Senate Special Meeting-Presidential Town Hall, May 12, 2020: Its Origins and Goals

Watch the TownHall

By Professor Ernest Ialongo, Chair of the Hostos College-Wide Senate
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent lockdown of the college, the college was faced with multiple, immediate emergencies—putting our classes online, finding computers and Wi-Fi for our students, sanitizing and securing the college, and transferring virtually all administrative work online. The Senate Executive Committee [SEC] and the Senate’s other standing committees quickly moved their work online in order to continue the business of the college. The March Senate meeting could not be held because of the immediate pivot to remote work, but the Senate reconvened on April 23 on Zoom and addressed all the items on its agenda, curricular and otherwise.
Once the immediate need of moving governance online was addressed, the SEC recognized that there were a host of items that needed attending as the college adapted to distance education and remote administrative work. How would the College-Wide Personnel and Budget Committee conduct its meetings to approve promotions, re-appointments, and sabbaticals? How would staff be evaluated and supported while working from home? How would student government elections be conducted? What mental health support was being offered to the college community? As such, the SEC put together a letter to President Gómez addressing these and a variety of other issues. 
The result was the first of a series of weekly meetings between the President and the SEC to discuss matters pertinent to college business during the crisis. The one consistent theme that emerged from these discussions was the importance of more consistent and transparent communication to the college community to explain how the administration was dealing with this new era in its history. And thus, was born the idea of a Presidential Town Hall on May 12 under the auspices of a Senate Special Meeting. 
The goal was to have a structured format in which questions would be answered by the President directly in a live meeting via Zoom. Questions were collected by the SEC from various members of the college community, and many more were submitted anonymously via an online survey. The day before the event, the President was informed of the broad categories of questions that were submitted and was given a sampling from each category. The intent was to have  substantive and informed dialogue of such issues, which included questions on the budget, the college’s enrollment strategies for the fall, pedagogical issues related to online education, how faculty, students, and staff are being supported in this period of remote work and study, the plans for reopening the college, and finally how the consultative process with the college community could be improved as the college made its way through the coming months leading up to the reopening. The Town Hall had at its maximum roughly 240 attendees, and lasted 2 hours and 15 minutes. The event was recorded, and the recording was shared with the college community. 
The SEC’s goal was to provide a medium of communication for the college community as we made our way through ever-changing and frequently challenging times. It was also a further step in strengthening shared governance at the college. As the institution that represents the entire college, the Senate brought together its constituents to engage in dialog for the betterment of our college. We did not expect to have every question answered, or every problem resolved. But we hoped to encourage discussion of these problems so that solutions would be arrived at collectively—so that we may emerge from this crisis as strong and as united as we can. The work goes on.