2019-20 Report of the President: Persistence

collage of photos showing preparations for campus reopening
October 14, 2020
Thayne M. McCulloh, D.Phil, President

In the face of complexity, hardship and fear, one characteristic we hope to have embodied in the 2019-20 academic year is persistence.

Gonzaga University certainly had major hopes and goals for the year. There would have been milestone celebrations. There were plans for a fascinating historical, yet modern, parade to conclude our yearlong recognition of the centennial of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the hard-won right to vote. Alumni chapters in multiple cities would host visits with Gonzaga leaders; these morphed from fabulous inperson events in autumn to online connections in the spring. Admission counselors had to forego in-person visits at high schools and on-campus tours with current students. Our men’s and women’s basketball teams, fresh from the West Coast Conference tournament, found there would be no NCAA Tournament. And perhaps most difficult of all, we missed out on celebrating “in person” commencement ceremonies honoring all of our undergraduate, graduate and law students, instead moving to less-satisfying “remote” events.

It would have been easier, and far simpler, to have closed the campus for fall 2020 and done our best to educate students via remote delivery systems; but we know that a significant dimension of the Gonzaga educational experience is created in the context of actual, in-person human interactions. We understood it would be complex to chart a course for resuming in-person work for the fall. Despite the rapidly evolving and ever-changing circumstances, our Gonzaga family showed great capacity to adapt and flex, dream and create. We challenged ourselves to re-create what a university needs to look like in the face of a pandemic, and I am indebted to our staff and faculty for their constant efforts and the long weeks spent working to identify challenges and find solutions.

I am also grateful to our Trustees and Regents for their increased involvement to help review and solidify plans. Our teams have shown relentless dedication and commitment. We developed processes and systems to endeavor to address concerns of students, parents and families – all while the answers continually changed. We leaned on alumni to keep our extended Zag family connected, and we incessantly sought the guidance of local, regional and national health care experts to ensure that, whatever we chose to do, we could do it as safely as possible.

Despite the many pandemic-related issues and challenges we have sought to address, we know that there are many other obligations and opportunities we must continue to respond to and nurture. While navigating in the era of COVID-19 will continue to keep us vigilant, we are buoyed by some positive accomplishments that offer us opportunities to be very grateful, as well.

Our faculty continued to produce research and to find creative solutions to delivering their courses in new ways. Academic leaders pressed forward in introducing new minors and majors to our list of degree options. Our Center for Community Engagement exchanged its usual immersion projects for addressing more imminent needs – such as community food insecurity – here at home. Our alumni and students alike have remained steadfast in accomplishing impressive, and meaningful, work around the globe.

One achievement of 2019-20 that brings me great pride is the announcement and official launch of our “place-based initiative” called Opportunity Northeast. After many years of tapping into the expertise of sister Jesuit institutions in other cities, and multiple studies and listening sessions with the residents themselves, we’ve developed an intentional effort to support the health and welfare of families, businesses, schools and organizations in the Logan neighborhood, Hillyard, and throughout Northeast Spokane.

Opportunity Northeast is not a short-term project or a plan to “fix” a community’s problems. This is a long-term commitment that will require ongoing dedicated effort and attention to walk in solidarity with the neighborhood’s members in making sustainable changes. >> Read the feature here. 

This summer’s national tensions and protests related to the senseless deaths of Black Americans affirms that our work in diversity, equity and inclusion is far from over, and that our commitment to improving the experience of people of color on our campus and in the community must be stronger than ever. But it also must extend further. Training and awareness for every faculty and staff member is critical to embodying our mission of justice and ensuring that students leave our community better equipped to understand the dynamics of injustice and ways that they can be powerful voices in the context of oppression. >> More on this commitment here.

This past summer allowed us to welcome some brilliant new leaders: Annmarie Caño, Ph.D., as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences; Robin Kelley, Ph.D., as associate chief diversity officer; and Kent Porterfield, Ed.D., as vice provost for Student Affairs. Our interim associate chief diversity officer, Charlita Shelton, Ph.D. agreed to serve as our COVID-19 compliance officer, and will shepherd our efforts to respond to issues brought forward by the pandemic. New perspectives and skillsets are always a benefit, especially in uncertain times.

There are stories of all these examples in this annual report and throughout this issue of Gonzaga Magazine. They are proof of individual and collective persistence – our determination to “Keep Calm and Zag On” – amid the challenges this pandemic has wrought. I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that many of you, our alumni and friends, have had your own struggles this year. Some of you have felt the impact of COVID-19 in personal ways, through sickness or as jobs ended or businesses closed. Please remember that our alumni network is strong and growing, and our regional chapters can be great resources for connections and support.

I want to thank you for the ways you remained engaged with us. Your emails of encouragement, your participation in Town Hall discussions, your tough questions, your financial commitment to support us in days of uncertainty – these keep us strong in spirit and united in purpose. For all these things, I’m eternally grateful. May the Lord continue to bless you, and may we always frame our efforts Ad majórem Dei glóriam.

See the complete 2019-20 Report here.

Thayne M. McCulloh, D.Phil.


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