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State of the College Address 2017

With this State of the College address, we are continuing our tradition of reviewing the last calendar year with a mid-academic year report.   I am pleased to report that the past calendar year was very good.
I want to begin by explaining that, every so often I receive a request to sign on behalf of the College a petition, or pledge, or letter presented by some worthy organization. This past year we received three such requests that were so aligned with our mission that I shared them with our senior staff and the Chair of the Board of Trustees, and with their encouragement, I signed on behalf of Rosemont College. The first of these was a commitment, as a member of NCAA, to diversity and inclusion in hiring people to administer our athletics programs. This was not addressing only racial or ethnic diversity, but gender diversity as well: in the past 20 years, there has been a decline in NCAA women administrators. Obviously, if you know Rosemont’s athletics staff, you will realize that we are not adding to those statistics about females, but our commitment to diversity and inclusion remains bedrock of our mission, and so we signed that pledge. And certainly we can do more with all employees to become more diverse in terms of racial and ethnic minorities. Especially because we have achieved a good diversity in our student population, we need to commit to greater diversity in faculty and staff. This is a challenge, but we need to acknowledge and act upon that challenge.
The second pledge that we signed last year was a respectful letter from the Catholic Climate Covenant, of which Rosemont is a part, to then President-Elect Trump to do three things:
--Honor the Paris Agreement and take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions between 26 and 28 percent by 2025
--Support the Green Climate Fund to help poor countries adapt to the effects of climate change, specifically honoring our pledge of 3 billion dollars
--encourage states to craft and exceed their own Clean Power Plans by transitioning to renewable energy sources.
We cite the fact that an overwhelming majority of Catholics in the United States, along with the other faith traditions represented among Rosemont College students, believe the government needs to do more to address the issue of climate change – a sentiment repeatedly expressed by Pope Francis and our bishops.
Finally, we joined almost every other college or university in Pennsylvania in signing a letter to our Senators Toomey and Casey to urge them to co-sponsor a bill already sponsored in the Senate for a BRIDGE (Bar Removal of Individuals Who Dream and Grow Our Economy) Act. This act will protect any DACA- (that is Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) persons from deportation while in the DACA program, which is renewable every two years.
I have just now spent some initial time with you on these various actions taken in the past year: one more facet of the “power of small” is that we can be our size and still play a leadership role in Higher Education. It is not only our right, but also, I believe, our duty to speak out about issues that come directly out of our mission.
Now, on to other accomplishments in the past year: as in last year’s address, I have to begin with the year’s progress on our bold move in the Undergraduate College to reset tuition through the launching of Our Tuition Promise. We all thought that prospective students and their families would appreciate an honest approach to pricing that allowed them to feel that they had a choice between public colleges and universities and Rosemont College. And this was certainly true: at our Open Houses and as counselors visited College Fairs, we were told how grateful families were to have a choice, even as they self-reported that Rosemont was the only private college they were considering. This past fall semester opened with the largest number of new students – first years and transfers – in decades, with 229 new student deposits as of August. But with the usual summer “melt” – enrolled students who end up not coming – and including additional students in our Post-Baccalaureate program in Science --we still met our budgeted revenue (higher than previous years) for the Undergraduate College. I remain very grateful to Vice President Dennis Murphy and his enthusiastic, hard working, and obviously successful team.
We have also seen increased enrollment overall in the Schools of Graduate and Professional Studies last spring and fall, but we are keeping a watchful eye on inquiries and applications for next summer and fall.
I want to remind everyone on this campus –faculty, staff, and certainly students – that we are all really in the business of admissions and need to do all we can to be the face of Rosemont for anyone who reaches out to our offices or comes on campus. It is vitally important that, having gained such momentum over the past several years, we keep it up.
The exciting news in SGPS is that we will be launching our new Masters in Homeland Security this March. Over a year ago, we were approached by the Naval Postgraduate School, Center for Homeland Defense and Security- University Agency Partnership Initiative about partnering with them to offer this degree. The Naval Post Grad School is tasked to provide credentialing at both the undergraduate and graduate level a large number of people prepared to work in Homeland Security. In order to accomplish this, they have begun to partner with select colleges and universities. They have already partnered with some East Coast institutions at the undergraduate level, but Rosemont will be their only partner for the Masters degree between Boston and Washington D.C.
