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University President: Faculty Convocation Address - August 2010
Among the strategies that have been developed is a sustained media advertising campaign, something the University has never done before. In support of that advertising campaign, Laurie Kelley, our chief marketing officer, has produced a video that had its first appearance on TV station KGW this past Sunday evening. While brief, this video does an excellent job of highlighting some of the themes I will be discussing in my remarks today.
Thank you to all who worked on this video and the advertising campaign. I’m sure you can appreciate its high energy – not that you need additional energy here at the start of the year – and it will, we hope, convey to a wider world some of the enthusiasm and pride we all feel here on campus.
It is always energizing to greet students and faculty at the start of a new academic year. Every time I walked around the campus during the past several days I could feel the excitement in the air. Everyone – new students and old, faculty and staff – was filled with a sense that something important was about to happen, and for some students their new life seemed overwhelmingly complicated. I certainly see much of that in my own office.
It has been said that “a modern university has become like a city-state in its scope and complexity” and judging from the number and range of issues that cross my desk, especially at this time of year, I would say that is a good comparison.
Yet in spite of that complexity, in many ways the start of a new year simplifies things and organizes them around a common purpose: the intellectual and spiritual growth of our students. All of you here today are at the heart of that work and it is the work you do daily – that you will do each day of the coming year – that inspires me and energizes me.
No talk I give in the course of a year has the significance of this one, when we gather again after summers spent far afield, and we renew our purpose. And no gathering is more satisfying. This past summer I spent three weeks in Rome in 100 degree heat and humidity for the General Chapter of Holy Cross at which a number of decisions were made that are important for Holy Cross and our institutions like the University of Portland. I also spent 8 days in Australia at meetings and visiting our program there. All the while I looked forward to the chance to speak with you about our goals and our shared future. Today, my anticipation is greater than usual because, while this year poses its own unique challenges, it also offers enormous and unprecedented opportunities.
We all know that the economic downturn is taking a relentless toll in our country. Unemployment continues to be high and many of the families of our students are dealing with worsening financial circumstances. This year we had to direct additional resources to student financial aid because of their need, and we know that need will likely continue. Yet in spite of the dire financial conditions we see all around us, the University, with some needed adjustments during the past two years, is financially stable. Our budget has held steady. Our hiring freeze is a thing of the past. And we have been able to bring faculty salaries in the College of Arts and Sciences to the mean of our peer institutions.
Yet we must continue to exercise caution. We must pay close attention to our financial management lest we suddenly find ourselves caught in cross winds that we cannot control. It is imperative that we keep salaries at or above the mean. We must be able to continue to hire faculty of superb quality and provide you with the resources all of you need to grow and develop. We will have to keep close watch over the annual increases in tuition that have become a staple of University life and that affect every one of us and every one of our students. And we must be attentive to the significant required maintenance and capital improvement requirements that loom over our facilities.
Our large freshman class, significantly improved retention, and booming enrollment pose still other challenges. Classes and residence halls are filled to their capacity and beyond. All of our faculty and staff will from time to time be heavily taxed by the additional work these students present. The bubble in our freshman class has created an imbalance in enrollment that will work its way through the University for the next four years and there will be times when it tries our resources and our patience.
But these challenges are the result of our great success. This year we had significantly more applications for the freshman class – almost 12,000 – but the number of applicants we admitted stayed the same. Yet last year we enrolled a class of 816, while this year the freshman class will number close to 890. In the language of our admissions staff, our ‘yield’ has improved. In addition, we had a ‘wait list’ of almost 1000 students, something unheard of here even five years ago! Young people are clamoring to be our students!
Another important factor is our students who return to us each year. We have increased our retention rate, and it is important for us to understand how this came about.
Two years ago about 85% of our freshmen returned as sophomores. This retention rate was below our peers and was a worrisome inconsistency with our mission and our ideals. In addition, it was a serious financial drain on the University. I appointed a Task Force, headed by Fr. Steve Rowan, to analyze our retention problem and to propose solutions. The charge given the Task Force was to recommend ways to increase freshmen retention by 5% within five years. At the end of its year of work, the Task Force proposed 39 actions to our Enrollment Management Group, headed by John Goldrick, our vice president for enrollment management and student life, and that Group began to systematically undertake those actions, foremost among which was an increased emphasis on advising. Subsequently, a team of advisors led by Matt Baasten, of our theology department, and Brenda Greiner, head of the Shepard Freshman Resource Center, went to work. I am pleased to say that their efforts have produced astonishing results: freshmen retention this year stands at 90.2% and that increase represents at least 40 more students who will continue their education here.
