Annual Address to the University Senate 2008

Friday, December 5, 2008 - The Rev. Peter M. Donohue, O.S.A., President, Villanova University

Several months ago, when I was presented with the date for this address to the University Senate, I thought this would be an exciting and easy message to deliver. The holiday season — a time of bringing good news — would have begun and we would be a few days away from ending another successful semester. Additionally, with the work that has been undertaken on our Campus Master Plan and the stimulating conversations that have occurred in creating a new Strategic Plan, there would be many new directions that I would be able to present to the University Senate. However, things have been altered and, as my recent communications to the community have outlined, we need to proceed with care.

Our financial situation has changed, the financial situations of our students have changed, and the financial situations of our faculty and staff have changed. I am sure that every household has tightened or will need to tighten its belt as we all work through the uncertainty of these times. Then again, this is not the first time that Villanova has faced economic challenges. I believe that with community-wide prudence and cooperation the University will continue to chart a successful course, one that we have been traveling for several years.

So, rather than focus on difficulties, I would to like invoke the title of a Jerome Kern song from the 1920 musical Sally titled, “Look for the Silver Lining,” — because at Villanova there are many.

The first appears in our academic areas. We are all aware of the honors earned by our professional schools, so much so that the ranking positions of 10 and 13 and the phrase “Center of Excellence” easily flow off our tongues.

In September, the ribbon was cut at the new home of the College of Nursing and Driscoll Hall has been a celebrated addition to our campus.

Mendel lived for several months on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

A few weeks ago, we inaugurated the first endowed chair in Science and the Deans of VSB and Engineering recently had their positions endowed as well.

Interdisciplinary programs have been established that invite our students to explore other cultures, tackle the problems facing our environment, and investigate the challenges of real estate.

Our graduate programs continue to attract students from around the world to pursue research and scholarship with our outstanding faculty.

Faculty publication is at an all-time high and this year Villanova welcomed new faculty who have already established themselves as luminaries in their disciplines.

I want to acknowledge the work of Dr. Jerry Long in raising the profile of our graduate programs. Jerry, as you bring your tenure as Dean to an end this spring, please know that Villanova University is grateful for all you have accomplished on behalf of Graduate Studies.

The Law School concluded a successful capital campaign and its new building is rising on the other side of the tracks. Soon other areas of the University will know the joys of climbing “Mount Misery” as programs and departments move into Garey Hall.

While many programs can boast achievements over the past year, two mark milestones in their presence and service to the University. Part-Time Studies is celebrating its 90th Anniversary and the Theatre Department its 50th. Both have made unique contributions to Villanova in the constitution of our student body and the composition of our body of culture.

Most important among these endeavors is the fact that our students continue to do well. This year we were cited as one of the top producers of Fulbright scholars in our classification and in 2008 two Arts and Sciences students were added to our list of 34 winners overall.

Our May graduates have successfully entered careers, graduate programs, and volunteer sites around our country and the world.

Rather than attempting to outline every contribution in each academic area, I thought I would share with you a portion of a recent email that I received that was sent to Dean Jim Danko. Christopher Benko, who received a BA in Economics/Business in 1988 and an MBA in 1995, is presently an analyst with Price Waterhouse Coopers. Recently, he saw an article in the VSB alumni magazine that described the School’s new curriculum. I believe that Mr. Benko’s comments speak volumes about what makes Villanova such a unique academic environment for all of our students. He writes:

“I am impressed by how VSB has reshaped its curriculum around a global mindset, innovation, ethics and technology, all with a focus on hands-on collaboration, creativity, and agility. Just as important, however, is the emphasis you are placing on the foundation of liberal arts in the Augustinian tradition. While I've built a career in research and analysis at one of the world's largest professional services firms, my success cannot be traced directly to any particular economics or business class at Villanova. Rather, my true advantage has been my Villanova liberal arts education. It was this broader challenge where I learned more than calculations and theory. I learned the discipline of how to think. I learned how to express ideas. I learned to focus on implications. I learned the importance of context and the value of thinking holistically. I learned a certain logic that doesn't just happen naturally.

Make no mistake; there are countless people who can ‘crunch the numbers.' There are very few who can also articulate insight, think on their feet, and engage in a productive exchange of ideas. I have interviewed hundreds of job candidates over the course of a dozen years at PWC. I can usually identify without ever glancing at a résumé those who have been challenged by a broad-based liberal arts education that stresses ideas and communication skills and those who have focused solely on the technical side of the house. In fact, some of my most successful and insightful analysts were hired with no advanced technical training, bringing ‘only’ a liberal arts education.”

The next silver lining at Villanova occurs in the areas of Student Life and Residence Life. From first-year learning communities and engagement in service learning activities, to programs that connect students socially, politically and culturally, and athletic clubs that challenge them physically, our students continue their education outside the classroom.

On December 2, an article appeared in The New York Times that highlighted the value of club sports at colleges and universities. In the article, college administrators said that club sports can be viewed in the same category as student development. Villanova’s Women’s Club Soccer program was featured in the article and I was proud of the comments made by Chris McAlpine, who coordinates recreation and club sports here at the University. Chris states:

“Being active in the leadership of a club sport teaches a wealth of real-life lessons that college students might not learn anywhere else. What they are doing is résumé building, like an internship. I get a lot of business reference calls, and I’ll be asked: ‘Did so-and-so work well with others? Can she follow through on a project? And I’ll answer: ‘Well, she led a team of 25 girls, balanced a $12,000 budget, handled travel arrangements in 5 states, and planned 100 practices. Oh, her team won, too.' "

’Since I am mentioning athletics, congratulations to the Football team for making it to the play-offs and, more importantly, for their efforts in the Bone Marrow Donor Program. Coach Andy Talley and the team received accolades this year for raising national awareness of this program.

