A Message from President Minnis to Faculty and Staff - April 17 | Benedictine College

A Message from President Minnis to Faculty and Staff

Sent to Benedictine College faculty and staff on April 17, 2020.

Dear Faculty and Staff of Benedictine College:

Happy Easter!

What a wonderful time to remember the blessings that we have as Christians to be able to embrace the hope of the Risen Christ! It is also a blessing to be at Benedictine College and work with such wonderful people who believe in the mission and embrace the faith. It could be easy to lose that hope during these unprecedented times, but you have not done that and it is greatly appreciated. You have faced this crisis with grace and professionalism and I am so grateful to every one of you for what you are doing.

We have been challenged a great deal in the last few weeks and many of you are working longer and harder than ever before. We have dealt with the loss of half a semester, our students have moved home and we are providing the excellent Benedictine College education online--all of which provides anxious moments. But we have taken charge and embraced the situation and our students and their families are appreciative of everyone’s efforts.

One of the first thanks goes to the ad hoc Coronavirus Task Force, led by Linda Henry, which has been central to our decision making. Thank you for all the hours you have put in on critical decisions.

Many first-time decisions have been made by the college in the past month or so. To recap what we have done:

  • After announcing an extended Spring Break on March 12, we made the tough decision on March 17 to close the residence halls, another historic first. We hosted a Facebook Live Town Hall Meeting on March 19 to answer questions about the crisis and at that meeting launched a Memorare Army for Pandemic Relief—that over 840 people have already joined! Since then, only a few students unable to return home remain in the residence halls and Residence Life has been steadily managing the student moveout over the next month.
  • On April 7, we made the difficult financial decision to commit to credit or return to students the room and board they have paid for the part of the semester that they were away. This represents a cost of $3.4 million and is a major financial challenge for the college, but it is the right thing to do. The business office is doing amazing work finding ways to make this fiscally achievable, through the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act, renegotiating vendor contracts, reducing costs and other means—but this is a significant challenge for the college.
  • Then, on April 9, the faculty made the decision to allow students the ability to choose a pass/fail grade for classes. The refund decision did much to ease financial worries on the part of students, and the pass/fail decision helped alleviate their academic worries. The college organized a survey to students and families to find out what our students most needed from the college, especially academically, in this crisis, and one of the top worries expressed by the students revolved around grades and pass/fail. The students have expressed a deep gratitude for the faculty’s action. Thank you so much faculty for this decision.

All these key decisions were made with the best interest of the college and our students and I appreciate all of those involved in the discussion, debate and outcomes of those key decisions.

As you know, some of the keys to moving the college forward are what we call the Three R’s: Recruit, Retain, Raise. The college will thrive if we can recruit new students, retain our current students, and raise adequate resources for the annual fund and the endowment.

  • Recruit. Recruiting was at an all-time high before the pandemic struck, but we are now restricted from bringing prospects to campus, which is normally key to our recruitment efforts. Joe Rioux and the Marketing team, working with the Admission Office, launched a new Virtual Benedictine page in record time on March 19, including Facebook tours of campus and other online interaction the Admission Office is now conducting. We cannot predict at this point how the pandemic will affect our freshman recruiting. Thank you to Pete Helgesen and the Admissions team for their incredible work and continued efforts to recruit a strong class. Please pray for their efforts.
  • Retain. Retention will be key to our efforts to have a strong enrollment in the fall. Unfortunately, news around the country is not positive. Many are estimating that college enrollment in the U.S. could drop by 10% this fall which would cause a drop in revenue of approximately $2.5 million for Benedictine College. This would be an extreme burden on the college and force us to find ways to make major cuts at the college. At this moment we have no information one way or the other to know if our retention will be strong, but it is a concern that we all need to take seriously.
  • Raise. Kelly Vowels and the advancement team continues to do amazing work in this area, but we are aware of the financial hardship the pandemic has caused to our donors. Fundraising will be a challenge until the economy rebounds, but the advancement team is already laying the ground for success with its Ravens Will Rise fund.

Most of you reading this are asking: What can I do? Let’s first think of how to not just mitigate our losses, but strengthen our student body. For most of us, emphasizing Retain will be the key.

This virus has struck directly at every aspect of our mission of community, faith and scholarship. It put social distancing in place of community, shut down the sacraments our faith relies on, and drove our students away from the classrooms, library and faculty offices where scholarship happens. I propose we fight back.

It is precisely through our mission that we will retain students and attract new Ravens. So let’s put more energy and purpose into our mission than ever before.

Think of ways you can build community with our students: Encourage them to start GroupMe discussions with each other, and continue to be available for their questions and concerns, by email or by phone. Residence Life continues to build community through the RAs and RDs. There is more interaction on social media than ever before as students reach out to one another and to the college. Share your efforts with the #RavensWillRise hashtag to be part of this incredible story. Faculty can hold zoom office hours so students can have those drop-in conversations they value so much.

Help our students stay connected to the faith life on campus. The Marketing team has created a new podcast, “Casting into the Deep” with Fr. Simon, and the Ministry team is conducting Emmaus Nights online and doing online presentations to parish youth groups. Ministry is continuing to collect videos of student, faculty, staff and alumni talent for an online Jam for the Lamb set for May 1. See inspiring stories of hope from Raven nurses and others at www.Benedictine.edu/rise and share with others the livestreamed daily Masses and Wednesday morning Rosary.

Thank you for what you are doing for scholarship on our campus. Although many students are struggling with the transition to online learning, they are extremely appreciative of the efforts of the faculty in providing the best experience possible. We also lost our speakers, Discovery Day, the Symposium, and other events, but new opportunities are opened up by the pandemic. Michael Throop was able to have the Royals’ Vice President of Community Relations guest lecture in his class via Zoom, Father Michael Schmitz joined Tom Hoopes’s class, David French was in Dean Shankman’s class and George Weigel joined my leadership course, with Lou Holtz to follow.

Ultimately, it is about bringing our mission to our students—reminding them of the power of community, faith and scholarship and that the best way to fully experience it is on campus at Benedictine College. Whenever we can reach out and communicate with our students to show them we care for them and love them will be a significant step in having strong retention.

It is amazing to see how much is going on with an empty campus outside my window. One reason we have weathered this storm well is because you had placed us in such a strong position to start with. If our community had not been so strong, we might not have been able to keep so close to students who were sent home. Without our faith, Holy Week would have been just a tough week of lockdown, instead of an opportunity to suffer and rise with Jesus Christ. And without our commitment to scholarship, we would not have been so willing to find any means necessary to teach our students.

And that brings me to Commencement. We lost a key event of the year, but it is only delayed and has been rescheduled for July 25, 2020. We will attempt to give our seniors a Senior Week along with Senior Brunch, March of Light, Baccalaureate Mass and all the traditions leading up to Commencement. We are also discussing ways we can celebrate the Honors Banquet with more people instead of fewer in the current environment. It will take a lot of work from everyone concerned to make this happen, but we cannot let our students lose these important events in their Raven life.

We have all been under a great deal of pressure, and, as I said, I am proud of how everyone is dealing with this situation. Continue to take care of yourselves and stay healthy. We will get through this together and we will ultimately be better for it. The Benedictine College community remains strong and our strength comes from the mission. Thank you for all of your hard work, your resiliency, your faith and your commitment to building one of the great Catholic colleges in America. Forward, Always Forward, Everywhere Forward!

Ravens Will Rise!

Stephen D. Minnis
President – Benedictine College