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State of the University Address, 2016

State of the University Address
Mayer Theater
17 February 2016

Thank you, Dennis, for the introduction and for serving as our Master of Ceremonies.  As Provost, you handle far more important responsibilities, and you do so with grace, intelligence, and vision.  We are blessed to have you as our vice president of academic affairs. Congratulations to Aaron Poor, our outgoing ASG President, for your engaging remarks and for an amazing year of generous service.  I also appreciate the invocation of Kieran Sullivan, to lift our hearts and minds, along with the inspiring music of our Gospel Choir and our Chamber Singers, under the direction of Scot Hanna-Weir. Let us thank them all.

Good afternoon, and welcome to everyone here and those who are virtually present.  Thank you for your interest in Santa Clara University and this year’s State of the University address.  I have a number of topics to share with you, matters that concern our shared efforts in fulfilling the mission of Santa Clara.  As an institution that focuses on the individual, I wish to begin with one person in particular, someone who is present with us in spirit. 

It is very sad and unusual to lose an active member of the faculty during the academic year, and so I acknowledge the passing of Jean Pedersen of our department of Mathematics and Computer Science. Jean arrived at Santa Clara in 1972 and made this her academic home.  Jean was a popular professor and the author of 214 research papers, reviews and pedagogical works, 13 books, 3 translations, and 8 videos. She touched many lives, as I heard at her funeral from her departmental colleagues and from present students and alumni. As a member of our Santa Clara family, we remember her with deep appreciation.

Significant Achievements

We also recall the labors of many others in the significant developments this year at Santa Clara. The Edward M. Dowd Art and Art History building is quickly nearing completion, and across campus, we have occupied Guadalupe Hall. This facility houses the expanding programs of the School of Engineering and the entire School of Education and Counseling Psychology.  Thanks to the work of the interim Dean, Carol Ann Gittens, beautiful original art from our faculty and students in the department of Art and Art History hangs throughout the building. Thank you, Carol Ann Gittens, for your leadership in this move and for your capable service as the interim dean of the school.

This past November, David DeCosse from the Markkula Center and a hard working committee presented a two-day conference, “Our Future on a Shared Planet: Silicon Valley in Conversation with the Environmental Teachings of Pope Francis.” At my behest this committee invited important thinkers about climate change, and the keynote speaker was Cardinal Peter Turkson. As you recall, Cardinal Turkson heads the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in the Vatican. He was the principal contributor to the encyclical letter of Pope Francis, Laudato Si, Our Common Home.[i] He accepted our invitation to speak at Santa Clara because the Pope and Vatican officials recognize that addressing climate change must include Silicon Valley expertise.  I am grateful to David DeCosse and all the committee members for their very successful conference.

This quarter the College of Arts and Sciences launched its new Center for Art and the Humanities.  The Center was created through the generosity of Victor and Julia Botto Vari, the Jesuit Community, and with the support of the President’s Office. Different from a conference or an institute, the Salon includes a variety of artistic and thought-provoking activities, and this year, the theme is (in)humanity.

The Salon focuses on who is included “in” the category of humanity and who is relegated to observer status (immigrants, refugees, women, the poor). Through its events, the Salon demonstrates how the humanities and arts may work as agents of change in a world besieged by violence and alienation.  Congratulations to Dean Debbie Tahmassebi, Professor Brian Buckley, all the planning team, and presenters.

University Relations has made significant progress on the quiet phase of our comprehensive campaign.  Among many accomplishments, Jim Lyons and his team organized four events last quarter for alumni, parents and friends to showcase the momentum of the university.  In fact, these gatherings in Pasadena, San Francisco, Seattle, and Menlo Park were titled, “Momentum.”  Let’s take a few moments to see the SCU Momentum film that created so much buzz up and down the Pacific coast. 

Further achievement has been realized in our work to recruit, retain, and graduate undergraduate students. 

I draw your attention to our four-year graduation rate.  These students came to us in the fall of 2011, and 85% graduated in 4 years.  You, as faculty and staff, contributed to remarkable success with all segments of the student body.  Continuing this dedication, your efforts contribute mightily to the first year-to-sophomore retention rate of over 95%. Particularly gratifying to me is the success of our most economically challenged students, the Pell grant recipients. They graduated at the rate of 86%. Congratulations to all of you for contributing so much to make this possible.

