Major Addresses

Alvernia University
2010 STATE OF THE UNIVERSITY
August 17, 2010

Remarks from

President Thomas F. Flynn


Good morning. Welcome once again to our annual gathering.

College campuses have a kind of idyllic appeal during summer months, even amidst the bustle of countless projects, but this week in August is a special time, as we envision the return of favorite students and the eager faces of new students. We are fortunate, when many schools are struggling, to continue to enjoy the dust ‘n dirt and the hiring of new faculty that signal great progress. And we are even more fortunate, at a time of continuing economic hardship and unemployment, to be welcoming a record freshman class and celebrating some other wonderful news. More on that in a bit! 

I do need at the outset to dispel the rumor that we finally have an elevator to provide better handicapped access in Francis Hall only because of the old and hobbled president. After all, our gracious library and student center staff offered me pleasant summer offices and meeting places, and my now infamous scooter (and our attentive Public Safety staff) helped me motor around campus. Yet rather than aiming to pacify my angry Achilles tendon, we actually decided over a year ago to complete the elevator during this earliest stage of renovation. Building on recent improvements, we are steadily becoming a campus more accessible to those with special needs. 

One benefit of my reduced mobility this summer is that I read and listened to music far more regularly than is customary. I highly recommend two extraordinary Vietnam War novels, one of the first by a North Vietnamese veteran translated into English and another, Matterhorn, by a former American veteran and Rhodes Scholar. The Swedish mystery trilogy by Stieg Larsson and Winter’s Bone by David Woodrell each feature women who are among the most memorable characters in contemporary fiction. Hopefully, whatever your summer schedule, you also made special time for family and friends, for relaxation and renewal. 

This morning, besides welcoming new colleagues and saluting some who have been promoted or otherwise honored this past year, I will as usual reflect on the year behind us and the year ahead. But rather than a comprehensive review of the past year and detailed attention to the coming one, I ask this morning that we set our sights further ahead and higher than usual, that we think of Alvernia as poised for even finer accomplishments.  For me, the concept of “New Horizons” and some related images capture where we are and where we will travel together.  

Before we do all this, let us look back with pride and satisfaction at the past year. Much has been highlighted in my quarterly electronic newsletters, but there are a few individuals and accomplishments that deserve our attention.

At this morning’s breakfast, as throughout the year, we are well fed and well served by our food service staff. Two years ago, on this occasion we honored the catering crew. And today, I am pleased to announce that the person most responsible for the dramatic improvement in the quality of service here at Alvernia has been nationally recognized. At its recent national meeting, Aladdin Food Management Services named our own Tom Benfield as Manager of the Year for all of its operations. Tom, we are not surprised. Please stand and accept our congratulations and thanks.

Our well-attended Employee Recognition Event celebrates the contributions of long-time staff and faculty. Of special note this year we honored 10 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 were Beth Berret, Sharon Helms, Lan Nguyen, Andrea Schultz, and Judy Warchal; honored for 25 years were James Klucsarits, Vickie Lutz, John Rochowicz, and Richard Stichler.  And two faculty members, Pietro Distravolo and Elaine Schalck were congratulated for 32 and 33 years of faithful service. Will these individuals stand and receive our appreciation?

Other important milestones deserve special notice at this gathering. Two of the happiest people in the room are Deb Greenawald and Kathy Wisser, who successfully completed their doctorates in time to enjoy their summer to the fullest. They are now both nurses and doctors.

Several impressive faculty members were tenured and/or promoted by the Board of Trustees. Terry Adams and Deb Greenawald, two of our fine nursing faculty, received tenure. Three other respected colleagues — Peggy Bowen-Hartung, Rose Chinni, and Mary Schreiner — were tenured and promoted to Associate Professor. And long-time faculty leader, and accomplished teacher-scholar, Spence Stober, was promoted to Full Professor. Could I ask these good colleagues to stand and be congratulated?

