Pres. Gilbert: Let’s keep hope alive at Marshall

Uncertainty. It’s what bothers me most about the pandemic, as I’m sure it does many of you. That uncertainty is about not only our personal lives and our own families’ health and well-being, but also the uncertainty for Marshall University. In times like these, it is easy to let fear overcome us and cripple our ability to think objectively and strategically. I admit that I have been fighting fear in my own mind at times over the last several weeks and am pushing it back out with hope. 

That desire for hope is one reason I’ve been making light-hearted and humorous selfie videos for you. You may have seen them recently on the university’s social media accounts. I hope these videos give you some comic relief and let you know I was thinking about all of you. I want each of our students to be optimistic and to help us all stay positive. 

As much as I want things to be the same as they were before, I also realize there will be changes that will persist after this global crisis loosens its grip on our daily lives. It is certain that our academic year in 2020-21 will not be the same as it is this year. Will we play football in the fall? Will we be able to gather 1,800 freshmen around the John Marshall statue for the traditional Week of Welcome photos? Will we be able to maintain our enrollment so we have enough university income to keep our operations fully functioning? Will we be able to have large events with hundreds of people? Will we be able to have in-person classes of 30 or more people? We just don’t know. 

During these highly unusual times, my goal has been to maintain a positive attitude and outlook while planning for all the possible scenarios that we could face. I am praying for the best and for a return to “normal.” Part of this planning includes putting in place cost-saving measures that will help us recoup the financial losses that we have already experienced and allow us to continue to move forward as a university. 

My positivity certainly has been bolstered by the acts of generosity and service that I have seen as members of the Marshall family have stepped up to help in this challenging time. Our faculty quickly adapted and took their classes to a remote delivery mode. They stepped up and made hand sanitizer in our School of Pharmacy. A number of people, led by faculty member Dr. Suzanne Strait, joined the West Virginia Mask Army to sew face masks. Our theatre students and other staff members have been hard at work making masks, too. Our very own Robert C. Byrd Institute is making masks using 3-D printers and has served as a resource for others who want to print masks and face shields. And, many of our medical school faculty and health care alumni have been on the front lines serving the needs of the Tri-State community and beyond. This has been an awesome effort all around, and I am very proud of our Marshall family. 

I will not let the concerns of today stymy our long-term plans. As a matter of fact, just last week we refinanced bonds we hold at Marshall and reduced our bond payments by a million dollars a year. In addition, we received some restricted bond proceeds that will assist us in building our new College of Business building. Also, we are continuing to make plans for our new aviation programs at Yeager Airport and Tri-State Airport. We will continue to push ahead with new initiatives that will enhance and improve our university. 

I am pleased that Marshall University has one of the strongest financial positions of any public institution in West Virginia. We are strong enough and wise enough to plan for and weather the storm. Marshall may be tossed and blown by the winds of the COVID-19 pandemic in the short run, but we will stay the course to a secure and peaceful calm at the end of storm. 

I know that this has been tough on our students, our faculty and our staff. Thank you all for standing firm with the Marshall family and helping keep hope alive. 

Go Herd!