CIVIL DISCOURSE: WALKING THE WALK Civil discourse--some may remember that I spoke on this subject in my last State of the College speech, delivered shortly after the tragedy in Tucson— and I want to come back to those words as we begin this new academic year. It is a topic that may appear to have little to do with our daily work here—it probably won’t make us better teachers of surgical technology or anatomy or criminology. And understanding the issue won’t help us win more as coaches, of moot court or of soccer. But I want to suggest you today is that some attention to the topic is fundamental to what we stand for at Mt. Aloysius, where values still have a place in our mission statement and in our curriculum, and where we remain steadfast in our determination to produce not just “job-ready” but “community-ready” graduates.
Contents: Civil Discourse: Walking the Walk A Look at the Past Year Academic & Program Successes
Many of you saw photos of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, returning to work just about two weeks ago. She was a victim of an attempted assassination and though she miraculously survived a bullet to her brain, six others did not: a nine-year-old girl, a federal judge, a social worker, a great-grandmother, a retired construction worker turned church volunteer and a woman celebrating 55 years of marriage to her high school sweetheart. They were all gunned down in front of a supermarket during a “Congress on the Corner” event. Eight months later, there is continued but much less frequent debate over who, if anyone, contributed to the actions of the madman who shot them, contributed by their exhortations, their rhetoric, their characterizations in blogs, tweets, public speeches, campaign fliers and other postings. I don’t think that particular debate, still uncivil in itself at times, will get resolved so long as the current climate endures. At the end of the day, these seven people were shot for expressing their political views—in some cases, like the little nine-year-old granddaughter of tough guy Philadelphia Phillies baseball pitcher and coach, Dallas Green--just
Speaker Series Commencement A Look at the Year Ahead Campus Construction College Finances Employee Survey A Look at the Future Technology and the Classroom Inauguration A Sense of “Place”
for choosing to listen to someone else’s political views--in a public marketplace. That sounds like something that you might hear about in the Middle East, or maybe in a country in subSaharan Africa which didn’t exist when many of us were born, or maybe in Belfast a generation ago (from which Sister Nancy and three of our students have just returned). But it all happened right here in the United States. And we move so fast sometimes—24 hour news cycle—that we are onto the next issue, the next tragedy, the next disaster, before we have had time to sift for the meaning in the last. At this point in our national history, we are bombarded via the airwaves and by daily blogs with diatribes that portray those who have different ideas as lacking all redeeming virtues. In the spring, I quoted the President’s challenge to the nation after Tucson. He called on Americans to “expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy and remind ourselves all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.” In January we talked about the role that we in education play in the march to a more civil society. Critical thinking, the ability to listen, to analyze, to form ideas and to communicate them—these are all skills fundamental to both education and democracy. For many, the university is where we learn these skills,
By providing a safe, respectful environment that allows for opinions to be shared By creating an atmosphere where the holder of an opinion can feel safe By teaching critical thinking skills in classes as distinct as Cross Sectional Anatomy and CLS, Imaging Principles and American History By encouraging the dispassionate consideration of complex issues By, in effect, giving students a nurturing environment to test their democratic skills. Mt Aloysius College can be an incubator for democracy where all the skills are taught, all the behaviors are modeled so that when students become “citizens,” they will have the tools needed to make democracy work. Many of us are deeply concerned about the state of public and private and even internet discourse in our country, and are convinced that higher education has a signature role to play in encouraging civility and citizenship and community. I am pleased to tell you now that, with help from many of you, we are engaging the topic in a
number of ways across the campus this year:
First, at Orientation, led by Dr. Jane and Elaine Grant, we have three separate sessions on civil discourse, built around skits on classroom, roommate, social media and public life conflicts, and then small group discussions. Second, in the CLS curriculum led by Dr. Jones, et al, all 600 freshmen and transfer students will have a week-long segment in their Cultural Literacy Seminar devoted to the topic. They will read, among other items, a short piece on citizenship in a global context, op-eds from Post-Gazette Editor (and former WSJ and WP columnist) David Shribman and Duquesne Chancellor Dr. John Murray, and a very thoughtful piece on the spiritual and other dimensions of the topic by the President of Fairfield University. The faculty will also have other materials from which to generate discussion.
