August 27, 2020

By President John Garvey
CatholicU, Summer 2020

Last year didn’t go as planned. In September we launched Light the Way: The Campaign for Catholic University. It is our most ambitious fundraising initiative ever. We have made plans to lift up every aspect of the University, beginning with our priority areas of student success, faculty excellence, and the academic environment. 

Our project met with great success in the fall and early spring. We installed an endowed professor from the Carmelite Province of the Most Pure Heart of Mary, celebrated an additional $20 million gift to construct a new nursing and sciences building for the Conway School, and broke ground on a new dining commons. 

Then came the coronavirus pandemic. In the space of a few weeks, we went from a campus that operated in-person to one that functioned, for the most part, virtually. I remember worrying in those first weeks about how it was all going to play out. 

Our first priority was the safety of our community. We decided during spring break to move all classes online. Our faculty rallied to learn new technologies on the fly, so we could ensure continuity of instruction. I wondered if other areas would be equally successful. What would happen to student life, athletics, enrollment management, fundraising, and faculty hires? We just had to figure it out day by day. 

We have done more work in a virtual environment than I imagined possible. Still, for many reasons, I look forward to returning to in-person operations. We are taking an important if measured step in that direction by inviting freshmen to live and attend classes on campus this fall while most other undergraduate and graduate courses will be offered online. This enables us to envelop and care for our first-year students while implementing our safety systems in anticipation of a wider opening when circumstances permit. Remote teamwork and remote learning is not ideal. But it’s also not impossible. I’d like to highlight a few successes we’ve had this semester. 

On July 1 we welcomed three new deans. I had my doubts about hiring such important people online, but the results could not have been more satisfying. I look forward to working with Mark Ferguson, dean of the School of Architecture and Planning, Jo Ann Regan, dean of the National Catholic School of Social Service, and Thomas W. Smith, M.A. 1988, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences. It says something extraordinary about our University that in the midst of such uncertainty, we have been able to attract talented and accomplished leaders. 

I want to add another important leader to that list. On June 15 Kirk McLean succeeded Thomasine Johnson as the Associate Vice President for Public Safety and Emergency Management. A former major in the Prince George’s County Police Department, Kirk will provide solid leadership for our Department of Public Safety. 

We have not set aside our ambitions for the Light the Way campaign. I am proud of the partnership that University Advancement has forged with the Provost’s Office to raise the level of research funding across the University. We have formed a new team called Institutional Partnerships that will provide support and training to faculty applying for research and program funding from the federal government, foundations, and corporations. The new unit will also look for ways to capture a share of federal stimulus dollars as part of the government’s response to COVID-19. 

The biggest disappointment of the year was the postponement of Commencement. We have had to put off holding an in-person Commencement until it’s safe to gather on campus. But we didn’t want to let graduation day go unobserved. We decided to mark it with (what else?) a virtual conferral ceremony. It wasn’t Commencement, but it was a worthy celebration for the Class of 2020, complete with the participation of our chancellor, Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington. 

In the following pages [of the summer 2020 magazine] you’ll find more stories about how Catholic University found opportunities to shine in the midst of the pandemic. While we didn’t end the year as we had hoped, we found ways to achieve our objectives, and at times surpass them. We all look forward to the end of social distancing and quarantines. And when that day comes I know our spirit of innovation and creativity will continue to thrive.

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