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Convocation Address, 2017

Mayer Theatre, SCU
12 September 2017


Good afternoon to everyone, both here at Mayer Theatre and on livestream internet. Welcome to our annual Convocation gathering as we commence the new academic year. This launches the 166th year of education at Santa Clara, a vibrant moment in our history.

I would like to begin by remembering someone who contributed 41 years of teaching here. Professor Eric Hanson taught Political Science for one-quarter of our history and touched thousands of lives. We shall celebrate his memory this week in the Mission Church on Friday, September 15, at 4 pm, followed by a reception in the de Saisset Museum. Today we pause for a moment of silence to remember such a valuable and cherished colleague.



With a new year we welcome new faculty, staff, and administrators. In particular, Alfonso Ortega, who held various leadership positions at the University of Arizona, the National Science Foundation, and Villanova University, has begun his appointment as the Dean of the School of Engineering. I wish to welcome Al and all new Staff and Faculty; please stand so that we might recognize you. 


Promotions, Grants, and Awards

Other leadership changes to share with you include:

  • Elsa Chen has been appointed as Vice Provost for Academic Affairs;
  • Margaret Russell of the Law School will serve as interim Associate Provost for Diversity and Inclusion; and
  • Robin Reynolds has advanced from the Budget Director in the Finance Office to the position of Assistant Vice President for Auxiliary Service (Housing, Dining, Book Store, etc.).

The highest academic status for faculty is to be awarded an endowed chair. I am pleased to congratulate these faculty who have earned this distinction and been named to these chairs:

  • Blake de Maria, Art & Art History: Harold and Edythe Toso Professor
  • Janice Edgerly-Rooks, Biology: Michael and Elizabeth Valeriote Professor
  • David Feldman, Counseling Psychology: J. Thomas and Kathleen L. McCarthy Professor
  • Gina Hens-Piazza, Jesuit School of Theology: Joseph S. Alemany Professor
  • Kirthi Kalyanam, Marketing: L.J. Skaggs Distinguished Professor
  • Chris Kitts, Mechanical Engineering: William and Janice Terry Professor
  • Paul Mariani, S.J., History: Edmund Campion, S.J., Professor
  • Alfonso Ortega, Mechanical Engineering: John M. Sobrato Professor
  • Enrique Pumar, Sociology: Fay Boyle Professor
  • David Sloss, Law: John A. and Elizabeth H. Sutro Professor

In the past 12 months, outside funding for faculty research totaled some $4.85 million, which warrants our congratulations. This month the U.S. Department of Education awarded a $2.3 million grant to Professors Marco Bravo and Claudia Rodriguez-Mojica in the Department of Education to provide professional development working in bilingual settings to help children learn academic English during math lessons. Given that 25% of all students in California public schools are English language learners, the grant addresses a significant issue. Congratulations – Felicidades - to Professors Bravo and Rodriguez-Mojica!

Congratulations also to Dean Caryn Beck-Dudley and the faculty and staff of the Leavey School of Business for Money magazine’s recognition. The undergraduate program earned the #10 spot in the nation for the quality of education, affordability, and career payoff for undergraduate business majors (Georgetown University was lucky to tie with Santa Clara).

U.S. News & World Report magazine ranked the part-time Master of Business Administration program as No. 25 in the nation, out of 301 part-time MBA programs. It based this standing on peer evaluations and the caliber of entering students. This year’s ranking, up from No. 37, places the Leavey School of Business 2nd in the Bay Area, 2nd among Jesuit Schools, and 4th in California. Congratulations to the dean, faculty, and staff of LSB.

As we commence the new academic year, we will be welcoming 1,415 undergraduates from 40 states and 30 nations, along with Micronesia, Guam, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico. We all owe a debt of gratitude to Mike Sexton, vice president of Enrollment Management, and to his dedicated team in Admissions, led by Eva Blanco Masias, and Financial Aid, led by Nan Merz. I also wish to acknowledge the Orientation program that Jeanne Rosenberger and her staff in the Center for Student Leadership coordinated across campus. This multi-pronged effort involved many offices across all divisions, so I thank all of you who were so generous in helping us enroll the Class of 2021.

