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University President: Faculty Convocation Address - September 2009
Thank you, Brother Donald. This academic year is the 14th that Brother has served as our Provost – that’s almost as long as any president has served! -- and I hope you all will join me in thanking him for his years of service and devotion to the University, and to all of us.
I suspect there are many university presidents around the country this fall who are not relishing their moment before their assembled faculties. These are not the best of times to stand before a room full of people to deliver a report on the state of affairs! But that is not the case with me. I am truly happy to be here and to see all of you again. For me, this is the day when the new year really begins and it is always a day of great joy and satisfaction for me.
There is a lot of work that has been done to prepare for today: we have been recruiting and orienting and advising students for months; we have been managing construction schedules, developing calendars, planning, budgeting – and re-budgeting!, cleaning, and worrying at least since last May. We have completed and are prepared to dedicate five new projects worth more than $53 million. We have planned 75th anniversary celebrations for our schools of business and nursing. We have readied our soccer and basketball teams for the exciting seasons they face.
And now, at last, we have convened. From all around the world we have come, to assemble in one place, to renew our friendships, to welcome new members, to share a few laughs, get strength from one another, and, together, to begin again.
Yet the joy of beginning our University’s 109th academic year is tempered by the very sobering times in which we meet.
Almost daily we read of new assaults on learning, on science, on morality, and on modernity. We see rampant individualism threatening the very existence of communities everywhere. And we see a worldwide economic disruption that casts a shadow of fear and despair over the lives and hopes of tens of millions.
Yet the very fact that we have gathered again is cause for joy and celebration, because we here, in a community of faith and reason, are the antidote for those many social and moral ills. We tend the garden of learning. We are the model of wholeness and community. We are beacons of hope for those who suffer despair.
This year, more students than ever before have come here because of what we have to offer them. And together we will not fail them.
The world that today’s students live in is different than the world many of us knew when we were their age. Today’s world is a world of enormous opportunity for those who have the skills to teach, to manage money, to research, invent or discover. But it is a world where countless others, who lack those skills, are increasingly lost – not educated, trapped in poverty and violence, never to know opportunity.
On one hand, the world our students know offers the hope of eliminating diseases and exploring the heavens. One the other hand, it offers war, hunger, poverty and the destruction of the planet itself. Theirs is a world that is rich in knowledge but poor in wisdom.
This is where all of you come in.
In one sense, the University of Portland is counter-cultural. In a world that is fragmented and that seems incoherent, the University of Portland is drawn to “whole” thinking and coherence. We are even different than the larger, research-oriented universities, where departments often do not speak with one another, much less the schools and colleges. Students today are asked to master so much technical knowledge so quickly that questions of meaning and purpose are often crowded out. Yet the integration of their learning into a coherent worldview or philosophy of life is essential if they are to lead good and meaningful lives. And this is what all of you do so well.
Our calling now and always will be to continue to teach values as well as competence, to help our students understand the ethical as well as the intellectual challenges of our times, to help them bring coherence to their learning and their lives.
Here, each of us – each of you – brings something unique to this shared enterprise. You teach, you discover, you create, your turn the lights off, you pay the bills. We are, all of us, members of a community who contribute to learning and to the mending of our wounded world.
It is because of that, that this annual convocation is the most privileged of my moments as president, when I stand before all of you at the start of a new year and am reminded that we are all a part of something larger than ourselves, something that will endure long after we have gone from the scene. No occasion is more deeply significant to me than this.
It is tradition here that the president uses this occasion to review where we have been and where we hope to go as a University. I would like to do that today by framing my remarks with six key physical changes to our campus that have occurred since we last gathered, changes that are both means and metaphor for who we are as an institution and who we aspire to be.
At a university with a clear mission, nothing is done without purpose. Our programs, centers, departments, schools, our curricula – all are intentional, all are focused on our reason for being. We are constantly evaluating and reviewing and pruning to make sure we maintain that focus. And no less purposeful must be our built environment – the spaces and places within which you and our students live and work. Each of the six projects I will talk about has an intimate connection to our life and work as a university.
Shiley Hall, our magnificently reconstituted engineering building, is a testament to the central role that science plays at a Catholic university. Last July, speaking in Aosta, Italy, Pope Benedict reminded all of us that we are called not only to live in the world but also to transform it. He reminded us that when we change the world by our learning and creativity we “consecrate the world so it may become a living host.”
The Pope went on to enumerate many of the problems awaiting solution and transformation, from the protection of life and the environment, to the provision of food and water to all people. By building Shiley Hall, the University has renewed its commitment to being part of the solution of these problems.
Teaching here at the University of Portland is a central, even a sacred, function. Because we have a tradition that elevates teaching to the highest order, we have attracted faculty like you, who have a passionate commitment to your disciplines and that deep loving of teaching so vital to our mission and vision. And it has been a major attraction for our students, who seek the kinds of mentoring and scholarly relationships that you provide, and have chosen to come here among all the schools available to them.
But for most of our students, if not all, the scholarship of learning and the desire for excellent teaching are joined with another motivation: practicality. In Holy Cross we often express this dichotomy as “teaching students how to make a living as well as how to live.” This dual purpose is expressed nowhere more perfectly than in Shiley Hall.
