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President’s 2021 Convocation address: Refrains of hope, ingenuity and appreciation following year like no other

Father HendricksonRemarks by Creighton University President the Rev. Daniel S. Hendrickson, SJ, PhD, on Tuesday as part of the annual Founders Week Convocation and Awards Ceremony might be described as anything but typical.

That should come as no surprise given the enormity of the challenges that the University faced this year, perhaps some of the greatest in its history. It’s why Fr. Hendrickson wasted no time emphasizing how proud he was of Creighton’s extraordinary response.

“If this year taught me anything, it’s that the world needs more of what Creighton does,” he said.

The pandemic, of course, meant mountains had to be moved and moved quickly for the health and safety of the University community. And Fr. Hendrickson again applauded the swift partnership and collaboration embraced across departments, faculty and staff. But it has been the creativity on display throughout the year to solve the ongoing problems that reminded the president just why Creighton is such a special institution.

“Our colleagues across campus … have embraced the challenges of this global phenomenon, and in doing so, they have sharpened their gaze on the needs of our students, who are never not the focus of our mission. Many particular individuals should be thanked, and really all of Creighton has faced the crisis,” he said.

He was sure to mention several proof points as a sign of that creativity.

  • In Omaha, numerous faculty members joined together with CHI Health personnel as a “brain trust” to address critical supply shortages early on in the pandemic.
  • The Teaching and Learning Center at Creighton has responded to more than 16,000 faculty requests for instructional design support and delivered more than 102,000 online exams and has hosted nearly two dozen workshops and programs to assist faculty in transitioning from in-person learning to hybrid and remote learning – truly a remarkable feat.
  • In the College of Arts and Sciences, nearly 200 students signed up for a free summer course in a liberal arts approach to the pandemic, studying different viewpoints from faculty in biology, history, philosophy, psychology and journalism.
  • Late last semester, Campus Ministry hosted a virtual memorial service to remember and pray for all of those who died during the pandemic.
  • By rapidly adopting intensive screening practices, enhanced infection control protocols and more, Creighton’s School of Dentistry continued to provide urgent care for patients, and indeed was one of the first dental schools in the country to bring back students into a clinical setting.

Response to pandemic clears a path to move forward

No university has been immune to the pressures facing revenue because of the pandemic, but Fr. Hendrickson remains quietly optimistic about Creighton’s position, thanks in no small part to the sacrifices made in 2020.

“Our collective embrace of necessary contingency actions over these last 10 or so months has been effective, and in a time of economic uncertainty and instability, I continue to feel cautiously optimistic about our fiscal health,” he said.

That’s reflected in the University’s decision last month to restore its Qualified Non-Elective Contribution (QNEC) of 2% of employees’ annual salaries toward their retirement plans. These contributions come directly from Creighton and are not deducted from salaries.

And if another piece of transformational news announced yesterday is any indication, Creighton is poised to move forward quickly. Fr. Hendrickson announced that with the generosity from CL and Rachel Werner, Creighton will soon begin construction of a new health sciences education building between Burt and Cuming streets in the northwest part of campus. The building will be known as the CL Werner Center for Health Sciences Education and will feature a centralized interdisciplinary simulation center and active group classrooms, bringing together medical, nursing, physician assistant, pharmacy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, behavioral health and other students to train and learn with — and from — each other.

“The building will become the new front door for the School of Medicine,” he said.

Additionally, Fr. Hendrickson reiterated his commitment to residence hall expansion, a next generation library and a new Jesuit community residence as other examples of our momentum.

Speaking of infrastructure, renewed financial optimism is also allowing Creighton to move forward on deferred building maintenance backlog – a topic surely on the minds of many especially with the return to campus. The University is looking at all options to address the backlog, including evaluating how it uses space effectively and efficiently, and thereby better identifying opportunities for utilization.

And finally, Fr. Hendrickson remains excited about the Phoenix expansion and the new health sciences campus. At 200,000-square-feet, the seven-story building sits along the Central Avenue light rail, and in a revitalized midtown district. In August, Creighton will open the doors to a full four-year medical school, a nursing school and all doctoral programs in the School of Pharmacy and Health Professions which – with a physician assistant program in queue – will enroll full cohorts in the next two to three years. Nine hundred new learners will embrace Creighton’s interprofessional pedagogy and the University’s Jesuit, Catholic mission of faith-informed service and justice.

Diversity and inclusion remain absolute priorities

2020 was no doubt an inflection point for diversity and inclusion, as Fr. Hendrickson described. And as Creighton continues to strive to be an anti-racist campus, there are several initiatives that Creighton has refocused its efforts on, including Omaha’s Transformation 2025.

“With the help of a diverse team from across the University, work is already underway on many of the objectives, and my office is establishing a better way to track our progress,” he said.

Moving forward with three areas of focus

Plenty more was covered during the address, and a replay of the event is available for campus constituents (Creighton login required). But in closing, Fr. Hendrickson encouraged staff and faculty to remember that it’s our ingenuity, inclusivity and Ignatian charism that remain the necessary tools on our pathway forward.

“The creativity, openness to others, and commitment to our Jesuit mission and identity of this year alone have been essential guideposts, and as we navigate the future, they will keep us fresh in mind, big-hearted and true,” he said. “I cannot understate the courage and commitment of the faculty and staff during what may be one of the most difficult chapters in our history. It is our faculty and staff who shoulder and negotiate these burdens, and it is with them that our mission continues. We move forward with what our world needs from us.”

View a recap of our colleagues who were recognized during the award’s portion of Tuesday’s Convocation.

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