October 13, 2008
Dear Faculty, Staff, Student and Alumni Leaders,
The fall edition of my quarterly newsletter is being written as the presidential campaign is getting more heated, but the air is fortunately cooling with gentle autumn breezes. The feast of St. Francis brought a welcome long weekend. Now, Homecoming Weekend and our first-ever Sports Hall of Fame event beckon alums back to campus. Among the initial class of inductees: the 1997 Final Four Men’s Basketball Team and the coach who built our program to a championship level, Jack McCloskey, Sr.
As reported in a recent Almanac, October begins our busy stretch of alumni receptions. From Philadelphia to Pottsville, Lancaster to Lehigh, New York to Washington, and other points in between, we are hosting our first set of regional reunions. If the recent Tampa event is any indication, alums are filled with pride about Alvernia University!
October is also the month of the Alvernia Literary Festival, coordinated by Sue Guay and her merry band of volunteers. Even by past standards, this is a banner year, with Pulitzer-Prize winner, Richard Russo, the headliner, along with other major events, including appearances by two of our own authors, Sister Pacelli and Larry Mazzeno.
And there is much more! Rather than repeat notices widely distributed, I will simply call your attention to the upcoming arts events, the busy schedule of our athletic teams, this Wednesday’s presentation for the Leadership and Ethics Lecture Series, featuring Jodi Radosh and Victoria Williams, and Thursday’s Interfaith Peace Breakfast. And remember that in two short weeks, we will find out who will steal the show at this year’s Halloween costume contest.
It has been a memorable six weeks. A record number of new students arriving for orientation followed by Founder’s Day Weekend (see below), then University Day, and now this week’s President’s Major Donor Dinner, where we will publicly announce the first comprehensive campaign in Alvernia’s history.
Alvernia has had wonderful publicity. University status has already brought countless congratulations from leaders in higher education and from friends and alums regionally and nationally, with more outreach efforts planned. Closer to home, Alvernia is a source of pride throughout our city and county. Our advancement team (development, alumni, and marketing folks) have done us all proud. And they have been joined by countless student, faculty, staff, and alumni volunteers. Many thanks to one and all!
There is, as always, much news, including my customary report of the Board’s quarterly meeting. But perhaps uppermost on our minds is grave concern about the state of the economy and its impact on private higher education. So let me start there.
CURRENT FINANCIAL CRISISFirst, the (comparatively) good news! Many of you have probably read about the more than 1,000 colleges and universities who participate in the Common Fund, a co-operative investment fund, whose losses are causing major liquidity challenges for its members. Alvernia is not a participant in this fund.
In fact, due to wise anticipatory planning by the Investment Committee of the Board of Trustees, Alvernia is comparatively well positioned to mitigate the negative impact of tumbling markets. Less than 2 years ago, trustees on that committee adjusted Alvernia’s asset allocation (the allocation of funds to the US Stock Market, fixed income/bonds, International Equity Markets, and hedge funds) to reduce our exposure to the US Stock Markets. While this has greatly reduced the magnitude of recent losses, the endowment fund has still lost nearly 20% of its value. Doug Smith continues to be in near daily contact with our investment managers and, as necessary, with key trustees.
This is that rarest of times when there is some advantage to not having a large endowment. Given the relatively small size of our endowment, even such a dramatic drop in value has only a modest impact on campus operations and the annual budget. (Spiraling utility costs, in contrast, are having a major negative impact.)
Now the bad news! The impact of market losses and the credit crisis on our students and their families and on our own faculty and staff is of great concern. Alvernia’s comparatively high annual contribution to employee retirement and the cost controls over the last six years on health benefits put all of us in a better position than at many similar institutions. Still, the impact is significant and worrisome. And there is no doubt that the overall economy and the difficulty of obtaining student loans will make recruiting and retaining students far more challenging in the next few years.
ANNIVERSARY EVENTSSeptember and October have numerous Anniversary events, with more planned for later this semester. (The calendar is posted on the website.) Founders Day was celebrated with a wonderful Mass and dinner, with Rev. Kevin Mackin, OFM, President of Mount Saint Mary College, Newburgh, NY, as principal celebrant and keynote speaker. In addition to Dr. DeLucca who served as Deacon, Sr. Dolorey and Dr. Mazzeno also were present for the evening, so all four living presidents were on campus for the celebration. Over 300 attended the dinner celebrating Alvernia’s "Legacy of Leadership." The emotional highlight of the evening was the blessing extended by the Bernardine Franciscan Sisters.
The next day we celebrated a festival on campus that hearkened back to the days when the Sisters would host a similar annual event for the community. It was wonderful to see so many people enjoy the activities and good food. The evening concluded with a fireworks display, watched by many of our Sisters in the convent and villa.
