Final Reflections on 2021 Academic Year

Jun 7, 2021

Dear Members of the University of Dubuque Family: 

This note to our UD family will be my final Presidential communication of the COVID-19 era. There will continue to be updates, for sure, but not of the depth or volume that this past year or so has required. In total, I have emailed over 25 COVID-19 updates and filmed around 50 UD Talks and UD Listens videos to share messages from our campus home. From the beginning, we believed that it was important to do our best to over-communicate with all of you. Each of you has an important claim in this Mission known as the University of Dubuque. And because each of you is invested in this Mission, we not only survived this year, we became stronger, more focused, and even more purposeful in our desire to offer a faith-based education of teaching and learning in our caringly intrusive environment. So as we end this epoch, I would like to offer a few words of thanks to each of you.

Words cannot begin to express how proud I am of each one of you. Yes, there have been ups and downs throughout the year, and the experiences of this year are surely not the way any of you had anticipated engaging in your university education. Who would ever have dreamed that we would be wearing face coverings throughout the year or learning through a synchronous delivery platform? All of this alongside canceled concerts, virtual events, and shortened athletic seasons? But you persevered; you adapted. You exercised patience and ample amounts of forgiveness, even while you learned and made the most of this, your time. I know that you will use this experience to make you better and not bitter.  

Faculty and Staff Colleagues
Each of you have been amazing in your own way! What a challenging - and rewarding - year in so many different ways. The accomplishment for which I am most grateful is that you set aside your personal convictions and, in some cases, fear and anxiety, and chose to focus on creating the best learning experience for our student body. Some of you facilitated that experience in the classroom. Some of you facilitated that experience through residence life or student engagement. Some of you did that through coaching and mentoring. Some of you did that by getting us to be equipped, technologically. Some of you did that by helping us identify resources for scholarships and increased COVID-19 testing. And some of you contributed by cleaning, sanitizing classrooms and residence halls, mowing, shoveling, repairing HVAC systems, and preparing and serving hundreds of thousands of meals to students in dining facilities and to those students in quarantine or isolation. Thank you - every one of you!

Parents of Current and Prospective Students
Thank you for entrusting us with your children. Though somewhat counter to the higher education culture, early in the COVID-19 crisis, we believed that your children - our students - needed to be in the classrooms to learn together. We communicated with you early and often throughout summer 2020, and we are grateful to have been able to deliver on our promise to educate and form students in a safe and supportive environment.

It is important for you to know that we will continue to do all that we can to be supportive and to help you and your family navigate during these next months and years. We understand that many of you still have concerns about the kind of educational experience your child will have during the 2021-2022 academic year. I will make three promises to you: 1) We will be delivering a high-quality educational experience, both in and out of the classroom, in a face-to-face caringly intrusive environment; 2) We will be a campus that is safe, monitored through mitigation strategies, and responsive to whatever environmental changes may come our way; and 3) We will do everything we can to support your child spiritually, emotionally, educationally, and financially.

As an example of that support, I would like to share a few details from the first full year of service to our students through the Smeltzer-Kelly Student Health Center. Our student health center opened three days before classes began in August 2020. Prior to the student health center, we contracted with UnityPoint Health-Finley Hospital to provide acute care services for students in need of medical attention. I am proud to say that we are now able to provide a full continuum of care for all of our students; care that meets their physical and brain health needs. From September 2020 through May 2021, 2,818 students received medical attention including sports physicals, brain health treatments, learning challenge diagnostics, COVID-19 tests, vaccinations, and many other forms of medical tests and treatment. We expect this number to grow during the 2021-2022 academic year. By the time they have graduated, our goal is to have students equipped to ably manage their physical and brain health.

Trustees, Alumni, and Friends
Without your support, we would have experienced many more challenges throughout this past academic year. A record number of you supported our Annual Student Scholarship Fund. In fact, for the first time in its history, the Annual Student Scholarship Fund reached its goal in early April…seven weeks ahead of schedule! Among many opportunities, this campaign provided extra financial support for students that were struggling to stay in school. A number of our Trustees, again, rose to their unique challenges as fiduciaries of this Mission. Trustees provided financial support to help students who could not afford prescription medications. Other trustees provided financial support to complete the Smeltzer-Kelly Student Health Center and the Peter and Susan Smith Welcome Center. And still other trustees provided financial support that encouraged the work of faculty and staff members who labored long and hard to keep us moving throughout this extraordinary year. Indeed, trustees, alumni, and friends have pitched in to help this Mission through these very challenging months.

Final Thoughts
As you’ve gathered, making it through this year has been a team effort. In lots of ways, though challenging, this year has also been an enormous gift to each one of us. Petty differences were often set aside for the greater good. The importance of learning together, in community, was highlighted - and understood - in a way that many of us had grown to take for granted. Support to those of us in need was given with joy and received with thanksgiving. All of these ingredients are, in fact, essential in forming a healthy organizational culture.

And that healthy culture will be needed now, more than ever, as we move through these next 18 months at this Mission known as the University of Dubuque. Our own “supply chains” have been disrupted, and it will take us time to rebuild the relationships put on hold with high school counselors, coaches, prospective students, and affiliated individuals that provide so much support for our students. Additionally, we will continue to work through challenges and teaching/learning opportunities that arise from unrest - whether that be civil, social, or interpersonal. Many people have been wounded over the last 15 months; trauma that is seen and unseen. Now, more than ever, we are committed to being that place of hospitality, hope, and healing. It is our Mission—it has been our Mission, which is now entering its 170th academic year.

So, for the last time -

Mancherlei Gaben Und Ein Geist (Various Gifts and One Spirit),

Jeffrey F. Bullock, PhD