Our Hope and Our Way Forward
by Betty Cernol McCann, SU President
(Delivered on the occasion of the SU Church Sunday Service on 9 August 2020 to mark the opening of the 119th Founders Day celebration)
FD Theme: Hope Arising from the Solid Rock
Psalm 18:2 (NIV)
The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
Greetings from our campus by the sea! This school year we open the first semester in this month of August, much like the first time Silliman Institute opened in August 1901. Between then and now, we grew in number of student population, we offered a variety of programs, we produced outstanding graduates in various fields, we provided dedicated and loyal service to our community- the nation- and several corners of the world. Today, many more possibilities can be explored by this our beloved university.
At present, we are in the midst of a pandemic and it’s a natural response to cringe, to be afraid, to be suspicious of others in our company lest we be infected.
On January 30, 2020, the first case of COVID19 in the Philippines, a tourist from Asia, was confirmed in Manila. After a month of no new cases in the country, the first case of one without travel history abroad was confirmed on March 5, one who visited a mall with a prayer hall in San Juan, Metro Manila. These cases are close to home, to us in Dumaguete, as the tourist passed by the city and the early case of transmission within the country comes from a place in our province.
What to do? I find myself going back to an experience in my early years. It’s a case of the Child in me serving as a Parent to the Adult me. I remember distinctly a huge rock, a giant boulder in Layog River, in my hometown in Leyte. I was in Grade 4 when my family moved there from Zamboanga del Sur. One of the things that made me feel insecure being around with my cousins in those early days was my inability to swim in that river and more so to take a dive from atop that boulder into the deep water. But I loved that place near and on the boulder. I would hide behind the stone, away from my prankster cousins. And I would climb up that rock just to stand there as it was to me a place of beauty and wonder as it was a structure that breaks the rolling, cascading noise from upstream – – the boulder tames the wild roaring currents, and the water beside that rock was deep, placid and still.
When eventually I learned how to float in the water, tread and crawl, my fear was mitigated; my cousins didn’t play pranks on me anymore, and we even enjoyed diving together deep into the water.
These days, the COVID pandemic is my feared roaring shallow waters that would cascade into the deep; the pranks these days would take several forms—challenges and demands on the educational environment, threats and possible disruptions to university operations. In these times of troubled waters, I find myself clinging to the rock, climbing up for dear life… This firmament of a rock remains constant and stable, a place of refuge. This is my rock of ages past, my God. Our God symbolized in this Rock – the fortress, the deliverer, my refuge, your shield, our horn of salvation.
How has the COVID pandemic impacted our ways of thinking and doing here at Silliman University? Invoking God’s guidance and wisdom, we take courage to avoid the path towards panic and fear that can lead us to inaction, to a sense of powerlessness and hopelessness. Instead, following God’s leading we take the road towards informed decision making, banking on factual information and pooling together human resources to stay on course, to be adequate in our response, to think beyond the crisis we now face, and to imagine what higher education would be like – how Silliman University should position itself as we are catapulted into a 21st century learning environment that, whether we like it or not, is now heavily leaning on the internet world and digital technology.
Our Christian tradition has ingrained in us the belief that one cannot hope without faith; that faith is the substance of things hoped for. Our Hope is the essence of desiring a future state of affairs; our Hope arises from the solid rock, Jesus Christ, our mighty fortress who will deliver us into new beginnings in pursuit of our common mission and purpose as an institution. Our Hope embodies our way forward.
Our Hope is first to maintain a healthy and safe environment amidst the pandemic. The University instituted the COVID19 Crisis Management Group as early as in February, meaning to address existing issues on workplace health and safety protocols, case finding and isolation, contact tracing and quarantine, transportation safety, public and individual compliance with self-protection measures among faculty and staff, other personnel, students and alumni and their respective families. The Silliman University Medical Center (SUMC) for its part instituted its COVID19 Unified Command System that ensures the hospital’s level of preparedness in this pandemic. Because we hope for better situation to come, we use our God-given talents and resources now to be prepared for the time when God’s grace allows us safe passage and make us build anew.
Our Hope is for this university to remain current and relevant as we transition into a post- Covid scenario of education. The 21st century education in the post-COVID era means continuing adoption of digital technology in our delivery of teaching-learning systems. In a post-Covid educational environment, our educational enterprise will not anymore be the ‘back to business’ as usual. The sudden shift to online distance learning (ODL) to ensure learners’ safety in this global health crisis led us to engage in intensive human capacity building to retool and upskill our faculty and staff in the use of digital technologies. Utilizing more electronic resources, upgrading our virtual library, having webinars and virtual academic conferences keep us all in the university abreast with changes and demands in science and technology, in the humanities and social sciences, in our ways to peace, harmony and conflict resolution, and in the ways we manifest our faith and spirituality. Our gateway to Silliman online distance learning is named mySOUL, S-O-U-L, Silliman Online University Learning.