The annual Honors Convocation features our student awardees but it is also the occasion at which our top faculty awards are bestowed. Scott Ballantyne, the 2009 Lindbeck Award winner, delivered the distinguished faculty address, and two other long-time colleagues received special recognition. The St. Bernardine Faculty Award (to a part-time faculty member for Excellence in Teaching) was presented to Sister Charlene Dalrymple; and the Sr. Mary Donatilla Faculty Award (for service to the University in teaching, advising, and other activities) was presented to Tom Porrazzo.

And for the second consecutive year, one of our faculty colleagues was honored with a national award. Beth DeMeo received the prestigious Delta Award, given for exceptional service on a national level, and awarded only eight times in the 85-year history of the English national honorary society.

Could I ask these four colleagues to stand and be recognized? 

Were we to recognize all who helped contribute to our recent achievement of university status, and our continued momentum this past year, we would all be standing, and there would be a danger that you would think it is already time to leave. So before moving to discuss the future, let me highlight several of the many important developments.   

This summer, for the first time, the University awarded Faculty Excellence Summer Grants to support teaching excellence and scholarly achievement.  I provided details in the summer newsletter, but it is important for us to recognize publicly that the work of this initial group of awardees testifies to our faculty’s diverse and expanding scholarly and creative work.

Karen Cameron, Joe Kremer, Elizabeth Matteo, Susan McDonald, Kathy Muzevich, Ana Ruiz, and Judy Warchal received support to write articles or develop innovative teaching projects. And five colleagues received support for book manuscripts: Scott Ballantyne, Beth Berrett, and Mary Ellen Wells for a book on planning; David Silbey for a book on the Boer War, and Donna Yarri for a book on the Sopranos. Many thanks to the Development and Research Committee and to Provost Williams for their roles in the review process. And we should be grateful also to those trustees who have stepped forward to provide funds to supplement those now in the annual budget.

Another key element of the Faculty Excellence Program has been a formal faculty compensation study using national data and benchmark information from Alvernia’s peer group. Last year the salary study was completed; the benefits study is now underway. The members of the Faculty Salary and Benefits Committee—chair, Beth Berrett, joined by Neal Penny, Spence Stober, Tufan Tiglioglu, and Donna Yarri — worked closely with Shirley Williams and Doug Smith to finalize a statement of philosophy and principles as well as guidelines for implementation.

This material has been approved by the faculty, by me, and by the Board of Trustees. The $82,000 in special adjustments made to faculty salaries over the last few years was a solid beginning. And initial implementation of the new program began this summer with an additional initial allocation of $50,000.

Over the summer, a preliminary draft of a parallel staff salary study was completed, along with accompanying work to update and professionalize job descriptions and performance expectations. As with the faculty, some staff salary adjustments and promotions have been made in recent years prior to the study. I have asked that the staff study and the University Benefits Study be finalized by December 1, so they can be reviewed and, where necessary, approved by the Board in December and then implemented. 

Besides my strong personal commitment, it is important for all of us to know that the Board of Trustees believes strongly that we must have both a salary and benefits program that is highly competitive with our peer group and also appropriate guidelines and processes to ensure effective evaluation and continuous improvement in all we do. 

The faculty’s work on assessment of student outcomes, led by Kathy Wisser and Evelina Panayotova, our Director of Institutional Research, also has produced excellent results, as acknowledged in the draft report of the external Middle States team. Joining Kathy and Evelina in this work as members of the Assessment Committee have been Peggy Bowen-Hartung, Karen Cameron, Beth DeMeo, Judy Koller, Daria LaTorre, Neil Penny, Mary Ellen Wells, and Victoria Williams. 

Paralleling these success stories which featured faculty and administrative leadership are two others which reflect different forms of excellent leadership and collaboration. 

