Major Addresses

State of the University Address

August 18, 2009

Thomas F. Flynn, President, Alvernia University

 

It is good to be together this morning to enjoy our now traditional breakfast and to take time to reunite with colleagues, welcome new members of our community, congratulate some who have been promoted or otherwise honored this past year, and reflect briefly on the year behind us and the year ahead.  And as always, reflect on the indispensable contributions made by each of us and all of us—faculty, staff, and administrators—to the learning and growth of our students and the advancement of our mission. 

I hope that sometime during this summer you have made special time for family and friends, for relaxation and renewal, however and wherever you find it. My own annual beach week brought more rain than usual, a happy reminder of the old truth that “even a bad day at the beach beats a good day in the office” and some solace--as my fellow New Englanders can appreciate—for more losses to the Yankees.  The wonderful new novel, That Old Cape Magic, by Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Russo, our headline attraction at last year’s Literary Festival, provided a calming counterpoint to the Forever War, a sobering account of our country’s current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And as always, there was time for much good music and off-key singing in the car!

I will follow the custom this morning of ranging widely across the institution in my prepared remarks, but I would ask that as you listen and reflect afterwards you keep three questions, three themes, in mind:

  • How should being a Franciscan university guide how we do what we do, both the education of students and our interaction and work together with colleagues?
  • In a time of national fiscal turmoil and more limited financial resources, how do we ensure that we sustain, strengthen, and support our most important resources—the human resources of faculty, staff, and administrators?
  • And, finally, and most importantly, how do we ensure that whatever the project, the problem, the disagreement, the improvement, we remember and live by the maxim that it is really all about our students? 


To quote Jerry Holleran, this is “why we do what we do.”


Unlike in the famous Gershwin song about “Summertime,” the livin’ is not necessarily “easy” in the summer at Alvernia and other similar universities. Much hard work goes on. In Philadelphia and Pottsville as well as in Reading, teaching and learning continues. Across the country, especially for faculty not at research institutions, summer provides rare and precious opportunity to focus on scholarly and other professional projects. Our campus facilities staff and the many offices that support orientation sessions are busy indeed.  For the second summer in a row, there has been much mud and dust, and some mayhem too, for Congregation and Campus alike, though it is welcome, right? Or, if we are honest, at least the resulting benefits for our students will be welcome! 

For many of us, the undisputed highlight of the summer was the extraordinary success of the Blessing Exhibit and the deep personal impact, emotionally and spiritually, it had on its almost 4,000 visitors and the many on campus that made it possible. As I mentioned in the summer newsletter, it offered me the opportunity to host dozens of Alvernia’s friends and potential friends, especially from the Jewish and Catholic communities.

The exhibit’s success has raised even more prominently the visibility and reputation of our Holleran Center and further positioned Alvernia as an emerging center for interfaith and intercultural dialogue. Ginny Hand, Jessica Umbenhauer, graduate assistant and doctoral student Tammy Gore, and Jo Pressimone deserve particular praise, but many across campus were responsible for this wonderful contribution—in the library and in marketing, in facilities and public safety, as docents and as participants in the two stirring interfaith services, one on Holocaust Remembrance day and one at the conclusion of the exhibit. Thank you one and all.

This morning, I ask us to look back with satisfaction and—if we are honest—amazement and pride at the past year’s accomplishments.  Fortunately, much has been highlighted previously in my quarterly electronic-newsletters, since there is far too much for me to cover and still keep you all awake! We will also look ahead to the year upon us, including an update of the financial challenges we share with all of higher education and society.

Before we do all this, there are a few items that deserve our attention. Our Employee Recognition Event celebrates the contributions of long-time staff and faculty. But we have other important awards that deserve special notice at this gathering. 

Two faculty have been awarded tenure and promotion by the Board of Trustees, both of them excellent teachers with outstanding scholarly or professional records:  Ed Hartung: Tenure and Promotion to Associate Professor of Criminal Justice; Bongrae Seok: Tenure and Promotion to Associate Professor of Philosophy.

The annual Honors Convocation features our student awardees but it is also the occasion at which our top faculty awards are bestowed.

  • St. Bernardine Faculty Award (to a part-time faculty member for Excellence in Teaching)-- Michelle Drager. Michelle is founder and president of The Drager Group, Inc., a marketing and management consulting firm and an adjunct in our Business Department.
  • 2008 Lindback Foundation Award (to a full-time faculty member for Excellence in Teaching) -- Scott Ballantyne. Scott was also a national finalist for the  Teaching Excellence Award of the Association of Collegiate Business Schools and Programs
  • Sr. Mary Donatilla Faculty Award (for service to the College in teaching, advising, and other activities) -- Gail Metzger
  • And last spring, one of our faculty was honored with a national award: The 2009 SHRM National Faculty Advisor of the Year was awarded to Beth Berret.

