Jan. 24, 2012
Thank you, John.
Good day to you all. I’m very glad to see you here.
There’s a lot going on during these first weeks of the semester. Students and faculty rush back to campus and courses burst out of the starting blocks. Just a week and a half into the course on 16th Century British Literature that I’m teaching, I am practically in need of a stopwatch to make sure I stay on pace. I have an entire century of literature to squeeze into 15 weeks. I know many of you know similar kinds of feelings.
I hope you’ll forgive me for making January even busier by moving the date of this university address up a few weeks. Here’s my rationale. Months ago, I asked you to help me explore and discover this university. I could not have asked for better guides. I want to thank you for all you have done in welcoming me and teaching me about Marquette's unique culture. Now, I want to invite you in to share in what I’ve been learning. As I see it, the work I do as president is always in dialogue and partnership with you. I know at my core that’s the best way, the only true way, for us to move Marquette forward.
Make no mistake: I still have plenty of listening and learning ahead of me. At the same time, as we’ve discussed your priorities, your concerns, your hopes and dreams for Marquette, there are themes emerging that I know will be with us as we move forward.
So what has come through strongest in the listening and learning I’ve done so far?
In discussion after discussion, your passion for Marquette — your unbridled enthusiasm for the sacred enterprise we share — is heard loud and clear from every corner of this campus. Whether it’s faculty, staff, students, alumni, parents, university friends or neighbors, there are no stakeholders who hang back and are content to be spectators. Members of all the groups are anxious to be part of the process of shaping Marquette as we move together into the future.
At the top of the list of characteristics that I’ve come to appreciate as distinguishing Marquette is its deep and profound commitment to the university’s mission and identity. I have learned not to be surprised when a member of our community eloquently discusses our Catholic and Jesuit identity, and specifically the role that identity plays in the transformational experience we create for our students. I am here to tell you that this is something I will not take for granted. I am inspired by your example. Even before I arrived here as president, Marquette was known to me among the Jesuit schools for having mission as a rallying point, for having mission as a fundamental guide to its decision-making. And this community has backed it up with innovative programs such as the Faber Center, Marquette Colleagues, Mission Week and Manresa for Faculty as well as a university-wide commitment to service learning and mission trips. The Call to Service that the inaugural steering committee proposed and which I hope that you’ve been able to answer is just one example.
But in the best Ignatian traditions, Marquette’s mission and identity are not static concepts. They are living things. And they live in you. At meals, in meetings and in listening sessions, it has been striking to see how committed our community, starting with our faculty, is to wrestling with the fundamental issues involving “who we are” and “who we strive to be.” One of the questions that I heard raised again and again relates to the role of research and scholarship at Marquette. Faculty and administrators are clearly dedicated to our academic model, a model that so highly values excellent teachers. Professors across every discipline express grave concerns about what we would risk losing in adopting the ethos of an impersonal research-driven institution. But I also hear our faculty urging me and other leaders to articulate better the importance of research and scholarship to our mission. And I find myself asking how faculty can be better supported in their mutual responsibility to transform the lives of students and, at the same time, to advance knowledge and enhance academic disciplines. I expect this to be an area of long-term focus for us, but in the short-term, in response to a clearly articulated need, we have already included a substantial increase of $100,000 to the faculty travel budget for fiscal year 2013.
The discussion around research is only one of several fundamental questions you have raised with me. There is also a focus on how we can best engage with the Milwaukee community to bring the knowledge and expertise that is abundant on our campus to bear on urgent problems in need of solutions — and there's a desire to better leverage the engagement that's already occurring. There are questions about how to improve the racial and ethnic diversity of our workforce and our student body, and how to ensure that a Marquette education is accessible, especially to promising students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. I have learned from you how important a part that is of Marquette's legacy, a legacy we promise to move forward.
Listen with me to these themes: research, teaching, community engagement, diversity, inclusivity, transparency, Catholic and Jesuit identity. These are the themes you have taught me to care about. This is a campus that doesn't spend a lot of time on quotidian issues that can bog down other universities. We are not talking here about who gets what parking space and what the menu options are in the Lunda Room. Instead, we are focused as a community on the big questions and Marquette is a stronger place because of this focus.
