Fall Convocation 2016

President Harris addresses USD faculty and administrators at the start of the 2016-17 academic year.

September 9, 2016

Kroc Peace and Justice Auditorium

Convocation 2016

Good afternoon everyone.  Let me begin by adding my congratulations to the award winners.  You each represent academic excellence at its best and it is an honor to share the stage with you today.  I would also like to thank Dr. Ellis and Dr. Allen for their presentations.

It is wonderful to be with you as we begin another academic year at USD. Today, I wish to share with you a brief state of the University address and primarily focus my remaining remarks on providing an overview and update about our strategic planning process and finish with some thoughts about what we need to consider moving forward.

First, let me begin with a personal request, and it concerns social media.  As most of you know, I have two social media accounts that I personally write my own content for on behalf of USD.  The first is a twitter account and the other Instagram.  Having these accounts have been helpful to me.  I have the opportunity to share the good news about USD. Over the year, I have bragged about the accomplishments of our outstanding faculty, students, staff and alumni, and have also been able to keep people abreast of what is happening at the University, as well as keeping them posted as to what I am up to.  At one point last spring, I was in 11 cities in 11 weeks, and someone remarked after seeing one of my posts that it was like following “Where in the world is Carmen San Diego!”

But having social media accounts can be humbling.  For example, I was pretty excited when I went over 1000 Instagram followers until I realized how many other people had. For example;

The person with the most Instagram followers is Salena Gomez - 86.1 million.  But then others have big numbers such as President Obama – 8.6million and Pope Francis – 3 million.  Then there are thousands of others with more than me.  However, I was quite pleased when I reached 1000 followers.  But the joy was short lived when over the summer, I realized that my own puppy, Ruby Rosebud surpassed me.  Now I know she is cuter and lives a more interesting life, but I know she doesn’t write her own stuff!  So, I am pleading to all of you – please let me get my dignity back in my own family – please start following me on Instagram!

Let me begin my talk with a brief state of the University from a financial performance perspective and how we ended the last fiscal year.  During last fiscal year, we proved to be good stewards of our resources.  We reached over $387 million in operating revenues, which was used to fund over $87 million in scholarships and financial aid for students.  Once again, the university ended the year with a positive operating margin, meaning our annual revenues exceeded our expenses, thus allowing for the important reinvestment of capital back into our classrooms and buildings.

What I always like to remind people of when I talk about finances is that our financial statement is not like our personal checkbooks.  If you are like my family, our monthly income comes from my paycheck and some small investments we have made. And we put it in basically two pots – savings and checking. In the case of the University, we have multiple income sources.  The one main one is tuition and fees. Excluding our investment income, which can be positive or negative in any given year, tuition and fees makes up about 77% of our annual income.  The remaining comes from auxiliary enterprises: room and board, the College store, food services, etc,. as well as grants, donor contributions and income from investments, mostly the endowment, which ended the last fiscal year at $450,000,000 million as of June 30, 2016.  The USD Endowment has seen remarkable growth over the last decade which helped us emerge from the Great Recession financially stronger than before. 

What is similar about the University’s financials as compared to our own, is that, like us, the University has a series of obligations it must pay, but it also has other benchmarks and certain covenants it must meet to maintain its bond ratings and retain the ability to function.  Unlike our personal accounts, the University is required to maintain a certain discipline about how much money is spent, borrowed, and kept liquid in order to pay its obligations, while continuing to produce new revenue each year to fund capital projects and special needs. 

So how did we do in 2016?  Thanks to everyone’s collective good work and careful management, we did well.  Here’s a snapshot of our operating results, which include USD’s annual recurring revenues like tuition, and expenses like payroll, benefits and utilities.  Again, we exclude things like investment income, grants and donor contributions because those items tend to fluctuate from year to year.

Another key indicator of financial success is how much money we raised in 2016.  We added $32 million in gifts and grants during the last fiscal year.  Combined with our running total for the $300 million Leading Change Campaign, that brings our campaign progress to $220 million since its start in Fiscal Year 2011.  Excellent momentum on our most ambitious fundraising effort in USD’s history.

The Campaign is of the utmost importance to the University.  It will provide endowment support for students in the form of scholarships, graduate assistantships, and new programming, and will allow us to continue to attract and retain world class faculty.  The Campaign will also help us meet the demands of an ever-changing and competitive world by providing support for major capital improvements, new buildings and addressing our deferred maintenance.  A third area the campaign provides support for are the ongoing costs of annual scholarships, providing living and learning communities, community outreach and the annual operational expenses.

Many thanks to those of you who contributed to our annual campaign last spring.  Thanks to you, we raised $625,000, and more importantly had an employee participation rate that exceeded 63%!  I have many wonderful memories of my first year at USD, but I must say that when I heard of the generosity of our colleagues, I was deeply touched.  Thank you for demonstrating with your hard earned money that you care about the success of our students.

Last year, I told you one of my main foci for the year was to listen and over the year I have done just that.  From visiting with alumni across the globe, to holding faculty and student focus groups, to meeting one on one with hundreds of key University stakeholders, I have been listening.  A wise person once said that God gave us one mouth and two ears for a reason –

To listen more than we speak.  And guess what?  I am still listening and still have plenty of people to meet with in the coming year.  But I have not been the only person listening. 