I referred earlier to the important work undertaken by faculty during the summer, much of it hidden from view until published, performed, or otherwise presented for public review. Last spring’s Honors Convocation program documented the faculty’s diverse and expanding scholarly and creative work.

In recent months, Donna Yarri, for example, has completed not one but two books, each co-authored with Alvernia colleagues, Spence Stober and Marc Lucht. This reminds that during the week of my inauguration a few years ago we featured seven faculty and academic staff who had recently completed books.

Alvernia faculty members are also unusually active with student organizations and honor societies.  Among many examples, here are two national ones: Through the good work of Rose Chinni and others, we will soon have a chapter of Delta Epsilon Sigma, the national honor society for Catholic colleges and universities. Thanks to good work by Beth DeMeo, Carrie Fitzpatrick and a gang of active students and young alumnae, Alvernia will be this year’s national sponsor of the annual Sigma Tau Delta English Conference.

We have faculty development funds invested in our two Centers of Excellence, and in early August our Center for Ethics and Leadership sponsored its first funded seminar on issues in contemporary higher education. Convened by director Jerry Vigna, it was a multidisciplinary group of 12 faculty, including: Karen Cameron, Deborah Greenawald, Barry Harvey, Joseph Kremer, Richard Law, Mary Schreiner, Bongrae Seok, Mary Ellen Symanski, Nathan Thomas, Victoria Williams, Donna Yarri, and Jerry Vigna.

Sometimes, faculty activity makes the print or electronic media.  And even attracts favorable notice for the home institution. You can well understand that, unlike a few years ago, I much prefer seeing professors rather than myself on billboards during my drive home from campus. Hopefully you have seen the latest issue of Berks County Living which contains enjoyable profiles of Sue Guay, Spence Stober, and Sister Pacelli.  And imagine having both our historians highlighted within a few months. In that regard, I still am wondering which news story caused me to smile more: imagining Tim Blessing sipping tea (surely not beer) in the Bush White House with the first lady or David Silbey leading two dozen middle- and high school students in a reenactment of Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg. Gentlemen, do we dare ponder what you will do for an encore!?

Higher education has never been known for providing ample information and practical training for those assuming leadership positions whether in academic affairs or other areas. Alvernia has begun to send department chairs to workshops for this purpose, and this year piloted a Leadership Development Program for administrators, especially those with supervisory responsibility. This intensive program, conducted by HR professionals from Mosteller Associates, required a significant investment of time and energy by participants and proved quite successful, due in part to their capabilities and team work. Our impressive first cohort--Claire Berardini, Jon King, Gwynne Kolodziejski, Mike Laws, Suzanne Miller, Tom Minick, Carol Munn-Donkin, Gale Riegel, Chris Saadi, Roger Straub, Abby Swatchick, and Dwayne Walker—will now serve as informal mentors for a second, similarly impressive group: Sarah Brunsell, Jada Campbell, Wanda Copeland, Jen Dalton, Jeff Dittman, Karoline Dreher, Zane Gizzi, Sharon Neal, Nicole Rhoads, Daria LaTorre, Beki Stein, and Bill Stiles. Congratulations to you all for your selection and commitment to professional development.

Alvernia’s commitment to the local community was celebrated throughout our Fiftieth Anniversary year. One striking example is the Alvernia Montessori School, itself celebrating 40 years of educating preschoolers and kindergartners. Few contributions of Alvernia to community are more appreciated in Greater Reading, and of course some of you are grateful alumni or parents. The School is praised for its caring community and its emphasis on character development as well as student learning.  Sound familiar?

Having moved from the Sisters’ Motherhouse to West Reading five years ago, the School has now returned to our backyard, thanks to good work by Mike Pressimone and Doug Smith, and is settled at St. Anthony's right up the block from the Upland Center. Shirley Williams will oversee this transition and help ensure that we integrate this important work with the expertise of our education faculty. We salute and thank our directress, Sr. Ann Marie Coll, and her colleagues, Sr. Philip Ann, Sr. LeRoy, Margaret Ouchis, and Sr. Michael Ann for their commitment to our young people.

Also celebrating an anniversary, its tenth, is our innovative Seniors College, another signature contribution of Alvernia to the community and a source of stimulation and enjoyment for those of us from the faculty and staff who teach in it regularly. I will say more later about some new plans, as the Seniors College anticipates expansion of both its students and programs. Today, we have the opportunity to congratulate its founder, Rabbi Alan Weitzman, who has retired from his responsibilities, though we are fortunate he will assist Mike Pressimone on a part-time basis as a member of our advancement staff. I am pleased to announce that in honor of his pioneering efforts on behalf of Alvernia and our area’s senior citizens, we will honor him later this year with the title of emeritus director.

