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Letters from the University President

April 30, 2020

Dear Campus Ohana,

As I write this, it is the first day of spring semester but you would not know it to walk outside. The campus is nearly empty. Although we have been living under this regime for nearly two months, it is still such an odd sensation to walk around a campus that feels like a ghost town. So many students have left and are leaving. All the classes are again being taught remotely. Offices are closed. Only minimal on-campus services are available. Most people who are outside are wearing face masks. This will be a semester like no other. At least I hope so!

But despite it all, I feel so blessed to be going through this with you, my beloved BYU–Hawaii ohana. Thank you for facing the present challenges with grit and grace.

  • Thanks to the faculty for teaching remotely as best you can. I encourage you to continue to seek to fulfill our prime directive: namely, to teach with the Spirit. I am persuaded that the Spirit can connect us to our students even across oceans.
  • Thanks to staff and admin for working from home so conscientiously and creatively. Your work may be less visible now than before, but it is no less critical and appreciated. I am touched to hear stories of your professionalism, integrity, and continued effort to fulfill your responsibilities.
  • Thanks especially to those who work directly with our students. You counsel, advise, feed, house, arrange travel, and provide hundreds of other services. Your concern for the individual means so much! I encourage you to continue to be kind, patient, and loving with our students in these challenging times.
  • Thanks to those who provide essential services on campus while practicing physical distancing. Your work truly is “essential.” We anticipate that there will be work projects for students in your areas this semester. Some of you may supervise these students. Thank you for ensuring their safety and for being good examples. Working with you is an important part of their education.
  • Finally, thanks to you students. We recognize that it is difficult to study and learn in these uncertain and trying circumstances. You are in our prayers day and night. We are committed to your well-being and educational progress. We look forward to having a full complement of students back on campus. We are hoping for face-to-face classes to be offered again on campus in the fall, if it is legal and prudent to do so. While we are planning for face-to-face classes, we are also preparing for remote classes just in case.

In conclusion, may I say thanks and invoke God’s blessings on our entire ohana: faculty, staff, admin, and students. I pray that BYU­–Hawaii will continue to be a true alma mater (or “nourishing mother”) in these trying times—a university that nurtures learners, leaders, and builders. The present crisis won’t last forever. In time “this too shall pass.” The question we shall ask ourselves in the future days is if we passed our time with grit and grace.

President John S. Tanner

April 17, 2020

Dear Faculty, Staff, and Admin,

Today we close the door on a semester unlike any we have ever experienced. In a few days, we will open the door on another unprecedented period in our history: a semester of entirely remote instruction. At this historic juncture, I thank you for your diligent and nimble efforts to adjust during the extraordinary disruptions of this past semester. As Thomas Paine wrote at America’s founding: “These are the times that try men’s souls.” This trial has revealed and refined the genuine gold in your souls.

Over the past few weeks, the opening lines from Dickens’s novel A Tale of Two Cities has often come to mind: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” We all know how this has been the worst of times, but it has also been the best of times in some ways. The pandemic has brought out the best in you.

I have seen some of you risk your own health to keep our community safe. I have seen others counsel, advise, and comfort anxious students. I have witnessed many working long hours on housing, visas, travel, and finances. I have watched some of you come to campus with masks and gloves to perform essential services, while unseen others have kept the university running from home despite the distractions and isolation of doing so. You have been great!

I am especially grateful to the faculty. You turned on a dime to teach classes remotely. You have zoomed around the world to convene virtual discussions. You have sought out the one lost in cyberspace or suffering from cyber tension amid change. Thank you for your efforts! I hope that what you have learned about teaching remotely will help you next semester and have residual value when our classes are no longer entirely remote.

Which I hope is soon! I long for the day when our students and faculty can interact together face-to-face again in real time, not virtually across a dozen time zones.

I believe in the primacy of embodied learning. The Restoration restored one of the richest theologies of embodiment of any religion I know. Gaining a body is fundamental to the purpose of life. Even God has a body. Embodiment makes us more like God. We are meant to interact with each other face-to-face as embodied beings. It will be good to do so again.

I like what a little girl told her grandmother who returned from a mission in Africa, where their primary contact had been through Skype: “Grandma,” she said, “you’ve come out of the computer.” It will be good when we, too, come out of the computer.

Meanwhile, there are compensatory blessings from this era of enforced virtual interactions. I felt connected in a special and intimate way with Church leaders and with other Latter-day Saints during General Conference. I felt powerfully linked together again by a global fast to counter a global virus. Susan and I have enjoyed uplifting virtual discussions with our Book of Mormon class, with our family on the mainland, and, on Saturday, with about 100 of our former missionaries. And we had a wonderful virtual family gathering on Easter.

So, it has been a blessing to learn how to become more connected virtually during this time of forced physical disconnection.

Susan and I have also come to appreciate another blessing during these worst and best of times: the humor that the current crisis has generated. Our daughters who, like many of you, are tasked with home-schooling children, have circulated many ruefully funny posts. Let me share a few to lighten your day:

  • A meme from the first day that schools closed showed an exasperated mother who had locked her kids out of the house saying, “I expelled all my students today.”
  • A post from a husband in lockdown: “My wife and I play this fun game during quarantine. It’s called ‘Why Are You Doing It That Way?’ There are no winners.”
  • A post from a mother home-schooling her kids: “When do we find out who the kids will have for teachers next year? I hope it’s not me again.”
  • And a joke designed to tickle the funny bone of chocolate and language lovers like me: “I’m giving up eating chocolate for a month. Sorry for the bad punctuation. I’m giving up. Eating chocolate for a month.”

Humor in a time of pandemic reminds us of the human spirit’s resilience. I am grateful for your good humor and aloha in these worst and best of times, even if you have to zoom them across time and space.