Third, for the Spring and Fall Honors Seminar Lectures--overseen by Dr. Cook--we are trying to focus our honors students on critical thinking—with two guest lecturers--one on the environment and the other on international terrorism. The first will be led by former Department of Environmental Protection chief counsel Susan Shinkman and the second, by Dr. Jim Walsh, at MIT now (before that Harvard) who is a frequent guest on both Fox and MSNBC as an expert on terrorism generally and on issues involving North Korea and Iran. They both understand our objective—to teach our students to think critically on potentially divisive and emotional issues. Fourth, our Spring "Moral Choices" lecture, led by Sister Helen will focus on this topic. Sister Helen is negotiating with representatives for Kathleen Hall Jamison, perhaps the country’s premier commentator and writer on public speech and Dean of the Annenberg School of Communications at Penn. Fifth, the Honors Society Symposium chaired by Drs. Dragani and Costanzo will focus this Fall’s event on Civil Discourse, with five or six professors presenting their takes on the topic from fields as diverse as psychology and English Literature. Finally, one of our Inauguration Panels will have this at its focus. Dr. Sondra Myers--International Fellow at University of Scranton, an expert on global citizenship ventures and my colleague in a previous life--will moderate. US Circuit Court of Appeals Justice D. Brooks Smith and Mt Aloysius trustee--who knew
personally the Judge murdered in the Tucson shooting, and who just wrote a concurring opinion on a very topical Facebook/first amendment case--will discuss the issue in the Internet age. Dr. John Murray-chancellor at Duquesne and its former President and Law School Dean--will discuss the issue as it relates to academia, and former WSJ and WP writer and now editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette David Shribman will focus on civil discourse in public life. All our CLS students will be required to view the Inaugural panel discussion as well; and Dr. Jones is preparing syllabi suggestions that will help to frame the conversation. We of course won't be able to address all sides of this complicated topic--but at least will get the chance to open our own and our student's minds to the seminal importance of the topic to citizenship, to community and to comity. All this good work in the years ahead allows us to continue another tradition of the Sisters of Mercy at Mt Aloysius—to back up our words with real action, not just to talk the talk but to walk the walk. I want to thank all of you who stepped forward after those January “words” and offered “action” steps—like the six initiatives described above--that are so concrete. Hopefully, coming at the issue from so many different directions in the next year, we will generate a synergy for civility and community here at Mt Aloysius that extends well beyond our borders. We can hope that the pebbles that we drop into our little pond here will create ripples that spread to further shores, as our students graduate across this region and this state to build useful lives based in community and family and civility.
A LOOK AT THE PAST YEAR I promised you in January that I would use these occasions as a sort of report to stakeholders, in this case “shareholders”, which we all are. Let me get to that. Let me try to focus on a couple of topics each on the past year, on the coming year and on the way further forward. First, a quick look back at last year—three topics, on academic and program successes, on our Speaker Series and on the graduation itself. ACADEMIC AND PROGRAM SUCCESSES First, Academic and Program Successes: you all had a good spring semester, and let me run through a quick ten of the signal accomplishments last year:
First, Mt. Aloysius Medical Imaging and Radiation Services students won their first “Technibowl” and also swept 5 of the top 6 prizes in the research completion held in State College. Congratulations to chair Paula Scarmazzino, her colleagues and students. One of our students, Deborah Reighard, also won the Student Initiative program essay contest offered through the American Society of Radiologic Technologists (ASRT), one of 10 winners nationally.
Second, the Mt. Aloysius Science and Mathematics Department won a $50,000 NSF Grant, as part of a collaborative effort with Juniata College. The grant is entitled Transforming Undergraduate Education through Increased Faculty Access to NextGen Sequencing Runs (whew!!). Our faculty will identify diatoms and bacteria in abandoned mine drainage and incorporate curriculum improvement in courses such as Microbiology and Laboratory Techniques. The research began with a workshop in July at Juniata. Congrats to Dr. Merrilee Anderson and her colleagues. Third, Students In Free Enterprise (SIFE) at Mount Aloysius won 1st Runner Up in their league at regional SIFE competition in Philadelphia on March 25. The event was one of 12 SIFE USA Regional Competitions being held across the United States in March and April. Participating students use business concepts to develop community outreach projects that improve the quality of life and standard of living for people in need. Nine students comprised the MAC team at the Philly Regionals. Thanks to faculty advisor Professor Mingyar. Fourth, a record number (29 of 30) high achieving students accepted Mercy Presidential Scholarships this year, our highest yield ever. That success mimicked our Enrollment V.P. Frank Crouse’s perfect record for breaking records each year in admissions. While many around us have seen shrinking enrollments, MAC’s continues to go up. Thank you to Frank Crouse and his hard working team. Fifth, The Pennsylvania Department of Education approved and accredited our grades 4-8 Middle School Program in Elementary Education. MAC is now certified at all three levels of k-12 education. Congrats to Dr. Roseman and all her colleagues. Sixth, our Ultrasound Program, Surgical Technology and Medical Lab Technology programs all reached significant accreditation milestones. Congrats to Associate Dean Paul Farcus, to our leaders in each of those disciplines Megan Beaver, Amanda Minor and Kathleen Hoyne and to all of you who serve on those faculties. And our Nursing students had a 100% pass rate in the most recent NCLEX exams, keeping our annual average on par with all of our competition. Congrats to Regina Barr and Sharon Kisel who led our program through the last six months and to all our faculty who go the extra mile in this signature program at Mt. Aloysius.
