Prepared text for Faculty Convocation address given by
Boston College President William P. Leahy, SJ
Sept. 2, 1999
Robsham Theater
Date posted: 9-7-99
=============================================================
We have begun another academic year, and I thank all of you for being here this afternoon. Moments such as this are important because they provide an opportunity to come together as member s of the Boston College community to learn more about our institution and to renew friendships.

Our campus was a busy place this summer, especially with a number of renovation and construction projects; and I want to publicly thank Tom Devine, Fred Peninno, Linda Riley and their staffs in Building and Grounds, Planning and Construction, and Housing for their efforts, particularly these past few weeks getting residence halls ready for students. They did a tremendous job under tough time constraints, and I am most grateful for their dedication and long hours.

As I have done at previous convocations, I would like to offer comments about state of Boston College from my perspective as President. So, what follows will be divided into three parts: 1) some introductions and announcements; 2) a review of last academic year; and 3) reflections on key challenges I think we will face during this coming year and in the 21st century.

Let me start with a few introductions. We have some new people at Boston Colle ge that I want to welcome especially as we start this year. Alan Wolfe has joined us as the founding director of the Center for Religion and American Public Life. John Garvey is here for his first convocation as the new dean of the Law School. Kathleen Warner became Vice President for Information Technology in January.

A familiar face at Boston College, but in a different position is Joe Quinn, now serving as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Another person moving into a new role at Boston Co llege is Bob Taggart, who has agreed to become Interim Dean of the Carroll School of Management. And I both welcome and thank Jack Neuhauser, who agreed to become Academic Vice President and Dean of Faculties earlier this month. We are fortunate to have the three of you in these administrative posts.

I'd like to say a word about Jack's appointment. With David Burgess leaving as academic vice president to return to being a research biologist, I had two options: appoint an acting AVP or a permanent AVP. Ordinarily, when a key position is vacant, there is a search; and I considered that. But ultimately I asked Jack Neuhauser to be AVP for several reasons. First, I wanted to maintain the momentum we have built up in Academic Affairs and continue implementing our academic plan resulting from the UAPC process. Also, with two new deans this year, it was important to have someone with whom they could develop effective working relationships. In addition, we have some decisions that need to be made this year regarding academic space and budget planning, which an acting or interim AVP might be reluctant to do and leave them to the President. And with a major fundraising campaign in the offing, I know that my time will be even more limited.

So for these reaso ns, I thought it best for Boston College to select a permanent academic vice president, if someone willing and able to do the job could be found. Jack meets those criteria, and I am pleased that he said yes to my request that he serve as AVP. I believe we are fortunate to have him.

I have two announcements about changes in senior administrative ranks. Father Dick Cleary will be leaving as head of Chaplaincy, effective next summer. He has served generously for 10 years and I am grateful, Dick, for all your work and ministry. You have touched the lives of so many people during your time here.

The other change concerns the leadership of Student Affairs. Kevin Duffy has served as Vice President for Student Affairs since 1976, and he has decided that he would like to step down from his position after this academic year. After a sabbatical, he will join the School of Education as an adjunct professor in 2001. Kevin has made such a major contribution to BC and to student life on our campus, and the divis i on of Student Affairs will be even more important in the future as we pay increased attention to student formation at Boston College. In the next few weeks, I will appoint committees to begin the search process to find replacements for Dick and Kevin. P lease join me in thanking them for their service to Boston College.

I would like to move now to reviewing last academic year, which was a great year for us, one in which we made significant advances in a number of areas. I think it is important that we ack nowledge our successes and progress; too often we human beings tend to focus on the negative or what is wrong and we overlook the positive or give insufficient consideration to what is being done well.

Consider the following from the 1998-1999 academic year:

- We hired 32 tenure-track faculty, eleven of whom are AHANA and two are Jesuits. Jack Neuhauser will give further information about faculty hiring in his remarks.

- During the past year, Boston College faculty were awarded seventy-nine honorary degrees, distinguished editorships and professorships, and national honors and fellowships. This is a record of distinction that points to the real progress made by Boston College and its faculty in recent years.

- Sponsored research increased dramatically from $ 23.5 million in 97-98 to more than $31 million in 98-99.

- Preparations were made for three major conferences to be held this academic year: one on retention of AHANA students from elementary through college organized by the Office of AHANA Student P rograms and Learning to Learn, another examining faith and justice in Jesuit higher education sponsored by the Jesuit Institute, and the third, a reconvening of the Blacks in Boston Conference entitled The Irish and African-American Experience, a joint effort of the Black Studies Program and Irish Studies.

- Our current freshman class is the most academically talented that Boston College has ever had. The average SAT score for members of the Class of 2000 is 1275, and the percentage of AHANA students in t he class is nearly 24%, up from 19% a year ago. And, of course, you know that we had almost 20,000 applications for the class. And another indicator of quality and BC s reputation, of thirty students offered admission as Presidential Scholars, nineteen accepted, compared to eleven the previous year.

- Last year sixteen students in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences held highly competitive national fellowships, including 4 Fulbrights, one National Science, 1 Javits, and 1 from the American Chemical Society.

- We held our first Fine Arts Festival in April, which drew large crowds and reflected the growth of the arts at BC.

- So did the Caravaggio exhibit, which attracted more than 65,000 visitors to Boston College, including many who had never been on campus before.

- Last year was also a quite impressive year for us in fundraising. Thanks to the dedicated work of Mary Lou DeLong, her staff, and our alumni and friends, we raised $44 million in cash and approximately $65 million in pledges. As you know, we are engaged in the quiet phase of a major campaign, and you will be hearing more about that as this fall semester progresses. Of course, the gift of more than $10 million from Peter and Carolyn Lynch to name our School of Education was the highlight of our fundraising year.