For the incoming first-year class of this fall, our Admissions staff is busy reading applications to enroll 1,320 students. In comparisons with numbers from last year, please note an increase of almost 1,000 applications. You will also notice an increase in the numbers of historically under-represented groups whom we strive to enroll.  I shall return to that topic in a few moments. At this time, I wish to thank, Mike Sexton, Vice President for Enrollment Management, Eva Blanco, Dean of Admissions, and all the Admissions staff for their work in recruiting so well.

In the realm of Finance and Administration, I am pleased to announce that the trustees have approved the budget for the coming fiscal year. Mike Hindery, Harry Fong, and Robin Reynolds have worked long hours to bring the budgeting process to this point. I also wish to acknowledge the valuable collaboration of the members of the University Budget Committee. For the coming year the trustees have voted a merit pool of 3 per cent for the faculty and 3 per cent for the staff. The trustees made a very modest increase in tuition of 4% for the coming year.  We shall be able to increase the number of tenure-line faculty with four new positions, as well as provide for other needed services in several areas of compliance.

Through efforts of Elsa Chen, interim Associate Vice Provost for Faculty Development, and Diane Jonte-Pace, Senior Vice Provost, Dennis Jacobs and I hosted a luncheon recently to honor long-time faculty. Attending were those faculty celebrating 25-year and 50-year anniversaries of teaching at Santa Clara. Several hundred years of service were represented around the table, and each person shared pearls of wisdom. After a combined century and one-half of teaching and scholarship, Mario Belotti, Jerry Alexanderson, and Leonard Klosinski are still smiling. Coming from a different point in their teaching careers, in January I hosted a lunch for a number of the first-year faculty.  These six faculty members represent over 24 months of combined service – so far.

Ten days ago, on Saturday, February 6th, the University hosted the "Super Community" celebration. A small army of staff and volunteers stepped up to welcome our 10,000 visitors for what was the Super Bowl party for the City of Santa Clara. Coordinated by Butch Coyne and Mary Smoker, and planned for many months, the day ran efficiently, thanks to their careful attention to detail, patience with outside planners, and gracious hospitality. I thank all involved for their contributions, particularly Butch and Mary.

In that spirit of welcome, I wish to introduction two new deans who are joining us. First to arrive is Nancy Merz, the new Dean of Financial Aid Services, who comes to us from that same position at Loyola University, Chicago.  Hired in December, Nancy began work in February, just in time for the preparation of financial aid packages for our incoming first-year students.  We also welcome Dr. Sabrina Zirkel as the new dean of the School of Education and Counseling Psychology. Dr. Zirkel is here today, as is Nancy, so let’s give them a warm round of applause. 

Unity 4 and Campus Climate

Amid these many activities, one conversation has remained at the forefront of my memory.  Early in the fall, one of our Latino students reported to me about his summer immersion experience and his return to the United States.  While passing through the Immigration check point, he was stopped, separated from other Santa Clara students, his passport taken, and interrogated in a closed room for 45 minutes. Our student had never been targeted for such treatment. He told me how he felt victimized for the first time in his life. When released by another security officer, our student was embarrassed, traumatized, and angry.

Those of us who are Caucasian do not expect such treatment. We may find it impossible to imagine what it is like to live with fear of such discrimination.  Many of our colleagues of color, however, have not been surprised when I shared this account of our student.  Such instances of prejudice demand our attention because they raise questions about the ideals we profess as a nation

Across the United States, for more than a year there have been well publicized instances of violence involving police and African American citizens.  Media coverage has introduced us to tragedies in Ferguson, Missouri, Chicago, Baltimore, New York, and many other communities.[ii] We are also acquainted with the responses, such as Black Lives Matter.  For college campuses, social media has connected students across the nation to the latest deaths, confrontations, and demonstrations.  While some Santa Clara University students have been involved in perpetuating acts of discrimination, far more have been engaged in the protests against racial bias.

Last May, as you recall, an anonymous student posted an insulting statement on the social media outlet, “YikYak.” It was directed against a group of African American students.  This incident prompted a number of African American student leaders, along with others, to meet, organize themselves as Unity 4, and draft a set of proposals to improve the racial climate at the university.[iii]  Joined by several administrators, I met with the students to hear their concerns and to discuss their proposals.  These have been positive and constructive encounters. Since then, I have charged Provost Dennis Jacobs to coordinate the administration’s response, begun so well by Jeanne Rosenberger, Vice Provost for Student Life and Dean of Students, and Aldo Billingslea, Associate Provost for Diversity and Inclusion.

