As the month of May approaches, graduates all over the United States are setting aside ceremonial robes and tassels for face masks, and hand sanitizers are replacing celebratory floral bouquets as educational institutions postpone commencement events in the midst of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Here in the Peninsula, Point Loma Nazarene University (PLNU) at 3900 Lomaland Drive, staff and students are also rising to face the unprecedented challenges.
“PLNU, like nearly every other university in the country, had to quickly convert all of its classes and support services to a virtual format in order to complete the Spring semester,” PLNU president Bob Brower told Point Loma-OB Monthly via e-mail.
“And we had to make sure all of our students were able to keep their academic progress and not lose the semester. This was a fast transition that required considerable new training, materials, technology and tech support, adaptation of services, and a new way work is being done.”
Summer school, too, he said will take place online with the virtual instruction format.
“All of these changes have significant financial impact ... refunds are being given for room and board to residential students, and PLNU will have reduced revenue from programming and conferences scheduled for the summer,” Brower reported.
Graduation delayed, not dismissed
Financial difficulties aside, in this PLNU’s 118th year, coronavirus has put a halt to all events and activities — including the Class of 2020’s spring commencement. Brower said the ceremony has been re-scheduled to take place Aug. 21 and 22, with three convocations to be held on those days. A short challenge will be issued to the graduating class from faculty member Dr. Kim Hogeluct of the School of Business.
Though the final number of graduates is yet to be determined, Brower noted the two December 2019 ceremonies were comprised of 750 graduates, with approximately 900 more expected in August (reflecting both undergraduate and graduate classes). The good news is that, besides the date change, commencement will remain the same as if it were held in May.
Retired PLNU history professor Dwayne Little remarked: “That’s always such a glorious occasion — well, now there are multiple occasions — but it’s one of the things Point Loma (Nazarene University) does best.”
A far cry from its first humble enrollment of 41 students, PLNU is now home to more than 3,500 undergraduate and graduate students.
Los Angeles pastor Dr. Phineas F. Bresee in 1902 founded the educational facility — then called Pacific Bible College — and became its first president. He was also a primary founder of the Church of the Nazarene and was on the board of directors for University of Southern California.
According to Brower, the institution came about after Bresee was urged by a group of six women across a five-year period to begin a college for the preparation of ministers, missionaries and other professionals.
PLNU’s website states the women had envisioned a Bible college, but Bresee’s vision was more focused on liberal arts, stating: “He believed spiritual and academic learning went hand-in-hand.”
In 1910, the institution was moved to Pasadena. It became “Pasadena College” in 1919.
In 1964, W. Shelburne Brown became president of Pasadena College and played a significant role in transitioning the institution in 1973 to its current location in Point Loma. (Prior to PLNU, the name of the school in this location was United States International University.)
Retired history prof Little, who said he has served on both the Point Loma Association and the Peninsula Community Planning Board, started working at PLNU when it first moved to Point Loma and he taught there for 38 years thereafter.
Looking back, he recalled his favorite spot on campus was the view from his office in the History & Political Science building in Clara Colt Hall, overlooking the ocean.
“The first 10 years were kind of survival years because we still owned the campus in Pasadena, so we had to kind of pay for two campuses at the same time,” Little recalled.
Brower clarified via e-mail: “The purchase of the Point Loma property had not been completed when the school moved here in the summer of 1973, and the sale of the Pasadena campus was still pending. The purchase of the San Diego property was soon completed, but the sale of the Pasadena property took much longer and for a period of a few years, both properties were owned simultaneously.”
Little also noted there was great debate over switching from a college to a university status. According to Brower, the Board of Trustees voted to officially change the name from Point Loma Nazarene College to Point Loma Nazarene University, immediately following the May 1998 commencement.
Even after the name change was finally approved, Little added, the idea was to “not change the mission or nature of the institution.” He said that though the university has broadened its general liberal arts approach, it has maintained its religious emphasis.
“For the most part that has been a positive,” he mused, “because some institutions lose their commitment to their religious values over a period of time because of more secularizing outside influences.”
Present day PLNU
PLNU’s website states that in addition to more than 60 undergraduate areas of study, the university offers graduate, doctoral and non-traditional undergraduate degree completion.
With its undergraduate campus in Point Loma — and graduate programs at regional centers in both Mission Valley and Bakersfield — PLNU currently serves more than 4,600 students.
With Spring semester coming to a close and classes finishing up during the week of May 1, this would usually be a good time to hear about the university’s vision for the future.
Not so today.
“In the middle of the pandemic, the work is so greatly focused upon the need for new strategies and many adjustments, that it’s a little challenging to work on the vision issues for the future,” said president Brower. “However, in all of this, university leadership continues to move ahead in the development of new programs, facilities and strategies over the next one to five years. We are in the early phases of our next strategic futures planning process as we build-out more of the work on the areas I’ve mentioned above.”
In addition to switching to purely online courses, Brower said nearly all of PLNU’s employees are now working remotely, resulting in the need for new methods of coordination to prepare for the Summer and Fall semesters. “The pandemic has current and future financial impact for PLNU and all of higher education that will require continuing adjustments,” he added.
Though the future might look a little hazy, PLNU is not without its forward motion.
“Since the Point Loma campus is at full enrollment and nearly built out in new facilities,” Brower pointed out, “we plan to continue expanding to new campus sites around San Diego as new programs are developed, while we also renovate and improve existing facilities.”
— For updates about coronavirus regarding PLNU, visit bit.ly/plnucoronavirusupdates