Convocation 2017

University of Portland's faculty and staff gathered for the Opening Convocation on August 29, 2017. The following are remarks from President Rev. Mark L. Poorman, C.S.C.  

Welcome! And thank you so much for coming this afternoon.  I know your calendars are packed with activities and events during these beginning weeks of the semester, so I truly appreciate your presence at this convocation.  This is our first opportunity as colleagues to gather and mark the beginning of another academic year at UP. 

We’ve been warmed by some much-deserved sunshine and invigorated by the days of summer, we now come together to start another school year on the Bluff and engage in the important work of developing and sustaining a superb education for our students.  As I’ve noted before, it’s sacred work and a true privilege for all of us.

I don’t need to tell any of you that the life of a University is dynamic.  Indeed, one of the reasons many of us have embraced the vocation and work of an academic institution is that it promises a lively envonment of change, development and growth.  If you just look around campus you can see significant and exciting changes happening to the physical landscape.  And although these updates to campus are interesting and much-needed, the dynamism of this university goes beyond demolition, construction, cranes, new buildings, and landcaped parking lots.  We are blessed to offer our labors at a place that is truly an ever-evolving world of important ideas, priorities, methods, trends and events.

Last fall at this convocation I focused my remarks on three important themes – the Strategic Plan, Mental Health Awareness, and Diversity.  In a spirit of appreciation for the changing nature of the University, I’d like to take a different tack this afternoon.  I hope not only to jog your memory about the many good things we have accomplished this year but also to set the stage for the many good things to come, because I believe we are truly poised for exciting growth in the coming year. 

As I say that, I know I can’t possibly capture all or even a good portion of the individual achievements, but in the spirit of celebrating communal accomplishment, I want to offer some highlights across the University of the past and present, as well as some previews of the year to come.

Before I offer points of pride for each division at the University, I want to start by speaking about a few matters of note for the University as a whole. 

The dynamic nature of a university may serve as the premise for my remarks today, but that change is anchored in the constancy of our mission and the steadfastness of the individuals who work each day to further it.  I think it only appropriate to begin by remembering a man who exemplified that dedication.  As you know, Brian Doyle, editor of Portland Magazine, award-winning author, and a beloved member of the University of Portland community for over 25 years, passed away in late May following complications related to a brain tumor.  At Commencement I was pleased to confer an Honorary Doctorate on Brian and to officially recognize the graduation of his son, Joe, as a member of the Class of 2017.  Brian’s warmth, wit, and passion for life is dearly missed, and his loss is deeply felt here and beyond The Bluff.  In days to come, Brian will be memorialized in various ways among his multiple constuencies.  One of those memorials that I’m pleased to announce today is that the new lecture hall in Dundon-Berchtold Hall will be named for Brian Doyle.  Let’s continue to pray in thanksgiving for Brian’s life and his amazing, inspiring work, and for the consolation of Mary, Lily, Joe, Liam and all of us who mourn his passing.    

I was so pleased to share with many of you the exciting news that the University of Portland has been selected as the 2018 partner university for the Opus Prize, which is an annual, faith-based humanitarian award recognizing individuals who are addressing the world’s persistent and pressing social problems.  It is one of the largest faith-based awards for social entrepreneurship, including one award of $1 million and two $100,000 prizes, each to a deserving individual or organization.  The partnership will provide unique opportunities for engagement and formation to inspire students, faculty and staff, and our many supporters among alumni and friends of the University.  

The Opus Prize Steering Committee, comprised of UP faculty and staff and led by Dan McGinty, is already hard at work planning and preparing for the process of nominating deserving individuals.  Following that process, next spring UP students and faculty will have the opportunity to join board members of the Opus Prize Foundation to travel to various parts of the world to evaluate finalists in the field.  These due diligence expeditions offer unique opportunities for members of the campus community to witness in action the powerful work of people who are genuine agents for change.  You will hear more from Dan and the committee about such opportunities to engage in the coming months.  Thank you in advance for your willingness to help with this, and for your thoughtful consideration of the nominees. 

One of my responsibilities as president is to convene task forces and committees to engage on important topics impacting the campus community.  I want to share updates on the work of two of these committees – the Mental Health Committee and the Title IX Committee.