This past Friday our board of trustees examined the national developments that affect the racial climate on our campus.  They learned that student experiences at Santa Clara are part of a broader national movement.  I wanted to prepare them to formulate our responses within the wider Jesuit tradition of higher education that values inclusion and social justice. To stimulate thought and discussion, I organized a panel comprised of Father Joseph McShane, SJ, president of Fordham University; Father William Leahy, SJ, president of Boston College; Fr. Matthew Carnes, SJ, associate professor of political science at Georgetown University; and professor Aldo Billingslea, associate provost of diversity and inclusion at Santa Clara. 

The panelists offered their reflections on the following questions, and the trustees then engaged in discussion. I share these questions with you for our wider campus consideration:

  1. What implications will recent racial and social movements have for your campus now and in the next decade?
  2. What role should diversity and inclusion play in the mission of a Jesuit, Catholic university?

Today I wish to reflect with you about these questions. Last May, students in the Unity Four group prepared 21 recommendations towards improving the racial climate at Santa Clara.  As mentioned, Jeanne Rosenberger and Aldo Billingslea are working with the students; Mike Sexton in Enrollment Management and Eva Blanco in Admissions are contributing significantly, and Dennis Jacobs is coordinated these efforts.  We have had two town hall sessions. One tangible result came on Friday when the trustees voted to approve the establishment of stand-alone majors in Ethnic Studies and in Women and Gender Studies.  As work continues, more developments will be forthcoming.

The second question gets to the reasons why we are tackling these issues.  As a Jesuit institution, we draw our values from the spirituality of St. Ignatius Loyola and from the documents of the Society of Jesus that Ignatius first led.  Believing that God fashioned all people in God’s own image, Ignatius revered each individual as an expression of God’s creativity. Ignatius sent Jesuits to all corners of the world and urged the Jesuits to respect the people they encountered and understand them as best they could, along with their customs and cultures, as manifestations of God’s presence on earth. These values of cultural diversity and inclusion have developed over time.  So have the ideals of the Jesuit Order.

In recent decades, the Jesuits have reformulated their application of the spirituality of Ignatius Loyola.  Through four international meetings known as General Congregations, Jesuits have refocused their priorities on serving the most marginalized peoples in society.  In 1975, they articulated this directive: “The mission of the Society of Jesus is the service of faith, of which the promotion of justice is an absolute requirement.  For reconciliation with God demands the reconciliation of people with one another.”[iv] We see Pope Francis promoting justice and the reconciliation among peoples in all of his travels. Presently in Mexico, he takes his message to people of the poorest communities.

In an earlier trip to Brazil, Pope Francis echoed these values that we emulate at Santa Clara:  “…never tire of working for a more just world, marked by greater solidarity! No one can remain insensitive to the inequalities that persist in the world! According to his or her particular opportunities and responsibilities, everybody should be able to make a personal contribution to putting an end to so many social injustices.”[v]

Here at Santa Clara, social justice and reconciling difference among people takes place through our care for each individual. Justice and reconciliation advance our renewed promotion of cultural diversity, inclusion, and service for the good of society. These ideals animate our administrative practices, core curriculum, our research, and our service to the wider community.  As one scholar has noted, “…for Catholic universities a commitment to…diversity is not an option but needs to be a key feature of their identity.”[vi] This brings us a central question for Santa Clara University: in diversity and inclusion, where do we wish to be? Now? In ten years?

To answer this question, I refer to our strategic plan, Santa Clara 2020, with 6 integrated strategic goals.  In Goal 5, we expressed our desire that Santa Clara “recruit and graduate a broadly diverse community of highly talented students while striving to make a Santa Clara education more affordable.”[vii]   To accomplish this goal, the plan identifies four objectives, two of which are essential to realize this goal:

  1. Increase the enrollment, retention and graduation rates of students from underrepresented or underserved populations; and
  2. Recruit and retain outstanding faculty members whose teaching, research, and life experience enrich the diversity of Santa Clara’s academic community with respect to race, ethnicity, and gender.

To advance our progress, I am drawing upon the expertise and counsel of the Silicon Valley community.  The University is convening a special “Blue Ribbon Commission on Diversity and Inclusion.”[viii]  The group of 12 people will gather for its first meeting later this month and bring together alumni, campus constituents, and community leaders to chart an aspirational vision. The Commission will present a formal report with recommendations to me and appropriate governance committees by September 2016. Once reviewed, my administration will prioritize implementation to bring the recommendations to the board of trustees. Dr. Lisa Millora, senior assistant provost for strategic initiatives, will staff the Commission and secure the services of an outside consultant.  She will assist the Commission in facilitating presentations from members of the faculty and staff who possess expertise and experience in the matters under study.       

