Friday, December 3, 2010 - The Rev. Peter M. Donohue, O.S.A., President, Villanova University
Today marks my fifth annual address to the University Senate. Traditionally this speech has focused on recent events, but I would like to take a few minutes to reflect on the past five years. If you measure that period by weeks or months, it doesn’t seem like an especially long time. But when you think about the things that we have accomplished together as a community, it’s impressive. Some items of note that stand out from this period include:
And that says nothing about the individual accolades of our students, faculty and staff, or the noteworthy accomplishments within our academic enterprise from national rankings, prestigious graduate scholarships, numerous scholarly publications, and ground-breaking research.
It has been an extremely busy and productive five years for our community. That can be difficult to fully appreciate unless you take a step back and consider it all together. However, by taking that step back, it is also important to see what is left to be done.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself…
As I mentioned, in years past, this address has taken on the identity of the State of the University speech. I highlight some of the great things accomplished within the past year and offer a few words on what is ahead. I’m going to turn that around a bit today – I’ll spotlight some of what we’ve done this year but focus most of my remarks on what lies ahead for our community because I believe that our University is at a very important juncture. There is much for us to be proud of today, but our attention must shift to how Villanova can adapt to the continually changing landscape of higher education. First, some accomplishments.
In Academic Affairs:
In Administration and Finance:
Our Athletic Accomplishments:
While I am speaking of Athletics, it is important to note that the University is continuing to go through the comprehensive process of evaluating the possibility of joining the Big East Conference as football member. This is a complex decision that affects many aspects of the University beyond Athletics. Many of you have attended presentations by Vince Nicastro, our Director of Athletics, that highlight some of the factors that we must weigh as we explore whether or not to make this move. We are in constant communication with the Big East Conference and they remain supportive of our evaluation process as well as our timeline for completing it.
In Mission & Ministry:
In Student Life:
In University Advancement:
And in University Communication:
Clearly this has been a successful year for Villanova University. Our community continues to move forward in the face of a still recovering economy and persistent financial challenges that confront many of our students and families. It is a testament to our faculty and staff that in challenging times, we find ways to do more for students when the much easier route would be to do less.
As you know, the University was founded in 1842 and its Augustinian educational roots extend back much further. Despite that significant passage of time, our fundamental principals remain the same. We continue to deliver an education that is based upon our shared Catholic, Augustinian ideals. Yet, while that foundation remains strong and intact, we must do all that we can to ensure that what is built on top of it meets the evolving needs of students, supports faculty, and inspires learning.
So, even though there is much to be proud of in our accomplishments, we cannot afford to sit back. We cannot take a break. We cannot stop moving forward.
We Can Do More and the University’s Strategic Plan has been designed to do just that – provide an outline for how we, as a community, can do more. This Plan is not meant to turn us into something we’re not. We will never abandon our uniquely Augustinian academic mission. In fact, the Plan’s very name – Igniting the Heart, Inspiring the Mind, Illuminating the Spirit – is meant to provide an enduring Villanova-specific focus for our efforts over the next ten years.
The Strategic Plan was created after a very thorough analysis of the University and its programs. It has identified our areas of strength and outlined our opportunities. Beyond revealing that we can do more, it provides a roadmap for how to get there based upon five strategic imperatives.
These five imperatives are our call to action, but beyond the style of the plan, there is a great deal of substance. In fact, under the direction of our Office of Planning and Institutional Research, we are designing a set of reporting tools which will help us measure our progress against these goals. This progress will be shared with the community so that together we can measure the success of our collective efforts.
By understanding the Strategic Plan’s five imperatives, we can move forward together – deliberately, strategically, enthusiastically – to secure Villanova’s place as a leading Catholic University. As I discuss some of our goals, you’ll see some data points on the screen behind me. I won’t necessarily reference their content specifically but the information is provided as a way to add context to our efforts.
I wanted to show you this image because it captures the essence of everything we do every day here at Villanova. This was the original seal of the Order of St. Augustine, and it was our logo when Villanova University was founded. You’ll recognize the same core elements that are in the Villanova seal today. You can also see the prominence of the concept of “Tolle Legge,” which is very familiar to many of us. The idea of Tolle Legge, take up and read, — and the act of providing our students with knowledge, as well as cultivating within them a lifelong love of learning — is at the heart of our Strategic Plan. And they are at the heart of our first Strategic Imperative, which is completely focused on academic quality and the educational experiences of our students.
Realizing the Augustinian Vision: Academic Distinction, focuses on strengthening our undergraduate programs, refining the core curriculum and encouraging curricular innovation in the colleges. These efforts are designed to help Villanova attract exceptional students who in turn can engage in rigorous, thoughtful courses of study which help lead to positive futures. To successfully attract and enroll these students, Villanova needs to refine its academic offerings, make them more interdisciplinary, and tie them even more closely into our Augustinian identity and mission.
While there are ongoing efforts to refine the curriculum throughout our schools and colleges, We Can Do More to enhance our academic offerings to ensure they are challenging our students and preparing them to overcome the demands of a complex world.
The second imperative is titled The Next Generation: A Diverse Intellectual Climate and it ties in closely to the first imperative. As our programs become more exceptional, so too will our pool of applicants. While the University is fortunate to remain a top choice for thousands of students each year, we need to be more attractive to the highest achieving students coming out of high school. By attracting more of these students, we will be able to focus our energy and resources on challenging them in the classroom and beyond.
