Spring Address to the Faculty

I'd like to begin by telling you how thrilled I am to be here, and to thank my office staff. All of them are here tonight. Most importantly, I'd like to thank Gloria Janas. She is indispensable to me, and without her none of this would happened....

A few acknowledgements about the tremendous people who have helped us get here are in order. Over the past year a number of people in academic affairs leadership, ones who have logged years of service, started to say: I've done my duty, time to get my life back.

Most recently, Frank Murray acted on his longstanding threat to take that sabbatical he dreamed about and return to his passion (plays). Then there was Nancy Sorensen, who finally stopped juggling ranked faculty, adjunct faculty, lecturers, program directors, department chairs, advisees, community partners to get on with creative work such as launching KSOE's first completely online program.

And sometimes people know they've done such a good job building a great staff and making a positive impact that it's okay to retire. That would be Tom Carter.

Around this time I got an email from Steve Woolpert. He asked: Is there something going on with the deans that he should know about? And silly me, I had no idea what he meant. Oh, that's right, he was the last dean standing. I got a bit panicked and said, "absolutely not, there's nothing going on, and don't you leave me." Steve wrote back, "you'd have to bag me, tag me and drag me away."

Whew. And then Frances Sweeney decided to get a life. We'll have more to say about her next week at a reception to celebrate her contributions. Please plan to attend.

We've been humming along through all of this partly because of the phenomenal job of our interim deans. Larisa Genin stepped in and gave a little style and adrenaline to SEBA, Jerry Brunetti took his turn brightening up the dark side of administration, Sharon Walters glided in gracefully to the deanship for the Library and Academic Resources, and Roy Wensley? That guy who walked out on my first faculty dinner, right when he was announced as Professor of the Year? Well, sometimes you need to realize that you have the best right at home.

Now, our search committee chairs have been fantastic, too – Linda Herkenhoff, Ken Brown, Becky Proehl, and Linda Wobbe helped us recruit our new deans, two of whom will join us this summer: KSOE Dean Phyllis Metcalf-Turner, a leader in Education Reform in Teacher Education and Professional Success of Minority Faculty, and the Dean for the Library and Academic Resources, Pat Kreitz, who will be coming to us from the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center.

All of our new staff and faculty will be coming to a Saint Mary's that is stronger, smarter, more productive, more influential and more effective with more students. Our students are more diverse and academically prepared than ever. Our first year retention is at an all-time high. Our national recognition continues to grow, not only as an institution as a whole but because of the scientists, poets, novelists, composers, historians and other scholars and artists among our faculty.

Our recent successes aren't because of me. They're because of you. I'm honored to work with you.

And before I go any further, I know we're all honored to work with our next Professor of the Year, whose innovations in pedagogy and online learning have brought us national attention: Barry Eckhouse.

As we look forward to the sesquicentennial, our impulse seems to be to look back at where we've been. Perhaps do a bit of congratulations about where we are. The more essential topic is how we are different, and that means for our future.

This past year we celebrated admitting women to the College (forty years ago). We can congratulate ourselves for bringing in many categories of diverse students and, to a lesser but increasing extent, staff and faculty. We have done this because, as a Catholic and Lasallian community, we must be unequivocally dedicated to diversity and inclusion. It's reflected in our work on mission assessment, which calls on us to evaluate how well we welcome and support people of different backgrounds. It is affirmed by the General Council of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, who write: "The anthropological view of human nature that motivates Lasallians recognizes and dignifies every human being as being unique, unrepeatable, and educable." This leads to "Lasallian educational centers" which must be "places where welcome, peace and respect are lived out in communities characterized by the acceptance of each human person…. where being different is an enriching component of community life" (Circular 461, September, 2010).

We have embraced the challenge that comes from not just welcoming but learning from difference, and changing because of it. So, where do we see the difference that inclusion has made?

I see it everywhere.

I see it in our performing arts, from the accolades we've achieved in dance, music and theater to the campus and community work of the Interactive Theatre Troupe.

I see it in our international programs, which continue to bring more international students to campus and increase support for the ones who are here.

