Hurricane Matthew: Rising to the Challenge

Oct. 10, 2016

Dear Jacksonville University Community,  

As we work right now on campus to rally all the way back from the substantial challenges presented us by Hurricane Matthew, a note of thanks and appreciation is in order today. I will be brief, but you should know ...  

All of us at Jacksonville University send our best wishes, thoughts and prayers to those most affected by this storm. While a slight shift eastward in the final hours approaching our community may have spared us all the worst, it is clear that many of our family, friends, alums, partners and supporters were hit hard by this once-in-a-lifetime event. Let's please use the very best of modern technology to keep each other posted on our progress, whereabouts and improvements. 

Currently, on campus: water and power are back. Trees are being cleared. Signs and gates are being repaired. All residence halls and apartments are open and at full strength. Dining is up and running in the Riverview Cafe, Waves and our new Starbucks. Our beautifully manicured grounds and welcoming landscaping are being put back in proper order, great thanks to our partners and hundreds and hundreds of student volunteers (!) this very morning. Encouraging.  

Classes begin again first thing tomorrow morning, Tuesday. Full class schedule. Full work schedule. Back to the business of educating the next generation of leaders. I join our fine faculty and staff in resuming our version of "normal." 

That said, you will be interested to know that over the course of these past five days, before it fades in memory, the senior leadership of your university – and I will name several of them – did truly extraordinary work in decision-making, planning and execution, communication, and in maintaining (even enhancing) the rare culture of service and cooperation that is Jacksonville University. 

To our cross-campus Emergency Preparedness Team, much stronger in skill and experience than ever before, our collective thanks for being on top of this days and days in advance –  with full consideration of all options and clear recommendations.  

Thanks to Dr. Kristie Gover, our Dean of Students. Her empathy and selfless professionalism set the tone across campus for a culture of cooperation this past week. Special person. Her head of residential life, Lucas Mullin, and head of security Kevin Bennett (and his fine officers) were stellar. Their professional work with our terrific group of on-site resident assistants kept 400-plus students safe and secure (and fed) ... and calmly helped manage the evacuation around the country – and the orderly return – of more than 650 students. Remarkable coordination, all behind the scenes. And we tip our hat to dedicated Residential Life professionals Louis Rattini Reich, Kelsey Rice, Cassie McKenzie and Elle Woods for their 24/7 work during this entire moment of challenge.  

Thanks to JU alum Margaret Dees, our head of Communications, Marketing and Admissions. Her experience with crisis management and her dedication to frequent, concise and timely communication – across all social media platforms – raised awareness and eased minds and concerns. Her outstanding team, especially Phillip Milano, Tripp Miller and Amanda Billy, worked literally around the clock for days keeping you well-informed, even while their own personal safety and comfort were of real uncertainty.  

To our partners at ARAMARK, who handle food and facilities across a 240-acre campus with more than 1.1 million square feet of space, our thanks. Among many near-heroic efforts, they picked up and moved their entire dining operation from one side of campus to the other as the storm closed in so that no student would have to step outside in the hurricane to access food or water, day or night. Think about that. Feeding hundreds and hundreds of 18- to 22-year-olds for several days ... operating outside your usual kitchen and warehouse operations. Our thanks, then, to Rachel, Wes, Inez, Steven, Julia, Tree, Randy, Eric, Kyle, Sam and others.  

My personal thanks also to University senior leadership Dr. Donnie Horner (our Provost and senior academic leader), CFO David Healy, Mike Fleming, Alex Ricker-Gilbert and Diana Donovan for their energy, commitment, calm and good humor during this challenge. 

Accountability, respect, persistence, optimism, excellence. And keeping the student at the center of our work. Those pillars of what we stand for were on full display this week. You should be proud. 

Finally, I offer thanks and appreciation to our students. This is a mature and savvy cohort of high-performing young men and women. They understood our challenges and risks, and were full partners in a successful execution of the plan. It was inconvenient, sure, but our students delivered. As an alum myself, I am proud of these Jacksonville University students, from dozens of U.S states and countries of the world.  

So, while I offer apologies for having to cancel an ambitious and exciting Homecoming and Family Weekend celebration, please know that we will create soon a number of opportunities to bring the Jacksonville University community together again in that same spirit. To paraphrase thoughts offered by others over these past few days: college sporting events can be rescheduled, as can fireworks, concerts and receptions, but life, health and safety are paramount. To that end, I respectfully submit we undertook that charge and executed it faithfully, if not without the occasional creative and unorthodox twist. JU people are surely smart, creative and fearless.

We are appreciative of our good friendships and cooperation from the Mayor, Sheriff and Governor in doing the right thing and making the tough calls in our region. Our connections to national weather services and modern tracking tools were timely, well-handled and invaluable. But if I may, it was the generous heart and spirit of those on campus – staff, students, faculty and partners – that enabled us to maintain the essence of who we are.  

Come back and visit us soon, and please stay in close touch. (Just be patient; kindly give us a few more weeks to fully clean up.) 

Respectfully,

Tim Cost
President
Jacksonville University
Class of 1981