Major Addresses

Alvernia University
2011 STATE OF THE UNIVERSITY
August 23, 2011

Remarks from

President Thomas F. Flynn

 

Good morning. It is good to see you all. And it is good for us to gather as a university community at the beginning of another academic year. 

As has been true for the last several years, during troubled political and economic times in our country and our world, we are especially mindful on this occasion of our many reasons to feel fortunate as an academic community. Stories still abound about reputable schools cutting programs or freezing salaries or announcing lay offs; even more places are hoping to ride out what remains a very weak and turbulent economy with other less severe austerity measures.  Experts are increasingly pessimistic about economic recovery.

Alvernia is not immune from economic trends. Staff on the front lines are sensitive to the financial hardship facing many students and their families. Those of us involved in fundraising hear many potential donors lament that they can not provide significant support due to their own financial losses or their uncertainty about the economy. Federal and state funds are far less available and subject to additional cuts. Still, we welcome this morning our largest-ever cohort of 18 new faculty, along with many key staff. We anticipate the end of dust ‘n dirt at Francis Hall and some new dust ‘n dirt as we undertake a significant expansion of Founders Village. Most important, we will soon embrace another record setting group of new undergraduates. More on all this in a minute! But looking at this large group of new faculty let me dispel the rumor that the new male faculty members were told that they were expected to grow beards prior to their arrival at Alvernia.

It was certainly nice this summer for me not to need a scooter to get around, but once again our gracious library staff has provided a pleasant home as construction crews work to complete the major renovation and expansion of music, theater, and art facilities and the new campus-side entrance to Francis Hall. This significant improvement of facilities and other support for the arts meets an important goal in the strategic plan. The dedication of the soon-to-be finished Miller Art Gallery and accompanying celebration of our new campus gathering spaces on September 21 will be a memorable event. 

The Flynns enjoyed our own memorable family event this summer with the marriage of our son to a college classmate whom he met seven years ago during First-Year Orientation. As we know, a special occasion involving our families and closest friends is the best possible formula for escaping the world of work and professional responsibilities. Still, as I glance each morning at the wedding picture of several dozen of Daniel and Anne’s fellow alums from Xavier University (OH) and recall the compelling way those young people talk about their college experience, it is impossible for me not to feel in a powerful way the challenge posed to all of us in this room each fall:  that together — faculty, staff, and administrators — those new to Alvernia, those loyal individuals who have contributed 10, 20, even 30 years; and the many of us hired in the last 5 to 10 years — that together, we commit to helping ensure our students have a memorable, rewarding, and joy-filled experience as Alvernia students.

Mindful of our recent shared accomplishments and confident that Alvernia is poised for even finer accomplishments, let me ask this morning that we have “Great Expectations” — of ourselves as well as of our colleagues and the entire university community. Last year, we reviewed in detail Alvernia’s progress in the last five and ten years as well as both short- and long-term goals. This year, I will talk more thematically about the University’s ongoing transformation and about the parallel evolution needed in the “expectations” of each of us.                        

Let me turn first to some of our Inspirations, move to Expectations, and then at the end to some potential Aspirations. 

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Even if we are not famous architects, we know that buildings inspire. Think of world landmarks like the Alhambra or the Pyramids, the great cathedrals of Europe, the monuments in our nation’s capital. On college campuses, there is often at least one such structure. At Alvernia, it is Francis Hall.

For longtime faculty and staff and especially for older alumni, the building evokes strong emotions. It has aesthetic appeal and great historical interest, but its inspirational power emanates from the memories it holds and the values it embodies. That is why our dear Sister Pacelli’s wonderful book on Francis Hall is itself such a treasure: while tracing the building’s impressive architectural heritage, she also emphasizes the “voices” of Francis Hall: the orphans, other young children, later the students of a new college, then a university . . . and, of course, all who have helped them learn and grow.  

As we celebrate the second stage of renovation and expansion of our own Old Main, let us draw on the inspirational power of our Bernardine Franciscan heritage, embodied always by iconic names like Zygmunta and Pacelli and lived today by women who serve in Brazil, the Dominican Republic, and other locations as well here in Reading and at Alvernia.