We are especially fortunate at this first “state of the university” to have ample examples of Alvernia’s vitality. It may be difficult to select only a few highlights, but it is easy to decide where to begin. Over the past year, we have been named one of about 100 colleges and universities out of a few thousand nationally as a national model for civic engagement and community partnerships. We have celebrated our 50th Anniversary and the living legacy of the Bernardine Franciscans and their visionary partners, lay women and men who have helped build this special place. We welcomed by far the largest class in our history and 12 new faculty, six in new positions, 11 of whom have returned for a second year joined by several new colleagues. And building on all this positive energy;  some generous early gifts, and great visibility and acclaim locally, regionally, and even nationally, we successfully launched our first comprehensive campaign, with an ambitious goal of $27M, over 6 times the amount raised in the last effort a decade ago.

Were we to recognize those who helped contribute to our achievement of university status, we would all be standing, and there would be a danger that you would think it is time to leave. So let me ask that we recognize two smaller groups.

Let us today congratulate Ginny Hand, Evelina Panayotova, Jodi Radosh, and Beki Stein for preparing the massive application that enabled us to achieve national recognition by the prestigious Carnegie Foundation. And as we recall fondly the many highlights of our 50th Anniversary year, let us express our appreciation to the staff of Institutional Advancement and all who served on Anniversary committees and subcommittees.

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It was a very good year. A historic year. And we will return to review other highlights. But perhaps at times it seemed to you, as it did to me, rather bizarre that all this wonderful progress occurred as the country plunged into its worst financial crisis in our lifetime and, as a result, the most challenging of times for higher education.

Beyond the stunning news of financial turmoil at places like Harvard, this week’s Chronicle of Higher Education reports in a national survey of private colleges--far more similar to Alvernia than to the Ivies-- that two thirds of them have frozen salaries and half have reduced employee benefits. Pennsylvania is one of the states facing the largest budget deficit, a gap that unlike the federal deficit must be closed, with certain cuts in student aid. Regular readers of the Reading Eagle can testify to the steady diet of dismal economic news locally. And, if not before, then surely now all of us have stories about relatives, friends, or acquaintances that have lost jobs or suffered in other extreme ways.

Amidst our concern about the economy’s impact, I am especially appreciative of the good work and can-do attitude so typical of Alvernians. During last year’s meetings and informal conversations, I was again impressed by our familiar generosity of spirit.  I have taken notice and been impressed by the number of you who have commented simply that you feel fortunate to have a job and a good one, at a time when so many do not.

Alvernia, of course, is hardly immune from this economic turmoil. Last year, we lost almost 10% of the value of our endowment. We do not face, as do Harvard and even more moderately endowed schools, the dramatic impact of a decline in the stock market.

But as a school with a small endowment, comparatively low tuition, and very modest annual fund support, we are almost entirely reliant on tuition and enrollment growth for our budget. We must compete for students against state-supported public schools and better known private schools. And our students require and deserve considerable financial support at a time when state and private aid is shrinking and companies are not willing to help defer the costs of their employees’ education. 

We surely have reason to be concerned and no excuse for complacency in the face of economic uncertainty that is confounding even top economists. But while we must continue to adjust to external fiscal realities, and continue to be cautious, we have reason to be confident about our overall finances and our strategy of making “prudent progress.”

I will say more about Alvernia’s past and current budget when we get to Priority V of our strategic plan, but let me emphasize that thanks to good effort across the university Alvernia weathered bad conditions reasonably well last year. We do not receive audited year-end results of our fiscal year ending on June 30 until later next month, around the time we have a clearer sense of how our fall revenue is running against goal. As with recent communications in March, May, and July, there will be periodic updates throughout the year, with next full report to the campus community in October.

Last year I ended this talk by announcing a major focus on our mission and identity, with emphasis on our heritage and our vision to become a “Distinctive Franciscan University.”  Following a new round of campus “listening and learning” sessions last spring, reprising the ones involving faculty held in spring 2006 which shaped our new mission and vision statements, I announced the formation of a Franciscan Learning Community, a campus wide group who will be our pioneers and guides as we deepen our understanding, appreciation, and practice of our heritage. 

Members include: Scott Ballantyne, Claire Berardini, Judy Bohler, Joseph Cicala, Daniel Flynn, Ginny Hand, Jon King, Elizabeth Matteo, Sr. (and Trustee) Roberta Agnes McKelvie, Mike Pressimone, Susan Rehhausser,  Bongrae Seok, Richard Stichler, Mary Ellen Symanski, and Jerry Vigna. In addition to four campus resource people-- Kevin Godfrey, Fr. Kevin Queally, Mary Sacavage, Sr. Rosemary--two prominent Franciscan scholars from St. Bonaventure University will also be helping us: President Margaret Carney, who is also an Alvernia trustee, and Brother Ed Coughlin, who in June led spectacular sessions for both this group and the entire Board of trustees.

On your behalf I thank them all, especially Sister Margaret, newly returned to the full-time faculty, who is coordinating this undertaking. 