Service projects are commonplace at Alvernia. So, too, are joint student-staff initiatives. But last year’s “Alvernia Helping Haiti” project was especially notable. Student Government partnered with Student Activities and Campus Ministry on a three-phase approach rather than a “one and done” activity. Phase one raised over $3,000 for Mercy Corps; phase two collected needed supplies, in partnership with Reading’s Caribbean Community Group; and phase three featured educational activities and additional fund-raising for Mercy Corps that yielded $10,000 through Spring Fling. Collaboration with the Caribbean Community continues, including efforts to bring Haitian students to study at Alvernia. Once more, we have reason to be proud of our students.

Speaking about mature student leadership, let us take note that our new alcohol policy has been in place only for a single year. To say that implementation went smoothly is an understatement. Overseen by Joe Cicala, who arrived only a few months before D-Day, heightened alcohol and drug education efforts by Residence Life, Student Activities, and Health Services were smoothly introduced. Evidence suggests that our students accepted their new privileges and responsibilities well: the number of alcohol-related disciplinary cases and the number of cases of underage drinking declined 53% and 43%, respectively.

Alcohol and drug education efforts will be at the heart of the emerging Health Education Initiative, led by Health Services in collaboration with campus and external partners such as Caron, the state Liquor Control Board, Berks Women in Crisis, and the Council on Chemical Abuse, supported by a grant from the Liquor Control Board.

Two final success stories are still in the planning stages but hold extraordinary promise. As the year ended, Alvernia was selected to be one of 14 four-year colleges and universities that comprise the 2010-2011 Foundations of Excellence Initiative focused on the entire first-year student experience. As a member of this national project, we will conduct a comprehensive study of our current efforts, evaluate them in light of nine standards of excellence, and produce a plan for ongoing improvement that will lead to higher levels of student learning and persistence.

This will be a genuinely campus-wide undertaking. An inclusive campus-wide task force will be assembled and guided by a Steering Committee. Given the importance of this undertaking, three of our vice presidents — Shirley Williams, Joe Cicala, and John McCloskey — will work directly with a team led by Dolores Bertoti and Claire Berardini and others to be soon named. There will be open forums about the project during the next few weeks as well as more formal discussions during this year. 

As mentioned in the summer newsletter, with fine work by Brad Drexler, Ginny Hand, Gene Mitchell, and especially Sue Guay, the first John Updike Conference this October will gather Updike scholars from around the world on campus and provide opportunities for students, staff, and faculty to engage in this unique event. The conference is also providing national visibility for Alvernia. Since the initial announcement, more than 200 media outlets have highlighted the event including the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer, and if you are online, the Huffington Post, to name just a few. And that is just the beginning. Outlets like the Boston Globe, Associated Press, the New York Times, NPR, USA Today, the New York Times Magazine and the Christian Science Monitor have expressed preliminary interest in covering the conference. We are also reaching out to media like CNN and the network TV affiliates in Philadelphia to attract their interest in the event.

To say the obvious, there is much else ahead of us in the coming year, both promising opportunities and ongoing challenges. We know all too well about the troubled external environment and the financial crises facing many other universities. Certainly all Pennsylvanians anticipate heightened economic pressures and major cutbacks in social service and educational aid programs. 

But at Alvernia we know that in these last two years, due to careful financial planning and a campus-wide effort, the University has maneuvered well through troubled waters and even flourished. So today, proud of our success, sensitive to the external environment and our students’ financial burdens, committed to continuing our momentum — to what I have called “prudent progress” — and daring to raise the bar on what we expect of ourselves, let us look ahead.

As we do so, it is important we remember that only three years ago we began implementation of our new strategic and campus facilities plans and our first-ever comprehensive fundraising campaign, all approved by the Board of Trustees in Spring 2007. Recall, too, that the campaign timeline of 2007-2013 matches exactly Phase I of our long-term plans.

We are only now at the halfway point of this six-year stretch, with Phase II extending from 2013-2018. This timing, our considerable and rapid progress, and the new economic environment make this the right time to assess results to date, look ahead three years to the end of Phase I, and also begin to give some shape to those years out beyond.

