Convocation 2016

University of Portland's faculty and staff gathered for the Opening Convocation on August 30, 2016. The following are remarks from President Rev. Mark L. Poorman, C.S.C., which include an introduction to the University's Strategic Plan: Vision 2020.  

Welcome and thank you so much for coming this afternoon! This time of year feels particularly busy, so I am grateful to all of you for making time to come together for this traditional convocation. It has been so great over these past few weeks to see campus come alive as we prepared for the return of our students, and I always look forward to the opportunity this convocation provides to allow us to gather together to officially usher in a new academic year. I’m grateful to all of you for everything from preparing courses to making housing assignments to ensuring that the beauty of the campus was on full display for the arrival of parents and students. Speaking of gratitude to those who make it all happen around here, I want to take a brief moment to publicly commend and thank someone who has been a mainstay of our community for 27 years, providing exemplary service to virtually every area of the University. She will officially retire next week, after we celebrate her innumerable contributions to UP. Would you please join me in thanking the amazing Fay Beeler?

This is one of my favorite events of the year. I know—I say that every year. But it’s true. I can’t help but appreciate the chance to step out of our offices and classrooms to meet as faculty and staff colleagues and talk about the year ahead. Much like our students walked into our classrooms yesterday and today, brimming (I hope) with excitement at seeing friends (and professors) they had missed, and embarking on a year of new discovery after the much-needed summer break, we 1 come here today invigorated by the change of pace the summer brings, ready to commit once again to infusing the mission of this place into everything we do.

A look back at the past year offers examples of our community at its best, as well as examples of ways we can grow ever stronger. Last September at this convocation I talked about some of our successes: the opening of the Beauchamp Recreation Center and reopening of the renovated Pilot House; breaking ground on the new residence hall, and some of our plans for the future; addressing our need for more academic space and identifying programs that demanded our attention. Those plans were outgrowths of our shared vision for the future of this university, a vision that I hoped would be the foundation for a new Strategic Plan.

Over the course of the year, in the midst of those accomplishments and professed hopes for our community, the world kept turning, as it always does. I, like many of you, have been struck by the tension that our nation has grappled with over the past year, as issues like racial inequality, gun violence, and mental health concerns, to name just few, have dominated the national conversation. And while we like to think sometimes that we are immune to the troubles of the “real world” here on the Bluff, last year made it pretty clear that we are not. Our community weathered student suicides. Our students raised questions about diversity and shared stories of their feelings of isolation as members of underrepresented and minority groups. Much like our country is right now, we are being called to reaffirm, by word and action, who we are as a community.

For the past 115 years, the University of Portland has been a place committed to providing an education that is personal, holistic, intellectually rigorous, character focused, and grounded in faith. Upholding that commitment has only been possible through the tremendous devotion and service of faculty and staff, both past and present. There have always been challenges. Our kind of community is not easy to sustain in a world increasingly defined by the ways we can maintain distance—from people we don’t know, ideas that scare us, things we don’t understand. And yet, we have persevered, and forged an identity as a place dedicated to forming people of great character and faith within a community that is supportive, inclusive, welcoming, and responsive to the needs of our members.

Nowhere is our commitment to that identity clearer than in our new strategic plan, “Vision 2020.” Last year during this convocation, I charged Tom Greene and Alan Timmins with heading up a new strategic planning process. I asked them to develop a plan that had clear goals, would hold us accountable for our actions, be fluid and flexible, and be both general enough to encompass the entire University community, while specific enough to be meaningful. I also asked that it be a concise, action-oriented plan. A tall order, to be sure, and one that depended on the participation of the entire University community in its creation.

The plan that has emerged not only meets, but far exceeds that ideal. Copies of the plan will be available at the conclusion of my remarks this afternoon. It is the result of the work of not just Tom and Alan, but also the 15 members of the strategic planning steering committee, 50 members of the subcommittees, and information gathered from over 200 survey responses and no less than 25 listening 3 sessions with everyone from faculty and staff to the University’s Board of Regents. All told, there were more than 600 different points of participation. The process was thorough and far-reaching, and the document that has emerged is a clear testament to that. I am so thankful to all of you who offered your time and valuable insights to inform the plan. I am especially grateful to Tom, Alan, and the steering committee for their steadfast commitment and the dedication it took over many months to bring this to completion. As with all work in higher education, no good deed goes unpunished: because of their capable work, I am asking that the steering committee continue to manage the strategic plan, and that the chairs of the various subcommittees continue to facilitate its implementation. Not just the plan itself, but also the process, is reflective of who we are as a community -- that so many of you invested in it to help guide the University of Portland into the very bright future ahead.