Seventh, both the Service Learning Exposition and Undergraduate Research Symposium hit record numbers in their spring expositions. 129 students, 11 faculty mentors and 16 community partners worked on 29 service learning projects –projects where our students develop skills through on the ground/in the community experiences with real products and tangible outcomes. I saw several of the presentations and was impressed. 110 projects were displayed, at the research Symposium, representing 199 students and 17
faculty mentors. I served as a judge, and though some projects were clearly outstanding, there were difficult choices. By comparison, the 2010 symposium contained 75 projects, representing the work of 166 students and 14 faculty mentors. Congrats to Professor Asonovich who leads the service learning team and to Dr. Anderson, who chaired this year’s research symposium. Eighth, we just finished our first full year of graduate programs in Business and Community Counseling— congrats to Dr. Torres and his colleagues in the MBA program and to Dr. Haschak and his colleagues. Ninth, the Ann Harris Smith Little People’s Place Received the Top Rating in State and Federal Accreditation—though we had some concerns coming into the year, our program passed a very rigorous accreditation process, achieving the highest possible classification and perfect scores in five of six categories. We are one of only 12 such accredited programs available in our 50 mile radius. It is not yet a self-sustaining enterprise (as a matter of budget) at the College, but one that remains invaluable to students, staff, faculty and community—so we continue to make the investment. Congrats especially to Suzanne Campbell, Marilyn Roseman, Jane Grassadonia and our Director Lisa Segeda who worked with many others on this achievement. Tenth, our sports teams achieved a number of firsts in the winter and spring seasons: First time Mt. Aloysius fielded a men’s tennis team, our 13th intercollegiate sport First time Mt. Aloysius produced an All American (pre-season first team baseball catcher Matt Cornetti, who lived up to his billing with a plus .440 season at the plate) First time a Mt. Aloysius student athlete won the highest honor from the AMCC conference (Joey Stephenson, basketball three point record setter and 4.0 student), chosen AMCC Student Athlete of the Year from over a thousand athletes in 22 sports from ten schools First time all five winter and spring sports made AMCC playoffs First time, in our five year NCAA AMCC history, that a Mt. Aloysius team has won an outright conference title (softball, after tying with two other teams for the title last year) First time a Mt. Aloysius team placed 8 players on a single All Star team (Softball), including three on the First Team (pitcher, centerfielder, shortstop); baseball had four (pitcher and catcher on first team) And our student athletes achieved an overall spring semester GPA of 3.0, and put the highest percentage of athletes on the AMCC Academic Honor Roll, thanks in part at least to the 25 members of faculty who were honored for their special impact on men and
women basketball student athletes. These faculty members were embarrassed at halftime by being called out from the crowd as student essays were read in their honor. Undergirding all of this success--and so important that it doesn’t need a number--is the mission-related work that is central to Mt Aloysius and to the Sisters of Mercy who founded and maintain it. More than 500 students engaged in community service last year, with first ever mission trips to Guyana and to Ireland, continued work in Jamaica, in Biloxi MS, in Harrisburg, in Frenchville and in dozens of other communities we call our “neighbors.” Thanks to Sister Helen, Sister Nancy and their teams. Good work by so many, and with so much promise on the horizon. Congratulations to all who played a role in these and so many other accomplishments.
SPEAKER SERIES Second topic on the year past—our Speakers Series. I have tried to pay some attention to the issue of outside speakers on our campus for a very simple reason. We coached our own sons that they would learn in at least three ways while on a college campus—from their professors in the classroom and outside of it, from their classmates, and from those other people who came to campus to share their expertise, their experience or just their point of views. It is all part of a complete education, and sometimes the outside speakers can help the critical thinking process of a student enormously. Last year’s impressive list included:
An Oklahoma City bombings prosecutor on Constitution Day. Thanks to Drs. Smith, Jones and D’Emilio for all the activities they coordinated around that Day. A Marcellus Shale panel around the time of Earth Day. Thanks to Dr. Anderson and Senior VP Campbell for convincing three activists in the field to share their views with an audience of students and local citizens. A photo display and presentation on Haiti one year after that devastating earthquake that brought home to all of us the importance of the service work performed by the MAC community. Thanks to Sisters Helen and Nancy and to Ann Schwartz for all the community service work here and abroad that they coordinate. A Corporate CEO’s presentation on his company’s $4B multinational insurance conglomerate merger,
which he discussed in groups small and large. Thanks to Business Department Chair Chris Mingyar and MBA Director Dr. Torres for hosting him. A Georgetown professor’s survey on sex and sexuality on campus, our annual Moral Choices lecture, which provoked an interested and diverse audience to three separate crowded events. Thank you Sister Helen for taking the lead--and doing all the legwork--on this and our ecumenical lecture series. A Huffington Post Blogger, who among four different presentations during his two day visit, in Dr. Jess Costanzo’s class compared the 17th Century satirists Jess was covering—Christopher Marlowe and Jonathan Swift—to their compatriots in the 21st century blogosphere. Thank you Dr. Cook and Dr. Coakley who hosted this speaker as part of the Honors Program. A Civil War Roundtable focused on the role of women in that war with presentations by Mt. Aloysius faculty, and thank you to organizer, assistant librarian Shamim Rajpar, and to our presenters, Drs. Cook and Smith. A “Where is Medicine Going” seminar led by Conemaugh CEO Scott Becker that brought board members, the leadership