The State of the College 2009

March 4, 2009
Brother Ronald Gallagher, FSC

Good Afternoon and welcome to you all.

As we always do in our Lasallian tradition,
Let us Remember that We are in the Holy Presence of God

As we gather as a community this morning, let us first pause in memory of those of our colleagues, friends and family who have recently passed away.

Student Jenny Martinez
Faculty members Rosemary Peterson,
Stan White,
And John James
Regent Jerry Fitzpatrick

May God's mercy shine upon them.

We remember too, the words of Saint La Salle:
Teach by example. Put into practice what you want your students to believe. And Example makes a much greater impression on the mind and heart than words.
We take these as a reminder of the call to each member of the Saint Mary's College community and ask God's blessings on us as we strive to carry out our common mission.

During the past two weekends, I had the opportunity to speak to several groups of potential honor students and their parents, both in Southern and Northern California. A number of staff, faculty and students assisted in these recruiting trips, and I would like to thank them publicly for their very important presence.

At these events, we always talk about our campus as a positive part of the college experience. It provides the advantage of being secluded, quiet and beautiful, yet easily connected with the Bay Area. We are a little out of the way, yet are global in our reach, experience and impact. The words Lasallian and Catholic both express our participation in a global Lasallian network, and in a Church which extends around the globe. And we are indeed very conscious at this time of being swept up in a global economic crisis. We, with all of higher education, are uncertain at best about what the future holds, and challenged to maintain stability in our institutions.

Most of my communications during the past six months have been about the impact of this crisis on Saint Mary's College and the extent and nature of our response to this crisis. I will provide further updates today.

Our response has been and will continue to be guided by the core values of our mission. You have heard me say that we need to keep our priorities in mind as we make plans and take actions:

-- Enhancing academic excellence;
-- Identifying more efficient and effective practices;
-- Ensuring that the student experience is not compromised;
-- Keeping the college affordable for students;
-- Maintaining momentum on strategic initiatives.

I don't want to repeat the presentation on the budget we made two weeks ago at the community meeting other than to say you can easily find the information we presented on the college website. (Budget Committee Page)

But I would like to update you about where we are in monitoring strategic indicators and initiatives.

I would like to congratulate and encourage the faculty for their ongoing dialogue on the core curriculum. This is a most important initiative which will both enhance and strengthen the academic experience for our students.

The recent faculty Scholars' Reception also underlined the fine and extensive scholarship being undertaken by you faculty members. This is another sign of a very healthy and vibrant academic life. Results from a recent Eduventures' survey of faculty from a number of institutions shows that Saint Mary's faculty are more likely to "rate professional development opportunities as being more important to their satisfaction" (94 percent to 83 percent). This is certainly an area of strength which we will continue to build on, and can, in a variety of ways. Faculty research and scholarship is one. Faculty development in areas of advising, teaching, mission awareness, and advancement collaboration (fund raising) are others.

We are also moving forward with important and strategic faculty hires in a variety of disciplines.

Advising and academic support are other strategic indicators. Keeping our retention rates high will be a continuing challenge in this economy and our competence and success in advising our students has become an important priority. I am encouraged by the number of faculty who have stepped forward to embrace this responsibility. We are anticipating a renewed First Year Experience program, with incentives and more training for faculty and staff as in important component of the program. As our students and their families plan for higher education, we have to be well prepared to advise and support them as they meet economic, cultural, academic and financial challenges.

The addition of summer school should assist us in increasing our graduation rate, as it is designed to meet the needs of students who need one or two courses to finish.

You know from our budget assumptions for 2009-2010 that we are planning for a smaller traditional undergraduate enrollment next year, based on current applications. Graduate programs at this time are looking at steady enrollment, or slightly larger in the MBA programs. We have been and will continue to be very cautious in our planning, aware that economic indicators are not predicting a quick turn-around in the economy. Our current undergraduate enrollment is stable for the spring, but enrollment of new and returning students for next fall is far less predictable than in the past.

Perhaps the most important factor in this situation is affordability. Requests for financial aid have increased dramatically, and although we will be increasing our aid next year, we have to maintain a manageable discount rate. A group of regents and trustees has been generous in setting up an emergency aid fund for this year and have helped a significant number of current students in meeting their financial need. I offer my thanks to these donors.

Federal and state aid programs, for both direct aid and loans, will remain at current levels, or in the case of Pell Grants, will show a slight increase. We have also submitted an application for funds from the new Yellow Ribbon Program. This program will provide financial aid for veterans seeking higher education opportunities. Although we do not yet know all the details, we do know that this program could provide between 60 and 70 percent of the tuition cost, with the rest pledged by the individual institution. We anticipate that this program could serve traditional undergraduates, professional and graduate students in a variety of programs. I also anticipate that we can fund raise for support of veterans in this program.

Last month I was returning from an ACCU meeting in Washington, D.C., and had a chat with the person sitting next to me. In a very short time, we covered three very current topics. He said his daughter is a senior at Saint Mary's and her experience here has been excellent. She had transferred from the UC system to here, and we have been able to meet her educational needs in an admirable way.

