State of the University Address: Gratitude & Thankfulness

November 01, 2020 - 8 minute read


President Thomas

CUI President Michael Thomas delivered the State of the University Address to the Concordia community on October 7, 2020. The address has been excerpted and edited below. Watch the full address here.

I want to first acknowledge all of the hard work, sacrifices, trust, shared communal  spirit, and corporate faith that the CUI community has demonstrated over these last six months. And I do so with gratitude and thanksgiving! 

In March, faculty converted all their face-to face courses to online in just five days. Staff supported this transition and helped pave the way for students to vacate campus. The students pivoted and extended grace to all as we wrestled with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the intervening six months, the faculty built their courses in three modalities, awaiting a decision. Staff worked hard in similar ways to prepare the campus for remote, hybrid, or face-to-face interactions with students. And the students prepared themselves in similar ways. This was all hard work.  

There have been many sacrifices by many individuals. The non-stop nature of planning and executing since March has come at a cost. The faculty and staff are tired, have personally sacrificed time with all the extra work, and money, including the deeply painful salary reductions, and many have said goodbye to long-time friends and colleagues. 

We will become the premier Lutheran University of the West. That is the horizon. That vision inspires me.

The students also have sacrificed. They wanted a normal academic year. Some are on campus, but it is different. Some are still at home, but that is all-too-familiar. Some have lost their part-time jobs; others are missing friends who are not on campus; still others are feeling the true effects of Zoom fatigue. Students, thank you for adhering to the COVID protocols, the face coverings, social distancing, limited activities on campus. And to those students who are at home, thank you for trusting us with your education. We are excited to welcome you as soon as you are willing and as soon as we are able! 

Yet this year has had its high points. It has been amazing to watch this team, this family, come together. Faculty and staff have risen to the occasion to support students and their families. Students have buoyed our spirits as we are once again teaching, whether in person or through a screen. 

So thank you! Each and every one of you students, faculty, staff, deans, leadership council, cabinet, regents, trustees, donors and others. I want you to know that the students and their families appreciate all that we’ve done to try to make this year as normal as possible. 

Where We Are

I’d like to look out a little farther to the horizon. But as with any journey, we start where we are. We have a lot to be thankful for. There are many causes for gratitude! These are accomplishments of us all. At the end of the day, CUI is all about people. It’s about the students and alumni we serve, about we who serve them, and about whom they serve in the community and the world.

Campus Life

As of today, 600 students are living in the residence halls, which is approximately 60 percent of total occupancy. Very few universities in California have opened their residence halls to this extent, but we heard a clear message from students and families that they wanted this opportunity, and we had confidence that our reopening plan would allow us to do so safely. I want to offer a special note of thanks to University Services, Bon Appetít, Aramark, Housing and Residential Life, the Peer Advising Coordinators, Peer Advising Leaders, RAs, athletic coaches and so on for making move-in weekend an amazing event.

Enrollments are up year over year, academic classes are engaging and going well, COVID infections are very low, athletic teams are practicing, spiritual life is flourishing, campus improvements continue to enhance the physical beauty and functionality for students, friends and donors continue to invest in our mission with their time and treasure, finances are currently stable. The Lord blessed our communal efforts more than we could have ever imagined!

COVID-19 Mitigation

The on-ground task force charged with drafting the protocols necessary to reopen campus worked extensively with the Orange County Healthcare Agency to make certain our COVID-19 mitigation, testing, tracing, quarantining, and isolation practices were in accordance with state and county mandates. CUI has created a public dashboard that provides up-to-date information on cases. CUI to date has mitigated the spread of this virus to very few cases. When cases have occurred, we immediately put the mitigation steps into practice. The speed of action is greatly helped because CUI purchased a rapid testing machine that provides results in approximately 15 minutes. A special note of appreciation needs to be offered to the on-ground task force chaired by Tim Odle. And a very special note of thanks needs to go to Michelle Laabs and her staff in the Wellness Center and to the entire Student Affairs staff, including the RDs and RAs, and to all the coaches, who are on the front lines of mitigation.

