STATE OF THE UNIVERSITY 2012
August 21, 2012
President Thomas F. Flynn
Good morning. Well fed by our fine food service team and energized by the company of good colleagues, both those familiar and new to us, we gather once again as a university community at the beginning of another academic year.
This morning, I will, as usual, report on the progress of the university, highlight areas of needed improvement and potential opportunity, and look ahead with anticipation and confidence at the year ahead. We will take time to celebrate a few of our many recent accomplishments. Fortunately, we now enjoy regular news updates on the website and through the Alvernia Voice, including my periodic newsletters.
Our goals continue to be shaped by the strategic and campus master plans. Recall that this year concludes Phase I of implementation, begun in 2008, and that we now have an updated plan for Phase II, stretching from 2013-2018. Last August, I focused on the long-term future, and we reviewed the plan at January’s divisional meetings, following the Board’s approval in December. Today, we will focus on the coming year.
In the current economic and political climate, no report on the “state” of an academic institution can ignore the turbulent external environment and the prevailing, often hostile, criticism of higher education. Earlier this month, I sent faculty members articles addressing some of these themes. These materials, along with copies of the University plan and this year’s goals, will be posted on our website next week along with this address. So, today and in the coming year, I ask us all to reflect on how Alvernia should effectively react to and proactively anticipate some unprecedented challenges. And at my conclusion, I will ask each of you to consider how you personally can help strengthen the quality of our students’ educational experience at Alvernia. For whatever the circumstances, internally or externally, it is, after all, all about our students!
I hope that all of us — even members of our Facilities crew and others for whom summer is a hectic time — found opportunities for relaxed time with families and friends. As you know from my summer newsletter, I was fortunate to participate in a stimulating seminar for Catholic higher education leaders at the Vatican. The experience deepened my understanding of global issues and my appreciation for the unique contributions of American Catholic universities. Regrettably, while the weather was even hotter than during the Flynns’ Delaware beach week, the dress code was rather more formal.
Throughout the summer, conscious of beginning my eighth year at Alvernia, I often reflected back to conversations with my predecessor, Larry Mazzeno. Last May, when Helen and I hosted Larry and Cindy at Cedar Hill and on campus, friends and former colleagues gathered at our choral and band concert to celebrate the progress of the arts at Alvernia and to express gratitude for Larry’s pioneering work in that regard. It was enjoyable for us to recall the bright hopes he and I had for this special place back in 2005 as he retired and I arrived. It was also gratifying to hear his enthusiasm about the Francis Hall renovations and the University’s amazing progress. I reminded him of his ominous warning, a few years ago, that before long I would have been at Alvernia as long as he. Right he was. So the start of this year makes me especially appreciative of the solid foundation that Larry and others, including long-time faculty and staff here today, built in the late 1990s and early years of the past decade. As I look around the room today, I am mindful yet again of the valuable contributions made by faculty, staff, administrators, alumni, and trustees. As president, let me thank you, individually and collectively, for all you do for our students. Fortunately for us, they are well worth our best efforts!
How many here this morning were at Alvernia 15 years ago in August 1997? I know that those here then recall a line from President Mazzeno’s initial address to this community. It has been quoted to me often: “Change or Die.”
Alvernia is a quite different, much stronger, institution than it was fifteen years ago. We are no longer, to paraphrase another Mazzeno maxim, only one or two bad freshman classes away from disaster! In fact, freshman recruitment is without question one of our most dramatic recent success stories. Like all similar schools, we have improvements to be made, opportunities to strengthen quality, and only modest resources. Yet even the most hardened cynic would acknowledge what is now a far better known story in private higher education: Alvernia’s progress in the last 10-15 years is remarkable.
There is still today, however, an imperative for change and improvement. Far more than in 1997, it is prompted less by our own circumstances then by the external trends confronting higher education. Described by commentators as collectively causing the “disruption of higher education,” they demand creative, entrepreneurial approaches as well as effective strategies of adaptation.