Speaking of things Franciscan, a late addition to this group is Fr. Kevin Queally, the answer to our hopes and prayers for a University Chaplain who is also a Franciscan and able to assume the combined duties of Director of Campus Ministry. We will now have two daily Masses, an 8:00 AM service in the main chapel in our Motherhouse and a noontime one in our Veronica Hall chapel. And of course Kevin will be involved in a range of activities, including interfaith initiatives, as well as in his sacramental duties.

The Franciscan Learning Community group will immerse themselves initially in reading, reflection, and discussion about our Franciscan heritage and it’s Catholic and civic dimensions. They will learn from Franciscan scholars, dialogue with colleagues from other universities, and make immersion trips to places where Franciscans work and serve.

At key stages in their discernment process, they will share what they discover with all of us and invite the participation of others in small working groups. Ultimately, they will make practical recommendations about how we might weave a distinctive Franciscan identity through Alvernia, now and in the years to come. A key component, to be sure, will be the design of a robust program of mission education available to all. 

With all this in mind, I am please to announce this morning that the Bernardine Franciscan Sisters have made a handsome campaign gift to help underwrite future mission initiatives. Later this year, we will have an occasion to express appreciation to Sister Madonna and her leadership team, though our commitment to the mission is the best possible thank you!

Those of us at yesterday’s Mission Retreat Day participated in an early stage of this exploration of our Franciscan core values. Other opportunities will arise, and I invite your participation and also encourage all of us to share our perspectives and offer our support.  
Rather than take additional time on this topic, let me simply remind us of the inspiration and direction provided by our mission and vision statements, as we turn now to a review of our still-new strategic plan.

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For those newer to Alvernia, our strategic plan was prepared by a campus-wide group, culminating a fifteen month process of discussion and feedback. Approved by the Board of Trustees in March 2007, the plan has also given shape to an accompanying campus facilities master plan and Alvernia’s first comprehensive fundraising campaign.   It looks out ten years, from 2008-2018, in two five-year blocs, building on a one-year foundational stage.  2009-2010 is Year 2 of Phase I, which covers 2008-2013.

For each priority and goal, I will cite examples of the work completed or on the horizon. 

I.  IDENTITY  
University Status:
Not only did our marketing team lead a successful launch of our university status through a new wordmark, an effective advertising campaign, and a new website, but we have made initial progress to implement accompanying changes.  Two notable examples are the faculty’s and Board’s approval of two colleges and a school as the divisions of this new university and the launch of our regional enhancement plan.

We have a College of Arts and Sciences, a College of Professional Programs, and a School of Graduate and Continuing Studies.  This latter, much expanded unit now includes the Seniors College, led by Joan Lewis and assisted by Sally Reading, and Leadership Berks, led by Toni Eckert.  Joan and Toni have extensive other duties focused on developing new programs and revenue sources to supplement our current operations.

Regional Plan: So as not to steal the thunder from later announcements, I will just say that both Enrollment Management and Advancement have made excellent progress in expanding our regional footprint both with current students and alumni networks.

Alvernia already is a major presence in Pottsville and North Philadelphia.  Now serving more than 200 students annually, Alvernia’s Schuylkill Center, established in partnership with the McCann School of Business and Technology in 1995, will relocate this October to a much expanded, more permanent site in the Cressona Mall, on Route 61.  This new consolidated site features eight new classrooms with state-of-the-art smart technology, a student lounge, and ample parking. Mary Sacavage will continue as our director, assisted by Kay Haffey and also Christan Daniels.  Stay tuned for the grand opening.

This year a team headed by John McCloskey and joined by Shirley Williams, Ray Jacobucci, Daria LaTorre, and others, will analyze our Philadelphia site and programs.   And the team of Joan Lewis, and Beryl Ruth will be exploring with the college deans and key faculty new markets in eastern and central Pennsylvania.


II.   EDUCATIONAL QUALITY
Faculty Initiatives: Let me begin by congratulating Karen Cameron; her fellow officers and Executive Committee members; the chairs, deans, and provost; and the entire faculty for fine progress this past year on this priority.

Following extensive discussion among themselves, and effective collaboration with academic administrators, the faculty approved clarified criteria, strengthened standards, and more professionalized processes for evaluation. The Board has approved these changes with enthusiasm. For the last two years, the Rank and Tenure Committee led this effort. Congratulations to chairs Bill Harst and Victoria Williams and to their colleagues Scott Ballantyne, Beth Berret, Steve Campion, Richard Law, and Mary Ellen Wells.

In order to develop fully what I have described as the Framework for Faculty Excellence, we must now complete the faculty compensation study and a formal multi-year plan to guide staffing and workload decisions. I am told good progress has been made on both and that the Faculty Salary and Benefits Committee will be meeting in September with Shirley Williams, Doug Smith, and our HR professionals to complete the first stage of the compensation study. Subsequent deliberations will then be needed to determine the appropriate balance of resources committed to salary, benefits, positions, and faculty development funds.  I would hope this work would be completed by early December.

