‘Very Surreal': FIU President, Students Adjust to Nearly Empty Campus

“It hurts to see our beautiful campuses empty,” said FIU president, Dr. Mark Rosenberg

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It’s exactly what you would expect, but it’s still shocking when you see it.

The normally bustling main campus of Florida International University, the hub to 58,000 students in the FIU system, is almost completely deserted.

Parking lots where cars line up hoping to find a spot on a normal day, the places on campus where students congregate, the lawns where people sunbathe, the picnic tables where faculty gather, all completely bereft of human activity.

“It hurts to see our beautiful campuses empty,” said FIU president, Dr. Mark Rosenberg.

Rosenberg said it’s the people who make a university special, and right now, there’s just a handful of them around.

Students like Jordan Isaacs and Adriana Valdez, who are a couple, could not go home so they were allowed to stay in the dorms.

“Before the pandemic I was pretty involved with campus social groups and activities and they’re all canceled now so it kind of leaves us stuck doing nothing,” Valdez said.

“It feels like a video game at times, look out the window, there’s no one moving, no sounds, no horns, it just feels very surreal,” Isaacs added.

“We may be out, but we’re not down,” Rosenberg said.

NBC 6 spoke with Rosenberg via Zoom Tuesday. He said the university converted 4,700 courses to remote learning, no easy task in such a short time.

“I’ve been amazed at how well our students have adapted, I’ve also been very happy with how quickly our faculty made that switch, it is obviously not optimal, we’re concerned about the quality of learning, but under difficult circumstances, we are making it work,” said Rosenberg.

“I feel like it’s more difficult online because you’re not so in touch with what you’re supposed to be doing and we have a lot of group assignments and a lot of times we can’t get in touch with other people,” Valdez said, explaining some of the difficulties involved with learning outside the classroom.

Rosenberg pledged that the switch to remote learning would not prevent any student from graduating this year. He also said the university would be reimbursing the majority of students for room and board if they were forced to leave campus.

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the job market upside down, and Rosenberg said the university is exploring ways to help graduating seniors navigate those turbulent waters.

“We went from practically zero unemployment to skyrocketing unemployment and our students will be hit hard, like any serious professional right now who is very worried about the state of the economy,” Rosenberg said.

FIU will conduct a virtual graduation ceremony this year, but is also planning an on-campus, in-person ceremony for those graduates at some point in late summer if the pandemic allows it to occur.

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