Sunday, February 17, 2008

A letter from Dr. Dockery to students and parents

Dear students and parents,

We are looking forward to the return of our students to campus for move-in day on Tuesday, Feb. 19, and to the start of classes on Wednesday, Feb. 20. After twelve days of giving our full attention to the initial recovery efforts after the Feb. 5 tornado, we are now focused on the new beginning for the spring semester.

On Monday, Feb.18, for the first time since Feb. 5, all faculty and staff will be back on campus. Even now, we are praying for all of our students as they prepare to return for the “new start” opportunities planned for this week. We continue to pray particularly for those who continue to recover from injuries sustained on Feb. 5.

Union University faculty and staff (with the assistance of more than 3,000 volunteers) have labored tirelessly over the past 12 days to help us to be able to start the semester once again. They have been joined by trustees and students alike, who have served side by side in the restoration processes. It is impossible to calculate the hours involved in these labors of love to get us to the place where we are today.

We must recognize that things will be different for all of us, but we are excited for the opportunity to continue the semester. Our priorities will be characterized by an essentialist mindset to help us chart the course ahead of us during the remainder of the spring semester. The care of our students will be among the primary concerns of all faculty and staff as we seek to move forward together. Every decision that we have made in recent days has been made with a desire to recreate opportunities for community for and among our students. Revised meal plans, the new housing at “The Jett,” changes to the student lounge and many other things have been planned with the goal of helping to keep students connected during the weeks to come.

Class schedules have been revised, as previously announced. These changes will create innovative opportunities for faculty and students alike. Some classes will be meeting in different places, due to the damage in Jennings Hall in particular. Obviously, student housing will be quite different from where we were on Feb. 4. All of the apartments in the Hurt and Watters complexes, including the Hurt and Watters commons buildings, have now been demolished. New plans are already underway to rebuild the student housing area and to have portions of it completed before the fall semester (we will be sharing information about this project throughout the spring semester). In the meantime, we are quite excited about the new developments at “The Jett.” Our academic leaders and student life teams deserve our deepest thanksgiving for providing us with these new opportunities.

The valiant efforts of more than 250 faculty, staff and student leaders who have retraced their steps over and over again attempting to retrieve the belongings of students from all of the residence life rooms have been heroic and commendable in every way. Almost every room has been visited more than once, and many of the rooms have been visited by these teams up to three times. I am confident that everything that could have been retrieved from every room has indeed been recovered. I deeply appreciate all of those who have demonstrated sensitivity, care and compassion for our students throughout this process. Indeed, it has been a joy to behold.

We want to invite all students and parents to join us for a dinner (compliments of Aramark) between 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. in the Coburn Dining Room on Tuesday evening. We especially want to encourage all returning students to join faculty and staff in the G. M. Savage Chapel at 7 p.m. for a campuswide worship service.

A welcome back dessert reception will be hosted later that evening at “The Jett” around 8:30 p.m. Classes will begin on Wednesday morning. Thursday evening will be the first home basketball game since the storm as the Lady Bulldogs and Bulldogs tip-off against rival Freed-Hardeman. Another special service is scheduled for Friday at 10:00 a.m.

We have made great progress over the past 12 days. We still have much work to do, but with God's help and as we all pull together across the campus, I am confident that there are hopeful days ahead for the Union University family. So many people have already joined us along this journey. Close friends and people that we hardly know have prayed, supported, served, encouraged and given sacrificially to help us during this time of need.

We will need several million dollars over the remainder of this calendar year to enable us with the rebuilding project. Already, we are excited to report that more than 600 donors have given about $1.5 million to this project. For every person who has made a gift and for every person who will participate in this project, we are most grateful. New opportunities have already come our way and we believe more opportunities await us in the very near future.

The privilege that has been given to us to tell the Union story in the midst of the past 240 hours has been a blessing for which we will forever be grateful. I believe that just as God providentially protected the lives of our students in the storm on Feb. 5, He will providentially preserve and provide for this university in days to come.

We are entering a new chapter in so many ways in the life and work of Union University. It is a time for all of us to take hope, to not lose heart, to not grow weary in doing good, and to refocus on the distinctive mission of Union University. Let me encourage you to check the Web site as well as the site regularly. Please know of my heartfelt gratitude for each of you. May God bless the Union University community.

May the Lord be with you and give you peace.

David S. Dockery, President