Hanukkah, which ends tomorrow, is a festival of lights. As the story is told, when the Maccabees successfully reclaimed the Temple, there was enough oil to light the menorah for only a single day; yet, miraculously, the flames flickered for eight nights. As 2020 draws to a close – probably the most difficult year most of us can remember – it is important to pause, reflect and be thankful for the bright light that continues to shine on our campus. I am sure there have been days when it seemed like the candle was so dim, but, due to the collective efforts of this beautiful community, it continues to burn – and it is growing brighter. For your continued confidence, dedication and ongoing support to this institution, thank you, thank you, thank you!
It is tempting to think that once the pandemic is under control, we will return to “normal.” In some ways, that is true. We all look forward to in-person teaching, meetings, sports and cultural events; even just grabbing a coffee with friends and colleagues. In other ways, COVID-19 has exacerbated significant structural challenges across higher education that were hidden in plain sight. TU certainly was coping with these issues – particularly budget issues – long before COVID-19 hit.
Fortunately, we have been able to tackle these challenges head on and will continue to do so. Even against the backdrop of a financially fragile starting position complicated by the pandemic, TU’s story for 2020 is one of extraordinary progress. Together, we have:
- Improved our graduation and retention rates with a renewed focus on student success
- Kept our campus safe and open, with COVID-19 positivity rates that averaged below 3% for the entire semester, even as rates were soaring in Tulsa
- Achieved academic success in the classroom and athletic success on the field
- Made substantial progress against the board’s financial mandate, despite fierce financial headwinds
Of course, much remains to be done. As you know, the TU Board of Trustees engaged Boston Consulting Group to support and facilitate a board-led process to develop a strategic plan for reaching our long-term strategic and financial goals. From what I have seen so far, I am excited and optimistic. The plan will identify strategic opportunities that build on our legacy and strengths; help us expand our enrollment, regional profile and stature; and put us on a firm and sustainable financial path. Many options have been considered and evaluated. Feedback from across our campus has been and continues to be actively incorporated as the plan starts to take shape.
I also recognize that change can cause angst, stress and fear, and that many of you have questions. I understand that concern and believe as you engage in the planning process, your enthusiasm about TU’s future will grow. To that end, a new section of the Charting a Path Forward site on SharePoint has been created to focus on strategic planning and to answer some of your questions. The overall project plan is slightly behind schedule, but only because the important input received along the way has taken time to fold into the process. When we return from the winter break, there will be opportunities to discuss and review the latest information. Please look for those communications in early January. I encourage you all to participate, contribute and learn more.
For all of us, battling through the series of crises that is 2020, I know we are in need of a break. But I also see a new kind of energy. Even as the pandemic makes some things impossible, in other ways it helps us to reconnect to our mission and focus on the reasons we love higher education and TU. I also am reminded how fortunate we are to work (virtually) side by side with so many people who are rising to the challenges and doing some of the best work of their lives.
As I shared with you earlier this year, change is not our enemy; it is our lifeline. At the heart of a vibrant academic enterprise is intellectual curiosity, innovation and changing the way we view the world – and how the world views us.
You are the heart and soul of our university. You have poured yourselves into the work at hand, and we owe our resilience to you. Please take time to recharge during this winter break. I wish you and yours a restful, restorative and healthy holiday season. Here’s to a 2021 filled with hope and with light!
With deep gratitude,
Janet K. Levit