I suggest that these welcome phenomena – the increased yield from our applicant pool and the increased retention of our students -- mean a couple of things:
First, the University is increasingly attractive to high school graduates.
Second, the students we are admitting are more committed and more serious of purpose.
Third, the care and attention provided by our faculty and staff – always among our greatest strengths – continues to have an enormous impact.
I would like to think that this means that the University has reached a point in its history at which it can be more intentional about who it recruits and admits, and that now we might be more purposeful about how we shape our student body. We have a degree of influence that we have never before had in our 109-year history.
Added to our growing sense of mastery over our enrollment is another important, yet often overlooked matter.
Many of you will recall that in 2004 a large group of administrators, faculty and staff met for extended discussions at Kennedy School here in NE Portland. Those discussions produced a list of carefully-ordered priorities, projects that we had to undertake and complete as a University in order to realize our potential and fulfill our mission. There were 11 challenges unanimously identified as of the highest priority.
Today, six years later, it is remarkable when you realize that nine of those 11 priorities have been completed – and the remaining two are underway. We have many people to thank for all of that – our generous benefactors, and Jim Lyons, our vice president for University relations, and Bryce Strang, our associate vice president for development, most of all – for none of those 11 challenges was inexpensive. Our success at securing the funds for those projects has been nothing short of remarkable.
Because of that success, things that once seemed beyond our reach – like the expansion of our engineering facilities and our dining commons and the land mass of our campus, like the addition of new residence halls and the remodeling of others, like improved classroom technology and athletic facilities and additional student financial aid – we now take for granted as part of our daily lives and work.
The point I would like to stress about this is that the experience of establishing objectives crucial to our mission and securing the funds with which to achieve those objectives is a new experience here at the University of Portland. And when that sense of financial empowerment is combined with our growing mastery of enrollment, we have an institutional environment of self-confidence unlike any we have ever known. We now have a rare opportunity to shape our own destiny. For much of the University’s history, the fundamental question was whether or not it would survive. That was followed by the recent period during which the University consolidated its gains and became excellent in selected programs and activities. Now we are asking ourselves what kind of university we want to be in the future.
This is the context in which we begin this new year and this is the cause of my great optimism and excitement about the work that lies before us. And it is my response to that question – what kind of university do we want to be? – that is the focus of my talk today.
The University of Portland attracted all of us, I think, and continues to attract us, because of its extraordinary qualities, its enormous potential, and its unique identity. That identity has been much discussed in recent years and three major themes that run through it have been articulated:
- Teaching and learning
- Faith and formation
- Service and leadership
These three themes are the very thread of the fabric of the University. They shape all that we have done in the past and will continue to give form to all that we do in the future. They are the heart and soul of our mission and of our institutional and personal lives. And they will be the guiding lights for three vital projects we are undertaking this year that separately and together will be a significant means for us to determine the kind of school we want to be. There are hundreds of tasks that will occupy us this year, and each of them is important in its own way. But in an unusual confluence of past obligations and future commitments three projects stand out above all others:
- Accreditation, which requires that we evaluate our recent past;
- Strategic Planning, which requires us to envision our future; and a
- Major Fund Raising Campaign, which offers the means by which we can realize that vision.
Accreditation offers the most immediate challenge. By the end of this calendar year we must complete a report for the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities that documents the work we have done during the past five years to implement our last strategic plan and to remain faithful to our three core themes. This report will be submitted to the NW Commission and studied by a group of visitors who will next fall spend time on campus to evaluate our progress to renew our accreditation as a private university.
With the advice and counsel of the deans and a steering committee, I have asked Tom Greene, associate provost and dean of the Graduate School, to facilitate the accreditation process and lead a team of faculty and staff that will oversee the work of accreditation. Many of you will be called upon to assist and I hope you will respond with the enthusiasm and generosity which has characterized you in the past.
