Excerpts from Spring Address to the SMC Faculty by Provost Beth Dobkin

....This past year we’ve welcomed many new people – 10 new ranked faculty, 7 new adjuncts, new deans, vice provosts, directors, and Brothers.… Last year around this time, I promised I wasn’t going anywhere, and it was “starting to get really good.” The Academic Blueprint was set into motion; the Faculty Salary Task Force kicked into gear; we had new Faculty Awards; we celebrated 40 years of women students at the College; new Incident Management and Bias Incident Response Teams were formed; and there were tons of search committees.…

We’ve been running together with the ground getting solid underneath, and that means you start to move a lot faster. That can cause chaos, especially if you don’t pause once in awhile and make sure you’re all headed in the same direction. This year has included new Core Curriculum implementation, Collegiate Seminar renewal, technology planning, and funding for a new digital media lab. We may have had the most collaborative and far-reaching effort ever with the Faculty Salary Task Force. Of course, there wasn’t complete consensus on all of it, and we’re still working out a few details, but faculty from across campus as well as administrators and trustees all agreed on an equitable peer group for a faculty salary scale that has lifted the salaries of all full-time faculty. Lecturers will be next. We’ve had a hugely successful AACSB (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) mock visit, with our consultants citing “outstanding work in all areas” and incredulity about the amount of change made in the last four years. We named our first full set of annual faculty awards at the $5,000 level: for teaching, Denise Witzig; scholarship, David Alvarez; service, Brother Charles Hilken; and early career, Jia Wu. We also secured California Commission on Teacher Credentialing re-affirmation of accreditation. It will be our fourth undergraduate summer session.…

In the midst of all of this, I recently heard one of the best compliments ever: a longtime faculty member, who shall remain anonymous, told me that although he was now “50ish” (I’ll leave his age out) and had been here a very long time, he was enjoying working at Saint Mary’s now more than ever. That’s the kind of thing that keeps me going.

So it’s time to catch our breath and remind ourselves why we’ve been running. It’s a matter of pacing ourselves, focusing on what’s ahead, and taking time to appreciate each other and our achievements. Thanks, in particular, to Brother Charles Hilken, for stepping into the role of Special Assistant to the Provost for Catholic Thought and Identity, and helping to fill the considerable void created by the passing of Brother Donald Mansir. As I tried to create a list of all of the faculty to thank, it struck me that nearly the entire faculty has been walking together and moving this College forward. Some of the ones on whom I’ve personally relied include Tomas Gomez, as chair of the Academic Senate and co-chair of the College Committee on Inclusive Excellence; Jeff Sigman in leading the Technology Plan Steering Committee; Charlie Hamaker and Jose Feito as they shepherd both a leadership transition and renewal of Collegiate Seminar, Sue Fallis for facilitating the expanded support for and operation of Jan Term, Core Curriculum Task Force members Jim Sauerberg, Rebecca Carroll, Cynthia Ganote, Rebecca Jabbour, Lisa Manter, Ed Tywoniak, and Paul Zarnoth, aided by the continued leadership of Zach Flanigan, and the Rank and Tenure Committee, led so ably by Gretchen Lemke-Santangelo. The faculty serving on the Student Success Task Force deserve recognition, including David Bird, Frances Sweeney, and Ted Tsukahara. We recently honored Barry Eckhouse as Professor of the Year, and it’s time to announce next year’s honoree: Becky Proehl.

Our department chairs and program directors and FYAC advisors are all unsung heroes who also deserve our recognition, and we know that almost all of the work we do is in direct partnership with and supported by our staff and administrators. These collaborations are part of the unique strength of Saint Mary’s College. Of course that includes my deans and vice provosts, and my office staff to whom I’m eternally grateful: Gloria Janas, Chandra Commer, and our newest member, Jan Jones.

We’ve made considerable progress on the Academic Blueprint this past year, which organizes activity around creating inclusive and global educational experiences; fostering innovation, creativity, and collaboration; promoting leadership for social justice; and advancing student success. We’ve provided greater support to the Ethnic Studies program, the Intercultural Center, and the Interactive Theater Troupe; we have a new Living Learning Community for international students and studies; we’ve expanded the High Potential program and increased retention; we’ve expanded funding for Jan Term travel; we’ve instituted a new set of guidelines for traveling with students; and we have a revised Business Administration major and MBA curricula that includes global perspectives and travel. Women’s Studies has become Women and Gender Studies…. We’ve still got work to do. We always will. We’ll never be done, because diversity is a fact of human existence. To paraphrase our own Larry Cory at the School of Science retirement celebration, respecting the dignity of the “human person” means embracing all genders. The Christian Brothers internationally exemplify inclusive beliefs and practices, and I’ve drawn personal inspiration from our own president, Brother Ron.

