By Skip Tate
Over and over the faculty took the message to University President Michael J. Graham, S.J.: It’s getting serious out here. Classroom space and resources are being stretched. Technology is lagging. Class sizes are increasing, while faculty are decreasing. There’s also talk of increasing enrollment.
“There was a feeling among the faculty that, as a result of these things, Xavier might be compromising on its promise to deliver,” says Gillian Ahlgren, associate professor of theology and faculty committee member. “The feeling was, we didn’t have what was required to shine.”
In many ways, the concerns weren’t new to Graham, who was not too far removed from the classroom himself. After meeting with faculty members during a series of listening sessions, though, he acknowledged their message by handing the issue back to them. Write a new academic vision statement, he said. Put together a plan that will serve as a roadmap for the next 10 years and take the University to the next level.
They did just that. And they did it in a hurry. In less than six months, the faculty assembled a new academic vision statement, adding to the number of major overhauls the University is currently undertaking—new strategic plan, new comprehensive marketing plan, new commitment to increasing faculty and technology.
“The overall strategic planning for the University will have academic planning at its core,” says Graham, “and what’s sitting in the middle of that is the academic vision statement. It is the rudder that will steer the plan.”
It wasn’t easy, though. Led by Ahlgren, the faculty set about trying to craft a plan that would be broad enough to encompass all areas, yet focused enough to make significant directional strides. After identifying the needs and hallmarks of the University through a questionnaire, Ahlgren called for a full faculty meeting on Dec. 7, a day which shall live in infamy, at least in her mind.
Of the 210 full-time faculty, more than two-thirds attended the meeting. “It was amazing,” she says. “The most exciting part was when I walked out of my focus group and into the hallway. It was full of faculty and they were buzzing. They looked tired, but they were all animated and excited because this is what they love to do. It was a dynamic experience.”
The results were compiled into a single paragraph and 10 characteristics of an academic renaissance. What it means from the practical standpoint is students may start seeing changes in course offerings or how courses are taught as soon as this fall. Expect more team-teaching, says Ahlgren, and more interdisciplinary courses. Expect to see efforts made to create space where faculty and students can interact and learning can be done in a social setting.
“We need to create a learning environment where the students can come in touch with real life, where they can be exposed to other ways of seeing things and informed enough to be helpful to humanity,” says Ahlgren.
With the physical growth of the campus gained under the previous administration, Graham has expressed a desire to focus his efforts on intellectual growth. He now has a map.
ACADEMIC VISION STATEMENT
Xavier University is nationally recognized as the leading comprehensive Catholic, Jesuit university whose academic excellence is embodied in a diverse faculty dedicated to outstanding teaching, scholarly activity and service. Consistent with its Jesuit tradition, it offers a rich, collaborative learning environment that challenges a diverse and capable student body intellectually, morally and spiritually. The University’s rigorous undergraduate, graduate and professional studies empower students to integrate theoretical and applied knowledge with questions of human values and ethical behavior. Its curriculum is intended to stimulate critical thinking and interdisciplinary learning that inspire cooperative, innovative approaches to problem-solving and engagement with society. Xavier’s intellectual vitality, coupled with genuine care for the personal and professional lives of the University’s students and alumni, promotes lifelong learning and service to others.
Characteristics of Xavier’s academic life in 2011:
• A rigorous, analytical and reflective learning environment, open to diverse perspectives and characterized by concern for others.
• Creative scholarly activity that adds to the compendium of knowledge. The University’s vibrant intellectual life is enhanced by infrastructures and technology supporting faculty development to do high-quality independent, collaborative and interdisciplinary research.
• Classroom and field experiences that challenge a more diverse and capable student body intellectually, morally and spiritually. These experiences are supported by state-of-the-art teaching methods and appropriate application of information resources and technology. Students are empowered to integrate academic, practical and technological knowledge with questions of human values and ethical behavior.
• Core curricula of graduate, undergraduate and professional programs stimulating critical thinking and interdisciplinary approaches to learning as well as creative and compassionate approaches to problem-solving. The learning process encourages the formation of women and men for others in the service of faith and the promotion of justice.
• Successful graduates dedicated to lifelong learning, continuous acquisition of knowledge, development of new skills, and the integration of values and service in their personal and professional lives.
• Undergraduate, graduate and professional studies and services that are fully supported and integrated in the life of the University.
• An open, collaborative learning environment that is responsive to its immediate community as well as external communities, that encourages genuine engagement with civic, social, cultural and global issues and that provides opportunities for international experiences.
• Commitment to shared governance that collaboratively pursues excellence in all University matters.
• A University community diversified in race, ethnicity, gender, culture and faith traditions, and respectful of the dignity and needs of the individual.
• Recognition as the leading comprehensive university in the Midwest and the leading comprehensive Catholic, Jesuit university in the United States.