Recognizing our Sisters reminds us that ultimately it is people who best inspire us. Some live on in our personal memories and in their legacies like Professor Fran Ross and Senator and Trustee Mike O’Pake. 

Yet we can also always simply look around us, if we need inspiration. My quarterly electronic newsletters, now in a new format as featured issues of the new Alvernia Voice, highlight many of our achievements, but there are a few that deserve mention today. 

At today’s breakfast, as throughout the year, we are well fed and well served by our food service staff. Last year, we honored Tom Benfield who had been named national Manager of the Year for all of Aladdin’s operations. This year, we honor Chef John Taylor, named Chef of the Year for the 26-state operations of Aladdin and Trust House Services. This is the second time in three years Chef Taylor has received this honor. (I should also note that Aladdin’s Alvernia operation also won the company’s national safety award.)

Each year, our popular Employee Recognition Event celebrates the contributions of long-time staff and faculty. Of special note this year we honored 5 colleagues who have contributed 20 or more years of service. This group joins an exclusive club of 18 others who have in the last few years been so honored. Honored for 20 years was Beki Stein; honored for 25 years were Audrey Caldwell, Sally Reading, and Spence Stober. And for thirty faithful years, Beth DeMeo.

Other important milestones deserve special notice at this gathering. Several impressive faculty members were tenured by the Board of Trustees. Tom Bierowski, Ann Fink, Barry Harvey, and Mary Ellen Symanski, with Tom also promoted to Associate Professor. 

The annual Honors Convocation features our student awardees but it is also the occasion at which our top faculty awards are bestowed. Beth Berret (business) was the 2011 distinguished Lindbeck Award winner. Two colleagues — Mary Ann Durant (nursing) and Michele Kulp (art) — shared the St. Bernardine Adjunct Faculty Award (presented to a part-time faculty member for Excellence in Teaching). The Sr. Mary Donatilla Faculty Service Award was presented to Jodi Radosh (communication), and The Holleran Center Faculty Award for Exemplary Service-Learning went to Terri Adams (nursing).

For the third consecutive year, a member of our faculty or academic staff has won a national award. This year, we honor Kevin Burns ’06, a valued colleague. In addition to being licensed by the National Registry of Certified Chemists, Kevin was honored by the National Association of Scientific Materials Managers with the New Initiatives Award. 

In a year when our student-athletes earned a conference championship in Men’s Basketball, when eleven other teams made the post-season playoffs, thirteen teams raised their cumulative GPAs, and all teams completed at least one service project, three of our coaches achieved important milestones or honors: Kevin Calabria, Yogi Lutz, and Larry Zerbe

Kevin celebrated his 400th win and Yogi was named Middle Atlantic Coach of the Year by his peers in the American Baseball Coaches Association for leading the Crusaders to 38 wins, an appearance in the Mid-Atlantic Regional Final, and a final ranking of 16th nationally. (Yogi, by the way, being far older than Kevin, now has 656 career wins! He also will soon be among the few college coaches to have two former players in the Major Leagues.) Larry, a proud alumnus and member of Alvernia’s Athletic Hall of Fame, was named the United States Professional Tennis Association Middle Atlantic Region Professional of the Year. Tennis buffs will be impressed to hear that he received his award from tennis legend Chris Evert.
 
At any university with significant commitment to graduate and professional education, accreditation and other certification reports abound. For new programs, there are several stages of approval, including rigorous standards to help ensure academic integrity. After a five-year trial period for our first PhD program, an ambitious interdisciplinary undertaking in Leadership Studies, Alvernia has received final, unqualified approval by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. This is a fine accomplishment and a tribute to our program director, Tufan Tiglioglu and to Spence Stober and other good colleagues.

As I note each year, were we to recognize all who made special contributions to our students and the University’s great progress, we would all be standing, and there would be a danger that you would think it is already time to leave. So let us enjoy a few pictures of others who can inspire us, as we look ahead to a new year.

