Q&A with the President

Father Sundborg indulges--or is it tolerates?--his annual interview withThe Commons

Story by: Mike Thee
Published: 2013-06-04

President Stephen Sundborg, S.J., gamely fielded a variety of questions on Seattle University, his leadership style, the books he's read in the past year, the first Jesuit pope and more--he even revealed his favorite "app," how he plans to celebrate his 70th birthday and the very bold way in which a particular faculty member addresses him in e-mails. You'll want to read all the way to the end!

The Commons:  Well, let's get right into it. How would you complete this sentence: The 2012-2013 academic year at Seattle University was ______________?

Father Sundborg:  The 2012-2013 academic year at Seattle University was a bridge to a new era. When I think particularly of the new Core curriculum, the Strategic Plan, the design of the new campaign, putting in place the new Center for Environmental Justice and Sustainability and the Institute of Catholic Thought and Culture, the new CFO in Connie Kanter and the new Vice President for Communications in Scott McClellan, our investment in technology a much bigger way than we ever had before and the leadership of Rick Fehrenbacher in online education--the year truly has been a bridge to a new era.

The Commons:  What, for you, were the biggest highlights of the year?

Fr. Sundborg:  For me, they were opening of the Seattle University Park, the women winning the Western Athletic Conference in basketball, the Youth Initiative and its further roll-out and development, and then the appointments of Annette Clark as the dean of the law school and Deanna Sands as dean of the College of Education.

The Commons:  Looking ahead to next year, what in your mind will be the key focal points for the university?

Fr. Sundborg:  It's the launch of the comprehensive campaign of this decade, the launch of the new Core curriculum and the significant expansion of development of online and hybrid courses. And though I don't want to go out on a limb, I predict a couple championships in NCAA sports.

The Commons:  You heard it here first! This year, you entered your fourth five-year term as president. How has your leadership style changed since you first took the reins back in 1997?

Fr. Sundborg:  I have a much more natural leadership style now. I'm more relaxed in it. It sort of just comes easily to me. I find that increasingly people are asking me to either mentor them, which probably means I'm over the hill, or they are treating me as an elder. One thing I find funny is that I get these online solicitations on how they'll train you to have "gravitas." I mean, this is so ironic because I've got gravitas in spades in terms of how my leadership has evolved. I might have so much gravitas--heaviness--that it's unmovable. But I'm amazed by how much (leadership has) become a natural thing for me. I'm still accumulating a large library of unread books on leadership. I did read one book on leadership this year, How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton Christensen.

Father Steve's reading list

Wondering what books our voraciously reading leader has completed in the past year? Well, thanks to the Lemieux Library and McGoldrick Learning Commons—particularly Lynn Deeken—Father Steve's reading list is now available on library's website. CLICK HERE for the full list of books (all 42 of them!) and for links to the books Fr. Steve has read in previous years. Most titles are in stock at the library and ready for check-out should you wish to read like the president.

CONTEST:  How many of the books on Fr. Steve’s list from the past year have you read? Let us know, and the person with highest total wins a Commons baseball cap.

The Commons:  How about in your earlier days as president--did you find that you leaned more on books about leadership then?

Fr. Sundborg:  I have been unscathed by leadership books. I think what happened there was that when I was named to be president, I wrote to (my predecessor) Fr. (William) Sullivan and asked him to send me what he thought was the best book on leadership at a university, and when I read that I decided I needed to avoid leadership books. I am proud that I have been able to do so for the most part. I realized I had to do it my way or not do it at all.

The Commons:  The first Jesuit pope--what was your initial reaction?

Fr. Sundborg:  I was doing live television when the name was revealed, commenting on the white smoke and the gathering of the crowd and the lights turning on and the curtains being drawn and the person coming forward and saying the name "Bergoglio," and then thinking to myself, "You've gotta be kidding!" I so could not believe that they had chosen a Jesuit--there was only one Jesuit in the conclave of 115--and I didn't make any comment about it until there was a commercial break and I was able to double-check that he was, in fact, a Jesuit.

The Commons:  Recognizing that it's still very early, what have you thought of Francis' papacy so far?

Fr. Sundborg:  I've been very impressed with his focus on the poor, his pastoral sense and the simplification of the office of the papacy. I think it's easier for Seattle University to now make itself known as a Jesuit university because it's more widely understood what "Jesuit" means, and it also removes the somewhat humorous comment of "I didn't realize Jesuits were Catholic." If you have a Jesuit pope, I think we are (Catholic).

The Commons:  This next one's based on a question submitted by one of our readers, Kelly Kunsch, law librarian. If someone were to come to you and say they wanted to make a huge gift to put your name on a building, any building, what building would you choose?

Fr. Sundborg:  (Long pause) I don't know…I don't know. I'm rather proud of the fact that there's nothing at Seattle University that's named for me. I'm quite glad about that.

The Commons:  In the past you've talked about how, from time to time, some odd requests are thrown your way, such as doing something about the strong odor coming from some fertilizer that had been spread outside the Fine Arts Building to removing a bird that had flown into the Casey Building. Has anything along these lines been asked of you recently?

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Very fun. Thanks for the reading list. I love: matching black with black; the Seahawks draft; and hiding out for his birthday. My "little" brother just turned 70 - he and his wife went on a cruise!
(6/20/2013 3:22:16 PM, Sue Hogan )