Many here and across the nation are interested in assessing the adequacy and effectiveness of programs designed to achieve diversity and inclusion.  The Blue Ribbon Commission provides an opportunity to step back and apply a wider lens that will guide improvement in creating a more diverse university and better position SCU to reach its full potential.  

with our strong academic programs and commitment to social justice, SCU should be a national leader in these matters.  The Commission will examine case studies from other universities, consult with appropriate authorities, and identify strategies to improve the recruitment and retention of underrepresented students and faculty.

Last month, in the President’s Lecture Series, Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy,[ix] spoke of the importance of the same values the Commission will address.  He examined the importance for the nation of action for racial justice.  He stated, “Hopelessness is the enemy of justice.” With our commitment to social justice, we must renew our efforts to protect hope in society, particularly on campus. We must show that change is possible, so that hope may thrive. We must act because inclusion requires new efforts so that hope for an ever-better Santa Clara flourishes.

A Final Observation

Let me conclude with a final example of Jesuit values at work at Santa Clara.  We profess a commitment to care for the individual, the Latin term being cura personalis. Two weeks ago we witnessed a tremendous demonstration of your commitment to the university and its ideals. I want to express my gratitude and admiration to all who were involved so generously in handling the Meningococcal Meningitis B infection on campus. We often speak of the "Santa Clara family," and in recent days that reality was manifested repeatedly.

From the first moment on Sunday, 31 January, when we learned of a possible case of meningococcal meningitis, staff swung into action. Those first reports prompted me to convene the Policy Group of our Emergency Operations Plan. My Cabinet and leaders from Student Life, the Cowell Health Center, University Operations, the Office of Marketing and Communications, and others began meeting twice a day to coordinate efforts. Many of them put in 16-hour days to coordinate our campus response with the Santa Clara County Public Health Department, as well as provide information daily to students, parents, faculty, staff, trustees, the media, and social media. 

When the call went out for workers to staff the vaccination clinics on campus, more than 100 of you volunteered immediately. At those clinics on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Monday over 4900 students were vaccinated because of you and your generosity. Those four clinics were held in 3 locations, which necessitated further work by our facilities crews and health workers. Through those long days, you treated students with respect and concern, along with reassurance and good humor. 

I cannot name everyone who contributed to these massive undertakings. Many worked behind the scenes, but all of you demonstrated dedication to the University and, in particular, commitment to the welfare of our students. God bless you all for your contributions, and thank you again for your care. I am so very proud of you. You are the “amazing grace” for Santa Clara!

Thank you very much, and God bless Santa Clara.


[i] Pope Francis, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, Frederick, MD: The Word Among Us Press, 2015.

[ii]  Chronicle of Higher Education,’s-Freshman-Class-Is/235273, accessed 11 February 2016. See also Peter McDonough, “Campus Diversity in the Age of Fisher II,” 8, 10-11; Mark Toner, “Diversifying Diversity,” 12-17; and Wallace D. Loh, “Beyond the Numbers: The Benefits of a Comprehensive Approach to Diversity,” 22-23, all in The Presidency: The American Council of Education’s Magazine for Higher Education Leaders (Winter 2016), vol. 19, No. 1.

[iii] For Unity 4, see  For the response of the university administration, see Both accessed 15 February 2016.

[iv] Decree 4, #2: “Our Mission Today: The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice,” in Jesuit Life & Mission Today: The Degrees & Accompanying Documents of the 31st-35th General Congregations of the Society of Jesus, ed. by John W. Padberg, SJ (St. Louis: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 2009), p. 298. For important statements on the changing role of Jesuit higher education, see Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, SJ “The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice in American Jesuit Higher Education,” The Santa Clara Lectures (October 6, 2000), VII, 1; and Adolfo Nicolas, SJ, “Depth, Universality, and Learned Ministry: Challenges to Jesuit Higher Education Today,” 23 April 2010.

[v] Pope Francis, “Visit to the Community of Varginha [Manguinhos],” Rio de Janiero, 25 July 2013, accessed at, on 15 February 2016.

[vi] Robert V. Caro, SJ, “Ethnic Diversity and Religious Identity in U.S. Catholic Higher Education,” Current Issues in Catholic Higher Education, XXV (2006), 196.


[viii] For examples of responses at two other universities, see John J. DeGioia, “Racial Injustice in America: A Framework for Georgetown’s Future Engagement,” 4 February 2016, at, accessed 5 February 2016; and Harvard University, “Report of the College Working Group on Diversity and Inclusion,” November 2015.

[ix] Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2015.