President Donahue’s End-of-the-Year Message 2017

Dear Saint Mary’s Community Members,

After an academic year that included both challenges and proven progress toward the goals in our strategic plan, we ended the year on a celebratory note, applauding the achievements of our undergraduate and graduate and professional studies students upon their graduation.

At our 2017 commencement ceremonies, we heard from two remarkable individuals: award-winning journalist and editorial page editor for the San Francisco Chronicle, John Diaz, and Deborah Richardson MA ‘13, an inspiring alumna and human rights crusader with the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta. Their hopeful messages encouraged our graduates to challenge and help define the world around us and to stand up to injustices for the common good of all society.

I, too, am ending the academic year with hopefulness about the future of our College. During commencement weekend the Saint Mary’s College Board of Trustees gathered to approve the College’s 2017-18 budget. The board also welcomed incoming chair, Kevin Nagle, Chairman and CEO of Sac Soccer & Entertainment Holdings, Inc., along with four new trustees: Kevin Flynn ’86, Mark Madgett ’83, Joseph Motta ’84, and Brother Gustavo Ramirez, FSC, MA ’94. The board also expressed its gratitude and appreciation to outgoing chair and Wells Fargo Executive Vice President Steve Smith ’85.

We have made significant strides in our strategic plan, including goals 1 and 2: Raise the Academic Profile and Distinction, and Support the Student Lifecycle. In alignment with our Lasallian Catholic mission, we secured federal funding based on academic distinction to promote diverse student success in the sciences through a Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI) STEM grant. We also provided additional funding for collaborative research between faculty and students. Reflective of the College’s commitment to inclusive excellence, there has been a significant increase in our faculty diversity, including a near doubling of tenured and tenure-track black and African American faculty at Saint Mary’s, rising from six in spring 2016 to 11 by spring 2017.  

We launched high-touch, high-tech initiatives to promote faculty innovation and student success and expanded others, such as the Digital Driver’s License. We brought our graduate and undergraduate SEBA faculty together on our main campus, launched an institutional repository to promote and enhance public access to faculty and student scholarship, and combined professional and career counseling with academic advising.

Our remarkable faculty continue to be recognized for their stellar academic research and scholarship. There were many noteworthy moments for our faculty this year, including the well-deserved recognition of Integral Professor Steven Cortright as Saint Mary’s Professor of the Year. SMC’s Olivia Filippi Professor of Poetry Brenda Hillman was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the country’s oldest learned societies, and research conducted on eldercare quality by new faculty member Assistant Professor of Anthropology Anna Corwin received national news coverage. We also continued our efforts to recognize outstanding faculty through our annual faculty Scholars’ Reception and the compilation of faculty achievements as a part of a database of Saint Mary’s faculty scholarship.

We have also seen advancements in pursuit of goal 3: From De La Salle to Lasallian. They include the now annual Lasallian Research Conference—a development of our Mission Leadership Team, which reflects and champions our Lasallian Catholic character and commitment. During De La Salle Week, the conference featured academic research by three new faculty members whose scholarship examines individuals who live on the margins of our society.

Our sustainability commitments also continue to grow stronger. Our last Sustainability Report boasts that more than 1,250 students have engaged in activities or programs, accounting for more than 500 volunteer hours in support of sustainability at the College. The College achieved the Silver STARS rating for sustainability in early 2016 and we are working toward a Gold designation through the implementation of a planned 24-month sustainability plan.

Additionally, there has been substantial progress towards goal 4: Prioritize Facilities and Footprint. Significantly, after the culmination of several years of work, which included community conversations, institutional outreach, and presentations before civic leaders, the Moraga Town Council unanimously approved the Campus Master Plan. The Town has also authorized banners welcoming SMC’s class of 2021 to the College. The cordial relations between Saint Mary’s and Moraga prompted a local news outlet to note that town-gown relations were at an all-time high.

The College’s institutional branding campaign, a vital part of goal 5: Get the Message Out, was launched in December 2016 and has been effectively building awareness about the superlative academic reputation of Saint Mary’s. Presently, our first-year student deposits are running well ahead of where they were last year at this time, and we are on track to surpass the forecasted incoming class of 615 freshmen. Also encouraging are our transfer student deposits, which are higher than last year’s numbers at this time. 

Our improved fundraising efforts also reflect genuine progress for the College, and headway toward strategic goal 6: Ensure Saint Mary’s Financial Stability. We experienced a record-breaking 1Day1SMC 24-hour giving challenge on April 27, with more than 1,900 donors and $340,000 secured for the College. Campus partners, volunteers, and board leadership challenged our constituencies to meet our goal of 1,863 donors and our alumni, parents, and friends generously participated. Additionally, our total FY17 fundraising through May surpassed total FY16 giving by more than $5 million. And while the great majority of these resources cannot be applied to the reduction of operating expenses, as they are restricted for areas such as capital facilities and scholarships to improve affordability at the College, the increased fundraising reflects continued strong donor and foundational support for this outstanding academic institution.

While we are encouraged by our progress, we also recognize that we must continue to respond to developing trends in an increasingly volatile higher education environment. The recent challenges facing many liberal arts institutions across the nation clearly underscore the need for prudent approaches in our operations while seeking to diversify our revenue streams. In keeping with our strategic commitment to ensure Saint Mary’s remains on firm financial ground, we continue to realign our resources to promote our stability going forward. The Voluntary Separation Incentive Program (VSIP) was implemented for qualified employees. We also continued our workforce planning initiatives and are streamlining redundancies. As a result of these intentional actions to operate more efficiently as an institution, we delivered a balanced budget for 2017-18, which, as Vice President for Finance and Administration Susan Wallace reported last week, was approved by our Board of Trustees.

During our De La Salle Week Convocation, Bethlehem University Vice Chancellor Brother Peter Bray, FSC reminded us how important it is to embrace hope, even when faced with adversity. In speaking about his students, he told us how they remained hopeful for a brighter future, even though they attend classes under tremendous societal restrictions in Palestine. Their hope, he said, is not just blind optimism; it is fueled by a knowledge that they are not alone, that people outside their country stand in solidarity with them.

While we will encounter challenges, I am filled with hope and confidence that Saint Mary’s will continue to thrive, and be recognized as a distinguished university. I am extremely proud of your commitment to Saint Mary’s, to our Lasallian Catholic mission and liberal arts tradition, and to our principles of inclusive community and respect for all persons during these times of change. Again, I thank you all for your contributions to Saint Mary’s.


James A. Donahue