It is an understatement to say that together in the past three years we have been successful: the evidence is all around us and is being widely recognized beyond the campus. Besides major campus improvements, our achievement of university status, and our national recognition as a model for community engagement, we need not look hard this particular August to find other tangible signs of progress: expanded student residences already filled to capacity, many successful faculty hires, a new gateway to campus and other landscaping improvements, a new recital hall and theater.

In addition, as Kathy Herbein mentioned earlier, this summer I was asked by the editors of a volume of presidentially commissioned articles to write a piece on the extraordinary and rapid progress at Alvernia. The University’s reputation is growing, and our success is being widely recognized in academic circles. 

Each and every one of us is a part of this compelling story. We know better than anyone that much remains to be done. And we know, too, that we are capable and willing to stretch ourselves to realize our highest aspirations.

In that spirit, let me suggest that, even were we not at the dawn of our second half century, we are at a point of New Horizons.

As we move forward, let me do something different than in the past. I will sketch a direction for the next three years and then conclude this section with the usual focus on goals for this year. I invite your comments and reactions to what you see and hear, and in addition will be hosting discussions with faculty and student leaders, administrative and staff colleagues, and APAC, our campus planning council, prior to the late September Board of Trustees meeting.

You will be pleased to know that, upon my arrival five years ago and with my strong encouragement, our Board of Trustees adopted the “best practice” of formally approving annual goals for the Board itself and for me as president. All of us recognize the need to look ahead beyond our immediate circumstances, but trustees and presidents have a special duty to think continuously about a university’s long-term future.

While thinking ahead, not one but several years, I have found myself asking what themes should guide our thinking, what emphases might best serve Alvernia, especially our students, as we seek to implement fully the long-term priorities and goals of our strategic plan. Back in late June I shared the following themes with both the cabinet and the Board, solicited their feedback, and revised my list — all the while, requiring myself to keep it to a single printed page! Here is the current version:

- Enhance Alvernia’s Mission and Identity

- Develop Alvernia’s Culture (and Curb Appeal) as a Small University

- Foster Enrollment Growth through Market Development (Programs, Populations, and Delivery Systems)

- Increase Student Engagement, Satisfaction, and Success

- Target Improvements in Program Quality

- Improve Support for Teaching Excellence and Scholarly Achievement

- Establish Alvernia as a National Leader in Community Engagement

- Deepen the “Culture of Excellence” Among All Alvernians

- Expand Philanthropic Leadership among Trustees & Alumni

- Strengthen University Finances and Funding for Priorities

- Build & Market the Brand (Alvernia Advantage)


For the benefit of our newest community members, our 2007 strategic plan includes both mission and vision statements as well as five priorities.

Mission: Guided by Franciscan values and the ideal of “knowledge joined with love,” and rooted in the Catholic and liberal arts traditions, Alvernia is a rigorous, caring, and inclusive learning community committed to academic excellence and to being and fostering broadly educated, life-long learners; reflective professionals and engaged citizens; and ethical leaders with moral courage.

To Learn, To Love, To Serve.

Vision: To Be A Distinctive Franciscan University, Committed to Personal and Social Transformation, Through Integrated, Community-Based, Inclusive, and Ethical Learning.

Strategic Priorities:

1. Identity

2. Educational Quality

3. Student Communities

4. Community & External Engagement

5. Resource Development

Our strategic plan also includes goals, some of which have already been met, most notably, the achievement of university status.  Some are partially completed; others still in need a good deal of work. And naturally, we need new goals, set in the context of our priorities and vision statement. Again, for brevity’s sake, rather than reviewing all goals, let me share with you our objectives for the next three years.

Finally, let me share with you the annual goals for the coming year. They are ambitious and properly so. They are achievable and yet will require our collective best effort.