We also should take pride in the accomplishments of this year’s Women’s Cross Country team, which finished first in the Big East and sixth in the NCAA Championships. It is a testament to the hard work of many staff in Student Life and Athletics that our student-athletes participate in a variety of activities that shape their minds and hearts.

The next silver lining circles around topics that have received significant attention this year and ones that I have spent time addressing in other campus forums: the Mission Statement, Strategic Plan and the Campus Master Plan. Each of these areas has had wide-spread community involvement and I am not going to reiterate what has already been said on other occasions.

While the Mission Statement is fundamentally the same, there are changes in the format of the document designed to highlight the essential characteristics of our mission in a clear and precise manner. Later in this meeting, the Senate will have the opportunity to review this new format. While it has gone through numerous drafts, I believe it is the most important statement we make and it needs to have a full community vetting before it is presented to the Board of Trustees.

The Strategic Plan and the Campus Master Plan are works in progress and will continue to be refined as we move them forward. I am excited with the direction of these initiatives and encourage the community to continue to participate in the process and engage in dialogue as we continue to chart the future of Villanova University.

As Jerome Kern suggests in his song, you look for the silver lining when a cloud appears in the blue. Well, the financial cloud has moved into view. Yes, it has affected our endowment. Yes, it will slow down the momentum of our planning efforts. Yes, it will affect the ability of some of our students to secure loans and meet tuition costs. And yes, we are carefully tracking the effects it will have on our ability to fund increases in salaries and department budgets, capital improvements, the pension fund, and future hiring.

While the news is filled with statements by Corporate CEOs and University Presidents about the need for hiring freezes, lay-offs and drastic budget cuts, I ask us to proceed with discretion. It is still early to make long-term predictions and I request our community to be patient and, more importantly, to be altruistic. We need to care for one another. We need to support one another. We need to look out for one another. We need to trust one another. This is not the time to be greedy. Now more than ever we need to be a community.

Regardless of all the turmoil in the markets, we remain in a good position and so far our admissions for this coming year remain strong. Steve Merritt tells me that the financial crisis and the demographic downturn will certainly impact private colleges and universities, especially small liberal arts schools. However, our applicant pool appears to be quite talented and deep and he is confident that we will have a great freshman class for fall 2009. The financial aid packages we are able to offer and strong communication with our current constituents will be crucial to our overall enrollment success and plans are in place to enhance our effectiveness in those areas. Should these efforts fail, Steve suggested to me that a Novena, strategically placed 9 days in advance of our May 1 deposit deadline, might be in order…

Now, moving along with Kern’s song, it is the sunny side of life that is to be found and I would like to share a few new initiatives that I hope will add to the brilliance of our future.

As every President knows, you need money to accomplish any vision. While the market rises and falls, I believe there are many alumni and friends who share our commitment to education, the Catholic intellectual tradition, and Villanova’s Augustinian values. As you know, last December successfully concluded our $300 million capital campaign Transforming Minds and Hearts: The Campaign for Villanova. At the end of June, Mike O’Neill became the Vice President for University Advancement. The change in the title from Institutional Advancement was intentional. I believe advancing the University carries a broader message about the diversity of our people and programs rather than simply advancing the institution. Presently, Mike is working on a reorganization of the Development Office which will put greater emphasis on a constituency-based model of fundraising. While this reorganization is in its initial stages, I am confident that when completed it will significantly raise the profile of all our colleges, schools and programs.

With the support of the Board of Trustees, I am refocusing the responsibilities of the Office for Mission Effectiveness. Our Catholic, Augustinian identity calls us to a distinctive mission that carries with it a range of ministry. Through Campus Ministry, Student Life programs and Academic disciplines, Villanova places a strong emphasis on service, ethical leadership, and working for the common good. Caritas is as important to the life of Villanova as Veritas and Unitas. I am happy to announce that as of January 1, 2009, Dr. Barbara Wall will assume the responsibilities of Vice President for Mission and Ministry. While the work of the Office of Mission Effectiveness will continue, the Office of Campus Ministry, the Augustinian Institute, and our partnership with Catholic Relief Services will report to her as well. It is possible that other programs may appropriately come under this new area and that will be evaluated as we move forward. Dr. Wall has done a wonderful job as Special Assistant to the President and I don’t expect she will miss a beat with this new title and responsibilities.

There are several new initiatives percolating around the campus. While many still are in the infancy stage, they have the potential for sparking our imaginations and igniting new educational opportunities in service, leadership, Augustinian studies, innovation, and entrepreneurial initiatives. Our strategic planning process and disciplined financial management will help us to invest our time, talent and treasure to spotlight what makes Villanova University a unique place to live and to learn.

The other day someone said to me that when I came to the presidency, I probably expected to be raising money and spending it, but now I am raising money and saving it. Villanova doesn’t need to be saved. Villanova needs to be treasured. We know why and we know what it will take.

Annual Address to the University Senate 2008