Improved support for faculty to enhance teaching excellence and scholarly and creative achievement is a personal priority of mine and, more important, an initiative emphasized by the strategic planning committee and the external University Evaluation Team. In this light, I am pleased to announce that, pending development of an expanded program this fall, we will have new and increased sources of funding in place for January.  This will include both the launch of our Neag Professorship Program and a new faculty grants program. I will be asking several key faculty groups, especially the Faculty Research and Development Committee, to work with Shirley and me on this undertaking.

Shared governance was strengthened considerably this year with the establishment of a Graduate Academic Council. This is a welcome improvement, paralleled by the Continuing Studies Advisory Council, and recognizes the important role of graduate education in any university. As is well known, much of our enrollment and revenue growth during the last decade is a result of the entrepreneurial spirit and student-centeredness of the Graduate and Continuing Studies team and key faculty.

Needed in this new stage of development is a formal plan for adult education that incorporates BOTH the active involvement of the academic departments AND the fast paced, market responsiveness essential for successful adult education programs. Collegial and efficient collaboration are essential if we are to regain strong momentum.

Board Chair Kathy Herbein and I also intend to build on two initial steps to strengthen shared governance, our dinners with both Sister Madonna and the Bernardine Sisters leadership team and with Karen Cameron and representatives from the faculty’s Executive Council. As I noted in my summer newsletter, the Board was impressed with the latest faculty panel that joined them for a portion of the annual June Board retreat. 

Programs: With the Middle States report and accompanying assessment plans due next Spring, it is satisfying to know that the new Masters in Nursing is off to a fast start and that new programs in Early Childhood and Middle School Education the Superintendant Certification have been submitted for PDE approval. The future health of our enrollment and budget depends on similar growth for the on-Line MBA and other new programs and new locations.

Few areas of this new university have come further faster than distance education, a credit to faculty energy and leadership by Carrie Fitzpatrick who has completed her first year as director (and led several successful faculty training programs). Under development are plans for a multi-year investment in this area as part of a larger scale technology plan. 

So it is a pleasure to announce that we have preliminary word that Alvernia will receive approximately $450K in federal funds for distance learning and related technology. This is a welcome boost indeed!

Teaching/Learning and Fine Arts Plans:  
Two years ago, I asked that, on this occasion, in response to the strategic plan, we develop five-year plans to address improvements in our teaching and learning environment and our arts program.

There has been good work and now a helpful draft of an arts plan, with a final plan due by Thanksgiving. This is a major undertaking given the need for curricular and co-curricular planning, enrollment projections, funding for permanent and temporary staffing and operational support, and an implementation timeline, informed by both our dreams and the experience at our peer and competitor schools.  To provide up-front support and encouragement, well in advance of the plan’s completion, two new temporary faculty positions were added last year along with some modest facilities improvements.  And we are actively fundraising for additional support. 

In fact, I am delighted to make a second funding announcement:  with assistance from our good friend, Senator O’Pake, we have secured a state matching grant of $500K for the Francis Hall renovation. We have decided to commit these funds to the renovation of the auditorium into a recital hall and theater--air conditioned, too--and are already seeking the necessary matching funds. We hope to begin renovation as soon as next spring or early summer and hope also to install an elevator to address the pressing need for handicap access in Francis Hall.

The Teaching and Learning Plan is nearing completion—I am told that the final draft will be ready by late September, following final review and approval by the faculty and administrators involved. It will identify the timeline and funding for the top priorities for 2009-2014, with focus on classroom renovations in Bernardine Hall, our main academic building. As many of you know, due both to our sense of urgency and success in securing federal funds, we are this week completing the Year I projects—last summer’s new Nursing Teaching Lab and now 3 general use classrooms in Bernardin Hall, along with technology and a special viewing room that will serve Criminal Justice and other fields. Our success in securing federal funds depends on team work, involving faculty--in this case the Criminal Justice department—along with administrators and key trustees.

Today, I can also confirm that $1M from the Capital Budget has been targeted as base-line funding for the Teaching and Learning Plan, but given our success to date with external funding Mike Pressimone and I project that total funding over this five-year period will likely exceed $3M. Additional funds from the Capital Budget will target infrastructure costs, such as utility and ADA upgrades, to ensure that the teaching and learning funds stay focused on . . . . teaching and learning. 

                
III.  STUDENT COMMUNITIES
Co-Curriculum: Building on earlier efforts, there has been impressive progress in expanding student activities, both the number and range of programs.  The synergy among the various student-related offices is another example of effective campus collaboration.  Faculty members now have funding to develop co-curricular activities tied to their classes. On- and off-campus arts activities are now sponsored and will be an important part of a comprehensive arts plan.

