Annual Address to the University Senate 2006

Friday, December 1, 2006 - The Rev. Peter M. Donohue, O.S.A., President, Villanova University

Thank you very much. It is a pleasure to be here with you today.

Although everybody thinks my first day on the job was at Inauguration on Friday, September 8, my real first day was actually June 1. So, today is my six-month anniversary…

In these past months, much has happened. The University welcomed a new class of freshmen to campus, produced an Inauguration celebration, filled important campus leadership positions, began construction projects that will address critical needs, and instituted initiatives that will strengthen our mission and help move the University forward successively and aggressively into the future.

This speech is typically referred to as the “State of the University” address, but that sounds so formal. The state of the University is that we are a vibrant, dynamic community of students, faculty, and staff united in the pursuit of Veritas, Unitas, and Caritas. You, however, want to hear more than that from me today, so I will share with you instead a “progress report.” I think that is a more apt description, as we have made much progress as a University – as a community – in the past year.

It has been a very busy year in our colleges. The former College of Commerce and Finance underwent a name change and is now officially known as the Villanova School of Business. This name more accurately conveys the modern, sophisticated image of the business education that the School provides.

In the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Core Humanities Seminar has been renamed Augustine and Culture: The Villanova Seminar. This change in name for the year-long course for first-year students emphasizes its focus on introducing the thought of Saint Augustine and placing it into conversations with other primary voices in the liberal arts tradition.

In addition, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences recently announced the creation of the Villanova Center for Liberal Education. VCLE is an innovative academic center dedicated to interdisciplinary teaching, research, and learning in the liberal arts for undergraduate students. The Center is a place where all Villanova students and faculty can join in the academic conversations that lie at the heart of an Augustinian university in the 21st century. The creation of VCLE solidifies and demonstrates the University’s commitment to the importance of liberal education for all its students.

Related to these initiatives, a conversation has begun with Dr. Jack Johannes and the academic deans regarding the Core Curriculum to ensure that it is meeting its objectives of stimulating learning, fostering dialogue, and promoting personal growth consistent with our Augustinian mission, while creating what I would like to envision as a unique Villanova education.

A new Dean of Engineering, Dr. Gary Gabriele, is in place and leading the College forward. He is already a visible presence on campus and will be assessing the engineering curriculum to ensure that it is effective in producing graduates who have received exceptional instruction in their field as well as the liberal arts skill sets that will distinguish them as well-rounded professionals.

The College of Nursing was recently notified that it was one of a select group of schools in Pennsylvania to receive the Nursing Faculty Lines Program grant from Independence Blue Cross and the Pennsylvania Higher Education Foundation. This funding, which is effective for a three-year period beginning this academic year, will support a faculty position to help increase nursing capacity.

For the seventh year in a row, The Villanova University School of Law Federal Tax Clinic was awarded a grant from the Internal Revenue Service to help support the Law School’s outstanding clinical program. This year's grant was for $95,000, the second largest awarded to academic clinics nationwide. The Internal Revenue Service has also selected the Villanova Federal Tax Clinic as a mentor clinic to assist new clinics with best practices in representing taxpayers and educating students.

Beyond our undergraduate and law programs, Villanova remains a popular choice for students pursuing graduate degrees, part-time study, and continuing studies. Enrollment and interest in these programs continues to be strong and new programs are constantly being developed that attract new students to Villanova University.

Three Villanova students received Fulbright grants for 2006-2007, an indication of the quality of the comprehensive education the University provides. Not only is Villanova one of this year’s top producing master’s institutions for U.S. Fulbright students, but the University also has the distinction of currently hosting one Visiting Scholar during the 2006-2007 academic year.

In addition to Fulbrights, Villanovans continue to compete successfully for prestigious national grants and awards. This year, we had two NSF Graduate Research Fellows and a Phi Kappa Phi Fellow; finalists for the Rhodes, Marshall, and Gates-Cambridge Scholarships; and a Goldwater Honorable Mention. These awards and distinctions not only benefit the students, but they also bring significant attention and prestige to Villanova and its programs.

Late August featured the arrival of members of the Class of 2010. They were selected from a record applicant pool of 12,907 and represent the highest average SAT scores in the history of the University. More than 90% rank in the top third of their graduating high school class. Alumni legacies constitute 12% of the Class of 2010 and a total of approximately 25% have some alumni affiliation. In addition, more than 20% of the incoming class is from an ethnic minority – representing the largest number of minority students ever to enter the University.

