March 5, 2008
It has been more than three years since I have been President and I can't imagine where the time has gone because much has happened. I mentioned to the Board of Trustees in January, that I was surprised that even though I felt I knew much about Saint Mary's when I stepped into this position, it has taken considerable time to get a real working knowledge of who we are today as a community and what our strengths, talents and challenges are.
Today, I am going to offer some reflections on where we have been, where we are, and what are our challenges and opportunities.
Where we have been:
Building momentum with advancement, alumni participation, board training, participation and formation. Alumni giving and participation has increased; there are 12 new Board members and 12 new Regents, there are also new advisory Boards for School of Science and Liberal Arts.
Considerable change in personnel at the cabinet level: Brother Stan Sobczyk, Vice President for Advancement; Caro1e Swain, Vice President for Mission; Jane Camarillo, Vice Provost for Student Life; Beth Dobkin, our new Provost. With Brother Stan going on a well-deserved sabbatical at the end of this semester, a search for a new Vice President for Advancement is underway.
Considerable work by faculty in addressing ineffective committee structures; paying attention to core curriculum issues; participating in strategic planning through the Building on Strength Committee; significant research and scholarship.
Important work in outreach and mission related activities by our growing number of institutes: the Cummins Institute, the Henning Institute, CILSA, Center for the Regional Economy; and the Elfenworks Center for the Study of Fiduciary Capitalism.
Student life: Freshman programs; improvements in residence halls and dining; student activities and recreation; effective student government.
We are beginning to have competitive success in our Division I athletics programs: congratulations are certainly due to Mark Orr, our Athletic Director (in only his second year in the position), and the excellent group of coaches and student-athletes in these programs. I know many of you have been following our very successful men's basketball program this year. We have had widespread positive media coverage of the team at the local, national and international levels.
We have had notable success in our dance programs, forensic team, drama productions, teamed faculty/student research in the sciences and a wide array of service organizations, including participation by faculty and staff.
Where we are
Many Building on Strengths tasks have been accomplished already and others are underway.
Among those completed are:
1. Director of Scheduling and Promotion.
2. Completed plan for services and support to enhance the academic performance of our students.
3. Tuition discounting for graduate programs.
4. A new grant writer to support faculty initiatives.
5. Additional library resources.
6. Enhancement of faculty development funds.
7. Review of tenure to department.
The new Filippi Academic Hall and Kalmanovitz School of Education gives impetus and stability to our graduate programs and academic advising services; I hope by now that you have had the opportunity to tour or teach in the new building. As I remarked at the dedication of the building: "The up-to-date classrooms, study areas and offices are meant to serve the students, who are the center and object of our mission. The beauty and design of the entire building are a testament to our commitment to a harmonic and aesthetic setting for our educational mission." I hear also that there are a few electronic glitches and that Ed Biglin and his CaTS crew are working hard to fix these.
Financial stability: Our Moody's ratings remain A3 with a stable outlook; this means we have a good credit rating. Given the present state of the economy, we have proposed a cautious budget for the coming year. The Budget Committee assessed the College's competitive position and strategic plans, as well as the somewhat volatile economic environment before setting undergraduate enrollment targets and tuition and fee rates. It concluded that enrollment levels should be conservatively projected and thanks to Pete Michell and his staff for their very competent work in financial management of the institution.
Our current enrollments are meeting targets in undergraduate and graduate programs; I am particularly pleased to see the efforts being made in the area of faculty advising for new students. The drop in retention which we experienced in the incoming class a year ago has been addressed in a variety of ways: advising, freshman "My SMC" quarter unit courses and "Project Success," a quarter unit course offered for students on academic probation; improved dining facilities and fare; renovations to residence halls. As a result, we have experienced a much higher retention rate for this year's incoming class.
I have just concluded three weekends at recruitment receptions for honors students, presidential scholars and other invited recruits. We met more than 150 students and their families at these receptions, hosted by alumni in Northern California, Southern California and Oregon. The group this year, our largest ever, was diverse and talented, with impressive credentials for scholarship and leadership and commitment to their communities. We're committed to extend competitive offers of financial aid to these students. Faculty and staff can play a very important role in recruiting these students when they come to campus for the overnight programs or Gael-for-a-Day programs, beginning next week. I encourage you to participate in welcoming and meeting these prospective students. And I want to thank the many faculty, staff and students who participated in these receptions.
Southern California student recruiting efforts and spoke at an Orange County reception for honors students. He spoke warmly about his relationships with faculty members here who assisted him in not just discovering his interests, but in developing his talents. He said Saint Mary's is a place which helped him discover and cultivate his "personal greatness." He is now a graduate from UCLA Law School and does development work for underachieving communities. I offer Toussaint as only one example of what we, that is faculty and staff, do so well here at Saint Mary's.
We are in the second year of a Walk the Talk project funded by AACU, aimed at promoting personal and social responsibility among undergraduates. In addition, we have recently received recognition at the American Council of Education's annual meeting as one of the 127 schools on the President's Honor Roll with Distinction for innovative and effective community service and service-learning programs. This puts us in the top 1 percent in the nation.
What are our challenges and opportunities?
Challenges: Clarity of mission
Deepen the understanding of and commitment to the College's mission
Maintain an effective, engaging and challenging curriculum for all students
Building a stronger community
Enhance the diversity and cultural competency of faculty, staff and students.
Promote civil, effective and respectful communication and collaboration.
Attract and retain a faculty that is diverse, highly qualified and fully engaged as teachers and scholars.
Building a More Efficient Community
Expand, improve and support the use of technology.
Ensure modern, sufficient and well-maintained facilities.
Incorporate sustainable practices and environmental awareness.
Develop more effective administrative structures and decision making processes.
Launching a Comprehensive Campaign
The Board of Trustees has decided to move forward with a comprehensive campaign and we have hired a consultant to help us in this task: John Cash from Marts and Lundy. We are organizing an initial campaign planning committee of trustees and regents, which will be co chaired by Trustee James Quandt and Regent Richard Spencer. My task is to develop a strategic vision statement to assist donors in understanding our mission and draw them into our campaign.
Set priorities this semester
Fully engage trustees, regents, alumni and friends
At the end of their October 2007 visit, our WASC Visiting Team commended the College for many accomplishments and noted several areas of concern, including progress on enhancing College Library resources, development of graduate programs, particularly the Ed.D., and efforts to ensure an inclusive, civil and diverse campus climate.
Last Friday, I received notice from the WASC Commission confirming the assessment of the visiting team and officially and formally notifying the College of their concern. The Commission clearly stated their expectation that we make concerted progress and take concrete action in these areas. Their most significant area of concern is campus climate and civility, and our lack progress in meeting our own objectives in areas of diversity.
Further, the Commission has requested a Special Visit in fall 2009, focusing on progress in addressing these issues.
I take these developments most seriously. We must and we will take necessary steps to satisfy the Commission's concerns within their stipulated timeframe. We are fortunate to have a new Provost, Dr. Beth Dobkin, who has experience and expertise in diversity initiatives. I am committed to providing resources and support for Beth, Carole Swain and other community members in our collective efforts to meet WASC's concerns and our own objectives. The WASC decision is an opportunity and a challenge for the entire SMC community to take positive steps in developing policies, procedures and practices which build an inclusive and respectful community of students, staff and scholars.
At this point I'd ask Dr. Beth Dobkin to share her thoughts about the recent WASC letter.