I spoke of our commitment to ‘transform the world’, as Pope Benedict has exhorted us. We can – and do – do this in many ways. Next March, for example, a major national conference will be held on campus to consider the issues surrounding the uses of water. Water scarcity is growing in urgency as an issue in many regions of the world as population growth, climate change, pollution, lack of investment, and management failures restrict the amount of water available for use. Our conference, which will draw scholars and policy makers from around the country, will continue our long tradition of convening meetings so that a higher conversation might take place about matters of deepest importance. Many of the meetings during that conference will take place in Shiley Hall.
Shiley Hall will also make it likely that we will see other young people like Jorge Bugarin, a UP graduate who was recently honored for his work with “Engineers Without Borders.” Jorge is a senior construction inspector for the Oregon Department of Transportation who volunteers with “Engineers Without Borders.” Not long ago Jorge went to Guatamala at his own expense and designed, engineered and constructed a water filtration plant for a small village. While he was a student here he learned about “Engineers Without Borders” from one of his professors, Mark Kennedy.
Jorge is only one of many students who graduates from the University and goes on to have an enormous – and often anonymous – impact on the world. And it is because those students have had professors like Mark – and like all of you – and have had an opportunity to work and study in such facilities as Shiley Hall that they are inspired to transform the world.
I find it especially gratifying that it is through the great generosity of perhaps our most distinguished alumnus and his wife that we are preserving the legacy and the handiwork of one of our most distinguished Holy Cross professors, Brother Godfrey Vassalo. Brother Godfrey taught physics here for many years and helped excavate the basement of engineering hall with his own hands. He taught and counseled such remarkable students as Donald Shiley, for whom the engineering building is now named.
Far across campus is an example of yet another of the University’s commitments and of its unfolding vision. A few days ago, 360 students moved in to Fields and Schoenfeldt Halls, our newest residence halls.
There are many reasons why life in a residence hall is vital and productive for our students. One of those reasons is that residence on campus is a crucial factor in the development and preservation of our sense of community. It is a powerful expression of the Catholic and Holy Cross sense of the individual embedded in a community. And it is a statement to our students about the value and importance of community as an antidote to rampant individualism.
Two years ago at this same event, I expressed alarm that the percentage of our undergraduates who live on campus was perilously close to falling below 50%. I stated that our highest fund raising priority would be – had to be – to construct new residence halls to stem that drift and reverse it, and thereby preserve and enhance our character as a residential campus. I have spoken in the past about the collaboration and mutuality that distinguish community at a Holy Cross institution. It is in our residence halls that we best model those characteristics for our students.
I’m most pleased to be able to report to you today that with these two new halls – Fields and Schoenfeldt – 55% of our undergraduate students now live on campus. And the percentage has reached that point even while our enrollment has increased to record levels. If you have not yet toured those two halls, I encourage you to do so. The rooms are spacious and the amenities are many and the buildings enrich our community life even as they honor members of a Portland family that has been associated with the University from its founding. One of those family members, Sue Fields, currently serves on our Board of Regents, and another, Fr. Art Schoenfeldt, was a Holy Cross priest of beloved memory.
I am also happy to say that the new halls will be the home of a Holy Cross priest, continuing our tradition of having a Holy Cross religious in every hall. Our pastoral residents counsel students, administer to their spiritual needs, and model a life of service and care for others while they achieve professional excellence and satisfaction with their careers. This year four Holy Cross priests have joined, and the Portland community of Holy Cross this year numbers more than 30 men. Once again, we have the highest ratio of resident religious to students of any Catholic college or university in the country. This strong commitment to the University by the Congregation of Holy Cross has given vitality to the University since its founding and will continue to shape its character – and the character of our students – into the future.
The third of the six projects I alluded to – the University Commons – has a special role in our community that is deeply rooted in our Catholicism. The meal is central to the practice of our faith and it plays a central role in the life of any vibrant faith community. So, while the beautiful addition to our dining hall will be an inviting new space for our students and for you; and while it will nourish our spirits while we nourish our bodies; and while it will be a new center for activities and community gatherings; it will also remind us of the spiritual nourishment that we get every time we gather and break bread together. It is no accident that the windows of the new building look out upon the Chapel of Christ the Teacher.
It is our hope that this new Commons will invite you to dine with the students from time to time, or to meet with them in those warm, inviting spaces. Bon Appetit and our alumnus, Fedele Bauccio (who founded Bon Appetit and who worked in our Commons as a student) made this expansion possible. And we are now making plans for the complete renovation of the rest of the facility next year. Fedele and Bon Appetit recognize the importance of working together to build a space that nourishes the ideals we hold dear, and I think that, together, we have done that with The Commons.
Not far from both Shiley Hall and The Commons is our new campanile, a gift of our Board Chairman, Allen Lund, and his wife, Kathleen. The bell tower stands 100 feet tall and contains 14 bronze bells cast at a foundry in Europe. And as all campaniles around the world have done for centuries, our tower will serve a function that is at once practical, aesthetic and symbolic. Practical , because it will announce great moments to the far reaches of the campus and will call members of our community together to celebrate and honor and worship. Aesthetic, because the sound of those ringing bells will bathe our campus, and all of us, in the comfort and beauty of music throughout the day. And symbolic, because the sound of the bells will remind us daily – hourly – of our religious and intellectual traditions and obligations.