I am also proud of the achievement of the University Relations division: Development, Alumni Relations, and University Marketing and Communications. Through their efforts this past year, we raised $173 million in gifts and pledges, with a record-breaking $64 million in cash. Such progress warrants our deep appreciation for Vice President Jim Lyons and his able team.

Given the significant progress in planning the Sobrato Campus of Discovery and Innovation, I wish to acknowledge the indefatigable work of Provost Dennis Jacobs. Aside from random students who write, Dennis is the only person who consistently sends me emails after midnight. Even my mother does not write me as often as Dennis. Several individuals working with Dennis warrant our gratitude: the deans, Debbie Tahmassebi, Godfrey Mungal, and now Al Ortega; Chris Shay, the Interim Vice President for Finance and Administration; and Senior Assistant Provost Lisa Millora. No less gratitude is due to the scores of faculty and staff within the School of Engineering and the College of Arts and Sciences who have been deeply engaged in this planning.

Finally, our Office of Sustainability has earned the university yet another national award for attention to environmental issues. Congratulations, Lindsey Kalkbrenner and your hardworking staff, for this Gold certification!

As you see, we have many great colleagues whose hard work this past year has served the university well. I am very proud of all of you. Now I wish to look to several other achievements with wide-ranging significance.


The University's Financial Situation

My address here last year focused on serious matters of finance and budget. As you recall, we had experienced a $4.5 million-operating-budget deficit for the preceding fiscal year. As I focused on that problem, and as I later addressed the increasing competition in private higher education, my remarks cast a somber note to the start of the new year. The subsequent discoveries of additional shortfalls in revenue required a second round of cutbacks and led many to fear what might be happening next.
Today I am pleased to report that concerted efforts in all departments have successfully addressed those challenges. Our operating budget for the past year closed in the black, and I am particularly proud that we were able to do so while avoiding layoffs. I wish to touch on these successes and place them in the context of our progress on our integrated Strategic Plan, Santa Clara 2020.



This past spring, Moody’s Investor Service examined the university’s financial health and reaffirmed our Bond rating of Aa3. This validation recognized a number of strengths of the university, which are a credit to our staff in the Finance office and to our Trustees Finance Committee. I quote: “The rating also reflects the university’s very good strategic position with excellent cash flow…and well integrated financial modeling and strategic planning.”

Among the strengths listed, the examiners noted: “Santa Clara’s thorough budget oversight, careful fiscal management, and in-depth financial modeling contribute to the university’s very good strategic positioning.” With a nod to our Finance Office, the report continued: “The senior management team is composed of a combination of new, but seasoned professionals, and long-standing members with deep institutional knowledge.” Let us all recognize Harry Fong, Robin Reynolds, Ramona Sauter, and their staff, assisted by John Ottoboni. They provided the leadership necessary to receive these accolades and, most importantly, the positive bond rating that has such a substantive long-term impact on SCU!

Our successful operating results this past year would not have been possible without your commitment and participation. Across the university, all divisions cut costs to address last year’s anticipated revenue shortfall. I recognize that these reductions were disheartening and stressful. I am grateful to all of you for making painful sacrifices and working through these reductions. It was yet another example of everyone on our team doing everything we could for the good of the institution for which we care so much.

Thanks to the efficiencies we achieved last year, we were able to address our budget imbalance. But, what does that mean tangibly? It means that we now have the capacity to support several important projects. We have increased financial aid to provide the quality experience of a Santa Clara education to students without sufficient funds. In my years as President, I have attempted to ground myself in how we provide a world-class education to deserving and capable students no matter their economic background.

Our work is not done. Moody's credit opinion noted, “We expect the University to maintain this level of strong operating performance...through its careful fiscal management, including expense containment efforts and contingency budgeting to handle any enrollment volatility." Our future financial projections are challenging, given the dramatically increasing need for new financial aid, as well as the addition of needed new facilities. If we are to remain competitive, we must continue our fiscal discipline.