 

UNIVERSITY GOALS FOR 2010-2011

•    Complete Implementation Plan for Phase IB (2010-2013)

•    Achieve Trustee Recruitment, Education, & Philanthropic Goals

 

PRIORITY I        IDENTITY

•    Finalize Mission Education and Integration Program (Including Service & Civic Engagement and Diversity Plans)

•    Advance Marketing Strategy for “Distinctive Franciscan University” (Alvernia Signatures, Franciscan Emphases, College-School Identities)

•    Study/Adopt “Best Practice” Policies & Procedures of Small Universities

•    Complete Plans for Francis Hall Renovation & New Campus Entrance

 

PRIORITY II        EDUCATIONAL QUALITY

•    Complete Review and Develop Initial Plans for Revised Mission-Centered General Education, Core, and First-Year Programs

•    Implement Strategic Plan for School of Graduate and Continuing Studies

•    Complete New Educational Technology Center (BH)

 

PRIORITY III        STUDENT COMMUNITIES

•    Complete Long-Range (and Short-Term) Athletics and Recreation Plan

•    Develop Revised Plan for Residential Life and Facilities

•    Complete Renovation and Improvements of the Philadelphia Center

 

PRIORITY IV        COMMUNITY AND EXTERNAL ENGAGEMENT

•    Develop Center for Ethics and Leadership as Institutional “Signature”

•    Enhance Alvernia as a Cultural Resource through ALPS, Interfaith and Catholic Social Teaching Initiatives, and Updike Conference

•    Pilot New Approaches to Alumni Engagement


PRIORITY V        RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT

•    Finalize 3-Year Financial Plan and Achieve 2010-2011 Goals

•    Complete Benefits Review and Staff Compensation Study

•    Meet Year 4 Campaign Goal & Develop “Extended Campaign Strategy”


----------------------------


No doubt, after Planning Themes, Three-Year Objectives, and Annual Goals, you have had your fill of lists. Me, too!

Let us turn, before closing, back to the past year and to the present, and with a different additional, final twist. We know well that my earlier examples of the past year’s accomplishments stand as examples of much additional good work. Yet are there not topics that you are surprised have not been mentioned? What about the budget, enrollment, and other important indicators of the current “state of the university?” Indeed, these topics are too important to omit, and the news, my friends, is rather good.


Budget and Finances

I am pleased to report that we exceeded our financial goals last year. Conservative budgeting and improved budget management and accountability certainly helped, but the primary reason for our budget success was higher-than-expected net revenue in undergraduate, graduate, and continuing studies enrollments and effective work by our financial planning office.

The outlook for this year, as reflected by our August enrollment, gives us cause for much optimism. We have already incorporated into this year’s budget the new funding for faculty positions, salary adjustments, and grants and for the staff promotions announced last spring. And we have set aside funds to make initial targeted adjustments after the staff salary study has been finalized.

As we move toward 2011, in addition to filling additional faculty positions, we will now consider a few targeted staffing additions in critical understaffed areas. Yet we will remain conservative in our revenue projections, limit new expenditures, and set aside ample contingency and surplus funds both to protect against economic declines and to offset the limitations of our small endowment and comparatively underdeveloped donor base. “Prudent progress” continues to be our guideline for improving programs and facilities to enhance teaching and learning and the overall student experience.

As we know well, consistent with our heritage as a place of opportunity for students of diverse background and modest resources, we consciously keep our tuition relatively modest, compared to our private school peers and competitors, even as we recognize that we lack the endowment and the fund-raising history of most schools. We also continue the “best practices” of building cash reserves and setting aside funds for essential campus improvements rather than relying excessively on increased debt. All this limits the money we have available in the budget for worthy projects, but it is the right approach.

The bottom line on this year’s budget: we are in good shape as the year begins.

 

Enrollment

Last year was a solid year. We set very modest enrollment goals, especially for graduate and continuing studies, and we met or exceeded them. Retention also finally improved, which helped. This year promises to be a better, even a very good, year.

Last year, at this time, our adult programs were behind budget, following a disappointing previous year. We were understandably quite worried. We spent the year catching up. And in the end good efforts were rewarded. This year, adult programs are on track to meet all fall goals, with graduate enrollment and net revenue expected to exceed budgeted goals. This improvement is so welcome and a credit to the staff of the division, to collaborative leadership by the academic and enrollment divisions, and to greatly expanded and enhanced contributions from the marketing team.  