Guided by our mission statement, “Vision 2020” identifies four areas where we will focus our energies over the next four years: Teaching and Learning, Faith and Formation, Service and Leadership, and Sustaining Efforts. I want to highlight just a few of the many strategies and tactics outlined in the plan that I think are particularly important for us in the coming year.

In the area of teaching and learning, we are committed to taking actions to further develop and sustain superb undergraduate education, as well as actions that will expand relevant, excellent, and self-sustaining graduate education. On the undergraduate side, we need to revitalize the liberal arts core curriculum, both by evaluating the current core curriculum and by developing a new core curriculum that reflects the Catholic and Holy Cross values of the University, as well as the needs of contemporary society. We must offer mission-driven learning opportunities that prepare our students to thrive in a globalized society, including increased international academic opportunities, support and funding for undergraduate research, support for interdisciplinary courses, and local partnerships through coursework and internships.

In the graduate school, “Vision 2020” calls us to examine the potential for cross-professional programs and to consider possible undergraduate-to-graduate bridge programs. We must expand graduate program enrollments in order to increase our influence on leadership in our community and local organizations, utilize and capitalize on the talents and interests of our faculty to lead graduate courses, and to extend the reach of our mission.

In the area of faith and formation, we are committed to taking actions that will enhance our Catholic identity and enrich the expression of faith. Our identity as a Catholic university is one of “both-and”: we are a place of faith and a place of intellectual inquiry. To that end, “Vision 2020” calls for actions that support the growth of community service, ethical reflection and practice, and opportunities for further integration of faith and the intellectual life. The Catholic character of this place is crucially important: it animates what we do, and it provides a framework for service, community, character formation, and spiritual development. This calling coexists with our responsibilities as an academic institution devoted to intellectual exploration and discovery.

In the area of Sustaining Efforts, “Vision 2020” calls for identifying actions we might take to continue to develop first-rate infrastructure and services. I identified some of the programmatic and space needs in this area during this talk last year. On the space side, there were two obvious needs: more residential space and more academic space. If you’ve driven down Willamette lately, you know that we are getting ready to check the first one off the list, with the opening of Lund Family Hall, the beautiful new 230-bed residence hall named for Allen and Kathleen Lund and the members of their family. As we announced last March, our intention was that the accelerated construction would allow 160 residents to move in this past week, with the remainder moving in around Fall Break. The Lunds, who were awarded the Christus Magister medal at last spring’s commencement for their commitment to Catholic higher education, are longtime supporters of the University of Portland. Allen is the current chair of the University’s Board of Regents, and the Lunds have supported or spearheaded many projects, from the Bell tower to endowed scholarships for students. We are honored to name a residence hall on this campus after a family that so embodies the generosity, sense of service, and depth of faith that are cornerstones of our life together. We are indebted to many other members of our community for their faithful commitment to this project, including Jim Ravelli, our Vice President for University Operations, who graciously accepted my invitation to build a residence hall in eleven months; to Paul Luty for his construction expertise; to Jim Kuffner for invaluable assistance with the very deliberate ways of the Portland city government; to Dan Danielson and his associates who designed a beautiful collegiate gothic building; to the ever amazing Skanska Construction Co., who told us they love a challenge, and we happily obliged; and to members of our Residence Life team, who participated in 6 planning discussions and ensured that we were ready to welcome students into not just a new residence hall, but a new residential community on our campus.

As for our urgent need for more academic space, last September I announced a generous $15M gift from Jim Berchtold, a ’63 UP alum, and his wife, University regent Amy Dundon-Berchtold, to support the construction of Dundon-Berchtold Hall, slated for opening in 2018. While we are still in the design phase, I can report that Dundon-Berchtold Hall will stand where Howard Hall currently sags. I’ll save my nostalgic remarks about Howard Hall for another day. Thank you to the many faculty members who have offered their time, effort and significant input on the concept and design for the hall, which will provide 23 classrooms, 30 faculty offices, a new Career Center, new quarters for the Dundon-Berchtold Institute, and meeting space we so desperately need. Current plans call for a 65,000 square-foot building, approximately the same size as Franz Hall. Thus far we have relied on the Steering Committee, the Review and Respond Committee, and the nearly 100 survey participants, whose critical input has already led to an increase in the number of offices and classrooms planned for the building. Please, please keep sharing your thoughts about priorities for the space and ideas you have to make this building one that truly meets our needs. I believe that Dundon-Berchtold Hall has the potential to be transformative for us: not only because it will create a new academic quad where now there is only… Howard Hall, but also because it will provide a gathering place for students, faculty, and staff to meet, work, and learn. I will of course, keep you updated as the design process continues, but I know I speak for all of us when I say that I very much look forward to the groundbreaking and opening of our newest academic building. 7 These brick and mortar endeavors go a long way towards addressing needs created by our growth, but we have additional work to do, namely in the area of staffing. We must right-size our faculty, staff, and student body in relation to our infrastructure and services, which requires an examination of compensation, tuition costs, financial aid, and operating expenses.

