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Where We Are, Where We're Going

Written by Mike Thee
October 21, 2011

Delivering his first-ever State of the University on Oct. 17, President Stephen Sundborg, S.J., painted a picture of a university confidently embracing new opportunities to live out its mission and creating an enhanced experience of community for employees, students and alumni. In his one-hour address to faculty and staff, the president challenged the university to meet the most pressing needs in society, while also being mindful of the realities with which SU and other educational institutions are faced, particularly the current condition of the economy. 

Calling the university’s current position “a good place to be,” the president outlined his “Seven Big Goals for Seven Years,” which he previously shared with the university’s trustees, regents and other university stakeholders in August.  

The seven goals, in the president’s own words excerpted here, are: (1) become the first choice school for prospective students; (2) distinguish ourselves as one of the nation’s best university for undergraduate science education and research; (3) seize our unique opportunities for a great Jesuit global education; (4) assure the success of the already vibrant and promising Seattle University Youth Initiative; (5) become more dynamically and positively Catholic and Jesuit, and establish ourselves as the center in the Northwest for interreligious dialogue; (6) pull out all the stops to create a great, transforming and memorable  undergraduate college experience; and (7) achieve championship success in intercollegiate athletics at the highest level of competition for the sake of our students, our alumni, our city and our wider reputation. 

The president touched on four other areas that he said are crucial to the university’s health and success: finances, enrollment, academics and the soul of the university, namely its Jesuit Catholic character. 

In the midst of what he called “an extraordinary time of economic challenge,” Sundborg said, “We’ve come through this time without any slowing of the pace or of the momentum or putting any drag on the trajectory of our university. But believe me, [our financial situation] is a big concern—the biggest, which is affecting everything we do.” The economy is a major factor, for instance, in the new six-year campaign the university is hoping to launch, he said. 

Sundborg provided an overview of some of the changes being made in compensation and benefits, including bringing salaries in line with benchmarked universities, moving to a system of performance-based increases and making health care benefits more affordable for families. 

The president said he is “very much reassured by the fact that we have stabilized undergraduate enrollment and are providing predictability, which we needed.” He added that the university has maintained academic quality and spent less money enrolling this year’s students. While a somewhat smaller percentage of underrepresented minority students enrolled at SU this year, the president said SU was still the most diverse college in the state. Graduate enrollment is presenting something of a challenge, the president said, mainly due to the factors brought on by the current state of the economy. 

SU’s academics, the president said, were “very much on track,” citing recent success in rankings, research dollars, service learning participation, the new Core, five new academic programs and other indicators. He thanked SU’s faculty and academic leadership for “setting the pace in what unquestionably [have been] our strongest years of advancement as a university in quality of academic mission. When academics is right, all else can go right.” 

Sundborg also spoke of the university’s success in putting together 35 straight balanced budgets, in expanding on-campus housing options for students in recent years, in reclassifying as a Division I school preparing to join the Western Athletic Conference and in assuring its legal affairs are “in very good order.” 

The president highlighted the efforts of Career Services to place significantly more undergraduates in internships, calling the university’s role in creating pathways to jobs for its graduates “The test of the truth of our mission.” He spoke of the university’s desire to more effectively engage its 66,000 alumni. “After all, you should never really finish a Jesuit education,” the president said.  

The president opened his address by acknowledging the SU community’s recent tragedies, including the deaths of Taro Kobayashi, an Albers undergraduate, Cameron Christian, an Arts and Sciences undergraduate and captain of the baseball team, as well as Dan Strickland, who graduated in 2006 with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and was currently serving as an assistant professor at Santa Clara University. 

The president closed by sharing that much of his thoughts these days turn to the 22 percent of the children in the United States “who are living in cruel and deep poverty beyond my experience or even my imagination. Somehow, I just have to believe that all we do here in our university on our beautiful campus with these wonderful students…is worth it both for our own integrity and before God if it helps those kids in their lives and their futures. 

“Let’s make sure that our whole educational mission…stands with and stands up for and serves those kids.” 

To read Father Sundborg's speech in its entirety, visit State of the University.