As you look clockwise at this slide of some notable Alvernia alums, you may recognize Michael Heimbach '88 former FBI Assistant Director of the Counterterrorism Division, and currently head of ESPN Global Security; Emily Berrett ’11, a new White House staff member; Dr. Melisa Marcario ’93 clinical psychologist, Veteran’s Administration in Pittsburgh; Zach Lutz ’08 currently playing for the Mets’ AAA team and hoping for a September call-up to the Big Leagues! Rachel Maher ’94, an award winning pediatric dentist from Delaware; and Ashley Knight '10 , Third Grade Teacher, Mooreland Elementary School, Carlisle Area School District.

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With all this inspiration, and so much more, we should — as a university community — have “Great Expectations” should we not? We should, and we do already.
 
Think of the ambitious strategic plan adopted just four years ago when we were a very different institution operating in a much stronger economy but without many of the advantages we enjoy today. Our strategic plan is guided by our mission statement and accompanied by a transformational campus facilities master plan and our first-ever comprehensive fundraising campaign, with a goal more than six times larger than the previous effort. Think of our vision statement — to be “A Distinctive Franciscan University” — and the challenge it poses to us for the future. 

From any perspective, the scope and pace of progress in the last several years and, indeed, stretching back over the last decade, is remarkable. Most prominent of many highlights was the achievement of university status, the cornerstone of our vision. But we have made dramatic progress captured by the following themes:
•    Celebrating our Franciscan Heritage;
•    Enhancing Academic Strength and the Student Experience,
•    Improving Operating Effectiveness and Resource Development;
•    Expanding Community Engagement and Institutional Reputation. 

Here are a few of many possible examples of recent progress and “greater expectations”: 

•    The work of the Sponsorship Learning Community, a joint effort by trustees and congregational leaders, and the wide-ranging recommendations of the Franciscan Learning Community have deepened our commitment to mission. We now host the national Association of Franciscan Colleges and Universities, headed by our own Kevin Godfrey, and are fortunate to have several additional Franciscan experts on our campus. All around us is considerable evidence of recent progress as well as long-time support, such as our commitment to the study of theology, philosophy, and ethics; to our chaplaincy and campus ministry programs; to multiple forms of service.


And yet we have greater expectations, so this good work calls us to a far more robust, program of mission education and challenges us to infuse Franciscan values into our curriculum, our co-curriculum, and our life as an academic community. We will be fortunate to be led in this effort by our new Special Assistant to the President for Mission, Sister Roberta McKelvie, in collaboration with a campus leadership team.

•    Effective collaborative leadership by faculty and administrators has produced the essential and urgent progress needed on both academic assessment and the First-Year Experience. The flourishing of our nursing program, the recent growth of programs such as the masters in Occupational Therapy and Community Counseling, the impending graduation of Alvernia’s first doctoral students, and the investments made in our Philadelphia and Pottsville Centers reflect the University’s longstanding dedication to adult education and our emerging reputation for graduate education. We now enjoy dance as well as choral and band recitals. And new partnerships with the Reading Symphony Orchestra and Reading Public Museum are enhancing the Arts at Alvernia. Expanded academic support and disability services; increased health education, multicultural, and intramural programming; a revised Freshman Foundations Program and new residential living-learning communities are building necessary bridges between students’ lives in and beyond the classroom. An Educational Technology Center, new classrooms and faculty office suites, and the significant investment in Fine Arts facilities reflect the rapid progress in implementing the Teaching and Learning Plan developed just three years ago. 

And yet we have greater expectations, so this good work calls us to ensure full compliance with all regulatory and accreditation mandates; to envision general education, first-year, and co-curricular programs that connect students far more intensely to their classmates and the university community; to heighten the University’s reputation for graduate study; to initiate a second stage of improvements of the Teaching and Learning environment.

•    This summer, for the second year, the University awarded Faculty Excellence Summer Grants to support the faculty’s teaching excellence and scholarly achievement.  We should be collectively proud that this and other important work, such as the two books currently being written by our first Neag Professor, Donna Yarri, testify to our faculty’s diverse and expanding scholarly and creative work. The current investment of over $150,000 annually in faculty development, and a new investment beginning this year of $250,000 annually in library and academic technology supports a FT teaching faculty that numbers 97, up from 72 five years ago, with almost half of the total FT faculty hired during this time. 

