Fr. Hendrickson Grateful for Alumni, Parent Support During Pandemic
Fr. Hendrickson Grateful for Alumni, Parent Support During Pandemic

Alumni, parents and friends of Creighton University were thanked Thursday evening for being the heart and soul of the University’s ongoing success.

The Rev. Daniel S. Hendrickson, SJ, PhD, president of Creighton University, addressed an online gathering of 296 people drawn from 25 states — as well as London, and Lagos, Nigeria — whose support he said ensures continuation of the University’s Jesuit educational tradition.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank the many of you who are our best advocates for promoting Creighton University,” Fr. Hendrickson said. “In these challenging times, it is your own experience, your own conviction, and your active promotion of Creighton University as a place of academic excellence, in and of a compelling and distinctive 500-year tradition of Jesuit education, that encourages students and families to better know us, and to come and study with us, and live with us.”

The remarks were made during the last of three virtual Presidential Town Halls held Wednesday and Thursday during which Fr. Hendrickson assured faculty, staff, alumni and parents that Creighton would overcome the serious financial and organizational challenges posed by the COVID-19 epidemic.

“With a strong pre-pandemic endowment; solid bond ratings; very focused stewardship initiatives these past couple of years; recurring record-breaking enrollment cycles; national rankings for academic programs; undergraduate research and internships; impressive and accomplished faculty and staff — a lot of you know them — an enviable diversity of academic programs across nine colleges and schools, many of which will be offered in not one but now two metropolitan areas; and a compelling life-changing mission and identity, I am more convinced than ever that we are poised for our very best years,” Fr. Hendrickson said.

“Even as many colleges and universities around the nation will need to take a step back, and in fact might not even make it, Creighton is well-positioned to move forward, and in a season of pandemic it is so clear that our nation and our world need more of what Creighton has to offer — smart compassionate innovative graduates who step into the world well-equipped to be leaders and agents of change.”

He consistently evoked the “generous, ingenious, gratuitous, and magnanimous” responses of Creighton faculty and staff, citing teaching, research, recruitment, programming, and outreach as worthy and effective.

Nevertheless, Fr. Hendrickson did not minimize the difficulties confronting Creighton.

He said current projections estimate that the incoming Class of 2024 will consist of about 900 freshmen, compared to 1,150 in 2018 and 1,075 in 2019. With the exception of the School of Law, which looks likely to meet its goal of 115 students, Fr. Hendrickson said coronavirus-related concerns are impacting enrollment across Creighton as at schools across the nation.

Despite this, the quality of the incoming class has not been affected, he said, with students possessing a median ACT of 27 and a median high school GPA of 3.95. Diversity levels, the number of Pell Grant students, and the number of first-generation college students, all have held steady, he said.

The online audience heard an account of the swift and decisive measures the University took once the full seriousness of the pandemic became apparent, from recalling all students engaged in study-abroad programs and suspending in-person classes, to ultimately closing the campus entirely on April 7 and holding commencement ceremonies for the Class of 2020 entirely online. Total online Zoom hours served at Creighton leaped from 10,000 in February to almost 95,000 during April.

Fr. Hendrickson said one of his greatest concerns is that Creighton retain the financial strength to provide scholarships to those who could not achieve a Creighton education without assistance.

“It has always been the mission of Creighton to ensure this,” Fr. Hendrickson said, while expressing pride that COVID-19 funds established to aid students and furloughed employees had amassed a total of $740,000.

Plans call for the fall semester to commence two days earlier than planned, he said, and to conclude on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving. The University also will forgo fall break, creating a schedule that avoids two national travel cycles, he said, and relieves the stress on campus in case the COVID-19 virus reappears.

During a question-and-answer session, Fr. Hendrickson assured the gathering that any decisions relating to opening campus would be guided by data, science and recommendations from local, state and national health authorities, that safety will remain the first priority, and that faculty members returning to their classrooms will be ready instantly to resume online instruction if necessary.

Finally, Fr. Hendrickson answered a question about the status of Creighton’s athletics program.

“Athletics is just part of the great list of uncertainties we are embracing,” he said.

He said discussions are ongoing with the NCAA and the BIG EAST Conference about new East-West competitive scenarios and other possibilities to reduce the risk of travel.

“We’re not quite sure what to do at this point, or what this looks like, but we have a real hope and a real opportunity to bring our athletics back into motion,” he said.