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University Convocation: Boston College Poised to Build on History and Legacy

By Sean Smith | Chronicle Editor

Published: Sept. 5, 2013

Boston College will close out its Sesquicentennial celebration in a position of significant academic, financial and programmatic strength, poised to build on its impressive history and legacy, said University President William P. Leahy, SJ, at yesterday’s annual University Convocation.

Speaking at Robsham Theater, Fr. Leahy — along with Executive Vice President Patrick Keating and Interim Provost and Dean of Faculties Joseph Quinn — offered a portrait of a university that has continued to thrive in challenging times, and is well-positioned to fulfill its academic and faith missions.

The addition of new faculty, facilities and resources, along with ongoing progress in planning and management, the senior administrators said, has made the Sesquicentennial celebration — marked by a slate of major University events that continue this semester and end in December — a time in which to look ahead, rather than simply dwell on the past.

“During the past year, we have given thanks for Boston College’s mission and heritage, grown in knowledge of our roots and evolution, and considered social, political, and economic issues facing our world,” said Fr. Leahy, noting such factors as the increasing financial pressures on American higher education and families, the growth of online education, and the Catholic Church’s ongoing morale and personnel struggles.

“The history of Boston College reminds us that it possible to engage and resolve difficulties and remain faithful to long-held values and beliefs,” he said. “For 150 years, Boston College has been responding to challenges and opportunities, and I am convinced that we in our day will continue doing so because of the talent, dedication, generosity, and commitment of our campus community, alumni and parents.”

Fr. Leahy gave an update on several topics, including discussions between BC and the City of Boston on proposed construction permits, and efforts to find a successor to Cutberto Garza, who stepped down as provost in June — a search committee headed by Keating and Newton College Alumnae Professor and Chair of Theology Catherine Cornille has been formed, he said, with the goal of identifying candidates by early 2014.

He also touched on the core curriculum review process — discussed in greater detail by Quinn during his remarks — and praised the work of the Core Renewal Committee led by College of Arts and Sciences Dean David Quigley, Institute for the Liberal Arts Director Mary Crane and Carroll School of Management Dean Andy Boynton.

Turning to the University’s “Light the World” campaign, Fr. Leahy pointed to several highlights — $1.085 billion raised of the $1.5 billion goal, $225 million of which has gone to fund student aid and $48 million to 20 new full-time faculty positions — as evidence of the strides BC has made in fundraising since earlier campaigns.

“But we need to do even better to provide funds for strategic priorities and to complete our ‘Light the World’ campaign before the end of 2015-16 academic year,” he said.

Keating spoke about recent and ongoing construction, including the opening earlier this year of Stokes Hall, which he said was a symbol of BC’s dedication to the humanities. “Perhaps the best thing that’s been said about Stokes is, it looks like it’s always been there,” he said.

Elsewhere, Keating said the University was continuing its pattern of “modest growth, managed costs and careful investments,” and lauded employees for their role in helping address health care and energy costs in particular. He predicted the trend to continue, underscoring the need for fundraising as well as the demand for financial aid, cost control and savings and academic and capital investments.

Keating highlighted three programs of growing importance across the University — compliance, data security and emergency management — and thanked the some 400 people at BC for “their excellent and critical work [that helps to] protect the University, protect people and protect property.”

Quinn, who received sustained applause from the audience during his introduction, noted the arrival of 49 new full-time faculty this year, 26 of them women, and of a freshman class that — as is the case most every year — is academically stronger than any before it.

He also spoke about the core renewal initiative, which following discussions during the 2012-13 academic year with faculty, students, administrators and others in the University community had produced a proposal that focused on communities of inquiry for first-year students, “emphasizing interdisciplinary teaching around perennial questions as well as pressing contemporary policy issues.”

Quinn said work would continue on the proposal this academic year, with the goal of designing and developing a limited number of freshmen courses to test new approaches to the core, which would be offered in 2014-15.

“The proposal’s philosophy, which I applaud, is to move forward thoughtfully and deliberately — a process of continual innovation.”