The NPGS shares their full curriculum with partners but expects that partners will want to “brand” the program according to their own mission. I am very proud to say that we were able to adapt the NPGS curriculum to incorporate our mission, based on social justice and recognizing the dignity of every human being, to provide what I call “homeland security with a conscience”. Director Jay Kolick, working with over 20 outside readers and advisors, including our own Dr. Preti, co-director of the Institute for Ethical Leadership and Social Responsibility, as well as a friend of the college who has served on our Business Advisory Board, Mr. Jack Tomarchio, former Deputy Under Secretary of Homeland Security. We made significant changes to the curriculum to make what we are teaching in perfect alignment with our mission. We will be marketing this new masters’ degree in February, and will be beginning the program – which will be all online – in March. The launch will occur with a lecture by Mr. Tomarchio on February 22 on “Politics, Hacking, and the New Russia” – I think you’ll agree, a very timely topic!
Our Global Studies in both the UC and especially SGPS continues to grow. Last summer, a group of 32 students, including 11 students from the University of the Sciences, spent 10 days in Oxford, England, staying at historic Oxford University. The trip was business-program oriented, with visits to several local and also transnational corporations, in order to understand first hand how global business works. Two weeks ago, a group of 11 students in the MFA in Creative Writing program traveled with Director Carla Spataro to Sicily for a 10-day writers’ immersion and retreat. To those who just returned: welcome back! I’ve heard it was a wonderful experience. In the Undergraduate College, Professor Ripoll-Paez led 4 students last June in an intensive language and cultural immersion in Spain.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of individual faculty, we now have a sustained International Program. In my opinion, this new international program is terrific because it has grown so organically, through the enthusiasm of our faculty and students. And with all of our planning, determining a Strategic Plan and then devising an in depth Operating Plan and then – most importantly --- following it! – It is also the case that we are small enough, and vibrant enough, to also have interests simply well up on the part of students, faculty, or staff, and if the interest is genuine, we manage to get that interest recognized and accomplished.
Our current Strategic Plan, on track for this year, especially in its emphasis on all things academic (I refer back to the new Masters of Homeland Security, and go forward to encourage you to visit our latest completely renovated smart classroom: Science 315.) So we are working on the strategic plan, but I am proud that we don’t limit ourselves to the Strategic Plan. We devise the plan, and follow it, but allow for additional initiatives. For example, our current Strategic Plan did not include intramural sports, and yet we had an interest in starting a roller hockey club, and guess what – we now have a roller hockey club!
This is, to me, exactly how we should respond, to changing interests, especially of students. When I first arrived at Rosemont, our largest student club was one called Harmony, which focused on issues of the environment and peace. Gradually, student interest seemed to have changed so with the end of the club we set up a more formal College-wide committee, the Catholic Climate Covenant Committee, which meets monthly, has four students serving on it, and which has accomplished over the years a lot of projects designed to cut back on the College’s unnecessary use of energy.
But, just last spring there was a discussion, on the part of students, of starting a new Garden Club. And finally, because enough students were interested in starting a cheerleading club, guess what we now have – a Ravens cheerleading squad. So I think that we are on a good path, taking the College further: we are now known, to Middle States and others, for our culture of thoughtful, organized strategic planning, and yet we can at the same time be open to new ideas, interests, and wishes. We are in a good position, with a good culture for getting things done.
We continue to take our responsibility to enforce Title IX very seriously. We continue to study, review and implement ongoing directives from the White House and the Federal Government. Our co-directors of Title IX and the SART team (Sexual Assault Response Team) Jane Federowicz, Assistant VP for Human Resources and Matt Baker, Director of Public Safety, have received considerable training. They in turn organize lots of training on campus for students, faculty and staff. They are tasked with raising the awareness of the need to stop the scourge of sexual assault on campuses in America today, we are especially encouraging reports.
Title IX reports received:
  • 2015 – 4 reports
  • 2016 – 11 reports (8 in fall semester) (4 from SGPS)
  • 2017 - 1
Reports investigated ranged from harassment, unwanted behavior, to sexual misconduct and dating violence. Resolutions ranged from class reassignments, non-contact orders, and being banned from campus.
The increase in the number of reports is not bad news, it shows that word about Title IX is getting out there in the community.
In late January, a National Student Sexual Misconduct Climate Survey will be sent to all UC students. This survey will measure the campus climate and student knowledge as it relates to sexual misconduct. Participation was very low last year.
Please, students, be sure to take this survey, take training seriously, and help your fellow students. If you see something, do something.
Our Institute for Ethical Leadership and Social Responsibility has had a very active year: last spring the Institute organized a live-streamed conference: “Listen for a Change: Sacred Conversations for Racial Justice”, a Presidential Lecture on “Travels of a T-Shirt in a Global Economy” and a panel discussion on Racial Justice. In the past fall semester the Institute has hosted another Presidential Lecture on Pope Francis as a leadership model, and a Panel Discussion on the Election. I want to thank both Dr. Alan Preti and Colonel Tim Ringgold for working as co-directors of the Institute to expand the Institute’s work.
