Remote MU, A Special Series of Inside Mizzou: President and Interim Chancellor Choi

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April 21, 2020

It’s been about a month since Tigers moved from in-person to remote work. These weeks have been marked by incredible change, creativity and adaptation. In support of this ongoing transition, Mizzou’s leadership is working closely with students, faculty and staff to address their needs, solve problems and keep everyone safe.

On this week’s episode of Remote MU, we talk with UM System President and Mizzou Interim Chancellor, Dr. Mun Choi. We discuss how Mizzou is responding to the demands of social distancing and the many ways our community is still upholding its critical missions of research, teaching, inclusive excellence and engagement.

More about Inside Mizzou


Moderator: [00:00:34] From the classroom to the cornfield, journalism to SEC athletics, and now to computer screens around the world, the University of Missouri works 52 weeks a year, every year. This is Remote MU — a special edition series of Inside Mizzou that explores the real stories, real discoveries and real impact of our remote community. This is a very special episode because we’re speaking with University of Missouri System President, Dr. Mun Choi, who — in addition to his duties as president — recently became the interim chancellor of the University of Missouri. President Choi is helping guide Mizzou and the other three system campuses through this period of rapid change. Today, we’ll talk about some of the ways Mizzou has adapted to social distancing requirements and how our people are working across the UM System to make a difference and to help communities in our state. President Choi, I’m sure you’re extremely busy, so thank you for taking some time and speaking with me over Zoom.

President Choi: [00:01:06] It’s my pleasure. Nice to meet you, Steven.

Moderator: [00:01:08] Nice to meet you as well. So the whole world is going through an extraordinary time right now. What are some ways that the Mizzou community and the entire University of Missouri System community has stepped up to help tackle the COVID-19 outbreak?

President Choi: [00:01:21] Thank you. Let me first begin by sharing how much I appreciate the strong efforts of our faculty, staff, administrators and students for their extraordinary efforts in addressing this COVID-19 crisis. And they continue that important work today. And that’s so critical for this community. And you know, the thing about this pandemic is the level of uncertainty that we have in terms of questions that are asked: How bad will this be in Missouri? When can we be out of the shelter-in-place? When can I return to work? And what will work look like once I get back because of the changes that we expect because of this pandemic? And throughout this process, our stakeholders, I like to call them that, have been amazing. We have frontline health health care workers that are providing top-rate, top-rate care to our patients, and they’re doing this by putting their own safety on the line. And I really commend them for their dedication and their bravery. And people have stepped up in so many ways, whether it’s students and faculty using 3D printing to be able to print the PPEs that are needed by health care professionals, or students contributing whatever they can to the local food pantry so that families that are vulnerable can be fed. And it really demonstrates how close-knit this community is, and I’m very proud to be part of that community.

Moderator: [00:02:58] So it’s been great to see the way that the community has came together.

President Choi: [00:03:01] Sure.

Moderator: [00:03:03] Recently, you also took on the role of Interim Chancellor of Mizzou in addition to your job as the UM System President. Can you talk about what this responsibility means to you and to Missouri?

President Choi: [00:03:13] Well, I consider it to be a great honor to be asked by the Board of Curators to take on this additional role. In many ways my focus will not change. My focus has always been on the guiding principles of supporting student success, research, engagement, as well as inclusion. And now I have an opportunity to have an impact at the campus level. And I would not be able to do both jobs at once without the truly incredible leaders that we have at both the system and the campus, coming all the way down from the level of provost, to the deans and to department chairs and faculty members, we have truly outstanding leaders who during the past four weeks have stepped up like in a way that I just couldn’t imagine. And they’ve done it as an act beyond themselves to help support the community. And so my goal is to leverage the talent that exists at Mizzou and to continue to invest in those programs that lead to success in those four critical areas that define the University of Missouri.

Moderator: [00:04:29] Awesome, awesome. And so it’s been about a month now and most of our community is now a month into teaching, learning and working remotely. Can you talk about the process of transitioning to these efforts? What it took, and how Tigers maintain a sense of unity even while we’re apart?

President Choi: [00:04:45] That’s right. And we made some decisions very quickly and we made those decisions out of concern for the well-being of our faculty, staff and students. And in a span of a few days, our faculty members were able to transition their classes to remote learning and e-learning. It was just incredible. But it took a lot of time, a lot of effort getting used to Canvas, getting used to Zoom, and for our students to have the patience and the resilience as we went through the soft launch about three weeks ago. And we are now up to about 95 percent participation of all of our courses on Canvas. Now, that is not 100 percent. You may ask what’s what’s the difference between ninety five and a hundred percent? Well, that turns out to be the number of sections that we offer as independent study or research studies that typically do not use Canvas because there have, just communications through email between faculty and students. So I’m very proud of where we are, but we’re also learning through this process and we are hearing from students that the e-learning platform is not the best way that they learn. But I do appreciate their patience and to continue their studies while they are away from the campus using this mean. But I do believe that the new normal for teaching at a university will include more remote learning opportunities as strictly e-learning or a combination of e-learning and face-to-face and hybrid format. So, it is a new normal and we are going to continue to invest to make sure that our offerings are of the highest quality possible.