And yet we have greater expectations, so this good work calls us to expand support for faculty excellence in teaching and scholarship and, indeed, to expand the size of the faculty to support the University’s commitment to graduate as well as undergraduate education and to liberal arts as well as professional education.

•    We now have two endowed, named centers of excellence—the Holleran Center for Community Engagement and the O’Pake Institute for Ethics, Leadership, and Public Service. The Holleran Center has attracted national recognition to Alvernia, and its South Reading Youth Initiative is becoming a local success story. Service-learning courses are taught by faculty from across the university, and our annual Days of Service involve many in this room and multiple community partners. Collaborative initiatives, such as the Blessing Exhibit, the Updike Conference, and the Literary Festival have expanded our conception of community engagement and strengthened our academic reputation.

And yet we have greater expectations, so this good work calls us to think more comprehensively about the service expectations we might envision for our students and about the connections between their service and their study and between their service and social justice. And our good work calls us as well to establish Alvernia’s reputation for ethics and leadership education and for interreligious dialogue.
 
•    It is easy to track the progress of our marketing and communication efforts, isn’t it? We see the dramatic improvement visually of our magazine and other publications, of our website and billboard campaign, of the Alvernia Voice. Even more important is the emphasis on promoting our faculty; our academic and student life; our Franciscan identity. But make no mistake: the marketing folks depend on all of us. We share in their success. Look no further than to this fall’s new student enrollment: over 500 students; by far the highest SAT average in our history, up 50 points in only five years; with another class diverse in racial, religious, and geographical backgrounds.

And yet we have greater expectations, so this good work calls us to enhance the quality and diversity of our student profile; to improve adult education enrollments; and especially to deliver better on the promise we make to new students by significantly improving retention and graduation rates. And as always we seek more fabulous magazine profiles like the recent ones on Jim Klucarits and his kestrels and Tim Blessing and his presidents!

•    Alvernia’s growing reputation and the great improvements in academic, residential, and recreational facilities have dramatically increased student demand for campus housing and for recreational and athletic opportunities. This fall, rather than crowd too many students onto campus, we have accommodated a few dozen students at Candlewood Suites in West Reading. Student leaders have responded appreciatively to expanded services and activities, such as extended library hours, computer access, and weekend programming. After careful study, two campus-wide task forces determined that football was neither feasible nor advisable in the foreseeable future — a conclusion, by the way, that the Vice Presidents and I strongly endorse — and our new plan for Athletics and Recreation charts an exciting direction for the future.

And yet we have greater expectations, so this good work calls us to address shortfalls in available campus housing and deficiencies in recreational and athletic indoor facilities. So let us turn now to some exciting plans, shared with you as preliminary ideas last January, and now moving toward approval by the Board next month. We will add 185 beds in Founders Village III and IV, with apartments for upperclassmen and innovative suites ideal for small learning communities. An attached wing to one of the residences will provide a large fitness center, a dance and aerobics studio, a gracious campus living room able to accommodate up to 110 for programs, and offices and work spaces for student organizations and for University Life staff.

•    All of this progress requires money. And this is a special challenge for private schools with minimal endowment, relatively low tuition, and little tradition of fundraising. Alvernia’s alumni contributions are still quite modest. A mid-campaign philanthropic market study conducted this past spring among major donors and community leaders confirmed that there is enormous confidence in and enthusiasm about Alvernia’s direction and momentum. However, for at least the next several years, especially given the troubled economy, only limited fundraising potential exists to address the priorities still requiring funding. We continued to make solid progress this past year. And despite the challenging environment we are close to our original goal, with two years left in the Values and Vision campaign, and great confidence that we will exceed our goal.

And yet we have greater expectations, so this good work calls us to expand greatly the pool of major donors for Alvernia, to enhance trustee philanthropic leadership, to translate alumni loyalty and community good will into fundraising progress, to make the Alvernia story an even more compelling case for philanthropic support.  