Just as important as the quality of the students we welcome each year is our ability to provide an excellent education and a nurturing environment. Our freshman-to-sophomore retention rate this year was 95%, a good indication that our students feel comfortable and supported here.

A record number of students – 154 – are studying abroad this semester. This is a great opportunity for students to build upon what they learn here and add a unique international perspective, while serving as ambassadors for Villanova University. I am interested in seeing expansion in this area.

Recently, Villanova hosted the Special Olympics Pennsylvania Fall Festival. This was the 18th consecutive year that Villanova hosted this event, organized entirely by our students. We have hosted this event for so long that it can be easy to lose sight of the impact that it has each year on the lives of the participants, their families, and volunteers. To help reinforce how powerful this event – and our students – can be, I would like to read to you an excerpt from a letter I recently received from Sarah Rosato, Associate Competition Director for Special Olympics Pennsylvania. Sarah writes:

“It is clear that the Villanova University community embodies the ideals of a service-learning institution. Those ideals support the mission of Special Olympics… The students who participated offered their time and talents to make this competition more exciting and fun for our athletes. Feedback from coaches, athletes, parents, and volunteers are always very positive as it is ‘one of the best events ever!’ The Fall Festival committee and the student body truly welcome the athletes and their delegations to campus. They give our athletes the opportunity to feel as though they are part of the Villanova student body, and have made lifelong friends. The energy and enthusiasm on campus is absolutely contagious and drives our athletes to do bigger and better things throughout the year.”

Again, a great testament to our students and the Villanova community.

The sounds of construction crews can once again be heard on campus and plans are well underway for new facilities for the College of Nursing and the School of Law. I call them facilities and not buildings because these structures will truly facilitate learning in exciting and innovative ways. These academic centers will provide state-of-the art environments for students and faculty, and provide the space needed to deliver the specialized education in the Augustinian tradition for which the College of Nursing and the School of Law have become known.

Just this week, we received final approval from the township to proceed with the construction of the new College of Nursing, which we anticipate will open its doors in time for the fall 2008 semester. And, we hope that approval to move forward with the new Law School will come soon.

To make room for the new College of Nursing, we needed to find a home for the softball team. A new softball field is taking shape across Lancaster Avenue on Pike Field. It is being built with suggestions from the team and coaches, and should be ready when their season begins in the spring.

In conjunction with the new Law School, a parking structure will be built on part of the current Spring Mill parking lot. This structure will feature an elevated walkway that will connect West Campus with Main Campus via the St. Augustine Center parking structure. Temporary parking has been constructed on campus to accommodate this construction.

In addition, the new Intercollegiate Athletics and Recreation Facility is rising in front of the Pavilion. This will be a wonderful facility that will support our men’s and women’s basketball programs while also serving the entire community with a state-of-the-art fitness center. The facility is expected to open its doors next fall.

These projects which I have just mentioned highlight Villanova’s commitment to “building green” and to minimizing its impact on the environment. Through responsible planning, design, and construction, the University seeks to create energy-efficient facilities which have a reduced ecological impact.

The University has benefited recently from prominent national rankings. Once again, we are ranked #1 by US News and World Report in the Best Universities-Master’s category in the northern region, a position that we have held for well over a decade.

US News and World Report also ranked the College of Engineering once again in the top 10 non-doctoral Engineering programs in the nation.

In addition, the Villanova School of Business was ranked 19th by BusinessWeek Magazine in its first ranking of undergraduate business programs, and its EMBA program is ranked 29th by the Financial Times.

While these kinds of rankings often don’t tell the whole story of an institution or the education it provides, they do bring national attention and distinction, and serve as a good barometer for how the University and its colleges are judged against leading programs throughout the nation. Our alumni and parents also take note, as the rankings reinforce what WE already know – that Villanova is a great place to get an education.

I am pleased to report that the Middle States Commission on Higher Education has accepted the University’s periodic review report and reaffirmed its accreditation. This is another indication of the quality of a Villanova education and the community-wide commitment to our mission. The next evaluation will take place in 2010-2011 and, while that sounds like a long way off, it is already time to start planning for this comprehensive process. Just when you thought it was safe to relax…

Villanova is the online tutoring partner for the “School of the Future,” in partnership with the School District of Philadelphia and the Microsoft Corporation. The School of the Future opened this fall and seeks to build a new, technologically advanced model for learning. Approximately 150 Villanova Honors Program students will be the first set of online "tele-tutors" for students at the school.

