My fellow Angelites, a pleasant morning to you all, and welcome to our new academic year 2020-2021 and to the pandemic version of our General Assembly.
A Vision of Our Future
Allow me to take you to March 8, 2023, the day we celebrate the 90th year of the founding of our dear university. The university theater reverberates from the angelic voices of our University Symphony Orchestra and Chorale, to which a standing ovation was given to them after a rousing performance of the “Hallelujah Chorus” of Handel’s “Messiah.” This is the first time we are celebrating Founders’ Day in person since March 9, 2020, with most of these celebratory events occurring in the quadrangle of the GGN Building.
After recovering from the pandemic, but still mindful of strict physical distancing protocols, we are altogether celebrating the university’s milestone and truly grateful for the blessings the Lord has granted us. I invite all of you to metaphorically close your eyes and consider the reasons for this thanksgiving three years from now:
Finally, I feel a continuing commitment to academic quality and organizational excellence, to being an authentic instrument for countryside development, to working for a great university, and to serving as a role model for faithful Catholic education.
According to author Max DePree, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say ‘Thank you.’ In between, the leader is a servant to the mission of the enterprise.” So now, metaphorically, open our eyes and consider our present situation.
Our Situation as of March 10, 2020
Back in July 2019, after two years of seemingly endless debates and experimentation with various Learning Management Systems, Holy Angel University settled on adopting CANVAS as our college-wide LMS and ARALinks and OrangeApps as the corresponding systems for Basic Education. We came to this decision because of the spate of LGU-mandated campus closures due to earthquakes, typhoons, floods, and other natural calamities. We wanted to ensure that the education of our students will not be interrupted. We had planned to conduct a series of all-faculty training during the summer months and to pilot test CANVAS in our summer classes.
On January 30, 2020, the Philippines had its first case of coronavirus imported from China. Eleven days later, we issued our first set of health and safety protocols and travel restrictions to prevent the onset of the coronavirus on campus. Then on February 18, we adopted our Academic Continuity Plan – that part of business continuity planning, which would ensure that the education of our students would continue should the government impose a lockdown in response to what was then a public health emergency of international concern. Out of safety concerns, we cancelled all remaining Founders Day activities last March 9, including our Founders’ Day Concert featuring our Chorale and our Orchestra. We scheduled simulations of partial campus lockdowns during the period March 11-14 with the intent of refining our Academic Continuity Plan when we report back to the office on March 16.
But that was not meant to be! What was to be simulated lockdowns became the real thing when Angeles City Mayor Lazatin suspended classes and work on Wednesday, March 11, and then President Duterte declared an enhanced community quarantine throughout Luzon starting March 16.
COVID-19 Impacts and Status
At the beginning of the lockdown, fear was all over the place. Our interdependence became top of mind. One person’s cough could be another person’s death sentence. In a pandemic, everyone holds an ethical responsibility for others.
During the summer months, several decisions needed to be made; however, guidance from our government regulators would not be forthcoming. Our students have been surveyed multiple times not only by our Office of Student Affairs, but also by our University and College Student Councils. The triangulation of these surveys led to only one conclusion: We should expect only less than half of our students – 45 percent, to be exact –to return for the first semester.
All private schools in the Philippines and, in fact, worldwide, have their financial viability at risk. Every week, presidents of member-schools of the Philippine Association of Colleges and Universities (PACU)—the umbrella organization of all private HEIs in the country—meet to discuss the situation. From these meetings, it became known that many private schools could not pay their regular faculty during the summer months. From these meetings, we learned that, as of two weeks ago, many large schools have achieved thus far only 20%-25% of their expected enrollment even when their classes would begin this month. From these meetings, we learned before the newspapers did that around 400 private schools in the Philippine face the risk of closure due to the pandemic and that, in the province of Cavite alone, about 100 private schools would close.
Holy Angel University has not been spared from these financial woes. The K-12 transition has already resulted in hundreds of millions in losses, and we had been looking forward to the school year 2022-23 as the light at the end of the tunnel. The pandemic will cause further losses this school year, leading to a significant depletion of our reserves. The magnitude of that depletion is too high to mention; suffice it to say that it is like losing 12 years of our financial history since our school opened doors 87 years ago.
What could we do if we want to free ourselves from the general climate of fear and inaction that COVID-19 has caused?
This question reminded me of the last two lines of the late Nelson Mandela’s favorite poem, Invictus by William Ernest Henley:
I am the master of my fate,
am the captain of my soul.
You heard me declare during my inaugural address: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” We decided to take the proverbial bull by the horns.
As we made several key decisions under conditions of uncertainty, the Spirit of the Founder — What would Don Juan do if he were still alive? — and our five core values became our guide.
This transparency came with a high price as about 10,000 individuals who did not subscribe to either e-learning or a school reopening during the pandemic joined in a Twitter rally against HAU during the middle of April.
