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As We Head into the Weekend...

Dear members of the Saint Louis University community,  

We have reached the end of our second week of online instruction, and are poised with an opportunity to reflect as we head into this new weekend.  

Expectations set by our local and national public health leaders are sobering and painful to comprehend.  

Our SLUCare clinicians and staff are living those realities right now. They are on the front lines of our war against the virus — and they are putting themselves in harm’s way for us — each and every day. The number of cases they are experiencing across the hospitals in which they serve have been relatively manageable thus far. Unfortunately, they expect that to change in the days ahead. 

As of the most recent update, SLU Hospital has 15 positive patients receiving inpatient treatment, of which eight are in the ICU and five are on ventilators. 

Supplies, staffing, and raw emotions are being tested at the hospitals served by SLUCare professionals, as on any battlefield. The looming surge of infected area residents of all ages will require our full support. 

We know that several members of our medical enterprise are suffering from COVID-19. It is heartbreaking to think about how significantly this disease is impacting those who work tirelessly to serve and care for our community.  

We pray for the health and wellbeing of medical teams and front line medical staff at SLU and across the world, as they pray for us to heed their warnings and precautions so that we may avoid the need for their critical care. 

We are beginning to settle into our new routines — however temporary they may be. One new routine I have adopted is a weekly meeting of what I am calling the expanded University Leadership Council, a group of approximately 45 administrators, faculty, staff and students who gather virtually once a week. 

This week, I opened this meeting with observations that I have been encouraged to share with you: 

What was unfamiliar just a few short weeks ago is becoming familiar. We are interacting virtually — most are using Zoom — a product unknown to many of us just a month ago. 

I accept the reality of how we must now function. I am thankful for the internet and the software we are using. I do not want to imagine how enormously difficult it would be to run SLU without this technology. I am grateful for synchronous audio and video.  

In fact, it has proved to be much easier to use than I would have thought. But it is not at all easy to settle for. 

Despite all that we can now do virtually, we lack that which is most important for us as humans, most important for those of us who work and study at a Jesuit university — direct face-to-face interaction through which relationships are built, sustained and enriched. Direct personal contact is what forms and nourishes us as humans. 

Our way of education is relationship-based, our way of treating patients is relationship-based, and our way of operating as a university is relationship-based. Our way of being has been disrupted by the technological mediation through which we now function. While we are doing what is required, and have pivoted quite well, we are not functioning in the manner that is so central and so dear to the SLU community. 

One moment that popped into my mind as I was thinking about this leadership meeting was a particular morning in January when we began the President’s Cabinet meeting a half-hour late so that I could meet with the students who were returning to work in Housing and Residence Life. My time with them in the packed Sinquefield room was magical. I drew energy from those students. I remember going a bit long with them and coming late to meet with [the cabinet], telling [the cabinet] that, “no offense, but I would rather have stayed with them that morning.” And we laughed together. I miss the interaction — particularly with our students. I am certain all of us do. 

In addition to mourning the loss of contact on campus, many of you are trying to balance competing demands as you work from home. Some are caring for children or aging parents. Some are balancing their needs with that of their spouse. Some are doing all of the above entirely on their own. We are worried about loved ones across the world. We are living without those magnificent educational and celebratory events to which we look forward each spring. This is difficult. All of us look forward to the end of this nightmare.  

But as leaders of this University, we must accept our current reality — as we have. And we must plan. And those plans must include the possibility that our present way of operating may continue longer than some wish to imagine. Or, as we have heard from our own experts, that it may return later in the year. The problem, as you are aware, is that we don’t know. The uncertainty of the progress and path of this virus means we must engage in contingent planning. We all hope and pray for the best, but we all must plan for what the various possibilities might be. 

I do not like this virtual way of operating. I miss our way of proceeding, and I miss you. But my confidence in you remains absolute. I marvel at what you have done in pivoting our University so quickly and profoundly.  

Together we will get to the other side of this. OneSLU. Higher Purpose. Greater Good. 

May God bless you and Saint Louis University. 

Fred P. Pestello, Ph.D.

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