The dedication of the School of the Future took place just before my Inauguration in early September. The Inauguration was about much more than a new president – it was an opportunity to unite the Villanova community in celebration of the University’s Augustinian mission. The events from early September really seemed to bring people together and I was delighted to see so many alumni return to campus. I was also pleased to see so many parents take part in the activities: they are an important part of our community and their interest in this event and their involvement in their children’s educational experiences are a reflection of their belief in the values we have set forth here at the University.

I was particularly happy with the success of the Community Day of Service. Well over 1,000 people took part in activities here in the Greater Philadelphia region and alumni chapters throughout the country coordinated their local service efforts with ours. This is such an important illustration of the principles which our community represents and it is my hope that we can make this an annual event. Of course, the students hope that the Student Ball becomes an annual event, too. We’ll have to see about that. I’m not sure that I want to see myself on YouTube again any time soon…

Speaking of service, Villanova continues to be a national leader in this area. Over fall break, students took part in more than 40 Habitat for Humanity trips. And this spring, all of the Habitat trips will be going to Slidell, Louisiana, to assist with the continuing clean-up efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

One of the things I talked about during my Inauguration speech was diversity, an important area of focus for our community. Under the direction of Dr. Terry Nance, the Villanova University Diversity Blueprint was developed and distributed to the University community. We are an institution that embraces the notion of diversity consistent with our mission, vision, and values. This Blueprint will provide a path and methodology to help us achieve our diversity goals and foster an academic and social environment marked by acceptance and inclusion.

For the second year in a row, the campus has been brought together by the One Book Villanova program. Last year, the community read The Kite Runner and events supporting the program included a visit to campus by the book’s author, Khaled Hosseini. This year, the community is reading Blood Done Sign My Name by Timothy Tyson. One Book Villanova is an important initiative that has the power to unite students, parents, faculty, and staff in a thoughtful, educational, and purposeful way.

It has also been a busy year for our faculty and staff. Two endowed faculty chairs were inaugurated this fall, one each in the College of Engineering and the Villanova School of Business. Such positions are extremely important to the University, as it allows us to recognize rising or shining stars on the faculty while also providing resources to attract new teaching talent to Villanova.

This week, the expanded Office of the President re-opened in Tolentine Hall. It is my hope that the new resources it features, including an expanded staff, can better serve the University. One of the ways in which I hope to make use of the new office is to establish regular office hours for students. I remain committed to being an active and visible presence on campus and it is my hope that these office hours will help keep me connected to the students.

As you know from my e-mails, I also have an open-door policy for faculty and staff. Together, it is my hope that I will be as accessible as my schedule will allow for every member of the Villanova community. In the coming weeks, I hope to have a fresh look for the webpage for the Office of the President, which will include more information about the Office and its ongoing initiatives.

Later this month, Ann Diebold will begin her role as Villanova’s new Vice President for University Communication. As we continue to grow and become more visible nationally as a leading University, it becomes increasingly important that we communicate in a strategic and cohesive way. We need to tell our story. Ann will work to coordinate the University’s current communication efforts and identify areas that we need to strengthen to ensure that we are representing ourselves and our mission powerfully, positively, and clearly. As a result of these efforts, it is my hope that Villanova also will strengthen current partnerships and identify new ones that will allow us to enhance our presence in the Greater Philadelphia Region.

I have asked the Vice Presidents to become the President’s Council, a new committee that meets weekly with me to discuss planning and policy. I value this regular opportunity to gather with Villanova’s senior administrators to speak about new initiatives, share achievements, and work together to address campus issues.

At my request, an evaluation of the Villanova Quality Improvement initiative has been started by the program’s Steering Committee. While VQI has served the University well and has been instrumental in many work process improvements, I would like to explore additional ways to share best practices and foster cross-functional teamwork at the University.

Our student-athletes have enjoyed a successful year as well.

The 2006 Villanova women’s soccer team just completed their season. The team won a school record 16 games and earned a bid to the NCAA Tournament for the fifth time in the last six years. They advanced to the second round where they lost to Penn State.

Our student-athletes can embody success off the field, too. Sophomore kicker Joe Marcoux participated in Villanova Football’s annual bone marrow donor program in April 2006. Of the 20 million people registered worldwide, approximately 250 people are chosen as matches each year. Marcoux was selected as a match and TODAY, he is undergoing a procedure to donate blood cells to a patient in need.