Athletics

The athletic director, staff and coaches were instrumental in helping to bring in freshman and transfers for Fall 2020 and assisting the residence hall staff in assigning athletes to rooms to mitigate spread of the virus. Athletic teams have begun practicing, some as teams and other in smaller pods. All fall sports competitions have been postponed until spring. It is our hope that CUI Athletics will be able to compete in the Spring, although there are still many challenges regarding the PacWest conference play, scheduling and more. Additionally, running 20 sports simultaneously at six on-campus and ten off-campus facilities will require many faculty and staff from CUI to volunteer for game management to assist Athletics.

Campus Ministry/Spiritual Care

Pastor Quinton Anderson and his team are producing excellent chapel services that are streamed live four days a week and available on demand. Our CUI Source communion service (Tuesday evenings in the CU Center) and our Shout devotional service (Thursday evenings in the amphitheater) are meeting in-person with appropriate Covid-19 modifications. Small groups are meeting, and student ministry leaders are doing a great job in these challenging times.

Campus Improvements

The facilities team has done a remarkable job with the renovation of Founders Hall. Two indoor labs and one research facility were fully renovated, and a new outdoor science lab was built. Six residential student lounges, both in the upper and lower quads, were refurbished (although they still have not opened due to restrictions). In partnership with Student Affairs, outdoor furniture was purchased for students in the residence halls to enable them to observe social distancing and to take advantage of the southern California weather. Just last week a new, nine-hole Frisbee golf course was installed on campus.

Advancement

The Forward in Faith campaign continues to exceed all expectations climbing now to nearly $95 million ($85 million campaign goal). A huge thanks goes to the University Advancement team. CUI continues to build relationships with friends of the University and is continuing to build new relationships throughout southern California. I look forward to our chance to celebrate these amazing accomplishments in the new year.

Finances/Budget

COVID-19 infection rates and spread, unclear and/or vacillating guidance from the state and county, student and family anxiety and so on continue to make the 2020-2021 academic year difficult in terms of budget planning. As many of you know, we undertook a $5 million budget alignment in the late spring and planned for numerous contingencies and drafted various matching financial scenarios that have ranged from $4-$16 million in additional deficits.

However, with robust enrollments, 60 percent occupancy of the residence halls, very low infection rates, strict budgeting processes, reception of various estate gifts, and those very painful cuts, the financial forecasts for now are looking much better than expected. But uncertainty still governs our planning processes as we continue to work through the fall semester and look to the spring while endeavoring to end the year with limited deficits.

That is where we have been and where we are. We have a lot to be thankful for!

Where We are Going: Spring 2021 and Beyond

Programs

The plenary faculty and the Board of Regents just approved a new undergraduate BS in Engineering for Fall 2021. I also recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Orbis Education, a shared services partner, that will enable us to launch a satellite campus offering our ABSN degree in Los Angeles and beyond. CUI’s Nursing faculty will maintain full control of the academic curriculum and the hiring of faculty. 

The growth of the Townsend Institute continues to accelerate. And I am proud to announce that the dual Associate of Arts in Accounting, offered in partnership with Zhejiang Financial College (China), admitted its first cohort this October.

Strategic Planning Process

Dream with me for a moment and let’s think about the next 2, 5 and 10 years. I believe CUI will become the premier Lutheran University of the West. Why would I offer such a bold idea? We have something very special at CUI. We are faithfully committed to our Christian mission to be the Great Commission University. We will continue to share the hope that is within us with each and every student we teach. And today the world is in desperate need of this hope.

I visualize Concordia University as a comprehensive Lutheran university that is part of a 500-year-old tradition of educational excellence. I also see CUI as an essential ministry of the Lutheran Church of our region and offering so much of importance that is not otherwise available to congregations and parishioners. We are proudly Lutheran, dedicated to combining the liberal arts with professional studies, enabling all students, regardless of their own faith commitments, to understand their daily activities as divine, vocational acts, and committed to engaging faithfully in that exciting and challenging arena where church meets culture. This has always been our past; and this will be our future!

We will become the premier Lutheran University of the West. That is the horizon. We will together, as a community, plot the path over the next few months and years. This vision inspires me. I hope it also inspires each of you.

May the Lord bless each of us in the coming months as we live out our callings at CUI!

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