The social media attacks gave us useful information as to the key vulnerabilities of purely online education. Therefore, we spent the summer months addressing those vulnerabilities and to striving to become the most prepared school in Central Luzon. We communicated with our stakeholders. We bullet-proofed our strategy. While many other universities were experiencing breaches of their information systems mainly from hackers who wanted to expose their lack of readiness to deliver online education, none of these hackers succeeded in breaching our systems.
All our efforts seem to be paying off. As of the end of last week (July 30), we have enrolled 8,615 college students, which is 18 percent above goal. Thus far, our actual attrition from last year’s first semester is 23 percent, which is much lower than the 55% we have assumed from surveys. Basic Education enrollment is still ongoing.
Priorities for the Year
This brings us to where we are now. This school year, we will expect everyone to do their part in the execution of five key institutional priorities in addition to building community and being more inclusive in our virtual classrooms.
The first priority is campus safety. We expect that the pandemic and strict physical distancing would be with us for at least two school years. Wearing face masks and face shields, six-feet distancing, frequent handwashing, and electronic meetings would be second-nature to us.
To give you an idea of our workforce deployment this year, please allow me to share with you this four-minute video from Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science. Starting the month of September, we will implement the Weizmann Institute’s cyclic opening strategy that our Campus Opening Preparedness Advisory Task Force recommended.
The second priority is academic integrity. Integral to the mission and core values of our university is a commitment to live a life of integrity, honesty, and discipline. At no time in our history is this more important that when nearly all learning is digitally delivered. We will publish a new Code of Honor, which is the joint work product of Academic Affairs, Student Affairs, and Campus Ministry.
The third priority is process improvement and cost containment in various aspects of university operations. This includes preparing action plans for improvement to address the concerns raised in our student and employee satisfaction and engagement surveys. Our valued process improvement outcomes shall be simplicity, security, flexibility, adaptability, resilience, and agility.
The fourth priority is digital transformation in support of process improvement and cost containment. We should leverage and fully implement CAMPUS++ as we strive to move to cashless payments and paperless transactions. The pandemic also showed the viability of technology as an enabler of our educational mission.
The fifth priority is innovation. It might sound crass to think about innovations when we are currently in a survival mode. But we should not forget that the COVID-19 pandemic will end, whether medically or socially. When all HEIs will have finally shifted to e-learning, we face the risk of education becoming a commodity in the minds of the public. We need to regard technology not only as a tool but as a driver for innovation. When the pandemic has finally ended, Angel University should not be left behind.
We should recognize that 2020-2021 is actually year zero of our long-term plan toward the year 2030. In order to plan in the most strategic way for our future, we will start with a vision of where education is going – a vision of education within the context of the greater society. Then through a process called “backcasting,” we will plan back from that vision … recognizing that there is no “one size fits all” model. Nonetheless, I believe that colleges and universities that build digital capabilities – that embrace digital transformation – will have the resilience to seamlessly navigate through any crisis – whether that is an extended COVID-19 outbreak or a future calamity.
Please allow me to conclude with a story, which would help in uplifting our spirits during these trying times. It is a four-minute read so please bear with me. Here it goes.
The Carrot, the Egg, and the Coffee Bean
A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as one problem was solved, a new one arose.
Her mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to boil. In the first placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil, without saying a word.
In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl.
Turning to her daughter, she asked, "Tell me what you see." Carrots, eggs, and coffee," she replied.
Her mother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. The mother then asked the daughter to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg.
Finally, the mother asked the daughter to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled as she tasted its rich aroma. The daughter then asked, "What does it mean?"
Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity — boiling water. Each reacted differently.
The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak.
The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened.
The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water.
Which are you?" she asked her daughter. "When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?"
Think of this: Which am I?
Am I the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity, do I wilt and become soft and lose my strength?
Am I the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did I have a fluid spirit, but after a death, a breakup, a financial hardship or some other trial, have I become hardened and stiff? Does my shell look the same, but on the inside am I bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and hardened heart?
Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you.
When the hour is the darkest and trials are their greatest, do you elevate yourself to another level? How do you handle adversity?
Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?
I choose to be COFFEE, and may we all be COFFEE!
Holy Angel University is all about students. We are a resilient community of faith, with faculty and staff, stakeholders, and families committed to supporting each other and providing helping hands to our students. We will continue to navigate the uncharted territory of a new school year during the pandemic, but equipped with flexibility, creativity and a detailed plan. We can do all these together, arm-in-arm and lifting each other’s spirits.
The 2020-2021 school year is going to be a marathon with sprints in between. Do good with your minds, souls, and spirits so that we can look back and know we did our best.
May all of you be blessed with good health, safety, happiness and joy in this new school year. Thank you very much. Laus Deo semper!
Secure in God’s protection (Ps. 91),
Luis María R. Calingo, Ph.D.
August 3, 2020
Read in PDF at https://bit.ly/HAU_SOUA2020