October 15, 2021
Dear Campus Community,
It is with great sadness that I inform you that one of our students died overnight. Taleah Lowe was a first-year student who had already made an impact on campus. We wish to respect her family by honoring their privacy, while at the same time acknowledging how difficult this news is, especially for those who knew Taleah. I want to offer my deepest sympathies to her family, friends and faculty.
The death of one of our students is painful and distressing. We are offering support from staff members of Housing and Residential Life, and the University Counseling Center has staff members available to assist those who are grieving or who need any type of counseling. I want to especially encourage those who might feel discomfort to take advantage of the many programs we have available.
Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with family and friends now and in the weeks to come.
Philomena V. Mantella, President
October 15, 2021
Dear Faculty and Staff colleagues,
Since I arrived in 2019, I have had hundreds of valued conversations with faculty, staff, students and community members exploring the essence, vibrance and strengths of our university. Areas of opportunity and improvement were also offered and explored openly. I am grateful to so many of you who are excited to engage around our future. I appreciate our University Academic Senate, the Student Senate, the Graduate Student Association leadership, Network of Advisors for Racial Justice, Alumni Board, our AP Committee, and others for your thoughtful discussions throughout the Reach Higher 2025 planning process. I am proud of our work together through the most tumultuous time in our history, and I remain fiercely optimistic about our future.
A time for deeper engagement
This year the RH2025 steering committee led a community engagement process to refine our mission, vision, values and strategic priorities for the next four years. The approach to this plan is a simple but profound framework allowing plenty of room for faculty, staff, colleges, and units to determine how they best embody its direction.
I want to thank the steering committee for their tireless work and all who contributed to sharpening the plan, which has become stronger with each iteration. I recognize it has been challenging to fit this into our busy COVID-disrupted lives but am heartened we chose to proceed given the reality of a completed plan and a disrupted higher education landscape. Thousands of community members have engaged in the planning process to date. That said, some still have questions on the plan and the intentions of the administration. Thus, it is incumbent on us to clarify the questions, seek shared meaning, and invite full participation in our future. To that end we will extend the time for further discussion another three months, delaying RH2025 presentation to our Board of Trustees from November to February.
I will establish conversation opportunities throughout the remaining academic year with me and members of the senior leadership team. You are invited to sign up for a Leadership Conversation particularly, if you have questions and concerns. There will be no presentations just listening and exploring. If the times offered fill quickly, I will be pleased to add more dates. In addition to these conversations, the steering committee is contemplating how best to use our extension of time to complete the work of RH2025. Please watch for those opportunities as well.
To guide our path forward
I would like to offer my own views regarding our future and as always, I will continue to shape them with deep listening and continued conversations. From its founding, Grand Valley State University has differentiated itself as an institution that is rooted in its tradition but agile and evolving with the times. This chapter of GVSU is no different, albeit the challenges of today are among the greatest of our time. We have experienced massive disruptions in our lives, the economy and our education systems. In addition, we are facing a tsunami of shifts in demographics, technology, political and social context. We hear and understand a public call for relevance, affordability, and access for those excluded or underserved by the U.S. system of education. There is also a call for education to serve with a level of flexibility commensurate to the complexity of our lives.
Colleagues, through RH2025 we reinforce our belief that liberal education is fundamental to navigating the world around us. We embrace an opportunity to invite students to have a stronger place in our education, going beyond the student-centered language used at so many other universities. We acknowledge and celebrate the breadth of our professional education and the power of integrating liberal education and experiential learning within it to ready students for life and career. We celebrate our work as a catalyst for economic development of our region and enterprises around us.
RH2025 remains grounded in liberal education, our residential experience and our student-centered ethos, while also acknowledging professional education and lifelong learning are integral to who we are and for the needs of our times. I have heard on numerous occasions people represent my interest as evolving GVSU to a fully online university. Frankly, I have never expressed this, and it is not my expressed or implied intention. I embrace with great excitement new approaches to high-impact learning, new modalities, and new audiences but to supplement not supplant the GVSU we know and love.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, we must end the practice of higher education as an exclusionary pursuit. As a public institution, GVSU through its RH 2025 commitments must welcome those with aptitude, interest, readiness, and willingness to receive postsecondary education. It calls us to ensure we have the supports in place that bridge the profoundly disturbing equity gaps in college success.
Again, my views are continuously informed and shaped by you. Join a Leadership Conversation to continue the dialogue or engage with the RH2025 team. I value the collaborative working relationship between faculty, staff, students, and administration, which is key to our shared governance. I’m grateful for your passion and care as we steward the university through the challenges of today and the promises of tomorrow. Thank you for all you do for Grand Valley. I look forward to many more rich conversations with you as we shape, launch, and empower RH2025.
Philomena V. Mantella, President
September 29, 2021
Dear Campus Community,
We are pleased to report the Laker health and safety plan for Fall semester continues to be successful. More than 90 percent of our faculty and staff and nearly 87 percent of students are in compliance with our vaccination policy. This means they are vaccinated, have a religious or medical exemption or a postponement. This wide acceptance has been key in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 and keeping the number of cases low on our campuses. All of us must continue to be vigilant in maintaining healthy practices and wear face coverings while indoors, so we can keep each other safe. We should all be pleased that GVSU’s positivity rate is significantly lower than that of the communities that surround our campuses.