Service options, such as the alternative breaks program are much expanded, with this year’s exciting trips including Ecuador, Appalachia, New Orleans, and Reading. There is considerable interest in exploring a formal, more extensive program in the Dominican Republic, centered on the Bernardine mission in Santo Domingo. Peace and justice and multicultural programs are now regularly sponsored, with last year’s Martin Luther King celebration a notable example. We graduated some impressive student leaders in these and other areas, but there is a large group returning and some new talent emerging.

As always we have active student engagement in our fine NCAA athletic program. One of last year’s great stories was the post-season run of our baseball program who properly christened our new field with our first and last Freedom Conference Championship. Now on to the Commonwealth, the other conference within the MAC.  A second story is the introduction of women’s golf and a full track and field program, important sources of new students and new student opportunities. But a particularly impressive story concerns the service projects undertaken by our athletic teams that bought great credit to Alvernia as well as great joy to the athletes and those whom they served. I would urge you to check out the many heart-warming stories posted on our superb athletic website, the best in our conference thanks to Jon King and Lindsay Trottier.

Last year, as we celebrated the breathtaking impact of the student center renovation and the new campus green, we still recognized the urgent need for residential and recreational facilities comparable to those at peer and competitor schools, as emphasized in our strategic and master plans.  By combining several projects into a comprehensive development of our entire “lower,” or better, South Campus, we saved significant money and accelerated essential improvements in the student experience.

The new apartments are full.  For the first time in our history, over half of our undergraduate day students live on campus. A school that a decade ago housed barely 250 students and only 500 just three years ago will open this week with 700 residents. We are ahead of our five-year goal of approximately 800 residents and now offer juniors and seniors compelling reasons to live on campus.

Better facilities remind us that equally essential are demonstrable improvements in the quality of our students’ residential experience. And there is progress there as well. Living-learning communities and special interest corridors are being piloted this year; so, too, is the All-Star Leadership Development Program. A new age-appropriate alcohol policy is being implemented.  A free residential laundry program and new barber and hairstyling shop are opening, along with campus-wide participation in the USA TODAY Collegiate Readership Program. New judicial procedures and expectations for hall governance are on the horizon, along with improved services for Veterans who are Alvernia participants in the new national Yellow Ribbon Program. Much of this reflects the effective partnership between student leaders and university life staff. 

Intramurals will soon have a beautiful all-weather field and track, available on campus and at night, to complement the new fields and disk golf course in Angelica.  Our athletic and recreation staff have steadily increased such opportunities and now have facilities to match these good efforts.
And yes, a final improvement: a wonderful perk for students in Judge Hall and the apartments will provide welcome benefits for staff and faculty and especially commuter students. We are opening that most popular of campus improvements--a very large parking lot--and also expanding satellite parking and the shuttle system.

Let me end this section by noting that the University Life Division is an area where leadership has emerged from many offices and many individuals, whatever their title, and from some terrific students who now or soon we will be proud to claim as our alumni. 
 
IV. COMMUNITY & EXTERNAL ENGAGEMENT
As mentioned earlier, Alvernia’s reputation as a leader in community engagement has been strengthened by developments involving the Alvernia Montessori School, Leadership Berks and the Seniors College.  

We are proud that our Ethics, Leadership, and Community Lecture Series now draws sizable audiences and impressive presenters to the beautiful Bernardine Conference Center. Recent newsletters highlighted the countless service activities sponsored by the Holleran Center and Campus Ministry, such as the Creativity Camp, featuring a fine team of student and staff leaders and faculty Elizabeth Matteo and Kim Stoudt. 
So let me call attention here to good work by Jodi Radosh and many committed faculty: in the last year, 21 faculty have participated in course-development workshops for service learning courses, with 13 courses already offered.

Broad-based faculty commitment to this work has never been in question. Yet now we have the leadership, support, and funding through the Holleran Center to help us claim community-based learning as a distinctive signature of an Alvernia education. It is hard to believe that the Holleran naming gift was announced only a year ago.  The time is ideal for a comprehensive plan for service and civic engagement.

Alumni: Having completed a successful inaugural year of regional receptions, stretching from Northern New Jersey to Tampa and throughout eastern Pennsylvania, our alumni program is forming formal chapters, working to support Admission’s student recruitment efforts, and expanding philanthropic support. The number of alumni donors continues to grow, as does their support.

And their prominence: the lead story in last Wednesday’s USA Today featured comments by an Alvernia alumnus, Michael Heimbach, the head of the FBI’s counter-terrorism effort. Michael, you may recall, just received an alumni award and will be active in our Washington, D. C. alumni chapter.

And speaking of alumni awards, along with Dr. Charles Barbera, MBA ’01, who is the head of emergency medicine at the Reading Hospital and Medical Center, we will this year be honoring someone near and dear to us all. She will not be pleased that I call attention to this, but you will be happy to know that the Ellen Frei Gruber Award for outstanding service to her alma mater will be presented to our own Suzanne Miller ’89.  Bravo, Suzanne, and thank you for all you do and the humble, generous way you do it. 


