Launching the Academic Year

At the start of Fall quarter, Dean David V. Powers gathers Arts and Sciences faculty and staff to look at the year ahead

                             Seattle University Arts & Sciences Convocation Address 2018

Moving Forward as an Academic Community

David Powers, Ph.D. Dean

Hello everyone, welcome back for the start of the 2018-19 academic year!  I hope you had a great summer, enjoyed the sunshine, avoided the smoke, found your new office if you’re one of the many A&S people who now have a new office, and are ready for the coming academic year.

We begin 2018-19 with the largest incoming class we have ever had, including 1,112 freshmen and 464 transfer students, so far. Those new students are joining a remarkable group in the College of Arts & Sciences, a community of students that just last year included two Gilman scholars, one Whitney Museum Summer Internship awardee, two Princeton Public Policy and International Affairs awardees, four Fulbright scholars, two Truman finalists, and one Truman Scholar. Seventeen percent of our students go directly to graduate school within six months of graduation and 93% of them enter their next role within six months of graduating, be that graduate school, work, or a service-related position like Jesuit volunteer corps or the Peace Corps.

Our students reach those heights because our faculty members lead supported by them, faculty whom are outstanding educators, high quality scholars, and very talented creative artists. Along with great pedagogy, they have once again accomplished solid scholarly and creative work over the past year, serving as leaders in where their fields are going. In 2017, our faculty published eight books, 54 peer-reviewed journal articles, 23 book chapters and essays, and developed 50 new creative works. There are an increasing number of external grants led by A&S faculty, and ten of them hold journal editorships, leading and shaping the direction of scholarship across their fields. 

Of course, none of that happens without the commitment and engagement of an incredibly talented group of staff members, an indispensable part of all of this student and faculty work while at the same time this year helping coordinate the biggest move we have had since the Casey building first opened in 1987. Staff members, please know you are critical in making our mission happen every day and we deeply appreciate your work. 

Students, staff and faculty together form our academic community. We are happy to welcome those of you who are joining us, and I am very pleased to have one more such introduction of our new Provost, Shane Martin, in just a few minutes.

Last year I focused on four points I thought were critical to us succeeding with our mission through the challenging and changing times faced by higher education today:

  1. Growing student connections beyond the classroom
  2. Advancing programs and resources with effectiveness and creativity
  3. Teaching and living the social justice component of the Jesuit Catholic mission
  4. Doing these things together as a professional academic community

Those were areas I saw, and still see, as keys to our success right now. Throughout this year, we are going to talk about and develop our shared vision for moving forward as a university and as a college over the next few years. Under the leadership of the Provost Martin, we are going to have voice in developing that plan together. I know the Provost has more to share about that work, today and at the Provost’s Convocation on October 3. So today I want to focus on that fourth point, our together-ness, our academic community, what it means to be in an academic community (or what I think it means), and why it’s important to build it up, build each other up and benefit from the mutual support, insight, and contributions we can give to each other and toward our common effort.

That conversation starts with recognizing our foundation as an academic institution. I believe the central role of universities in human civilization is the growth and extension of knowledge and creativity at the highest level of human capacity – the growth and extension of knowledge and creativity at the highest level of human capacity. Growth is about new discoveries in knowledge and creativity. Extension is about sharing what is known and created, in classroom teaching and a host of other engagements on campus, online, in our neighborhood and around the world.

That foundation is shaped by who we are more particularly as a Jesuit institution. We are committed to an integrative, holistic perspective, with care for others, careful discernment and intellectual rigor as priorities. Seattle University is especially connected in a very active way to the social justice component of the Jesuit Catholic mission, as we see in our mission statement of: educating the whole person, professional formation, and empowering leaders for a more just and humane world.

Many of us join this community not just because of our broader role as a university, but for our specific mission as a Jesuit comprehensive university. I know that is what drew me, that I thought I could contribute and grow here, not just as a professional but as a person, given the expressed values of the institution and how I saw them lived out. We have lively conversations about those values and live them out imperfectly as an institution and as individuals, but sincerely work to live them out through both easier and more challenging times.

