A Look Ahead
By Michael J. Graham, S.J.
(Editor’s Note: This is a condensed version of a talk Fr. Graham gave in January.)
For the last several years, it has become my custom to offer reflections each semester on what might loosely be called “The State of Xavier University.” Because of both the multiple, overlapping planning efforts and because of my own sense that I have more or less accomplished what the Board asked me to do back in 2000, I am in effect beginning a sort of “second presidency” here, so I thought it might be helpful to offer some very broad and very rough ideas as to what the years in front of us might hold. But first, a story that makes several important points.
In January, we successfully sold nearly $49 million worth of bonds to build a new self-funded residence hall and dining facility. But getting to that point was deceptively difficult. With a great deal of work, we were able to design the facility within a budget we could afford in about six months. Significant work was done with our credit agencies to make sure we were able to secure financing. Additional work to position ourselves in front of institutional investors and local buyers likewise occurred. But the net result was that the entire bond was subscribed in about one hour. There are two good lessons in this. First, Xavier has the agility and ability to mobilize around difficult issues and resolve them successfully. Second, the endorsement of external agencies is a ringing one indeed. Together, these suggest we have the strength and the momentum upon which we can build the future.Our foundation is deep and strong, made up of several elements. The most basic of these is our university culture. This is the gift of all those who came before us. In one way or another, all its aspects flow directly from our underlying Jesuit and Catholic heritage. I would be the first to admit we do not always live up to these lofty standards. But I would also submit that this portrait of ourselves at our most noble is the best compass we can have for guiding us into the future.
The other powerful asset that the University possesses is the people here today—our talented and diverse faculty; our students, staff, administrators, Board of Trustees, alumni and friends. Together, the interplay of those who came before us and those here now conveys a host of powerful institutional advantages: our academic reputation; our student-centered environment; our valued in our communities; the quality of our built environment; our reputation as a university that speaks and acts from an explicitly moral and ethical point of view; the success of our development office; and the calling card of basketball, whose true value we can never fully know. Toss in the opportunities afforded by Cincinnati’s rich civic, cultural and business life, and it is easy to see why there has never been a better time to be at Xavier.
But, as you can imagine, there are a variety of issues over which I lose sleep. We need to increase the diversity of our faculty, staff, administration and students; we have not done enough to incorporate global perspectives into our campus programs; sustainability must be more on our minds; we have to improve internal communications; and do a better job of promoting Cincinnati. I have also become convinced we need to share deeply and broadly our Jesuit and Catholic identity; that we rely far too much on adjunct faculty; that any student who isn’t a traditional undergraduate is an institutional afterthought; that we need to become much better at reading the environment and responding with creativity and agility; that we need to better assess threats and react to them, and spot opportunities and take advantage of them. I also suspect that while we deliver a superb educational experience to a good many of our students, we need to do better by them. We have come a long way in terms of developing a culture of assessment, but I fear it is nothing compared to the distance we have yet to travel.
And there are the things I lose a great deal of sleep over. Whatever we have done with respect to safety and security issues is nowhere near enough. And there is a whole cluster of economic issues that collectively constrain our ambitions and compromise our dreams. Against the background of all of this, let me offer five very rough, overarching themes on how I see the next several years unfolding and upon which our planning needs to occur:
1. Deepening our commitment to our Jesuit, Catholic mission, identity, vision and values
2. Enhancing our student-centered educational experience to better meet the needs of the world around us
3. Growing across all student enrollments while maintaining and enhancing traditional markers of student success
4. Improving our human, financial, physical and technological resources
5. Strengthening connections with our surrounding communities, our alumni and other friends.
I have become convinced the University will grow in two distinct but interrelated ways: by strengthening existing academic programs and establishing new ones. What follows is a set of reflections on why I think growth would be both a necessary and a good thing, as well as thoughts concerning issues we would need to resolve if we are to grow well. The Jesuit, Catholic spirit that animates Xavier is something our world needs more than ever, and to educate additional students in this spirit is the most positive contribution the University can make to the world around it. Meanwhile, new and emerging societal needs invite us to build upon traditional areas to educate additional students to meet these needs. But, in order to grow our enrollment successfully, the following issues need to be addressed:
- Hiring sufficient numbers of full-time faculty
- Providing adequate numbers of offices, classrooms, labs and technology
- Providing sufficient residential alternatives and recreational opportunities
- Ensuring the diversity of our student body
- Integrating planning, strengthening assessment and enhancing practices of shared governance.
With more students, new economies of scale and enhanced financial procedures, the University will be able to: enhance faculty expertise through targeted hires; develop a more active and engaging campus; enhance our ability to market Xavier to prospective students; spur the development of the East Campus; remediate structural budgetary gaps; better invest in strategic initiatives; and enhance University relations and development opportunities in the long term. The challenges around us are real. But, to recur to the moral I drew from the sale of our residence hall bonds, we have both the ability and support we need to address them well. It is a future worth committing ourselves to, planning toward and working hard to realize. Our students and our world deserve no less.