Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the community of Buena Vista University had received the Board of Trustees’ initiative to conduct a program evaluation that would result in potential program and faculty cuts. Since then, BVU, like many other colleges and universities have had to navigate resuming on-campus classes this fall in the midst of a pandemic. A unique challenge was presented when Dr. Josh Merchant abruptly resigned from his role as university president in early May. Provost Dr. Brian Lenzmeier was appointed interim president and has been at the helm ever since.
With several questions regarding the current state of BVU, Interim President Lenzmeier provided insight about his new role and what this year has in store for the university.
BVU’s next steps in hiring President and Provost
With Dr. Lenzmeier serving as interim president, his provost role has now been placed in a temporary position held by Kim Linduska, a retired executive level administrator from Des Moines Area Community College. These are two of the highest and most critical positions on campus. According to Lenzmeier, it is uncertain the university’s future steps of hiring a president and or provost. It all depends on the Board of Trustees’ decision when they meet next month.
He did admit that he is open to continue serving as president, dependent upon the board’s decision.
“I’ll just say, I’m enjoying the job right now and I told the Board that I would serve until they didn’t want me to serve, whatever that means,“ Lenzmeier said.
“I may decide in October, you know, ‘I really don’t want to do this beyond this year.’ In which case, I’ll probably go back into the Provost role and then we’ll be searching for a president.”
BVU’s upcoming accreditation bid
Coming up this spring, Buena Vista is up for its annual 10-year reaccreditation by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). The Higher Learning Commission is a regional accrediting body for higher education. Director of Assessment Jamii Claiborne explains the purpose of HLC and university accreditation.
“Accreditors do periodic checks to ensure that colleges and universities are up to established quality standards. For BVU, this “check” or reaccreditation period is every 10 years. We were last accredited in academic year 2010-11 and are therefore up for review and reaccreditation this year,” said Claiborne.
A comprehensive evaluation is conducted concerning the university’s performance outlined through five categories: actions reflecting its mission and vision, finances, quality of faculty and staff, ethical and responsible conduct, evaluation of learning and performance, and institutional resources. The peer-reviewed accreditation provides institutions eligibility for financial aid disbursement as well as identifies areas of improvement.
In light of Merchant’s surprising brisk exit, is there a possibility that BVU’s bid for reaccreditation could be damaged?
Lenzmeier is adamant that it does not impact our reaccreditation bid. Despite having two important offices holding interim placements, Lenzmeier is confident that BVU is in good shape heading into the spring. Besides his previous experience as the school’s liaison to the HLC, Lenzmeier explains how interim provost Linduska has 20 years of experience as a peer reviewer for the Higher Learning Commission. With BV’s longstanding relationship with HLC and experienced administration, Lenzmeier says,
“So [Linduska]’s got 20 years’ experience as a peer reviewer. I’ve become a peer reviewer as well and have been doing reviews for HLC, so I’m actually feeling better having her in my former role. And now, you know, the president has experience reviewing for HLC. I think we’re actually in a better place than we were six months ago.”
Although not confirmed by HLC, the current pandemic will most likely have an effect on how the HLC’s assessment will take place in March as virtual visits come into play to reduce outside exposure.
The academic deans’ role during the pandemic
Over the summer, the deans of each school picked up duties to cover the responsibilities of provost. Dr. Dixee Bartholomew-Feis, Dean of the School of Liberal Arts, provides detail regarding prep prior to the return of students and fall classes starting such as room layouts and rescheduling classes.
“All of the academic worked on [drafting] the academic calendar together. Thinking about classroom spaces, how we make those safe, how we distance. And again, we had that pushed to a team of people to literally take tape measures into rooms and remove chairs and think about how many people fit. This room used to hold 24 [people]. Does it anymore? No,” Barholomew-Feis explained.
The deans carried out provost responsibilities during the summer, but once classes started, they were concerned that they could no longer complete those tasks as well as their duties in their classrooms and connecting with students.
“When Dr.Lenzmeier moved to the interim president, the academic deans spoke with him and decided that given all the transition that was going on, that what we would try to do for the summer was basically cut his job in pieces, and that we would each do a portion of the work that would’ve fallen on the Provost’s plate,” Bartholomew-Feis said.
COVID-19 concerns for the BV community
Between the first and second week of classes, BVU saw an increase in positive cases on campus. The weekly update email on Friday, Sept. 11th informed students that the community would be updated on coronavirus cases every Tuesday and Friday, a change from previous weeks when it was only weekly. This goes against other universities in the state who publish their COVID-19 statistics every day. Lenzmeier explains the decision to publish weekly updates rather than daily updates.
When asked what keeps him up at night, Lenzmeier replied with the concern of the mental health and safety of students and employees.