This week we mark the conclusion of a particularly dramatic year in Webster’s 105-year history.
A year that began with great promise thanks to this community’s efforts – from the grand opening of our newest campus in Tashkent, to a six-spot rise in our U.S. News & World Report ranking – now concludes amid an array of challenges we could have hardly imagined when we gathered for Fall Convocation just nine months ago.
And yet, the way this community has responded to the global pandemic tells us there remains great promise in the year ahead. This spring, every location adapted to the sudden need to move all programs online. Every unit faced the transition to modified operations, thoughtfully assessing and implementing what was needed to continue serving students and supporting each other. Last Saturday we presented a treasured tradition, our 101st Commencement, in a virtual format that would have been inconceivable to the first Webster graduates who gathered on a lawn in Webster Groves a century ago.
This spring the COVID-19 Task Force met daily, called upon the insights of units and campuses throughout our global network, and kept our community informed through a quickly changing situation whose needs varied by region. This month we engaged our friends and donors through new fundraising efforts, and they have responded to the urgent needs of our students and reaffirmed their support for Webster’s mission.
These times have called for adaptability, patience and thoughtful coordination, and the Webster University community has risen to the occasion.
What we know about the immediate future is that it is still marked by unknowns. But that future will be shaped by how our community continues to respond to new hurdles, anticipate multiple scenarios, and collaborate with each other to guide Webster through them with confidence and care. Rest assured we are preparing for any kind of challenge that comes our way.
The Task Force on Transition & Adaptability is expanding on the work of the COVID-19 Task Force and will help our operations transition from crisis response to a mode that ensures Webster can thrive in the “new normal,” with whatever changes to policies and process that may require. The colleagues serving on the task force working groups will evaluate the latest information to ensure our operations continue to prioritize the safety, health and security of our community.
Though much is different about this month than any past May in memory, certain things remain the same: As with every year in Webster’s history, we are busy recruiting and registering students for fall. We are preparing how to provide an excellent education given changing conditions. And we are innovating in our methods of teaching, connecting and inspiring students for the summer term and beyond.
It is too soon to know under what conditions the fall term will begin, and that, too, may vary by location. Our goal, of course, is to make available as much in-person instruction and service to our students as they desire and is safe. But for every scenario, we will remain “remote ready” should the need to operate exclusively online return.
All around us, we are witnessing the economic and employment impact of the pandemic. Many peer institutions have made deep cuts that have left thousands wondering where to turn. As you know, Webster has continued to manage the resources to adapt rather than simply reduce. With the support of the Board of Trustees, our institution is structured to carefully and strategically evaluate new realities, monitor existing expenditures, and govern so that we can continue to be flexible in addressing adverse challenges we face.
With your continued efforts and expertise, we can emerge on the other side of this pandemic era as a stronger institution.
Thank you for your many contributions this past year, for your can-do spirit, and for your perseverance through the difficult circumstances of the past two months. Whether we see you next in person or on a virtual call where your cat says "hello," we are proud to have you as colleagues.
We are, and remain, in this all together.
Elizabeth (Beth) J. Stroble
Julian Z. Schuster