Is this overhyped? Are we overreacting? These are some of the questions that came to me last week as we postponed our Commencement due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These questions were directed to CCU by some of our friends. They are questions being asked around the country.
Along with fear, there is also a lot of anger out there. Behind some of the anger are suspicions that this health crisis is being exaggerated and that it is killing the economy, causing immense economic damage—hurting small businesses, 401ks, families, etc..
Some have even speculated that this is a crisis fostered by the left-leaning media and bureaucrats, and anyone who goes along with them, including universities, are caving into the culture.
Let me say that I don’t doubt that all this is going to have major economic consequences for the United States and the global economy. I understand the anger of my investor friends, of small business owners, of laid off workers, and of students who will not get to graduate this May as they had hoped. This is a challenge like nothing else we have experienced in my lifetime. While talking to my 95 year-old father just yesterday, he said it was a challenge like nothing he experienced in his lifetime!
To be frank, I don’t think we are overreacting by taking the steps we have taken to protect the CCU community. This is a health crisis and an economic crisis. It is both. But it is first a health crisis and a serious one.
This is a virus we’ve never had to deal with before. There is no built-up immunity, no vaccine, and still much mystery about how it spreads. We know that it spreads rapidly, has many invisible carriers who are asymptomatic, and that it has a higher mortality rate than the flu. We know that the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions are particularly vulnerable. These are facts about the virus that cannot be refuted.
What is happening in Italy and Spain tells us that it is serious. And if the outbreak in the U.S. is not slowed, it could overwhelm our health care system. Therefore, efforts to slow it down by reducing the density of crowds and by social distancing are reasonable and necessary.
As a university, our concern is first for our traditional undergraduate students. Having residential students disperse for spring break and then return would have brought a higher risk of the virus quickly spreading in our community.
Our first decision was to restrict and then cancel international travel to certain countries for students going on trips in March through May. After that we curtailed all university non-essential travel. Then we minimized large campus events. Then we decided to send our residential students home to finish the semester. And we have recently made the decision to postpone Commencement.
I’ll admit, such actions are highly unusual. This has never happened in the history of CCU, or in the history of higher education in the United States.
In making these decisions we listened to voices of those in the know. As a university president, I take seriously the opinions of the CDC, NIH, HHS, our President, our Governor, the Colorado Department of Education, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, local health care officials, and experts from our own university community. It would be irresponsible to outguess them.
If the pandemic is serious enough for the cancellation of all college sports competition by the NCAA, the postponement of the Olympics in Japan, and the stay-at-home orders issued by our State, then it is serious enough to take unusual actions.
In listening to key government voices, we have complied with various orders. There is actually a Biblical principle here—to be subject to rulers and authorities. To disobey would have been in defiance of our governments (Romans 13). Though, at the same time, CCU’s Centennial Institute, is working with legal experts to make sure that our Constitutional rights are protected as these various orders are handed down.
In making decisions for the University, we have also kept in touch with presidents from other Colorado universities and other college associations, i.e. the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), and the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC). In listening to the voices of peer institutions, we are trying to take in wise counsel, which is also a Biblical principle.
Colorado Christian University graduates are on the frontlines of the pandemic. Our nursing program, which was honored by the Colorado legislature last year, has produced nurses all over this country who are caring for the sick.
We have also interacted with a local hospital, which is expecting to see a surge of cases in the next two weeks. We have been approached by hospitals and county officials about using our residence halls for hospital overflow, first responders, etc., as needed.
It is my belief that extraordinary times call for extraordinary decisions. We have made these decisions carefully and prayerfully. We have made them knowing that everything we do before a pandemic will appear to be alarmist, and everything we do afterwards will probably seem inadequate.
We have made them hoping that this will not last long and that all the worst case scenarios will be wrong. And there is some indication that they will be. Early indications from China and South Korea suggest that things are slowly turning.
We are calm, trusting in our Lord and expecting to go forward full steam ahead in the fall. I personally think that everyone’s response to this in three months will be different from what we have seen in March and April. As the months go by, our diagnostic tests will improve and become more widely available, there will be more immunity in the larger population, we will find more treatments to reduce the intensity of the virus, and hopefully we will come closer to having an effective vaccine.
Meanwhile, let’s pray for those on the front lines. CCU is offering medical supplies from our nursing program to local hospitals. We are offering the use of some of our residence halls for the next three months to health care and government use. Let’s pray for the first responders. Let’s pray for those who are advancing research on this to find a vaccine, that it would come quickly. Pray for wisdom for our President, Vice President and their coronavirus task force, as they direct the national response to the virus. And pray for wisdom for the leadership of CCU and other universities as we navigate this crisis.
We will get through this. May the Lord hold us fast, and may we hold fast to him and to the hope of the gospel in the days to come.