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Q&A Session with President Kusch and PEC (November 17, 2020)

President Kusch: I want to share a couple of thoughts from the scriptures before I get into the questions. As I was thinking about today, there were some principles that I would invite us to consider and to just keep in mind. There was a phrase that came to mind from Isaiah 1:18. It says: “Come now and let us reason together." And I hope that this is an opportunity for us to do that.

And the second thought from the scriptures is Doctrine & Covenants 50:22. I'll read it as it's written, and then I'm going to paraphrase it a little bit. “Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together."

I'm going to change that and say: "He that that asks a question, or she that asks a question, and he or she that responds to that question, helps foster an understanding one with another and both are edified and rejoice together." I sense that there are some questions that people would like to ask that they haven't asked, that you might feel that they're a little sensitive or that might have us feel defensive, or it might seem that there are critical questions. And I just want you to know this is a safe environment. We're friends, and we're coming together to counsel together and reason together, one with another.

If there are feelings, thoughts, assumptions or questions about things that maybe you haven’t understood that we've done, and I'm not sure of what those things might be, but if someone persists with an opinion or an attitude of something, if we don't have an opportunity to address that, you may make an incorrect assumption or an assumption that we would love to clarify. We won't know what to answer if those questions are not asked. And we won't know what a worry or concern to you might be. Neither of us will benefit from that, so I would invite you to feel that except for personnel items, which we cannot discuss, that all questions are encouraged, and we will gladly answer them. So, I just want to say that at the outset.

Before I get into the questions, I want to address the elephant in the room, which is, “Why did we issue a policy about post-Thanksgiving work on October 26, which seemed to have changed significantly when we just sent out another communication a week or so ago?" I will respond to it as honestly as I can. In late October, when we sent the first notice, it was before Governor Herbert's new mandates of behavior, and we were also in an escalating COVID-19 daily case count. But this whole COVID-19 pandemic is a moving target. You probably saw the email that Cody sent out earlier this afternoon about the Advising Center temporarily closing down. It's only available for providing remote services. That's a change that happened because of COVID-19. It wasn't something where we said, "Oh, let's close it now. We were going to keep it open, but now we've decided to close it." It's closed because of conditions that arose that were unanticipated. In that memo that we sent out last week, we said that we would be testing students that were coming to campus every week. That might not happen because the state of Utah and all the schools that are under this mandate have answered back that this would be too expensive and time-consuming – including the University of Utah – we don't have the resources to be able to do this. They might be asking the legislature for $100,000,000 a month to be able to support this.

Well, that may change what we said. I hope the interpretation of this will not be, "We can't believe anything that comes from the PEC because things change when it comes to COVID-19. We, just like everybody else, are doing the best we can to navigate a situation that's very uncertain and very concerning. I'm sure you all know people that have been affected by this, and I'm sure we all know people who yet will be before things have normalized and as vaccines become available.

If what we said caused angst or concern or unhappiness, we certainly would like to apologize and say that it was not our intent, but it's, as you know, a moving target. We may send something out next week that changes it even again based on guidance that we might receive.

That’s as honest as I can be with this, and again, it’s not our intent to be deceitful or to make changes that cause problems in people's personal lives. So, with that, let me get into the first question.

Question: Among the many changes that have occurred and are currently occurring, what has the leadership most excited and encouraged about student academic achievement?

President Kusch: I think for me, the thing that I am most excited about is the fact that our learning and teaching framework is becoming adopted by others. I believe that means students are learning some great things. Not that they weren't getting great experiences before, but I think they're getting experiences that help them become more capable and more trusted. For me, that's one of the things I'm most excited and most encouraged about. I'm excited about opportunities that are coming with online learning and the things that Alan Young is leading. But for me, that's the thing that is most exciting.

Tim Sloan: What I'm excited about is, and much of this is anecdotal, but over the last months, and in particular the last two months, I've been thrilled to talk with students who seem so engaged at a time when it's easy to not be. If ever there was a test that would challenge our approach to teaching, and I'm referring to immersive learning, COVID-19 brought it to us. Nevertheless, I see many of our faculty members and so many of our students rising to the challenge.

I love how the design in our curriculum has taken into account merciful learning in the integration that needs to take place, so good things are happening as we roll out and develop these courses for the BAS degrees. Much of what we've learned is now expected, and we're adopting it full scale in courses going forward. So, I'm thrilled about the future and especially with these degrees that we're growing out. And I think we're seeing a better level of achievement and better levels of engagement.

