From the President

USD President James T. Harris III


Dear Toreros:

In late July, the university announced it would begin the fall semester with remote instruction for all undergraduate and graduate courses due to the continuing spread of COVID-19 following health agency guidance from the state of California and San Diego County.

Just as USD Magazine was about to go to press in late August, San Diego was taken off the State of California’s watch list. There are new state COVID-19 industry orders for institutes of higher education, as well as new orders from San Diego County.

We are now planning to offer single occupancy on-campus housing to our first-year students, and are preparing for a measured shift to bring additional students back on campus. 

Our first priority remains the health and safety of our campus community, and more information on our plans will be shared with students and families in the days and weeks to come. We are keeping in close, weekly contact with state and county officials to monitor progress, and we will provide our students with ample notice prior to any changes.

Over the past several months, we have made significant investments in technology to enhance the remote instruction experience. This summer, more than 300 faculty members enrolled in workshops and seminars to hone their online teaching skills and learn new ways to engage our students in a remote teaching environment. We are confident that whether providing remote or in-person instruction, all courses will be taught to ensure learning outcomes are met and that students develop a close relationship with instructors.

Our current challenges remind me of a time some years ago in 2005, when my wife and our two children were planning to spend our winter school break in Florida to get away from the cold weather in Philadelphia. Five months before our trip, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. In the months that followed, we heard more about the devastating aftermath of Katrina on the lives of millions of people and learned that many of the people who volunteered to serve in the reconstruction were not going to be able to spend their holidays at home because there was no one to fill in for them, even for a week.

A local nonprofit organized volunteer teams to go to Mississippi and relieve the frontline workers. Mary and I decided we would volunteer and spend our Christmas break in service to others. In other words, we decided it was time to pivot. We canceled our vacation and made a donation of both our time and money to help those impacted.

When we arrived in Back Bay, Mississippi, we couldn’t believe the devastation, even though Katrina had hit five months before. We were given assignments to work in a relief camp, to help with cleanup efforts and to serve food to local residents who still could not return to their homes. We spent our nights packed into a small FEMA trailer, but that didn’t matter because we were all so tired from our long hours of service.

That winter break turned out to be one of the most wonderful Christmas holidays in our lives. We grew closer as a family and met many incredible people who inspired us through their faith, resiliency and strength. We watched our sons take big steps toward adulthood by taking on new responsibilities. And Mary and I grew as a couple as we saw our faith in our fellow human beings grow by witnessing the sacrifice and love of so many people.

During these unprecedented times in 2020, I am inspired by an attitude now that is similar to what I saw in Mississippi in 2005. A spirit of courage, resilience and a Changemaker attitude. A spirit that is alive and well in our Torero community as we confront two of the most urgent challenges facing humanity — the coronavirus pandemic and an acknowledgement by many in our country that we have not lived up to our founding principles.

Confronting racism, white supremacy, prejudice and all forms of oppression begins on our own campus. Racism is a sin and we must confront its impact on our country and on our own campus if we are to live up to our highest ideals. To this end, we are taking a number of concrete steps in the fall semester to address racism and oppression and demonstrate love and compassion for every member of our campus community. As a faith-based institution, we must continually remind ourselves that light can emerge out of darkness. It is our responsibility as an academic institution to promote dialogue and a sense of solidarity as we take steps to live out our vision. We invite all of you to join us on this journey.

I remain optimistic about the future of USD and see this as a liminal moment and an opportunity to grow and improve as an academic community. I am excited to begin the fall semester, and truly believe great things will continue to happen once again, when our students and faculty engage directly, whether in person or remotely, and the magic of our culture of care embraces everyone.

We are keeping you and your family in our prayers to remain safe and in good health. We also ask for your prayers and support for our campus community during these challenging times. — James T. Harris III, DEd, President

Find the latest information on USD’s transition plans on the Torero BluePrint website.

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