So, save another date: on April 21 the Institute will be hosting a major Symposium on Ethics and Emerging Medical Technologies with 4 main speakers who are experts in the rapidly changing field of medical technologies such as organ transplants, tissue immunotherapies – all with the promise of improving medical treatments for cancer and other diseases in the near future but all fraught with ethical questions that we have yet to fully address.
A significant accomplishment in the past year was our submission of our Periodic Review Report to Middle States, last June 2016. This was our regular “mid-term” report five years after our Middle States team visit/report in 2011. I commend and thank our Provost, Dr. Chris Dougherty, who worked with 50 Rosemont representatives in seven work groups. Dr. Dougherty attended every meeting of every workgroup and actually wrote the PRR himself. THANKS – to all 50 of you.
I am pleased to report that the Commission’s response was to grant our re-accreditation. We were asked to submit a progress report on Standard Six, specifically on Finances, due October 1, 2018. This made sense to me, as when we submitted the PRR in June 2016, we were able to give preliminary numbers for enrollment in the Undergraduate College (a large proportion of our revenue) as an “in progress” report that was very positive but not complete.
By October 2018, we should be able to inform Middle States of the continued results of the reset, with actual numbers for a total of three admissions cycles. Our controller, Faith Byrne, and our VP for Finance and Administration, have just submitted the latest budget forecast – what we are predicting our budget will be at the end of this fiscal year – and it looks good: no deficit and a small surplus.
And I am pleased to report that our numbers in the UC for fall, 2017, are matching or up over last year’s success. Many people have asked me what I think caused our success with Our Tuition Promise, and I do think it was two things primarily: first, come up with the right number. The new reduced tuition had to be the lowest possible amount closest to the true tuition needed by the college to operate successfully. I want to thank again Deb Cawley, our Director of Financial Aid, and Dr. Randy Eldridge, our VP for Finance and Administration, for getting us to that number.  
Second, I do place a lot of our success on what we called “the rollout” of marketing and public relations immediately following the announcement. A total of 84 traditional media outlets took up our story on a local but also national level. I thank here Christyn Moran, VP for College Relations, for ably heading up this effort, along with her great staff.
On another front, I am very happy to report that we have a timeline for our next very big building project: what we are calling the Community Center, our much needed full student center that we know will also be used by our greater community. The new Center will include an expanded dining area and café, a convenience store, all student club and office spaces; a multipurpose area that can be used for some intramural programs as well as large lectures and banquets. It will include 4 smart classrooms and a board room with a reception area. In addition, we will move the fitness center to an expanded new location there as well as the bookstore, freeing up much needed space in Alumni Hall.
The new building will become what has been called a “beacon” building for our campus – one to which everyone is drawn and can use. Our timeline is to break ground in May 2018, in order to open for August 2019. Because we are constantly working to renovate and preserve our beautiful historic campus, this will be the first major new construction in almost 50 years, but it will be worth the wait!
So we have certainly been busy – in a positive way – all last year.
And so, to conclude, where do we stand at this junction as we wrap up the 2016 calendar year and look forward to 2017? I think that as an institution of higher education, and particularly as a college rooted in Catholicism, we should keep very careful vigilance about what is going to happen to our main purpose within that tradition: to seek the truth. The truth is a cornerstone of the Catholic Intellectual Tradition: we are charged to find the truth about nature, humanity, and God.
But with the divisiveness of the past election cycle, instantaneous news cycles, and the uncertainties of our future under a brand new President of the United States (as of 5 days ago!), we have to face the fact that the Oxford English Dictionary‘s annual “number one word” for 2016 was the hyphenated word “Post-Truth”. You may say “what the heck is that”, but I think I understand it to mean that, with opinion as facts and news, or even fake news, we seem to have entered a new state of constant shifting –simultaneously juxtaposing and conflating –of “the real” with the “unreal”.
And yes, one of the losers for “word of the year” was the word “surreal”. So what should we, as a higher education community, do to respond to this new Post-Truth state? Earlier, I used the word vigilant, and I do think that we are going to have to develop our information literacy skills and critical thinking to some new level of constant keenness.
And to return to our purpose of seeking truth, we need to embrace the fact that truth is much more than accuracy. While we have fact-checking sites, and even Siri in our hand, true truth will never come to us from those tools. I’m not suggesting that we come up with a definition or full meaning of truth – we wouldn’t want to solve the debate that has kept philosophers busy for centuries. But we do know that Truth involves so many human traits, like honesty and trust. So let’s join as a community in resolving to continue to pursue truth even as that requires wading through the noise of a post-truth world.
So we can look forward to working next year on new plans, new programs, new degrees and new buildings! But we are, as our mission statement reminds us, a community of lifelong learners: we are scholars, we are academics, and we have a job to do, seeking truth.