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University Convocation Presents Visions of BC’s Past and Future

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By Sean Smith | Chronicle Editor
Published: Sept. 9, 2010
While the future of Boston College’s academic programs and buildings comprised a significant part of yesterday’s University Convocation, an upcoming celebration of BC’s past also took center stage.

Speaking before administrators, faculty and staff at Robsham Theater, University President William P. Leahy, SJ, formally announced plans to commemorate Boston College’s 150th anniversary, which will take place in 2013.

“This will be a cause for celebration, reflection and planning,” said Fr. Leahy, who added that the approaching sesquicentennial provided a context in which to think about “how Boston College has evolved, and how we must respond to current challenges and opportunities according to the vision, beliefs, and values that have animated and guided our University since its beginning.”

Executive Vice President Patrick Keating and Provost and Dean of Faculties Cutberto Garza also spoke at the event. Keating discussed current University administrative and financial developments, as well as campus construction projects — highlighted by a computer-generated “tour” of the Stokes Hall academic and classroom building that is to be constructed on Middle Campus — while Garza examined several initiatives relating to intellectual, societal and faith aspects of the University’s mission.

In addition to announcing the Sesquicentennial Celebration, Fr. Leahy mused on the University’s beginnings as a single building on Harrison Avenue in Boston’s South End, and its progress throughout the years.

BC got off to a less-than-auspicious start, Fr. Leahy noted: Having promoted the school to Boston’s Catholic community and expecting “an army of students” to enroll, the University’s first dean, Robert Fulton, SJ, was dismayed to see only 22 show up. “’Many came gratuitously,’” said Fr. Leahy, quoting from Fr. Fulton’s account of the day, “’and only one or two had talent.’”

But the vision of Fr. Fulton and other formative figures in BC’s first years, such as John McElroy, SJ, John Bapst, SJ, and benefactor Andrew Carney, proved to be durable, Fr. Leahy said.

“Their deep sense of mission motivated them to respond to the challenges and opportunities of their time,” said Fr. Leahy. Over time, BC “began to change in size, structure, and scope in response to different circumstances and aspirations in the Roman Catholic population, higher education, and American society,” while retaining its commitment to Catholic values and teaching.

As BC approaches its 150-year mark, the vision and sense of mission in BC’s founders and guiding spirits is needed more than ever, said Fr. Leahy, as is the Jesuit, Catholic, liberal arts education BC offers.

To continue as “effective stewards” of its educational, formational and faith mission, said Fr. Leahy, BC must ensure its programs and budgets “reflect strategic priorities and are managed as efficiently as possible.” Recruiting strong faculty and — in particular with increased financial aid — talented students must be a foremost concern, he said. BC also must safeguard its “special, caring community” and expand efforts to deepen the understanding of BC’s Jesuit, Catholic dimensions.

Fr. Leahy called for the University community to use the 150th anniversary observance as an opportunity to “remember the vision, sacrifice, and tenacity that gave root and life to the university we know and love, and to rededicate ourselves to being wise, effective stewards of the mission and heritage of Boston College.”

Keating, in his remarks, characterized the past year as “successful” for Boston College, in spite of “extraordinary fiscal challenges and uncertainty.” He cited improvements — some at all-time highs — in areas such as applications, yield, retention, sponsored research activity, alumni giving and fundraising pledges, achievements for which he said faculty and staff deserve considerable credit.

Although the University was able to “weather the storm” from a finance and budgetary standpoint, Keating said BC will need sound stewardship — improving services or controlling expense growth — to confront future fiscal challenges, notably in financial and health care.

Keating cited some instances of stewardship at BC, including the establishment of administrative service centers in the College of Arts and Sciences; administrative program reviews — which resulted in a more centralized Counseling Center operation, and improvements to the Flynn Recreation Complex facility, among other things; a 7 percent drop in actual spending for energy costs from fiscal year 2009; and efficiency reviews of cross-departmental programs, more than 20 of which have been completed.

He also touted a soon-to-be-launched health management program, organized in collaboration with other area universities and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, which offers incentives to employees and their families to stay healthy.

Keating finished with an update of recent, current and upcoming construction projects, including the renovation of Gasson Hall and 10 Stone Avenue — which will serve as home to the Institute of Liberal Arts — as well as completion of Jesuit community housing on Foster Street near the Brighton Campus. Pending approval by the Board of Trustees, he said, the University will shortly begin work on Stokes Hall, and renovation of the former Archdiocese of Boston Chancery office at 2121 Commonwealth Avenue, which will eventually house the University’s Advancement division.

Garza spoke about the University’s commitment to fostering an intellectually rigorous community for undergraduate and graduate students, as represented by developments in several key areas, including:

•The Institute for the Liberal Arts’ expanding presence at BC, as reflected in the opening of its office at 10 Stone Avenue, and its organization of a campus symposium on liberal arts in education this November.

•The renaming of the Geology and Geophysics Department as Earth and Environmental Sciences, representing a wider field of inquiry into issues of the environment and sustainability.

•The possibility of adding anthropology as a discipline to BC, a proposal to be discussed this year by the Council of Deans.

•A review of the progress in bringing integrated sciences and the creative arts into the University curriculum.

•Initiatives by BC’s professional schools that have broadened their outreach to their respective disciplines as well as society at large, such as a new leadership academy to be funded by the Lynch School of Education [see page 3].

“These initiatives all demonstrate a concerted effort for excellence at BC,” said Garza