University of Central Arkansas President Dr. Houston Davis has experienced this scenario before – students returning to campus for the fall semester amidst the backdrop of a global pandemic. This time, however, he has a year of experience under his belt.
“I think that a lot of people have a little sense of deja vu at this point this year,” Davis said. “But I’ll tell you, one thing that we know is that we know much more this year than this time last year. There were so many mysteries about what was in front of us. But as we look forward to things like our testing and tracing operation, which was very successful in allowing us to see the entirety of last school year through, we never closed down at any point, we have those processes still in place.”
Davis, who appeared on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics, said plans are still in place to quarantine students who test positive, so that education can continue.
Like many leaders across the state, he argues that vaccines are the key to reducing the risks of COVID-19. Faculty, staff and students have been given access to free vaccines and he expects a “bubble” to be created with the campus in order to keep everyone as safe as possible.
“That’s our big full court press at this point, is making certain to impress upon individuals how important the vaccine is, and how that in the end is keeping you safe from the worst of this virus,” he said.
UCA is instituting a mask mandate on campus – like many schools, colleges and universities – and Davis said there has been little pushback on the directive.
“I can tell you that the response to that has been positive, and we’re really excited about being able to start our fall semester with that added layer of protection in place,” he said. “There certainly have been negative reactions, there are some people that reacted, ‘I hate wearing these masks.’ Well, guess what? I hate wearing the mask too. I don’t know that anybody really enjoys having to do that, but when we’re in periods of community spread such as we are now, I very much have appreciated the support that our board has provided, and the support of our general campus that this is something that we need to do.”
UCA’s new Integrated Health Sciences building has been in the works for several years, prior to the pandemic. It would appear prescient that its opening now coincides with one of the worst health crises in generations. Davis said the work that will take place in the facility will address many pressing healthcare needs.
“The need for our Integrated Health Sciences building has probably never been greater. Pre-pandemic, it really was about the educational and the economic development needs of that building, it was really about responding to healthcare shortages, especially those of us producing more nurses, admitting more students into our nursing program and graduating more, but also everything that’s touched by our college of health and behavioral sciences.
“During the pandemic, I think it’s even more important that we make certain that we’re thinking about the health needs of the state of Arkansas… it really is about what are we doing to face some of the great challenges that our state has and making certain that we’re producing the healthcare professionals that can go and meet the very real and urgent needs of our communities.”
The 80,000 sq. ft. building will house a multitude of programs in health sciences. Davis said it will allow for UCA to double its admissions in nursing, therapy and pre-med programs.
“It’s going to be a difference maker. It will move the needle for the state of Arkansas, and the University of Central Arkansas is proud to have that new facility on our campus,” he said.
You can watch Davis’ full interview in the video below.