As our September 30 vaccine requirement deadline approaches, we continue to evaluate and record compliances; process remaining requests for exemptions, appeals or postponements; and review recent state legislation. If you have not reported your vaccination status on your self-assessment or applied for an exemption or postponement, you must do so in the next few days to be in compliance with the vaccination requirement for faculty, staff and students. Please avoid disruptions and act now.
We will provide a status report to the campus community next week, along with any updates to our policies, deadlines and enforcement plans. Please keep up to date by checking the FAQ’s on Lakers Together.
We have made enormous progress, and I am grateful to each of you for your care for each other. Let’s continue working together as Lakers.
Philomena V. Mantella, President
August 6, 2021
Dear GVSU Community,
Since the start of the pandemic, we have been vigilant in taking the necessary steps to protect our campus community. As I’m sure you are aware, the national picture today for the spread of COVID-19 is dynamic and worrisome. The Centers for Disease Control increasingly reports upward trends in positivity from the variants. It has become clear that in order to successfully manage the shifting conditions of COVID, we need to implement additional safety measures for the Fall semester, while continuing to follow local and federal public health guidance. We ask for your attention, understanding, and action.
Lakers required to Vax-Up!
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is expected to give full approval to the vaccine in early September. In anticipation of FDA action, GVSU will require all faculty, staff and students to be vaccinated by September 30. We urge you to get your vaccination now. There will be limited exceptions for medical or religious reasons.
We will have numerous free GVSU vaccine clinics available on campus, including during move-in week August 24-26 and during the first week of classes for arriving students and any accompanying family members to assure information, access and cost are not barriers to this important protection. Vaccines are available now from health care providers, pharmacies, and local health departments. Coronavirus - COVID-19 Vaccine (michigan.gov)
This decision was made after extensive discussion with health and medical experts. Top health organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Johns Hopkins Medicine, report Covid vaccines have been thoroughly tested and found to be safe and effective in preventing severe COVID-19. We are aligning the requirement at GVSU with FDA approval to acknowledge those who are waiting for additional confirmation of the vaccines’ efficacy and safety. We recognize education is the best way to increase participation. We want to be a resource for information and access to our students and families, particularly those who need additional support.
As a community, we must lead with our values and care for one another by increasing our vaccination rates. Today, nearly 80 percent of faculty and staff have reported being vaccinated, and of the students who completed a self-assessment in 2021, nearly 60 percent report being vaccinated.
Daily Data Collection/Online Self-Assessment
The online self-assessment continues to be required. It has proven to be highly successful in mitigating the virus on campus and helps guide any necessary revisions to policies and practices. We require students, faculty and staff to complete the self-assessment each day before coming to campus. Visitors must also fill it out before coming to campus. Faculty, staff and students are required to record their vaccination status on their online self-assessment. Please do so at your earliest opportunity.
Students, faculty and staff who are unvaccinated are required to be tested weekly. Our robust testing of the GVSU community has been highly successful in controlling the spread of COVID-19 on campus. We will use information from the self-assessment to send notices for weekly testing.
Beginning August 9, face coverings will be required in all indoor spaces for all faculty, staff, students and visitors on our campuses. The new university alert level system will incorporate face covering requirements based on the overall rate of spread and mitigation measures. We will start the Fall Semester at Alert Level 2 as a precautionary measure. This alert level can change as we learn more about our overall vaccination rate.
A Fall 2021 Virtual Town Hall will be held August 19 at 2 p.m. to answer your questions. You can register and submit questions at this link: gvsu.edu/rsvp/townhall. We have also set up the Lakers Together Call Center at (616) 331-INFO (4636).
We are excited to be returning to our full campus experience and will continue to keep community safety, coupled with preservation of the full student experience, our first priority. We are confident this set of changes, taken together – vaccinations, face covering, testing and regular self-assessments – will keep us safe, learning and help to preserve the fullness of our campus experience. We will be prepared to pivot as CDC, federal and state guidelines change. Watching the alert levels and action matrix will be important for each of us. Up-to-date information can be found on our Lakers Together website.
Let’s remember the pandemic has been stressful for all, and Lakers Together means showing compassion and care as we navigate uncharted waters. My thanks to members of the GVSU Virus Action Team (VAT), who have not missed a day acting in service to each of us, and also to members of the community who continue to care for one another.
I’m looking forward to seeing all of you and engaging in campus activities and events during the coming academic year. GVSU is a vibrant learning institution and supportive community because of you.
Philomena V. Mantella, President
July 14, 2021
The Grand Valley State University community must always examine what keeps us true to our strong and vibrant student experience, both inside and outside the classroom. It is fundamental to who we are. This examination is particularly critical at this moment when we are processing the lessons from the COVD-19 pandemic, returning to more in-person experiences, and doubling down on our learner-centered ethos in Reach Higher 2025.