I see it in our High Potential program, which refuses to adopt a deficiency model for any student and celebrates those who have chosen to draw on the resources that help them excel.

I see it in the extension of scholarships and collaborative research grants for graduate students.

I see it in the firm establishment of our thriving Honors program, due largely to the exemplary work of Mary Vollmer and showcased in part through collaborative work with Steve Bachofer. When I first came to Saint Mary's, the very prospect of such a program was questioned. Now, it is fully a part of Saint Mary's, and we understand that academic distinction does not need to threaten community.

I see it in the School of Education, whose rededication to inclusion shows in everything from their strategic planning to faculty development and retreats.

I see it in the School of Economics and Business Administration, which has been working to bring undergraduate and graduate faculty together, embed the work of the school firmly within the mission of the College and make difficult programmatic decisions to meet the needs of students.

I see it in the collaboration between our Women's Studies faculty and our Women's Resource Center.

I see it in the Faculty Salary Task Force, where we have had honest, respectful dialogue about the best way to advance academic excellence, consistent with our mission, in a competitive environment. Thank your faculty colleagues for that: Steve Cortright, Joel Burley, Tomas Gomez-Arias, Barbara Grant, Chris Jones and Ellen Rigsby.

I see it in the Academic Blueprint, the deliberation and attention you gave it and the way its goals are being advanced.

I see it in the passage of Core Curriculum Learning Outcomes and of the participation of so many faculty in making that happen. There are now 34 full-time faculty dedicated to the implementation of the Core, and they include a few tenacious individuals who will facilitate the transition from this year to the next: Kara Boatman, Zach Flanagin, Cynthia Ganote, Bob Gorsch and, of course, our new chair of the Curriculum Committee, Jim Sauerberg.

I see it in the reaffirmation of the importance of student advising from faculty.

I see it in discussions about Collegiate Seminar, which will renew the investment of all faculty in this signature program. ...

Finally, I see it in our students. We know our students come here largely because of you - and this is what our admitted undergraduates tell us - because of personal attention, engagement with faculty, our academic majors, a highly respected academic reputation and an environment of academic achievement. They leave with a greater desire to help others who are in difficulty, create original and artistic works, keep up to date with political affairs, promote racial understanding and improve understanding of other countries and cultures.

Now, why might I attribute these achievements to inclusive excellence?

This is what happens when you bring new people to the table with a clear understanding of the value they might bring and the challenges they might pose. This is what happens when faith is restored in each other and our capacity for change. The challenge of inclusion is acting in ways that value both difference and unity. For the faint of heart, it might look like chaos. For me, it's the way to live our mission. We're getting better at the way we make decisions, even if our personal views don't always prevail. More of us are listening.

We have work to do in affirming the unity that thrives on diversity. But sometimes I think we overlook the tremendous unity we do have in our educational purpose and its grounding in Catholic intellectual tradition. We have academic foundations that bring us together:

Collegiate Seminar, whose pedagogy of shared inquiry and discussion of essential questions about faith, morality, ethics and social justice increasingly characterize both our undergraduate and graduate programs (and which will persist regardless of whether it's model 1b or 3);

Our Core Curriculum, which, while admittedly focused on undergraduate programs, shares many core learning outcomes for graduate students; and

The Academic Blueprint, with its emphasis on ethical engagement in diverse and global environments, innovation and collaboration, leadership for social justice and student success.

Our Catholic, Lasallian and liberal arts identity really do give us ONE Saint Mary's College…

We do have challenges ahead. The economic disarray of the state has brought us more students, but it's up to us to improve degree completion in a timely manner. We must find ways to increase faculty compensation and fund strategic initiatives without substantial tuition increases. We face mounting pressure from external constituents – parents, politicians, accreditors – to prove we've achieved the educational outcomes we claim.

But we've met bigger challenges than these. There are some who will say we're leaning too much this way or we're not enough that way. But really, we know who we are. We are one Saint Mary's College, a faith-inspired institution of liberal learning dedicated to achieving social justice through education. So be strong, stay the course, get some rest and have a great summer.