Strength To Build On

AVP Burgess sees promising future for Boston College

By Michael Seele
Chronicle Editor

If Boston College's upward journey into the ranks of the nation's best universities can be described as an experiment in progress, it is already a successful one that promises even better results in the future, according to Academic Vice President and Dean of Faculties David Burgess.

Burgess, a biologist by training who recently completed his first semester as AVP, said he has seen much that has impressed him at Boston College, and he envisions ways to further enhance the quality of education BC offers its students. But it first must work though certain issues.

"Boston College has very few systemic problems, though it has to wrestle with funding shortages," he said. Most of these needs were identified by the University Academic Planning Council and resources are being allocated to address them, said Burgess, as well as to further support departments and programs that have attained national prominence.

The strengths Burgess sees are numerous. The increasing number of prestigious awards and grants won by the faculty attest to its quality, he said, while efforts like the Center for the Study of Testing, Evaluation and Educational Policy, the Irish Institute and the Irish Studies Program are players on the national and international stages.

AVP David R. Burgess-"Boston College has very few systemic weaknesses, though it has to wrestle with funding shortages." (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
Student academic quality is strong and getting stronger, he said, and students continue to show their commitment outside of the classroom through involvement in many extracurricular activities, from varsity athletics to theatrical productions to volunteer outreach.

"I'm particularly impressed by student commitment to service, and the number of students involved in outreach," Burgess said. "In many institutions, there's a volunteer presence in name only; here, it's real. That speaks to the Jesuit, Catholic nature of this institution."

All of these strengths, and others, place BC among the nation's best universities, he said, but Boston College's quest to continue strengthening itself and to attain Carnegie Research II status - a goal nearly within its grasp - has helped bring into focus areas that need attention. A key issue is the need for more physical space.

"We have immediate needs for new space which hinder our efforts and commitment to delivering quality education to our students. Adequate space also is in short supply at this critical time of the expanding faculty research portfolio," he said. For sponsored research to reach Carnegie II levels, he added, faculty will need appropriate facilities.

The ongoing expansion and renovation of Higgins Hall will ease some of that pressure, he said, but the proposed Middle Campus Project - now on appeal before the Massachusetts Land Court - is a critical need. "I can't overstate the importance of that to the proper delivery of a BC education," he said.

In order to bolster infrastructure support for faculty research, Burgess recently reorganized his office. He gave Associate AVP for Research and Graduate Studies Michael Smyer responsibility for doctoral programs and research administration across the University, and he created the position of associate AVP for academic technology.

He cited the pending changes in deanships at the College of Arts and Sciences and the Law School as opportunities to build on success there. The next A&S dean, as leader of the University's largest school that serves all undergraduates, will face a particularly challenging task.

"The next A&S dean will have the opportunity to continue enhancing the scholarly nature of the faculty," he said. "The challenge will be to retain the commitment to undergraduate education and the core curriculum, while, at the same time, promoting quality scholarship by the faculty. It will be a tough balancing act."

Boston College also needs to incorporate new technology and integrate it with teaching and research. Burgess sees the day coming soon when all Boston College students will come to school with their own computers.

"I'm excited about the arrival of Kathleen Warner as vice president for IT," he said, "and I am very pleased with her commitment to the service and support of our academic technology needs." Faculty, he said, must continue to develop teaching methods that utilize technology.

"Technology should add value to students' academic experiences and everyday life, not just be a new gimmick," he said. "And doing that requires creativity and resources."

While the quality of the student body continues to grow, Burgess said it needs more AHANA representation. "We're progressing in the right direction, but we certainly cannot say it is sufficient. It's a big challenge for us, and for all universities, but our commitment is real."

While the challenges are significant, Burgess says he is confident the University will meet them.

"Boston College is a well-managed university that has shown it can respond quickly to issues in a very productive way," he said.

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