Remarks at the State of The College Address

This week marks one month since I formally assumed the position of Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. My welcome has been warm and broad, and I am quickly feeling like an important part of the Saint Mary's community. I am more excited than ever about the richness and potential of SMC. You are our greatest resource – expert and dedicated faculty, enthusiastic and energetic students, professional and devoted staff. Every day I increasingly value the energy, experience, and insight that you bring to the College.

At the same time, I am troubled by the draft letter we received from WASC last week. It points to the need for substantive and extensive changes in our core structures if we are to continue as a quality, accredited institution of higher education. We must acknowledge that we are "on notice," and we must be prepared to move beyond preliminary actions. We need to make aggressive progress on enhancing our library facilities and resources, developing and administering our graduate programs, particularly the Ed.D. program, and insuring an inclusive, civil and diverse campus. Both Brother Ron and the Commission have identified me as playing an important role in assuring that SMC meets the challenges posed by WASC. The pressure is on, and I will need your honest and visible support to advance the mission of SMC and make demonstrable progress in the next year.

The area of deepest concern for the Commission has been the extent of our progress in creating a diverse and inclusive community. This shouldn't come as a surprise; they have expressed concern about it for over 20 years, and their concern has been a reflection of our own concern. During those years, we have made progress, some of which is visible in areas such as student recruitment and retention. This community, I believe, has an open heart, good will, and a genuine desire to create a more just and inclusive world. But we aren't there yet.

Our diversity and inclusion challenges are fundamentally about civility, because inclusion requires respect, demonstrated in the ways we behave both formally and informally. Diversity and inclusion are inseparable; as the WASC Statement on Diversity says, "representation is not merely a matter of numbers, but also concerns how individuals participate in the life of a college or university….. An effective academic community calls for respect and cooperation among the various groups represented within the institution."

We also know that our campus is, in many ways, a microcosm of the "isms" that exist throughout our region, country, and world. We cannot expect to live in or create a community of pure love and respect. We can, however, ensure that we have systems of accountability that are appropriate, that behaviors we will not tolerate are clear, and that actions to address incivility are aggressive and consistent. We can also learn to value differences, recognizing that our desires to achieve consensus and universal community sometimes undermine the principles of individual respect and dignity.

Often valuing difference and insisting on accountability go together. Without accountability, there is no way to ensure that the behaviors we desire are rewarded, and objectionable behaviors have consequences. Without accountability, there is no way to know how wisely our resources have been spent, and whether there have been the "tangible results" that WASC, and really we, should require. We must be accountable first to each other, requiring a strong collective will to change many of the practices that have become "business as usual." We have a good foundation, and many practices are already under scrutiny, such as the way we respond to acts of intolerance and incivility, how we recruit and support diverse students, staff, and faculty, and how we build cultural competence.

We have been challenged to rise "above the level of brainstorming" and present actionable initiatives, complete with budgets, deadlines, and designated accountable parties." In the next 90 days, we must convince the WASC Commission that we know what we will do, how we will do it, and that our results will be clear when they visit us in fall of 2009.

A core part of our mission lies in transformation. As we engage in the transformation of our students, we must willing to transform ourselves, retaining what is best about our College while becoming the diverse and inclusive community that our mission requires. We can do this, and we will all be better for it. In the months that follow, I will be working with the President, Cabinet, Board of Trustees, and Celebrating Diversity Committee to make sure we succeed. Above all, though, I need you. Call me, write me, visit my webpage regularly for frequent updates and input in our deliberations and decisions. Please join me in advancing inclusive excellence at Saint Mary's College.