of the nursing faculty and the PEC together. Thank you VP Institutional Advancement Jack Anderson for your work to make that and three more sessions like it happen. The Dean of an Ecumenical Institute of Theology who entertained an audience that included the leadership of most major denominations in our region—I think we had the equivalent of seven Bishops at our very own hard table—on the topic of "A More Ecumenical Paul: The Jewish, Catholic, Reformed, Orthodox, Pentecostal, Anabaptist (and more) Apostle". That was a mouthful. Thank you again, Sister Helen who made this lecture and event happen. And of course, the Convocation and Commencement speakers who framed our academic year both lived up to their billing. Harvard Ph.D., noted author, 25-year Brown biology professor, recipient of numerous honorary degrees and key witness in the Dover School District Creationism case Dr. Kenneth Miller talked to our students about finding what lights them up and then figuring out how to make a living off it—just like he did. Thank you Dr. Natalie Van Breukelen for suggesting him for Convocation—Ken was an inspired choice. Three-time College President, fifteen-time author, expert on the spirituality of work (and other subjects) Father Bill Byron—on the day before Mother’s Day—talked to our students about his own mother and the
true meaning of the word “commitment.” It was a remarkable speech, partly because it came from such a pure memory. Thank you Michele for suggesting Father Byron as our commencement speaker. And more speakers that I haven’t named. Two things stood out from last year’s guests that I hope we can replicate this year. First, with only a couple of exceptions, our speakers really engaged on campus—they ate meals with small groups of students and faculty. They delivered multiple lectures as requested. They took Q and A as long as we wanted. Second, many of them shared personal stories that resonated with our students and with many of you. At least one of our speakers grew up at his grandparents’ home, by the side of his grandfather the welder, while his father took the bus to Rutgers every day to get his degree. One of our speakers worked full time while going to night law school. At least two of our speakers grew up in single parent families, one a victim of divorce and the other of the untimely death of his father. At least one of our celebrated speakers was “asked to leave” college on his first try, and several of our guests would have been classified as mature students before they got to put their cap and gowns on. This year, the list of speakers is promising: the executive editor of the Post-Gazette, the Chancellor at Duquesne, a Federal Circuit Court of Appeals Judge and a global citizenship expert whom I mentioned earlier. A Mercy College President from Nebraska whose doctorate addresses these very issues, the leading light for campus civic engagement efforts from University of Pennsylvania and the head of the first and leading Campus Compact organization in the country will each talk about the “College’s Role in the Social Fabric” of our region, state and country. Those are seminars we put together around inauguration time, in part to emphasize values we hold dear at Mt Aloysius. Our fall honors speaker is the former Chief Counsel at the Department of Environmental Protection, Susan Shinkman, and she is going to teach a seminar in how to examine--in a critical thinking format— complex environmental issues. And Dr. Jim Walsh, an international terrorism expert who appears regularly on both Fox and MSNBC, and who teaches full time at MIT, will be here for two full days in the spring. We will also try to focus other speakers—for example, our eighth annual Moral Choices Lecture--on the issue and practice of Civil Discourse and the critical thinking necessary to promote it. Much more to come as the
semester progresses. Last year, I created and worked with a seven person committee--five faculty and two staff--to put together that impressive list of speakers. I am aware that other neighboring schools take a different approach. Penn State Altoona for example spends their speak series resources on two nationally known speakers each year— last year it was James Carville and Franco Harris—and advertised their one day one speech visits for months in local papers and on radio and TV. We will discuss whether we want to pursue that approach in our committee this fall, continue what we are doing or blend them somehow. In the meantime, we are wide open for suggestions of speakers and of themes. We got lucky this year because I knew many of these speakers personally and they were happy to come at little or no cost—but any good idea is worth considering (e.g., Kathleen Hall Jamison and Bill Moyers). In the next month, I will publish the list of committee members for this year—I want to put a committee I place that will serve over several years--once we finalize it, feel free to engage any of them with your suggestions. COMMENCEMENT Finally, on topics about the year just passed, let’s close this section with the 2011 Graduation—it may have become old hat for some, but it was the first for my wife Michele and me and we don’t expect the excitement to wither over the years. Couple of highlights—first our student speakers did you all proud. Drs Cook, D’Emilio, Lovett and I helped to select the speakers, and I think in the end we got it right. Nikita Jonas—who was joined by 13 members of her family, some all the way from Singapore--delivered the invocation, part of which she offered in song, in a voice that has graced so many events on campus during her four years here with Nancy Way and Vox Nova. Camette Hoberney— our 4.0 Portage HS graduate, commuter, part time employee and managing editor of the school paper at Dr. Cook’s side--graduated in just three years—and shared her story as valedictorian. And Charlie Mastervich—our eighty-years-young graduate, offered the official welcome with some reflections that earned a standing ovation from his fellow graduates and faculty. Charlie’s story was front-page news in both the Johnstown and Altoona Sunday papers and helped carry the Mt. Aloysius College name to CNN and to more than eighty local television markets across the country, from Fresno to Boston, and from San Antonio to Duluth. Many of you had a hand in Charlie’s education here, and thought you all should enjoy his and the College’s day in the sun together. Check him out on CNN.