Let me first identify some of these trends and attitudes. Most prevalent in the media is harsh criticism of the cost of college and undisguised skepticism about the quality and value of a degree. The high level of student debt has become a public policy issue, and there is rising pressure for schools to demonstrate that their students are immediately employable, all this within the worst economy in several generations. Accountability is the new mantra, and schools must publically report extensive data, most of it focused on outcomes. Fewer and fewer people, inside and especially outside of higher education, remain committed to the enduring value of a liberal arts education and the civic purpose of the university. The traditional model centered on full-time faculty and the residential experience attracts only a tiny minority of today’s students and is often dismissed as a high-priced luxury for the affluent. Higher education is, for many, just another commodity to be purchased--preferably at a low cost, with maximum convenience, and with the tangible result of a good job. Knowledge is now available in free, on-line course packages without requiring enrollment in a university. Federal and state lawmakers, liberals and conservatives alike, are eager to mandate and regulate, but far less eager to fund student financial aid.
Except for the explosion of on-line education offered by elite schools like MIT and Harvard, little of this is new, though the trends are more widespread and the criticism is more prevalent. There is, to be sure, much hypocrisy in this criticism and ample ignorance. The reduction of higher education to job training and the marginalization of the humanities and other liberal arts and sciences are offensive to me; but such attitudes are also short-sighted and, at their worst, undermine our democracy which depends on a broadly educated, humane, and compassionate citizenry dedicated to the common good.
Yet we in higher education have brought some of this on ourselves by our failure to justify spiraling cost increases for our students and to demonstrate the value-added dimension of the collegiate experience. And these trends are, as the cliché goes, “the new normal.” We ignore them at our peril. Indeed, they have already had an impact on Alvernia and will continue to do so. Some of them are provocative in the best sense. There is helpful learning to be done and corresponding actions to be taken.
So here at Alvernia we must, when necessary, adapt and adopt best practices of peers; we must, when opportunity arises, innovate and move boldly; we must, where essential, preserve what is fundamental to our mission; and we must, always, seek to enhance the distinctive value of an Alvernia education.
This morning, let us look with collective pride at how we have strengthened the institution during challenging times. We are well poised to adopt additional “strategies of adaptation” to enhance our mission and competitive position. Let me first review our progress before turning to areas where we need to do far better and/or do differently.
Fifteen years later than August 1997, we are still a relatively small, high-touch institution, but we are no longer an imperiled, tiny, land-locked college. Part of our strong foundation lies in bold decisions made over a decade ago: first, to emphasize adult and graduate education, not only in Reading but in other locations such as Philadelphia and Pottsville; and second, to begin simultaneously to build a residential campus. Today, we are a university. We have a genuinely comprehensive mission, including adults and recent high school graduates, graduate as well as undergraduate students, in multiple locations; we have made enormous progress in establishing a vibrant residential experience for a large majority of our younger students. In 1997, we had only a few hundred adult students, all undergraduates, and only 250 living on campus. Today, working adults account for almost half of our total enrollment; 900 students now live on campus, with 1,000 expected next fall.
Without dramatic enrollment growth between 2000 and 2005, much of it in adult students, Alvernia could not have made the subsequent investments in faculty, programs, and facilities. Without the investment in a residential campus, we would have been unable to enhance Alvernia’s competitive position and reputation as reflected by increased out-of-state enrollment and an improved academic profile.
A comprehensive and complex mission poses inevitable challenges: there are multiple, often competing, demands on resources; it is far more difficult to ensure consistently high quality; faculty and staff are stretched thin and pulled in more directions. Yet it is unarguable that the expansion of academic programs and student populations has been essential to our viability as an institution. Without it, some version of the dire Mazzeno maxim would be true today. Like it or not, the issue is not if we grow and expand, but rather how do we do so best.
