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this university’s presidential search committee, posted in the Aug. 3 edition of the Chronicle for Higher Education. As I read the description of the University of St. Thomas, I was reminded that sometimes we need to see ourselves through the eyes of others to truly appreciate all that we have achieved and become. Witt Kiefer wrote this about St. Thomas: • • The largest private college or university in Minnesota and one of the largest and oldest Catholic colleges or universities in the United States … A teaching university that emphasizes active, inquiry-based learning, service and community learning, and faculty research that fosters student learning. The university’s distinctive academic program also encourages active inquiry and engagement regarding the role of faith and morality in human development, leadership and community contribution … A strong reputation and wide recognition in the higher education community, and nationally recognized for serving its region with excellence. The university has grown considerably in the size and strength of its student body, facilities, academic program, faculty and staff … In October 2012, it will celebrate the completion of its $500 million Opening Doors capital campaign. St. Thomas benefits from: o o o o o o A stable financial environment, Beautiful and well-maintained campuses in two dynamic city centers, Strong philanthropy, A dedicated and generous Board of Trustees, A large and powerful network of alumni, and An environment that embraces all individuals in the rich tradition of Catholic higher education.
This year will be an important one for the university. First, we will complete our most ambitious fund-raising effort ever, designed to fund the university’s current strategic plan. Second, we will engage in an institutional self-examination in preparation for our decennial review by the Higher Learning Commission. And third, our Board of Trustees may select the next president by Christmas. St. Thomas has fared well over the years in part because it has not been afraid to embrace change. There has developed here an entrepreneurial culture and a “can-do” attitude. We have tried to steer a middle course, guided by the wisdom of two American proverbs: “The early bird catches the worm” and “the second mouse gets the cheese.” In other words, we have been willing to take calculated risks and as a result have experienced substantial growth and development. During my predecessor, Monsignor Terrence Murphy’s tenure, change took the form of program expansion – or breadth. During the 21 years I have served, change has followed a pattern of building the infrastructure needed to support an expanded institution, and improving academic quality – or depth. St. Thomas has matured as a university. The question going forward will likely be how as a more established institution, St. Thomas will maintain necessary entrepreneurial qualities. As Charles
Darwin would remind us, “It is not the strongest species that will survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” During the two decades I have led our mutual stewardship, I have been blessed. I have had the opportunity to collaborate with extraordinarily talented people who are highly principled and who care deeply about this university, its mission, its values and its aspirations. I doubt that any university president has been more fortunate. I am grateful for your competence and expertise, your dedication, your values and standards of excellence, the priority you give to student learning, the culture of respect and civility you embody and – more personally – for your colleagueship and friendship. We have shared a common, heartfelt commitment to an endeavor of enormous value to society and to its future: higher education. Since this is the last time I address this convocation, I would ask your indulgence while I reminisce a bit. I began this job on July 1, 1991. From the beginning I emphasized the important role the liberal arts must continue to play at St. Thomas. I also pledged to cultivate a vital Catholic identity rooted in the Judeo-Christian wisdom tradition that would address the developmental needs of the “whole” student – not just the mind, but the heart and the soul as well. I told a St. Paul Pioneer Press reporter the day of my election as president that I didn’t want to see St. Thomas turning out a bunch of yuppies. That line got a lot of attention. The day I was installed I told the audience that we would provide an exceptional liberal arts education that not only would prepare students well for life and work, but also would focus on “the importance of ethical behavior, of social responsibility, of simple, basic concern for others – for what Catholic social thought traditionally has called ‘the common good’.” Those words – “the common good” – became part of our new mission statement in 2004. The University of St. Thomas still aspires, purely and simply, to advance the common good. Our Mission, Vision and Convictions Our previous mission statement was much too long: 146 words. I had just one plea for the task force that assembled to revise the mission statement – keep it short enough to fit on the cover of a matchbook. That is precisely what they did. And I have still the matchbook to prove it. The new 30-word Mission Statement, now eight years old, reads as follows: “Inspired by Catholic intellectual tradition, the University of St. Thomas educates students to be morally responsible leaders who think critically, act wisely, and work skillfully to advance the common good.” To put it another way, our mission rests squarely on four pillars: faith, the liberal arts, professional education and community engagement. Nearly equal in importance are the Convictions and the Vision Statement that the task force generated and the board approved. The former articulate the core values that define us, and the
latter describes our aspirations: The seven convictions are: • • • • • • • Pursuit of truth Academic excellence Faith and reason Dignity Diversity Personal attention Gratitude
In that year, 2004, we also described where we wanted to be in the years ahead. Our vision statement reads: “We seek to be a recognized leader in Catholic higher education that excels in effective teaching, active learning, scholarly research and responsible engagement with the local community as well as with the national and global communities in which we live.” This has been our dream. It is my belief that we have achieved it, but more about that later. A Road to Access and Excellence and Catholic Identity My early efforts sought to incorporate into our life as a university our situation in the heart of a thriving metropolis; I liked the words “urban university” because they suggested that St. Thomas was not only in the city, but also of the city – that our relationship was not only geographic, but organic and that our agenda was in some real sense shaped by the emerging educational needs of the community. As Witt Kieffer pointed out in the recent announcement: “With more than 60 percent of its 95,000 living alumni based in Minnesota and involved in its business, arts and volunteer communities, St. Thomas has unparalleled opportunities to connect campus with community. It does so through mentoring, externship and volunteer programs, employment opportunities and educational programs designed specifically for local organizations. Students and employees collectively contribute tens of thousands of hours of community service each year, especially as tutors and mentors in inner-city schools. In recognition of its community contributions, St. Thomas received the coveted ‘Community Engagement’ classification from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in 2006.” Early in my tenure I heard three imperatives emerging from the St. Thomas community, and these three have guided us now for over 20 years:
• • •
Access Excellence Catholic identity.
