts of the Tulsa Race Massacre.

“I also want to really focus our energy, not only on the grieving and healing part, but also moving forward with the equity agenda. Every time there’s a tragedy … it moves our sense of urgency forward. It makes the equity work we’re doing, in terms of building processes and courses that are accessible to everybody and achievable, all that more important.”

Goodson addressed other high-profile topics during her interview June 3, particularly the COVID-19 pandemic and the recently announced Return to Campus Plan. The plan outlines requirements for students, employees and visitors to TCC campuses, including face coverings, temperature checks and physical distancing.

Cutline: TCC President Leigh Goodson, seen speaking during a 2019 event, urged the TCC community to persevere in its mission to provide learning equity for all students in response to the current outcry for racial justice in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
Photo Credit: courtesy of TCC

Here are some highlights from the interview, which have been edited for brevity and readability:

What’s life been like for a college president during this pandemic experience?

Remarkably intense. As we started this, we immediately went to 100% triage mode… There’s really three phases of this process. There’s triage, which we’ve been in for a while now. There’s the stabilization piece. ‘Okay, we may reopen campuses, here’s how we will reopen campuses.’ And then there’s the transformation piece. We are now going to have to reimagine everything we do, how we do it, how do we continue to be the premier educational resource that people in Tulsa County and surrounding counties need in order to be educated in a way to have a family sustaining wage? I would say we’re just coming off the triage portion of this process, and we’re in stabilization.

Thoughts on TCC’s progress bridging the digital divide during COVID-19…

I think ultimately, we’ve created more access. I think the digital divide has been our greatest barrier. We were able to really see that in action through this crisis, and it has elevated the urgency of solving that problem. We’ve removed some of those barriers. We have a ways to go. But I was excited that we opened some computer labs (June 1). That was really positive. I also think, for the working student … we’ve made this more accessible for them.

At the time we made the pivot to online learning, there was a survey that you sent out about technology. What was the big takeaway from that?

The big takeaway was for me, fortunately, most of our students have access to both the device and to wireless internet. (The problem) is the reliability of it. For instance, during COVID some people plan on Starbucks as their Wi-Fi, or our library as their Wi-Fi. During COVID, everything was closed. And so that becomes an unreliable source that cannot be consistent. I think also it was not only those free resources were unable to be available during COVID, but also everybody in the house was using Wi-Fi. So, even the President of Tulsa Community College, she’s in her house. She had a college student, a high school student, and a spouse that were all working from home. And so ours crashed more than once. Well, imagine if that’s happening all over the city … So how do we make sure everybody has that kind of access?

Now that we’ve finished up the spring semester having pivoted to distant learning, what have you heard from students in reaction to that?

The spring was clunky for students and for faculty. And that’s part of why we made the decision about fall early. Because we wanted to give everybody the opportunity to prepare. We wanted to give faculty the longest lead possible to be prepared for a different modality than what they usually use for the delivery of their courses.

Can you see yet how enrollment has been affected? How does summer compare for 2020 versus last year?

We’re up for the summer. I think by the time it’s all counted, we’ll be up about 8 percent. Fall is hard to say because we don’t have any date-to-date comparisons. We didn’t start enrolling people until later for the fall. So, if you looked at our date-to-date comparison now, you would be concerned but we believe we’re closing the gap. Nationally, colleges are projecting being between seven and 10 percent down.

What do you attribute that to?

I think people are fatigued from online learning. And then, they might take a year off. But I think it’s a great opportunity for students. They can stay right here in Tulsa. They can live at home, they can save some money. TCC is very affordable.

In terms of the flex schedule, what is the rationale behind offering four modalities (online, online live, blended, and in-person)? Why not just be entirely online?

Let me answer the last question first. It’s about the digital divide. Again, we know that many of our students do not have access to their own computers and their own reliable wireless Internet. We also know that they may not be as comfortable with technology. So we knew we needed to offer some sections in person, so those will be delivered in larger rooms spread apart, wearing masks, and having that person-to-person access to the faculty member. … Secondly, for the blended courses, we also know that some of our science labs really need to be taught in person to achieve that required competency.

What assurance can you give students who might feel like they’re not necessarily getting their same money’s worth as if we hadn’t had this happen to this.

Well, I would say you’re still getting the highly qualified faculty members teaching the courses that they were teaching them before this happened. They’re still sharing their expertise and their depth of knowledge that they were sharing before this happened. For most of the courses, you have direct contact with the faculty member, either through a blended in-person or online live environment. I would also say you’ve got actually easier access in some cases. I know some faculty are conducting their office hours with Zoom.

Who was instrumental in developing the Return to Campus plan, and what guidance did you use?

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidance, and we also studied multiple other schools and universities that were doing this across the state and across the nation. Our Office of Risk Management and our chief operating officer and our general counsel are the ones that were in charge of it. However, we had what was called a shared leadership process through that. We consulted with faculty and staff, and we asked that Student Affairs be involved in that, so they can talk to us about what students would be comfortable with, as well.

What can you tell us about this new normal and what life will be like when we do return on campus.

There will not be as many people on campus because only 20 percent of our courses will be taught in person. Usually, we teach 75 percent of our courses in person. Everybody will be watching how COVID is behaving in terms of statistics within our community. We will either strengthen or retreat from how rigid our protocols are based on what’s going on in the community — not based on what others are doing, but based on the CDC guidance and the statistical prevalence of COVID in Tulsa County.

Your email (June 2) said that a majority of campus services will be open sometime in July. What all does that include? Enrollment, advising, libraries, that kind of thing?

All of those core services will be open at some point in July. Our goal is to have a soft launch in July, so that we’re ready for the fall semester. … One interesting thing about COVID and the triage and planning that goes around it, is things do change.

What do you want students, employees and visitors to bear in mind with all of this?

I think to just have some patience. This is a new world that we will exist in for a period of time. Some of the changes that we will experience may stick with us forever. Many will be temporary. Just have patience, and be respectful of each other. We’ve all heard that wearing a mask is not for your own protection. It’s for everybody around you.