None of this progress would have been possible had we not acted decisively in recent years to expand our horizon beyond Greater Reading and our campus beyond the hill known, in bygone days, as Mount Alvernia. An aggressive student recruitment program has established us as a regional not a local institution. Parallel initial efforts have been made with athletic scheduling and with alumni chapters in locations like Washington, DC and Tampa. Events such as the Updike Conference and the Blessing Exhibit and awards by the Carnegie Foundation and others for our leadership in community engagement have brought national recognition, as do our individual professional accomplishments and reputations.
Beyond their exceptional work on such special projects and our publications, the marketing staff has expanded our visibility through cost-effective upgrades of our website by updating the home page design and other materials and adding a new virtual tour and 30 videos that promote our people and programs. Also launched this past year were an Alvernia blog that features posts from faculty and students and a dramatically increased presence in social media and in on-line marketing programs.
With the addition of Judge Hall and the much-needed O’Pake Science Center, it became clear as we launched our strategic planning process in 2006 that we had little space on main campus for necessary new facilities. The purchase and renovation of the Upland Center has provided high-end instructional spaces, a home for graduate and adult students, and a welcome incentive for a few motivated and fit faculty members to combine business with daily exercise! Our off-campus fields support our athletic program by offsetting the disadvantage of having only a single on-campus field. The administrative services building on the Morgantown Road has freed up campus office space for faculty and student-related staff and provided essential archival and storage space. Creative partnerships with the City of Reading for Angelica Park have transformed the entry to campus, made possible first-rate baseball and softball facilities and an exciting environmental initiative, and facilitated the development of a residential campus.
Recent alumni joke that they can barely recall when the campus quad was a parking lot; Founders Village and the new Campus Commons will soon be equally familiar landmarks. (You will be pleased to hear that the two new residences were ready on time for the return of our student leaders, and that the Commons is on schedule to open early in 2013.
Beyond new academic buildings and student residences, we have strengthened the learning and living environment through an extensive renovation program, guided by the Teaching and Learning and Residential Plans. Both the Philadelphia and Schuylkill Centers have received major overhauls. This summer, a new lab was created in Bernardine Hall to support our popular OT Program. Another floor of classrooms was upgraded. Though the project was not part of the strategic plan or capital campaign, we have allocated funds to renovate Bernardine Hall entirely, with the final stage scheduled for completion next summer.
Building on earlier innovations by the library staff, the main floor of the library has been transformed into a contemporary learning commons. Also completed were renovations of the Townhouses and long-overdue improvements to Veronica Hall. Congratulations to those faculty and academic and residence life staff responsible for the planning and to our indefatigable facilities crew who made this all possible.
Many improvements are unseen but equally welcome. Our technology staff members are unsung heroes in this regard. With the introduction of a separate internet service provider for our residential network, we have doubled the ResNet bandwidth capacity; ensured equal access for all resident students; freed space for data in our Administrative Network; and increased the speed of usage (welcome news for those very few among us prone to impatience!). Improved connections from the Reading campus to all remote locations will be completed soon. Communication with students through the University Portal, myAlvernia, is expanding, and other areas of the university are now invited by IT to develop their portals. Faculty officers, deans, and the provost intend to launch the Faculty portal this fall.
Faculty, Finances, and Mission are three other important factors that explain the stronger position of Alvernia in 2012. At a time of retrenchment and reduction of full-time faculty at many schools, Alvernia has chosen to expand the faculty. With over 50% of current faculty hired in the last seven years, the faculty has grown from 46 in 1997 and 75 in 2005 to 102 as of this fall. Once more, we have a large group of talented new faculty. Publications now regularly feature faculty achievements, and each year there is more and more to celebrate. But let us always remember that the faculty members, like our staff, makes their most significant contributions by pursuing excellence daily, especially in their contacts, formal and informal, with our students.
Our financial condition is sound, despite the modest size of the budget and endowment. Key to our success has been conservative budgeting, growth of net tuition revenue, strategic targeting of new operating expenses, and unprecedented fundraising through the capital campaign. We are making steady progress with resource development, even as we strive to build a fundraising tradition during a time of economic uncertainty. More on all that later!