Inclusive excellence and global engagement is just the first goal. In fostering innovation, creativity, and collaboration: we have new grants through Faculty Development; increased promotion of exhibitions and the performing arts regionally and nationally; the now annual Writer’s Retreat; year three of Tech Camp, new awards through Faculty Development, expanded Student Research Awards to graduate students; and faculty workshops – courtesy of Steve Bachofer – on assessment and grant writing. Facilities issues are still top of mind, and renovation of the Psychology annex will begin this summer. Among other things, that will give us four more faculty offices. This is admittedly a short step in the long way to go to meet our needs for faculty office space, but we will keep up the pace.

In the areas of leadership, social justice and student success, we’ve fully integrated the Center for Environmental Literacy in the Kalmanovitz School of Education and sponsored the international River of Words poetry and art competition, which presented its awards both on campus and at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Our leadership programming includes not just curriculum development, such as the Social Justice track in our Master's in Leadership, but also national recognition at NCORE (National Conference on Race and Ethnicity) for exemplary peer facilitation by our undergraduates, and hosting of the Bay Area Latino Network, thanks to the efforts of one of our graduate students – who also happens to be our own Director of Human Resources Eduardo Salaz.

Some of the student success initiatives this past year may have fallen off the radar as administrivia, but for our students, I hope the changes have substantial and positive consequences. We continue to expand summer session. I know we want to continue studying the First Year Advising Cohort model, but luckily we have a core of committed faculty who are keeping it alive as we strive to perfect it. We are about to experience the second “commencement weekend,” bringing much-deserved attention and stature to our graduate programs. Starting next year, undergraduates can only be two courses shy of completion rather than three if they want to participate in commencement. We have increased staff support, particularly for students who are first generation, high potential, or disabled. We’ve created Math and Writing Centers. We will be instituting a new social networking site to bring students together with alumni to facilitate career mentoring, internships, and job placement. We’re improving online advising tools to help course planning be true exploration rather than pure degree audit. And plenty is yet to come, as we launch the new Core Curriculum and renewed Collegiate Seminar.

I’m even energized by the quality of discourse around the academic calendar and credit hour discussions. More than ever, as a community we’re becoming more transparent, accountable, and civil. There’s agreement that we need to deliver what we promise in terms of credit hours toward degrees. There’s agreement that whatever we do, it can’t add a full course to faculty workload, it can’t cost students more, and it can’t delay their academic progress. We will keep Jan Term, continue to have course sessions that last at least a 60 minutes, and maintain consistency in the way we determine credit hours. Building on the work of the Academic Calendar Task Force, the Senate has encouraged me, my staff, and faculty volunteers to develop various proposals for faculty consideration in August. I know we’ll figure it out together.

We’re walking briskly, confidently, with purpose and direction, but it’s not exactly into a certain future. Our undergraduate tuition has gone about as high as it can go, and the competition for graduate students continues to stiffen. Our ranked faculty numbers lag behind student enrollments. Our physical infrastructure continues to age. And everything we do is increasingly scrutinized by a consumer public, benchmarked by regulators, and fair game for misrepresentation on the Internet.

I think we can, and must, make this uncertainty work for us, partly by continuing to be certain about our mission and strengths. Let me talk for a moment about two particular aspects of the future that are both challenging and exciting: our technology infrastructure, and our Sesquicentennial. There’s a lot of countervailing cultural pressure working against us when it comes to technology. First, as much as we tout liberal learning, inclusive community, and the understanding of faith and reason, the digital culture in which we find ourselves immersed often pushes us away from the core values of our educational mission. Daniel Shea opines, “Americans have moved toward ideologically homogeneous cocoons: shelters of concordant information…. The homogenization of information is intensified by the Internet. We seek out information that is consistent with our pre-existing framework. Roger Cohen at the New York Times writes, "The Internet opens worlds and minds, but also offers opinions to reinforce every prejudice. You’re never alone out there; some idiot will always back you.”[i] Diversity isn’t just a demographic issue. Competing perspectives, critical evaluation, synthesis and self-reflection will remain foundational as we teach students, and each other, to engage the world in ways consistent with our mission.

Once again, I turn to our faculty to keep us moving forward. The vision statement of the Technology Plan Steering Committee is instructive: “Saint Mary’s College should excel at using information technology in supporting and enhancing teaching, learning, scholarly activity, and administrative functions, leading to the development of technologically adept citizens both on the campus and beyond it.”

This summer, we’ll bring together the Technology Advisory Committee, the Technology Planning Committee, the Faculty Technology group, Computer and Technology Staff with our new Chief Technology Officer, Peter Greco, for the next stage of technology planning. Beginning June 11, the CTO and CaTS will move in reporting structure to the Office of the Provost. Let’s be clear about why that’s happening. Over nearly a decade, computing at Saint Mary’s has evolved in profound and constructive ways, largely under the leadership of Ed Biglin. We owe him an incredible debt for all that he has accomplished. Technology has changed the way we do business, and Ed’s leadership brought us coordinated services, an improved infrastructure, and administrative efficiency. To be sure, these are all still critical and challenging. However, the move of technology and information services into the Office of the Provost signals institutional understanding of its importance to the educational mission of the College.