Of course, that's not to say that administrative matters and good decision-making aren't important. They are and I have heard you say so. But instead of minutiae, the desire here was for a spirit of transparency and more sharing in the governance of the university. I have heard that loud and clear.
Those concerns have been with me as I have reflected on establishing an administrative structure that will best support our work defining and implementing shared vision and goals. In my first semester, I learned a great deal from the experience of having all of the vice presidents, the provost and the athletic director report directly to me. As I move forward with you here at Marquette, I expect to have fewer direct reports so that I can balance the internal operation of the university with the need to focus externally. However, I want to assure that whatever organizational structure I adopt, I will continue to engage a broad number of leaders across the university. To that end, I have already decided that I will continue regular meetings of the University Leadership Council as a body made up of both academic and administrative leaders to discuss broad issues related to the university's mission and especially to its strategic direction. At the request of the University Academic Senate and with the support of the Provost, I have decided to add the Chair and Vice Chair of the senate to the University Leadership Council.
Among those whom I know will be reporting directly to me will be our new Vice President and Athletic Director Larry Williams. I want to tell you I am thrilled to have him join our leadership team. He was selected from a pool that our search consultants called the strongest they'd seen for any leadership position at any school in the country. Larry brings a strong competitive drive and a rock-solid commitment to integrity, academics and the personal development of our students. I also want to add that this search was a signal to me — and I hope it will be to all of you — about how positively outsiders view Marquette. I have to be honest. I was a bit nervous as the search began. The Big East was blowing up. I thought that might scare away a few people, but instead we had an incredible number of people wanting to be a part of what we're doing here. We need to remember that. People look at Marquette with great admiration.
As I look back on last semester, I certainly spent more time than I expected on issues related to Intercollegiate Athletics. My last foray into athletic competition was at the Meadowbrook Swim Club in Pennsauken, New Jersey in 1975. And I joke with my colleagues that the recruitment materials I received, that you put together to attract a new president, didn't mention that there'd be a complete realignment of every major college athletic conference, including the Big East. Fortunately, with our hiring of Larry Williams and with the steps taken to stabilize the Big East, we are positioned as favorably as I could have hoped we'd be. That means — the good news — that the issues that dominated so much of my time last semester don't have to dominate this speech.
But I do want to mention my appreciation for the review led by three outstanding athletic and student-affairs professionals from around the country. They did exactly what I asked, which was to provide a candid and objective view of our athletic department's operations and culture. And there are challenges, particularly in the integration of athletics into the culture of the university as a whole — which is hardly unique to Marquette but a challenge for us nonetheless. I am pleased to say that we are already implementing many of the recommendations that they offered, including making the athletic director a direct report to the president, reconstituting the Athletic Board to provide more faculty involvement in athletics, involving student-athletes more fully in new student orientation, and beginning longer-range planning for facilities and staff. In total, we will ensure the systems and people give our student athletes the benefits of the opportunities represented by the entire university.
I also want to say again what a debt of gratitude I owe to Bob Wild for the leadership he provided Marquette for fifteen years and for the fundamental strength in the university’s operations that will be one of his legacies at Marquette. Among the successes on which I report and for which I take absolutely no credit: the more than 22,000 applications received for admission to next year’s class; that represents an increase of 3 percent. Under Bob's leadership, Marquette rebuilt its endowment over this past year. And we have a budget that we can expect will be balanced for this year and next, even if on the slimmest of margins. I am pleased that we are able to keep next year’s tuition increase relatively low and still offer merit-based salary increases, however modest, to our faculty and staff. I am especially grateful for the work of the Fiscal Review and Policy Committee, which was created this year to provide for greater faculty and student involvement in the discussion of the university’s financial future.
Now, the listening that began last semester will move to the next stage. With the unwavering enthusiasm surrounding our mission, with our engaged faculty and leadership team, and the positive trends in our enrollment and finances, we are just where I want us to be as we begin charting Marquette’s future course.
The discussions we’ve had to date about Marquette’s future were quite informal and open-ended by design, but they were, in fact, a very preliminary part of a longer process — the first step in identifying our hopes and aspirations for this university.
