President Book provides vision for “building a new Elon” this academic year

During her Opening Day address to faculty and staff, President Connie Ledoux Book detailed how new approaches to teaching, learning, health and safety have put Elon on a firm footing heading into fall semester.

President Connie Ledoux Book delivered a message on August 12 of building a “new Elon” during these challenging times, a process that includes adapting to changing conditions while relying upon the core values that have made the university distinctive and impactful throughout its history.

“We are at this moment, each of us, sheltering Elon’s future,” Book said in her remarks to kick off the annual faculty/staff planning week that precedes the new academic year. “We are bringing the university’s mission to life this fall through your contributions and your craft. I have seen your efforts unfolding. I’ve seen your collective commitment to excellence, to each other as colleagues, to our students and to ensuring that the strength of our university continues forward for the generations that will follow us.”

Books remarks to Elon’s faculty and staff during the online ceremony came two days before the arrival on campus of the Class of 2024 and a week before the start of classes for the fall semester. The virtual gathering followed a busy spring and summer that has seen the university develop a robust and comprehensive plan to promote health and safety on campus during the COVID-19 pandemic. Those plans include adapting on-campus spaces, reimagining classroom instruction and introducing new protocols such as a campus-wide face covering policy and physical distancing guidance.

Book said that as she has shared the work that Elon is doing to prepare for the new semester, the most common question she has fielded is why Elon is choosing to reopen and resume in-person instruction.

“My short response is simple — we must open, if we possibly can, to fulfill our mission to personally mentor our students and prepare them for success,” Book said during her address. “If we can meet the standards to do that safely face-to-face, we should. The research is clear that face-to-face learning at the scale we are committed to at Elon is the most powerful in staging learning, integration, reflection and peer-to-peer engagement. These fundamental components of student success are at the core of our decision to reopen.”

SGA Executive Director Robbie Miley ringing the bell to mark the official start of the academic year.

The summer has been spent implementing a plan for reopening developed by a task force appointed in the spring and overseen by the Ready & Resilient implementation committee. The committee has guided the university as it has responded, shifted gears, aligned resources and embraced new information as society has developed a new understanding of what is needed to combat the pandemic.

“This ability to be agile and entrepreneurial has been a strength of our community for decades,” Book said. “Through smart planning and execution, the people of Elon understand change. We are cautious in our approach, but we are determined to always make things better.”

Throughout the summer, faculty members have been reworking their courses so they can be adapted to different scenarios that may arise this fall. That has included developing hybrid approaches that combine in-person and remote course work, and rethinking how faculty and students will engage with each other this fall.

However, Book noted, the commitment to quality education remains the same.

“We are in a new environment – the hallmarks of the great teaching we are so fortunate to have at Elon are being reimagined and redesigned but with unwavering commitment to excellence,” Book said.

The summer has also provided a time for self-examination across the university as the broader society has been grappling with issues related to diversity, equity and inclusion. This fall, the university’s Committee on History and Memory will provide recommendations on next steps for a more inclusive and comprehensive telling of Elon’s history, Book said. That is coupled with new initiatives announced this summer addressing racism and bias, including reviewing the bias reporting system and implementing equity-based hiring practices.

“These goals are critical to being the university we desire to be,” Book said. “These goals are critical to ensuring each member of our community thrives here.”

Other initiatives throughout the summer support stronger bonds with the surrounding community and ongoing work to meet the needs of residents in Alamance County and across North Carolina, Book shared. The N.C. News Workshop now housed at Elon will build local news capacity across the state and support educational and networking efforts for working journalists. The Kernodle Center for Civic Life is working with its community partners to help meet Alamance County needs, while the Center for Access and Success is adapting its programming to support local K-12 students virtually this fall. Additionally, the university’s E Company initiative provided opportunities for Elon students who saw internships or other work opportunities vanish this summer due to the pandemic.

Looking ahead, Book detailed how interactions on campus must shift so that as a community, Elon students, faculty and staff can take the necessary steps to protect each other. That includes wearing a mask, practicing physical distancing, washing hands and performing daily health checks. The university community should leave behind a mindset of doing things a certain way because “that’s how we’ve always done it” or questions about whether we are all interconnected.

But while building “a new Elon” means leaving some things behind, it also requires the university to bring along other elements that are foundational, many of which were outlined in the university’s 10-year strategic plan, Boldly Elon, announced in February.

“We need to bring to our future this powerful sense of purpose and shared responsibility, which has afforded Elon the ability to respond effectively to this crisis,” Book said. “It is so important that each college and university offer a response at this time that is consistent with the deep understanding of their own institutional strengths. Here — that strength is each of you. We often talk about our community and highlight it as part of our ethos, the culture that drives our success, and that is all true.”

To officially mark the beginning of the academic year, Elon continued its tradition of ringing the bell that in the 1850s sat atop one of the first N.C. Railroad locomotives and was later used at Graham College, the predecessor institution to Elon College. Ringing the bell, which throughout the year is stored in the University Archives in Belk Library, was Robbie Miley ’21, executive director of the Student Government Association.

The ceremony also saw the presentation of the Elon Medallion to Dr. Charles Kernodle Jr. ’38, who built a successful medical practice and has served Elon and Alamance County as a medical professional, doctor to high school and university athletes and community leader.