We know that technology is changing both the practice of and access to education. Some see it as disruptive, distracting, and leading to increases in plagiarism. Distance education is becoming increasingly global, and access to educational resources continues to expand. You’ve undoubtedly heard about MITx, now edX, and perhaps even Udacity and Coursera. These “massively open online courses” provide a new level of access to learning which challenges the idea that only professors hold the keys to knowledge. Of course, we’ve been challenging that idea for a very long time. We can be known for a blend of liberal learning, facilitated and opened up by technology, centered on the student experience, and motivated by faith seeking understanding. This approach to the uncertain digital future will enable us to march forward with conviction and confidence. We must recognize the great potential of expanded access to educational resources. Our emphasis needs to be on using these resources for collaboration, applied knowledge, and integrating digital tools and asynchronous learning (some people might call that “reading”) with our strengths in faculty/student interaction and shared mission.

I mentioned a second area of excitement: our sesquicentennial year. The year will provide opportunities to build awareness of and support for our distinctive mission, character, and academic excellence. I use the word “opportunity” carefully, and encourage you to think about participating in any forthcoming invitations in ways that enhance what you already do, or have wanted to do. The year will open with a sesquicentennial Mass and include a “Gaelabration” – a campus festival and open house for the greater community. We will have a symposium on the Catholic Intellectual Tradition, featuring the chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and Social Sciences, Bishop Marcelo Sanchez-Sorondo, as well as a symposium on the Liberal Arts with Carole Geary Schneider, president of the American Association of Colleges and Universities and Catherine Hill, president of Vassar College. Our symposium on Lasallian Education will feature Brother Alvaro Rodriquez Echeverria, Superior General of the Brothers of the Christian Schools.

The theme of “The Great(est) Conversation(s)” will frame those events which showcase our academic distinctiveness. Our community is characterized by a particular educational experience, which Dr. Richard Yanikoski, former president and CEO of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, describes as a “functioning model of what life can look like when first-rate intellectuals examine their faith, live their faith, and enjoy positive relationships in community with others who believe differently or not (at) all.”[ii] The Saint Mary’s College educational experience is exemplified by Collegiate Seminar’s pedagogy of shared inquiry and discussion of essential questions about faith, morality, ethics and social justice, a pedagogy which increasingly characterizes both our undergraduate and graduate programs. For our sesquicentennial, in addition to framing our symposia as examples of The Great(est) Conversation(s), we will sponsor events that celebrate our academic distinctiveness and draw on the tradition of engagement exemplified by Collegiate Seminar. In this spirit, I invite you to propose an event for the Sesquicentennial.

The topics should address a great idea or examine a perennial question, include perspectives from more than one discipline, and showcase Saint Mary’s College faculty. The formats should promote synthesis rather than polarity, create space for audience participation, be accessible beyond the our physical campus, and be aimed at discovery. If we do this well, we will promote intellectual integrity, model willingness to listen to and take seriously the ideas of others, advance public consideration of contested issues, and demonstrate our commitment to rational discourse and civic engagement.

That might sound like a tall order, but I know that you already have events planned for next year, or a wish list of people whom you always wanted to bring to campus. Think about this over the summer. Faculty or staff who are interested in organizing and sponsoring an event and submit a successful proposal will receive a $500 stipend and a budget of up to $5000 for the event, which can include guest speakers, promotional materials, food, or supplies.

Guidelines and request for proposals for sesquicentennial events.

Finally, the sesquicentennial will culminate in the public phase of our comprehensive campaign. One of the most important achievements will be raising the funds necessary to build a new Library and Learning Commons…. Do you remember about a month ago, when the Mega Millions lottery jackpot reached over $600 million? I confess; I bought a ticket. Well, as long as I’m confessing, I admit – I bought five. Then I listened to an NPR story about why people do it, why they buy these things when they’re more likely to be hit by falling debris from an airplane. And the reason they do it, one psychologist said, was because it gives people the opportunity to dream about what they’d do with the money. And you know the very first thing that came to my mind? Build a new Saint Mary’s Library!

I didn’t win the lottery. Not even my five bucks. So now I’m back to convincing everyone I can about the importance of this project to our academic future, to proclaiming the value of our approach to information literacy, collaboration, and of course, books. Our Board of Trustees meets next week. I’d like to tell them that every faculty member here contributed something to the Library/Learning Commons. Put your five bucks here, in an envelope. Let’s show them we share the commitment, and now it’s their turn.

Our Jan Term theme for next year is "Inspire." You inspire me. I know you inspire your students…. Thank you, and I hope to see you at Baccalaureate Mass, and at both graduate and undergraduate commencements. For now, continue to enjoy the food, wine, and each other, and pace yourself.



[i] Shea, Daniel M. (2012). “Civility In and Out of the Academy.” In Civic Provocations, American Association of Colleges and Universities, p. 43.

[ii] Yanikoski, Richard (2012, March). “Seven Constructive Tensions in Catholic Higher Education.” Veritas, Vol. 4, No. 2. Bishop John S. Cummins Institute for Catholic Thought, Culture and Action, Saint Mary's College of California, p. 10.