President Dan Martin
Illustration by Joel Kimmel

Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen, who passed away this year, was well-known for his theory of “disruptive innovation” outlined in his book, The Innovator’s Dilemma. Reflecting on his book, I often thought Christian higher education’s greatest disruption would not be caused by innovation, but by some external event — maybe legal rulings, evolving governmental regulations, narrowing funding streams, or shifting demographics. I didn’t envision a seismic disruption caused by a pandemic.

In January and February, SPU’s emergency response team monitored news of the COVID-19 situation. The team, already prepared with an emergency plan, regularly assessed reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the King County Department of Health and Human Services. 

By March, the world changed. The Seattle region was on the front lines of the COVID-19 situation in the United States. 

On March 6, we announced SPU would transition to a remote-learning environment — to be accomplished over a weekend, no less!

John Robertson, who leads our Educational Technology and Media team, had been preparing for online learning for years. He helped us invest in technology so that when we needed to switch to remote-learning, we already had the tools in place to launch this. 

Our students are resilient and capable of learning in new and unimagined ways. This won’t be the last disruption they will experience in their lives. It is a tremendous opportunity for us, as an academic community of faith, to model the path forward.

Our world-class faculty quickly converted their curriculum and took advantage of new pedagogical tools and learning methods to ensure students continued to receive an excellent education — a level of excellence recognized by U.S. News and World Report as one of the Best National Universities. 

I am grateful for our staff who filled in gaps, adjusted workflows, provided tech solutions, and adjusted to a remote working environment. And I am thankful for those who remained on campus to care for our residential students and maintain our University. 

We received updates from the governor and the mayor’s office. COVID-19 was a moving target, and there were moments we had to alter operations quickly to protect our community and serve our students. We planned to finish the Winter Quarter remotely. Less than a week later, we determined SPU’s entire Spring Quarter would also take place remotely. 

The pandemic impacted our ability to gather together to pray, worship, support, and encourage one another. The very social fabric of our communities has been disrupted by social distancing. The final week of Winter Quarter, I was talking with Provost Bruce Congdon in his office one afternoon. We discussed how strange it was to be in an academic term when the campus was so empty and quiet. We missed the sights and sounds of students learning; the dynamic energy is not only visible but palpable in the buzz and life they create. It strengthened my resolve to always maintain our liberal arts mission within the context of community.

We face challenges. We face difficult decisions. But it is in these moments that I lean into my faith in Christ; and, as I do, it fosters resiliency and compassion for the needs that surround me. 

Our students are capable of learning in new and unimagined ways. This won’t be the last disruption they will experience in their lives. It is a tremendous opportunity for us, as an academic community of faith, to model the path forward.

May we have the courage to open ourselves to the opportunities and the needs of the present. May we have faith not to focus on the storm or waves, but on how God reveals himself through the storm. I am more excited than ever to work alongside our amazing faculty and staff to discover the path God has for our future. 

Related articles

Home
SPU instructors receive book award from education society

John Terrill and Al Erisman
Business
SPU houses largest work and faith library

students from team Nemo Institute hold Grand Prize check for $5,000
SPU hosts 17th annual Social Venture Plan Competition

Mehdi El Mardi on the court photo by Andrew Towell
Athletics
The travelin’ man with a game plan