In 1993, for example, our Self-Study called out the need for “a commitment to excellence” regarding quality in four areas: • • • • Faculty Asset base Alumni loyalty Our physical campuses
In 2007, we selected the same three imperatives to be the priorities for our ambitious $500 million Opening Doors capital campaign. • • Access: To ensure that a St. Thomas education be affordable for all qualified students. Excellence: To enhance effective teaching, active learning, and scholarly research; to improve programs for the holistic development of students; and to better foster lifelong learning. Catholic identity: To be more intentional about our identity as a faith-based university that draws on the richness of the Judeo-Christian wisdom tradition. A Progress Report So how have we carried out those themes and lived up to those promises? I must admit that when I look back over 21 years I am somewhat astonished by all that this university community has accomplished. All of us working together have truly turned aspiration into reality. It is an amazing record of achievement, and will provide a firm foundation for many years to come. Simply put, what we have accomplished in the past has made our future bright. Academic Programs and Achievements Take academics. We have long sought to improve major academic programs to the point where all of them would qualify for professional accreditation. That was finally accomplished a year-and-a-half ago when the only remaining unaccredited unit, our Opus College of Business, received accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. For our business graduates this has added value as well as portability to their degrees. It also will result in more international students choosing St. Thomas – including those whose countries provide full tuition scholarships.
Now all of our programs enjoy, in addition to our umbrella accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, specialized, professional accreditation; the others are in Divinity, Education, Engineering, Law, Professional Psychology and Social Work. This university is graced with the strongest, most-qualified faculty in its history – a faculty of scholars and master teachers. We are enrolling higher ability students, as well. At the undergraduate level, for example, in 1991 ACT scores averaged 23.1, and last year, 25.7. Buildings, Physical Assets and Financial Assets Imagine St. Thomas today without these physical assets that have been added since 1991: Academic Buildings 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. Terrence Murphy Hall (1992) Frey Science and Engineering Center and its O’Shaughnessy and Owens Halls (1997) Opus Hall (1999) Bernardi Campus in Rome (2000) John R. Roach Center for the Liberal Arts (2000) School of Law building (2003) Schulze Hall (2005) McNeely Hall (2006) Sitzmann Hall expansion (2009) Other Buildings Morrison Hall (1998) Koch Commons (1998) Flynn Hall (2005) Child Development Center (2005) Anderson Parking Center (2009) Anderson Athletic and Recreation Complex (2010) Anderson Student Center (2012) Ramps under Morrison, Flynn and McNeely Halls Winton Guest House, Gainey Conference Center Strategic Real Estate Acquisitions 19. Morrison House 20. The two blocks bordered by Summit, Cleveland, Grand and Cretin 21. Minneapolis campus property Brick and mortar investments of $350 million have physically transformed our St. Paul campus and established campuses in downtown Minneapolis and in Rome. We have top-of-the-line classrooms, laboratories, offices, residence halls, recreational space and, yes, even parking facilities – and I am most proud of that. Diversity
Along the way we have intentionally become significantly more diverse. This has been a high priority. The wholeheartedness with which the university has embraced this value has been most gratifying. Our regional demographics are changing, in part due to domestic and international migrations. St. Thomas was founded to serve immigrant communities. It is reassuring to know that we have not strayed from that mission and that communities of color are finding this campus an inviting place to pursue their dreams. Our increased diversity is enriching our learning environment and better preparing all students for the globalized world of tomorrow. In the past two decades our student of color population has tripled (to 13.8 percent), thanks to concerted recruitment efforts and targeted financial aid programs such as the Dease Scholarships. Today there are three times as many international students enrolled on our campuses, hailing from more than 60 countries, and our American students are now much more likely to study abroad. Four times as many undergraduate students studied abroad last year as in 1991 (854 now versus 216 then), thanks to programs such as our London Business Semester, our Rome Catholic Studies Semester and a robust January Term program. Among doctoral universities nationally, St. Thomas ranks fifth in terms of the percentage of undergraduate students who study abroad. The Rankings All of these improvements – smarter and better-prepared students, accredited programs, the strongest faculty in our history and new and renovated facilities – have not gone unnoticed. I am not one to put too much stock in rankings such as those published by U.S. News & World Report, because our administrative decisions have never been motivated by rankings but simply by our commitment to improve the quality of a St. Thomas education. Nevertheless, I have to admit that I was pleased with last year’s U.S. News rankings, which seemed to recognize our efforts. This year’s rankings will be announced on September 13. Last year’s rankings are worth noting: • We were ranked No. 115 among 268 schools in the National Universities category – an improvement from No. 124 the year before that and No. 137 in 2009. Last fall we were ranked ahead of several renowned Catholic universities: Duquesne, Loyola of Chicago, San Francisco, DePaul, Seton Hall and St. John’s of New York. High school guidance counselors ranked us No. 80 among National Universities. We were among 80 schools identified as “A-Plus Schools for B Students,” meaning that “non-superstars,” as the magazine calls them, will be accepted and will thrive in an atmosphere where spirit and hard work make a remarkable difference. Our School of Engineering undergraduate programs ranked No. 51 among 193 schools that offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees but not doctorates. Our School of Social Work, with its emphasis on social justice in its mission has been ranked No. 52 in the country for the last three years.
