In March, my father passed away, four days shy of turning 91. During his last few years, he lived with the debilitating impact of Alzheimer’s disease. When restrictions loosened in July, my family was able to go to Kansas City to celebrate my father’s life and reflect on the ways he impacted us and the world.
One of the many life lessons my father taught me was related to driving. In Kansas, there are a lot of two-lane roads where the speed limit is 55, and the only thing separating you from oncoming traffic is a double yellow-painted line.
There are times when a driver approaches you at night without turning off its car’s high beam headlights, which can be blinding. You quickly signal the oncoming vehicle to turn off their brights by flashing your lights on and off, but there are times when that doesn’t change the situation. The bright lights continue to barrel toward you.
In the moment when the lights coming at you are the brightest, and they threaten your ability to see the road ahead, my father taught me to shift your eyes to the right edge of the road and look down at the white line of your lane’s edge immediately in front of you so you can stay in your lane, stay on the road, and continue moving forward until the bright lights that obscure your vision have passed.
Seattle Pacific University has a tremendous capacity to address any oncoming challenges by staying focused on our mission, the “white line” of our lane.
As I reflected on this advice, it struck me that this is also applicable for organizations and universities as they both sustain and advance their mission in the face of the blinding challenges.
In the early days of March, we definitely had the bright lights of COVID-19 bearing down on us. We had to respond quickly, shifting to a remote learning environment, so that we could maintain our lane, and move forward.
As COVID-19 disrupted our operations, the University faced a combination of revenue shortfalls and additional expenses in the Spring Quarter that totaled just over $5 million. With the help of $1.4 million in CARES Act funding, along with spending constraints, a general hiring freeze, furloughs and staffing adjustments, and the remaining budget contingency, we ended the last fiscal year with little to no impact on reserves or fund balances. I thank God for this tremendous result.
Providentially, the week before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, we were able to refinance and restructure our outstanding bond debt. This timing
allowed us to take advantage of historically low interest rates and a remarkably friendly credit market.
We were able to replenish cash reserve balances and significantly lower our annual debt service payment requirements; all while realizing an overall present value financial savings from the transaction.
Even as we are grateful for our ability to meet the challenges facing us so far, we recognize that COVID-19 has introduced a whole new set of perils to institutions of higher education. More students are in need of financial assistance due to the economic impact of the pandemic. Our University faces rising costs from investments in health, safety, and technology to support operations and learning. And the pandemic is impacting international students’ ability to travel and study here in the United States.
There are many additional “blinding lights” that imperil colleges and universities across the country right now, but Seattle Pacific University has a tremendous capacity to address any oncoming challenges by staying focused on our mission, the “white line” of our lane. That white line is our faith in God and our commitment to graduate people of competence, character, and wisdom.
As we think about the future, we must be bold and courageous, knowing that our God goes before us and that our Lord will do amazing things among us and through us. My prayer for our SPU community this next year is from Paul in Romans 15:13:
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
May you open yourself up to the work of the Holy Spirit, finding joy in being led by God, used by God, and walking with God.