The two-year planning and assessment project, which will be led by Prof. James O'Toole (History), will "examine all aspects of Boston College," said Fr. Leahy, with particular attention to teaching and research, the University's Jesuit and Catholic mission, and academic and financial challenges and opportunities.
"Our goal is to build an institution more capable of making important contributions to the intellectual, social and religious fabric of American society," he said.
The planning initiative, which Fr. Leahy had previewed at last year's convocation, was a theme throughout Wednesday's event, a traditional starting point for the new academic year. Executive Vice President Patrick Keating and Academic Vice President and Dean of Faculties John Neuhauser both offered their own perspectives on the forthcoming assessment effort in their remarks to the audience of administrators, faculty and staff.
Setting the stage for his remarks on the planning initiative, Fr. Leahy touched on the successful "Ever to Excel" capital campaign, which raised $441 million - nearly triple the $136 million tallied by the 1987-91 Campaign for Boston College, and well past its original $300 million goal. Ever to Excel, which formally concluded on May 31, added some $80 million for endowed chairs and $75 million for financial aid endowment, Fr. Leahy said, in addition to funding student formation programs and other University priorities.
Given the competitive pressures common to national elite universities, and BC's own aspirations "to greater heights," said Fr. Leahy, the University will not be able to rest on its laurels and must begin an assessment of its strengths, weaknesses and potential areas of growth.
Outlining the planning initiative, Fr. Leahy said there will be a focus on BC's traditional strengths of care and attention to the personal, spiritual as well as academic development of its students.
Although questions surrounding the most effective balance between teaching and research are important for BC, he said, the University's Catholic and Jesuit mission lies at the very center of its institutional identity.
"We must ask, 'How are we living up to our Jesuit and Catholic heritage?'" said Fr. Leahy. "Is Boston College preparing Catholic undergraduates to live out their values in society, and for leadership in the Catholic Church? We need faculty who will support this mission."
Saying the assessment of BC's Jesuit and Catholic mission - and its commitment to "be open and welcoming to faiths of all our community's members" - would be a special priority for him, Fr. Leahy announced he will plan to host gatherings with students, faculty and staff to gather their impressions of BC and its direction.
The funding necessary to realize the goals of the planning initiative, said Fr. Leahy, cannot come from tuition increases or debt financing but through well-organized fundraising efforts that reach out to BC's alumni and friends as well as corporations and foundations.
"Those who care about BC, like our alumni and friends, want it to be strong," he said.
During his talk, Fr. Leahy discussed the University's highly acclaimed Church in the 21st Century initiative, which begins its second year this month [see separate story]. Where last year's series of events explored the dimensions of problems facing the Catholic Church, he said, this year's theme "will be on ways of achieving renewal" in the church community.
"We have been told that our program is a source of hope and encouragement," said Fr. Leahy. "Boston College, like all Catholic educational institutions, can and should play a critical role in the renewal of the church."
Fr. Leahy also touched on this past summer's conversations between University administrators and the Atlantic Coast Conference on the possibility of BC leaving the Big East to join an expanded ACC. The reasons for considering the move, he explained, included academics - "The ACC was a good fit for us" - attractive demographics for future recruiting of students, and the prospect of a "strong, stable" athletic conference that would produce sufficient revenues to support more of BC's athletic programs.
With the ACC having decided to instead invite Miami and Virginia Tech, Boston College is now participating in discussions aimed at strengthening the Big East, said Fr. Leahy. Conference officials are expected to announce their plans in four to six weeks, he said.
Keating, who spoke after Fr. Leahy, discussed recent trends in BC's administrative units, and reported on several major campus construction and information technology-related developments.
The University is at the maximum of its debt issue, Keating said, and capital funding "is tight, and will continue to be so." Despite such constraints, he said, BC administrators and staff are "contributing to the quality of our programs" and helping to support the University's mission.
Turning to campus construction, Keating said the 21 Campanella Way office building is now fully occupied and a project involving improvements to residence halls is progressing well. Upcoming and ongoing projects also include the construction of a labyrinth memorial for Sept. 11 [see separate story], the new St. Ignatius Gate residence hall and the Yawkey Athletic Center.
Keating also touched on information technology initiatives such as Desktop 2003, which overhauled more than 3,000 computer systems across campus, and the unveiling of a new financial accounting system that he said will be particularly helpful in managing grants and budgets.
Neuhauser reviewed some of the University's notable academic accomplishments of the past year, including the establishment of three endowed professorships - with several more expected to be announced this year, he said - and the awarding of 34 major national competitive fellowships to BC students, including 13 Fulbrights.
The BC faculty includes 48 new full-time members, including 23 females and 10 AHANA, added Neuhauser, while 27 percent of the 2003 freshman class are AHANA students. He also reported on the searches for new deans in the Carroll School of Management and Lynch School of Education [see separate story].
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