May 2021 Town Hall

PRESIDENT RALPH W. KUNCL | May 4, 2021

I begin by wishing you all a warm welcome this morning.  And it’s a great morning because we are here in Memorial Chapel, with many of us in person together . . . at very long last. 

To all of you who are here in person, and those joining virtually, thank you for coming.  It has been more than 12 months since we have been physically present together.   I have missed these gatherings, and I have missed seeing you. 

While I cannot see those of you who are remote, if our technology is working as planned, I trust that you can see us.

A little explanation about those of us up on stage: each person is fully vaccinated, allowing us to be safely together in this well-ventilated space.  I hope that, by now, most of you have been vaccinated, too.  The immunization of each of us is the only way that all of us will be able to return to some normalcy, here on campus and beyond. 

We are obviously not “back to normal” yet. I anticipate that these hybrid “in-person and virtual” events will be an ongoing part of the new normal.  We will be as interactive with you today as possible, as that’s the goal of a town hall.  I’ll give you some helpful ground rules for doing that in just a few moments.

But I have two important messages before we get underway: 

The first is that I want to start, as I often do, by saying “thank you” for your hard work.  And the second is to recognize that we have just celebrated our most recent graduates at a virtual commencement.

And, I want to underscore how much these two things are connected—your hard work and the successful feelings of commencement.

Commencement itself is a colossal undertaking involving the work of many of you.  And this year, the virtual format presented new challenges.  To those of you who worked tirelessly on producing such a wonderful event, please accept our gratitude.

Commencement itself is just one important weekend of recognition for our graduates’ accomplishments.  But their actual accomplishments happen in the years leading to commencement, and they are made possible by your consistent dedication and support.     

I will take a few moments to read a few reflections from our graduating students.  They remind me why we do this work, and why we work so hard to do it well.

In her commencement speech, Abigail Fine said this about the College:

“While we may have been seniors in a year unlike any other, we will leave this institution as better people . . . .  We gained the skills we came to college seeking, like public speaking, writing, research, and time management, but the COVID-19 pandemic awarded us skills we never signed up for, like how to balance responsibilities, the importance of communication, and maybe a new hobby or two.  We have learned the skills of resilience and persistence, and we have shined even in darkness. . . .  So now, what do we do with this newfound skillset?  It is time for all of us to move on and be change makers.”

In another commencement speech, Alex Kyranakis from the School of Business said:

This University has equipped us to make a difference in our lives.  This difference has built integrity, reliability, influence, values, and character—all upon a foundation of pristine education.  Once again, that did not come without the very important tool for us—mentors— those mentors have helped foster new understanding, achieve academic success, and complete many projects.  But most of all, they changed us, this University changed us, this journey changed us.  [Each of us has] grown to be an influence on the world, a pioneer of something new, and to be a leader of our future.

These are just a few examples of our students’ love and gratitude for Redlands, and I could fill our entire hour together with their words.  But suffice it to say, your efforts make our students’ experiences possible.  I want to recognize your good work and applaud you this morning for the completion of another successful academic year – this one, during the most trying of times, the pandemic. 

Many important indicators are showing that our state and our country may finally be emerging from the depths of the pandemic thanks to the wide availability of vaccines across the United States.  This is welcome news. 

But a review of recent headlines from The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed highlight the fact that steep challenges remain for colleges and universities across the country. They include questions about:

  • The role of vaccinations on college campuses. Are they options, or are they necessary for true community?

  • How to prepare for a “normal” fall semester and safely repopulate campuses.

  • How to prepare for the impact of projected enrollment declines based both on new preferences and demographic shifts, while we re-balance the budget and return to healthy financial and operating status.

Today, my colleagues will be presenting on several of these important topics to highlight how we are considering solutions to position the University of Redlands for a bright future.    

I urge you to listen and then ask a lot of questions.  If you are here in the Chapel, simply raise your hand with a question, and Lauri Grier or Kim Womack will come to you and deliver your question into the microphones.

If you are online, please ask your question in the chat function, and many of those questions will be answered as well.

If you have an anonymous question, please email Cheyne Murray or Suzette Soboti.  They will ask your question without identifying you.  And we’ll get to as many of your questions as we can.

Thank you again for participating today, and for everything you are doing for the University and our students.