In February, I was pleased to offer an update on the important progress that the Division of Student Affairs, the Health and Counseling Center, and our campus partners have made to implement several of the excellent recommendations of the 2016 Mental Health Panel chaired by Gary Malecha.  That progress includes the renaming of the Health and Counseling Center to underscore the breadth of resources available, the establishment of a full-time Early Alert Program Coordinator position (which has since been filled), the engagement of a “Jed Progam” campus implementation committee, the launch of a 24/7 mental health service that offers telephone counseling on evenings and weekends, and the inclusion on class syllabi of information regarding resources available to ensure that all students are aware of the help they can receive in times of trouble.  I am also pleased to welcome the new director of the Health and Counseling Center, Carol Dell’Oliver, and new assistant director, Eliot Altschul, who will continue to build on the impressive and timely progress on this high-priority work.

I am also pleased to share that the Title IX committee is still hard at work.  Elise Moentmann and the rest of the committee gathered input through innumerable listening sessions with faculty, staff, and students over the last year, and, right before summer, they shared an initial draft of recommendations with the President’s Leadership Cabinet and me.  Shortly thereafter they began the analytical and iterative stages of their work, and I expect to receive a formal report from the committee mid-Fall.  I am grateful for their continued dedication to this important work. 

I probably don’t need to tell you that it is a busy time for the many folks who are charged with responsibility for our campus facilities.  Over the summer, there were 56 separate facility projects underway, ranging from the earthquake retrofitting of Mehling Hall to new steam pipes for Buckley Center (yes, that plume of steam coming directly out of the sidewalk in front of Buckley will soon be coming to an end, so get your photos of UP’s own Old Faithful soon…) to the “deconstruction” (as they now call it) of Howard Hall.  We are indebted to Jim Ravelli and the folks who have been overseeing those projects, and we look forward to their completion.

Speaking of the campus buildings and grounds, let me say that there are no better stewards for that landscape than the staff of Physical Plant.  In addition to maintaining the 170 acres of campus, they also provide skilled and professional maintenance of virtually all of the spaces and buildings on campus.  There are hundeds of people responsible for that work, but this address is a great opportunity to offer a special commendation to one of those stewards, Grounds Supervisor and University Landscape Architect, Nathan Hale. Nathan is known to many of us not only for his friendly demeanor but also his steadfast dedication to his work.  For everyting from the design and construction of the Faculty-Staff Memorial, to the all-night plowing of our sidewalks during “Snowmageddon 2017,” to the care of lawns and flowers that make this a beautiful place to live, work and study, his leadership and management of our grounds and landscaping team are exemplary.  Nathan is with us today, and I ask you to join me in thanking him and his amazing crew.

I am thrilled we are only one month away from breaking ground on our new academic center, Dundon-Berchtold Hall, which is the result of the generous support of our benefactors, with a lead gift by Amy Dundon-Berchtold and Jim Berchtold, and the tireless efforts of the Steering Committee for Dundon-Berchtold Hall, which included a diverse group of faculty who met for over a year on the location and design of the building.  Although our student population has increased by 30 percentin the last decade, we have not had a new academic building in twenty-two years.  With a projected completion date of January 2019, this 62,000 square-foot building will offer students, faculty and staff much-needed access to resources and spaces in which to collaborate and learn.

The new building will incorporate numerous updates to academic technology and the ways in which we communicate with each other and our students.  Since we are near that topic, I want to take a moment to thank an individual on our campus who is integral to these ongoing efforts to develop and incorporate technology in a way that advances the teaching and learning aspects of our UP mission.  As Director of Academic Technology Services here, Sam Williams partners with and supports faculty members and departments across the entire University.  He may serve a “man-behind-the curtain” role in the classroom, but his impact on methods of teaching and access to learning is widespread, tangible and deeply appreciated.  Sam, would you please stand up and receive our thanks for your superb service?

Our Division of Student Affairs has done incredible work this year toward fulfilling its mission to provide the professional and pastoral support to foster communities of learning and personal development among our students.  The newest of those communities is Lund Family Hall, which was dedicated this past November.  The construction of a new residence hall is exciting but it is also emblematic of our intentional deepening of the residential mission at UP.  The Holy Cross traditions of residentiality and personal formation find expression through residence halls like Lund Family Hall, where students have the space and place to develop habits of the mind and of the heart. Through residences like Lund and the other halls, about 2200 of our students are able to live on campus each year and experience this essential aspect of a Holy Cross education. You may recall that Lund required some special arrangements and a phased opening that was ambitious, intricate, complicated by weather, and in the end…very successful, thanks to the folks in the Office of Residence Life and the many hall staffs involved.

