Thriving, Not Just Surviving, in Turbulent Times

March 2020

President's' Blog

They say that March “comes in like a lion.”  Wow, little did we know a few short weeks ago just how true that old adage would be!

This year the lion has chosen to bare unexpectedly sharp teeth, and “March Madness” has taken on a completely new and unpleasant guise.  In all fairness, humanity has had its share of tests and trials over the years.  Historians will someday be the ones to let us know where the Coronavirus Pandemic of 2020 ranks among our travails, but for the moment we are all living through a protracted period of altered circumstances.  And, yes, it stinks.

None of us quite knows how this will all play out…or when.  In the meantime, I’m not a big fan of cowering in the corner.  We will—and do—take the challenges of COVID-19 seriously.  As a University, we did not come late to the preparedness game; instead, our faculty and staff began working proactively weeks ago to transition courses to online platforms if that ever became necessary.  We dramatically reduced the number of people on campus, complying with all CDC directives to promote social distancing, self-quarantining, and excess cleanliness.  We ramped up our communications to make sure everyone has had the best and most timely information possible.  The Gardner-Webb team has rallied, and that’s been an impressive thing to behold.

We’ve also kept our heads.  Calm in the face of crisis should be the calling card of a community of faith.  As Christians, we know a thing or two about standing on pillars of faith as we face down fears.  In Isaiah 41:10 we read, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”  Faith gives us comfort.  Faith gives us hope.  And faith gives us resolve. 

Along with the University’s leadership team, I am resolved that Gardner-Webb will emerge on the other side of Coronavirus in solid shape.  I am resolved that we will do everything we can to ensure that the success of our students is not compromised while we take unprecedented measures to keep our community healthy.  I am resolved that whenever we return to normalcy we will celebrate the grace that has carried us through.  The old Joni Mitchell song reminds us, “Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got ‘till it's gone”…I, for one, will cherish that much more the bustle of student activity on our campus, the cacophony of lunchtime conversations in the cafeteria, and the roar of Bulldog faithful at an athletic contest.  Oh, how I miss those right now.

While we’re keeping cool heads and daydreaming about our inevitable return to business as usual, we can and should be smart and strategic.  There are things that we can be doing now that will not only help us survive, they will help us thrive well into the future.  First and foremost, we have to stay fully engaged with our current students.  We have to see our seniors across the finish line so that they secure their degrees as previously planned.  We also have to stay tightly connected to our underclassmen, keeping them on pace to navigate through their respective majors.  Our GOAL/DCP students and those in our graduate programs will need to hear from us more frequently than usual, they will need additional mentoring, and they will need all of the professional care and compassion we can offer as they too work toward timely degree completion.

Gardner-Webb will thrive if we do a good job recruiting during this period of uncertainty.  Economic downturns typically drive up enrollments.  Residual anxieties from this public health crisis will make online education increasingly attractive, and GWU will need to be out in the market claiming the prowess and value of our distance learning programs.  Some four-year institutions across our region may emerge with shaky finances, and some of their students may be looking to transfer…this reinforces the imperative that Gardner-Webb continue its work to become more transfer-friendly so that we can provide a new home for these students. 

Gardner-Webb will thrive if we seize the opportunities embedded in crisis.  There is a health crisis, and Gardner-Webb University happens to have an outstanding College of Health Sciences.  At this crucial moment (and well into the future), the experts in our health sciences programs have an opportunity to enhance their role as resources for the community.  Citizens need reliable information and actionable advice, and rising above the media din should be the sage words of our GWU health specialists.

There is an impending financial crisis, and Gardner-Webb University happens to have an outstanding School of Business.  At this crucial moment (and well into the future), our business faculty can and should become a resource to all economic interests in our region.  As entrepreneurs and investors plan how best to rebuild their prosperity, our faculty should be intentional about reaching out with offers to help.

There is, potentially, an impending crisis in our public school system.  With so many children at home for an indefinite period, our community will need to be nimble and decisive about keeping their learning going at an acceptable pace and level.  Guess what…Gardner-Webb happens to have an outstanding School of Education.  At this crucial moment (and well into the future), our education faculty can and should become resources and leaders in guiding our school systems back to where they need to be. 

I’ve said it many times, and I’ll say it again here…Gardner-Webb is a private university with a very public mission.  To the extent that we step up, rather than slink back, GWU will advance its role as an agent of good. 

Gardner-Webb will thrive as a force for good in the world if our alumni, friends, corporate partners, and donors continue to invest in our future.  We are presently past the midpoint in our GWU2020 fundraising campaign, with more than $540,000 raised so far.  Our goal is $1 million before June 30, 2020 to support student scholarships, high-impact learning opportunities, state-of-the-art classrooms and labs, championship-caliber athletic teams, the performing arts, and Christian life.  If you love Gardner-Webb, believe in its mission to serve God and Humanity, and want to be part of its bright future, then we’d love to have your support.

March 2020.  Coronavirus.  What a strange and challenging time.  If we have to wade through the current morass, then there’s no place I’d rather be than at Gardner-Webb with each of you.  Thanks, as always, for all that you do for GWU.  Stay safe and healthy!

 

William M. Downs

President