Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, Boston College remains academically robust and financially healthy, and will move forward on signature initiatives designed to better serve underrepresented students, examine race and racism in the United States, and raise money for financial aid, said Boston College President William P. Leahy, S.J., at University Convocation on September 1.
These challenging times “call on us to strengthen our understanding of and commitment to BC’s mission and culture,” Fr. Leahy told the audience. “We have much reason to approach the future with confidence and ambition, even a collective boldness, and a strong sense of institutional momentum.”
Provost and Dean of Faculties David Quigley and Executive Vice President Michael Lochhead also offered remarks at Convocation, which returned to Robsham Theater following a virtual presentation in 2020 because of COVID-19 protocols.
BC faces certain pressures, said Fr. Leahy: an increasingly secular society, struggles in the Catholic Church, social and political tensions, disparities in health care, education and employment, as well as a shrinking population of 18-year-olds in regions central to BC’s student recruitment.
“We have to be mindful of these issues and pressures, be creative, plan well, and make the best use of our human and financial resources. Sometimes that will mean review and reorganization, on occasion even ending current programs, and also investing in new initiatives. Most of all, it will require us to be especially attentive to institutional heritage and culture.”
Fr. Leahy addressed a range of health and safety protocols designed to keep the campus community safe and return normalcy to academic activities as the campus and the nation learn to coexist with the presence of the coronavirus into the foreseeable future.
“Our goal is to have this year be as normal as possible for teaching, research, and learning as well as help protect the physical and psychological health of our campus community and the surrounding neighborhood. I believe we have to be prepared as a nation and world to address the challenges of COVID-19 and its variants for years to come.”
The University’s requirement that all faculty, students, staff, and regular visitors to campus be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 resulted in vaccination rates of 99.3 percent of faculty and staff, 99.1 percent of undergraduates, and 99.6 percent of graduate and professional students.
“We also encourage those who may be more comfortable wearing masks to do so, particularly individuals with young children or immune-compromised family members,” said Fr. Leahy, adding “we are committed to being vigilant and flexible in regard to COVID-19.”
Boston College is complying with requirements by the cities of Boston and Newton that individuals wear masks in indoor areas open to the public, including dining halls, bookstores, the McMullen Museum, and Conte Forum, Fr. Leahy said.
“We are aware of desires among some for BC to mandate mask wearing in classrooms. But given the impressively high vaccination in our community and desire to have as normal a year as possible, especially in light of the negative psychological impact of mask wearing reported by students and parents, we have decided not to require masks in classrooms at this time.
“But if the campus infection rate leads to higher than desired levels, we will make adjustments, not only regarding masks in classrooms but also considering masks in laboratories, libraries, residence hall lounges, and faculty offices and departmental spaces,” Fr. Leahy added.
“We have much reason to approach the future with confidence and ambition, even a collective boldness, and a strong sense of institutional momentum.”
In other areas, the integration of Pine Manor College into the University continues, following through on the 2018 agreement that established the Pine Manor Institute for Student Success, endowed with $50 million from Boston College to fund outreach and academic support programs for underserved, low-income students. The institute will be led by its executive director, Vice President Joy Moore.
“I think this new venture holds much promise not only for Boston College but also underserved students with potential and their families in our region,” Fr. Leahy said.
Fr. Leahy praised the work of the Boston College Forum on Racial Justice in America, which was launched in the wake of the death of George Floyd and a wave of protests across the country. Following the departure of Boston College Law School Dean Vincent Rougeau for the presidency of Holy Cross College, the forum will now be led by Moore and Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences Dean Gregory Kalscheur, S.J.
“The forum offers great opportunities for Boston College to engage critical questions about race and needed changes in attitudes and structures,” Fr. Leahy said. “My hope is that it will also encourage scholarly exploration of conditions that result in racism and racist behavior, and suggest responses and solutions.”
He cited progress in fundraising, which yielded $152 million in 2020, an historic result. For fiscal year 2021, $193.6 million in financial commitments have been made. The “Be a Beacon Campaign” to support financial aid set a goal of $125 million. To date, commitments come to $164 million and a new goal of $200 million has been set, Fr. Leahy said.
Lochhead discussed the University’s financial affairs and facilities improvements. He said BC is in a strong financial position because of undergraduate and graduate tuition, expense management, endowment investment returns, and a prudent debt strategy. That strong financial health allowed the University to absorb $31 million in costs imposed by the pandemic response.
Several capital projects were completed including additional improvements to Devlin 008 Auditorium, Bapst Library Exterior Restoration, and the Pete Frates Center at Harrington Athletics Village, and reclamation of the site of the now-demolished Flynn Recreation Complex for green space, recreation, and parking.
Current projects he cited include construction of the new, $167-million integrated science building, which will house the Schiller Institute for Integrated Science and Society; renovations to the fifth floor of O’Neill Library; and upgrades to McElroy Commons dining. Future projects include the Hoag Basketball Pavilion, adjoining Conte Forum, to better serve student-athletes, and the Upper Campus Student Pavilion, which will help to transform the Upper Campus.
Quigley discussed a range of academic-related achievements and benchmarks: nearly 40,000 applications for the Class of 2025, which numbers 2,500 students; an increasingly diverse freshman class bolstered by the arrival of dozens of students drawn to the University through its partnership with QuestBridge; and the hiring of 36 faculty members, 53 percent female and 39 percent AHANA. Graduate and professional enrollment is up 14 percent and the incoming BC Law School class numbers 360, the highest in several years.
He too cited the work of the Forum on Racial Justice for connecting students, scholars, and staff across campus.
“The forum has become a really important meeting ground for the Boston College community and a way of thinking through the strategic plan commitment to diversity and creating a culture, a commitment to caring for all, for belonging for all members of the Boston College community. We have more to do, but the forum is now a critical resource,” Quigley said.
Ed Hayward | University Communications | September 2021