The implementation in the past year of the Behavioral Intervention and Threat Assessment (or BITA) model to address distressed student behavior is another example of the critical work done in Student Affairs.  BITA is at the leading edge of student services administration these days, and it provides a proactive, prevention-based approach that balances the individual needs of the student, as well as the well-being of our faculty, staff, and the greater university community.  It is a true focusing of energy and commitment on the safety, welfare, and development of our students.  So on behalf of the University community, let me thank Fr. John Donato and the dedicated folks who serve in Student Affairs.  They know long hours and many challenges, and they apply creative, thoughtful approaches to some of the most difficult issues in higher education today. (Pause)

In the area of Athletics, let me say that we are always proud of our student athletes and their coaches, and we celebrate their dedication and successes every year.  But the 2016-2017 school year was truly a tremendous time for Pilot Athletics. 

I was one of thousands of fans who had the opportunity to rush Merlo Field back in November when the Pilot men’s soccer team clinched the West Coast Conference Championship for the first time since 2002 with a 1-0 win over St. Mary’s.  Our women’s cross-country and men’s tennis teams also earned conference championships this year.  This phenomenal success would not have been possible without the coaching staff we have at UP.  Indeed, four of our head coaches were recognized as WCC “Coaches of the Year.”  Our VP for Athletics Scott Leykam is also deserving of recognition for his role in leading our student-athletes to unprecedented success, both on the field and in the pursuit of their studies.  It gives me great pleasure to share with numerous constituencies that at UP, through the combined efforts of coaches and administrators who care deeply about “doing it right,” we continue to create and sustain a culture of combined athletic and academic performance.  In that vein, two quick take-aways:  in the 2017 Spring Semester, 30 percent of our 270 student-athletes made the Dean’s List; 22 of them earned a 4.0 GPA.  Along with you, I look forward to this year with great anticipation to seeing many of you at games, matches, and meets, cheering on the Pilots.  But rest assured when I brag about their accomplishments in other settings, I’m going to mention the Dean’s List, the 4.0’s, and the accomplishment of “doing it right.” 

In a time of a lot of financial uncertainty in higher ed, I’m pleased to say that we continue to enjoy solid financial health, thanks to the efforts of our Division of Financial Affairs, led by Alan Timmins.  That stability has been a function of careful and thoughtful stewardship, cost-containment, and new opportunities in revenue production, and it all requires constant vigilance.  We cannot take it for granted, especially as we witness some pretty bracing facts about the fiscal challenges facing all of higher ed, but especially schools of our size and scope.  Thanks to the efforts of the the Finance Division, our students are able to take advantage of the support and resources available to them in one of that Division’s most effective departments – the Office of Financial Aid.  Last year, Financial Aid processed over 127 million dollars in financial aid to all students from all sources.  Ninety-seven percent of our full-time undergraduates received some type of institutional aid, which amounted to just over 80 million dollars.  As you know, even in these tough times for students and families, we are committed to keeping the University of Portland education as affordable as possible, and a healthy financial picture allows us to do so. 

Another operation within the Division of Financial Affairs worthy of commendation is the Office of Human Resources, which is continuing its effort to model and facilitate successful hiring of diverse candidates through numerous initiatives.  One interesting and effective strategy has been the increased use of candidates producing job-related projects in the course of the hiring process. This may sound like a fairly simple change, but the introduction of projects allows Human Resources to identify candidates who may not come to us with the most traditional background but do have the on-the-job skills and attributes that can make them invaluable members of this community.  This is a leading edge practice initiated by Sandy Chung and the staff of HR that can help us in our efforts to diversify our community. 