Earlier this year, our Opus College of Business ranked No. 104 of 446 business programs in its first year of eligibility following accreditation by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. The Catholic Mission
One aspect of a St. Thomas education that is not analyzed in the rankings, but is a characteristic of which I am immensely proud, is our Catholic identity. I can confidently state that we have never been more intentional about the Catholic dimension of our mission than in the past 20 years. It is intentionality that led: • • To the establishment of our Center for Catholic Studies, long recognized as preeminent in the United States, and To the reopening our School of Law, whose own mission is to “integrate faith and reason in the search for truth through a focus on morality and justice.”
It is intentionality that led: • • • • • • To the opening of our Rome campus, To the growth of the two seminaries with which we are affiliated, To the expansion of the Murray Institute, in which 700 teachers and principals in Catholic schools have received tuition-free graduate degrees, To the outreach of our Campus Ministry programs, To the richness of our liturgies, and To the development of our Christmas concerts, which are broadcast in most of the major television markets throughout the country.
And it is intentionality that led: • Us to create an impressive array of community service and community-based learning programs cited by the Carnegie Foundation. We subsequently formed our Center for Intercultural Learning and Community Engagement to coordinate our many undergraduate initiatives in this area. On the graduate level, our Interprofessional Center for Counseling and Legal Services serves those who are poorest and in greatest need.
The list of activities and organizations goes on and on. All of these efforts are related explicitly, deliberately and purposely to our Catholic identity; and they allow me to affirm with great pride that no, the University of St. Thomas does not graduate yuppies. We graduate morally responsible students who advance the common good.
Strategic Directions Looking to the future, this past year our Board of Trustees engaged in a strategic direction setting process. The five directions that emerged are meant to serve as a foundation for strategic planning that the next president will lead. The five strategic directions are: • • • • • To develop a reputation for excellence beyond the Catholic higher education community and in the broader academy nationally and internationally. To ensure that St. Thomas, in its admission policy, remains accessible to a broad spectrum of students who show promise. To ensure that St. Thomas, through its financial aid, remains accessible to students, both merit based and those with demonstrated need. To maintain a vital and robust Catholic character. To constantly monitor the changing external environment in higher education with appropriate responses in the areas of tuition pricing; alternative revenue sources and improvements to the cost-effectiveness of our programs; and evolving models of higher education, including online delivery methods. A Word of Gratitude As I begin my final year as president, I find myself immensely grateful. I could not imagine a finer group of colleagues and friends with whom to spend a couple of decades. As you may recall, this summer the Minneapolis Star Tribune named St. Thomas a “Top Workplace.” Two years ago Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal named us a “Best Place to Work.” Both of these awards recognize Minnesota companies based on employee opinions about leadership, communication, career opportunities and workplace environment. This is a great compliment to you and the culture you have built here, and explains why working with you has been for me a joy. I’m also grateful for the quality of our students. I’ve been inspired by the steady stream of students to my office describing various plans and efforts to advance the common good, including solar panels on Brady Hall, lighting with solar power a whole village in East Africa, and efforts by Somali students to help other Somali youth come to see university education as an option. I’m grateful for the expertise, professionalism, and service orientation of our professional staff; for the high level of competence and commitment to mission of the support staff and the service workers; for the attention with which buildings are designed, constructed and maintained; and for the care reflected in the horticultural beauty of the campuses. • I’m grateful for the support of the faculty; for its talent, commitment, civility and work ethic; for its impressive scholarly research, masterful teaching, hardworking university citizenship –
especially in shared governance; and for its demonstrated care for, encouragement of and inspiring example for students. *** One hundred and twenty-seven years ago, St. Thomas opened its doors with six faculty to welcome 62 students. That evening its first president, Father Thomas O’Gorman, noted in his diary: “Classes opened September 9, in the afternoon, with a short class. There being no books, no desks, very little was possible.” As Witt Kiefer put it in its recent write-up: “St. Thomas clearly is no longer a place where ‘very little is possible.’ “The new president will join the university at an ideal time. With its strong legacy and remarkable resources, St. Thomas is poised to spring forward in a significant way. It has tremendous potential to contribute meaningfully beyond its current scope and to expand its influence.” You will be part of that. Thank you.
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