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Convocation Highlights Change and Continuity

09/04/14

By Sean Smith | Chronicle Editor

Published: Sept. 4, 2014

Speaking yesterday at a University Convocation that crystallized a time of transition at Boston College, University President William P. Leahy, SJ, reminded the audience that BC had survived changes – in size, scope, location, personnel and reputation – over the years and emerged as a stronger institution.

BC will need the strength of its people and programs in the coming months and years to not only realize its own goals, Fr. Leahy told the gathering of administrators, faculty and staff, but to cope with challenges facing many colleges and universities: the federal government’s role in higher education; a renewed call for effective responses to sexual assault on campus; an uncertain landscape in athletics; and continuing concerns over the cost, and quality, of a college education.

 “We rely on the community, commitment, talent and dedication of all of us,” he said. “I am confident we will meet [the challenges], renewing ourselves and our mission in the process. So let us always strive to be beacons of faith and hope, and a light to the world.”

The speaking program at Convocation, held in Robsham Theater, underscored the state of transition at the University, especially in senior leadership: David Quigley made his first address as provost and dean of faculties, a post he assumed in June; Patrick Keating gave his last Convocation speech as executive vice president, having announced this summer he would step down at the end of the fall.

Fr. Leahy noted several recent appointments -– including that of Quigley, College of Arts and Sciences Interim Dean Gregory Kalscheur, SJ, and Woods College of Advancing Studies Dean James Burns, IVD [see story below] – as well as ongoing and upcoming searches for successors to Keating, Vice President for Human Resource Leo Sullivan (who will take the role of senior advisor to the president) and Church in the 21st Century Center Director Erik Goldschmidt, and candidates for the new position of vice provost for enrollment management.  

All three speakers also expressed sorrow at the passing in June of William B. Neenan, SJ, a key figure at BC for more than three decades.

Outlining other topics of major relevance to the University, Fr. Leahy described BC’s relationship with the City of Boston as “quite positive,” praising Vice President for Governmental and Community Affairs Thomas Keady and his staff for their work. 

Fr. Leahy also touched on the progress of the Light the World campaign, which as of last month has raised $1.278 billion in cash and pledges toward its $1.5 billion goal, for which he congratulated Senior Vice President for University Advancement James Husson and his staff. The campaign’s impact on BC has included 26 endowed professorships, $250 million for student financial aid and $85 million towards initiatives in Jesuit/Catholic heritage and student formation.

Looking at various academic, administrative and other developments, Fr. Leahy said, “We enter this year blessed with gifted students, dedicated faculty and staff, and clear momentum.”

Keating, discussing financial trends, said that despite somewhat lower revenues than expected for fiscal year 2014, the University benefited from a 13.4 percent return on endowment, a record year in fundraising with $198 million in pledges and cash, and sound management of expenses, especially in utilities, health care and operations. He expressed confidence that BC would continue to deal effectively with tuition and financial aid pressures and revenue challenges while continuing its strategic plan investments, notably in academic quality.

His review of current and upcoming campus construction included a report on the St. Mary’s Hall and 2150 Commonwealth Avenue projects [see page 3], and the envisioned relocation of the McMullen Museum of Art to the Brighton Campus. He also spoke on information systems projects and an ongoing compliance review effort, including of policies on sexual assault.
“It’s been my pleasure to offer these updates over the years,” concluded Keating, who received a standing ovation at the end of his speech. “I wish you all good health and a productive new year.”

Quigley, who came to BC as a faculty member in the History Department in 1998 (he became A&S dean in 2009), said the service of past chief academic officers like Fr. Neenan and Joseph Quinn – who served as interim provost in 2013-14 and was A&S dean for seven years – provided an inspiration and a model for him. His aim, he said, is to enable BC “to sustain our remarkable trajectory while protecting those distinctive elements that have driven our success and at the same time working to address areas of ongoing concern.“

He identified two such areas, which he added also offer much in the way of opportunity. One is a proposal, currently in the planning stages under the direction of Vice Provost for Research Thomas Chiles and Executive Director for Research Administration Guillermo Nunez, for strategic investments for faculty and facilities in integrated, applied and materials sciences.

Another is the core curriculum renewal initiative, which he called “a key strategic priority” for his leadership. He noted that Fr. Kalscheur had led a task force in the spring that produced a vision statement for the core’s role in BC’s Jesuit, Catholic mission. He said a task force will work this academic year to begin formulating pilot courses for 2015-16, and as part of the process will solicit faculty comment and ideas; a “town hall”-type event on the core renewal is planned for Oct. 15.

Quigley also ticked off some positive indicators of BC’s academic success, including another strong freshman class, the launch of new interdisciplinary programs, and the arrival of 44 new faculty members.

“I’m looking forward to working with our talented deans and faculty, and with colleagues from around this university, to continue our good work in 2014-2015,” he said. “I feel very lucky to have this opportunity and I’m eager to get started.”