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Loyola University Chicago Faculty Convocation

Remarks by Loyola President Jo Ann Rooney, JD, LLM, EdD, at Faculty Convocation 2016

September 2016

Good afternoon—and welcome to our new faculty and those returning with us for their second year, 22nd year, 42nd year and beyond. Along with our students, you are the heartbeat and soul of our great institution. Thank you for saying yesyes for giving of yourself to be part of this institution, yes for challenging each of us to be our best and bring our best every day, and yes to working together to define what is really possible as we strive to guide Loyola University Chicago to be universally seen as a leader in higher education and a model to be emulated not only in the U.S. but around the world.

Throughout our history, Loyolans have always shown not just resilience but an embracing of change. At each juncture, it has resulted in dynamic transformation. Throughout the tenure of Father Garanzini, and most recently Provost Pelissero, this campus community experienced tremendous growth not only in physical assets but also students, staff, faculty, programs and community engagement. So many of you in this room were key leaders in driving this growth that continues.

Going forward, our strategic plan, Plan 2020: Building a More Just, Humane, and Sustainable World, serves as the blueprint for us to continue to chart the course of our future.

All of us are so privileged, so blessed that we are able to come to our jobs each day in a profession that exposes us to new ideas and challenges us to think creatively... at an institution where we interact with enthusiastic students and our colleagues, each with common goals of finding ways to make positive changes in the world. But the growth we have experienced, along with the pressures being felt throughout higher education as well as in health care also present us with very serious challenges that we must face together. We have been talking about not being able to do things the way we always have and the challenge to find new ways to support our need to expand knowledge. The transformative education experienced by our students should not depend upon nor should it be limited to only those with the financial means to access it, and it is up to us to find ways to make that possible, and do all of this in a fiscally responsible, sustainable way.

We have had our share of growing pains, many of these centered on our desire to be ONE University no matter where our physical location. But I am convinced we have the tools we need, and, I believe the willingness to make it happen. Over the last few weeks, I have had the opportunity to meet many people from a variety of constituencies both on and off our different campuses. I made a promise these first few months during those visits that God gave me two eyes, two ears and one mouth which I intended to use in proportion. I have heard much—to those of you that I have spent time with, thank you for your candor, your input, and for sharing your experience and passion with me. To those of you that I have not yet met, but with whom I expect to spend time in the next few weeks, I look forward to our time together. During my various interactions thus far I received many questions, but two came up repeatedly. The first was: what do I see as the key challenges and my role in these and the second, do I see the mission of the university changing now that we have a lay president.

While I can speak on both of those questions for a considerable amount of time (and I will do so in the months ahead), I would like to limit my remarks today since our focus is on you, the faculty and celebrating your work and the start of the new academic year. 

In regards to our key challenges—I have mentioned a few that directly touch Loyola, higher education and the health care industry and will speak more extensively on all of these throughout the year. However, the way I see my role in addressing these challenges is that I am here to move the rocks out of the way then get out of the way myself so as not to impede progress. There are many of these rocks….sometimes they are very practical. For those of you who are new to Loyola, and I count myself among that group, our process of onboarding can use some….let’s just say refinement. Having a working phone, voice mail, computer, and a functioning office chair should not be setting a high bar. But at times, as an administrative team, we have not lived up to this basic standard. We are already hard at work looking at processes so that we can address not only new but reoccurring needs in a timely fashion and strive to get it right the first time. As administrators, our roles are to support you and our students with both the little things and the bigger things. We take this to heart and will continue to improve our support and service to you in many ways.

Sometimes these rocks that need to move revolve around policies and processes—many of which have just evolved over time as a way of doing business. We heard from our (Lakeside) Provost, Dr.Pelissero, that we are changing the way we support new program initiatives and faculty innovation. (You have also heard from our HSD Provost, Dr. Callahan, that we will be supporting an enhanced research agenda and innovation in program development with our health science division). That is part of a larger project to change the way we develop our budgeting in a more transparent, collaborative manner and also administer it in a way that is broadly understood and supported by research, data, outcomes assessment and the strategic plan. It is about giving people authority to make decisions but holding them accountable through agreed upon goals and metrics. These changes will be implemented and adjusted throughout the year and are definitely a work in progress.