•    Important as is fundraising, our most vital source of financial resources is our annual budget, and our most important resource of all is our people. Last year was a very strong year financially, both in the funding of major priorities and the strengthening of financial reserves and debt capacity. Our budget is equally sound as we begin this year. And it includes major funding for new faculty and staff positions, for teaching and learning support, and for employee compensation. Faculty development funding continues to be a top priority, and we have begun in the last two years to improve leadership and other development programs for staff and administrators. The Board of Trustees has reaffirmed its strong support for our highly competitive overall employee benefits package, even as they, like all of us, recognize the implications of the spiraling cost of health care. The Board has also endorsed our plan to fully implement the results of the Faculty and Staff Salary Plans during 2012 and 2013.

And yet we have greater expectations, so this good work calls us to expand annual resource support and to make the difficult choices to enable us to focus on our top funding priorities.

As I mentioned earlier, our progress reflects the “greater expectations” we established in the 2007 strategic plan. Our success has, quite naturally, led us all — faculty and staff, students and trustees, and certainly your president — to have even greater expectations for our future.  But before I turn to some of those Aspirations, let me simply remind us of a great truth: expectations are seldom simple or one-sided; rather they are usually mutual and interwoven.

Our students look to a thriving University like Alvernia to add and strengthen programs and faculty, expand opportunities, improve services, offer better facilities (and always better food). All of us in the room, I hope, have higher expectations of our students — reflected in more rigorous and stimulating courses, higher expectations for their behavior and leadership. I can assure you this mutual relationship applies each year to the Trustees expectations of me, as Alvernia’s president, and my expectations of them as leaders.

All of us in this room, no doubt, have increasingly higher expectations of our colleagues, both those with whom we work most closely and those across the University. And we also have ever “greater expectations” of the University both as an institution and as an academic community. The nature of these expectations will vary widely, but I believe and hope that we expect a lot.  We should.

But communities thrive only when their individuals do, so we should expect the most from ourselves — our own supreme effort, the maximum use of our talents, our most generous attitude and Christ-like charity, humility about our personal accomplishments and the greatest possible appreciation for those of others. Dare we say that each and every one of us must first model the Franciscan core values of Service, Humility, Peacemaking, Contemplation, and Collegiality and the ideal of “knowledge joined with love,” if Alvernia is to flourish and achieve our vision, our Aspiration: “To Be A Distinctive Franciscan University, Committed to Personal and Social Transformation, Through Integrated, Community-Based, Inclusive, and Ethical Learning.” 

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So let me turn finally to Aspirations. This is not a word we use in every day speech. It sounds idealistic, high-minded, somewhat amorphous, certainly not concrete. Which is why I have chosen it. 

Recall from last January’s divisional town meetings that, as we approach the end of Phase I of our strategic and campus master plans in 2013, we need to update them and set goals for Phase II, stretching out to 2018. Plans always must be living documents. Due to great progress, we have opportunities not available in 2007. Less fortunately, we have a far more challenging economic and political climate than before. The Cabinet Team has major responsibility for this effort, in partnership with and accountability to the Board’s Executive Committee and the Alvernia Planning Advisory Council (APAC) as the groups charged with monitoring our progress. But this is also an ideal opportunity for the broader university community to be engaged in shaping our future. The Board and I agreed to complete this work early this fall, so we will schedule campus sessions to discuss our Aspirations during September and early October prior to the Board’s final review and approval. Look for more information in the Alvernia Voice.

Aspirations require goals, actions to be taken, if they are to be more than dreams. So as is our custom on this occasion, let me set out major university goals for the year, organized around our strategic priorities, recognizing that divisions and departments will have additional goals. And recognizing that there is, of course, other work — much of it routine but still important — that together we will accomplish.   

In the coming weeks, I would ask each of us to imagine the Alvernia of 2018. What are our hopes for this special place, our aspirations for the University and especially for the educational experience of our students . . .  undergraduate and graduate; those here in Reading, at our sites in Philadelphia and Pottsville, and those learning on-line; the pre-school children at our Alvernia Montessori School, professionals enrolled in non-credit training and development programs like Leadership Berks, retired adults enjoying the programs of the Seniors College. In my early years as an instructor for our Seniors College, I was not yet eligible to be a student. I sure am now.
As I look ahead three, five, even seven years to 2018, what are some Aspirations I have for Alvernia University?  To be sure, more fully realizing our Mission and Vision Statements is the right starting point, along with success in addressing our strategic priorities and goals. But let me depart from this approach and conclude this morning by sharing a few dreams, some conveyed in words, some in pictures.