We will never agree on our priorities, much less reach them, without a sound plan. So starting this semester we will begin having a more focused set of conversations that will help us identify themes that will serve as the cornerstones of the plan we build together — a university-wide strategic plan, a first in some time for our Marquette.
This next step will involve each of you. A series of forums, one for each college and several involving multiple administrative areas, are being added to the calendar now. I’ll attend them myself and will have a set of questions to guide us. We’ll ask questions such as:
- What makes this particular college or program distinctive or different from what’s happening at other universities?
- What makes it uniquely Marquette?
- How do you measure success at Marquette? Let me tell you, I’m an English guy, I’m not looking for a spreadsheet. When I ask a question about measuring success, I want to know what your gut tells you about how we're doing.
- Which obstacles currently prevent us from achieving Marquette’s vision for transformational education?
One word on obstacles: while the need for resources to achieve goals is a reality and will be a presence in our discussions, I don’t want our conversations at this early stage to evolve into debates over resources. Here is a truth: There will never be enough resources to fulfill our dreams. In fact, while I attended the Harvard institute for new presidents in my early years at Scranton, I recall the president of Harvard, Larry Summers, having the temerity to say one of their limitations at Harvard is that it doesn't have enough resources. The fact that a president of an institution with a $17 billion endowment can say that illustrates that resources can always be an excuse for inaction. A more important question for us may be what other than resources is an obstacle? Because sometimes — and you know this — systems, culture, silos and established-but-no-longer-effective ways of doing things can be just as much a deterrent to progress as lack of resources.
In these forums and the steps that follow, certain core principles and characteristics will define how we proceed with the plan. Ultimately, they will shape the plan. Let me list a few of them for you here:
- I promise you the planning process will be open and transparent.
- It will engage the campus community. It won’t be written in the President’s Office with the door closed.
- It will, I hope, be ambitious in its aspirations, as we truly strive for excellence.
- But it can't be a wish-list. And this is important: It must be tied to the university’s budgeting process and to our financial planning.
The strategic planning process will also be aided by the work already underway as part of Marquette’s re-affirmation and reaccreditation process. I am very thankful for the more than 200 people across campus involved with that effort, and see the self-study process as laying some of the groundwork for our strategic planning.
In both of these processes, there are no predetermined outcomes, except one: The process and the plan will be grounded in Marquette’s Catholic and Jesuit mission. In part, that means that while they will recognize the value of a broad spectrum of academic programs that constitute Marquette as a national university, the processes and the plan will do this — they will reaffirm the centrality of the Arts & Sciences curriculum, specifically the Core of Common Studies required of all undergraduates.
Given the importance of the College of Arts and Sciences in maintaining the humanist tradition that is so important to Jesuit higher education, it is fitting that the strategic planning process and the search for a new Dean of Arts and Sciences will coincide. Discussions of the job description for that position are underway and the search committee will be formed this spring. Composed of faculty, staff and a representative of the Board of Trustees, the committee will begin the process of inviting applications, reviewing candidates and advising Provost Pauly and me in reviewing candidates and making a selection. I have a favor to ask. I urge all of you and especially members of the faculty to identify outstanding candidates to lead this central college and to encourage them to consider this position. Help us recruit for it.
As we consider the goal-setting — and more-importantly, goal-reaching — venture on which we’re about to embark, I’m aware that the words “strategic planning” have little power to stir our souls. I think it was the character Dilbert who had this to say about the process, “Our competitors just made our new five-year plan moot. While we were strategizing, they were doing something I believe they call ‘work.’”
But I want you to push aside visions of post-it notes completely covering conference-room walls. Don’t expect dozens and dozens of pages of semi-digested lists of everything we ever think about wanting to do. Ours will not be that kind of document.
And what we’re doing here is far more profound. And in that, it is something that I hope will have the power to stir our souls.
Just about two years ago, Adolfo Nicolas, Superior General of the Jesuits delivered a speech that riveted the attention of Jesuit educators gathered in Mexico City — I was fortunate to be there. And that speech continues to capture our imagination 1800 miles away at Marquette. Witnessing a global environment of dramatic economic and social change, with new winners and losers and new forces of superficiality acting on the inner lives of our students, the Superior General challenged us to re-imagine Jesuit higher education — to re-found Marquette for this age.
