President Mark A. Heckler: Community of Learning

To: Students, Faculty, and Staff
Posted: March 30, 2020 at 8 a.m.
Last Updated: April 3, 2020 at 7:30 a.m.

Dear Valpo Community,

Valpo’s mission statement describes us as a community of learning. We have been asked to learn a great deal over the past two weeks. We have learned how to move our entire University community online in the space of a few days. We have learned how to teach, study, and create from home. We have learned how to adapt our academic and administrative policies in response to a rapidly changing and unpredictable environment. We have learned how to stay focused amidst barking dogs, kids playing at our feet, and the uncertainties of this virus, our personal finances, and our nation’s economy. We have learned the contours of our individual and collective patience and forgiveness and have just begun to test the boundaries of our shared determination and resilience. Most of all, we have learned how to take precautions to keep each other safe, keep our University running as smoothly as possible, and remain as strong and unified a community as we can. It is as total a commitment to carry on as I have ever witnessed in my 40 years working in higher education.

Everyone has had to make sacrifices. Lives have been disrupted. Plans upended. Friends separated. Disappointment, frustration, and pain accompany the extraordinary changes we have been forced to undergo, a new challenge appearing each day. Uncertainties abound and questions have yet to be answered. And yet, this community strives to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God through the terrain. 

I commend each of you — faculty, staff, and students — for the herculean effort you are making; the professionalism with which you undertake your interactions, even in moments of dissent; the cooperation you display; and the commitment you make to moving forward through this uncharted territory together as a University community. Physically separated and far flung, we are still Valpo.

In particular, I am deeply indebted to and grateful for Valpo’s frontline staff who are attending daily to the needs of our students still residing on campus; to those who are caring for the physical and mental health of our students, faculty, and staff; to those delivering our academic programs, and those who ensure that our technology is equal to the task of supporting that delivery; to those who are keeping our facilities operating and to those who are cleaning and sanitizing our buildings; and to the VUPD who is keeping our campus secure. Please take the opportunity to thank these vitally important people for the commitment they continue to make to each of us across the University.

Now that we know that the University will remain in a distance-education mode for the remainder of the semester, that on-campus residential living will be limited to a small number of qualifying students this spring, and that plans and precautions have been put in place to maximize the safety and security of our community if and when an active COVID-19 case appears on campus, the University will turn its attention to the customary cycle of academic advisement, summer and fall registration, and the recruitment of the Class of 2024. In addition, senior leadership will turn its attention to the economic concerns of the University and its students, faculty, and staff. As you might imagine, there are numerous competing economic concerns at play and the University must chart both an appropriately responsive and fiscally prudent course in the coming weeks and months. The current situation is unprecedented. Our response to it must be thoughtful and measured, and it will take time in order to chart our course wisely. I ask for your patience in the interim.

As we move forward, we will learn more, but we will also continue to teach and learn from one another. Teach and learn about the essence of community. Teach and learn about the unquenchable thirst for knowledge, the thrill of discovery, and fulfilling our academic mission against difficult odds. And we will teach and learn from one another about pursuing our dreams, about spreading God’s light, even in dark times. We are instructing and receiving from each other as we go. Difficulty can bear unexpected gifts.

On Saturday afternoon, Veronica and I ventured out for a walk across the empty campus. The buds on the trees are swelling, the grass is turning green, and the daffodils are six inches out of the ground. You can now see the formation of the thousands of yellow flowers that will adorn the campus in a just a couple of weeks. The promise of spring and the glory of God’s creation are not deterred by this virus. Neither should our spirits nor the confidence that we will come back together soon and continue our pursuit of truth and generous service in physical community. Hold onto this knowledge through the difficult days ahead.  

The journey is far from over. The territory is uncharted. We are taking steps to meet our highest priority: the health, safety, and well-being of our campus community. (Please visit Valpo’s COVID-19 website for regular updates.) And we will arrive at our destination more resilient and even clearer in our purpose than ever before. This, friends, is our collective act of faith. How blessed we are to have this confidence and to share in this noble enterprise.

Be safe. Stay healthy. Be well.

Mark A. Heckler, Ph.D.
Vaparaiso University