To fully understand our practices and structures within Grand Valley and at peer institutions, earlier this year Provost Maria Cimitile and I commissioned an external review of student affairs led by a seasoned student affairs professional and current president of York College (CUNY) Berenecea Johnson Eanes. This due diligence was undertaken to provide an accurate picture of how our divisional structure meets current challenges and how well we are positioned for the future.
This past year certainly has highlighted the importance of exceptional student life programs, particularly in areas of wellness and prevention, health and counseling services, inclusion and equity, new living learning environments and the delivery of student services on all of our campuses to all students at the undergraduate and graduate levels. We also have the transition of two leadership positions – the executive vice president and provost and the vice provost/dean of student affairs – making it a critical moment to consider how all these factors of growth, complexity and increasing student needs impact both structure and leadership.
I have concluded from all of the above to elevate the vice provost of Student Affairs to the vice president of Student Affairs. This move will create the Division of Student Affairs and will enable our Division of Academic Affairs, overseen by our next provost and executive vice president, to focus on the work of our faculty, colleges, libraries and other academic service units. This structure is the most common for institutions of our size and complexity, and elevating student voices and meeting their diverse needs is perfectly aligned with our proposed mission, vision, and values in Reach Higher 2025. Consistent with my general view of leadership, these structures enable us to identify the best people, expertise and diversity of perspectives to fuel an integrated and high-quality university life for all of us.
I will begin the search for our inaugural vice president for Student Affairs immediately and have asked student affairs expert, Dr. Karyn Rabourn, associate professor and director of the Master of Education in Higher Education program, and Kate Harmon, acting associate dean of students and director of Recreation & Wellness, to chair the search. Vice President Greg Sanial will be the executive liaison and Dean Annie Belanger will be the inclusion advocate. Storbeck Search is assisting in this search as well as the one for our next provost. Student Affairs will continue to report to Interim Provost Chris Plouff, under the transitional leadership of Acting Dean of Students Aaron Haight, until a successful candidate is named.
Your insights are welcome as we consider additional opportunities to reflect best practices. There will be opportunities for key stakeholders and the university community to meet finalists as we conduct the search.
Many thanks to all who work tirelessly to support students, particularly during COVID. We have exciting opportunities in front of us as we continue to Reach Higher Together.
Philomena V. Mantella
July 1, 2021
Dear GVSU Colleagues,
The mood has shifted and the energy is growing. The state of Michigan joins the rest of the country in easing restrictions as the COVID vaccine allows our day-to-day lives to feel more normal. The cases on campus are nearly non-existent, and we are more than ready for a full and robust Fall semester. Our classrooms will be at normal capacity, and the campus will again be filled with students reaching their goals and faculty and staff serving our mission. Our message to students and their families is clear – We’re Ready for You. We want our students to understand that Grand Valley State University stands ready to welcome them back to a community that is together again and dedicated to their success.
Returning to Community
As we prepare for our Fall semester, we are actively transitioning to more people working on campus from now until the start of the academic year, August 6. That date is when the COVID-19 remote work requests will end. Faculty are expected to be available for activities associated with the start of the semester, and staff, who have been working remotely, are encouraged to gradually increase their time working on campus prior to August 6. Employees should consult with their supervisor or department head for specific directions on the transition back to campus. We understand individuals may have concerns about coming back to campus, and the Human Resources office stands ready to provide additional support as needed. More details are available in the Return to Community document.
The key to a successful fall requires us to follow health guidance. The university’s current policies are updated on our Lakers Together site. Vaccines are an integral part of our plan. Nearly 80 percent of our faculty and staff are vaccinated, and a growing number of students have reported at least one dose on their daily self-assessment. In order to encourage even more students to get vaccinated, the Virus Action Team this week notified them of an incentive program to get vaccinated by the end of July. We will continue to monitor all factors to keep our campus community as safe as possible, while we enjoy the opportunities available to us this year, that we missed so much last year.
Let me close by saying how grateful I am for the success we share in facing challenges together and the promise of what is now available for us to achieve! We have shown what it means to be Lakers Together.
Philomena V. Mantella, President
May 5, 2021
It is with great concern and sadness that I write to acknowledge and bring attention to the devastating and dire circumstances India faces due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to conservative estimates, over 3,600 people a day are dying and healthcare essentials are not available to most.
Grand Valley is home to many Indian and Indian American students, faculty, and staff. Our colleagues and students are not only facing personal and local stress and fatigue in the United States, but also managing the impact on families and loss abroad. Our thoughts and support are with all those impacted.
This must be another moment of reflection for our community. Not only must we recognize the privileges and opportunities we have with vaccination and healthcare access, but we must also be mindful of the exponential impact of the pandemic on our diverse communities. Learn more about how you can do your part at www.gvsu.edu/lakerstogether.
As always, we are committed to each member of our community and their well-being. The University Counseling Center offers support for students and the Human Resources Office provides a number of resources for employees. TheAsian Faculty and Staff Association is also a resource for community support.
Please continue to care for one another in these trying circumstances. We will get through this together.
Philomena V. Mantella, President