The re-founding of this great Catholic and Jesuit institution has already begun in the work that you do. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. In mid-January, I returned to campus a few days before the end of winter break. I expected the campus to be largely deserted, though I knew our Manresa for Faculty program had picked this time to host a forum on the very topic of responding to the Father General’s challenge to us.
But there in the basement of Raynor Library, in the depth of a Wisconsin winter, I found upwards of 100 faculty members, passionately engaged in responding to this challenge. They were discussing topics such as “Educating Immigrant Students,” “Community-Based Research” and “Preparing Students to Live and Work in a Religiously Pluralistic World.” Based on past experience, Manresa director Susan Mountin thought a session on “Using Contemplative Practices and Ignatian Pedagogy to Improve Student Learning” would be lucky to attract maybe a dozen participants. It drew an incredibly engaged overflow crowd and the conversation was mind-blowing. And following the event, I’ve received a write-up of the outcomes from this remarkable day to incorporate into our planning effort.
Crafting thoughtful plans and making them a reality will require enormous perseverance on our part. This kind of planning is not easy. It is hard work. But in re-founding our Jesuit institutions, we have the enormously instructive and inspiring example of the original Jesuits and their collaborators — Ignatius Loyola and his first companions and colleagues. As the “450-year-old company that changed the world,” to use Chris Lowney’s phrase, these early Jesuits and their colleagues practically invented strategic planning.
In his book, Heroic Leadership, Lowney describes the early Jesuits plunging “headlong into a changing world.” He writes:
In Europe, Vatican officials were condemning the vernacular Bibles and prayer books used in Protestant worship; outside Europe, Jesuits were compiling groundbreaking translating dictionaries for Tamil, Japanese, Vietnamese, and a host of other languages so that they could present their message in local languages through local culture. While a lumbering institutional church squandered nearly a decade in preparations for the Council of Trent — where they would galvanize strategic responses to the Protestant threat — nimbler Jesuits pursued their strategic agenda with greater speed and urgency. Within a decade of identifying higher education as a key priority in the 1540s, they had opened more than thirty colleges around the world.
Just as Ignatius liked to describe his ideal early Jesuits, we as a university community must now “live with one foot raised,” ready to step into the future, while we keep one foot firmly planted in our best traditions and core values. Standing such, we will be poised to respond nimbly to emerging opportunities.
The early Jesuits were also enormously practical. Wherever they went in the world, they sent back reports to Rome that helped refine and improve their approach to education — what worked and what didn't work.
In this way, they created a groundbreaking curriculum — the Ratio Studiorum. Its concept of integrated education — one course building on another — was a complete educational innovation at the time, as was its concern for the effect this course of instruction would have on students, which is just the kind of innovation you’d expect from Ignatius Loyola based on his experience of God and God's love for him. The Ratio Studiorum is the direct predecessor of our Core of Common Studies today.
You may not know this but probably won’t be surprised to learn that the tradition of sending reports back to Rome about what works and what doesn't work continues to this day. Every year, the president of Marquette and every other Jesuit institution writes a letter to the Superior General that shares progress and challenges, what’s working and what's in need of attention. If you visit the Jesuit headquarters, you can see these letters in volumes stretching back nearly 500 years.
Given the tremendous promise of the work ahead of us, I am in awe when thinking about the future letters I will be able to write to this same Father General who has challenged us to reinvent what we do for the benefit of our students, for the well-being of the world and for the greater glory of God.
I can imagine beginning, “Father General, I have been so looking forward to writing you this year. We have so much we are doing at Marquette that I want to share with you and with the Universal Society…”
The contents of these letters — the next chapter in Marquette’s history — are ours to write. It will be the great privilege of my Jesuit life to write them with you.
God bless you, God bless Catholic and Jesuit higher education and God bless Marquette University.
Rev. Robert A. Wild, S.J., is interim president
Rev. Robert A. Wild, S.J., is the interim president of Marquette University. From 1996 to 2011 he served as the 22nd president of Marquette University. Under his leadership, Marquette has improved academic quality, increased and stabilized enrollment, and enhanced partnerships with the City of Milwaukee and community groups and in 2005 completed the most successful comprehensive campaign in the history of the university with a total of $357 million. Read more...