The second graduation highlight for Michele and me came by way of two smaller ceremonies in which we participated—one at midnight Saturday and another in a blazing mid-afternoon Sunday sun.
The eight seniors on the men’s baseball team returned at midnight Saturday from their tripleheader playoff in Buffalo, and we put their caps on them and pronounced the official words in the lobby of the gym, with all their teammates and coaches in attendance. I let them know that they missed out on 115 minutes of speeches and the chance to walk in “twos” again (as they did in kindergarten)—for some reason they didn’t seem upset at missing those highlights.
On Sunday—the day after graduation--our softball team made it all the way to the championship game in the conference playoffs (playing here on our field), and the winning team graciously allowed us to conduct the mini-graduation ceremony right there on the third base line before awarding the tournament trophies. Michele bought flowers for each of the graduates, VP Student Affairs Dr. Jane helped put on their caps and hoods, I stood on home plate and pronounced the official degree conferring words, and the three seniors celebrated right there on their personal “field of dreams” with their teammates, their families and their tears (eye liner and eye black both smudged!!). For the record, senior center fielder Andy O’Neil didn’t shed a tear—just as tough at the ceremony as she was at the plate for four years.
A LOOK AT THE YEAR AHEAD You will hear much more about developments from last year and this from the four members of the President’s Executive Council who will address this group later in the day. Let me shift now to some administrative items that concern the current academic year--three topics here: construction, finances and surveys. CONSTRUCTION ON CAMPUS Construction on Campus—there is going to be some in the next two years and I want you to know the who, what, when, where and why of it. First, the construction of the “Athletic”, “Convocation” and I am adding the word “Wellness” Center will begin any week now. We received a $10M state RACP grant, the largest single donation in the history of the college
by a factor of 6, and we got it despite the fact that these particular state grants became a huge issue in the last gubernatorial election, complete with negative ads aimed directly at them. In the end, the new Governor believed that this College had done things right and approved the agreement reached by the legislature and the previous Governor. Let me explain a little. Under Sister Mary Ann, the first eight steps of the ten-step Campus Master Plan were completed at a cost of somewhere in excess of $40M without a nickel of public money. It was all managed out of operating funds and with a single $8.3M capital campaign. We started on step nine--Alumni Hall--just about the day I arrived last July. From the day Sister Mary Ann arrived until the day she left, the College’s floor space has increased by fully 41% as a result of that Campus Master Plan. Step ten, the Athletic, Convocation and Wellness Center, will add another 30% of floor space. What in the end was most persuasive to the new Governor was how the College achieved all that growth—the old-fashioned way. It has not been the custom of the Sisters of Mercy to stand at the public trough, so when we finally asked for a significant economic development grant--$10M--and proved its worth, it was granted— by letter dated May 25, 2011. You can be proud—our college got the largest grant given to any private institution of higher education since Governor Corbett took office, and we are one of the smallest to apply. We have added a few wrinkles to the original ACC plan--fewer seats, less outside reception space, and hopefully a more energy efficient approach. I visited a number of local high school and college gyms this year, and none of them are ever even close to being filled. We average well under 500 fans at basketball games, our largest consistent use of gym space. We had 1800 people at graduation this year, our single largest crowd
each year. Rather than build a facility with 3500 seats (including on the floor), we elected to cut the seats to about 2300 (which still leaves 500 more seats than we used at graduation this year), which will cut the required number of restrooms and concession areas in half, and which then frees up more room for classroom, wellness and other community uses of this valuable space. Suzanne Campbell has overseen much of this work and we have now hired an architect and a general contractor and our first bid package will shortly be on the street for earthwork and concrete. We have two years to finish it and an aggressive construction schedule to get there. It is our intention that this facility will serve our staff, our faculty, our students, and our own community alike so it will be a mixed use facility-classroom space, wellness space, sports space and convocation space. Second on construction, we are ripping up the grounds behind the library, out to the existing athletic fields in an attempt to solve once and for all a sewer treatment plant problem that the borough believes originates on our campus. The local Sewer Authority’s theory is that our sewer systems are capturing way too much storm runoff and/or natural spring water, which overloads both our own systems and the township’s treatment