Spring has arrived. Easter and Passover have been celebrated. The secular rites of renewal and resurrection--with flowers and trees blooming joyfully--confirm the end of winter.  

Institutions need rebirth too, especially fundamentally conservative ones like colleges and universities. Even vital, healthy schools like Alvernia. As a former colleague, beloved for his devotion equally to students and to tradition, liked to warmly growl:  “Change is Our Friend.”

For the past eighteen months, the Alvernia community has been discussing not just change but improvement. “How do we get better” was the question I posed upon my arrival. Faculty, staff and administrators, students, alumni, trustees, community leaders, and other friends responded with affection for and confidence in this special place. And, like our Franciscan Foundresses, we have responded with bold aspirations for our future.

Elsewhere in this issue, the Alvernian staff will report on the new strategic plan and the campus master plan. By now, we know the five priorities well:  To Strengthen Alvernia’s Identity, Educational Quality, Student Communities, Community and External Engagement, and Resource Development. Members of the SPC, to whom we owe much appreciation, undoubtedly can even quote many of the goals in their sleep!

The master plan to guide the physical development of main campus can be similarly summarized:  Zone I, a new approach through the park and new entrance road, shared with the Bernardine Sisters, winding up to a renovated Francis Hall; Zone II, a pedestrian-friendly, fully renovated center campus, featuring expanded dining services, a 24-hour “learning commons,” improved classrooms, a small recital hall, and a campus mall; Zone III,  a new lower campus, featuring a residential village for juniors and seniors, an outdoor field and track linked to an expanded PEC, and the always popular parking;  and Zone IV, the development of NCAA-level fields in Angelica Park and the refurbishment of Upland Center as a high-end academic building, including the home for Graduate Studies and Life-Long Learning Programs (like our beloved Seniors College).

All of this is exciting. Some projects are long-term, timed for ten to twenty years in the future. The best plans are dynamic not static. Better ideas will emerge. We will continue to be fiscally prudent, not replicating the mistake of many schools that spend well beyond their means. But good work has already started. Results will appear next year, during the Foundation Phase (2007-2008). Much will be completed in Phase I (2008-2013), as we launch celebration of our Fiftieth Anniversary.

But all of our projects--renovated buildings or even academic improvements like our new Centers for Community Engagement and for Ethics and Leadership--assume special significance when they support a broader, overall vision for the future.  And our new, shared vision for Alvernia’s future is compelling:

To be a Distinctive Franciscan University, Committed to Personal and Social Transformation, through Integrated, Community-Based, Inclusive, And Ethical Learning.

We have reaffirmed that the Franciscan values and spirit will inspire and guide us anew. Recognizing the breadth of our programs and students—including over 800 graduate students, some of them doctoral students—we have come to see ourselves more as a small, personalized university than a traditional undergraduate college. For all our students, and for all of us who work here too, we seek nothing less than “transformation,” both individually and collectively, both as an educational community and as citizens committed to a just society. 

Transformation to what? Our revised Mission Statement pledges that within a “rigorous, caring, and inclusive learning community committed to academic excellence,” faculty, staff, and students seek to be “broadly educated life-long learners; reflective professionals and engaged citizens; and ethical leaders with moral courage.” All of this guided by our Catholic and liberal arts traditions and inspired by the Franciscan educational ideal of “knowledge joined with love.” 

Heady stuff, this business of “transformation.” And it doesn’t mean changing all those other folks while staying untouched ourselves. If change is indeed “our friend,” then high expectations, continuous improvement, the striving for excellence must be embraced by each and every one of us, privately and personally as well as collaboratively—with our fellow students, our good colleagues, and the entire, extended Alvernia community. 

It is springtime at Alvernia.

Flynn Files