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Loyola University Chicago 2017 Faculty Convocation

Remarks by Loyola President Jo Ann Rooney, JD, LLM, EdD, at Faculty Convocation 2017

September 10, 2017

Good afternoon. I am delighted to welcome our new faculty as well as our returning faculty to today’s Convocation. This event brings together for the first time in recent memory, faculty from our Lake Shore and Water Tower campuses, as well as our Health Sciences Campus, for a joint Faculty Convocation. Thank you for being here.

What a wonderful opportunity all of us have to be working in higher education at this time in our history! However, it is not about working at just any college or university, but being here at Loyola University Chicago—at this time and in this place. On any given day we get to work with colleagues that are passionate about their work and their scholarship, we get to interact with students who are engaging and enthusiastic, we are challenged to be creative and innovative as a means to further our mission of social justice and impact, and we are surrounded by physical settings that truly inspire. Coming together and spending time together today, in this way, reinforces and underscores the shared mission across all of our campuses and across all of our programs that creates One Loyola. It also highlights the essential need we have to seek out opportunities to partner and collaborate together. Yes, together, we are able to bring out the best in each other. We will be able to innovate and challenge each other in ways that support our aspirations of further enhancing our robust academic and research goals, deepening our mission work and social justice impact, and providing a truly transformative, timely education to all our students well into the future. 

Together, we can also confront the obstructions and impediments that threaten so much of our society and so many of our neighbors, especially the poor, the vulnerable and the marginalized that we are charged with embracing. In the wake of the horrific events that took place in Charlottesville last month; the devastation wrought by recent natural disasters and weather events across our country, the Caribbean, and Mexico; and the decision to repeal the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), we are reminded of the importance of our mission and of our need to take action. Our world cannot afford for racism, poverty, injustice, and any kind of discrimination to go unchecked. Together, whether faculty, staff, or administrators, we commit to the students who join us to prepare them for so much more than just a job or career. We promise to prepare them to become women and men for others and leaders in service to our global society. We want to engage with all of our students in ways that they develop skills as critical thinkers; that they are motivated to go to the frontiers and become the sources of new knowledge; that they will seek to understand, to experience, to take action; and that they will embrace their ability to actually change the world in ways that are both compassionate and passionate. While all of us endeavor to do this, you, our esteemed faculty, are the key facilitators of this educational process. It does not matter whether you teach in the humanities, arts, sciences, business, technology, or medical fields, or even whether you teach new freshmen, doctoral students, or every level in between: you are at the forefront day in and day out. You are the ones who our students see as more than just educators. You are the ones they most often look to as guides, as role models, and as mentors. It is also through your work in the classroom, through your research, and through your community engagement that our students, our neighbors, and our supporters witness the mission of Loyola University Chicago coming to life. 

Yes, we need to celebrate the great strides we continue to make and our unwavering commitment to do more, but we must also acknowledge and embrace the challenges ahead of us that we will address, together. Going to the frontier, going where others have not gone, is something we are being called to do through both our Jesuit mission and Pope Francis. This charge requires us to shake off any complacency and go beyond the boundaries of our comfort zones, challenge ourselves to take risks so we can be open to trying something new without fear of failure, and embrace ambiguity in ways that can enable us to redefine what is truly possible.

At the recent New Student Convocation, we welcomed Wil Haygood, author of Showdown: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court Nomination that Changed America. His address was timely, poignant, and challenging to all who heard it. Dr. Haygood was the first in his family to earn a college degree and he shared a heartfelt memory of how the Supreme Court decision in Brown versus Board of Education gave a new mother, his mother, renewed hope and dreams for her newborn children, Wil and his twin sister. This single decision directly impacted his life, that of his sister, and that of his entire family. As I stated to our students that day, the civil rights experiences of the 1960s that are portrayed in Showdown are not just relevant to the time of Justice Marshall’s confirmation and something confined to history. These are issues and struggles still being experienced, still being witnessed by all of us today, over 50 years later. Our call to action is still very much relevant, very much needed.   

We embrace the notion that we are a community rooted in and made stronger because of our diversity. However, there is so much more to be done both within our University community and in our surrounding communities. Together, we must commit to do more and be tenacious in our efforts. We need to continue advancing our recruiting and successful retention, through graduation, of a diversity of students who desire a Loyola education. Especially for our African-American and Hispanic students, we need to find ways to enhance our support and create that sense of belonging so that they are able to graduate at the same rate as all of our other students. We must also continue improving our recruitment and retention of faculty and staff members who represent the broad diversity found in our student body and throughout our communities. We can and will do more to be a welcoming and supportive community for all who study, teach, and work here. And, we will continue to advocate for and support our many first-generation and DACA students who are valued members of our University community. We will clearly demonstrate for our neighbors and the world what unity in diversity looks like, and how that combined strength can truly transform the world. 

Throughout our history, Loyolans have embraced change and challenged the status quo in order to establish our path forward and be recognized as a leader in higher education, both nationally and internationally. Last year, I often spoke about the need to embrace a culture of innovation in order to strengthen that role and proactively address the pressures being felt throughout higher education, as well as in health care, and the need for us to take advantage of the many untapped opportunities that are available.

