Faculty Year-End Dinner Remarks

When I had the honor of being a full-time faculty member, my greatest joy came from my students. Now, as an administrator, my greatest joy comes from the faculty.

So let me offer some sincere words of appreciation to all of you.

First, to the Senate. In one of many meeting discussing our strengths and weaknesses, a long-timer put the Senate on the weakness list. But I have to tell you, I've seen many different Senates at work, and ours is the best. Really. Including the Faculty Welfare Committee. They all got a lot done this year. They facilitated difficult conversations. They represented you well.

Of course, to the Core Curriculum committee. More about that later, but I hope that they miss the excitement and drama of proposing those goals and models, and jump into the continuing conversation in full force.

To the College Committee on Inclusive Excellence, and particularly my co-chair Robert Bulman. This group has been working quietly and persistently to create the structures of inclusion at Saint Mary's, which have already influenced the way we offering training, develop programming, and respond to acts of intolerance.

To my deans, who, in addition to the myriad of routine demands I make, have put up with additional leadership development sessions on civility, bullying, conflict management, and why rules matter…. I'd like to particularly thank Frances Sweeney and Chris Sindt, who have truly become indispensible in taking on and upholding my mantra of clarity, equity, consistency and congruence with mission in everything we do.

To my staff, Gloria, Judy, and Chandra, who uphold the highest standards of care, efficiency, and professionalism. They make so much possible.

And to everyone who granted my initial request to suspend disbelief, and to all of you who have offered kind and generous words at just the right time (of course, it's always the right time for those). You remind me why I need to be here.

And now, for a few of the highlights….. We have a new, approved core curriculum model, we have an Incident Management and Emergency Plan that seems to be working already, an enhanced first-year advising program, an Ethnic Studies Program, a new curriculum development model with the faculty tech camps, and a real summer session with over 90 students currently enrolled.

I've waited until tonight to present a few new developments as well. You may recall that we now have a proposal process for Centers and Institutes. It's one of those places where I worked with the Council of Deans and Senate to establish a fairly rigorous set of requirements, such as proposing a business plan, building an advisory board, and showing potential for outside funding. We did this so that we'd have a process available to anyone who wanted to act on their inspiration. I'm thrilled to announce the official recognition and support of our new Center for First Generation Studies, co-directed by Dana Herrera and Phylis Martinelli.

We have also concluded our search for a new Director of Faculty Development. The applicants were talented, experienced and enthusiastic, but we can only have one at a time! We chose someone who is known for curricular innovation, successful grant writing, departmental leadership, and demonstrated commitment to collaboration and service. The new Director of Faculty Development is Dr. Steven Bachofer.

One more announcement before I continue. This is also the occasion at which we recognize our new Professor of the Year. Students write that this professor was inspiring; a "model of patience, grace, and composure. She showed that you didn't have to be mouthy and causing a scene to prove that something was important to you." Her department listed many contributions, ranging from co-founding and directing programs to writing and publishing numerous essays in her discipline. I am proud to announce this year's Professor of the Year as Dr. Sandy Grayson.

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Great things, great people. What next? Our journey ahead will be challenging, because we'll need more than broadcasting our successes to carry us into the future. We live amidst other excellent Catholic Universities, prestigious liberal arts Colleges, beautiful campuses, and institutions that boast high academic quality, small classes, individual attention, collaborative learning, social justice, service, and personal transformation. We may have all of these things, but they won't set us apart, and won't ensure our survival in the increasingly competitive landscape of higher education.

In some ways, our very mission calls us to move beyond these general characteristics. We are distinctive in our community and the connections that we promise to our students, in the learning we provide through relationships. Lasallian schools are often likened to an extended family, and the metaphor of family works as long as it expresses love, care, compassion, and respect. But it's not family ties that bind us. We are here by choice, and our community is based on a faith heritage rather than family ties. De La Salle realized that educators would be successful only if united by a common vision, a shared dedication, and a supportive community.

If you peel away the layers of the new core curriculum, you'll see a real revitalization of de La Salle's vision. We're turning to what our curriculum does rather than what it is. De La Salle wrote, "persons must be at the center of educational systems rather than the prestige of some academic curriculum." We can claim to have some of the greatest thinkers of all time at the center of Collegiate Seminar, but that's not what makes use great. Ideas alone aren't good enough. It's how those ideas matter in the world. For de La Salle, "the main purpose of faith is to lead us to practice what we believe."

The Great Books can't be treated as a Western civilization class designed to give a marginalized group of students social capital, because the definition of "marginalized" is fluid, and social capital no longer resides solely in one cultural tradition. The Books are a foundation for the manner in which we engage students in the great conversations. Reading them so that I can check them off on a Facebook list of "books I've read" isn't the point….

Our ideas, our academic identity have to be relevant and practical in the lives of today's student. Current economic indicators, should they become trends, mean that the profile of our students continues to be dramatically different than ten or twenty years ago. Much of this is intentional. This year, we planned for a smaller entering class, but we also raised the floor on academic quality while preserving our mission. This year's entering class is 15% honors at entrance, the highest ever. We have 45% students of color, and 35% are Pell eligible. An increasing number of our students are also first generation and in need of financial aid. The number of students receiving aid has jumped 14% in the last two years, from 72% on aid in 2007 to 86% this year. We have done a great job in our commitment to access and affordability. Now, we need to ensure that we are a college of choice for those who are financially comfortable as well as those who have economic need.

To some extent, economic realities are forcing accelerated discussion about our common academic vision. Last year, I began to articulate what I saw as the academic identity that we must promote. I said that we must support and validate the accomplishments of faculty, cross disciplinary boundaries, and model collaborative inquiry in teaching and research, in student/faculty scholarship and creative works, in leadership and teamwork, and in modeling crucial conversations in our community. If we are to successfully educate, as Brother George Van Grieken writes, with "creativity and fortitude," it means understanding our students and making ideas matter to them. It also means showing they matter to us, in the classroom, in our advising, and in our dedication to innovative pedagogy.

All of our academic programs, undergraduate, graduate, professional, must be innovative, be relevant, and embrace distinction and difference for us to be successful. We need more team teaching, collaborative research, study abroad, internships, and opportunities to achieve learning goals in radically different ways. We must embrace distinctiveness as an institution, differences as professionals in our roles and responsibilities, and differences in our students and the experiences and perspectives they bring to us. Being a faith community and practicing inclusion does not mean everyone is the same. Br. Gerard Rummery puts it this way: "Community is respectful of individual difference, finds beauty in diverse people and variegated experiences, recognizes fullness in both one liter and two liter containers without demanding that the quantities be equal, for community, choosing to be associated is about quality, not quantity"….

So that is our journey ahead ….there is the prospect for a distinctive community, one that puts great ideas into action, finds multiple ways to achieve shared goals, and projects an attitude of innovation with, and this is critical, a student population that reflects the diversity of our country and, I hope eventually, the world. Our students bring the world to us, and if we can teach them to engage with the differences in each other, to integrate who they are with what they learn, they will not only be personally transformed, they will be prepared to transform the world. There will be workshops, grants, and program development opportunities on the horizon. Our "all faculty" day will be August 24 this year, and I've got some homework for you.

What will Saint Mary's be best at? I look forward to your hearing your answers in the fall. Thank you, and enjoy the rest of your evening.

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