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State of the University Address, 2017

State of the University Address
Mayer Theater
15 February 2017

Welcome to all present.  Special thanks to professor Scot Hanna-Weir and our Chamber Singers for that rousing Gospel hymn; to student leader Zipporah Ridley for her consoling Invocation, to ASG president Lidia Diaz-Fong for her poignant address, and to our Provost for guiding us through this event. I am grateful to each of them, as well as thankful for the presence of so many of you. Inspired by our opening song, I wish to reflect with you on the clouds and shadows, lights and unclouded days that we face.

One cloud appeared last week when we lost Professor Ramón Chacón, of the Ethnic Studies department and once a member of the History department as well. For over 35 years, Professor Chacon wrote and taught about the Hispanic experience here and in Mexico. He championed Chicano Studies, advised and encouraged students, and served as a warm and dedicated colleague. On a more personal note, Ramón never failed to needle me about how poorly my Dodgers were doing in baseball, or boasting how much better he looked in a hat than I did. We shall celebrate his life next week in the Mission Church with his family.  Descanse en paz, mi amigo and nuestro companero. Dios te bendiga.

Reflecting on the storms and the unclouded days, I must acknowledge the turmoil in the nation that casts a shadow across our campus.  Our country is experiencing more disruption and division than anytime I can remember since the Vietnam War. Rhetoric is more heated; voices are louder; trust in our fellow Americans is lower; and fear for the country’s future is more prevalent.  Our campus is not immune or magically spared.

Given these stormy times, what we do at Santa Clara is more important than ever.  I ask you to consider: How do we model rational discourse on campus when national leaders do not?  How do we support freedom of speech when some would exploit that right?  How do we show respect and concern for one another when we disagree? Our responses to these questions affect our campus and our country. As a university we must model what society is lacking in these troubling times.

Today I shall explain why I am optimistic and hopeful. Times might be daunting, but there are far more unclouded days so that the path forward is clear. The ideals of our mission sparkle in the actions of colleagues, students, and friends. First, however, a few announcements.



It is my pleasure to announce this year’s commencement speakers and the recipients of honorary degrees.  The faculty, staff, and student committee chaired by Fr. William Rewak, chancellor emeritus, proposed these individuals and the trustees approved them:

  • School of Law: Leon Panetta, alumnus, former Congressman, Director of the CIA, and Secretary of Defense; on May 20th.
  • Jesuit School of Theology: Bishop Robert McElroy, alumnus, bishop of San Diego, advocate of DACA students and the undocumented; also on May 20th.
  • Undergraduate Commencement on June 17th: Honorary Degrees will go to Mike and Mary Ellen Fox, dedicated Catholic philanthropists; Brother Guy Consolmango, S.J., Director, Vatican Observatory; and the Commencement speaker will be Juan Felipe Herrera, former poet laureate of the United States.

Yesterday the Planning Action Council began integrating into our collaborative governance system the report of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Diversity and Inclusion. I am grateful to these Commissioners for accepting my invitation to examine issues of race and ethnicity at Santa Clara.

I want to recognize the two faculty who served, Elsa Chen and Aldo Billingslea, and the staff, Lisa Millora, Senior Assistant Provost for Strategic Initiatives and Provost Office Relations. I asked the Commissioners to provide suggestions for immediate action and to formulate ideas for long-term implementation. They responded with 37 recommendations in 6 areas: Leadership, Strategic Planning and (Re)Structuring, Student Recruitment and Admissions, Campus Support Systems and Learning Opportunities, Faculty Recruitment and Hiring, Faculty and Staff Training and Development,  and Use of Data and Evidence.

The Commissioners delivered the Report in mid-December. I studied its 101 pages, consulted with Tracey Kahan, chair of the UCC, as well as with my Cabinet. The UCC will now name members to a Task Force to develop a strategic plan for diversity and inclusion and to prioritize the 37 recommendations in the report. The Task Force should complete its work by late May of this academic year and identify immediate and longer-term initiatives. As the Commissioners recommended, I shall release their report on-line to the campus.  Look for it, hopefully, this week.