Next, he said he was very opposed to Bill Ayers speaking on our campus and that he would not contemplate making any further donations to Saint Mary's. (I have had many conversations like this!) When I told him that on my Washington trip I met with Congressman Jerry McNerney about, among other things, the Yellow Ribbon program, and he expressed his eagerness to collaborate with us in supporting the program for the many veterans in his area, the conversation took another turn. My neighbor said he would be eager to support such a program and volunteered to assist in finding other veterans like himself to help. Among the take-aways from this conversation, for me, are an affirmation of the quality experience we provide for our students and a reminder of the development challenges and opportunities we face.

That brings me to development and advancement, an area in which we must maintain momentum. On July 1, 2008, we entered the quiet phase of a seven-year comprehensive campaign, seeking to raise money for the College's highest capital, annual and endowment needs. We are currently focused on expanding our outreach to alumni, parents and friends, on reaching annual giving goals, and seeking lead gifts for key capital projects. The faculty and staff will have important roles to play in this comprehensive campaign, in meeting donors and presenting in person the case for giving support to scholarships, programs and the enhancement of the student experience. Vice President for Development Keith Brant has already been meeting with a variety of faculty and staff to invite your involvement in this campaign and prepare you to do so.

In the first half of this fiscal year, philanthropic support of the College from our generous alumni and friends is on par with last year. The number of donors is up 8 percent. While our constituents continue to give, individuals are giving less.

Some of our priority new hires are in advancement and development so we can keep momentum in meeting the goals of the campaign and increase the overall support for the College.

Another area of key momentum is campus facilities. There are a number of major projects at or nearing completion.
The Health and Wellness Center has been completed and is open for business. Please stop by the ground floor of Augustine, facing Filippi Academic Hall. The renovations to dining facilities are on schedule, and we expect to complete the second phase, a new kitchen facility as well as faculty dining area, by the end of May. Phase three, a new food court and serving area, will be completed by mid-September. A second major project, to be completed by late summer, is the renovation of the ground floor of De La Salle Hall, returning this floor to the use of students for lounges, a small café, club and meeting rooms, and residential life offices. There will be an expanded Hagerty lounge as part of the facility. You can check on other facilities projects on the weekly bulletin website.

So much for what is happening now: What about the future? What is my vision? Where should we be for our 150th and beyond?

I have always maintained that we have strengths and qualities as an academic institution, embodied in our mission, and in the people who work here, that are great assets. In our Lasallian and Catholic tradition, we put the student at the center, and we work together and by association to help that student develop into human being inspired by wonder and the transcendent meaning of human existence. (Saint Mary's mission statement)

We are known locally for the quality of our education, and we should be known nationally and internationally. Often I hear that we should strive to be like college x, or university y. I think that other institutions should be striving to be like us, in the student-centered experience, in the quality of our curriculum and in the excellence and accomplishments of our faculty, staff and students.

Recent awards and acknowledgment are indicators of this strength and growing reputation. The American Academy for Liberal Education has accredited the Integral Program, and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching recognized Saint Mary's for being a leader in incorporating community engagement into the academic curriculum. Also, the Corporation for National and Community Service has honored the College with a place on the President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for exemplary service efforts.

We should be known also as a Catholic and Lasallian institution which meets the challenges of the 21st century, whose search and appreciation for the truth about creation and human existence invites and supports a deep dialogue of faith and reason. Ex Corde Ecclesiae calls for us to encounter the cultures of our time. If you look around you, you can see that we are already an institution which, through its diverse population and curriculum, gathers in the cultures of our time for that dialogue. Our challenge is to understand and respect our traditions, as well as respect each person who comes to the place where that dialogue of faith and reason can occur. Our curriculum is admirably suited for that dialogue. Our student support programs must also meet that challenge.

I look forward to the enhancement of this curriculum through faculty leadership in the revision of the core curriculum. Beyond that, each of our schools should be recognized for the distinctiveness and strength of its programs.

We will certainly need to augment our resources through endowment, improved facilities and increased support for faculty and staff development. These goals are all part of our comprehensive campaign. Achieving them will need the participation of many of you.

In doing all of this, we need to keep the needs of the student at the center. Last week I had the pleasure of spending two days with our faculty and staff leaders in a workshop on 21st Century Leadership, Civility and Inclusion. This experience gave us a roadmap for developing leadership skills. One take-away for me was a film on a group climb of Mt. Everest. The goal of the group was to make sure that a blind climber reached the summit. The entire group made creative use – and often sacrifice – of their talents to make sure the blind climber reached the summit. We can use this as a cogent reminder of our Lasallian mission. We as faculty and staff are here to accompany our students and ensure that they arrive at the summit, their full development. I cannot think of a better goal for us as a team.

I look forward to assisting us in becoming a better and better team. I have confidence that we are certainly on that path.

As a closing gesture, and a gesture of thanks, please stand, turn to the left, and give your neighbor a pat on the back for a job well done.

And thank you all for a job well done.