The news with fall undergraduate enrollment is even better. While transfer enrollment is a bit less than planned, we will this week still welcome a record total number of new students to campus. It should not surprise us that we have needed to provide more financial aid than expected, thereby lessening the positive budget impact, but make no mistake: in this environment, the work of our admission and financial planning staff — both veterans and newer staff — is nothing short of excellent.

Our enrollment management staff are always the first to thank the many of you in this room who are so actively involved through the entire recruitment cycle. Today, I add my own appreciation. A special word of congratulations to our coaches who had their best year ever with the recruitment of student-athletes.

And there is more good news. Our overall undergraduate day enrollment is also a record as is the number of students in housing. For the first time in history, we have over 1,400 full-time undergraduate students. And with over 800 residents, we have by far the highest number and the largest percentage of residents ever. We are fortunate to have built all our new housing, and we now have the happy challenge of considering additional residences.

Perhaps most important, this record enrollment reflects the continued improvement of first-year retention. We have now climbed to the peer average of 75%. The timing is perfect for us to improve even more, building on work by so many in so many corners of campus.

Does this reflect improved student satisfaction? Yes indeed. The dozens of seniors whom I hosted for discussions last spring were overwhelmingly enthusiastic (and grateful) about the improvements they had seen in their four years at Alvernia.

And we now have data to support this. Late last week we received the results of our spring participation in the National Survey of Student Engagement, known as NSSE, administered to last year’s freshmen and seniors. Full analysis will take some time, but on the important question concerning students’ evaluation of their “entire education experience,” 91% rated their experience “good” or “excellent,” which compares favorably with results from other schools regionally and nationally.

The bottom line on enrollment: several records with undergraduate enrollment, expanded and full residential capacity, improved retention, and positive trends in graduate enrollment. There is never room for complacency, but for now we are doing very well indeed.


Campaign 
 

We set some records, too, in fundraising last year.  Naturally, the first year of any campaign reaps the largest amount of pledged gifts, but this third year of the campaign set records for total cash received, for the annual fund, and for trustee annual support. To be fair, we still lag well below average in annual fund performance, especially among alumni, but our steady progress and the overall campaign results are gratifying.

A special highlight of the year was a bequest from Donna Klinikowski, who served at Alvernia as both a faculty member and an administrator from 1988 to 2003 and passed away in 2006. Alvernia has now received over $150,000 to establish an endowed scholarship in her memory. Announcing this kind of generosity is an opportunity for me to celebrate and thank all who have already contributed to the current Faculty-Staff campaign, either through current gifts, deferred gifts, or both.   

The bottom line on fundraising: Our last campaign raised a total of $4 million. At the half way point of this new campaign, we have raised $23 million of a $27 million goal. 


State of the University

The state of the University in August of 2010 is healthy. As always, this reflects the good work of Alvernia’s people: students, faculty, staff, administration, and trustees. It is indeed a time of “New Horizons.”   

We should be proud of what we have accomplished together, and I know we are. We should be grateful, and I know we are, for the good work of those around us whom we know only slightly or who serve in areas that we take for granted. And perhaps most of all, at a time when so many workplaces are torn by turmoil and when so many around us are unemployed, underemployed, or fearing for their family’s well being, we should be grateful, and I know we are, for those whose work we know best-valued departmental and office colleagues, admired mentors and treasured friends from years, even decades.

We find it natural and rejuvenating to rejoice in the energy and fresh ideas of our newest community members, but it is no doubt my own aging process that makes me so appreciative at this time of year for those good folks we celebrated earlier this morning and thanked for 20, 25, or even 30 years of dedicated service.

We are fortunate indeed to be members of the Alvernia Community. Yet no community, let alone a university community, can thrive without the full commitment of everyone. Let each of us recommit to personal excellence and to seeking collectively no less than excellence for our future as a “Distinctive Franciscan University.”   Thank you.  




major addresses

1.888.alvernia
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