JACKSON,Tenn. (BP)--Although the Union University campus suffered millions of dollars in damage when a tornado struck Feb. 5, rebuilding its facilities is not the top priority, President David S. Dockery said Feb. 7.
"We are concerned at the large level with what appears to be untold millions of dollars of damage. We have to try to restore and rebuild on this campus," Dockery said. "But students need to know that is not our primary concern.
"We are concerned about them, their well-being, getting them back into the saddle, getting them back into trying to finish this spring semester," he said. "It's so important, especially for our seniors who are trying to graduate school next fall. We have got to finish this semester, and we're going to do everything we can to ensure that happens."
Dockery said he holds great hope for the future.
"I've gone through several emotions, from the first moment I saw the devastation, to hearing the cries from the students under the rubble, to seeing how in the world we are going to be able to coordinate these efforts Tuesday night -- which were just a jumble [of things]," Dockery said. "Now, nearly 40 hours later, I'm in a state of great hopefulness."
Dockery said a five-phase plan has been implemented to move the university forward in a positive direction: campus assessment, students' return to homes, damage cleanup, resumption of classes and rebuilding the campus.
"We're not going to have everything back to normal tomorrow, on Feb. 18 or even by the end of this spring semester," Dockery said. "But we have a plan in place that's going to move us forward with short-term strategies, intermediate strategies and long-term prospects for a better Union University.
"While this is an incredible tragedy, the opportunities on the other side are quite hopeful. We're thankful for God's providence that has helped us through and we're trusting in God to guide us as we move forward."
Dockery said he sympathized with students who have suffered and been displaced, but he encouraged them to be hopeful about the future.
"My heart goes out to students who have been in places and lost belongings and those who are badly hurt from [the tornado], but I think we have much for which to rejoice. We need to focus on that and not look back, but look forward," Dockery said.
Brittany Howerton is a senior public relations major at Union University.