V. RESOURCE  DEVELOPMENT


Before turning to the budget and the campaign, let me take notice of our progress on Green Initiatives, a supplementary goal under this priority. A Recycling Guide is now provided to all new students. This summer’s and last summer’s construction projects featured extensive recycling and much grinding of rock into gravel. A community garden is well underway. Tray-less dining is on the horizon, thereby saving utilities costs, decreasing food wastage, and promoting healthy food choices. A highly successful University Earth Day was held, and Alvernia is benefiting from membership in the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.  New initiatives, such as recycled metal water bottles, are under discussion and will be considered by a reconstituted Green Committee working directly with Joe Cicala.

Budget: As I mentioned at the outset, final results from last year are not yet available. But it is apparent that we successfully met our Board-mandated fiscal goals for the past year due to mid-year budget actions and firmer spending controls, combined with careful stewardship by many in this room. Because of this fiscal discipline, we were able to fund all expenses for our transition to university out of the operating budget rather than depleting our endowment. Congratulations to us all.

As for the year just begun, we can take satisfaction that we have prepared well and well in advance for the negative impact of the bad economic conditions. As you know from divisional meetings and my periodic updates, this planning has been a collaborative venture involving key trustee committees and the full Board, the Faculty Executive Committee, APAC, as well as the vice presidents and other individuals. Let me briefly review previous information and then update you on our situation as of August 15.

For the current year, we budgeted conservatively. We limited new operating expenses.  We eliminated facilities improvements previously funded by the endowment and deferred others. We implemented Board-approved budget holdbacks (temporary budget cuts) that will be kept in place until formal budget reviews in October and February.  We are prepared to allocate additional financial aid, and indeed we have been inundated late this summer by students whose families have recently lost jobs or outside loans or fear the loss of state funds.  Our low tuition increase is, of course, a mixed blessing: welcome to our students and their families but providing only minimal additional revenue for the new operating budget, especially when our total enrollment is growing only slightly.

Within the context of only modest revenue growth, the Board has strongly endorsed the administration’s stance that the retention of current faculty and staff is the top immediate priority of our operating budget, even as we seek more effective allocation of faculty and staff positions. While the Board endorsed the addition of three new faculty positions and one staff position for the new apartments, they concurred that any other new positions should combine existing positions or relate directly to new revenue opportunities.  Accordingly, we have eliminated several unfilled administrative positions, combining them with others, and have held open several administrative and faculty positions.

A second key budget priority, important to all, is the preservation of all employee benefits and, indeed, increased university funds to absorb rising health care costs. Unlike at many schools where salaries were frozen last spring, the decision on a possible salary increase was deferred until this fall in the hope that net revenue goals could be met or exceeded in this difficult environment.  

So recognizing all this, how do things look now?

Our greatest concerns are the spiraling financial aid needs of our students of all ages, over and above the increased aid already budgeted, and a projected shortfall in graduate and continuing studies revenue, where we are running behind revenue goals.

While our satellite campuses continue to do well, we have suffered enrollment declines in main campus programs, especially in some teacher education programs. There is far greater competition. We must face the reality that until recently we have neither invested sufficiently in recruitment and marketing of adult students nor incorporated electronic strategies and on-line programs. Many students have also lost employer subsidies, straining their and our finances. There has been good progress in the last several weeks and, now that we are fully staffed, the team looks to narrow the shortfall over the coming month and rebound strongly in the winter and spring.

For new undergraduate enrollment, the news is favorable, given current conditions. Our biggest worry by far is the potential need for greater financial aid, especially if state aid is cut dramatically. As of August 15, we were still expecting to welcome 450 new students, not quite as many as we had hoped but our second largest number ever, behind only last year’s record number. Unlike last year when we greatly exceeded our freshman goal but fell short on both transfers, it appears that this year just the opposite will happen. 

Transfer recruiting is going very well, and we are hoping to be able to report in a few weeks that even with the bad economy we will see improvement in the freshman retention rate, a tribute both to an improved student academic profile and the good work of our freshman seminar faculty and University Life’s Center for Student Success. 

To sum up, decisions about salaries and budget reductions will be announced as early as possible in October, once a full fall budget analysis has been completed and options have been considered and then reviewed with the Board.

Before turning to the campaign let me interject a few non-financial news items that will, I think, surprise and delight you. For the third consecutive year, we have greatly improved the freshmen academic profile: the average SAT has risen over 40 points from 934 in 2005 to 976 this year, with corresponding the average of all regular admits climbing near 1000. Between 2005-2007, we averaged 18% in out of state students, but have made large strides in the past two years up to 25%, and now, 27%.  In the current market, this is quite a significant accomplishment.

