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Pepperdine School of Public Policy Maximum Flexibility Strategy - Fall 2020


On Friday, May 15, President Gash announced Pepperdine University’s plans for fall classes. Dubbed the “Pepperdine Restoration Plan,” the outline includes a number of academic and logistical elements, built around the intention of hosting on-ground or in-person classes for the fall semester. For more than a month, the staff and faculty at SPP have been considering a variety of options for teaching this fall. Now that the University-wide “Restoration Plan” has been declared, we can integrate our existing game plan with Pepperdine’s.

American president and general Dwight David Eisenhower once said, “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything,” so I would note here at the start that while our strategy for the fall has been debated and considered, it is still open to revision given the prospect of changing events related to the pandemic. President Gash’s differentiation between “plans and decisions” is an extremely helpful way to frame our objectives for the fall. While what is described here may need to adjust in response to the pandemic in the months ahead, the time is right to lay out our own intentions in order to help you prepare for what will be a historic semester at the School of Public Policy.

Aligning with the Restoration Plan, SPP’s outline for the fall focuses on the safety of you, our students. We are calling it our “Maximum Flexibility Strategy,” and it is intended to give you the maximum number of choices as you decide what is best for you and your family as the COVID-19 crisis plays out.

Campus Operations Health and Safety Planning 

Pepperdine University affirms that each student is the heart of the educational enterprise, and this is true for each of our five schools. While the specifics of the University’s plans to make our learning and living spaces as safe as possible are still being finalized, over the last month, SPP has evaluated the capacity of each of our classrooms under a six-foot social distancing mandate. Common areas, libraries, and living areas are also being assessed for their compliance with these regulations. As you can imagine, if social distancing remains in place for the fall, the capacity of our classrooms, dorms, and common areas will drop significantly. Our fall semester class schedule must accommodate this possibility.

I invite you to read the “Restoration Plan” announcement to learn more about the University’s program for “testing/tracing/treating/cleaning,” which SPP will be a part of. These plans are being developed by University leadership in consultation with public health experts and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. Allow me to quote extensively here from that part of the plan:

While an extensive set of health and safety protocols will be provided to the entire community in advance of the fall semester, the key elements of these health and safety protocols for all campuses are briefly enumerated below. More details can be found in the Pepperdine Restoration Plan. 

Test. Pepperdine will implement an effective testing strategy consistent with health agency guidance and best infection control and prevention practices, which includes securing sufficient testing materials to implement this strategy and respond to changing circumstances.

Treat. Treatment efforts will ensure Pepperdine maintains the ability to address typical health concerns as well as COVID-19 cases. The Student Health Center is being enhanced through the addition of more medical professionals and the procurement of extra medical supplies, including therapeutics and vaccines as they become available.  The Counseling Center will provide services for students experiencing COVID-related anxieties and other mental health concerns.

Trace. Pepperdine’s comprehensive contact tracing program will utilize an expansive, trained response team and technology best suited for our campuses.

Separate. Reduced class sizes, face coverings, grab-and-go dining, and the elimination of large gatherings are some of the modifications that characterize Pepperdine’s readiness for a safe, on-campus experience. Additionally, sufficient space for isolation and quarantine needs is being identified.

Operate. Academic delivery, housing practices, retail operations, student life, and campus infrastructure will be modified to ensure health, safety, and excellence in this adapted environment. This includes an expanded use of classroom technology, contactless transactions, athletic team and fine arts infection control plans, and limitations on crowds consistent with the guidance of public health officials.

Clean. Enhanced cleaning protocols will be executed on Pepperdine’s campuses, addressing increased frequency of cleaning, a focus on high-touch areas, and the use of CDC-recommended cleaning agents and infection control practices. Hand sanitizer stations will be widely available across campus.

The SPP “Maximum Flexibility Strategy”

Over the last several months, we have all learned a lot about online education. We included a question about your experiences as students in the Spring 2020 teacher evaluations, and we have considered this feedback. This June SPP was preparing to offer our annual “DC Policy Scholars” class at Pepperdine’s Washington, DC campus, but two weeks ago, the decision was made to transition that three-unit class to online. It marks SPP’s first class to be held fully online. This will be followed by the July class, which will also be fully online due to the pandemic. 

As we deliberate over how we will offer fall semester classes, we have asked SPP faculty and staff to consider several other important questions: 

  1. How do we keep our students, faculty, and staff safe?
  2. How do we engage and teach our students who may have medical vulnerabilities?
  3. How do we engage and protect our staff and faculty who may have medical vulnerabilities?
  4. How do we engage and teach our international students who may not be able to make it to campus by the start of classes?
  5. How do we engage and teach in classrooms that may be limited to as few as 12 students because of social distancing? 
  6. How do we engage and teach students in the event of a possible “second wave,” which may shift all Pepperdine classes to online later in the semester?
  7. How can we accommodate students who may test positive for the virus during the semester, even if asymptomatic and still able to participate?

The “Maximum Flexibility Strategy” we’re developing for the fall semester is defined by a simple premise: students will be able to access every class we offer in the fall online with a number of classes offered in “dual modality” (both online and in-person). A significant number of courses (particularly elective courses for returning students) will be offered online only.

Working closely with our faculty over this past month, we are in the process of creating a fall semester class schedule in three “modalities” where:

  1. Some classes (including at least one elective in each specialization) will be fully online. These classes will be designed as online courses and taught using online tools, including the Zoom platform and SPP’s learning management system, Courses. Essentially, we are creating an “online block” of classes from which you can select. This will allow us to access outstanding faculty for the fall who might otherwise not be able to teach due to concerns over travel and health circumstances. 
  2. Several classes will be taught via “dual modality” in classrooms that have been updated with new video technology—offering all students the chance to participate either in person or online. These courses will be taught in person in Malibu by the professor with simultaneous online sharing of the classroom, which will allow off-site students to participate and SPP to bridge classrooms to accommodate larger classes.
  3. Several classes will be taught in a “hybrid” format with several “on-ground” sessions scheduled throughout the semester and the rest of the coursework offered online.
  4. Because we want to maximize student access to course content and sessions, any classes that are offered in this dual mode will be recorded and archived on the class website. Recorded classes will allow students who are facing exceptional situations to access the information asynchronously as needed and for all students to review the content to enhance learning.

On this second point, and as part of the Restoration Plan, Pepperdine is making a significant investment this summer in a University-wide update of most classrooms with Cleartech camera/mic systems along with a secure recording/streaming technology platform by Panopto. Beginning in June, Pepperdine will be installing these platforms across the Malibu campus as well as our other campus locations—200 classrooms in all. 

To be clear, while we are planning to offer these classes online, most will be taught synchronously (a few will have asynchronous/recorded sessions), which is to say, students participating online will do so during the scheduled class session. Your faculty are currently planning their syllabi and lecture plans around this larger strategy.

By the start of fall classes, we will have learned even more about how we can provide you with the best online learning experience possible while preserving the best aspects of the person-to-person experience that defines our program. We see these plans as a short-term response to the current state of the COVID-19 crisis and plan to be fully back together in January, although those decisions will not be made until later in the fall.

Next Steps

Details will start to roll out in the weeks ahead as the specifics of course schedules, financial aid, housing, orientation, student services, etc., are worked out to implement the “Maximum Flexibility Strategy.” While the campus remains quiet, faculty and staff are involved in daily meetings and check-ins, and as we put the pieces of the plan into place, each is available for any questions you might have about our plans for the fall. I continue to be grateful for your patience and persistence as we respond to this evolving crisis. I can only say that these virtues will be essential as you become leaders in the “post-pandemic world.”