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Seattle University

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State of the university

Written by Mike Thee
April 19, 2010

At the President’s Forum on April 15, Stephen Sundborg, S.J., provided about as much information as is humanly possible in one hour on the current state of the university. The president somehow managed to cover the lion’s share of upcoming events on the campus calendar, while providing his thoughts and updates on where the university is positioned and what’s in store for the future.  

Father Sundborg spoke of the university’s ability to weather the financial storm of the past year and a half. “My overall reflection as president is given the wider situation of the economic crisis in our country …I think we can be proud that even in that context our university has not lost its momentum and has continued with the development of new programs, it has continued to build out and develop its campus. It’s keeping focus on its mission. It’s making itself more widely known and visible within our community and it’s strengthening its sense of service to others in many different ways. It’s not been a ‘let’s-halt-all-processes-at-this-university’ kind of time.” 

To illustrate the point, he touched on the new facilities that will soon come online, the new residence hall on 12th and Cherry for which construction will begin in May with an opening slated for fall 2011, the law school’s annex, set to open with a ribbon-cutting on May 27, and the library and learning commons, on schedule to open for next fall.  

Coming off a recent tour of the library and learning commons, Sundborg observed:  “It’s simply in one big, new, integrated, wonderfully designed library of the future. The way in which the entire facility coordinates one part with the other is just extraordinary…This is just going to be a stunning new facility for this university and it’s going to match…who we are as a university and the direction in which we’re going.” 

Sundborg called upon Provost Isiaah Crawford to provide an update on enrollment. Crawford shared that we saw an increase in enrollment for the current quarter and that things are looking good for the fall, with a freshman class of 825 or more being forecast at this point. 

The president also laid out what he sees as the “biggest issues in front of the university,” namely: 

  • The Academic Strategic Action Plan and the drive for academic excellence.
  • Becoming more practical in how we enhance the Catholic, Jesuit character of the university.
  • Trying to get our bearings and compass point on the student experience of community here.
  • Moving forward in more deeply engaging with the youth of our neighborhood through the Seattle University Youth Initiative.
  • Investing in the capacity of our people. 

As is his custom, Sundborg invited questions from the audience. In response to one question, he shared that an outside firm has estimated that the university has anywhere from $125-180 million in deferred maintenance, nearly half of which ($75-90 million) is in the residence halls, and that the university is trying to put aside capital reserves to address these needs.  

With regard to a question on the Core Curriculum revision now underway, the president said that the challenge is to develop something “that is really faithful to the Jesuit tradition of the role of the liberal arts” and how they “develop the thinking and the mental habits and attitudes and value dimension and decision-making that a person coming from a Jesuit university needs to have, and to combine that with the requirements of what an educated person graduating from this university should have in regard to knowledge of science and knowledge of economics and technological literacy and cultural literacy. So clearly in my mind, it’s the most important internal educational engine of what the university is about and you somehow define yourself by what your core curriculum is.” 

Sundborg went on to say that he looks at the process underway as more of a creation of the Core Curriculum than a revision, and likened the process to replacing the motor in a car, as opposed to changing the tires. He also expressed confidence in the process since it’s being driven off of what learning outcomes the university wants for its students. 

Responding to a question about his vision for SU’s engagement of alumni, Sundborg said he had been talking with Mary Kay McFadden and had met with trustees, and that efforts were underway to set a strategic course for how the university relates to its graduates. Speaking personally, he said he’d like to see more opportunities for alumni to help set the direction for the university. He would also like to see the university’s education and mission remain relevant and active in the lives of alumni long after their time as students.