A recently published case study authored by Rutgers administration focuses on how the University maintained low infection rates with high rates of enrollment and vaccinations through the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic using the various strategies of University leaders.
Having a strict set of guidelines to assess suggestions, determine courses of action and execute plans consistently were very important elements to the University leaders in their approach to guiding Rutgers through the pandemic, according to the study.
Antonio M. Calcado, executive vice president and chief operating officer, is a leader accredited in the study. He said the University utilized its vaccination program as one of the main efforts to commit the Rutgers community to safety.
“Since the start of the pandemic, we have said that the safety of the Rutgers community is a shared responsibility,” Calcado said in the study. “An effective vaccination program is a continuation of Rutgers’ commitment to health and safety for all members of our community of more than 71,000 students, the cities we are in and the communities we serve throughout New Jersey.”
The University’s strategy also included taking bold action, as it was the first academic institution to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine. This action was taken to communicate a decision to the Rutgers community as early as possible in order to allow time for those who did not want to comply with the mandate to pursue other options for the fall.
The decision to mandate the vaccine allowed Rutgers to sustain a campus environment with some of the lowest positivity rates of COVID-19 in the country, according to the study.
Although extensive media coverage and mixed reactions followed the initial announcement of the mandate, the University relied on its core values, internal subject-matter experts as well as its collaborative leadership to justify the mandate.
Consistent communication was also a significant element in the University’s strategy to approach the pandemic, according to the study. This area of the strategy included implementing the COVID-19 vaccine into the Rutgers Vaccination Portal so that individuals could also communicate vaccination hesitancy.
The University had a representative from Rutgers communications work closely with the health affairs leadership group to provide guidance and streamline the information to the Rutgers community, according to the study.
Messages from the University were strategically targeted to address evolving concerns, such as campus health and safety, vaccine availability, vaccine hesitancy and vaccine documentation requirements, according to the study.
Brent Ruben, a distinguished professor in the Department of Communication and senior fellow in the Center for Organizational Leadership, said he credits the faculty of Rutgers as being a huge part in approaching how to best handle COVID-19 for the University.
“Rutgers has a very impressive group of faculty and staff representing a broad array of specialties,” Ruben said. “When this expertise is focused on collective problem solving, remarkable results are possible.”
In addition to Calcado and Ruben, the study credits Vicente Gracias, senior vice chancellor for clinical affairs and vice president of Health Affairs, Jennifer St. Pierre, director of strategic and campus communications for Rutgers Health Affairs, and Brian L. Strom, chancellor of Biomedical and Health Sciences and executive vice president for Health Affairs, for their strategies of handling the pandemic at Rutgers.
“In this instance, that expertise and collaboration made it possible for our institution to play a lead role nationally — a role that helped Rutgers and other institutions cope effectively with the most challenging health and safety issue of our lifetimes,” Ruben said.