The creation of a strategic plan, however, is a longer and more complex challenge and will involve still more of you for many more months. A steering committee has been at work since last year, for several months doing the preliminary preparations for this process. Br. Donald and I co-chair the committee and I have named Fr. Gerry Olinger, my executive assistant, to facilitate and manage the planning process. Subcommittees have been established that align with the three themes of our mission: teaching and learning, faith and formation, service and leadership. These subcommittees will do their work throughout this academic year and we will present a final plan for our Regents to approve at their meeting next May. The new plan will then be included with our report to the accreditors next fall. And after that, we will refer to the Plan often, using it to guide our decision-making and the allocation of our limited resources during the next five or more years.
Every successful organization has a plan for its growth and future. But while planning is always important, it is particularly crucial during times of economic challenge, when resources are more scarce and decisions more difficult. The best planning is not episodic but is continual and ongoing and my hope is that planning and assessment soon will become a natural part of our work here. Last year we completed the fifth year of a plan that was developed in 2004. That plan, in turn, was built on plans developed in the 1990s. Real and sustainable progress for the University is not the work of one or two or five years. It is the work of many years. By following a plan that is well-conceived, ambitious, flexible and realistic the University can continue its progress and realize its vision for itself.
However, our circumstances and our goals have evolved considerably during the past 5 or 6 years and the present plan we are developing must recognize that. The growth we have experienced in the past is but the prologue to the important story that is unfolding here today. This new plan cannot be an update of the previous plans but must be a new plan altogether, a fresh look at the University that will articulate the ways in which we have changed, that will set targets for the next five years and beyond, and that will establish and define the methods by which we will assess our progress.
Broadly speaking, the plan should address all of the issues that vex us and challenge us every day, issues such as:
- what it means to be a Catholic university;
- how we might relieve heavy dependence on tuition;
- how we might find and develop sources of revenue;
- how we might improve our pedagogy;
- how we might better implement technology in the classroom and elsewhere on campus;
- what the profile of our student body should look like;
- what will allow us to continue to attract students;
- what will make the University distinctive among its peers;
- how we can strengthen and enrich our curriculum;
- how can we best integrate faith and service in the life of the University;
Some schools plan as a matter of survival. Some plan in order to retrench. As I have noted, we have the luxury and rich blessing to begin our planning from a position of great strength. Our challenge now is to build on that strength and elevate our work, and the life of the University, to a new level of distinction. As always, our starting point for our discussions can be found in the commitments expressed in our mission, and our trajectory can be found in what we together envision for us as a University: to be known as a premier comprehensive Catholic university with a strong liberal arts core.
We have come far in a very short time. But if we are going to rise higher, we must take an honest look at where we stand in comparison to other fine universities, Catholic and otherwise, and think hard about how we can improve. Karen Nelson, our director of institutional research, has already begun to gather this kind of data but we must be cautious that this external scan does not lead us simply to mimic others. We must be guided by our mission. That is my challenge to you: think deeply about how we can improve in those areas in which we seek excellence: teaching and learning, faith and formation, service and learning.
Foremost among our considerations as we plan must be our concern for academic excellence. Fr. Ted Hesburgh, the legendary president of Notre Dame, once said that “piety is not a substitute for scholarship”, and that thought must guide us throughout our planning. We cannot be a great Catholic university unless we are, first, a great university. We must strive to excel in teaching and learning by the standards of truly great institutions of higher learning. And we must do that while preserving and enhancing our Catholic character. So I charge you all, as we work our way through this year-long planning process, to ask yourselves two essential questions:
- What does it mean for us to be a great university?
- What does it mean for us to be a Catholic university?
What does it mean to be a great university?
An education that is rooted in the traditions of the Congregation of Holy Cross is an education that is committed to the highest level of excellence. This commitment was established by our founder, Blessed Basil Moreau. In the wake of the French Revolution Fr. Moreau knew that any schools he established had to have the highest standards and be recognized for their unquestioned excellence. Their survival in the hostile environment of post-revolutionary France depended on it. This is no less true for us today than it was for Father Moreau 175 years ago.
