From the President: Our COVID-19 Response

June 12th, 2020


I hope you are well.
My, have our worlds been turned upside down by the pandemic in the past three months! It’s a two-headed invisible foe – hurting us on the health front and economic front at the macro level as nation-states and businesses and on the micro level as campuses, communities and family units. Yes, we’re all in this together.

Through it all, I remain honored to serve this remarkable university. Resilience takes many forms – the most important is staying true and steady to your mission. Our mission is a noble one: “to prepare students to serve and lead in a global context in the spirit of Micah 6:8 “to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.” We have countless shining examples of how our mission has persevered through the pandemic. Fortified by our rootedness in an active faith, modeled on the life and lessons of Jesus, our faculty, staff and students have found spiritual reserves to shine EMU’s light brightly through disorientating times.

Here’s a snapshot of where we’ve been and where we are going.


We moved with astonishing speed and care to respond to an array of complexities in those first weeks of COVID. We quickly got all students safely back to their homes, including those studying abroad. We ramped up for all courses and key support services online in two business days and a weekend. And we communicated with care and compassion the measures taken to keep our students safe and to get them to the finish line of the spring semester. Best of all, our students gave a vote of confidence to our faculty and staff in their last week of classes – responding to a survey with a 94% vote of confidence for the exemplary care they received through online personalized instruction and other key forms of support.


Like the entire higher education sector, the pandemic has created financial challenge and uncertainty for EMU and its students. The CARES Act and the Paycheck Protection Program have provided some financial relief. Even with the loss of summer revenue and with room and board reimbursements, we expect to close the year with a balanced budget. This is no small victory.

Still, financial challenges loom large. Though our fall recruitment and retention numbers look good now, it is hard to tell what our enrollment will actually yield. In response, we’ve started the Stu- dent Tuition Relief Fund and the University Fund for Resilience, both of which received record donations from supporters during our LovEMU Day. Currently, we are running slightly ahead of last year on University Fund giving, but we have additional work to do on total philanthropy between now and June 30.


We intend to reopen for in-person instruction in the fall even as we will
be ready to adopt any one of several scenarios, a decision dependent on the status of COVID-19 in the city and county. Here are the three possibilities we are considering: a best-case scenario of progressive improvement and lowering infection rates; a middle-case scenario of late fall resurgence, perhaps in some regions as early as November; and the worst-case scenario of ongoing waves of infection.

It is only in this last case, the worst- case scenario, that reopening for in- person instruction in August may not be viable. All of these scenarios involve monitoring of public health tracking measures. Our location, away from densely populated regions of our state, and our small size as a mostly contained residential college gives us some additional protections.

We have assembled six working groups (teaching and learning, enrollment, faculty and staff, student life and community, infrastructure, and budget) composed of over 60 faculty, staff and students to assess our fall options.


Our new vision statement and strategic plan refresh look particularly prescient these days. Our job now is to put the 3-year EMU plan on “after burners.” Sharing just two recent launches with you:

We’ve expanded our outreach in online learning, building on 20 years
of expertise in the format. The globally renowned Summer Peacebuilding Institute is now entirely online, and has welcomed more participants who could not get visas or afford to travel. Increased summer undergraduate online offerings have led to more enrollment. We’ve also reached into the healthcare and teacher education areas with special offerings related to restorative justice and trauma and resilience.

Additionally we have secured several partnerships with local businesses for internships and apprenticeships. The new Center for Innovation and Leadership spearheaded by Jair Drooger ‘97 is an exciting development.


At one of our recent Town Hall meetings with faculty and staff, I invoked the spirit of the psalmist in two verses.

First, invoking thanks: “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!” (Psalms 118:24)

And second, invoking faith: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present
help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth be removed and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea!… Be still….. and know that I am God….. The Lord of hosts is with us.” (Psalms 46: 1-2; 10-11)

These are dramatically different passages, but both are fitting verses in times of crisis, a word meaning both danger and opportunity, contraction and new growth. We live into this reality with whole hearts and strong faith — preparing, persisting and praying together, and finding ways, even though physical distancing, to be the loving embrace of God to each other and those in need.

I am profoundly thankful to each of you for the sustaining presence, prayer, and support you can offer to EMU in our hour of need. We “Lead Together!”