facility. We are digging extra deep to try and avoid complications down the road. Third, we are finally building the “locker” and “rest” rooms that were called for in the original plan for the College athletic fields (to replace the two Porta-Potties), prompted by a $50K lead gift from BOT member and long-time College benefactor Mike McLanahan—given after he heard about the man in the wheelchair trying to relieve himself in the woods. Mike has christened this new building the “Mountie Stables” and I think that name is going to stick. With Jack Anderson’s help, we have since almost tripled his gift in donations directed to that facility, and it will be done soon. Finally on construction, we engaged an outside firm to do a “space study” for us—we haven’t had any kind of space study since the master plan eleven years ago. I looked at the old one, met with the engineers that did it, and we realized it was way overdue. I have asked them to focus on three issues: first, appropriate use of space (are we promoting appropriate partnerships between departments, with faculty and staff and for students by how we use space); second, efficient use of space (are individual office uses maximizing the footage); and third, green use of space (what can we do to take our green meter higher). There will be some minor construction as a result of the study (not likely before Christmas), but minor construction that facilitates “appropriate” and “efficient” and “green” usage of current space as opposed to creating wholly new environments. The space study folks are out and about on campus now, so if you have ideas, get them to us now—to Shelley in the office of SVPA. Our Senior VP for Administration Suzanne Campbell will give you a bit more detail on the construction and space study and what it can mean for the College in her remarks later this morning.
COLLEGE FINANCES Until last week, most people thought S&P meant only the S&P 500, the big companies whose reputations drive the markets in the US and much of the world. Well, S&P also rates the financial health of all kinds of institutions, from Wall Street to Main Street, and even including colleges and universities. And, as we found out to our regret last week, they even rate the integrity of government finances. An S&P rating, if you decide to seek one, is critical when you are about to borrow money--as this college is--in order to complete important work (in this case, our Athletic Convocation and Wellness Center). Their rating determines how much you have to pay for the privilege of borrowing that money—the actual interest rate, the “basis points” for your transaction, and your S&P rating will even determine whether you will have to pay fees to a bank to handle your transaction. This first time effort for Mt Aloysius was exacting and exhausting, and we were led in this instance by our CFO Donna Yoder and buttressed by the great record on financial management crafted by Sister Mary Ann. Donna worked with a consultant to produce a final presentation that included over 100 pages of pictures, charts, lists, chronologies and excel spreadsheets, supplemented by close to 500 pages of financial and other materials. They wanted to know everything about us, and interestingly, on issues far afield from the actual financials:
Have we adjusted our courses of study to market needs in the last decade What is the percentage of terminal degrees on the faculty How many students seek and how many get financial aid What are our retention and graduation rates Do we have any “famous” alumni, staff or faculty What is our student placement rate, are the jobs in their major fields, do they have benefits Etc., etc., etc.
Donna and I served as emcees for the entire day, as the S&P team interviewed eight members of our College leadership team. The final result was an A- rating, a rating that earns us major bonus points in terms of bank fees, bonus points and the ultimate cost of our borrowed money. Any institution our size would be delighted with that rating. The good news is the College got credit for balancing its budget without “fudge factors”, for living within its means for the last decade, for maintaining and even growing enrollment (and thus stabilizing revenues) for 9 years in a row, for growing the physical plant out of operating revenues and for keeping overall debt at manageable levels. The bad news--which S&P didn’t mince words about--is that we have very little in the way of endowment, that we are incredibly dependent on annual tuition for our operating budget, that our overall percentage of terminal degrees on faculty does not
correlate well with endowment potential and that we have only a relatively brief history of philanthropy from either our alums or the region. But all in all we will take it. The A- saves us serious money in the loan market, and most colleges in PA would be happy with this rating at this time.
EMPLOYEE SURVEY Next topic is The Modern Think employee satisfaction survey. The College has paid for two of these surveys in the last three years. I read both reports closely, and want to report back on several fronts. In general it is clear through the two surveys that people are happy here and understand that this is a special place. That does not mean there are not areas for improvement. To that end, five action steps to date result directly from your opinions in the surveys.
