Sent April 27, 2020, 3:12 p.m.
Dear Gonzaga Students and Families,
This Spring, Gonzaga University was compelled – together with virtually every other industry in our state and region – to interrupt regular operations as a result of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. In compliance with Governor Inslee’s earlier declarations and to reduce viral transmission, we closed our residence halls and asked students to remain at, or return home, moved courses previously taught in-person (and many other services) to remote delivery, and asked all but essential personnel to telecommute from, or stay, home.
COVID-19, and our societal response to it, has had a breathtaking impact upon every aspect of our daily lives. We grieve for those who have lost their lives and their loved ones; we honor those who have made and are making tremendous sacrifices – at great personal risk to themselves and their loved ones – to treat and support those who are fighting for life. We are also thankful for those assisting with the daily needs of life, ranging from making food available to caring for the elderly. The need to close businesses has had a profound economic impact: it constrains the production of goods and services, which ripples through global trade and disrupts market stability. The closure of schools has obligated teachers, parents and students to make significant adjustments, having many implications for families and learning during the remainder of the school year.
Pride in the Gonzaga Community
Despite the many challenges this situation has created, I am proud of our students for their flexibility and fortitude, and I am proud of our faculty, staff and senior leadership for the ways in which they have worked diligently and tirelessly to continue our mission in the context of national and international crisis. While I recognize that this situation has been the source of deep disappointment and frustration, I have heard many stories of resilience, patience, generosity and commitment emerge from this circumstance as well. Gonzaga is a community that is committed to the welfare of the individuals associated with it, and Gonzaga students, alumni and friends all around the world are serving others in significant ways, every day.
Our Campus Environment
The key issue facing us now – assuming state and local authorities permit the reopening of our institutions – is how and under what conditions colleges and universities should do so. Gonzaga University consistently works hard to create a vibrant, active and supportive learning community for its students, both via distance and face-to-face. Our residence halls, dining facilities, academic environments and sports/recreational facilities are designed to support the creation of powerful on-campus living and learning experiences. These, we believe, are an important dimension of the context within which our students learn, grow, and thrive. Indeed, the existence of our many student support services are intended to support a robust, safe, and healthy environment for both on-campus and on-line students, faculty, staff and visitors.
After careful consideration, and in consultation with leadership, I have decided Gonzaga University will work with the goal of returning to operations and re-opening our campus – including resuming in-class instruction – for Fall Semester 2020. (Please note that earlier communication stated that our Summer Session I will be online, but Summer Session II is yet to be determined.) We are conscious of the fact that COVID-19 has proven to be a serious danger to individuals in un-managed situations; as a result, we will consider new practices and protocols that seek to minimize contact and better manage the needs of our community in this circumstance. We are fortunate; as a university with relatively small class sizes that facilitate new approaches, we are able to work to develop appropriate models for modifying the environments that facilitate safely learning, living, and working together within the Gonzaga University community. As has been the case from the beginning, the health, safety and welfare of our students, faculty, staff and local community have been the number one priority, and we will continue to underscore this as our top priority going forward.
Appointment of a Pandemic Response Task Force
There are many complex issues that need to be identified and resolved, scenarios to be developed and evaluated, and responses created to appropriately and effectively manage the challenges associated with re-opening. I have decided to appoint a Pandemic Response Task Force whose work, over the coming weeks, will be to develop a plan to address these matters.
The Pandemic Response Task Force and its committees will examine a variety of issues, including (but not limited to):
- Exploring class schedules and sequencing to reduce class size
- Examining the safe operation of campus housing, dining and the fitness center
- Protecting the more vulnerable members of our community by allowing them to work remotely
- Understanding the tools available to us for assessing the viral health of our community (including pretesting, antibody testing, and utility of contact tracing)
- Support of those who may or do fall ill, requiring quarantine or isolation, and support as well from the local medical community
- Management of formal and informal campus gatherings
- Use of personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks and gloves
- Regulation of visitors and building access
The Task Force will have wide representation and in addition to my own service, its efforts will be coordinated by Dr. Charlita Shelton, who has worked very effectively as our Interim Associate Chief Diversity Officer during the past eight (8) months. Dr. Shelton came to us as a consultant to assist us in initiatives involving diversity, equity, and inclusion. Her experience in higher education spans over 30 years as Dr. Shelton has served as president of two universities and as an executive director of a college. Dr. Shelton is and has been a member of many boards of directors in both the business and higher education arena. Also, she has military leadership experience, serving in the United States Marine Corps.
I want to acknowledge that the issues involved with this effort will be challenging. The COVID-19 pandemic involves the management of a viral transmission with no current cure or vaccine, and individuals both healthy and with weakened or compromised immune systems have fallen victim to it. But the last several months have taught us things about the virus that allow us to better understand how its transmission can be managed. It is my belief that if the conditions are correctly established, and individual members engage responsibly and intentionally in its management, we will be able to manage the virus even as we re-engage in the critical work of teaching, learning, and living in community.
The Essential Nature of Our Mission
There is no question in my mind that the cessation of many activities in our society, including certain functions at Gonzaga University, was an appropriate and necessary response to the advent of COVID-19. It is also clear that the virus will be with us for some time to come. The mission of our university is to educate students for lives of leadership and service to the common good, in the context of a Catholic, Jesuit and humanistic environment. Our society – and world – need the students we are educating and preparing, the scholarship we are producing, the service we provide to those in need, and the results of faculty-led research that we are conducting. While maintaining safe environments within which to work and live, we need to do everything possible to help our students continue, remain on track, and graduate.
The work we do is essential to the long-term success of our society and the communities of which we are a part. Gonzaga’s mission involves the education of successful individuals who make generative and significant contributions in every aspect of human life. We are committed to continuing this mission and will do so always dedicated to the health, welfare and safety of our students, faculty, staff and community partners. Our future success is dependent upon the shared creativity, determination and commitment of the entire Gonzaga family – including our alumni and supporters – in the weeks and months ahead. I look forward to updating you on the progress of our efforts. May God bless you, and may we be blessings to one another. Thank you.
Thayne M. McCulloh, D.Phil.