Hello and thank you for taking a few minutes for me to share some important developments with you. There are big things happening on various fronts at Seattle University this year.
Let me start with the Center for Science and Innovation. I am excited to share that we have surpassed an important fundraising threshold and received final Board approval to move forward with construction. A groundbreaking ceremony will take place at the end of May.
The center is the biggest project in the university’s 128-year history. It is where Jesuit education, grounded in the humanities, meets the future, giving our students a multitude of opportunities to advance in a technology-driven and continuously changing world. When completed, the center will become a forward-looking hub of creativity, learning and knowledge that touches every undergraduate and many graduate students.
As we look forward to the center’s opening in the fall of 2021, we are grateful for the new partnership opportunities and recent multi-million dollar support we have received for the center from global technology leaders Microsoft and Amazon as well as the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust. This includes funding from Microsoft earmarked for programming relating to the ethical implications of Artificial Intelligence—something right up our alley.
Last year, we entered into a new partnership with Everspring, an online program manager, to help us move more intentionally into online education. This effort will start in the fall with the launch of two online versions of Albers business programs: the professional MBA and the master’s in business analytics. The online programs will complement their classroom counterparts and allow us to reach a wider range of students in a way that aligns with our distinctly Jesuit education.
Over the past months, many colleagues and areas across campus have been working diligently on a new student success strategy. Our shared calling to serve students the best we can is the driving force behind new initiatives we will begin implementing in the year ahead to ensure excellence everywhere across all areas of campus.
Speaking of gratitude, we are fortunate to have the energetic and engaging leadership of Provost Shane Martin for the university’s academic enterprise. Shane brings a laser-sharp emphasis on placing students at the center of every decision the university makes. I know many of you have experienced firsthand his collaborative approach to leadership in his first several months here. I appreciate the many positive ways Shane is helping to lead the university forward when it comes to academics, mission and shared governance.
And what a great accomplishment we have realized thanks to the work of all those involved in terms of shared governance with the formation of the Staff Council. Congratulations to the newly elected members and to all those who helped make it a reality. In joining the Academic Assembly and our student leaders as part of the university’s governance structure, the newly established Staff Council will be of great service in strengthening the university moving forward.
All the developments I have mentioned—the Center for Science and Innovation, online programming, the student success initiatives, the Staff Council and the innovative ideas and strong leadership from our provost—are critical elements that will inform and shape the university’s emerging strategic framework for the next five years.
The strategic planning process, co-chaired by Professor Jen Marrone and Vice Provost Bob Dullea and led by a diverse steering committee, is underway and will develop its work in the coming months. The committee is moving forward thoughtfully and deliberately, committed to broad and deep engagement and recognizes a strong, inclusive process is just as important as the final outcomes. I encourage all faculty, staff and students to take advantage of the many opportunities to actively participate in the formation of our strategic plan.
The new plan will set clear strategic priorities to guide the university into the next decade. Given the increasingly competitive higher education environment and evolving needs for our limited resources, we will have important and difficult choices to make. We must carefully consider which existing and new programs are most important to support, which current programs should be reviewed for their ongoing viability and which need to evolve in more focused ways—all in the interest of serving students and meeting their educational and personal development the best we can.
Let me mention a few other important items.
Last year brought to a conclusion our acclaimed Search for Meaning Book Festival. As higher education evolves, so must the university’s commitment to bringing people together to explore the meaning and purpose of life from many diverse perspectives and voices. The vision for the festival now returns to the School of Theology and Ministry, where it began, and transitions into an ongoing speaker series and more. Along with regular podcasts and the continuing work of the Center for Religious Wisdom & World Affairs, the Search for Meaning Empowerment Series will allow us to remain engaged with our broader community on these important ideas and thought-provoking topics that explore human meaning-making and purpose.
This May 3-4 we are fortunate to again host the annual Crosscut Festival, organized and produced by leading regional public media organizations Crosscut and KCTS 9 TV. The list of speakers and panelists is impressive and will cover a diverse range of big issues, policies and ideas shaping society. This year’s second annual festival will bring to campus 60-plus speakers and more than 40 events. Confirmed speakers include former White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett, former cabinet secretaries Christine Todd Whitman and Janet Napolitano as well as top national journalists from the New York Times, Washington Post and PBS Newshour.
Next fall, we will mark an important milestone with the public launch of Seattle University’s comprehensive capital campaign. Several kick-off events are being planned for September through November. These events will transition us away from the annual fall Gala, which will be discontinued. We have already topped a record-setting $225 million in the leadership phase of the campaign and are well positioned to reach our $275 million goal during the public phase. All of it is in support of our students through scholarships, the new Center for Science and Innovation and other signature programs core to our mission. We are blessed to have so many generous donors.
Planning beyond the campaign, the Board of Trustees in November approved moving forward on a comprehensive feasibility study for an event center on campus that could be the new home for our basketball and volleyball teams and, as importantly, a dynamic new venue for academic programming, conferences, commencements and other signature university events and happenings. Look for more information to come as the task force completes its work on the feasibility phase in the coming months.
Many big things are happening in the year ahead. At the same time, I recognize the difficult work and choices we continue to face as we continue to break out of the cycle of fluctuating annual budgets. Our overall budget is up slightly. However, in order to support compensation and fringe benefit increases, which account for 75 percent of the budget, and support of the Center for Science and Innovation, we are again in the position of needing to reallocate budget dollars from across the university to support the necessary new funding for these high-priority purposes.
We are financially strong despite these more recent challenges brought about by increasing pressures on tuition pricing, discount rates and compensation needs. The work we are doing in these other areas I mentioned, particularly strategic planning, will help move us beyond these challenges and pressures over the next couple of years.
Which brings me to our search for a new CFO. The search committee’s work is well underway for this key position. We hope to have a new CFO in place by the end of the academic year, someone who can build on the exemplary, collaborative work of outgoing CFO Connie Kanter. Until then, we will be in able hands under the interim leadership of Andrew O’Boyle.
Thank you for letting me update you about these developments and this year of significant change and transformation for Seattle University. Much of what I have mentioned will remain my focus as this summer I enter the remaining two years of my final term as President.
We are intently focused on the future and charting a bold path forward into the next decade for our students and for Jesuit education—an education that prepares students not only for their careers but for successful lives of purpose, meaning and service to society. And I am grateful to each of you who are making it possible.