Q: Are we easing back on dressing grooming standards during this pandemic? I spoke to a student whose hair was long enough to put in a big ponytail. He said it was hard to go to the salon with businesses closing or being nervous about COVID-19. I've seen other students hiding beards with masks. I've seen some employees on campus whose dress was relaxed from the standard pre-COVID-19 norms. I've heard that some are basing this on the theory that the Dress Code Standard for employees may be relaxed because of how we have dressed at home while conducting meetings through Zoom.

President Kusch: Officially, the answer is no. We're not officially, deliberately, consciously easing back on dress and grooming standards either for students or for employees, although being at home, we might not always dress up to the pre-COVID-19 standards the way that we would dress if we came into the office.

So, here's Bruce Kusch's admission. On days when I don't have meetings that I determine that I don’t need to wear a tie, I don't wear a tie. There are days, and today is not one of them, that I need to be in a suit, and then I wear a suit, from the waist up. I'm not like Guy Hollingsworth, who wears shorts at all times no matter what he's got from the waist up. As far as our dress standard, be appropriate for the circumstances.

I will just leave it to your judgment to determine what's appropriate for the circumstances. I trust that you all will do that. After we're all back on campus all the time, we'll revisit things, and there are also standards that we should generally observe when we're on campus. When I come to campus, I’m dressed in a suit.

David Brooksby: I think I would say the following. A letter was sent to the entire campus community the first week of the Spring 2020 Semester. And then, during the first week of this semester, an email notice was sent out to the entire campus community informing everyone that the dress and grooming standards have not changed.

So, someone might understandably then ask the question that if there's been no change, why are we seeing issues relating to this? And I think the reason behind that is the same as what I think it has always been. I was reading President Henry B. Eyring’s biography that his son wrote not too long ago. In some of these journal entries, President Eyring was dealing with the same kinds of challenges when he was president of Rick's College as what we deal with today.

Sometimes there are situations where if you observe a student who has a beard, it could be one of two things. One, they might have an exception to the grooming standard. Exceptions are only given if someone has a medical reason for it. The only other reason would be, and this came from the Commissioner's Office, is if they are involved in a Book of Mormon production the Church was taking part in. If someone does have a beard exception, they will have documentation and should be able to show that they've gone through the process and are an exception to do that.

Some ways that you might be able to tell if this is not the case is if you see that somebody that looks like they just came out from living in the mountains for a few months. They have a very long beard, or if their beard has been shaped or fashioned, those are alert signals that suggest that the person is not authorized to have a beard because a beard exception requires that someone maintain a short and neatly trimmed beard at all times. If you encounter something like this, I think that I would respond in a way that is principally based. You would want to have a private conversation with the person. I highly recommend following the principle of seeking to understand them – to find out, “Are you a student on campus? Do you have a beard exception?” You can start by just asking a question.

And that as you find out more information, you're better able to respond. If this is happening in the classroom or among other employees, I hope you know that you can always call me, and I'm happy to talk you through the situation and that we can figure out some things together about how to respond. These are people and another principle that I always appreciate from President Monson is to “never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved." We still need to solve the problem, but we also need to make sure that the person knows that we care about them. Maybe one last thing that I'd say in that regard is, shortly before he died, Neal A. Maxwell said to “be grateful for those who love you enough to correct you even when you don't want to be corrected." When we think about the mission statement of the College, this is what we can do to help someone live so that they can be trusted and increase their capability to do so.

Q: Is there any sense from your meetings that Ensign College is under the microscope because of reduced enrollments?

President Kusch: The answer is no. Nobody has ever sat me down and said, “Hey Bruce, we're worried about what's happening." That's just not happening, so the answer to that question is no.

Q: Could we have an update on how things are progressing in terms of our relationship with BYU-Pathway Worldwide? What can we do to better make our Pathway students feel a part of Ensign College?

President Kusch: Our relationship with Pathway is progressing. I think it's moving forward miraculously. This is a testimony to me that the Lord is aware of what we are doing, what we have been asked to do and what we have been approved to do in terms of our relationship with Pathway. There are some folks on the Pathway side that the majority of you would not know, but it is a testimony to me as I have witnessed the Lord bringing those people together and working on people's hearts that have the skills and the talents that we need to move this forward. On our side, Alan Young is one of those people, and on Pathway's side, there's someone who came from New Mexico. That is a liaison that's helping put together an overall agreement between Ensign College and Pathway. We reviewed that agreement yesterday in its draft form with our contact at the Northwest Commission. The words that she used were, “This is phenomenal. This is exciting! This is a model that others can follow, not only on a regional basis but on a national basis too." So, I think it's going pretty well.