The bell tower is perhaps the most interesting of all of our recent projects. It is not as directly related to our mission as is Shiley Hall, or Fields and Schoenfeldt Halls, or The Commons. It does not provide us with classrooms or labs or beds. It is not as dramatically practical as those other projects. But what it brings to our community transcends the earthly and academic delights found elsewhere.
Soaring above the campus, holding the cross aloft as a beacon, calling out the hours with its heavenly chimes, it will feed our spirits, nourish our souls, draw our eyes and our hearts heavenward. And in the words of the motto of the Congregation of Holy Cross that are inscribed on its base, it will remind us: Spes Unica – The Cross, our only hope.
Last week, after the landscaping of the Marian Garden and plaza had been completed at the base of the campanile, I was walking across campus. Only a handful of our students had returned, but a few were already gathered on the benches and stones there, huddled in conversation, lost in their private moments of friendship. It was a poignant moment for me and an expression of what our campanile will add to the life of our community.
The fifth project I would remind us of today is not as visible nor as large nor as expensive as any of these others, but it speaks no less of our values as a community. Last month, at a brief ceremony, I blessed and dedicated our new child care facility in a University-owned house out on Willamette Boulevard. Today more than 30 children under the age of five are there, within walking distance of their parents, some of whom are in this room today.
Unlike Shiley Hall, or Fields or Schoenfeldt Halls, or The Commons or Bell Tower, the Child Care Center did not begin as an administrative initiative or as a benefactor’s vision. It began with members of our faculty and staff, who devoted months of work to solving the issues a Center like this presents. That the Center exists today is a testament to their work and patience. It is another striking example of the workings of a true community, a statement about the importance of family, and a reaffirmation of our commitment to the enrichment of family life. I want to thank the members of the committee who brought the Center to Life through their diligence and perseverance.
The final project that was completed during the past year is a project that feeds our need to envision the University’s future. Last winter we completed the purchase of 45 acres of fallow land at the base of our bluff and along the Willamette River. We have been calling this the ‘River Campus.’
This summer, we cleared the property of buildings and installed fences so we can manage access to it. And the property has continued to excite our imaginations with its possibilities: there are academic opportunities, recreational opportunities, and very mundane, practical opportunities. Actual decisions about how we will use the land will have to be made at another time. For now, however, the land’s greatest use is to inspire us to imagine our future. At a time when an economic crisis is diminishing many expectations, the River Campus provides us with tangible cause for optimism. In years to come, it will transform our campus.
These six projects have much in common: they are all institutional expressions of our mission, each is transformative in its own way, and all are linked by an issue that has held our rapt attention for most of the past year.
Anyone who has studied the history of the University knows full well the financial struggles that have marked our 108 years. The fact that we have been able to complete more than $50 million worth of construction during the worst world financial crisis in decades is a remarkable achievement worthy of our history. It does not mean, however, that the University of Portland is immune from the ravages of the economic downturn. Far from it. A powerful belief in our mission, faith that Providence will always guide us, prudent fiscal management, and the enormous generosity of friends and benefactors have allowed us to move forward with these projects even while many of our peers have had to pause their own plans.
The challenge for the University today is to continue to articulate what we wish to become in the years ahead, in spite of the ongoing financial crisis.
But because we obligated ourselves to long-term financing for our projects long before the current recession began, we today find our liquidity stretched to the limit. Yes, we have the largest enrollment in our history. And yes, applications for admission have tripled in the past five years. And yes, last fiscal year was the third best fund-raising year in our history. But there is a danger that we can be lulled into assuming that such good fortune will continue unabated and that we will lose our focus on several things that matter:
- a balanced budget
- aggressive fund raising
- successful admissions recruitment
- improved retention of our students
- wise allocation or reallocation of our resources
You have all, I am sure, recently participated in discussions in your departments and schools about the impact of the recession on our operating budgets for the coming year. I do not need to go into great detail about the steps we must take to assure that we continue to meet our obligations to you and to our students. Together we are all taking steps to ensure that we manage and mitigate any future unforeseen impacts of the current recession.
Yet in taking prudent actions and being ever-more-careful stewards of our resources, we must always keep in mind how privileged we are and how blessed. We have places to teach and learn, places to eat and sleep, places to worship and gather. We have our University and we have each other. While much of the world suffers, we have abundance.
And so we begin again, with enthusiasm, and faith, and hope. Last spring Paul Hawken alluded to the optimism we should feel when he spoke to our graduating seniors. It was a powerful message that has now been reproduced in more than 130 countries around the world: “If you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor,” he said, “and you are not optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse.”
In this new year, let us all resolve – individually and collectively – to carry that message to our students, to help them as they work to become the men and women they are called to be, to help them transform the world.
Thank you all for being here today. I give you my prayers and best wishes for a fruitful and satisfying year.