Sept 10, 2004 • Volume 13 Number 1

'Our Time for Vision and Critical Decisions'

Success in 2003-04 poses challenges for years ahead, says Fr. Leahy

By Sean Smith
Chronicle Editor

Coming off a milestone year, highlighted by unprecedented academic achievement and one of the most important land acquisitions in its history, Boston College now faces the challenge of fully realizing the promise of its accomplishments, said University President William P. Leahy, SJ, in his address at Wednesday's annual University Convocation.

"As a university, this is our time for vision and critical decisions," said Fr. Leahy to the audience of administrators, faculty and staff gathered in Robsham Theater. "Many challenges lie ahead, but we have the strengths and commitment necessary to meet them in our time just as students, faculty, staff, and alumni of Boston College have done in the past."

The University's continued success, Fr. Leahy said, is tied to four major themes, including the current broad-based planning initiative for academic excellence. Fr. Leahy also cited attention to undergraduates' personal and spiritual growth, as well as intellectual development, and outreach to the Catholic community and Catholic Church as characteristics that will distinguish Boston College.

In addition, BC must do its part to "encourage members of our community to be citizens of the world" and foster awareness of other cultures and languages, said Fr. Leahy, a goal that will be aided by the establishment of a new Office for Institutional Diversity.

Executive Vice President Patrick Keating and Academic Vice President and Dean of Faculties John Neuhauser also spoke at the event, which, as the 25th Convocation, represented another University milestone.

The three speakers took note of the events and trends that made 2003-04 a banner year for BC, especially on the academic front. The past 12 months saw BC continue on what Fr. Leahy described as an "upward trajectory," evidenced by its first-ever Rhodes Scholarship winners and growing number of recipients of Marshall, Fulbright, Truman and other prestigious post-graduate fellowship awards.

Other highlights included a record year in research funding, an impressive array of faculty honors and an improved US News ranking.

Fr. Leahy, Keating and Neuhauser pointed to Boston College's acquisition this year of property from the Archdiocese of Boston as a signal event in the University's history. The addition of the Brighton Campus, they said, offers enormous potential for the University's resources and programs, as does the more recent purchase of the St. Stephen's Priory in Dover.

In his remarks, Fr. Leahy described the University's forthcoming move to the Atlantic Coast Conference and its progress in fundraising as other positive developments. Joining the ACC - which could happen as soon as next summer - will place Boston College alongside other top national universities in a stronger and more secure athletic league while increasing the University's presence in a major student recruitment area and offering considerable financial benefits.

Reviewing the growth of BC's fundraising operations, Fr. Leahy said gifts to BC totaled $64.8 million during the past year, triple the amount a decade ago and more than 10 times the dollars contributed in 1984.

"We have made real progress, but we need to do even more," he said. "I firmly believe that given the growing number of our alumni, their increasing wealth and experience of philanthropy, and Boston College's successes, we are in a position to make even greater strides in fundraising. And we must do so if we are to build in proportion to our ambitions and abilities."

The University's aspirations, Fr. Leahy said, will be reflected in the Assessment and Planning Initiative now entering its second year. He praised the work of administrators, faculty, staff and students serving on task forces and committees as part of the initiative. The various proposals produced through the initiative, offering both large and small-scale ideas for reshaping the University, will be considered carefully as the means by which BC will attain "the next level of excellence," he said.

"It will be these steeples of excellence, visible from afar, that will signal the presence of a stronger Boston College in the world of American higher education, and attract even more support, influence, and strength to the Heights."

Fr. Leahy said this commitment to excellence should be reflected in the BC undergraduate experience, especially through the role of full-time faculty in undergraduate instruction, academic advising and non-classroom activities - tenets of the Jesuit influence in liberal arts education.

"There is no greater gift that Boston College can give to its students than the habit of critical inquiry, commitment to truth, and willingness to employ talents to better the world around us," he said.

Fr. Leahy said BC will continue its Church in the 21st Century project, an initiative launched in 2002 to help the Catholic Church and community find avenues of renewal, and launch an on-line education component in partnership with the Institute of Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry.

In his address, Keating briefly outlined the University's parking improvement plan [see story on page 1] and reported on several major construction projects, including the new Lower Campus residence hall, the Yawkey Athletic Center - slated for completion in March - and the planned renovation of St. Clement's Hall.

Keating said BC, despite tight budget restrictions during the past few years, had managed to continue investing in programs, facilities and resources while avoiding lay-offs or hiring freezes. Although BC is not impervious to socioeconomic trends, including rising health care costs, Keating said he was confident the Assessment and Planning Initiative would produce "substantive ideas that will enable our faculty and staff to support our mission."

Neuhauser extolled the continuing academic strength and diversity among the BC faculty and student body. He noted that AHANA faculty accounted for 20 percent of faculty hires since 1999, and that 25 percent of the freshman class is AHANA students. He characterized graduate enrollment at BC as remaining strong - with record application totals in law and nursing - despite a significant nation-wide drop in applications from foreign students.

Neuhauser also sounded an optimistic note about the outcome of the current planning process: "If there will be difficult choices ahead, the fact is that we will have choices." He praised the desire of the BC community "to do work that matters, that helps young people while also shaping our understanding of science, law, literature and the other critical aspects of our lives and beliefs."

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