Alan Young: I love the question because this is an exciting season in our history. And I want to borrow from what David Brooksby mentioned, and that is focusing on principles. There are going to be a lot of students that are Ensign College students that we get to serve but in a very different way than how we usually serve them on campus. What we're focusing on right now is, "How do we take principles that are at the heart and soul of the Ensign College experience and build those principles into a scalable model that can go to thousands and even tens-of-thousands of students, even though we're not going to have the one-on-one in interaction with those tens-of-thousands of students like we would expect to have for campus?” As this moves forward, I think that all of us can think in terms of how do we extend the Ensign College experience, even though we won't have that one-on-one kind of face-to-face experience with every individual student?

The other thing that's happening is that some programs are being offered in partnership with BYU-Pathway that we're scaling out to the world, but not every program. We aren't planning to take every Ensign College program and offer it through the BYU-Pathway infrastructure. So, looking at priorities and what's the worldwide market, we should expect that it will be a limited number of programs.

So, what can all of us do? I think all of us can think deeply about what's at the core of my contribution to Ensign College – not what's my day-to-day activity, but consider the principles that drive the student experience that relate to my area, and then share those within your team and share those with your supervisor. We have a group that meets every week where we look at those principles and how we incorporate them into the life of the online student. So, that's an active discussion. Some of you are there every week. Some of you have valuable input into those and others are less involved. But if you've got these ideas about principles that you feel like we can scale-out, and that these Ensign College principles can be brought out to the world, make sure that your supervisor knows about those and gets those represented in these collaborations.

President Kusch: There’s one thing that I would add to the discussion of what we can do to better make our Pathway students feel a part of Ensign College. Right now, Pathway students that are taking our classes don't realize that they're Ensign College students. They will be beginning next Fall because they’re registered Ensign College students. Beginning next Fall, when a student declares that they want to pursue a certificate in the Social Media Marketing or Hospitality or Computer Support or Project Management or Medical Coding or Accounting program, they'll know that they're Ensign College students because they'll be enrolling at Ensign College. I think that will help them just by the very fact that they are enrolled at Ensign College.

Q: I've seen a great deal of marketing connecting Pathway to BYU-Idaho but not to Ensign College. Will that be changing in the future?

President Kusch: My response to that is that I sure hope so because that is a spot-on observation. It's something that we are trying to do, and I think that we will see a greater connection in the future. One of the things that was a bit of an irritant for me was that on the Welfare and Self-Reliance Services page, as far as education is concerned, it only mentioned Pathway but did not mention Ensign College. I was in a meeting a month or so ago where someone from WSRS was making a presentation. I was mostly participating in this meeting as a member of our stake high council, but when the opportunity presented itself, I raised my hand and said, "Look, I'm here because of my high council calling. But for a minute, if you would permit me, I'm going to put on my Ensign College hat for a second." And I made an impassioned plea that Ensign College should be included in what SRS has on their website, and I understand that we're there now.

I haven't seen it, but it sounds like we've made some progress. So, slowly but surely, we hope to overcome some of those marketing obstacles. I know Kirk is aware of that and has had a discussion with Pathway about this. Some things are happening, but maybe not to the extent that we would like, but I think that that will change over time.

Q: We're inundated in a virtual environment at work and school, and the pandemic has created a lot of change in the way that we operate. What's going to stick, and how do we deal with the environment that we're in?

President Kusch: What's going to stick? I would have to say at this point that I'm not sure. I think that some things will change, and there may be meetings that we have via Zoom that we don't necessarily need to have face-to-face because of the convenience of Zoom. I want to turn the time over to you to answer the question of how do we become more engaged during Zoom meetings, and how do we sort of deal with this. But first, I want to express concern about the Zoom environment in general, and I don't have a solution. So, I'm just going to throw out a problem here without a solution. The concern I have is the sterility of this environment. By that, I mean when we were all on campus and would go to a meeting, we might be coming from one a few minutes early and could just chat about something. And after finishing the in-person meeting, it's not unusual for people to just hang around and spend a few minutes talking if you don't have to get off to another meeting. I miss that, and I think this is something that's lacking in this environment.