Not only do we seek to enroll an ever-increasing number of high-achieving students, we also seek to ensure an increasingly diverse campus community. This has been an ongoing goal for a while and is something that the University takes very seriously. With this second imperative, Villanova will commit itself to enhancing its recruitment efforts to become more personalized, improve financial aid and place an increased focus on diversity.
Financial Aid is a critical component that ties these efforts together. You’ve heard me say before that we may not have as many resources as some of our peers, but we are more efficient with how we use what we have. That is a testament to the work and creativity of our faculty and staff. However, there is no denying that Villanova is at a severe disadvantage when it comes to the level of aid we can offer our students. Whether or not we are in challenging economic times, many families have to make college decisions based upon finances. In those cases, Villanova often comes up short. Some of those families look elsewhere and some choose to attend Villanova with the help of loans. These students graduate with significant debt and start their post-college lives already in an enormous financial hole.
We stretch every dollar when it comes to financial aid and carefully consider each request. But, We Can Do More. We have to. We owe it to our students, their families and to the University community to increase the level of resources that we direct to financial assistance.
As for diversity, we continue to make strides in reaching out to underrepresented populations and encouraging them to consider us. There is a campus-wide commitment to making our community more reflective of the increasingly diverse and global society of which we are all a part. I am proud of the programs and services that exist to support these students and am delighted to see the flags that hang in the Connelly Center representing the countries our student body call home. Yet, We Can Do More. Villanova needs to become more diverse, more dynamic. We must make every effort to attract – and support – a faculty, staff and student body that is deep in diversity of ethnicity, spirituality, life experiences, and socio-economic backgrounds.
Beyond an exceptional and diverse student body, the University seeks to ensure that its faculty share the same traits. Therefore, the third imperative, National Stature: Faculty Scholarship & Graduate Programs, recognizes the teaching, scholarship and leadership of the faculty. Our students learn from bright and gifted faculty who take a genuine interest in their lives. But, We Can Do More. Many of our faculty are compensated at levels lower than their peers at other institutions. This makes it difficult to attract and retain the best and brightest scholars. Just like prospective students, faculty candidates are making career choices based upon finances. That is something that we cannot ignore.
Many demands are made of our faculty. They are asked to teach, serve on committees, conduct research, write, be involved in the University, and be visible in their field. While all of this is part of being a member of the faculty, we have to recognize that in order for them to excel at any of these responsibilities we must create structures and resources that offer the faculty ways to balance theses demands. We Can Do More to make the faculty environment at Villanova more rewarding and more satisfying for them and for our students.
While our primary mission will always be on undergraduate education, we must not ignore the exceptional graduate programs currently in place and the selective opportunities available to expand them. For many students, a graduate degree is becoming the price of entry into an increasingly competitive and crowded job market. Our undergraduate programs are rigorous but employers are looking to reward individuals who have additional layers of education. Villanova has long tailored its graduate programs to meet such needs and, moving forward, we must continue to identify new opportunities to build upon this success. Distance learning – within the context of our mission – will be a big part of this as more students become remote learners. We Can Do More to invigorate our graduate programs, and we will.
The fourth imperative, The Value of Villanova: Sharing Our Story, focuses on the history of our University and the noteworthy achievements of the people who are part of our unique story. We struggle to tell who we are and who we want to be. This affects how prospective students and families view us, how our alumni explain the University and their connection to it, and how the world at large thinks about us. We know who we are, but we have a hard time explaining it to others.
However it’s not enough just to clarify who we are to those who know us. We must introduce Villanova to an ever widening audience – demographically and geographically. It is our challenge to introduce new people to Villanova and get them to understand and appreciate our unique story. This kind of active outreach will help us reach new pools of prospective students, high school counselors, employers, and other stakeholders. We Can Do More to excite and engage the extended Villanova community, clarify our Catholic and Augustinian identity, and become a more visible national presence.
The fifth imperative, The Villanova Endowment: Securing Our Future, ties all the other imperatives together because while We Can Do More, we can’t do it without the resources needed to accomplish our goals. When it comes down to identifying the biggest difference between Villanova and its peers, the answer can easily be reduced to endowment. Villanova is very fortunate to have a committed group of alumni, parents and friends who support the University but if we are going to be successful in moving the University forward, we need more people to join us. The University completed a successful fundraising campaign in 2007 which secured commitments totaling more than 300 million dollars. As we look at the priorities which have been identified by the strategic planning process, it’s clear that another campaign is necessary to build awareness for our needs and to generate support from the extended Villanova community.
No matter where I travel around the world, there is always a Villanova connection. Almost without exception, the connection is a positive one – the person feels an attachment to the University, has memories of 1985, or built Villanova friendships that have lasted a lifetime. Yet, this connection – this passion, this affinity – doesn’t translate into financial support. Our participation rate improved this year to 19% which means that more than 4 out 5 alumni choose not to support the University. We need to reach out to our alumni to share our story and find ways to connect them to our needs. We Can Do More. We cannot continue doing more with less.
This is the story I am bringing to our alumni around the world. I am sharing these five imperatives with them, outlining our vision for the future and asking them for their help. I am not being shy and my expectations are high. As I mentioned, the University is at a pivotal juncture and there is really only one direction we can move – forward.