As many of you who have stopped by to visit know, I’ve been on the road a lot this semester. The Alumni and Development Offices have coordinated a series of events to introduce me to Villanovans across the country. Inauguration ended on a Sunday and first thing Monday morning I was on a plane headed for Texas – and it seems like I haven’t stopped since! It really has been a wonderful experience for me, for the staff that travels to these events, and for the people we see. It’s great to match names with faces, to hear different Villanova stories, and to bring the University to people who, in some cases, haven’t been to campus in years. It is during these events that I really get a sense of the enthusiasm and excitement that exists for the University among our alumni. Their eyes light up when we talk about the basketball team, of course, but they also light up when we talk about the quality of the incoming freshman class, the number of nationally competitive scholarships and awards our students win, various faculty achievements, and the national rankings of our academic programs. The alumni, parents, and friends that come to these events are interested in Villanova and are gratified to have us visit. In just three months, more than 2,000 people have attended the 12 events that have been held to date. I am pleased that these events will continue through the spring semester and, since I am no longer in the theatre department, I’m looking forward to more of what has become the “traveling Villanova road show.”

In conjunction with these events, volunteers have been hosting luncheons in different cities that provide smaller settings to meet donors and prospects, and to recognize gifts of $100,000 or more to The Campaign for Villanova. This has been a great opportunity to thank donors in person for their generosity, especially those who have not been able to attend other Campaign events. It also has allowed us to strengthen relationships with those who may be considering a gift to the University. Like the alumni receptions, these luncheons will continue during the spring semester.

Speaking of The Campaign, it now exceeds $230 million in commitments and is well on its way to reaching its $300 million goal. The Campaign is scheduled to conclude in December 2007.

The success of The Campaign, as well as careful investment and the University’s program of planned savings, has helped to strengthen our endowment. At the end of October, Villanova’s endowment was valued at $295 million, an all-time high. We are hopeful that with the right economic conditions the endowment will soon reach $300 million, perhaps by the end of December.

In addition to these highlights of what has been accomplished to date, I would like to share with you some initiatives that are currently being planned.

As I indicated before, I have a desire to be more accessible to the student body. One of my greatest joys as an Augustinian serving at Villanova University is the relationships I’ve formed with students throughout the years. They are our greatest asset and I consider our investment in them more than just providing buildings and programs. I consider the investment of our time – of our interest – to be critically important to their development and to the concept of community that we speak so passionately about. With regular office hours, as well as my presence and participation in as many student events as my schedule will allow, I hope to remain involved and visible on campus.

Under the direction of Ken Valosky, Bob Morro, and John Cacciola, the University will begin the development of a Campus Master Plan. Once complete, this plan will provide a blueprint for campus construction, renewal, and maintenance while assessing current and future needs for space. The process for developing the Campus Master Plan has just begun and I hope to have more to share with you in 2007.

I have invited a group of University leaders to join me for an senior administrative retreat. For three days, we will meet away from campus to discuss many issues facing Villanova in the not-too-distant future, including how to move forward as one of the nation’s preeminent Catholic universities and how to successfully position the University for potential changes in classification that may affect our national rankings. It is my hope that this retreat will lead to the strengthening of the team of senior administrators and will result in shared dialog that will help improve the University in the future.

I’m also looking forward to receiving the results of the Climate Survey which was distributed to all faculty and staff earlier this Fall. I think this is an important initiative that will serve as a barometer for campus issues. At last count, responses exceeded more than 50%. The surveys are still being processed and I hope to share the results with the University community in the near future.

I am planning to conduct a review of the Administrative Planning and Budget Committee. I have asked the members of the APBC to evaluate their current function and determine how best to maximize their time and expertise to help move the University forward.

Finally, I would like to begin an ongoing conversation with the faculty regarding academic freedom in the context of our mission as a Catholic and Augustinian university. I think this is an important conversation to conduct in our current social and political climate and I look forward to a lively, continuing discourse. I hope to have more details about this initiative soon.

While this certainly does not represent every success at Villanova in the past year, the progress and plans for the future that I have just shared with you are an indication that we have much to be thankful for and much to celebrate as a community. I am proud of what we have accomplished, and I am excited about what we can accomplish together in the future.

Thank you for the opportunity to share this progress with you.