Related to diversity and inclusion, I draw attention to two activities underway. The Ignatian Center is sponsoring a lecture tomorrow and a panel presentation next week; both are well worth attending. Up at Berkeley, the faculty of our Jesuit School of Theology is spending this academic year reflecting on issues of race. Under their new dean, Kevin O’Brien, SJ, the entire faculty is examining race and racism through the application of their academic disciplines. Last month they read Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson, and spent a full day analyzing its implications for theology, contemporary culture, and the needs of society. Presently they are offering courses connecting theology and race, and hosting outside speakers on these topics. Doing what universities do best, the Ignatian Center and the JST faculty are examining issues through the lens of their disciplines, debating their findings, and applying their insights to their courses and scholarship. I applaud these proactive and creative initiatives.

Yesterday, Provost Dennis Jacobs issued a statement, “A Call for Open and Civil Discourse.”  He engaged the deans, certain administrators, and the president in drafting this document. He has produced a statement of our ideals as a university dedicated to the pursuit of truth and the free and open exchange of ideas as a Jesuit, Catholic University. The message acknowledges the heightened tensions in the nation and on this campus around issues of free speech, dissent, safety, and respect. I urge you to read this clear and balanced statement of our principles and to share it with your classes and colleagues.


Clouds Over the Campus

In the Fall Convocation, I reviewed the growing challenges facing private higher education in the United States. I shared data and graphs to illustrate these financial problems.  This past Friday I shared the same information in further detail with the Board of Trustees.  As you recall, back in September, I stated that Santa Clara enjoys both fiscal strength and an enviable position. Look at our endowment: as of 31 December 2016, our endowment was worth $853 million. I also stated that we cannot be complacent. In that context, I outlined the Sustaining Excellence initiative to prepare for the future.

An interesting thing happened on the way to implementing Sustaining Excellence. Our operating budget for FY17 inherited more challenges from the previous year than originally estimated. In FY16 we ended up with a $4.5 Million net operating loss -- the first operating loss in over 20 years. If repeated, such a deficit would have a negative impact on the University's financial rating.

Think of it this way. When you manage your household finances, you thoughtfully plan a budget for the year by making careful estimates of your income and projected expenses.  All goes well until something unexpected occurs. Maybe the transmission on your car falls out. Maybe the orthodontist announces that your child needs braces. Possibly your water heater explodes.  You suddenly face an unforeseen bill that blows the budget, and you have to adjust your spending to cover the costs.

In planning for our current year budget, FY 17, our original calculations of needs to operate the university was short $8.4 Million.  We reworked this budget and balanced it by June 2016, with a reduced merit increase, a 5% reduction in operating expenses, and a small contingency. Believing all was well, in the Fall we discovered a reduced enrollment in certain graduate programs and an under-realization of gift funds held in various departments to support operations. Just like your household, we had to adjust. This meant an additional 1.25% reduction across all cabinet areas in operating expenses. This was not quite the perfect storm, but stormy enough.

These cuts in operating funds have caused a number of our colleagues to question the university’s financial health. Some have even speculated that we face a financial crisis.  Others wonder about the possibility of a further budget shortfall. For these reasons, the annual Budget Forum, one week from today, will be a particularly important opportunity to learn more and to ask questions. There you will hear a deeper explanation of the issues of cash flow, construction, pledged donations, and university debt capacity.

Meanwhile, what about our Sustaining Excellence initiative?  I want to thank all of you who volunteered to engage in this project.  I thank the co-chairs, Lisa Kloppenberg and Tom Plante; I am grateful to all who serve on the working groups; and I appreciate those who sit on the leadership committee. You have responded generously to my invitation, and you have focused on the long-term future of Santa Clara University.  All of you, however, have heard numerous questions about the reductions in operating funds, the worry about the “real story” about university finances, and even the skepticism that this project can succeed.

This past Friday when I explained Sustaining Excellence to the Trustees, they applauded your efforts.  Given the magnitude of the problems of private higher education, they asked if the working groups suggest ways to generate new revenue.  Would Sustaining Excellence creatively imagine new sources of income?