Our Hope is to have attained a level of readiness among our faculty and staff, administrators and trustees, as we transition into a new world of education. Presently, we face a new crop of students who are comfortable with electronic gadgets and technology devices. We see Hope in the way our younger teachers and administrators, more adept at technology-based skills in today’s teaching and learning, demonstrate patience and support to their colleagues who feel they still are strangers to alternative learning approaches that come in various labels such as online, flexible, remote, blended, synchronous, asynchronous, and other forms of learning. Despite the initial confusion and even some reluctance in the adoption of strategies that may be alien to some of our teachers and staff, our Hope is made real in the enthusiasm, positive action, and willful embrace of things new by our teachers from the preschool and basic education to the graduate studies program of our university. We continue to Hope for openness to continuing education among our educators who because of the COVID pandemic are suddenly transported into a new scenario of education.
Our Hope is to sustain operations even as we face constraints. We open this school year in this month of August after we had our summer school with only about 50% student population compared to historical data. And the months of June and July became gap months as we wait for our school opening, with practically no significant educational revenues. Our Hope built on Jesus Christ, the solid rock, has given us the innate motivation to examine how we can best manage our resources, adopt a cash preservation plan and constantly review our budget scenarios based on student population and macro socioeconomics impinging on our operation. Our Board of Trustees has been highly supportive through their collective advice and policy guidance. It is said that economic resources can be like a small blanket. You can use a small blanket to cover up your head or down your toes, but not from head to toes. We just have to decide to the best we can, which part of the body to cover first, and which part when severely exposed can be a threat to the health and life of the organism.
Progress in our initiatives is fragile. We dearly Hope we can spring back in partnership with other institutions. In fellowship and unity, we connect with other Christian schools in the country through the Association of Christian Schools, Colleges and Universities (ACSCU) where we have key zonal and national representations in the Board. This allows us to be together in meeting our shared goals as Christian educational institutions in our country. The Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations (COCOPEA), where SU sits as a representative of ACSCU, is an association of private HEIs in the country that serves as the ‘unifying voice of private education” in the Philippines “that seeks to promote, advance and safeguard the interest of the private education sector in the country.” In Asia, with 65 members in the region, the Association of Christian Universities and Colleges in Asia
(ACUCA) is headed by the president of SU. This association aims to develop and maintain the member institutions’ Christian identity and character. Silliman University also holds the presidency of the Asian Universities Digital Resource Network (AUDRN), an association committed to the preservation of local knowledge using digital technology. We have to support one another on matters of common interest and be on friendly terms with other institutions for our own survival as a Christian institution. As argued in a recent scientific book published, I quote, “the ‘friendliest,’ not fittest, is key to evolutionary survival.”
Our Hope is to continue with our mission of teaching, healing and prophesying- in our expressions of achievement despite the pandemic, in our programs of social amelioration for the stranded students and displaced workers of our own community, in our unabashed articulation of what the University’s programmatic and operational needs as we knock on our partners’ hearts to help us in this trying period. Recently, we have additional pledges for scholarships, educational support funds, research support for innovation and entrepreneurship, and for several other intentions. And definitely, Silliman University can do with more.
We know that where God guides, God provides. With abundance of faith and love, our Hope is steadfast and strong.
We pray for new beginnings. We cling on to Hope in our courses of action. We fervently Hope in our actions – we Hope in our ways forward.
The FD celebration this month will be part of the new students’ orientation to the life and works of this great university that has withstood the test of time for 119 years. The general education under the new curriculum, even in ODL, strengthens our faith-based courses, highlights our education of the whole person, and incorporates service into our teaching and disciplinal research.
Our FD activities this year continue to feature our Sunrise Service, Sunday Worship Service, culture and the arts, Outstanding Sillimanian Awards, Parada Sillimaniana, church workers conference, and many more.
Being online, the activities will not just be confined here on campus. As in the online ministry of the SU Church since March, the transmission of the Silliman Spirit anchored on the teachings of Jesus Christ will be global with participation of many alumni and friends in various parts of the world.
Like the pandemic, our events will become contagious and infectious. But unlike the COVID19, our celebration will be awesome and inspiring, life enhancing and life giving!
On Christ, the solid rock, we Hope and stand. Hallelujah. Amen.