So, we accomplished a lot last year, and I think it is proof that we can develop plans and then work to implement them. Our goal is very simple: to be an ever stronger university and to be ever faithful to our Jesuit, Catholic heritage and mission.

But we do have our issues and challenges, and I would like to focus on two: institutional identity and financial resources.

I think there are two stresses on our institutional identity that we need to acknowledge and talk about m ore. The first results from rising expectations regarding research and publication, something that is good and necessary. We are committed to excellence as an institution, and it is essential that our faculty be intellectually alive and contributing to the advancement of knowledge.

It is also true that Boston College has long been committed to quality teaching, especially of undergraduates; and it wants faculty to be involved with students outside the classroom. We want our students to develop not only intellectually but also personally and spiritually. And I believe the increased conversation on campus about student formation has been needed and beneficial. I also know that many of our students hunger for more contact with faculty, administrators, and staff.

In the face of these demands and expectations, an immediate issue is time, time for faculty to teach well, do research, and publish while having time for advising of students and informal contact with them and also a healthy personal life. I th ink there will always be a tension between teaching, research/publication, and student contact, but it is not a case of either/or. I believe that truly effective teachers are also individuals who are doing research and writing. I also maintain that our c ommitment to undergraduate education and teaching does not preclude us having and strengthening niches in graduate and professional education. But I am very aware of the pressures faculty experience regarding teaching, research, and publication, especial ly junior faculty. We simply have to keep such realities in proper balance if we are to maintain our identity and be true to our educational and religious heritage.

A second strain on our identity comes from the impact of contemporary society and concerns that Catholic higher education is losing its religious roots. Some argue that the pursuit of excellence and prestige as defined by secular academic culture has cost Catholic schools their souls and resulted in a slide toward secularization. And it is clear that the long-term trend in American higher education has been the erosion of explicitly religious commitments.

Leaders in the Catholic community, especially bishops and presidents of Catholic schools, quite legitimately want to make sure that Catholi c colleges and universities remain authentically Catholic and also contribute to wider culture. A similar view is why Pope John in 1990 issued the document Ex Corde Ecclesiae, which discusses the relationship between the Church and Catholic college and universities, and called for norms to implement the vision he articulated in his document.

As you know, the American bishops had approved a draft of implementation norms in 1996 but it was sent back by the Vatican. Another draft should be circulated soon, and you will be reading more about Ex Corde in the coming weeks. In fact, the Chronicle of Higher Education is currently working on an article concerning the identity of Catholic colleges and universities, and a few individuals at BC have been interviewed for it.

Until the latest text is released, I think it is premature to say much about the Ex Corde process. Certainly I, along with the other presidents of Catholic institutions want our schools to be catholic with a small "c" and Catholic with a large "C. " As I have said before, I am committed to Boston College being a meeting place between faith and culture, especially between the Catholic Church and contemporary society. We should continue striving to be an institution where the curriculum and camp us life honors and seriously attends to questions about faith and the transcendent and which does so from the perspective, beliefs, and values of Catholicism and its moral and intellectual tradition. Also, our environment must be one in which all people here have the opportunity to engage in religious inquiry, whether through worship, retreats, or intellectual or personal exploration

And we must remain a community where people of all faiths, beliefs, and values are genuinely welcome to study, teach, thi nk, research, work, and engage each other. I want us to continue benefiting from the presence and contributions of people from all backgrounds and world views.

My issues with the Ex Corde implementation norms circulated a year ago are not with the ideals but with some of the means being proposed to implement those ideals. For instance, I do not like the proposal of requiring Catholics teaching theology in Catholic institutions to obtain mandates to teach from the local bishops. If there are questions about the orthodoxy of an individual Catholic theologian, I think the Church is better advised to deal with that specific situation rather than insisting on the mandate approach.

Whatever happens with Ex Corde, we need to keep discussing what it means for us to be a Catholic, Jesuit university. The Center for Ignatian Spirituality sponsored some excellent seminars last year, and the Jesuit Institute also is a wonderful resource. And so are so many others on campus who want BC to be true to its mission and heritage.

I also want to touch on the subject of financial resources. BC today is a strong, vibrant institution, and we are doing well, partly because of the wonderful commitment and contributions of people like you. We rank in the top tier of national universities.

We have ambitious goals, and we want to be stronger and better as an institution. We also know that American higher education is increasingly competitive.

To do all that we want to do and to stay strong, we must do at least three things:
1) be as efficient as we possibly can be and make sure we keep focused on moving forward and developing our niche as a quality Jesuit, Catholic university;
2) have clear priorities and make hard choices about allocation of resources. That will inevitably mean that some good ideas and programs will be funded, and other good ideas will not be funded. We simply are not as well endowed as many of our competitors;
3) finally, we must raise more money from alumni and friends of Boston College. We are in the quiet phase of the largest campaign in our history, and I regard it as crucial for our future. We are blessed to have three talented individuals, including Father Monan, leading it. But we will need the help of all members of the BC community in our efforts.
Boston College is an institution with great strengths and promise. It has a strong academic reputation, grand traditions, a wonderful location, and enthusiastic alumni. As I consider our future, I think of words from the prophet Jeremiah: For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope . . . when you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you. May we do our part and may God continue to bless Boston College and all of us.

Thank you.

Back to Convocation story

Back to InfoEagle Home Page

Back to News and Information from Boston College