These business people are correct.  We cannot cut our way to long-term operational viability. We need to engage in brainstorming and creative thinking to identify new sources of income.  Perhaps last September I did not emphasize adequately the need for blue-sky dreaming. Let me now strongly encourage all of us to open our minds – and our hearts – to dialogue with one another, to trust one another with ideas that may at first sound out-of-the box. Let me underline that this project should be positive, collegial, friendly, and open about SCU in the future. Our intention is to suggest new possibilities, coming from a place of curiosity rather than judgement.  Above all, avoid recommending that someone else’s office needs to cut!

Recent feedback from PAC and other colleagues identified a further concern. We have not set a specific goal of how much we want to realize through this exercise.  Let me answer with one example of what we need.  To upgrade of Enterprise Resource Program (otherwise known as PeopleSoft) in Information Services would costs $12.6 million and would be spread over 3 years. This enhanced ERP system with greater capacity would allow Bob Owen and his IT team to provide a variety of services so that the university could operate more efficiently. We need funding to do this.

As this example suggests, we are looking for answers. How can SCU improve? How can we be better?  We are trying to adopt a mindset for thinking in novel, creative ways about our community’s future.  Keeping our mission and values in focus, let us give thoughtful consideration to how we can do things here that are creative, efficient and cost-effective. Let us part the clouds to separate the Sustaining Excellence project from balancing the operating budget for this fiscal year and the next.  We need your input. Send in your best ideas and innovative suggestions.


Why I am Hopeful That We Can Do This

In separating the clouds, I see great light from the many accomplishments of faculty and staff. Your dedication to the highest principles of Santa Clara and your care for our students brighten the path forward for the university.  Let me mention a few examples of what so encourages me about our ability to excel. No, I cannot list everyone, and yes, it is a risk to offer examples, so I beg indulgence with my limited selections. Here are just a few of the many faculty and staff who have made significant contributions and achieved recognition.

In case you have not heard, the University of Warsaw has awarded Janey Curry, professor in Political Science, its Medal of Honor for Service and Scholarship. A renowned scholar on Eastern European politics, Janey is honored on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of its Centre for East European Studies, as part of the university’s bicentennial celebration.

Closer to home, Pancho Jimenez, Art and Art History, learned that Art Ltd. Magazine recognized his exhibition, “Excavations and Interpretations,” as one of the 10 best art shows in the Bay Area in 2016. !Felicidades!

I was also impressed to learn of the four largest outside grants awarded this year include:

  • Korin Wheeler, PI, Chemistry and Biochemistry Department, Funder:  National Institutes of Health (NIH), $374,088; "Peptide probes of nanomaterial protein corona dynamics and biological response”.
  • Amelia Fuller, PI, Chemistry and Biochemistry Department; Funder:  National Science Foundation, $300,000; "RUI:  Synthesis, Structural and Functional Studies of Bioinspired Macrocyclic Oligoamides". 
  • Serguei Maliar, PI, Economics Department; Funder:  National Science Foundation, $264,010; "Analyzing non-stationary and unbalanced growth economic models". 
  • Hadar Harris, Director of the Northern California Innocence Project (Law School); Funder: Department of Justice; $249,886; “Wrongful Conviction Review Program."  

Staff members have been honored as well. The Association of College and Research Libraries has bestowed its “Excellence in Academic Libraries” Award on our Orradre Library staff.  Congratulations to Jennifer Nutefall, university librarian, and your hardworking colleagues, for this recognition of the programs and services that you all provide.

Steven Saum continues to garner awards for the outstanding Santa Clara Magazine that he edits. At the rate of recognition, he will soon have covered all the walls of office with plaques and certificates. Bravo!

The Global Social Benefit Fellowship program of the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship has received the Cordes Innovation Award in Academic Student Learning from Ashoka U and the Cordes Foundation. This is the most prestigious award in social enterprise higher education to recognize leading models of social innovation education, and programmatic innovations that advance student and campus engagement in social entrepreneurship. Over 5 years, 75 student fellows have participated in projects around the world, assisted by 20 faculty and the Miller Center team. Congratulations! 