Moderator: [00:06:37] Definitely. I know as a student, fortunately, my program was online, so I didn’t have too much of an adjustment to make, but I have spoken with classmates and it has been difficult. But I think the more important thing is just making it work for the time being. As you spoke to the uncertainty, there’s not much else that we can really do. So, a follow-up question to that would be, you know, how’s the University of Missouri uniquely positioned to make a difference during this time?

President Choi: [00:07:01] Well, we are very fortunate in that we are a comprehensive university that provides research and scholarship in a number of key areas, and in the area of COVID-19 and related zoonotic respiratory diseases, of which the novel coronavirus is one, our faculty members and staff have been contributing in so many ways that I didn’t realize. I recently asked our faculty members to submit their current and proposed research in addressing addressing the COVID-19 crisis, and we received over 200 entries from very innovative approaches of detecting the coronavirus to actually disinfecting and providing protective gear to protect against COVID-19 transmission. And so are our faculty, staff, and students have really stepped up in a way that makes me very proud to be part of this community. But that effort has to continue because we have to be mindful of a second wave. And there are some indications that this virus may lay dormant and come back in the fall. So we need to be able to provide not only the scientific approach of dealing with COVID-19, but also social manners in which we can still be together, but also have the proper social distancing so that we minimize the spread of this disease in the future.

Moderator: [00:08:32] I agree. It’s very important to be careful with the second wave. I think a lot of people aren’t cognizant of the fact that this happens with a lot of disease where a second wave will come after the first one dies down. So definitely important to keep the safety precautions up. Another follow-up question, how do you see our university and community continuing to fulfill our core functions of teaching, research, inclusive excellence and engagement and service in the tough weeks ahead?

President Choi: [00:08:56] We just had a town hall, a virtual town hall meeting with our faculty and staff, and I shared directly with our community that we’re going to be facing some difficult challenges ahead because of the strain of addressing the COVID-19 crisis, as well as the uncertainty of the economic impact. And so the next few weeks to a few months will require all of us to put our thinking hats on and really explore ways that we can transform the university so that we can become a stronger university. I know for sure that we’ll be a different university when we come back in the fall, but we have to be a university that keeps in mind those four critical missions that are so key to a public research university. And so there are uncertainties ahead. And I ask all of our stakeholders to be patient, to be resilient and to be supportive of each other as we go through and make decisions that will affect many of us going forward.

Moderator: [00:10:08] Definitely. And we’ve seen how strong, committed and resilient our community is. But everyone has different ways they’re dealing with social distancing and the stay-at-mome order. What are some ways that you take your mind off of things?

President Choi: [00:10:21] Well, I take a walk. I live in Providence Point and I walk with my dog to Francis Quadrangle. It’s a way for me to see the Columns, see the statue of President Jesse and the words that he shared about being resilient, about continuing the important work of the university. And that gives me perspective, and it gives me strength to work with my colleagues to lead this university.

Moderator: [00:10:52] Awesome. OK. And lastly, is there any advice you would give our listeners when it comes to staying engaged with Mizzou and the Tiger family?

President Choi: [00:11:01] Well, keep in touch with your friends. Email your faculty. Just let them know how you’re doing and make sure that you use this time to regain the support and engagement with your family and friends, even friends that you may not have spoken to in a long time. It really gives us a time to pause and reflect on what matters most to us. And I think there, if there’s a silver lining, it’s that we all understand that we’re part of the human fabric and that we need each other during periods like this to sustain us. And so continue to be hopeful and be resilient to the changes that we’re going to expect.

Moderator: [00:11:53] I think that’s great advice. That’s all we have for you today. President Choi, thank you so much for joining us, and continue to stay safe.

President Choi: [00:12:00] Thank you.

Moderator: [00:12:29] Our audio engineer is Aaron Hay. Our featured music is composed by MU master’s student Niko D. Schroeder and performed by the Donald Sinta Quartet. You can find more information about Niko, the Quartet and their piece on the Inside Mizzou webpage. Make sure to join us next time to stay on top of what’s happening with our remote community. Thanks for joining us for this special edition series, Remote MU. Stay strong Mizzou.