President McCulloh Hosts Town Hall Webinar

hemmingson center
The Hemmingson Center (GU photo)

April 14, 2020
Dale Goodwin (’86)

Gonzaga Dealing Square on with New Reality

SPOKANE, Wash. — During an online Town Hall with alumni and friends of the University, Gonzaga President Thayne McCulloh (D-Phil.), expressed gratitude for many people: the faculty and staff for maintaining academic continuity by moving face-to-face classes to digital delivery formats in short order; for students, faculty, staff and alumni who are health-care professionals providing care for those who are ill; and for all who continue to support Gonzaga with their gifts as the University’s needs become increasingly more significant.

After a 30-minute address to his virtual audience on April 2, President McCulloh took questions from viewers, ranging from the challenges of planning for summer and fall semesters to the possibility of offering more distance education classes moving forward.

McCulloh says Gonzaga got its first taste of the coronavirus outbreak in January, when the University brought two students studying in Beijing, China, home. A month later, as the virus caught steam in northern Italy, we brought all of our Gonzaga-in-Florence students home before their safety was any more impacted, and travel had yet to be restricted. It was a challenging task but McCulloh said all 160 students have now returned to their homes. He thanked alumni who jumped right in to help with gifts to help with emergency expenses.

At the beginning of March, while Spokane’s campus was on spring break, leaders made the decision to continue the second half of spring semester online, in distance-delivery format. Spring Break was extended a second week to allow faculty time to transition. Students had until March 27 to move out of their campus residences, with exceptions for a small number of students who either didn’t have another home or could not return home for various reasons. For those still on campus, meals are provided in a take-out manner.

“Our first and foremost priority is the safety and well-being of our students, faculty, staff and our larger community,” McCulloh said. “Our students were not happy to have their spring semester interrupted, but through those frustrations, they have offered a grace in dealing with these challenging circumstances.”

“We are blessed by our community of people who have pulled together, absolutely focused on doing the very best work that we can, and addressing issues as they arise. Our people are tremendously committed,” McCulloh said.

One questioner asked how effectively Gonzaga is practicing social distancing. McCulloh said faculty and staff are encouraged to work from home except for those whose work requires being on campus, such as those in facilities and safety roles.

McCulloh turned attention to the important long-term planning underway and the difficulty in proceeding without knowing when this pandemic might end. Summer study abroad opportunities have been canceled. And all summer school classes will be taught via distance delivered formats. Gonzaga is preparing to welcome students back to campus in the fall, but leaders are considering multiple possibilities and assessing the consequences should a different direction be mandated by health organizations and government institutions.

Here are some additional questions from the Town Hall audience, and a synopsis of the president’s answers.

What can we do to help support the University’s needs?

“We will need quite a bit of support,” McCulloh said. First, he asked people to pray for the University, its students, faculty, staff and extended family during this stressful and challenging situation. He also asked for help for students who were paying for their education by working several jobs, many of which were lost during the pandemic. He particularly mentioned a critical need to support our nursing students, who will be in high demand upon their graduation from Gonzaga. “We will do our best to support them in completing their academic work and help them go out and help our world. We have students who have no family resources to help them, and our alumni and supporters are helping those students to complete their education,” McCulloh said. The University is refunding essentially 50% of room and board fees (for spring semester) to every student who was living in University housing, and corresponding fees, like the fitness center access fee. “We will be reaching out to our friends and benefactors, trusting that they will continue to consider Gonzaga as they think of their options for benefaction.”

Has the number of students who have chosen not to continue their education been significant?

No, the vast majority of students are staying with us, the president said. The exception is some of our nurses pursuing advanced degrees through our nursing school, who are struggling to manage the expectations in their professions in today’s environment.

What is GU doing to make sure students’ needs are being met?

We created a Call Center at the beginning of our crisis, to listen to concerns and answer questions. Several staff members are reaching out to students, and many support resources have been made available to students online.

What is being done to protect students and employees from the virus?

We have a skeleton crew working on campus. Most of our staff, faculty and administrators are working from home, following regional health guidelines and the directive from our governor. Few students are living on campus, only those who have no other home, or are unable to return home. Most of them have their own rooms. We provide food service to those living on campus, and the food service in Hemmingson includes social distancing while obtaining their take-out meals. We are not requiring use of masks on campus as we are well aware that we have a shortage in our state for providers serving the medical welfare of those sick in our communities.

How can incoming students connect with Gonzaga in preparation for fall?

any traditional activities that happen in the spring, like GEL weekend for our accepted students, have been modified. These experiences are extraordinarily valuable and important because students can experience campus through the lens of current students. Not offering those students this opportunity in person is difficult. However, our colleagues in Admission and those working in conjunction with them, are creating and putting into place ways to connect prospective students and families with us, our students and alumni, to help maintain and create new relationships. Some of the creativity that has come out of this might create new ways of connecting with students in the future.

Wrapping up his webinar, President McCulloh said, “You matter to us.”

He applauded Gonzaga’s 55,000 living alumni, saying “We have a powerful University because we have a powerful community of people, who continue to support our students and our work. We will continue to find ways to connect with one another,” referring his audience to a new Gonzaga website, Zags at Home.

“Gonzaga, like so many institutions around the country, has been through some tough times. But being committed to Gonzaga and having seen us through previous rocky times, we will see ourselves through this, successfully, to a new reality,” McCulloh said.

“Thanks to all who support Gonzaga. We are keeping you in our prayers. I look forward to a time when we can come back together again, literally.”