Turning to the “Values and Vision” Campaign, let me remind you that the campaign priorities mirror those of the strategic plan. There is some exceptional news to report:

Through the end of June 2009, campaign commitments now total $17.55 M (65% of Goal)!

This Includes:
•    $1.33 Million for the Alvernia Fund
•    $10.96 Million for Program, Building and Endowment
•    $5.26 Million in Deferred Gifts for our Future!

In addition, besides continued strong support from current and former trustees, there are other positive developments in our overall fundraising efforts:
•    100% Alumni Council Participation in the Alvernia Fund – a first;
•    Increased Alumni Participation, from 10% to 13% in a single year, even as the number of our alums continues to rise significantly;
•    Alvernia Fund contributions of $315,875 representing a 7% increase over last fiscal year, despite a 43% decline in corporate contributions, and a major improvement over two to three years ago.
•    A 16% increase in total donors to the Alvernia Fund, including increases by Alumni, Faculty and Staff, Friends and Parents.

In recognition of these and other recent efforts, the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) has selected Alvernia University as one of the schools nationally recognized for Overall Improvement in Advancement. These awards cover improvement over a 3 year period.  Congratulations to the staff and the many others who have enabled us to come so far so quickly.

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I asked at the outset that you reflect on three questions:

  • How should being a Franciscan university guide how we do what we do, both the education of students and our interaction and work together with colleagues?.
  • In a time of national fiscal turmoil and more limited financial resources, how do we ensure that we sustain, strengthen, and support our most important resources—the human resources of faculty, staff, and administrators?

 

  • And, finally, and most importantly, how do we ensure that whatever the project, the problem, the disagreement, the improvement, we remember and live by the maxim that it is really all about our students? 


I would suggest that the Franciscan values--notably collegiality—and the Franciscan ideal of “knowledge joined with love” are inspiring guides for our shared journey with students and colleagues alike. At our best, we exemplify, individually and collectively, admirable charity and generosity of spirit. Let us look to be at our best as often as humanly possible.

Especially in challenging and unsettling times, communities and organizations need to pay attention to their people. There is often a higher standard of expectation at religiously affiliated schools like Alvernia.  And there should be. That is why you noticed a slight modification to our last strategic priority to include an emphasis on human as well as fiscal resources. I will ask APAC, the Alvernia Planning Advisory Council, to review and discuss this concept, when they review the strategic plan and this year’s goals.

It is, finally, about our students, is it not? So let me close in a different way this year and ask you to join in celebrating a few on behalf of the many. With us today are some exceptional undergraduate and graduate students, soon to be proud alumni.

Four of these students are among our outstanding crop of Ph.D. students, with three of them among the 17 who this fall will be taking their qualifying exams.

Alicia Sprow, is the graduate assistant for the Ph.D. program and already well known locally for her community leadership.  She is working with our community partners and the City of Reading to develop the Angelica Environmental Education Park.  

Phil Fromuth continues his outstanding service as Secretary for Education in the Diocese of Allentown, where he oversees all primary and secondary schools and advocates their support. 

One of our own, Theresa Adams, Assistant Professor of Nursing, has completed studies in cultural competence at CUNY and co-authored (with colleague Deborah Greenawald) an article published in The Journal of School Nursing.

Our final Ph.D. student, Mary Lynch Barbera, has co-authored a book, published several articles on autism, most recently in the Journal of Speech--Language Pathology and Applied Behavior Analysis, and spoken widely to professional and community groups.  She and husband, Chuck, our 2009 Distinguished Alumnus of the Year, are emerging leaders in their fields.

Student government has strong, experienced leaders who model effective collaboration.

Maureen Plover: Maureen is the senior member of the Executive Board of the Student Government Association and serves as the secretary.  She is a Theology major with a minor is Political Science and Psychology and a leader in campus peace and justice work. .
John Hutta:  John was last year’s Freshman Class President. He is now a Philosophy/Theology major with a minor in music who serves as the Public Relations Officer of the Student Government Association. 

Adam Butler: Adam is a junior in the Master of Occupational Therapy program and is serving his second term as Vice President of the Student Government Association.  He has been a committed member of our Alternative break Program. And, finally. . .

Emily Berret
: Emily is a junior Political Science/History major and is serving as President of the Student Government Association.  Emily is no stranger to leadership roles having served as Secretary of her Freshman Class and President of her Sophomore Class and has emerged as a committed advocate for green initiatives and other improvements in campus life.

These are eight students who embody the best of Alvernia and who, in turn, call us to our best work.  

We are fortunate indeed to work and serve at Alvernia. As your president, let me thank and salute you for all you do. All of us should be proud as well as appreciative of the excellent work done routinely by faculty, staff, and administrators. So let the work highlighted this morning inspire each of us to make just such an effort—often unsung and unrecognized—inspired by the Franciscan values of service and community and by our devotion to our students.  

On to our next 50 years!  Thank you.




major addresses

1.888.alvernia
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