First, the Salary Equalization Surveys for both faculty and staff are done, communicated and incorporated into the FY11 and FY12 budgets. First time the College has ever done such a thing, and we can all thank Sister Mary Ann for agreeing to that process. For the record, we adopted every single recommendation from that survey, though a few had to be incorporated over two years instead of just one. Second, the Space Utilization Study started in August and will be complete—on paper--by November. Third, maintenance and facilities management have all been reconverted to College employee status, which is good for salary and benefits for those folks, good for productivity (we hope) and we hope good for the overall physical condition of the college. The new facilities director (Jerry Rubritz)—who reports to the Senior VP for Admin (and not to an outside vendor) is here since June 1, is very knowledgeable on facilities management with a good work ethic and we have concrete examples where he is already making a difference. Fourth, in response to the surveys, there is much more info sharing about the College from leadership teams on campus. First, reports from individual members of the PEC will become a regular part of this annual meeting. Today, you will hear from four of them—the VPs for Enrollment Management, Institutional Advancement, and Student Affairs, and from the senior VP for Administration. We will continue this practice at these annual meetings and occasionally through the year, so that everyone has at least a base sense of all the activity on the campus. Fifth and finally, I have made it a practice to try and communicate directly (in my walking around mode), in writing (through monthly updates to your division heads on various activities throughout campus), and through our website (which is now filled with Mt Aloysius YouTube videos, with copies of speeches at key College events and with other reports from around campus). I want each of you to have some sense--from their own voices--about what our leadership team is up to, so that you have a better sense of the mammoth effort from many directions that allows this College on the Mountaintop to fulfill its mission and best serve its students.
These five changes all come directly out of the all-staff surveys from 2009 and 2011. Thank you for your input.
A LOOK AT THE FUTURE We have talked about the past year and the present one. Now let me turn the page one last time, and look a bit more forward—at the future of this College on the mountaintop. Let me bring you up to date on three topics here: technology, inaugural activities and a sense of place. TECHNOLOGY AND THE CLASSROOM I said earlier that Michele and I expected our sons to have at least three different teachers in College: first, their professors in the classroom, second, their peers in and outside the classroom, and third, those other “teachers” who appear on and off our campus from time to time—outside speakers, experiential and service opportunities. Well, there is now at least one more teacher in our midst, and its name is technology (can you say “search engines”). But the reality is first, many of our students really do think differently from most of us. They can’t help it— they grew up in a world where the word “web” refers to “telecommunications”--not to “spiders”—they grew up in a world where the world wide web always existed, they grew up in a world where there was no such thing as the USSR or even East Germany, and they live in a world where their preferred method of communications is a text message with preferably no more than 140 characters. Let’s face it, they live in a world where if Facebook were a country it would be the third largest on the planet. So first, they think differently. Their neurons travel different networks, their trail of synapses would read like Greek to us, if we could even imagine them. Second, and I know this drives many of us—particularly the English Department--crazy, they write differently. They can’t help it—look at the new language. And the majority of them who use Twitter write in minimum word/maximum acronym 140 character single sentences. Third, they research differently. Forget the “Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature,” they have
hundreds of search engines at their fingertips Of course, we all know they are different, they are a different generation—they are the Millennial Generation, not the “Greatest”, or the “Silent” or the “Baby Boomer”, or even “Gen X”. And we will have a panel discussion this afternoon to talk about what those generational differences mean for how we all do our jobs. And we will have a panel discussion tomorrow focused just on technology and education, and we will keep up that practice every time we have a staff development day—to try and teach each other how best to understand and to communicate with our students and with each other. We have taken two other steps to facilitate the dialogue and the learning process. First, the Mt Aloysius “Social Media Lab” will open in the basement of Alumni Hall sometime in September. This lab will serve as a learning facility for interested students, a production ground for faculty and staff, and a studio in which the message of Mount Aloysius can be distributed globally. We have already purchased all the equipment that will allow our students--or any of you--to film three camera interviews in a controlled setting with advanced recording, prompting, lighting and set control. The lab will provide green screen capabilities allowing editors to inlay custom backgrounds or graphics to match the speaker’s message. The set will allow for up to eight people to be interviewed simultaneously. The lighting and audio equipment also creates the opportunity for select professional audio pieces and photography to be done in-house. Post-production equipment includes multiple video editing PCs for student and communications staff use. These computers will feature the most up-to-date multimedia software, as well as storage capacity, applications and other accessories that enhance and maintain video files and the editing process. The “studio” will not be confined to the designated studio space. The listed equipment was chosen specifically to allow both trained and untrained students/staff to record outdoors and in any other external location. This includes mobile lighting, audio, and video. Our overall goal is for the lab to meet and expand the multimedia goals of the college as well as keep pace with the technology of our competitors. Our lab will give us the capability to produce (including, but not limited to): high quality interviews, recorded addresses, web videos, instructional videos, commercials, professional photography, student pieces, news pieces, audio tracks, voiceovers, visual classroom, presentations, outdoor footage, event coverage, DVD/CD production, faculty/staff productions, even our own public access TV shows. We should all be proud that our nursing department is the most cutting edge—in terms of technology—of any school in Central and Western PA, and that 61% of all our classrooms are “smart” classrooms. But if we are
standing still on that side of our work, we are going backwards, so we will work hard not just to stay abreast of new developments but to stay ahead of the curve altogether. That brings me to the second announcement on technology. In June, we created a new and distinct director position, the Director of On-line Education, which will serve as a focal point for not just on-line education from the college, but as the guru of sorts for the use of technology as an educational tool for students, graduates, faculty, staff and alumni alike. Just last Wednesday, Dr. Kristine Anderson joined to us. She brings with her a substantial resume of competitive on-line research grants, a significant library of journalled articles and her on the ground experience on a college campus. Once she gets her feet wet, she will become a key member of a College-wide Technology Council, chaired by Dr. Fulop, which will develop our College technology plan for the next decade and beyond. This will be critical work for us—we need to refresh the promise of Mt Aloysius for this new generation, and that promise means graduates who are job-ready, community-ready and importantly, technology-ready. INAUGURATION I am not, I guess, officially the President until some formal symbol of the College is turned over to me on September 16. Much more important than the formal inauguration however is our opportunity to shine some light on all the good work at Mt Aloysius. We want the focus of the installation to be on the College and its history with the Sisters of Mercy, on our students, faculty, staff and the community at large. We see this as an opportunity to tell the Mt Aloysius story to a wider audience. We are planning three days of activity and have intentionally selected a time frame that
replaces the normal Convocation ceremony leads directly into Mercy Week and all the service opportunities it represents coincides with a number of home sports events engages a series of arts and entertainment exhibits and performances offers an opportunity for the annual “all college liturgy” allows us to host two singular panel discussions—one on the “University’s Role in the Social Fabric,” and the other on the “University’s Role in Civil Discourse.”
