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‘Our university is here, and our opportunity is to reinvent higher education’

Ken Henderson, university chancellor (top left), and Joseph E. Aoun, university president (bottom right), led a virtual town hall-style meeting for faculty and staff to commend their efforts amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, and provide updates for the future. Screenshot by Northeastern University

In times of crisis, members of the Northeastern community band together to help each other through—while using the experience to learn and plan for the future, Joseph E. Aoun, president of the university, told people who tuned into a virtual town hall-style meeting Wednesday evening.

Nearly 200 faculty and staff from the Office of the Chancellor joined the meeting, which was broadcast as a video conference, to hear updates on the university’s various responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The virtual gathering was the second in a series of campus discussions Aoun is holding on a daily basis. On Tuesday, Aoun joined James C. Bean, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, and leaders from the university’s schools and colleges. On Thursday, Aoun will join staff from the finance and human resources offices. Other faculty and staff convenings are scheduled for next week.

“We are not immune, with respect to what is going on around us,” Aoun said. “Yet we’re all doing our best as a community to be there for the members of the Northeastern University family.”

Kenneth Henderson, chancellor and senior vice president for learning, commended members of his team for the roles they played in preparing the university to respond to the pandemic and mitigate the spread of the disease.

Almost all Northeastern students have moved off the university’s network of campuses, and all students and faculty have moved to online learning. Meanwhile, essential personnel are working to ensure that most research laboratories continue to operate, and in some cases, contribute to our understanding of COVID-19.

Alessandro Vespignani, who is the director of Northeastern’s Network Science Institute, and his team are continuously mapping the spread of the disease as it travels around the world.

Members of the Northeastern community have also been available to help students, not only with logistical questions, but as a compassionate resource during troubling times. The university’s WeCare program—a support system that aids students when significant issues arise—has fielded thousands of calls over the last few weeks, Aoun said.

Henderson said, “I want to thank everybody for a remarkable effort, and for always keeping our learner population at the center of our activity.”

As researchers, including Vespignani and numerous others, are finding ways amid the crisis to help the world better prepare for the future, so, too, are Northeastern’s staff responding to the pandemic with solutions for the future, Aoun said.

“We’re distinguishing ourselves now the same way we’ve distinguished ourselves for the last 100 years: By being in tune with reality, and ready to innovate,” he said.

Arshad Saiyed, associate vice president of corporate partnerships and digital learning, said that his team was looking for new ways to provide training for remote learning.

Chong Kim-Wong, associate dean for student support, said that the move to online learning was pushing her team to “reimagine community—specifically virtual community.”

Brian Murphy Clinton, assistant vice president of enrollment management, said that he and his colleagues were exploring new ways to serve students “in a totally virtual manner.”

Such innovation in the face of uncertainty is what makes Northeastern resilient—and exceptional, Aoun said.

“The university will never close,” he said. “The campuses may not have residential capability for now, but the university cannot be reduced to residential halls—although they are important. The university cannot be reduced to a single campus—although the campuses are very important. Our university is here, and our opportunity is to reinvent higher education.”

For media inquiries, please contact media@northeastern.edu.

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