I echo Tiny Tim’s prayer for us all: “God bless us, every one!”

President John S. Tanner

April 14, 2020

Dear Parents,

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to disrupt people’s lives around the world, my thoughts and prayers are with the entire BYU–Hawaii ohana, including students, employees, and friends of the university and their families and loved ones. I hope this email finds you well, and I hope you are taking precautions to stay safe.

You may be wondering how the pandemic is affecting BYU–Hawaii. Fortunately, there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 on our campus. In order to protect the health and safety of our students and employees, BYU–Hawaii has been following the guidelines and directives issued by the Church and by civil authorities.

Thanks to modern technology, this has not precluded the university from carrying out its great work of education and caring for its students.

Here are some of the recent measures we’ve taken aimed at protecting the health and safety of our students and the community:

  • We’ve asked all students who can return home to do so as soon as possible.
  • The Hales will be closed for the Spring 2020 Semester, beginning April 29. For single students, temporary housing will be available in the Hales while students wait for flights home and borders to open.
  • TVA married housing will remain available for families who have no other options.
  • Funding for travel home and return to campus in the fall will be provided for students and their dependents based on need.
  • The university is also working on arrangements for storing student belongings, including vehicles, and for transportation to the airport.
  • Classes will only be offered remotely. A leave of absence may be approved for students who cannot take classes remotely.

These adaptions will be challenging, to be sure, but I am proud of the way the university ohana has been handling these difficult times. I have felt a spirit of love, cooperation, and concern from each member of our community. The spirit of aloha that has always characterized this special place will continue to define who we are in these uncertain times.

I invite you to stay connected through the university’s COVID-19 information web page for the latest updates for you and your student. Although we are all practicing social distancing, there is no reason we can’t strengthen our ties online and in spirit. And as our dear prophet, President Nelson, has said, “These unique challenges will pass in due time. I remain optimistic for the future.” As do I.


President John S. Tanner

March 24, 2020

Dear Students,

I have become aware that some of you have received messages causing you to worry that you were being evicted from campus housing, or that the campus was being closed, or that you had to leave immediately. The messages and the rumors they have spawned do not reflect what we have wanted to communicate as a President’s Council in substance or in tone. Let me remind you of what we have intended to communicate.

Yes, we are encouraging students to return home where and when possible. We recognize that this is not always possible. As I said in today’s devotional, circumstances differ greatly for individual students. There are so many individual variables, such as travel restrictions, marital status, health issues, etc. Hence, we encouraged you to discuss your individual circumstances with IWORK, ISS, or the Dean of Students. As a University, we think returning home is the right decision for most of you. We are providing support, including travel assistance, where needed. But in the end, each of you must decide if and when to return home.

I also want to reassure part-time student employees, including IWORK students, that we have committed to keep you whole through the semester. It will likely be harder to guarantee employment if the mandate to work from home continues. But we are particularly mindful of the needs of our neediest students and will do our best to help you manage.

Finally, I want to reassure you all that I love you. You are in my prayers day and night. I know that the Lord will help us get through this. I hope that many, if not most, of you can return to your families to be together in these uncertain times. But wherever you are, you are 'ohana! And we are in this together.

President John S. Tanner

March 17, 2020

Message from President Tanner Regarding COVID-19 Outbreak

March 16, 2020

Dear Campus Ohana,

On Friday I sent out a special bulletin to the students that I hoped might calm and reassure them. I hoped that it would help the rest of the campus too. Today let me speak specifically to the rest of the campus, including faculty, staff, admin, and missionaries. I hope it may help the students too.

First, let me announce until further notice, supervisors have the discretion on decisions about working from home for student, part-time, and full-time employees.

Also, all campus entities are also encouraged to meet virtually rather than face-to-face for group meetings. And please do not report to work if you feel sick.

And, it goes without saying by now, we encourage everyone to frequently wash their hands and practice social distancing.

More information for full-time and part-time BYUH employees will be forthcoming. Please watch for these announcements.

To all of our employees may I say “we love you!” We recognize your service, sacrifice, and love for the University. We are grateful for you more than ever as we face these challenging times together. Here is a message entitled "Crisis + Inspiration = Opportunity" intended to encourage all of us to find ways not just to survive this global pandemic, but to grow and learn and get better from this experience. I know that we can do this!

Mahalo Nui Loa,
President John S. Tanner

March 13, 2020

Dear Students,

Good morning! I hope you have been sleeping better than I have. These have been a difficult few days, with lots of surprising and possibly alarming twists and turns as the whole world has begun to take more aggressive responses to the COVID-19 pandemic—including the University. The purpose of this brief morning message is to reassure you that things will be okay at BYU–Hawaii. They really will! And we love you!

We are working hard to deal with the myriad of questions you have. We will let you know more as we know more. We will soon be posting an FAQ with answers to some of your questions. We will communicate through the web site, bulletins, and other official University sources. Not through rumors.

Some of you may be worried if you will have a place to live or food to eat in the next few weeks. You will.

To those who worry that you won’t be able to enroll for classes in Spring Semester. You will.

To those who wonder if the world will end tomorrow or if you will get married. I don’t know. But I wouldn’t plan on the former and I’d work toward the latter if you are single.

So take heart. Remember the words of our old pioneer hymn: “All is well.” The pioneers sang these in the face of trials, not in their absence.

Just as did a medieval mystic named Julian of Norwich, who lived during the plague years. She wrote reassuringly: “but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

I encourage you, too, to take heart and follow in the footsteps of our hardy pioneers, knowing all is and all shall be well.

And just think: We will get to participate in a General Conference where the speakers really will be preaching to the choir.

We love you!

President John S. Tanner

P.S. I suggest that you greet each other with the shaka rather than handshakes or hugs as a way of communicating the spirit of aloha while observing social distancing.