Campus Community

Beginning the Conversation

Written by Mike Thee

September 29, 2014

The Quad at Seattle U

President Sundborg rings in the new academic year by inviting faculty and staff into greater, more inclusive dialogue.

As Seattle University's faculty and staff dished up on breakfast and settled into their chairs for the President's Welcome on Sept. 19, there was every reason to believe the speech they were about to hear would be a typical celebration of recent accomplishments and preview of things to come. 

But those in attendance heard a very different speech, not the kind you'd expect from a university president-even a leader like Stephen Sundborg, S.J., who is widely known for his openness and accessibility. 

In strikingly candid remarks, Father Sundborg, S.J., spoke from the heart about Seattle University's culture, inviting faculty and staff to contemplate with him "Who are we?" and "How are we?" 

The president did not shy away from addressing these questions head on. After noting many positive attributes of SU's culture, he went to say, "I do believe at the same time that our culture is strained; is a culture which is not as transparent as it wants to be; not as inclusive in its decisions and governance of as many voices as it should have; is a culture which can be cynical and overly judgmental; is a culture in which often each part feels it is overworked and frustrated more than other parts are; is a culture which always feels the pinch of the lack of financial resources; is a culture which doesn't  securely believe in its educational excellence and therefore is overly modest about itself; is a culture which is felt to be changing and is uncertain and suspicious of where that change is leading." 

Dialogue was a central theme of the president's talk. He called on faculty and staff to work together in a spirit of respect, care and inclusiveness. 

The remarks come on the heels of the President's Leadership Summit meeting in July that engaged a broader group of administration, faculty and staff leaders on the higher education landscape and the university's position within it. They also follow last year's discussions on such issues as divestment from fossil fuels and unionization of adjunct faculty.

The changing and increasingly competitive higher education landscape presents the university with a number of opportunities and challenges that only underscore the urgency to the president's call for a more collaborative way forward. 

Fr. Sundborg emphasized that we are all in this together and invited faculty and staff to help define how we move forward together. “(W)e simply must find a greater culture of dialogue among us which respects one another, respects the need to have structures of decision-making and gives much more room and at earlier moments in processes leading to decisions, for more voices to be heard and learned from,” he said in his welcoming remarks.