If our quest for excellence and distinction was simply a matter of funding every worthy proposal, our job would be very different than the one we face. For the University of Portland, an endless abundance of new resources is not available; we cannot fund new proposals indiscriminately. There are many things we can do; we just can’t do them all. The way to the top for us is not a mere matter of dollars, but a matter of how to spend those dollars wisely. Strategically. Our plan must consist of focused, achievable and measurable priorities. In our planning, we must be ready to make informed, strategic and sometimes difficult decisions about which initiatives have the greatest potential to be truly excellent and to advance the University further. We must do this if we are to truly serve our mission. Again, we begin our planning for academic excellence from a position of strength.
There are about 230 Catholic colleges and universities in the United States. A recent study identified 21 of those schools as the leaders among that group, and the University of Portland was among those 21. In that group, we are a relatively small school. Only five of those 21 schools have smaller enrollment than we do. We do not have the advantages of scale that many others have. Therefore, if we are to succeed, our decisions about where and how we invest in our programs and facilities must be more discerning, more focused, more integrated. It was interesting for me to note that of those 21, only seven had students with higher SAT scores in reading, and only 10 had higher SAT scores in math. Clearly, the University is poised to step into the leading rank of Catholic colleges and universities.
One of our singular advantages is that we are a Holy Cross school. Holy Cross institutions have historically been leaders in integrated and interdisciplinary curricula, especially relating the humanities to professional education.
In addition, Holy Cross schools have always been leaders in developing student life in a way that is programmed, intentional, and interventionist. Our undergraduates learn how to live in and be responsible for a ‘community’. Residentiality has become a hallmark of student life here and is the single most effective instrument we have to integrate the knowledge our students acquire. Residence life draws together the ideas and concepts of the laboratory and classroom with the realities of university life and creates a community unlike any that most students will ever live in again – a community of faith, of work, of service, and of play. Our challenge is to uncover ways for us to bend this extracurricular learning to the service of academic excellence.
Our distinctive character as a Catholic university presents us with challenges not faced by secular schools. The late pope John Paul II once said that the proper role of a Catholic university is: “Learning to think rigorously so as to act rightly and serve humanity better.” This is a uniquely Catholic view of higher education. We work here not only to pass on knowledge but to cultivate moral and religious virtues in our students. This ideal guides not only our policies and practices in the Division of Student Life and the Office of Campus Ministry, but also in the theology and philosophy departments and in our core curriculum. We will serve humanity better when we help our students engage the world’s greatest problems. We have done that in some very large and visible ways in recent years through such things as the Focus the Nation Conference, the Water and Justice Conference last year, and the conference on food being planned for next spring. And you do it in less visible ways every day in your classes. In our planning we must identify still more ways to have this kind of engagement.
We also will continue to pass on moral and religious virtues through the generous commitment of the priests and brothers of Holy Cross. We have about 30 Holy Cross priests and brothers living and working here this year, and a number of other religious who are not members of the Congregation. It is the highest ratio of religious to students of any of the 230 Catholic schools in the nation. The many ways our religious faculty and staff serve as role models reinforces the integration of learning and character, of college and community, of faith and life that we seek for our students. A week ago we said goodbye to Fr. Chet Prusynski, a Holy Cross priest who had served here since 1962. Pru taught courses in the School of Business, lived in residence halls, counseled and comforted generations of students for almost half a century and for all of his life as a priest. His lifetime of service to students and the University is just the latest example of the Holy Cross commitment to each of you, to our students, and to our University.
A critical component of our mission of UP as a holy Cross institution is you, lay collaborators who serve the University because you believe in what we do and what we strive to be. From the earliest days of the Congregation, Fr. Moreau envisioned Holy Cross working side by side with committed lay people to further God’s work.
Our Catholic character and mission is also seen throughout our curriculum which is replete with courses where our religious and ethical commitments are highlighted. Basil Moreau himself said: “Knowledge itself does not bring about positive values, but values do influence knowledge and put it to good use.” Many of you teach courses in the philosophy of religion, the history of religion, business ethics, peace studies, and environmental studies. These are obvious examples. In truth, every part of our curriculum should be informed in some way by philosophical, ethical, and theological perspectives. The president of a prestigious university recently proudly claimed that his faculty only taught facts, nothing else. We are different at the University of Portland. Moral neutrality is not something to which we aspire.