We also need to do a better job of internal and external communication, including addressing data and information access, campus signage, and the ways we communicate with the broader Portland community and beyond about our mission, our successes, and our aspirations. One important step in this area is the roll-out of the new website, which began last month and will continue throughout the fall semester. I have heard from many of you, as well as many parents and new students during orientation last weekend, about how much of an improvement the updated website, particularly the mobile version, is. Thank you especially to Amy Shelly in Marketing and Communications and Lisel Stancil in Information Services and their teams for leading this effort and seeing it through to completion.

I want to focus the remainder of my remarks this afternoon on two important topics that are contained within the strategic plan, but are also very much reflected in the challenges faced at UP and throughout the nation over the past year: mental health and diversity. Over the past several years, mental health concerns have loomed large on college and university campuses, including ours, with an increase in students dealing with anxiety, depression, and other serious mental health challenges. I know you have experienced this shift in your own classrooms, offices, and residence halls. We all know students who have experienced significant adversities, and we are all aware of the tragic lives lost to suicide in our community. We have a responsibility to these students, but also to the myriad of students who are not in crisis but are struggling every day with mental health issues that impact their ability to thrive and be healthy. If we are going to say that we are committed to the safety and wellness of all our students, faculty, and staff, then we need to take concrete steps to show that to be true. This is why I formed the Presidential Ad Hoc Committee on Mental Health in the fall of 2015, and why the strategic plan rightly calls for the implementation of their recommendations, including a variety of initiatives that I endorsed in a letter to you last spring.

I want to offer a few examples of where we are already making progress on many of those recommendations. The Health Center has officially been renamed the Health and Counseling Center, to make it clear to all members of our community where they can access those services. During the spring semester last year, the counselors in the Health and Counseling Center were able to reduce the amount of time students waited for an appointment for non-emergency needs to just 1.5 days. I have approved a proposal which will allow students to access mental health 9 clinicians by phone after hours through a service called “Proto Call.” This, combined with the recent addition of a fourth full-time clinical psychologist, will increase our capacity to meet the mental health needs of our students.

One of the key take-aways from mental health student crises over the past few years has been the need to make available resources clearer to our students. Beginning this semester, a statement about mental health services and supports is included in every single course syllabus. The Health and Counseling Center and “Early Alert” websites have been enhanced to provide easy access to information about mental health services and guidance for community members. This summer, Gina LoSchiavo began work as the University’s first full-time Early Alert Coordinator to oversee the process, and Early Alert members and partners have been trained in ways to best implement this valuable resource. The institutional student leave policy, including medical leave, has been updated to better meet students’ needs, giving them the opportunity to focus on improving their health so that they can return to campus prepared to succeed academically and participate fully in University life. Finally, upon the recommendation of the Ad Hoc Committee, the University has joined the “Jed Campus Program,” a nationally recognized and acclaimed program through which a multidisciplinary team will create a 4-year strategic plan on our campus for improving mental health policies and services.

These are just a few examples of the work currently being done in this area. Another area of focus for the coming year is creating more professional training for faculty and staff related to student mental health concerns. Additionally, work is ongoing related to implementing broader wellness initiatives, including programming for students, and studying adjustments to Human Resources policies and benefits, such as the addition of paid parental leave and employee workshops on mental and physical well-being.

Last spring, we began a campus conversation about the importance of diversity in our community, both in our student body as well as in our faculty and staff. At the University of Portland, we prepare our graduates to live, serve, and lead in our diverse society and world. This is why our commitment to and success with increasing diversity and inclusion are essential to the University’s mission. This will be an area of focus and work during this new academic year and beyond, and is addressed in the “Service and Leadership” section of the strategic plan. As an institution of higher education, we know that a diverse educational environment promotes cross-racial and cultural understanding, helps to eliminate stereotypes, enhances learning, and better prepares students for service and leadership in the workplace and the world. Moreover, through patient, respectful dialogue, people can expand their world views by engaging with the experiences, perceptions, opinions, and values of others, helping us build a stronger community.

For the incoming undergraduate class of 2020, 36% percent of students reported their race or ethnicity as being of a non-white background. During the 2013-2014 academic year, 32 percent of all undergraduate students reported their race or ethnicity as being of a non-white background.

