Rising Expectations

Rising Expectations

As BC works on problems of success, AVP Neuhauser sees more progress

By Michael Seele
Chronicle Editor

John J. Neuhauser arrived at Boston College as an assistant professor in the fall of 1969, just in time to witness a financial crisis that nearly destroyed the University. In the years since - including 22 as dean of the Carroll School of Management - Neuhauser has played an active role in BC's rise from near ruin to a thriving university of national prominence.

But Neuhauser notes that while the Boston College success story is a remarkable one, the University is now wrestling with dilemmas created by that very success. As the University's academic vice president and dean of faculties, a job he's held for less than two months, Neuhauser is taking a long-term perspective and looking forward.

"I don't think the institution can stand still," he said. "Our choice is to continue down this path as a major American university, or to fall back to being a liberal arts college. The latter is just not tenable. The trick is to move forward while keeping those things that have made us unique: our Catholic and Jesuit character."

Neuhauser has noticed many changes over the years, from the development of the University's physical facilities to the rising quality of its student body, which he said has fueled an ongoing increase in the quality of the faculty.

John J. Neuhauser-"The biggest single change I've seen is in the aspirations and expectations of the faculty we recruit now, as opposed to, say, 20 years ago."

"The biggest single change I've seen is in the aspirations and expectations of the faculty we recruit now, as opposed to, say, 20 years ago," he said. "They have a different set of intellectual aspirations, and a different set of expectations for their own performance, particularly in research and scholarship. They very much treat BC as a front-line American university."

Competition to attract the very best faculty has always been intense among top universities, he said, but BC has been winning more and more of those battles of late, further evidence of its maturation. "Nowadays we are competitive," Neuhauser said. "Twenty years ago, we were not."

But hiring faculty is just the beginning, he said. Institutions need to nurture the careers of junior faculty and help them establish themselves as scholars, he said, while some in mid-career need flexibility to adjust the focus of their research.

"Investing in faculty is basically a capital investment," he said. "It takes a long time. But whom you hire and whom you promote is the most tangible evidence of how deeply you care about the institution and its mission."

As BC 's focus on scholarship continues, Neuhauser said he recognizes the inherent tension that comes with maintaining an emphasis on excellence in teaching.

"That tension, for the most part, is healthy," he said. "Good scholarship tends to reinforce good teaching."

Though he said he understands the competition for time this implies, there may be steps the University can take to help faculty manage their research and teaching responsibilities, such as increasing opportunities for undergraduates to assist in faculty research efforts.

"On the whole, I think we should recognize that's what a great university is all about - learning on the part of undergraduate and graduate students, as well as faculty," Neuhauser said.

As BC continues its academic development, Neuhauser said tough funding decisions will need to be made among worthy initiatives. For the most part, particularly strong areas of the University that allow BC "to bring something different and unique to the table" are likely to garner added support, according to Neuhauser.

"We'll be looking for places where we can have a measurable impact on the course of American intellectual life, and have a measurable impact on students," Neuhauser said.

He added that BC can expect to see the emergence of more institutes and centers - supported largely by external funding. These offer the advantage of allowing researchers to carve out or strengthen particular scholarship niches, while minimizing added cost to the University.

The faculty's success in gaining external research funding has created problems of physical space on campus for them to conduct that work, Neuhauser said. But new space, including the Higgins Hall expansion now underway and a planned office building behind O'Neill Library, should go a long way toward alleviating the problem in the near term, he said.

While Neuhauser doesn't see BC becoming a liberal arts college again, he said the University needs to retain those characteristics and lay the foundation for students' life-long intellectual growth.

"I think we need to be careful about a growing correlation in American higher education between what one does in college and what one does immediately after college," he said. "It's a new idea in American society and it seems to be driving what happens in academic fields. We need to keep in mind that college is a long-term investment, not just preparation for a student's first job."

Return to Sept. 30 menu

Return to Chronicle home page