Reflections from the Fall Semester

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I have waited since the concentrated activity of late August until now, six weeks later, to compose my first Bulletin message of the fall term. As new first-year students arrived and settled in, there was considerable energy and a sense of renewal on campus. Our undergraduates are now immersed in midterms, our Board of Trustees meets this week and several campus initiatives have reached a point of "buzz" certainly worthy of comment and praise.

A few campus experiences have helped to distinguish this period for me. In the last week alone, I attended at least four meetings that were inspiring. The work of the Core Curriculum Task Force is exciting and promises to bring us to a new level of shared governance, not only in the progressive series of community dialogues that help to shape the work, but also in the discussion of curricular oversight of the Core by faculty. If we continue on this trajectory, I anticipate that the collaborative and learning-focused nature of our work will be nationally recognized.

At last Thursday's Academic Senate meeting, faculty and administrators tackled very complex and thorny issues, such as the status of our Faculty Salary Policy. It is clear that Goal 2, our assistant professor salaries compared to our WCC + Manhattan College peers, will be increasingly difficult to meet given the general economic condition of the country. Our endowment earnings, cost of debt repayment and difficulty of our students to afford Saint Mary's College are likely to force reconsideration of our budget assumptions. At the same time, we risk losing the ability to attract and retain highly qualified faculty if we do not increase salaries.

The Senate discussion about our competitiveness as a college is also timely and important. We are preparing for a comprehensive campaign, exploring new directions in marketing, and beginning to reevaluate the way we recruit and enroll new students. There is no better time for faculty to contribute their thoughts and experience to deliberations about who we are and who we want to become over the next several years.

In the midst of these faculty-focused meetings, I also had the opportunity to spend time with students, first in attending a Seminar session held by Antonio (Tony) Watkins. Students were completing Part I of Don Quixote. During that hour, I found myself scribbling my own questions on scraps of paper I had used as bookmarks, admiring Tony's restraint (I might have had trouble remaining silent at times), and a bit melancholic about being removed from the classroom. A co-taught section of Seminar is certainly in my future. And late Sunday evening, I was invited to the ASSMC Senate to entertain questions about WASC and the College Committee on Inclusive Excellence (CCIE). The students' questions were insightful, pointed and professional. As I have been in the past, I was once again impressed by the quality of governance exhibited by our students.

And of course, recent weeks have seen considerable activity by the CCIE, which has crafted a vision and educational case statement, co-sponsored book-centered dialogues on diversity, begun special events programming and committed to attending all-day workshops as pilots for campus-wide opportunities that will begin early next year. The most recent attention has, of course, been generated in the welcome and spirited discussion about "acts of intolerance." Somehow, consistent with the tenets of academic freedom, we need to ensure both the dignity of those who are hurt and those against whom unfair charges are made. We need intermediary responses to behavior that seems hurtful. For instance, I know someone who suffers from acid reflux and sometimes experiences chest pain. When he feels bad after regular office hours, he is inclined to go to the emergency room. Of course, if he says "chest pain" (rather than "heartburn"), everyone in the ER (rightly so, it's their job) is likely to go into overdrive, performing every diagnostic test possible to determine if their patient is having, or has had, a heart attack. It takes someone who knows the context, listens carefully to his concerns and talks with him directly to determine whether a much less dramatic approach is in order. I hope through our discussions of the "protocols" that we identify ways to become better triage nurses.

I hope you share my experience of campus as dynamic, creatively engaged and energized by those working openly and together. The best is yet to come.