Now, I think of this gathering as a time to be excited about the year ahead with refreshed enthusiasm, and I am, but I feel I must note that now is a tougher time than usual for many due to events over the summer. I have spoken with faculty and staff here who have found their commitment to our work as a Jesuit Catholic institution shaken, because of the ongoing revelations of the sex abuse scandals in the church, most recently in Pennsylvania. These revelations show wide-ranging, systemic institutional dishonesty and failure, cover-ups of abuses that are directly against our value of care for others, and basic human rights of others generally.

But the mission and values of Seattle University, the hard work we do, and progress I believe and really feel we are making forward overall, honestly with backsteps sometimes, but ultimately and authentically forward overall, are what keep me committed to our work and our community. Our work and progress make me excited to be among you who chose to be in academic community here, to direct education toward a greater good we see here.

As a community, we are working through our challenges to be what we aspire to be, and make the difference we aspire to make in the world. With the academic mission at the center, we have, over the past several years, initiated work to improve our community; how we relate to, understand, respect and care for each other. For example, the work we are doing on retention initiatives is ultimately about better supporting our student community members; the work Human Resources has done creating family leave options for staff supports our staff members; the goal of the ADVANCE grant is to better recognize and support the “hidden” work of women faculty in our community, and do so in a way that is exemplary nationwide, starting in STEM fields at Seattle U but ultimately having impact across the campus and beyond.

The work we are doing on intersectionality is multidirectional, designed to help faculty members more fully include current knowledge and scholarship on intersectionality in their curricula, and also to help us address intersectional issues in the college. And the progress we have made on shared governance in the college has provided all faculty and staff in the college community an avenue for shared voice and decision making in way that I believe is unprecedented anywhere else in the country.

So, I think we are tackling issues related to improving our academic community directly, even as we see that work is imperfect, even as we do not and will not all agree on how best to proceed, even as there is more to do.

There is a confluence of interest and momentum in these efforts across campus. In his annual “State of the University” address to alumni and donors last week, Fr. Steve Sundborg mentioned three areas of focus for the coming year: campus culture; shared governance; and inclusivity, equity and diversity. To my mind, all three of these areas are clear components of community building. How it feels to be here, the guidelines we have for transparency, decision making and responsibility, and how we better recognize and reduce injustice regarding race, gender, LGBTQIA status, national origin, religious affiliation and other categorizations or components of identity that unjustly limit voice, participation and opportunity. That is a piece we will discuss today as a college, as the Leadership Committee on Intersectionality and Justice leads us in conversation. While the rest of the university looks to our new shared governance as an example for other schools and colleges here, our Shared Governance Review Committee will take the year to do a review of how we’re doing three years in to our new approach. 

We have a hierarchy in our structure as an academic body, designations that indicate differences in roles and responsibilities, but also differences in power, privilege and voice. Some of those differences are important and constructive to our goals, but there may be places where we can be more inclusive and draw everyone’s voice more richly into community in a way that improves the extent to which are an academically excellent institution.

Our new shared governance system has improved voice across that traditional hierarchy, but there is consensus that we can do more in the college beyond the college shared governance system. To that end, we will have a conversation at the Executive Committee retreat about where differences in position and role may be unnecessary barriers to community participation and contribution in departments and across the college more broadly.

Intersectionality, strategic planning, improving community engagement, these issues are about how we are as an academic community and where we are going. I believe that we can continue taking more actions to improve the relationships, the culture, the inclusiveness, of our community. It is the right and caring thing to do to include people as fully as possible and it gives us much fuller benefit of the incredible creativity and thoughtfulness of everyone here.

A university should be a place where everyone can contribute and engage to their maximum potential, where we take a fair look at ideas and a critical look at barriers that constrain contribution, then come together and move ahead. I think it is particularly important in our context as we strive to meet major new challenges and thrive in the 21st century. Today we will start talking about our strategic goals for the university and for the college. The richer the input from all of us, the more we will be ready to make plans that help our students and our mission succeed over the next several years.

Thank you.