By 2018 we will have a much larger campus, building on the addition of the Upland Center, the Angelica fields, and the new administrative services center on Morgantown Road, known in some circles as Smith Hall. Angelica Park will be a major environmental destination as well as providing a magnificent entry experience leading to the new grand campus entrance shared with the Congregation on St. Bernardine Street. I would expect us to have developed an “East Campus,” in the area below the Sisters’ property stretching down to Angelica Park. Indeed, we now own most of that property. A recreation center and field house would be the central feature of this area, accompanied by that most popular of campus developments — one or more large parking lots. 

Our full-time undergraduate enrollment will be more diverse and will have grown, but probably not as dramatically as in the last decade. Hopefully, our enrollment will have increased more because of much improved student retention and less due to far larger entering classes. The residential population on the main-48 acres will probably have been capped, with the eventual completion of Founders Village, but there may be near-by town-house options for students and new faculty. Living-learning communities and theme housing will be catalysts for a vibrant co-curricular program, and Alvernia athletes will be well known as scholars and servant leaders as well as conference champions. The Study-Abroad and International Mission Programs, greatly expanded back in Fall 2011, will have reached beyond initial sites in Europe, Africa, and Australia and include annual programs in Brazil, the Dominican Republic, and Assisi, in partnership with the Bernardine Sisters. The University will be well established as a major cultural and artistic resource locally, respected as a center for interfaith dialogue, with the O’Pake Institute and Holleran Center helping establish a national reputation for community engagement. 

We will have significantly improved our market position in all graduate and adult programs by ensuring that our programs and delivery systems are highly competitive, especially by increasing the use of on-line modalities and by developing creative partnerships, such as the new nursing one initiated in 2011 with the Reading Hospital. Both the Montessori School and Seniors College will be far better known, and they and other programs will keep campus buzzing even during summertime!

With all of Bernardine Hall’s classrooms and most in Francis Hall already renovated, future main campus development will be focused on the addition of academic facilities, such as an expansion of the library and a much larger academic center in place of the current small building once opposite Bernardine Hall. All of this will be needed to support highly regarded, signature programs, such as in Nursing and the Health Sciences, as well as new academic programs developed by entrepreneurial faculty and academic staff. Some programs may replace or modify existing offerings; some will build on areas of academic strength; some will take us in new directions. The faculty will have grown in size and stature, with many well known for their scholarly and professional accomplishments as well as for inspired teaching.

Reflecting Alvernia’s growing reputation regionally, and even nationally, alumni chapters will dot the East Coast and perhaps a few other locations. Alumni volunteers will be major partners with academic departments, career services, and admissions. They’ll also be providing expanded leadership as trustees and faithful supporters of the fundraising efforts, but the Board will still attract top community leaders passionate about the University as an invaluable community resource and a strong, values-based academic institution. Board and alumni leadership will have enabled the University to make steady progress with fundraising. The most compelling case for support will be the University’s deeply embedded and actively lived Franciscan heritage, with faithful sponsorship by the Bernardine Sisters (who will, believe it or not, have just elected another new leadership team!!) and lay leadership from faculty, staff, and administrators passionately committed to the mission. 

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Easy stuff, right?  Hardly. Not all of this will happen as described this morning. Other better ideas will surely emerge.

Yet there is nothing I have suggested that is beyond the grasp of the talented women and men in this room. We need ongoing strategic thinking and rigorous, disciplined focus on top priorities. Yet we also need new ideas, constructive criticism, fresh approaches, and innovative initiatives. To that end, I am pleased today to announce that early in 2012 we will establish a Fund for Innovation to serve as a catalyst for such thinking. More details will be shared later this fall.

As I begin my seventh year as your president, I cannot emphasize sufficiently my delight in serving this university community; my sense of privilege in working with such fine faculty, staff, and trustees; my appreciation for my cabinet colleagues and the Bernardine Franciscan Sisters; my pride in our students and our alumni; and Helen and my deep joy in calling Alvernia our home.

Here’s to another great year. Thank you. 




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