As I have emphasized many times, enrollment management is the economic lifeblood of UP, since our salaries and benefits, and many of our major costs are met by the operating revenue that we accrue from tuition, room, and board.  Admissions and the distribution of financial aid are matters of statistical studies and projections, artful marketing and communications, a massive deployment of contact and hosting of prospective students, a little bit of worry, and a lot of prayer.  This year, despite federal government rule changes regarding financial aid qualifications which created significant complications for universities nationwide, the enrollment numbers at UP are again strong.  In fact, the challenges this year only redoubled the efforts of the Enrollment Management Working Group and the Office of Admissions, resulting in a talented and diverse class of 1,015 incoming freshmen with an average GPA of 3.66, and with historically underrepresented minorities making up 41% of the class.  Dean of Admissions Jason McDonald and his staff are deserving of our praise once again for this significant and historical success.

In the Division of University Relations, the Office of Parent and Alumni Relations was created this year to continue our inclusion and engagement of parents of students and alumni in our outreach and programming about the University.  Our parents are some of our greatest assets at the University, and we are pleased and proud to make them an even more significant part of the UP community in years to come by drawing on their support and extensive, professional experience.  It also represents a great opportunity to tell the story of UP to our parents with an eye toward fundraising.  Once again, this initiative, which reflects the best practices of many other schools, holds great promise for us in terms of multi-generation loyalty to UP.

But the engagement of our parents is only one piece of our broader development strategy. When it comes to telling our institutional story and engaging the members of our community and alumni to support our mission, there are often no better ambassadors than the staff of the Office of Development who are constantly thinking of creative ways to raise funds.  A great example of that is the successful implementation this year of iModules, which are very sophisticated integrated tools for online giving, data, and e-mail marketing.  Like so many features of our lives these days, fundraising is quite effectively done online, and it’s good for us to be in the midst of this important innovation.  Those efforts have resulted in a dramatic increase in online giving to the University.  While 16 percent of all gifts in fiscal year 2016 were made online, that number is already up to 23 percent in the current year.

These and other new approaches, as well as the traditional diligence of our fundraising efforts, resulted in the most successful year of fundraising in the University’s history.  Our collective thanks go to Fr. Gerry Olinger, VP for University Relations, his senior colleagues Bryce Strang, Rachel Barry-Arquit, Craig Swinyard, and Bill Reed, and all of the remarkable people in that division.  Thank you! 

Last fall when I stood before you all at this same event, I had the pleasure of unveiling UP’s newest strategic plan, “Vision 2020.”  One year later, I can report we are well on our way to realizing the goals of this important initiative.  As coordinators of the Stategic Plan implementation, our Provost Tom Greene and VP for Finance Alan Timmins and the steering committee have developed an operational document with the means to assess our progress, and they established teams to follow up on all five major initatives.  Over the next year, these teams and committees will continue to meet to engage on those major action-areas and the 56 tactical plans of “Vision 2020.” I can’t possibly capture all the good work being done in support of the Strategic Plan, but I want to highlight three points of progress:

First, a key component of the Strategic Plan, and part of our commitment to continuous improvement, included a review of core curriculum at UP, because we know it’s crucial to the holistic education we offer here, and to our Catholic identity.  During the past year, more than twenty listening sessions have been held, with more to come this year.

Second, you may remember that one of the action areas of the Strategic Plan is to infuse our entire community with a sense of internationalization and diversity.  We are making great strides toward realizing that goal, including thinking creatively about staffing with the goal of centralizing university-wide opportunities and curricula supporting internationalization.  Stay tuned this year for more details on that.  I also want to give credit to Associate Provost Lauretta Frederking for her significant efforts over the past year to realize the important diversity aspects of this specific action-area.  I had the opportunities to attend a number of campus discussions on the topic, and I found them engaging and substantive.

The development of first-rate infrastructure, staffing, and services is another action area of Vision 2020, and one of the tactics within that area to achieve that goal is to review and monitor compensation of faculty and staff.  With that objective in mind, we have updated our recent benchmarking study of staff leveling and salaries, we’ve engaged in extended conversations with faculty on the topic of compensation, and we’ve begun to address some gaps in compensation within various faculty ranks.  We’ll continue to address the gaps this year.  Also, with the assistance of faculty input, we have engaged the services of an outside consultant, Frank Casagrande, to develop a faculty long-term compensation philosophy that is data-driven, sustainable, and equitable.  In the late spring, I participated in meetings with faculty, deans and other administrators on this topic, and I found them to be helpful, respectful and constructive.  I’m confident that through further dialogue we will reach a consensus on a compensation philosophy that serves us going forward.