SCU's rEvolve House team earned first place in the inaugural Tiny House Competition in Sacramento. Santa Clara led the competition throughout the week in measured contests (lighting, energy use, hot water, etc.). I extend congratulations to faculty team leader Tim Hight and the entire undergraduate team. They dedicated their hard work on this project over the past two years to the memory of Father Jim Reites S.J.

Let me digress for a moment to salute Tim Healy for his 50 years of teaching electrical engineering at SCU. Respected and revered by students and colleagues alike, Healy is the go-to guy for everything from pedagogical advice to deep discussions on the future of engineering. Dean Godfrey Mungal says, "While Tim Healy may be among the oldest of the faculty, he is among the youngest at heart, as demonstrated by his creation of the Latimer Energy Laboratory in 2012 and his enthusiastic adoption of active learning methods."

And as long as I am speaking of our fine School of Engineering, let me give a shout out to its first-ever Research Showcase on Friday, February 24. The showcase will highlight work by undergraduates, master's and doctoral students, post-doctoral fellows, and faculty. I hope to see you there.

It is my pleasure to announce that our faculty and staff colleagues in the Jesuit Community have just donated $2 million for student need-based scholarships. It has been the custom of the Jesuits to return the surplus from their salaries, and this gift represents their latest gift to the University. They are also providing funds towards the Edward M. Dowd Art and Art History building to name the painting studio in honor of the late Jerry Sullivan, SJ, long-time professor in the art and art history department.  I extend the thanks of the university to my brother Jesuits.

The topping off ceremony for the Charney Hall building for the Law School provided another sign of progress.  On a very cold morning Dean Lisa Kloppenberg and I signed the highest beam that was later signed by others, lifted, and bolted into place.  

Speaking of buildings, the University is deeply indebted to John and Sue Sobrato. Their $100 million donation represents the lead gift towards the principal building in the new Sobrato Campus for Discovery and Innovation.  This 300,000 square-foot structure will provide classrooms, offices, labs, and meeting spaces for the School of Engineering and the natural science faculty of the College of Arts and Science. The accomplishments of our engineers and scientists impressed the donors. The gift honors the outstanding reputation of the School of Engineering and the accomplishments of the faculty in Arts and Sciences.

Before I leave this topic, let me salute our University Relations staff and their vice president, Jim Lyons.  No gift of this magnitude – the second largest in the history of Catholic higher education in the U.S. – comes without years of hard work. Congratulations!

So let me conclude.

Most everyone dislikes the security checkpoints and long lines in our airports. We hate taking off shoes, belts, watches, coats, and hats; dumping our water bottles; and having our bodies scanned. We know it is for our own good and everyone’s safety, but it remains an aggravating nuisance. This sign hangs just beyond the TSA station in the Milwaukee airport: Recombobulation. I appreciated the humor while recovering from being discombobulated at the security station.

Instead of a place, however, I wish for a spirit and a process of recombobulation from this year’s political rhetoric and social tension.  I want us as a campus community to model how to engage in dialogue, to respect one another, to presume goodwill on the part of others with whom we may disagree.  I want us to see the best in our amazing students and to draw inspiration from our colleagues who share our mission to transform the world, one graduate at a time.

Drawing on the Gospel hymn, “Unclouded Day,” we can all find inspiration in the dream of what we can be, as a campus community and as a country.  This dream as a Jesuit, Catholic university animates my work, as it does yours, so that we create the best possible living and learning experience for our students.  The great American Experiment of democracy should also stimulate our efforts to be united as E Pluribus Unum, One Out of Many, where the majority protects the rights of the minority, and where we practice the ideals of freedom of speech and dissent.

When I hear students speak of their dreams in Unity 4, in the student government, in the Multicultural Center, in Athletics, and in ROTC, I know that this is where I wish to be. As I learn from faculty scholarship, the ideas you explore excite me and expand my imagination. When staff reveal, again and again, their care for our students, the clouds overhead diminish. When alumni and friends make suggestions on a Blue Ribbon Commission, I can see our future more clearly, with greater light and focus.

Yes, this is where we strive for a brighter future. Yes, this is where I want to be, where we want to be.  We must be that model for the future. We must be that light. We must offer that example because our country and our world need Santa Clara.

Thank you for your dedication, God bless you, and God bless Santa Clara.