Continuing the Conversations

To the Saint Mary's College community,

There were a number of events this past week that provided opportunities for conversations that will continue to guide us as we explore and articulate our unique identity. They included our Board of Trustees meeting, the "Mary in the Modern World" Conference, concerts, workshops, book groups and the hosting of the third annual Montini Fellow in Catholic Higher Education, Father John C. Haughey, SJ., S.T.D, by the Bishop John S. Cummins Institute for Catholic Thought, Culture and Action.

This was Father Haughey's second visit to campus, and once again I had the opportunity to engage in treasured conversation with him. We spoke of the need to hold tension creatively in pursuit of a unified whole, and of intellectual life that continually challenges our understanding of God. The integration of thought and synthesis of ideas that can emerge from discussions such as these point to the endless possibilities inherent in a vibrant, inclusive academic community.

Recent data suggest that we may be getting better at engaging in the very conversations essential to enhancing academic excellence and increasing the quality of educational experience for all students. Comparisons of our Campus Climate Surveys from 2006 and 2008 to 2010 show that faculty and staff increasingly say that Saint Mary's places a great deal of emphasis on airing differences of opinion openly and regularly. Fewer faculty, staff and students report hearing insensitive or disparaging remarks, and staff and faculty increasingly say that campus administrators willingly share information and seek input from those who are affected by decisions. (Much of the Climate Survey data has been presented in campus venues and posted on our Institutional Research page; additional discussion will be held on Oct. 20 from 12:45 to 2 p.m. in the Soda Center). Sustaining open, inclusive discourse will be critical as we advance the many initiatives of the coming year, such as academic planning, recruitment and retention of faculty and staff, Core Curriculum Implementation and strategic resource allocation.

Conversations about the academic direction of the College have accelerated within individual schools; in retreats, faculty meetings, and Advisory Board events; and at the College level. The Academic Blueprint Task Force continues to meet regularly to complete implementation strategies and identify metrics by which to determine progress toward completing our goals. Our work attempts to integrate related initiatives; for example, in our efforts to build leadership that advances social justice we are drawing from the efforts of the Social Justice Coordinating Committee; in proposing strategies to prepare students for ethical and effective engagement in a diverse and global environment, we are incorporating suggestions from the College Committee on Inclusive Excellence and the International Programs Coordinating Committee. The final version of our Academic Blueprint will be presented to the Senate for additional comment early next year; in the meantime, we will continue to move forward on actions consistent with our strategic directions, such as supporting faculty innovation and providing professional development for staff and faculty.

Faculty and staff recruitment and retention efforts include both ongoing searches and the work of the Faculty Salary Policy Task Force. Ken Brown continues to lead the search for Dean of the School of Science. Semifinalists have been selected by the Search Committee, and on-campus interviews should begin next month. Recruitment for the Dean of the Kalmanovitz School of Education is fully underway; the position is now being advertised nationally, and the Search Committee, chaired by Becky Proehl, is refining the position profile that will help guide the next leader for the School. Interviews for that position should take place early next year. Our Search Committee for the Dean for Academic Resources and Library Director will begin meeting soon, chaired by Linda Wobbe and consisting of Ed Biglin, Jerry Brunetti, Nora Garcia, Scott Kier, Brother Richard Lemberg, Dan Leopard, Mary McCall and Elise Wong. Finally, I anticipate meeting soon with Senate leadership to discuss the search process for our next Vice Provost for Undergraduate Academics.

The Task Force charged with reviewing faculty compensation is moving forward on two fronts: first, a "philosophy" work group is developing core principles which should guide all compensation and have focused discussion on fairness and equity, financial prudence, market competitiveness, and sustainability. A "market/metrics" work group has been examining the foundations of faculty compensation structures and reviewing data by discipline and rank for faculty across a variety of institutions. The full Task Force meets again in November to review a draft compensation philosophy and anticipates recommending a faculty compensation framework to the Senate next spring.

The work of the Core Curriculum Implementation Committee is also moving ahead with careful deliberation and community engagement about the outcomes by which our new learning goals can be realized. Ideally, if we can create clear outcomes that transcend individual courses and are achievable in a variety of contexts, we will create the very integration and synergy that helps make a Saint Mary's College education compelling and distinctive. This work is difficult, time-consuming and promising. We are fortunate to have talented faculty and staff, facilitated by Chair Zach Flanigan, moving these efforts forward.

Finally, the quality of our deliberations as a campus community is evidenced in the Board of Trustees approval of budget recommendations forwarded to them by our President. With these recommendations, we sought to respond to calls for restoring College retirement contributions and to acknowledge the particular burden carried by staff who have been called to do more with less. We must remain cautious about assuming that this year's revenue increase will be repeated in the future, particularly because we know unlimited growth in undergraduate students and sizable tuition increases are not sustainable. At the same time, we can continue to strategically allocate the resources that we have to create the best possible learning environment for all.

We opened the fall academic season with a Senatorial debate that was a seamless part of the Saint Mary's experience, not only because of the diligence with which staff worked to make the event logistically smooth, but also because of the way rigorous, respectful debate and quality deliberation characterize our community. I continue to draw inspiration from the people and events on campus, and I look forward to the creative synergy that will continue to emerge from our conversations across campus.

Beth Dobkin