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A Letter From President Bruess: Adapting and Making Sacrifices in Difficult Times

Dear Parents of SNC,

Welcome to you, and welcome – or welcome back – to your Green Knight daughters and sons. They clearly are delighted to be back on campus, and we, the faculty and staff of St. Norbert College, are delighted to see them again. It’s a pleasure, too, to greet the incoming Class of 2024. They are another remarkable group, already making history and destined to make more.

I believe in our students and it’s important to let you know how absolutely inspired I’ve been these past few weeks by the overwhelming majority of them.

Before I get to that, though, let me acknowledge that I’m concerned, as you must be, to see our number of new coronavirus cases rising. I’m more than concerned to note that a small minority of students has, on occasion, chosen to ignore guidelines we’ve put in place to protect us all as best we can. Whenever students have violated our expectations relating to the very guidelines that they pledged to follow, we take this extremely seriously. I hope you’ve had a chance to read my latest note on this, copied to you Wednesday morning. You won’t hear blaming from SNC. But what you will hear is the clear language of accountability.

It’s an approach that is well in line with our overarching educational mission. Our hope and our prayer, in fact, is that students’ deep desire to be here – palpable across campus these last couple of weeks – translates to their immediate willingness to join the overwhelming number of us in taking on this shared responsibility. We owe it to our classmates and colleagues to make sensible, if difficult, decisions about our health and to protect the full potential of each student’s college experience.

That’s a noble charge to lay on young people, and let me make this also clear: The way in which the great majority are following the new expectations is remarkable. Our student body as a whole really is taking this seriously. As I shared with the whole campus last week, our students overall have been doing a really phenomenal job with the new guidelines and also with holding themselves and one another accountable for keeping us all as safe as possible. (A parental word of encouragement can only help those whose behavior is exemplary, as well as any who have been slower to move in that direction.)

Overwhelmingly, what I’ve been seeing and noting, demonstrated over and over again, is a sterling ability to adapt and make sacrifices in difficult times. I could not be more proud of this group of students and the resilience and self-sacrifice they’re showing this semester. These are the character traits that will help forge better days ahead, and I’m confident those who’ve been slower to the call will see the urgent need to fall in line.

Key to our success here at St. Norbert in these, as in any other challenging times, will be this very ability to adapt. The changes we’ve already made have been undertaken in ways that are congruent with our institutional principles and priorities, and with our overriding goal of offering the quality and very special experience for which SNC is known. Extraordinarily, amid all these new challenges, the essential work of our college at the frontiers of knowledge continues steadily on. In fact, I was just reading a note from our dean of humanities, Dr. Jennifer Hockenbery, that celebrated some of the new scholarly accomplishments of her colleagues. I learned that Dr. Carrie Larson (History and Women & Gender's Studies) has finished her anthology on the genocide of indigenous people in Argentina – the first book in English on the subject. It’s due to come out in November – the same month as Jennifer’s own book based in Augustinian philosophy. (By the way, this would be that same Augustine whose Rule was adopted by our founding saint, Norbert, when he started his new order of priests nearly 900 years ago.)

All of this work is critically important and its immediate relevance is sometimes extremely easy to recognize: Jennifer also shared that Dr. Craig Ford (Theology) just took part in a Fordham University panel discussion on “Reopening Justly, or Just Reopening? Catholic Social Teaching, Universities, and COVID-19.”

Jennifer’s note brought news from just one of our five academic divisions. All summer, across the disciplines, we’ve asked a great deal of our faculty as they prepared for the most extraordinary semester in our history. Yet at the same time they have not forgotten their research – important scholarly work that contributes to our store of knowledge and understanding. It’s work that inevitably filters through to their classrooms, too, and to your students’ learning.

Our spirit in all this – both pedagogy and pandemic preparedness – is to address the needs of our students and our mission in ways that are both responsive and responsible.

Thank you for entrusting us with your sons and daughters. I know there is nothing – nothing – more precious to you. We’re so thankful to you, too, for raising such impressive young women and men. We’re going to learn a lot from them.


Sept. 10, 2020