Dear Faculty and Staff Colleagues,
I want to express my gratitude to so many in the university who responded to the invitation last month to gather in department and open fora in order to discuss their experience of and give input regarding the culture(s) of the university. You provided abundant feedback which the University Leadership Council in its last meeting of the year reviewed and discussed. All of what you brought forth is available at https://www.seattleu.edu/media/office-of-the-president/Enhancing-Our-Culture-Campus-Feedback-060718.pdf. Let me highlight what stands out for me and provide some suggestions regarding a path forward together.
- It is evident that while each of us may see, experience and define culture differently, there is broad agreement that living out our mission and values is critical to the kind of university we want to be. Many colleagues have noted major areas of our culture—which essentially is the relational environment among us—as needing improvement. Some of these challenges, as others have pointed out, are endemic to all of higher education, while others are specific to our campus community.
- The key areas of improvement proposed – voice, belonging, collaboration, innovation, and conflict – are widely seen as the promising areas of focus for us to address, whereas some would bring up aspects of cultures more specific to faculty and academics, and add accountability and compassion.
- More important than anything else is the view that the voices of all need to be heard and considered. Too often we operate largely top-down, and the University Leadership Council is seen as too much of a management group to fully appreciate the issues and experiences needing to be changed in order to improve culture. (I will give further consideration to the future role and composition of this Council.)
- All in the university indicated how important it is to continue to face issues of race, identity, and inclusive excellence as vital for our desired culture.
- Of particular concern is the lack of voice and influence of frontline staff members who at times feel marginalized within the university, separated from colleagues in other colleges, schools or units of the university, and often carry an ever greater burden of work.
- Many call for clearer documented processes for decision-making in the university, a better understanding and agreement about what shared governance among us should be, and more adequate processes of evaluation and accountability.
- The systems of working relationships, communication and transparency, both formal and informal, need to be improved and expanded, and we need to find the spaces, time, opportunity, and frequency for better and deeper engagement with one another.
- All persons within the university should have the opportunity for professional development. We need to provide the resources for this, and create more opportunities for advancement in skills and careers.
- Many indicated that they believe we could greatly advance in our desired culture if we were more student-centered, especially in regard to fostering the student experience.
I would like to suggest two directions to go forward. First, it is evident that the improvement of the culture(s) among faculty and staff can effectively occur in a more distributed manner within different areas of the university by the people within those areas rather than in a centralized manner. While it would be helpful to have a group which helps to coordinate these efforts and to relate them with one another, I would propose that in the coming year we find helpful processes and resources to proceed in this more distributed way. Secondly, I propose, as part of the process for the next five year strategic plan that will be developed over the course of the coming year with opportunity for input from the whole of the university, that the advancement of our culture, in a more holistic and integrated fashion, be an inherent and important part of that plan with input from all areas of the university.
I again thank the whole of the university for bringing forth so many voices regarding the dimensions of our culture(s), which affects all we do. I also thank the University Leadership Council for its work over the course of the whole year. As our work continues, I invite your ongoing engagement and ideas.
Stephen V. Sundborg, S.J.