Our renewed emphasis on our Franciscan identity is at the heart of all we do. Our progress is gratifying, notably the work of the Franciscan Learning Community now led by Sister Roberta and her Mission Integration and Education Team. This year, supported by the Assisi Fund established last year, we will send our first three faculty and staff pilgrims to Assisi. Many in this room, myself included, explain our delight in working at Alvernia by citing the culture shaped and still embodied by the Sisters but also embodied, as it must be, by lay women and men on the faculty, the staff and administration, and our Board of Trustees. But let’s make no mistake: our Franciscan identity, rooted in the Catholic and liberal arts traditions, is also essential for pragmatic reasons: it is the most distinct difference between Alvernia and the myriad small institutions with whom we compete. It must permeate the curriculum and co-curriculum and campus culture in appropriate, visible ways. We have great additional opportunities in that regard.
This year’s Founder’s Day lecture on Sept. 11, featuring Rabbi Howard Hirsch, will help launch two mission-centered initiatives. Rabbi Hirsch will share with us his perspective on the impact of Vatican II on Jewish-Christian relationships. His talk will both inaugurate a new initiative in interfaith dialogue and also launch our 50th anniversary celebration of the second Vatican Council.
Over the next three years, Alvernia will reflect on the legacy of Vatican II, held between 1962-1965, with programs that address the landmark documents on ecumenism, non-Christian religions, religious liberty, the apostolate of the laity, and the church in the modern world. The Council was a momentous event in the history of the Catholic Church but, as we all know, had enormous impact on women and men of many faiths.
Let me sum up our overall progress. A joint educational emphasis on both adult and recent high school students; the development of an attractive residential campus; the decision to be a regional institution; the improvement of the teaching and learning environment; the growth of the faculty; the strengthening of finances and increase in resources; the central emphasis on mission and identity; the emphasis on celebrating the Alvernia story, far and wide, as well as closer to home . . . all have been important to our vitality today.
Let me end this necessarily selective review of the University’s overall “state” by highlighting a few more accomplishments from the past year.
This past year we received final state approval of university status granted provisionally in 2008 and affirmation from Middle States of the faculty’s excellent work in developing an assessment program. Among other programmatic highlights, the Reading Hospital partnership was successfully launched, a new Health Sciences major was approved, and a series of non-credit offerings received rave reviews. A new relationship with Stevens & Lee to deliver online training in Accounting, Finance and Marketing featured Scott Ballantyne; a program on ethics for the Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants featured Bongrae Seok and Travis Berger; and the Seniors College introduced its first summer offerings. And there are six students who quite literally wrote their own Alvernia history last year as the University graduated our first PhDs. Congratulations to the six new doctors, their faculty mentors, and to program director, Tufan Tiglioglu.
This past year, besides the new Assisi Fund to fund mission initiatives, we also established an Innovation Fund to encourage and support creative ideas developed by teams to improve Alvernia. There were a large number of initial proposals, and 7 promising ones were funded. All projects will be completed by late September.
Just a few years ago a Compensation Philosophy was approved by the faculty, administration, and board that are committed to external competitiveness with our approved peer group, while affirming the collegial values appropriate for a Franciscan institution. Formal studies of faculty (2010) and staff (2011) salaries and benefits (2011) were conducted by Mosteller Associates. Employee benefits were evaluated as “highly competitive” overall; national comparisons have subsequently confirmed the high quality of employee benefits, and health care coverage has been sustained for the coming year without increased cost for employees. Salaries, on the other hand, needed improvement.
As announced in my summer newsletter, we have fully implemented all recommended salary adjustments as of July 1, totaling $450,000 in additional annual base salaries. Approximately 60% of faculty and 33% of staff and administrators now have salaries above their targeted ranges. Consistent with the Compensation Philosophy, we will redo the compensation peer study later this fall to reassess our competitive position.
The Trustees and I are especially pleased that this investment has been made during a time when many organizations have retrenched and despite Alvernia’s major budget challenges. Notwithstanding the significant shortfall in revenue from graduate and adult education during 2011-2012, preliminary year-end results indicate that we met and, in some cases, exceeded our financial goals. Strong freshman enrollment, conservative budgeting, and careful contingency planning were the key positive factors.