We recognize that many of our financial needs center around student scholarships and financial aid, academic programs, student support services and new initiatives so we will be focusing funding in these key areas. However, finding new sources of revenue through external support, grants, (translational research initiatives developed at the CTRE) partnerships and yes, fundraising and growing the endowment are paramount to our success. In some of these areas, we are already seeing good progress, but in most of these, we have considerable work to do but many untapped opportunities. Enhancing our external financial support is one area in particular that will continue to evolve over years not months and you will frequently hear more and be engaged in all of it in the months ahead. This is truly going to be a team effort. 

The second question I have been asked, as I mentioned earlier, centers on our mission. What if anything will change under lay leadership? Throughout the search process and in my experience thus far meeting many people, there is no denying that being a University so firmly grounded in the Jesuit, Catholic mission is a key component and value essential to our faculty, staff and students, no matter their faith tradition or indeed if they subscribe to no particular faith.

It is the notion of that something more, the challenge that sums up Ignatian spirituality to find God in all things –whether that be the people we meet or the circumstances we find ourselves in that makes Loyola University, that makes us different. And for those very reasons that it has brought all of you here, it is why I am here as well. So many higher education institutions claim to challenge their students to think critically, to undertake service projects, to ground their undergraduate education in the liberal arts, and to engage in research with practical outcomes. But these are often distinct events. Basically, when each is done, you check the corresponding box and move on.

But, that is not usthat is not what we must do. When we speak of being a Jesuit institution rooted in and inspired by Ignatian Spirituality, we do not talk about distinct events. We are talking about how we engage with the world. This means we do not have the option to run away from the world or flee from the difficult situations or conversations. We are called upon to engage, to participate, to challenge. This is a very high bar, and frankly, one which at its core can be very difficult. But, as one Jesuit reminded me recently, if it was easy, everyone would do and no one would do it. Sounds like a Jesuit, right?

But these are not ideas or ideals suitable just for the classroom. These are ideals that each of us must practice and model for our community both here at Loyola with each other and in our interactions with our students and surrounding communities, however that is defined. We must challenge each other and have our conversations, even our debates, to be living conversations that go beyond and transcend any particular time or space. And while supporting the need for social action, we must make certain that we take the time and space to reflect carefully upon those actions. 

This is not a new discussion. This community articulated the notion of respecting the conversation last year. No one needs to be reminded that we are part of a society where gravitating to the extreme opposites on an issue seems to be more of the norm, but participating in civil discourse to find common understanding and to work toward a solution seems to be more elusive. This is our opportunity to make a difference. Here again, our values, our mission, our Jesuit identity, provides us with guidance and a very difficult challenge.

Recently, while having a discussion with one of our Jesuit colleagues about how do we do this, he reminded me that when in doubt, go back to the beginning, go back to the Spiritual Exercises. Thankfully he gave me a bit more guidance or I might still be stumbling around. Our mission, the foundation for all we do, must continue to be kept at the forefront and be brought to life today and every day. Supporting that, I share with you some thoughts that emanate from Annotation 22 from the Spiritual Exercises. I have found this reflection to be very helpful and thought-provoking and I hope you do as well. Keep in mind that when Ignatius gave this guidance, it was in a period of war and great tumult, at a time when there was great conflict between those promoting radical change versus those proponents of rigid continuity. Sound familiar?

We ought to be more eager to put a good interpretation on a neighbor’s statement than to condemn it. Further, if we cannot interpret it favorably, one should ask the other how the other means it. If that meaning is wrong, one should correct the person with love: and if that is not enough, one should search out every appropriate means through which, by understanding the statement in a good way, it may be saved.

Reflecting on this for me made it very clear that Ignatius’ words are certainly very difficult to put into practice. But it challenges us to put a good interpretation on what another says, even if their heartfelt passion is directly at odds with our own. But again, this is what makes Loyola different. This mission and all of its challenges are what enable us to find God in all things. Yes, it is difficult, yes it can be uncomfortable. But, recall, if it was easy, everyone would do and no one would do it.

In closing, once again I must say welcome to everyone, new and returning alike. Thank you for all you do each and every day. I look forward to working together with you.