SEPTEMBER BOARD MEETINGAs is customary, this newsletter is an opportunity to report on the quarterly meeting of our Board of Trustees. The September meeting typically looks back in review of the results of the previous year and looks forward to the goals and major initiatives for the coming year. Each September the Board follows the “best practice” of setting its own annual goals as well as approving goals for the president. Trustees recommitted to significant philanthropic and trustee recruitment goals for 2008-2009. They also identified key initiatives from the strategic plan—university status, faculty support and evaluation, the faculty compensation study, student retention, the South Campus project, the campaign—where they expect progress or final results during this year.
Major Board action items included approval of the South Campus Project (see below) and a peer group of schools similar to Alvernia. Based on excellent research by Evelina Panayotova, the list is comprised mostly of medium-size universities in the Mid-Atlantic region and several Franciscan universities from other regions. It will provide a useful comparative perspective for our planning.
Trustees also finalized the budget, approved honorary degrees (see below), discussed reports on possible changes in the alcohol and other campus policies, and received an in-depth briefing on state political and economic trends by the executive director of AICUP, the state association for private colleges and universities.
Trustees praised the successful efforts on the campaign and new student enrollment and emphasized the pressing need to improve student retention. The Board also adopted a resolution commending the faculty for progress on evaluation criteria and urging the completion of this work during this year. Finally, after joining the campus community in the “University Day” celebration, the Board hosted the faculty and student officers and the newly tenured and promoted faculty members at a reception.
PEOPLE . . .This year’s graduation ceremonies were already significant milestones as we celebrate in December our first commencement as a university and then, in May, the conclusion of our fiftieth anniversary year. Now, they will be especially memorable as we award honorary degrees to two beloved and respected members of the Alvernia family: Sister Florence (December) and Sister Pacelli (May). What better way also to proclaim our Franciscan identity! Also honored in December, and providing some reflections for the graduates, will be Karen Rightmire, the president of the United Way of Berks County, and a distinguished community leader and social activist.
Speaking of service, nine members of the College Life division--Theresa Brewer, Daniel Flynn, Kristel Kemmerer, Sara Marks, Sharyn Stricker, Dave Stuart, Abby Swatchick, Nick Yando, and head cook Cathy Cammarano—prepared and served dinner downtown for the residents of Opportunity House, a transitional home which helps residents become independent and self-sufficient. Organized by Campus Ministry, this and other volunteer service activities are great examples of staff and faculty living out the Alvernia motto—to learn, to love, to serve.
The offices of Student Activities and Campus Ministry are co-sponsoring a “Rock the Vote: Election Lunch and Learn Series” to help educate students (and all of us) on different topics prior to the November election. Each week a different topic area is presented from a nonpartisan perspective to help guide attendees in their decision-making on November 4th. Students also have had the opportunity to register to vote. Many thanks to our presenters who are covering a range of important topics: Environment and Energy (Lauren Shetler, Graduate Assistant in Campus Ministry), Gun Control (Charles O’Donnell, Graduate Assistant in Student Activities), Education (Danny Greenawalt and Gretchen Perry, InterVarsity Staff), Abortion and Stem Cell Research (Jerry Vigna, Director of the Center for Ethics and Leadership), Poverty (Jessica Umbenhauer, Project Coordinator, Holleran Center for Community Engagement), Iran & Iraq (Victoria Williams, Associate Professor of Political Science), Heath Care (Cathy Cammarano, Director of Heath and Wellness), Economy and Taxes (Scott Ballantyne, Associate Professor of Business) and Immigration (Sara Marks, Campus Minister). To culminate the Lunch and Learn Series, and encourage students to vote, a Rock the Vote Party will occur the evening before the November 4th election.
. . . and PLACESStudents’ response to the Central Campus Project has been enthusiastic and appreciative. The most frequent comment? “The improvements make this look like a real campus.” One faculty member remarked that it was hard to imagine where we would have celebrated “University Day” without the beautiful setting of green space and an outdoor terrace. Coming soon are benches and trash/recycling receptacles for the Campus Commons.
Also, progressing well is the Angelica Park Project, the necessary first step to making room available for the development of South Campus. These fully irrigated fields will be home to our softball and baseball teams next spring.
Construction is now underway on the South Campus Project. Site preparation has begun and groundbreaking will occur soon for the Village Apartment buildings.
The approach to the South Campus will parallel last summer’s work on the Central Campus Project, where we linked together renovation and expansion of the Student Center, construction of the green Campus Commons, and related progress on pathways and landscaping to transform an entire area. Far more complex and challenging, the South Campus Project will include construction of the first two of our Village Apartment buildings, a track and field, an access road linking both to main campus and to our eventual new main entrance, and that most popular of campus improvements . . . a large new parking lot. With construction costs spiraling at a far higher rate than inflation, there have been major cost savings achieved by combining several elements in each project.
