Gatepost Interview: F. Javier Cevallos – FSU President

How has COVID-19 impacted your work?

How many ways has it not impacted my work? We are all trying to do the best we can in a very difficult situation, and I think that the entire campus has reacted in an amazing way. I’m so proud of the faculty that managed to convert all their courses, if not most of them, into online or distance learning formats in two weeks. I mean, that is amazing! Everything that we’re doing now is through Zoom or through some other means of communication that is distant. So, that certainly changes the way that we can work with people on campus. I mean, one of the nice things about being on campus in a society is that you talk to people, you see people, you chat. I mean the Zoom is nice – you see faces – but you’re not in that direct personal contact, so it changes a lot, and so the work has become different. It is more intense. If I can define it in a way, I think that when you work on a regular routine with people around, you tend to be less tense. Now in Zoom, we are just like on that moment on the camera and facing each other, you know, constantly, so it is different. It has certainly changed my work, has changed the work of the entire University, and has changed the life of all our students. You are going through this. You’re having to adapt to an online learning world that is totally different from what you expected when we started the semester. 

What is your role in keeping the University running?

Well, I think that we depend on a lot of really good people on campus to make sure that the University continues to run. My role is just to be like the coordinator or, you know, the person ultimately responsible for everything that happens, but certainly the work that has been done is not done by me. It is done by many people on campus that are doing a tremendous amount of work. We have a team that meets every morning, as you know, the COVID-19 team. So, about 16-17 people. They work so hard just to make sure that we take care of every little aspect of running the campus. [There are] so many things that are involved in that – in an institution. …  They are running the different departments, and my role is just to make sure that I get out of the way, and let them do the job, and let them do what they’re doing really well.

Do you have more work than you normally do?

It is different work than I normally do. I think that my typical calendar is always jam-packed and you never know one day from the next. It’s a different type of calendar now because I have all these … Zoom meetings. But the whole social side of my job, you know, the fundraising part, the meeting with people, the going to off-campus meetings, etc. – that certainly has changed. So, I think that one of the ways to look at it is that I used to be able to walk and be out a little more. Now, I am sitting down, and it’s either, you know, this is my study at home right now, I was in my office this morning, and then I go back and forth from this office to the other office. And I’m sitting down, instead of, you know, being able to walk outside, but it is a different world and a different reality.

Have you faced any major challenges in the past few weeks or months?

We all have – absolutely. … As I said, when you started the semester, you didn’t expect to be doing all these things online and on Zoom or whatever. You wanted to be meeting with people face to face and writing your articles about … whatever was happening on campus. Well, not much is happening on campus. A lot of things are happening off campus – all the classes that are going on and whatever. April typically is the month of celebration for seniors, and it’s one of my favorite times of the year because we have all the honor societies, all the college societies, all these wonderful graduation ceremonies that bring together seniors. This senior class has been deprived of that experience. So, we have to find a way to make sure that we somehow give a little bit of that experience to the senior class, and we have been talking about it. The team that meets every morning has been talking about it. So, we’re trying to figure out what we can do to give a little semblance of that experience. I know that certainly a big, big thing is going to be commencement. We will have commencement sometime, somewhere in the future – whenever it is safe, but I certainly don’t want to do commencement through Zoom. It wouldn’t be fair to the families. It wouldn’t be fair to the students. So, you know, we are all adapting to the realities we have and changing with time.

What advice do you have for students?

I think that it is a very stressful time, and I understand how stressful it is for the students. So, my advice is just try to relax. I know that sounds trite – it sounds very simple – but try to relax. Try to understand that it is something that is outside anybody’s control. No one brought this up – it just happened. I know that students in particular have to deal with jobs, losing jobs, or getting furloughed from positions. [They are] having to deal with going back to different places and  their families and, you know, every student life is a different life. Just try to keep things in perspective, and keep thinking about the ultimate goal – that is you want to finish, you want to graduate, you want to go on with your life. Don’t let these couple of months of interruption change everything that you have been working so hard for. Keep going. I know as I said it’s trite – I cannot say anything new – but just keep on going.

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