And our students want and expect to learn from our moral commitments. Recent studies done annually by UCLA show that students at universities around the country are concerned about the general lack of ethical and religious foundations as part of the their curriculum and college experience.
Whether our students are Catholic or not, their ‘formation’ as morally motivated men and women is one of our great purposes. This way of expressing it is unique to Holy Cross. While others may talk about ‘the education of the whole person’, we in Holy Cross talk about the formation of our students. Our task is to help these young men and women who come to us as searchers, give shape to their lives and character. A Holy Cross university is a Catholic intellectual community that does not lead students to decide what they want to be. Ours is a community that helps students discern who they are called to be. Our students’ central concern should not be their personal identity but dedication to God and others.
I could go on, but our basic calling is clear: to teach values as well as competence, to understand the ethical as well as the intellectual challenges of our time, and to see the philosophical and theological implications of those challenges. Our strategic plan must help us do that.
As you do the work of developing our new strategic plan, however, it is essential that you keep in mind that our planning must be grounded in reality. It will profit us nothing if we devote a year to pursuing pie in the sky. This is why our planning is so intimately tied to the third major project that will continue to unfold this year: a comprehensive fund raising campaign.
Shortly after our last campaign ended in 2002, discussions began about ways to secure the funds for the University’s needs that were unmet by that fund raising effort. And there were many. The day-long retreat at Kennedy School in 2004 that I referred to earlier accelerated those discussions and in 2005 we began to secure the gifts that allowed us to complete many projects that were among our highest priorities. We are all now enjoying the benefits of the past five years of successful fund raising.
Those years, in truth, have been the ‘quiet phase’ of another campaign. During this time we have approached friends with the ability to significantly help us, and many of their gifts have been directed to buildings or large physical projects such as Shiley Hall, Fields and Schoenfeldt Halls, and the Bauccio Commons. This December we will announce this new campaign to the public and will increase our efforts during the next three years, concluding in December 2013.
This new campaign has been built upon the priorities established at the Kennedy School retreat and the guidance spelled out in the 2004 Strategic Plan. The Strategic Plan that we develop this year will, in turn, be tightly linked to this ongoing fund raising.
I explained earlier that the pursuit of academic excellence was our first order of business and this campaign reflects that commitment. Fully 40% of our $175 million goal is to support academic excellence, including endowed faculty positions, faculty and student development, and technology support. No university can be better than its faculty, and this campaign will help provide the resources you need to excel.
Another 25% of our goal is for student financial aid – the largest single priority of this campaign. If we are to be faithful to our mission and our vision we must be a University that welcomes a diverse student body, rich and poor alike. Thus, financial aid must continue to be our most important fund raising objective.
There is an audacity and boldness about this campaign that I hope will inspire all of you. For one thing, the dollar goal we are seeking is greater than any private school in the Northwest has ever attempted to raise.
For another, it proposes to lift the University to a new level of achievement and prestige by providing funds and endowments for those initiatives you have identified – and will continue to identify – through our planning. This campaign underscores a momentous time in the life of the University.
These three crucial projects – accreditation, strategic planning, and the comprehensive campaign – can be used to elevate the University to the highest rank of American Catholic colleges and universities. If we embrace these projects with thoughtfulness and passion we can enrich the University, our work, and the lives of our students in ways that we dared not imagine even five years ago.
Each successive generation of faculty and staff has added its own distinctive mark to the University and each has moved it beyond its previous station. Over the years the University has grown in wisdom and wealth, in size and stature because of the devotion and the energy of people like you. They met the challenges of their age with the resources that were available to them. That was their time.
This year we are being called to rise to our own challenge. The work ahead will be long and difficult but we will be guided by the Spirit and buoyed by one another. The University of Portland is a fine institution but it can – and will -- become greater still – with our efforts, the help of others, and the grace of God. Our vision is clear; our mission is unambiguous; our work lies before us.
Three essential themes. Three seminal projects. A position of strength not known before. This is our time. Let us seize it together.
Thank you all for being here today. I give you my prayers and best wishes for a fruitful, productive, and satisfying year.