There is so much happening in each of the schools and CAS that it would be impossible for me to be comprehensive today in capturing it all, but I want to offer just a few highlights, considering that these schools represent our day-to-day commitment to our core academic mission.  These brief highlights include noteworthy successes as well as some equally commendable examples of when our schools have encountered challenges and then met those challenges head-on through creative and innovative solutions. 

First, the Pamplin School of Business.  When the State of Oregon established 150 credits as the minimum number of hours to sit for the CPA exam, students chose to pack those credits into four years through summer classes and large credit loads.  To allow our students to experience the fullness of an education at UP while meeting this standard, the School of Business has engaged a task force of graduate and accounting staff members charged with designing a five-year accounting program that will be more beneficial to students while meeting the minimum number of hours to sit for the CPA exam.  This program will be put before faculty for approval in December of this year.

Like almost every nursing program across the nation, our School of Nursing faces the challenge of a dwindling number of outside clinical spaces available and a rapidly-growing nursing student population.  The School of Nursing is directly addressing this challenge by creating more clinical spaces on our campus and taking advantage of new technology to do so, including the design of a new simulated health center that will house a total of 20 bays for student learning and will offer our students the important clinical experiences necessary for us to graduate skilled, experienced, and prepared future nurses.   

The Shiley School of Engineering has developed a one-semester pre-engineering course for seniors from De La Salle North Catholic High School who are interested in pursuing engineering careers.  The course, which had its first cohort of students in Spring 2017, will serve as an elective towards their high school diploma as well as two university-level credits. This is an important step to engage younger students in our local community and provide hands-on, early exposure to engineering not otherwise available at the high-school level.    

I’m also pleased to report that this year the Shiley School of Engineering was accepted into three distinguished nationally-recognized programs: KEEN, GE3, and National Academy of Engineering’s Global Grand Challenges Scholars Program.  Through these partnerships, the school will extend its network and the opportunities available to our students.

Lastly, I want to congratulate the Shiley School of Engineering for achieving a 33 percent rate of female faculty, beginning in this 2017-18 school year.  This is an important and notable statistic in the field of engineering, and one which deserves special commendation.

In our School of Education, the PACE program, which has been training and preparing dedicated teachers since 1998, last year welcomed its largest incoming first-year class in its nineteen-year history, placing 28 new teachers into classrooms in Catholic schools throughout the West.  We continue to be very proud of the PACE program and its major impact on Catholic education.

The College of Arts and Sciences has built upon its past successes and made great strides this year, especially in its efforts to implement interdisciplinary programs.  Once again, it’s a bit dicey to point out individual accomplishments when so much good work is being done, but one shining example of that is the impressive award of a three-year, $300,000 NSF grant to Stephanie Salomone in Mathematics.  Through these funds, UP STEM faculty will be trained in evidence-based pedagogical practices and run peer-observations among the colleagues that participate.  In addition to Stephanie, the faculty involved in the proposal and work ahead are the following: Valerie Peterson (math), Carolyn James (math), Heather Dillon (engineering), Tara Prestholdt (biology), and Eric Anctil (education). Tisha Morrell (education) will serve as the evaluator.  It is a talented team that spans a number of different departments and schools at UP who are working toward a common goal of improving STEM education on the Bluff.  I hope there are many more opportunities for collaboration like this in the future.

Finally, following the 2013 renovation of the Clark Library, student use is at an all-time high, with an impressive gate count of 377,141 entries in the past year alone.  In the coming year, in addition to an increased number of students in the Library, you will also see their work on display.  An area of the Library is being repurposed this year to serve as a small exhibit space to showcase faculty, staff and student art. So far good judgment has prevailed, so I have not been invited to contribute to the exhibit.

Thank you for being here today and allowing me to share the collective achievements and challenges that we’ve experienced in the past year, and to point toward the continuing work we will face in the year ahead.  I hope you are as excited as I am about our potential to accomplish even more.

I am so proud to be a part of this community on The Bluff, so humbled by the tireless labors and contributions of so many here, and so grateful for your commitment to our students, to each other, and to this University.  Please know of my prayers and the prayers of the Holy Cross Community for all of you at the beginning of this new academic year.  May God bless us and keep us in days ahead.  Thank you very much.

 

 

 

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