Campus Closed, University Open: The William Carey Story

September 11, 2018Reconstruction

Bird’s Eye View. Dr. Scott Hummel was a seminal figure in WCU’s recovery. The Executive Vice President of William Carey was on campus immediately following the disaster, galvanizing both the faculty and student body. Hummel extended his guidance and energy to GC3 throughout the reconstruction process.

We spoke with Dr. Hummel to recount how his unique leadership skills lead to a successful recovery for William Carey:

With nearly every building on campus damaged, six buildings demolished, a hundred cars totaled, and debris strewn across campus, many immediately began to wonder if the university could survive. It was clear from the extent of the damage that the campus would have to be closed. It was simply too dangerous to allow students to remain on campus. We had to communicate the information that “campus is closed.” While accurate information, it could easily be construed to mean the university was closed, finished, over, out of business. We needed more than information, we needed a message. That very morning we sent out the message that the “Campus is Closed, the University is Open.”

We immediately began to demonstrate the university was still open for business, classes would continue, the term would be completed, and the next term would begin. Over three hundred students were relocated to the University of Southern Mississippi and faculty and staff took in many others. The students had a place to stay because they still had classes to continue. Because of our experience with Hurricane Katrina we had required nearly all courses to be turned into online courses immediately. For example, I emailed my Greco-Roman World class Sunday, the day after the tornado, and told them that because our classroom no longer existed the class was now an online class. I told them that the syllabus was online, they had reading to do, and the quiz was Monday as scheduled. That may sound harsh, but over half of the class emailed me individually to thank me because it gave them confidence that the class would continue and they would be able to graduate. One student in the class had lost her books and computer in the storm, so she was given extra time. We soon found her new books and she finished the course with an A. They were all given a one-week extension on their research papers because it took a week to get access set up at USM’s library. It was inspiring to see the class average actually go up after the storm. They were determined to finish strong.

Some courses and programs could not be turned into online classes, such as the medical school and the school of music. The medical school was moved to USM and resumed classes in five days. The school of music moved to Hardy Street Baptist Church and resumed in just a few days. Campus was closed, but the university was open.

The sports team in season continued to work out and practice. They had to use the facilities at various schools and all their games became away games. Nevertheless, the winning percentage for all sports soared to 74%. In spite of playing its first 20 games away, the baseball team went to the NAIA College World Series for the first time since 1978. Campus was closed, but the university was open.

Not only did we finished the term on time, three weeks later, we started the next term on time less than a month later. Because we had previously invested in online registration, all the students were able to register without ever coming on a closed campus. In spite of fears that enrollment would drop precipitously, enrollment actually increased 1.1% for a record enrollment. The Campus Was Closed, but The University Is Open.