The apartments, access road, and parking lot are scheduled for completion by mid-August. The track and field, including an all-weather synthetic turf, may be ready then but more likely will not be “game ready” until Homecoming 2009.
Pictures of all three construction projects can be viewed at http://picasaweb.google.com/AlverniaWebGallery.
UPDATES and NEWS FLASHESAlvernia has received state approval to offer our MBA program in an on-line format. Along with the recently approved master’s in nursing, we will now have two new graduate programs available beginning in January 2009. Congratulations to the Business and Nursing faculty and to Carrie Fitzpatrick, Director of Distance Education.
Fifteen faculty completed the first of three parts of the Online/Blended Instructional Design Workshop Series for Distance Education. Participants discussed the opportunities and challenges of distance education and experimented with Web 2.0 tools, wikis, and podcasts.
The training series will be offered to two academic departments per semester. The business and nursing departments are being trained first, since they are launching new programs. Participants include Theresa Adams, Scott Ballantyne, Beth Berret, Michele Burke, Anne Fink, Louise Fura, Carol Roach, Cindy Rothenberger, Jonathon Silver, Spencer Stober, Mary Ellen Symanski, Karen Thacker, Constance Twyman, Mary Ellen Wells, and Kathy Wisser. Conducting the training are Kristin Brumbach, Carrie Fitzpatrick, and Miro Liwosz. Throughout this year, Carrie will be meeting with each academic department to discuss potential online initiatives and future training schedules.
The Undergraduate Admissions Office is busy recruiting students for the upcoming Spring semester as well as for next fall. Admissions Counselors are currently visiting high schools and attending college fairs across the region conveying the “Alvernia Advantage.” On campus, the Admissions Staff and many faculty and staff are gearing up for two Fall Open Houses on October 18th and November 8th.
The Business Department will be providing leadership training to 25 employees of SFS Intec Inc. These employees come from various parts of the country and Canada to attend this training program.
The evolution of our financial aid operation into a high-performance Office of Student Financial Planning will be the subject of an upcoming presentation, "Moving Beyond Financial Aid: Taking it to the Next Level," by Christine Saadi, Associate Director of Student Financial Planning and Rachel Gordon, Director of Student Financial Planning, at the upcoming Pennsylvania Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.
The Department of Athletics & Recreation sponsored a leadership retreat for student-athletes and a compliance workshop for all head coaches at the South Mountain YMCA, Sunday October 12th.
The Holleran Center, under the leadership Catie Bougie, our VISTA/Campus Compact staff member, celebrated their successful seven-week workshop with Brazilian artist, Jonas dos Santos at the Goggleworks on Sunday, October 5th. Eighteen South Reading middle-school students worked with six Alvernia students to help assemble an exhibit “Mapping the Community: An Ecological Intervention” featured in the Schmidt Gallery at the Goggleworks through October 28th.
Congratulations to the entire Seniors College, including Rabbi Weitzman and Sally Reading, on their Tenth Anniversary. This program is a jewel for Alvernia and our community and has great potential for growth and development.
Congratulations also to the Arts Committee, led by Kristel Kemmerer and Nathan Thomas, for sponsoring the superb Wheatland Chorale (and other arts events) on campus. Our own Jennie Michalik was a featured soloist in the chorale concert.
Finally, if you are one of the many who have praised the introduction of numerous Adirondack chairs placed around campus, the gift of last year’s senior class, there is even better news ahead. This week, in response to a matching challenge contribution from the Business Office, the SGA approved funding to purchase more chairs. Thanks to this good collaboration, two dozen additional chairs will be added later this fall.
It has seemed a strange irony that at the same time when the country is in the midst of its most serious crisis in a generation (or two), Alvernia has been celebrating historic accomplishments. At one of my recent student dinners, with a diverse group of juniors and seniors suggested by their academic department chairs, it was heartening for me to hear them express great satisfaction with their Alvernia education and enthusiasm for the recent campus improvements and expansion of student opportunities and activities. And it was inspiring to hear each relate a unique story of how the Alvernia experience was helping shape a promising future—whether in business, occupational therapy, social work, nursing, education, or the media.
Of course, our recent and upcoming graduates face a difficult job market as well as a troubled world. But I found myself thinking, as I drove home, that their stories suggested they would leave Alvernia with far more than simply good preparation for productive work. Alvernia was also helping them develop a moral compass, an ethical perspective, a set of values shaped—more than a little—by a Franciscan world view.
Peace and All Good, Tom Flynn