The following post is an adaptation of the presentation I shared with the entire Benedictine University community as the Fall 2015 semester began. Benedictine has campuses in Lisle and Springfield (both in Illinois), Mesa (Arizona), and an online division (The National Moser Center for Adult Learning).
Our Benedictine Journey
With the fall term just begun, I look back on the last two weeks with great joy, curiosity and awe. Having served for nearly a decade as a Catholic university president in Los Angeles, I now look forward to my next decade in Catholic higher education leadership here in a new setting: at Benedictine University in Chicago.
Nearly three months ago I wrote to every member of the Benedictine University community. I invited my colleagues to share their insights on three things:
- What challenges does the University face?
- What opportunities does the University need to consider?
- What are the first three things they would do if they were me?
Over 150 people wrote to me. Mostly letters, some formal reports, a poem, and a film. I reviewed all of them this summer. I am inspired. Inspired by the vision. The passion. The caring. The genuine belief that our future is inextricably linked to the ways in which we fulfill our mission as a Catholic and Benedictine university. There is enough in the letters to keep us very busy for next decade, that's for sure.
There are five highlights:
First, community members want to forge a shared vision for the University. We have different circumstances across the University. Springfield is in a state of renewal. Mesa is in its early days. Lisle's ambitions to increase student success, retention, and graduation are to be commended. Moser is in an unusually advantageous position as the higher education sector continually transforms the way we serve students online. We will all work together through the University Planning Council to draft a Benedictine 2020 plan that we will present to the Board of Trustees in April for its review and consideration.
Second, community members want planning and budgeting matters to be more transparent. I have convened a President's Advisory Council that represents all stakeholders at the University. We will meet weekly. This transparency is one of the things we will focus on this fall, ensuring an increasingly transparent budget development process throughout the spring.
Third, community members want better communication throughout the enterprise. They will get this. The members of the President's Advisory Council will have the responsibility to bring pressing matters forward to the council and relay back relevant information and inquiry to the programs and departments they represent. I will also hold community gatherings throughout the year, at each site, so community members can keep up-to-date with the impressive enterprise that is Benedictine.
Fourth, community members want the University to devote time, energy and resources to workforce development. Staff Retention. Professional Development. Parity. Equity. To be honest, quite a bit was shared on this topic. I will need your help in interpreting the input as we want to make sure we are investing in our most precious resource: our people.
Finally, community members want to develop a resilient culture across all of our sites and programs. A culture that is interdependent, integrated, accountable, not complacent, well governed and highly competent. In short, we want a culture that we can role model for our students as they develop and prepare to enter the work world and share the Benedictine way. As a community member wrote: "Good enough should not be acceptable when we have the ability to be great."
Based on what I read, you believe that through this work we can:
- Sustain our Catholic identity and become a leading Catholic University.
- Increase student success, retention and graduation rates.
- Effect greater fundraising results.
- Inspire the Chicago, Springfield, and Mesa communities to support the work that Benedictine is doing in each region.
Your letters, your essays, your analyses, your poetry, your films, your critiques, and your thoughtful and heartfelt insights inspired me. I can begin to envision the ways in which we can move forward. But I want to make sure I heard you right.
A shared vision, transparency, communication, workforce development, and a resilient community. Is this what we aspire to?
Sustaining our Catholic identity, increased student success, increased fundraising, inspiring our service areas. Is that what we need to do?
After hearing the community's input, I returned to notes I had from research I did many years ago. I found this Benedictine quote that I thought I would share with you:
"We learn that community itself is a source of wisdom for us, that the major relationships of our lives have not been given to us to be exploited by us; they have been given to us to teach us. We learn we are not the center of the universe but there is plenty that we can gain from others at every age. We learn that we will never arrive and that is all right."
That is all right. God Bless Benedictine University.