Claflin's 'new normal': What it looks like
By: THALIA BUTTS
Apr 30, 2020
An academic year that began in the fall with new president Dr. Dwaun J. Warmack addressing the Matriculation convocation became very different in the spring when Claflin went to online-only classes amid the coronavirus emergency. (Special to The Panther)
As we all are witnessing a global pandemic with our own eyes, we’ve had to consider what our “new normal” will look like.
For some, it’s creating new ways to balance your life all inside your home, for others it’s the journey of becoming renowned chefs in their kitchens. But for Claflin University, it currently is hoping for the best, preparing for the worst and adapting to preserve and share the Claflin experience in new ways.
One of those ways was actually not so new for the Claflin community. Although most of the classes students take are in-person, Claflin has been offering online courses for five years and is no stranger to facilitating top-tier virtual education.
“Our top priority has been and remains to be the safety, security and well-being of our students, faculty, staff, and all extensions of this university,” President Dwaun J. Warmack said in a virtual press conference with The Panther.
“I take my hat off to the faculty for their ability to be agile enough to make that transition and special thanks to the 600 of our students that participated in the training module for the online course transition.”
The students’ voices were consistently involved in developing this new normal. Student Government Association President Matthew Coverson-Springs impressed Warmack with his involvement and maturity during these unprecedented times for the university.
“Matthew Coverson-Springs has been instrumental in being a student advocate and a student voice throughout this process. He’s been at the table and always an advocate for the students,” Warmack said.
“In my 22 years in higher education, I’ve never seen a student government president as engaged, focused and student-centered as Matt has been throughout this process. His questions are very intentional and targeted. He was the initial person that brought up the student relief fund. His foresight has been tremendous.”
Claflin University’s new normal, which isn’t entirely new, includes supporting students in need. The Claflin COVID-19 Emergency Student Relief Fund, which is still accepting donations, was started to provide Claflin students with what they needed to continue their education through the end of the semester.
“We thought it was important that we could provide some kind of relief. This is a major budget crisis for us as well. How do we ensure that our students still have a Claflin experience and help them transition as seamlessly as possible? So we came up with the student relief fund. In the first 10 minutes, we had about 30 students and on the first day we had about 140 requests. It runs everywhere from technology needs to housing and food needs,” Warmack said.
“We were intentional about identifying a team of individuals to review the requests. There are multiple constituents from different areas of the campus taking a critical look at the requests and seeing how we can support students.”
Fiscally, Claflin’s new normal is not as drastic as some other institutions’ might be. While institutions of all sizes and ages are working to stay afloat through the pandemic, Warmack is optimistic but realistic about the fiscal future of the university.
“We have been very fiscally conservative historically. We did some budget modifications when I first arrived that allowed us not to be in dire straits right now like other institutions. We are projecting to fare well through this fiscal year. I don’t want to lay off anyone or furlough anyone, so we’re implementing every strategy to tighten up our bootstraps. Everything is on a budget freeze right now,” Warmack said.
“A large percentage of our operating budget for summer revenue comes from summer camps and programs. If we can’t get that revenue, that changes the narrative for us significantly. We’re preparing for the best and for the worst. It’s too early to tell the true fiscal impact.”
He also contributes Claflin’s resiliency to the historic reality of the underfunding of HBCUs.
“HBCUs, since our existence, have had to fight, do more with less, and be creative and innovative to balance budgets. This may be new for a lot of institutions, but we’ve had to do this forever. If you’re historically used to having an abundance of resources and now you have a time when you have to tighten your belt, it may be challenging. Since our historic founding, we’ve had to be agile and able to adjust.”
Claflin’s new normal also involves keeping the Claflin community engaged even while we are apart.
“We’re communicating with the class of 2024. We’re preparing to keep those students engaged. It’s not just class of 2024, we’re working on ways to keep current students engaged as well.”