Seattle University Faculty, Staff, Deans and Cabinet,
We are in our 12th week living under the shadow of COVID-19. A lot has changed in 12 weeks. Looking back for a moment, we have a great deal to be thankful for and proud of the way our staff and especially our faculty stepped up to this crisis.
- Faculty swiftly adopted new approaches and tools to teach nearly all courses virtually. Students have expressed high satisfaction with our migration, although they are saddened about the loss of some extracurricular elements of the SU experience.
- We moved quickly in applying for and distributing approximately $1.8 million in CARES Act emergency relief to our students and raised another $550K for students in need from alumni and friends of the university.
- We demonstrated impressive creativity and agility in how we communicate and interact with applicants when in-person methods aren’t available to us. We’ve nimbly adopted student-centered enrollment policies generally ahead of our competition (e.g., test optional, deferred deposits, emergency student aid).
- We were one of the first, nationally, to set up a crisis management center to integrate efforts and decisions across campus, engage with the state and local government and create new communication mechanisms to inform our community of what was happening.
- We immediately reduced spending, saving and extending cash to preserve the university. And yes, that included some very painful decisions about salary reductions, furloughs and a hiring freeze.
- We supported the health care workers on the frontline of COVID-19 by providing campus parking to them as their work hours changed and public transportation became less safe.
- Our alumni and athletics staff made the extra effort to personally write to many admitted new students, encouraging them to attend our great university.
- Critical staff continue to come to campus each day to serve the university community and carry out essential duties and responsibilities.
- Teams across campus are working diligently to plan for a fall reopening with a focus on campus health and safety.
- Many other examples exist of faculty, staff, deans and cabinet selflessly committing themselves to the university and caring for our students and each other during this time.
As a result, for now, we have stabilized the university financially, organizationally and pedagogically.
On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I want to thank you. The way you have leaned into this situation is truly inspiring. The Board has noticed. Increasingly we’re getting good press and external validation for what you’re now doing every day—this is so important as we work together to assure current and future students, as well as each and every one of us, that we have a safe and steady way forward.
While the national conversation is starting to shift to emerging from this crisis, we are still many weeks from adoption of a new normal, still with many unknowns. We will need to remain focused on our priorities and continue to adjust to meet the constantly changing environment. As a reminder, here are our top four priorities:
- Teach and retain our students.
- Enroll next fall’s students.
- Take care of our community.
- Continue to build the Seattle U of the future.
Even as we have made an exemplary transition to virtual teaching and learning, we know we cannot rest here. We need to continuously improve our tools and techniques. Not least of which, we must deliver the Jesuit values-based education that differentiates us. We must engage with our students to help them define who they are and how they will participate in the challenging world in front of them. They will be led by how we model our values, by how professors teach, adapt, communicate, think and act.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced change upon us. As we think about what we can and must change, it is important to be always steering toward the university we want to become—the university we collectively articulated in our Strategic Directions. If every decision to change is directionally toward the Seattle U of the future, we will come out of this storm with the wind in our sails. We must manage the pace of change within our capacity, accelerate some future-forward changes and perhaps delay others.
We have demonstrated our ability to work together to create the future we’ve targeted while navigating these choppy waters. Indeed, I am confident we will come through this storm intact, true to our values, working together to address the difficult realities around us.
In closing, I want to reiterate my personal thanks and convey the Board’s profound thanks for what you have done and for what we will do together.
Nicole W. Piasecki
Chair, Seattle University Board of Trustees