The first panel is already filled out, with three panelists including University of Pennsylvania VP and national leader on campus civic engagement Dr. Ira Harkavy, Campus Compact Executive Director Sheila Gray and College of St. Mary’s President Dr. Maryann Stevens. Dr. Helen Marie Burns will coordinate and moderate. The arts community in the region has worked with Trustee Ann Benzel, Nancy Way, Elaine Grant and many of our alums on some terrific entertainment over three days, Registrar Chris Lovett and Sister Helen have come up with some special ways to commemorate the history of the College during the inauguration, and the overall theme of service will be broadcast in a montage in Cosgrave and on several billboards in the area. We are trying to use the occasion to publicize and celebrate the values of this unique institution, and we hope that the ceremony itself, and the activities that surround it, will broadcast that message for us.
Everyone one of you should have received an invitation, and I promise that my seven brothers will all behave themselves. My four sisters will insist on it.
A SENSE OF “PLACE” Finally, I want to talk about “place” and finding one’s way in it. Our son Andy took an English seminar in his freshman year just on that simple topic “Place”—all the readings and the writing were built around that topic, some fascinating mind-opening material. Just an altogether different angle from which to examine the world of writing.
Well, Michele and I have been finding our way in this place—the “other” Central Pennsylvania”, rural Pennsylvania, Cresson, Mt Aloysius. I am not sure anything taught us more about our new home than Michele’s recent battle with cancer. We know that many, many of you have been down this road just in the last year in your own and in your extended families—some of you lost family members this year; others have waged family battles with cancer and even more debilitating illnesses; some of you have endured other disasters, like the recent fire that took IT staffer Jeff Sunseri’s home.
I want to thank all of you from this place, who stood up for each other every time news of one of these tragedies hit your email--with prayers and good wishes, with novenas and funny cards, flowers and little symbolic gifts. Nothing makes you feel more at home than the knowledge that you have friends around you. Thank you for those examples of the kind of civil discourse that we want to stand for at Mt. Aloysius.
Michele’s recent treatment has given us an even deeper appreciation for the work that many of you do here. There are rarely any doctors in the part of the hospital where she gets infusion therapy each day—most of the care is administered by nurses, by lab techs, by medical assistants, spread across a single large ward.
The medical assistants schedule the appointments, get everyone settled in each day and in general try to make it easier for the family coming all the way from Baltimore. The lab techs keep you in line each day, monitoring your doses, letting you know how great you are doing with all these drugs in you.
And the nurses are everywhere doing everything, checking out your ports each day, sitting on the edge of the bed answering the same questions each day with care and patience, finding chairs for your sons who want to be with you, even cleaning up after the sickness that is a daily part of the treatment. Michele says that this ward--filled with syringes and saline drips, with electronic gear that’s always beeping somewhere—that this is a very spiritual place, oddly enough, and that her daily experience here has given her an even greater admiration for a key mission here at this college—to train caring practitioners of the health sciences.
So let me end where I began here last August--with thanks for bringing us here to this place on the mountaintop, with gratitude for the profound sense of mission that frames our daily work, and with appreciation for the many examples of grace--the countless kindnesses--that so many of you have sent our way and to each other throughout the year.
Those small kindnesses are perfect examples of the kind of civil discourse that we want to promote at this institution—an institution which traces its roots to core principles of service and hospitality, justice and mercy. Thank you and all the best.
President Thomas P. Foley
Published on Aug 22, 2011