Earlier I alluded to the excellent work we have come to rely on from our undergraduate enrollment management team. And they are a team, led by Stacey Adams-Perry and including colleagues in admissions, financial planning, and marketing. Despite their first significant staff turnover in several years, the team has had another record breaking year, including an all-time high of 425 full-time freshmen; increased diversity to over 20% of the class, and the largest ever number and percentage of out-of-state students. Congratulations to one and all.
We also have a record residential enrollment and accompanying improvements in campus life. The new Residence Life Plan emphasizes theme housing, living-learning communities for new or returning students. With excellent work by residence life staff and student leaders, and the support of faculty and staff advisors, over 25% of this year’s residents are involved in these communities. International education, including study abroad offerings, is another new institutional emphasis, led by Vice President Joe Cicala, building on earlier efforts by individual faculty and staff. The first of several creative partnerships provides 8 programs throughout Europe and in Australia and South Africa. A program in the Dominican Republic coordinated with the Bernardine Sisters is among several under development. Faculty travel courses will also be expanded and better supported. And besides their intrinsic beauty, the renovations of Francis Hall could not have been more timely in supporting the Arts at Alvernia Series and dramatic improvements in our visual and performing arts programs.
2011-12 was undoubtedly the best overall year in the history of Alvernia Athletics. Congratulations to our fine athletic leadership team led by Bill Stiles and including our Faculty Athletic Representative, Polly Mathys. Softball and men's and women’s golf each won Conference Championships, while men's basketball and women's lacrosse took home ECAC titles. Alvernia hosted two ECAC Final Fours for men’s soccer and field hockey, with both of our teams advancing to the conference finals. The track & field program had three individual conference champions and sent Melissa Fellenbaum and Brian Nerney to the NCAA Championships, while baseball earned its fourth consecutive berth in the NCAA Division III Baseball Tournament.
It is no surprise that Alvernia had five MAC Coaches of the Year (Casey Moore – men’s soccer, Laura Gingrich – field hockey, Tom O’Connell – women’s golf, Jon King – men’s golf, and Yogi Lutz – baseball) and five conference players of the year (Eric Franks – men’s soccer, Katie Fitzharris – women’s golf, and 3 in baseball — Andrew Kirk, Richie Ricciardi, and Chris Ray.
We are all proud that every varsity and club team participates in at least one community service project annually. And our athletes excel in the classroom as well, with 85 students earning Conference All-Academic Honors and the highest cumulative GPA in recent history.
One team deserves special recognition. Besides playing in the conference championship game, the women’s field hockey team was honored for the eighth consecutive season by the NCAA for academic excellence. This year they outdid themselves: they joined student-athletes at Vassar, Wesleyan, Clark, and Johns Hopkins as one of the top five academic teams nationally in Division III. Congratulations to Coach Laura Gingrich and, of course, to the players.
For the sixth consecutive year, Alvernia was named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll (this year, with distinction). Students posted a record 14,014 hours of service, the Alvernia READS program distributed 3,000 books to local children, students volunteered at the South Reading Youth Initiative more than 618 times, and more than 60 participated in 7 Alternative Breaks. Last fall, the service component connected to the common reading, Strength in What Remains was the most highly rated Orientation activity. Programming around this year’s common reading, Amazing Grace, began during summer’s Connections Days and will culminate in October with the visit of author, Jonathan Kozol.
The Holleran Center hosted its seventh annual Creativity Camp this summer, led by Allison Kren. And the Center teamed up with Carpenter Technologies to provide a free science camp for 100 Berks County middle-school students. Seven Carpenter engineers joined Steve Campion, Rose Chinni and John Gieringer as instructors, with Alvernia students serving as peer leaders: Brandi Loga, Chelsea Keip, Erin Quinn, Kacie Tokarski, Alexandra Aloia, Jill Pate, and Elizabeth Magee. With Dave Myers now on board, we can anticipate similar energy from our new O’Pake Institute for Leadership, Ethics, and Public Service.
