University Convocation

Gasson Hall
BC Events / Convocation | September 01, 2016

Even with the completion of a record-breaking fundraising campaign that surpassed many expectations, Boston College’s senior leadership served notice at the 2016 University Convocation that there is no time for complacency about BC’s future.

Already, the speakers noted, various members of the University community are working on the next set of institutional priorities through the University Strategic Planning Initiative (USPI), engaged in critical, broad-based academic and student formation initiatives, and assessing the state of the University’s capital and budget operations to meet ongoing and future needs.

All the while, University President William P. Leahy, S.J., told the audience in Robsham Theater on August 30, Boston College must continue to deepen knowledge of, and commitment to, its mission to foster a culture “that blends intellectual development with character formation.”

Fulfilling this mission – and maintaining “a sense of campus community” – amid tensions in American society about race, gender identity, socio-economic pressures, and political issues, including the presidential election, is an additional challenge, said Fr. Leahy. But he averred that Boston College – “proud of its achievements, confident in its direction, and ambitious for its future” – would continue to live up to its ideals as a Jesuit, Catholic university.

Provost and Dean of Faculties David Quigley – who along with Executive Vice President Michael Lochhead also spoke at Convocation – underscored the need for a sense of urgency: “We’ve accomplished a great deal over the last two generations at BC.  A key challenge for the next decade and beyond is to avoid any sense that we can ease up.  The competition we now face is stiffer than ever.”

Despite their cautions, Fr. Leahy, Quigley and Lochhead all made a point of praising the efforts behind the “Light the World” campaign and its value to the University. Fr. Leahy said BC owed “a large debt of gratitude” to Senior Vice President for Advancement Jim Husson, Vice President for Development Beth McDermott “and their team as well as to deans, faculty, and administrators who gave so much time, energy, and creativity to making our campaign a grand and unprecedented success.”

McDermott – who became vice president for development last summer after having served as associate vice president since 2014 – was among recent senior academic and administrative appointees Fr. Leahy cited in his remarks. He also recognized three new deans – Gautam Yadama at the School of Social Work, Thomas Stegman, S.J., at the School of Theology and Ministry, and Stanton Wortham at the Lynch School of Education – and John Burke, who was appointed vice president for finance and treasurer in December.

Fr. Leahy identified several specific objectives ahead, such as recruiting and retaining quality students (in part by offering generous financial aid), protecting BC’s financial base and balance sheet, assessing appropriate levels for research and graduate education, reducing the deficit in intercollegiate athletics, and continuing efforts to maximize fundraising and prepare for the next campaign.

Sharing some general reflections about BC – which he described as a “strong, vibrant, attractive, top-tier university” – Fr. Leahy pointed to the University community itself as representing BC’s greatest strengths: students (“quality, generous, engaged, national in origins and increasingly international”); faculty (“talented, dedicated, serious about teaching, research, and service, more invested in a culture of formation”); and staff (“generous, connected and loyal to BC, willing to help, especially in times of need”).  

He also noted that 90 percent of faculty and staff, according to a recent University survey, reported “they are committed to working at BC because of its mission, vision, and core values.”

Lochhead and Quigley both touched on the progress of the USPI, which began over the past year and is scheduled to complete a plan in early 2017; Fr. Leahy chairs the USPI executive committee, whose members include Quigley, Lochhead, Husson, Burke, and Vice President for University Mission and Ministry Jack Butler, S.J. Twenty-four teams have been assembled to assess all of the schools, several key administrative areas and seven University-wide initiatives. More than 200 people from the BC community have “engaged in meaningful ways on this effort,” said Lochhead, who along with Quigley chairs the USPI steering committee and will hold open-house meetings this fall to discuss the project.

Lochhead gave an overview of the University’s financial picture, which despite a negative return on the endowment in fiscal year 2016 he said remains positive, not only because of the infusion from “Light the World” but also due to BC’s sound organization and long-term planning. Monitoring and controlling expenses will continue to be a major priority, he said, as will areas such as technology and information security measures to protect data.

He also reviewed recent construction around campus, such as the Thomas More Apartments residence hall and new McMullen Museum of Art, and ongoing and upcoming projects, including the new recreation center.

Quigley’s report touched on the core curriculum renewal, which is now in its second year of introducing faculty-created pilot courses that reflect the criteria of the recent core initiative. He praised Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences Dean Gregory Kalscheur, S.J., Associate Dean for the Core Julian Bourg, and Institute for the Liberal Arts Director Mary Crane for their leadership on the core renewal, and invited faculty to submit ideas for new courses.

Quigley noted that BC is currently in the midst of reaccreditation by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges Commission on Institutions of Higher Education – with Special Assistant to the President Robert Newton overseeing the process at BC – which he said afforded the University an opportunity to review and reflect on its programs and practices.

Yet another prominent academic initiative, Quigley said, is the proposed Institute for Integrated Science and Society, the planning and preparation for which is being directed by Fr. Kalscheur and Vice Provost for Research and Planning Thomas Chiles. They, along with a committee to be appointed shortly, will discuss the nature and design of the institute’s facility, its core research foci, the launch of its academic programs, and criteria for its founding director.

“In other words,” he said, “a very busy year for all of us.”

—Sean Smith | News & Public Affairs