We have positioned ourselves to achieve positive financial results. We shall grow revenue, increase our efficiency, reallocate resources where necessary, and leverage our strategic position, given our program diversity and our Silicon Valley location. Our fiscal discipline will enhance our ability to sustain our mission, aid our students, and reward our faculty and staff for the sacrifices they have made. The reality is that this cannot happen without the continued efforts of all of you, and I am personally grateful for your commitment to maintain our position of strength.


Diversity and Inclusion

Last December, I received the report of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Diversity and Inclusion. Twelve alumni and community leaders made a series of recommendations to assist the university in achieving Goal 5 of Santa Clara 2020. Goal 5 specifically pertains to increasing diversity, access, and affordability. In March I invited Elsa Chen to chair a task force to prioritize these suggestions. Staffed by Ray Plaza, the task force included Anna Sampaio, Linda Garber, Hsin-I Cheng, Lester Deanes, Denise Castillo-Chavez, Jahwala Johns, and Zipporah Ridley. This hard working team submitted their report by the end of June of this year, and today, I am distributing that document to you by email.

To assist me in bringing these recommendations into practice and engaging our collaborative governance system, Ray Plaza has agreed to manage the next steps this year. Ray will be working with a number of campus stakeholders on timelines and accountability to ensure continued progress. He will begin with a presentation to the Planning Action Council at its next meeting to begin to engage our collaborative governance system.

One recommendation, that directly advances Goal 5 of Santa Clara 2020, fulfills a commitment I made to our Unity 4 student leaders. I am pleased to announce that through your sacrifices and efficiencies last year, and through two gifts, we were able to add $1 million for financial aid to assist under-represented students. Further, University Relations led by Jim Lyons has developed a fundraising plan to secure another $9 million to attract, enroll, and graduate accomplished students of color. We are committed to investing in an institutional priority of making Santa Clara University a more diverse and inclusive campus community.

Another recommendation from the task force on diversity and inclusion is to conduct a Campus Climate Survey. A Campus Climate Working group, in collaboration with an external consultant, will develop the instrument and the process. This consultant has conducted similar surveys at more than 100 universities across the United States. The purpose of the Campus Climate Survey is to identify areas where students, faculty, and staff believe we can improve our practices.

In Spring of 2016, when I convened the Blue Ribbon Commission on Diversity and Inclusion, racial tensions were running high in this country. Since then, white supremacists and neo-Nazis have emerged from the shadows and have exacerbated conflict. If there was ever a time when we needed to educate students – and ourselves – about living in a diverse society, it is now. It is all the more important for the good of the university and for the wider benefit of society that we strive to implement fully Goal 5 of our integrated Strategic Plan. 


Sustaining Excellence

Last year we also launched and completed Phase 1 of the Sustaining Excellence project, thanks to participants across the university. Lisa Kloppenberg and Tom Plante led a widespread effort that involved more than 80 SCU faculty and staff and generated nearly 300 ideas focused on cost-saving, efficiency, and revenue generation. I am grateful to Lisa and Tom for their leadership and for the many communications that kept the campus informed of progress. To move the project to Phase 2, I have asked Mike Nuttall to serve as the project manager so we can strategize on gaining profit from the many recommendations received.

Strategically, Phase 2 focuses on identifying actionable items from the broad list of recommendations. In the coming months, I shall continue to work with the Planning Action Council and other appropriate collaborative governance groups, along with students, staff, and faculty, to gather quality data and feedback that will position me successfully to determine which ideas to enact. In February, I shall share with you the ideas I have decided can have a positive impact on the institution and that we can successfully achieve. I shall then designate individuals to develop, through a collaborative process, robust implementation plans for each chosen idea, and I am committed to sharing these plans by September 2018.

It is only through new revenue and greater innovation and efficiencies that we can stay competitive. The fiscal results of our work will enable us to secure greater financial aid for students, make improvements to IT infrastructure such as the ERP system, enhance faculty and staff salaries, and increase support for faculty research. In other words, achieve the 44 strategic priorities of our integrated strategic plan.

It is my hope that through this project, we shall be able to foster a culture of innovative thinking focused on enhancements, efficiency, and adaptability to continue to deliver a premier education to our students in these rapidly changing times.

I personally believe wholeheartedly in the value of a Jesuit education, and I know from my conversations that you do so as well. I hope that through this project we can all see the value of planning and exercising fiscal discipline. By working together, we shall make it our charge to keep Santa Clara University at the forefront of higher education.