If a meeting starts at 2 p.m., we look at our watch and say, "Okay, I'll get on at about 1:59 p.m." And if it ends at 3 p.m., you hit the "leave" button at the bottom, and then it's over. You say, “Have a nice day," and then you go on to something else. Because we're not physically present, we're just operating in a very sterile environment – and I don't mean all the sanitation stuff that we're going through. We're looking at each other in a little picture that's about this big, and that's the connection that we're having right now in this meeting, and one of the things that occurred to me just now, and I don't know how, but somehow I think the Holy Ghost can help us overcome the sterility of this and somehow link our hearts, even in this environment, because he knows this is the only way we can communicate right now. The time will come when we'll get to be in a meeting again, and hopefully, be able to shake each other's hand and maybe hug each other every once in a while and have that personal connection. But for now, I think we have to pray for the gift of somehow having the Holy Ghost close that gap in regards to our in-person relationships.

Now I'll just leave that there, and I would invite anyone that would like to comment about how we best operate in this environment. It's Zoom-meeting after Zoom-meeting. The Church Zooms. Sunday School Zooms. Now, I realize the Church is not Zoom for everybody, but now priesthood and Relief Society is on Zoom. Sunday School is on Zoom. All the Church activities and meetings are on Zoom. So, what do we do, and what's your counsel and advice?

Schillene Bigelow: Talking about touching hearts and family, I wanted to share a little experience. Last Thursday was my 50th birthday, and I was so bummed that I had to come to work. I was hoping that Louisa, as you know, who works with me in the lab, would cover my class. She said she would cover for me but came down with COVID-19, so I had nobody to cover my class. I was so disappointed I couldn’t sleep the night before. I was frustrated that I had to come to work on my birthday. And I came to work and brought breakfast for my students, so I could somewhat celebrate. My husband showed up at work, and my heart just melted when I saw him pass by the classroom. I thought, “He's here." After class ended, I went to my office, and there was a phone call from David Brooksby. It was the sweetest call, and he didn't even know that it was my birthday.

I don't know if anybody here knew it was my birthday, but he called and left the sweetest message for me. And I felt like the Lord remembered, and I know God knows my birthday, but he knew that on that day, I needed something. Henry showed up, and then there’s a call from a colleague wishing me happy birthday and to tell me how much he appreciates what I do on campus and other nice words. And I just had tears in my eyes. Henry was in the office listening to the message, and I called David - he happened to be in his office – and we had this wonderful conversation. My husband looked at me and said, “See! The Lord is mindful of you. He knows when you have to be at work." It was a little love coming my way, and it was so sweet. I'm not asking everybody to remember my birthday, but it was so thoughtful of David to go out of his way that day and make the call, knowing that I was going to be at work all day. I had my class to teach. Then I had the lab class, and I had the night class, which just pushed my whole day. I was so bummed. And it was so sweet to receive a small gesture, a short phone call. I don't know if this is going to work for everybody. But every once in a while, if you can chat with each other, it can be by sending a little message. I’m one of those who are still on campus. I come a few days a week because I have labs on the ground. Every once in a while, I see a few of you on the 9th floor. I go and say “Hi,” or you come down and say “Hi.” I think the short phone calls are very thoughtful. You know, David brightened my day. He's awesome like that.

President Kusch: Some great comments have been posted in the chat, and these are things that we could do just by being proactive and scheduling some time. Ben Hart made a good suggestion about using breakout rooms. We could certainly do that in some of these meetings and arrange it so we could do that by using the capabilities of Zoom.

Q: How can we use devotionals in our gospel study?

President Kusch: I think one of the most important things we could do with devotionals is to just watch the devotional. And if there is something particular that touches you, make sure that you download the transcript. Or you may just enjoy watching the video again and again. None of them are very long.

I was particularly touched by the devotional that Elder Clark gave a week ago today. I've downloaded the transcript and formatted it for my study. I haven't been able to take too much time with it yet. I was interested to see that he's continued to research disciple leadership, and I think there are some things that we can all learn from that. He used to talk about “small L leadership," meaning that you don't have to have the position or the title of a leader to be a leader. And we can all be leaders in our way.

Devotionals this semester have been exceptional. On December 1, two weeks from today, Elder and Sister Kearon are the devotional speakers. Elder Kearon did not use a teleprompter. He had a stack of notes and scriptures and looked at some notes. It was more like the way that Elder Kearon would address a congregation in a stake conference than a prepared scripted talk. Sister Kearon used the teleprompter and gave a scripted address, but Elder Kearon did not. I was interested that that was the approach that Elder Kearon took.

Royce Hinton: I will just add that we made devotionals available on Spotify and Apple Podcast. So, if that's something that you would like to do, you can add it to your playlist and listen to those in the car as you head to work or wherever you go. So, that's something that I found to be helpful.

