In my first year as president of Texas Lutheran University, I did not anticipate that we would live through a pandemic. I hadn’t imagined that after mid-March we would deliver all of our classes online, close our residence halls, and move about 80% of our employees to work from home. As a campus community that puts a premium on the advantages of faculty-student interaction, small classes, and the power of personal connections, we had to make major adjustments quickly, while working hard to ensure that our students continued to be served well by their university in the most unusual of circumstances.

For all of the challenges and unknowns we have lived through this spring, the certainty that has guided our university is our obligation to keep our students and employees safe, to keep the TLU campus safe, and to be mindful of our larger responsibilities. Universities are places where knowledge is generated and disseminated, where minds expand, where difficult questions are asked, and where career preparation is provided. Yet they are also places that must have a social conscience, that must understand their role in their community and in the larger society, and that must do their part for the greater good, especially in times of crisis. Without those elements, our efforts to educate and prepare ring hollow.

TLU’s link to service and a sense of community responsibility is embedded in our history. From world wars to economic depressions to smaller community crises, Texas Lutheran has lived into its mission as a community of faith and learning that operates in pursuit of a more just world. Our history is affirmed in the core values that we identify — the values that make us the place that we are: community, education, and faith. In good times and bad, those values guide the decisions we make and the work that we do.

The spring of 2020 will go down in history as a remarkable and unprecedented time of public health and financial crisis, a time of great loss, and a time of much uncertainty. TLU students this spring were called to respond in unique ways to the curveball that was thrown at them during their college career, with little warning or time to prepare. They were asked to adapt to a new learning environment, cancelled athletics seasons, postponed commencement, and the cancellation of all of the celebratory events that typically unfold on our campus each spring. There’s nothing easy about any of that, but our students are fortunate to draw on a strong tradition of service and sacrifice that their university is familiar with.

We are also fortunate to have a foundation of faith that undergirds these efforts. TLU Theology Professor Carl Hughes has recently reminded us that our namesake, Martin Luther, was experienced at living through plagues, pandemics, and all manner of other health crises. Luther’s response to those challenges was to look to community and focus on the ways that we are all connected to one another. He noted that in community we find our solutions to a pandemic, by focusing on smart health and safety practices, honoring our medical professionals, looking out for the poor and the weak, and working together for the good of all.

TLU is proud to be part of this community, to see the efforts being made by our local governments, our hospital, our medical and emergency service providers, our local businesses and industries, and our social services to respond to this pandemic in the best way possible. We are grateful for the opportunities we have to serve with them in ensuring that a bright future is ahead for all of us. And, we look forward to reopening our campus when it is safe to do so and welcoming all of our community to join us and benefit from what a strong university can provide.

Debbie Cottrell is the president of Texas Lutheran University. Her column will appear the first Sunday of each month.

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