We are a generous community indeed, and our community-mindedness sets a fine example for our students.
The Berks County United Way recognized Alvernia once again with the Carl E. LeVan Award for a non-profit that demonstrates outstanding dedication to the United Way and to the community. Led by Tom Minick and a terrific committee, Alvernia employees contributed a record of over $28,000. Will members of the committee stand and be recognized.
And last, but far from least, there is good news about Alvernia’s own Values and Vision Campaign, the first comprehensive campaign in our history. This is not the time for all-out celebration; our campaign is due to run at least one more year. And we have much work left to do. Still, remembering how ambitious this effort is, and how challenging has been the economic climate, don’t you think that, since this summer we exceeded our initial goal of $27M, we should ask Mike Pressimone and the entire Advancement staff to stand and be recognized. We still have funds to raise: for Francis Hall renovations, the new Campus Commons, and the Faculty Excellence program. And projects are emerging for future fundraising several years down the road. But as the slogan goes, we have come a long way, baby, in a very short time!
There is some additional news related to the campaign that deserves some unabashed celebration since it says much about the Alvernia family. You may remember that the Values and Vision Campaign included a goal for faculty and staff. That campaign--ably led by Joan Lewis, Scott Ballantyne, Kevin Godfrey, and a team of volunteers--sought to raise $750,000 from the campus community. I am happy to report that together we have responded most generously and to date have committed $962,822! Let’s thank and congratulate our fine committee and each other too!
Besides cash gifts and pledges, members of the community have also made significant deferred gifts by remembering the University in their wills, through gift annuities, or through life insurance. And there is more good news: many faculty and staff have joined us since the campaign began. You and all others still have the coming year to join up. Just contact Mike Pressimone or one of his merry band. Here we go past $1M!!
Not everything, of course, is equally rosy. If it were, life and work would be all too easy!
Let me focus on the two problematic areas that must be urgently addressed: the decline in adult, especially graduate, enrollment and our sub-par results in undergraduate retention. Both trends are disappointing and also are creating great financial hardship.
As always, the coming year’s budget was built on strong undergraduate new student recruitment, slight improvements in undergraduate retention and adult education enrollments, and a modest increase in tuition and fees. As of today, freshman enrollment is ahead of goal, but graduate enrollment and undergraduate retention are behind goal.
Beginning around 2000, and for the next decade, Alvernia depended on sizable net revenue growth annually from adult education programs. Indeed, this enrollment growth was the most significant source of funds available for academic and other investments in the traditional undergraduate program. As noted earlier, last year this area had a large revenue shortfall; this year: it is again behind budget. Undergraduate adult enrollment is a bit ahead of goal, but graduate enrollment has fallen off again.
Wide-ranging changes are urgently needed if Alvernia is again to achieve highly favorable results. New leadership, new programs, new student markets, increased use of on-line instruction, more effective enrollment management are all essential—as well as rigorous academic oversight and the support of faculty and staff across campus. In some cases, we simply (if not easily) need to adopt practices that are virtually universal among our competitors, such as accelerated course and degree formats and far better funding of marketing efforts. Excellent initial steps have recently been taken, under the leadership of Interim Dean Daria La Torre, with strong support from Provost Williams and Vice Presidents Drexler and McCloskey. Beyond our own good reasons for improvement, the external trends mentioned earlier provide ample incentive.
Retention results continue to be disappointing, despite improvement in the academic profile of new students and major improvements in the learning and living environment. There is some very promising news: final figures are yet a week away, but as of this morning, freshman retention has risen more than three percent. This is a credit to the teamwork of the many staff and faculty, coordinated by Claire Berardini, devoted to improving the first-year experience. There has been, however, an unexpected decline of other returning students. One happy reason for this is that a larger number graduated ahead of schedule. Yet far higher- than-expected attrition has occurred among transfer students and among certain majors, even including rising seniors. Clearly, we need far greater focus in both colleges on transfer students and upperclassmen who appear to be at risk, even as we further strengthen the quality of the first-year experience. New action steps are being implemented, guided in part by superb data analysis by our institutional research guru, Evelina Panayotova. Provost Williams and Vice Presidents Cicala and McCloskey are determined to mobilize a campus-wide effort.