Mark Richards: Can I just add at the risk of embarrassing someone, in light of what we're implementing here at the College with this culture of trust – and I think the way President has approached this Q&A today – if you haven't had a chance to listen to Tim Sloan’s devotional, you need to do it. It will affect every one of our lives.

Guy Hollingsworth: I might just add that I think it's a great resource. We would never say, “Hey, you’ve got to listen to this." We would never force that. But what a great way to stay connected. And as you said, President, we've had an all-star list this semester and last semester too. It's a way to stay connected with the school, and you can pick them up anytime when you have 20 minutes, 25 minutes or not very long. People have spent a lot of time putting them together. You that have spoken at a devotional know that it takes a while to put it all together and that it requires effort in making sure that the message fits the given context and audience. I hope we can pay these speakers that are working on campus, and those that don't work here, the respect of listening to their message and take that and use it in our lives. I think it's an important piece each week.

Q: How do we become examples as capable and trusted disciples – particularly for students that might be feeling anxious, concerned and maybe even a little depressed as a result of the pandemic. And how do we focus on the Savior during the Christmas season?

President Kusch: One specific thing I would recommend is that at 11 a.m. on Friday, November 20, whatever you're doing, stop and listen to President Nelson's message. It is a message for the world. I don't know anything about the specifics, but I know that it's a message for the world. I believe that he will have some counsel for us that, if followed, will be a blessing in our lives. And I think that’s maybe one of the best things that we can do because I know that he's concerned about our state of mind and how we're all doing.

As far as how we might keep the Savior as the focus of our Christmas season, I think that's a very individual decision. This is something to be prayed, studied and pondered about. If every one of us would ask the question, “What can we do to be more focused on the Savior this Christmas season?" and if we seek an answer to this question and listen with a sincere heart with an intent to act, I think the Lord is going to inspire us. We'll know what to do. The only counsel that I would have is to not try and do too much. We could all come up with a list of 100 things that we could do better or that we might be able to do, but if it's only a few simple things, then that will be enough if it's a sincere offering as we seek for guidance.

It might be a little like the experience that the brother of Jared had when asking the Lord for light. “How in the world am I going to put a light in these barges? You told us about the air. You were going to send us forth in the water, but how in the world are we going to be able to see for 344 days?” And the Lord's response was, “I don't know. What do you want me to do?”

And so, the brother Jared went to work. So, maybe our opportunity is to go to the Lord and say, “This is my desire." And we proactively think about things we can do and take it to the Lord and seek His confirmation.

Schillene Bigelow: One question, and maybe it’s addressed to David – I have my practicum with students this semester. We only meet on Fridays one day a week because they practice at the clinic, and I do have a couple of my young men where their scruffs are coming on. This is their final semester. They're leaving the campus, and they won't be here anymore. They’ve come to class one day a week, and in the last couple of weeks, I’ve just stopped fighting. I'm grateful they're there. What would you do? This is their final semester. They’re graduating, and we're on Zoom, and the scruffs are there.

David Brooksby: There's a quote from Henry B. Eyring, and then I have a short thought. This was a message President Eyring shared while he was president at Rick’s College. He said, "The standards are approved by the Board of Trustees, and you committed to upholding them to a Bishop or Branch President. A commitment to a Bishop or Branch President is a commitment to a direct agent of the Lord. If we allowed you to remain on campus while breaking that commitment, we would teach you that commitments to the Master's representatives are not important. We cannot do that. Violators may mistakenly assume that a commitment means less at the end of an academic year than it did on the first day. Can you imagine the harm we would do if by not asking you to keep the standards now, we taught you that you need not keep commitments or performance in the last months of a mission, or the last weeks before a temple marriage or the closing years of life? You cannot teach the false lesson that nearness to the end of the term of a promise changes its reality."

I think that a conversation with these people is something that would be meaningful. Schillene, you've got such a wonderful demeanor where your students love and trust you. I think they would respond well to you. If there were concerns about that, I'd be happy to touch base after this meeting, and I'll gladly help with this further.

President Kusch: Please just know, and I speak on behalf of the PEC, but I also speak on Alynda's behalf and my behalf, that we love you and I love you, and I express that to you. I mean that sincerely. We hope that you can feel our concern for you and our desire to help to support you. Those are our only desires. It’s just to be the very best that we can be and in following the Savior's example and being capable and trusted disciples of Christ. I had a job candidate asking this morning what my expectations were for our employees, and I said, "Tt's simple. Just come to work every day and try to meet the standard of our mission statement: to be capable and trusted as a disciple of Christ. If we do that, life's going to be good. We'll be happy and productive and be doing the things that the Lord wants us to do."

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