Access to affordable education is at or near the top of the list of challenges for colleges and universities across the country and it certainly is for us. Our mission compels us to ensure that a Loyola education is not limited to those only with the financial means to access it. We must not waiver in our commitment to be excellent stewards of all of our resources and continue to build more robust investment and engagement by our supporters and benefactors outside of the University.

During the past year, we have also reached out to many of you, including our deans and staff members, to work on a new project involving five strategic financial planning working groups. The charge given to these working groups was to share not only data and detailed information, but also to make concrete recommendations and share strategic ideas aimed at achieving better alignment of all of our resources over the next three to five years. Their work, begun last spring, continues unabated through at least the end of this calendar year and has brought involvement by the broader University in strategic fiscal planning to a new level. For those of you that continue to serve on these planning groups, thank you so much for your hard work in this effort. We fully expect that as we implement many of the ideas coming forth, in the next budget year and beyond, the positive impact you have made will resonate for many years to come.

Our academic endeavors are at the heart of what we do, so we also have begun to review, in a thoughtful and methodical way, all of our undergraduate and graduate programs and the enrollments in these programs. We are asking the difficult questions, but maintaining our focus on how best to grow and support our programs, student enrollment, and funding in innovative, meaningful, and sustainable ways. Yes, we have enjoyed robust enrollments these past two years in our undergraduate programs, but our ongoing, lower than budgeted enrollments across a number of graduate programs continues to neutralize any revenue gain we may have achieved. We need to look at growth not just for growth’s sake, but as the means by which we can reinvest in our strong, current work and sustainably support the innovative ideas that so many of you are developing. The faculty innovation fund, begun last year, is just one way in which we expect to continue stimulating and supporting the start-up of new programs and initiatives during the initial phases and assessment period. Maintaining our currently strong financial position, which we were able to do again last year, is something that gives us a distinct advantage over many of our colleagues in other universities. It is also imperative to ensure our ability to take advantage of the opportunities before us by continuing to fund innovation, support new programs, and responsibly sustain the existing strong programs and services over the long term. Our need to think in strategic terms and challenge ourselves to plan in no less than three year increments, is a key part of the discipline we are adopting.   

There are other changes on the horizon that we must also heed and take into consideration for the future. We cannot afford to ignore both the impact, as well as the potential opportunity, that changing student demographics will have on our institution. National statistics have indicated that by the year 2019, 61 percent of undergraduate students will be 25 years old or older. The number of high-school graduates in Illinois and in the Midwest continues to decline rapidly from the peak years of 2009 and 2010. There is a growing demand for subbacalaureate credentials and for programs that offer flexibility for students who need to balance academic pursuits with work and family obligations. With all of us working together, we can develop and promote programs that will target new undergraduate students and advance graduate education to meet the needs of tomorrow’s students while remaining true to our core and mission.

This is all challenging and change is difficult. It is certainly hard, and at times may appear daunting and overwhelming with all that we must take on, but it is meaningful, impactful work. However, without question, it will take much in the way of physical and emotional energy from each and every one of us. We must continue to do this together, to focus on this, even as we balance the emotions which continue to run high in our country with the new challenges and accompanying tensions that present themselves on a daily basis. Our success, our ability to drive change, not just at Loyola but across education and our communities, depends on our willingness to thoughtfully and openly listen to and engage with each other. We must seek to better understand and appreciate the diversity and range of perspectives and opinions. It is incumbent on all of us to model civil discourse and respectful dialogue, and to recommit ourselves to the Jesuit ideal of Cura Personalis—caring for one another and respecting the dignity of all members of our community.

Particularly during times when I am feeling frustrated or stymied about how best to make sense out of something that appears to defy reasonableness and determine how to start moving forward, I often go back to the words of Father Pedro Arrupe, a well-known former superior general of the Society of Jesus and the namesake of Arrupe College. My goal in sharing these words again with you today is that they may also provide you a measure of hope, perspective, and faith when embracing everything before us.

Father Arrupe spoke to Jesuit university leaders in 1973 and said: “All of us would like to be good to others, and most of us would be good in a good world. What is difficult is to be good in an evil world, where the egotism of others and the egotism built into the institutions of society attack us. Evil is overcome only by good, egoism by generosity. It is thus that we must sow justice in our world, substituting love for self-interest as the driving force of society.”

Together, we are called to be a good and generous community. We strive to be this, to live this, and we will continue to do so every day. St. Ignatius and his companions founded the Society of Jesus on the idea that we engage with the world in all its grit and all its glory and that God is found in all of it. We do not have the option—nor, frankly, the inclination—to run away from the world or flee from difficult situations or conversations. We are here to engage, participate, and challenge ourselves, our students, and each other in service to our world and most especially, the poor and marginalized members of our society. This is what brings us together—at Loyola University, at this time and in this place.

Thank you again for coming together today as a faculty community and for your commitment to our extraordinary students and Loyola University Chicago. Thank you also for all you do each and every day. I look forward to working together with you.