Silicon Valley is once again thriving. With such growth, comes both opportunities and challenges. Our students and faculty have opportunities to engage with industry leaders in research collaborations and internships. The Silicon Valley community is also well positioned to help advance SCU's strategic priorities and comprehensive campaign. However, when local companies experience phenomenal expansion, the increased demand for housing leads to escalation in apartment rental rates and home purchase prices that impact all Bay area residents.

In the past year, the faculty and staff affairs committees and senates have discussed concerns about rapidly rising housing costs. A faculty housing working group submitted recommendations for consideration as part of the Sustaining Excellence Project. I am deeply concerned about our ability to attract and retain faculty and staff in this housing climate. I am committed to working with the Vice Presidents, the Trustees, and our collaborative governance system to explore affordable and sustainable solutions to our complex housing situation.


The Year Ahead

This past year challenged all of us in one way or another. Addressing institutional budget constraints, planning for the STEM complex, responding to racial tensions, or navigating heightened political polarization across our country -- we faced a plethora of challenges. Again, I wish to acknowledge and applaud the tremendous efforts all of you put into serving the university. We must persist in our teamwork as we face the each and every difficulty.

Already in the past two weeks, announcements from the nation’s Capital forebode new challenges to our community. President Trump’s administration has given Congress until March 6, 2018 to resolve the fate of almost 800,000 Dreamers currently enrolled in the DACA program. In addition, the Secretary of Education has recently signaled that she wishes to alter the standards and procedures by which universities respond to campus sexual violence.

As our community faces these and other challenges this year, I encourage us to respond with civility, cooperation, and constructive dialogue. Difficult issues will try the ethos of our university in new and troubling ways. My experience with you, however, gives me great hope. My encounters over the years with faculty and staff encourage me. Our shared history of collaboration bolsters my belief that we can and will rise to labor together for the benefit of our students.

I also find deep hope and encouragement from wise insights in the sustaining spirit of our Jesuit heritage. I owe the following observations to Father Kevin O’Brien, dean of our Jesuit School of Theology. In a beginning-of-the-year message to his school, he noted four dispositions drawn from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola:

  • We listen attentively and with reverence to other persons. We assume their good will and assume that they have something of value to teach us because God is uniquely at work in each person;
  • Similarly, we summon the courage to express our own views. Even if we are not entirely certain, we know we have something of value to contribute to the conversation;
  • We honestly test assumptions, conclusions, and arguments. We rely on the rigor of thought and evidence-based learning, not on personal accusation or suspicion; and
  • We are humble enough to realize that we sometimes get it wrong. We accept correction when our arguments are flawed and recognize that this is how learning happens, how relationships are deepened, and how unconscious biases are revealed.

“When imbued with reverence, courage, honesty, and humility, conversations in an academic community are transformative, not only for the learner but for our school. Thus transformed, we are then better able to serve the other communities of which we are a part.” Fr. O’Brien.


Conclusion: The Henley Royal Regatta

Let me conclude with an example of an entirely different kind of “spirit”: an instance of the Bronco spirit of hard work and dedication. This past summer, our men’s crew team competed for the first time internationally. Before departing, they earned the conference championship and were ranked 23rd nationally. Not satisfied with these achievements, they left the humble shores of the Lexington Reservoir to face 72 of the best crew teams on the planet in the Henley Royal Regatta in Henley, England. I direct your attention to the screen to view our Broncos competing against the University of Virginia.

Our team reached the quarter-finals and placed among the top 8 out of all 73 international schools. Coach Jay Farwell and members of the team are with us, so I invite them to stand so that we can recognize them for their Bronco spirit. Congratulations!

As these student athletes battled to the finish line, so too do all of you, every year. Just as these Broncos displayed dedication and discipline, you, our faculty and staff, push on to achieve further laurels for the University. With your continued energy and support, we shall propel Santa Clara across any rough waters and against strong and blustery winds! Of this, I am confident. In you, I have great faith.

Thank you, and God bless you and Santa Clara University.

Michael E. Engh, S.J.