We continue to look for ways to increase the diversity of backgrounds among our student population. To that end, our Admissions Office has partnered with College Greenlight, a college-search platform that targets underrepresented students and provides us with access to community-based organizations that engage in college access programs for those students. We provide a variety of scholarships for students from underrepresented backgrounds, including Black United Fund 12 ACCESS Scholarships, Gates Millennium Scholars, Hispanic Metropolitan Chamber Scholarships, the Ford Scholars Program, and the Davis New Mexico Scholarship, among others. The Office of Student Activities runs programs aimed at serving diverse student populations, including “Ohana”, a pre-orientation retreat and excursion for multicultural first-year students, and “UP Connections”, a peer mentorship program that helps students of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds adjust to college. Student Activities also spearheads Diversity Dialogues Week, which encourages discussion and builds awareness about diversity, cultural difference, and social justice through a variety of programs.

The importance of increasing diversity also extends to faculty and staff. According to Human Resources, as of the beginning of Fall semester 2016, the University had 876 full-time and part-time faculty and staff. Of these, 742 individuals reported information related to racial and ethnic diversity, with 123 of those individuals – or approximately 16 percent – reporting their race or ethnicity as being of a non-white background. Prior to June 2014, about 12 percent of the University faculty and staff who reported race and ethnicity information reported their race or ethnicity as being of a non-white background. While there is clearly more to do, we are making positive strides toward increasing racial and ethnic diversity among the University’s faculty and staff.

As all of you know, incomplete data provides an incomplete picture. I have asked Human Resources to engage with faculty and staff across the University to obtain diversity-related information through surveys. The aggregate data from these surveys will help us assess our diversity efforts, and I ask that all members of the University community participate in this process.

The progress we are making in the area of improving faculty and staff diversity is owed largely to many of you who are focusing your efforts in this area, including members of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Inclusion, which will be co-chaired this year by Joane Moceri, Dean of the School of Nursing, and Bill Jenkins, Assistant Director of Human Resources. Last year, that Presidential Advisory Committee coordinated a conversation about race on campus. That conversation allowed our community to engage in respectful dialogue about a challenging topic. Further conversations about race and diversity occurred in the residence halls and dining halls, in faculty offices and meetings, at Waldschmidt Hall, and in other events coordinated by student groups. Thank you to those of you who have participated in these discussions and contributed to the dialogue.

Last year, I also asked faculty and staff serving on search committees to make a strong commitment to reach out to diverse pools of recruitment candidates. These efforts have led to greater diversity in several areas of our University. And with the recent appointments of Sandy Chung, Director of Human Resources, and Lauretta Frederking, Associate Provost, to the President’s Leadership Cabinet, we have increased the diversity of voices at the highest level of university administration. I provide these examples not to show a job well done, but rather to show that our diversity efforts can and will be effective if we make a commitment, engage in best practices, and do the hard work necessary in this area.

Over the course of the next year, I have asked Lauretta Frederking and Sandy Chung to develop more training and guidance regarding best practices that faculty and staff search committees can use to support diversity efforts. Diversifying our candidate pools and recruiting excellent candidates is the best and most effective way to foster diversity on campus. Additionally, Tom Greene and Lauretta Frederking have created professional development opportunities for faculty that will be rolled out this academic year that pertain to the support and instruction of diverse students, as well as addressing the subject matter of diversity in our classrooms. I ask the members of our academic community to take advantage of these opportunities.

In a year that will undoubtedly be full of these conversations at the national level, we all have a responsibility to engage in dialogue, to recruit diverse candidates, and to bring insights and suggestions for improvements in this area to committees, departments, and the administration. Diversity is not an area with quick fixes or overnight solutions, and I ask that we make an individual and collective commitment to this work.

As we begin this new academic year, with all of the accomplishments and challenges it is sure to bring, I find myself particularly heartened in the presence of all of you. Our commitment to listening to one another, challenging one another, growing with one another, all in pursuit of ensuring our students live in a community built upon respect, dignity, inclusiveness, hope, compassion… that’s something we can all cherish. My hope today is that the conversation begun here is a springboard for dialogue throughout the year and across campus. We cannot shy away from difficult issues, but must face them head on, with a fierce determination to allow them to shape and transform us for the better as individuals and as a community. We must view each success in light of how well it reflects our mission and collective values. Every decision we make together as a university is an expression of who we are and who we want to be.

So again, thank you. Thank you for being here today, thank you for your commitment to our students and colleagues, thank you for all you bring to this community on the Bluff. Know of my prayers for you in the months ahead, and may God bless the very holy work that we are called to do each day in service, of mind, heart and spirit.

Thank you, and let’s have a great year!

View Strategic Plan: Vision 2020 >