Sept. 9, 2005 • Volume 14 Number 1

A Look Ahead

Fr. Leahy says planning initiative offers vision of a new Boston College

By Sean Smith
Chronicle Editor

Wednesday's annual University Convocation offered - in words and cleverly enhanced pictures - a possible preview of what Boston College will look like in the next 10 years, as University President William P. Leahy, SJ, presented an overview of the broad-based planning initiative that is now in its final stages.

Summarizing BC's institutional progress during the past decade, and the potential obstacles to its continued success, Fr. Leahy outlined several University-wide goals, as well as specific strategies and objectives, that he said will enable BC to realize its potential as a Catholic, Jesuit university. These included such proposals as centers for the humanities and integrated sciences, a school of theology and ministry, faculty and graduate housing, more endowed chairs and expanded program for student formation.

At one point, Fr. Leahy also displayed several images showing examples of a "new-look" BC campus.

But ultimately, Fr. Leahy told the Robsham Theater audience, the University's future will be decided by the dedication, quality and character of its people. He singled out a dozen administrators, faculty members and students as emblematic of Boston College [see box on page 9].

"These are the kind of people we want at BC," he said. "They enable us to have the special ethos which makes this university so unique in higher education."

This year's convocation was devoted entirely to the address by Fr. Leahy on the assessment and planning initiative, which began in 2004. Months of discussions among faculty, administrators, students and others assisting in the project have produced a set of proposals to reshape the University in anticipation of its 150th anniversary.

The proposals will be formally presented to the Board of Trustees at their December meeting, said Fr. Leahy.

Prior to Fr. Leahy's remarks, Director of Campus Ministry James Erps, SJ, led a prayer for the victims and survivors of Hurricane Katrina. He also outlined the University's response to the tragedy, which included temporarily enrolling students from Gulf Coast colleges [see separate story].

Fr. Leahy began his talk by paying tribute to Academic Vice President and Dean of Faculties John Neuhauser, who will step down later this fall and be succeeded by former Cornell University Vice-Provost Cutberto Garza, MD [see story on page 1]. The audience responded with a standing ovation.

Fr. Leahy offered a summary of BC's performance in several key areas, comparing figures for 1993 - a year when BC was in transition from one planning cycle to another, he explained - with those of 2004 and 2005. The benchmarks included growth in applications - from just over 13,000 to a record 23,823 for the Class of 2009 - decline in rate of acceptance (from 47 to the current 31 percent), AHANA student enrollment, undergraduate fellowships and research funding.

"We have made much progress in academics, and we have never had more academic strength in our students and faculty," he said. "We are one of the success stories in American higher education."

He also noted the growth of the University's finances and endowment, increase in spending on academic programs and student services, as well as the additions to BC's available space and physical plant.

But Fr. Leahy said there were several causes for concern among the positive trends. While BC's endowment has risen to $1.32 billion, it is low compared to the University's competitors, he said. Similarly, despite the growth in private gift support, the percentage of alumni who give money annually - about 25 percent, putting BC in the "upper middle" of US colleges - has not changed over the past decade.

In addition, Fr. Leahy noted that the recent fundraising campaigns at many of BC's competitor and peer schools have had considerably higher dollar goals than those previously undertaken by the University.

To continue its success, Fr. Leahy said, BC must "be true to our roots" as a Catholic, Jesuit university built on the classic ideal of liberal, humanist education. "We want to graduate people whose hearts, minds and souls have been touched, which impels them to be a leaven for good in wider society."

Fr. Leahy listed seven strategic directions for BC: strive to be "the best" in liberal arts education and student formation; be "among the best" in selected research and professional programs and science endeavors; function as a significant intellectual and cultural crossroads; and be "the leading Catholic university in the world."

Achieving these goals might entail, for example, creating a Center for Humanities, an expanded program for student formation, an Integrated Science Center and a School of Theology and Ministry. Creating a "greater Boston College," he said, also would require more endowed chairs, increased financial aid and capital projects funded by gifts and pledges rather than long-term debt.

Fr. Leahy also said new or refurbished structures like a student center, faculty and graduate student housing, a humanities building - built on the present site of Carney Hall - and a bridge over Commonwealth Avenue connecting the Main and Brighton campuses, among other initiatives, would be another important component of BC's long-term plans. To illustrate this part of the talk, Fr. Leahy showed photos of existing campus sites including computer-generated images of the proposed structures.

"If you would like your name on this," Fr. Leahy quipped as the image of the humanities building flashed on the screen, "see me afterwards."

BC can most appropriately celebrate its 150th year, said Fr. Leahy, by adhering to its foundations, which he said could be summed up in three words: "University. Jesuit. Catholic."

"As a Catholic, Jesuit university, we engage issues of the day," he said, "inspired by a centuries-old philosophy of education that focuses us on liberal arts, on the development of the whole human being. We are 'catholic' and 'Catholic' - not exclusive, yet with an institutional memory and a set of traditions and values that help us to see the world and all of its possibilities."

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