Despite these setbacks, this year’s budget still includes essential investments in faculty positions and increased employee compensation. But make no mistake: these declines in enrollment and related tuition revenue will require us again this year to control expenses with special care. Budget cuts and holdbacks put in place last year in many non-academic budget lines must be continued and expanded in 2012-2013.
Put simply, as we go forward, we need far more adult students; and we need to retain (and graduate) far more of the freshmen whom we already successfully enroll. These are among the key goals for the coming year, along with some wonderful opportunities in areas of current strength and possibility.
So let me turn, before concluding, to an overview of our most important work for the year ahead, recognizing that there are other projects as well as the routine of daily work to keep us occupied!
GUIDING THEMES and GOALS FOR 2012-13
Enhance Enrollment Revenue
Enhance Educational Quality
Enhance External Support and Reputation
STRENGTHEN GRADUATE AND ADULT EDUCATION
IMPROVE UNDERGRADUATE RETENTION
STRENGTHEN GENERAL EDUCATION (and Related Graduation Requirements)
EXPAND MARKETING FOR ENROLLMENT AND ACADEMIC REPUTATION
EXCEED (FURTHER!) “VALUES AND VISION CAMPAIGN GOAL
INCREASE SUPPORT FOR STUDENT ENGAGEMENT AND SUCCESS
EXPAND GLOBAL AND CROSS-CULTURAL LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES
EXPAND REGIONAL “FOOTPRINT” (RECRUITMENT, PROGRAM DELIVERY, ALUMNI ENGAGEMENT, AND REPUTATION)
ENHANCE COMMUNITY AND CIVIC ENGAGEMENT
ENHANCE MISSION AND FRANCISCAN IDENTITY
This morning we examined briefly the turbulent external environment that is posing unprecedented challenges to higher education, especially smaller private institutions like Alvernia. We have reviewed some of the many ways we have intentionally invested in our students and in our future. And we’ve tested our memory with some song lyrics!
Our progress has been inspired by our mission and our high expectations. We have been guided by careful planning and propelled forward by bold decisions and excellent teamwork by countless individuals. There is much to celebrate as we look back to the past academic year and begin a new one. But, yes, there is cause for concern and need for urgent improvements in key areas. And, yes, we will need to respond directly and, at times, rapidly if we are to thrive, not merely survive, in a highly competitive marketplace.
As each of us reviews the coming year’s goals, especially as we contemplate the University’s challenges, let us be mindful of our own talents, appreciative of our colleagues, proud of our commitment to the highest standards of professional excellence and to the growth and development of our students. Let each of us also be mindful, if humbly, of the diverse ways we faithfully serve Alvernia. And let us be confident that each of us has an important role to play in strengthening this special place.
What can we do? From the faculty and staff who serve and inspire our freshmen or our graduate students or our Seniors (young and not so young); to coaches, artistic directors, and administrators who engage students outside the classroom; to mentors and supervisors of field placements, work study assignments, or doctoral dissertations; to faculty and deans who develop new programs and those who help recruit new students; to office staff, both highly visible and behind the scenes, who serve students . . . and indeed all of us; to the many who make our countless events successful and our campus clean and beautiful. Each and every one of us individually can make a difference, perhaps in different ways than before.
But together, we can make an even larger difference. We can, as we challenge our students and our graduates, do well and do good.
So let us go forward full of passion and promise and positive attitude. Let us also revise and update the Mazzeno maxim: “Change and Thrive!”
The coming year will be challenging, exciting, and busy. Nothing new there. I thank you in advance for your best effort and spirited commitment to Alvernia and our students. I pledge mine in return. Here’s to another fine year.