Last fall I informed you that I had appointed a Steering Committee to lead and facilitate an inclusive, transparent planning process that would result in the development of a strategic plan articulating a bold new vision for USD.  The Steering Committee, has been ably led by co-chairs Dr. Andrew Allen, Academic Vice President and Provost, and Dr. Esteban Del Rio, Associate Provost, Inclusion and Diversity.  This committee has engaged our community in many months of introspection and dialogue amongst our myriad stakeholders to reaffirm our identity and commitment to the development of global citizens.  They have worked over the summer with other members of our University community to prepare a plan that will be presented to the USD Board of Trustees for its approval in late September.

Let me quickly share with you a few statistics to quantify just how many people have participated in this process.  To begin with, here is a slide that demonstrates the process I outlined for you last fall.  We shared this outline with the board, the faculty senate and at a President’s forum meeting last fall.  We then created a website to collect comments and ideas from anyone who wished to offer suggestions.  We organized and held a variety of focus groups on campus.  Early in the spring semester, we presented what we found at another President’s Forum, as well as hosted a joint meeting of the steering committee and the board of trustees and then presented information to the faculty senate that spring.  During this time, members of the steering committee were invited to speak with different academic and administrative departments about the plan and received many great ideas and encouraging feedback.

In April, we hosted a visioning conference and included off-campus constituents such as elected officials, public school leaders, Linda Vista and San Diego community leaders and of course alumni.  In total, over 100 people participated that day.  The on-campus constituents included students, staff, the academic deans, 11 members of the faculty, including the officers of the senate, as well as 8 others who have faculty and administrative roles, and that does not include the provost or me.

After the visioning conference, the board approved the general framework, and during the summer, six strategic planning task forces, including over 50 members of the university community, were created.  Aligned with the six pathways, they worked to develop potential goals and ways to measure success.  In August, we hosted another joint meeting of the Board of Trustees Executive Committee and the Strategic Planning Steering Committee.

I share all of this just to highlight that shared governance has been emphasized since day one.  Every constituency associated with USD has had an opportunity to weigh in on the process and the proposed planning principles, vision, and pathways, and we will continue to engage all key stakeholder moving forward.

More specifically, according to Huron consulting, well over 100 faculty, have participated in focus groups, task forces, individual meetings and the visioning conference.  In other words, at least one out of every four full-time faculty members have directly participated in this process, and hundreds of others, and this does not include submissions made online.  Our next step will be to ask the Board to approve the strategic plan later this month, which includes five principles to guide planning a new vision statement and six pathways forward.  During this process, we have listened carefully and engaged in thoughtful and sometimes difficult dialog about the University’s future direction.  As we were having these discussions, we heard from many people that there are still goals and objectives from past university planning efforts that either have not been reached or need continued emphasis in the years ahead.  The steering committee gave this some serious thought and came up with five principles that would guide our planning.  In other words, five areas we must always consider as we think about new directions.

The first one, I think, no one can argue with: Student Success.  In other words, no matter what we do or plan, we must always keep student success at the forefront or our work, whether it is retaining our current students and helping them graduate, or making sure our students have the academic and extracurricular opportunities to prepare for their life after college, student success must always drive our work. 

The second one is global citizenship.  USD is in an excellent position to build upon the success of our global initiatives, including study abroad, and the growth in international students.  This principle supports programming that focuses on the development of a global mindset in USD graduates.

The third principle is one that builds upon the other two.  We will continue to seek to develop a culture of engagement – on campus and off - in students, alumni and the USD community to be engaged with the University and to serve the greater good.

Our fourth principle is to remain mindful that we have certain assets and resources and to be the best possible stewards of those resources.

The fifth principle that will help guide our work is a continued commitment to building our profile internationally, nationally and locally.  We have stellar faculty, remarkable students, highly successful alumni, administrators and staff who do great work every day, and we should develop a narrative about this place that helps people understand the quality that exists here. 

In addition to identifying principles to guide our planning, we discovered along the way that USD has many assets upon which to build that places the University in a strong position for future growth and prosperity.  For example, today, USD is the youngest private university included in the U.S. News & World Report’s list of the top 100 national universities; we are recognized for our internationally ranked academic programs, our world class faculty, dedicated staff, and our commitment to environmental sustainability.  We have been singled out for our exceptional campus environment, our global learning opportunities and of course, our beautiful campus.  With all of these assets and many more, the university is well-positioned to emerge in the 21st century as one of the great Catholic universities in the world.

While our current educational model has withstood the test of time, today’s challenges can appear to oppose our faith-based tradition, the principles of liberal education, and even how we operate.  Some people question our commitment to serving underserved populations and the local community.  Increasingly, the university’s value proposition is being called into question, including the need for more financial aid and less student and parent debt.  We also need to remain competitive including our compensation of faculty and all employees.  And while we have a beautiful campus, we need to look carefully at our infrastructure, and what we must do to keep up with the demands as a 21st century university.

We still need to complete our commitment to the engineering school.  We have identified a new business complex as a pressing need.  Our library requires further upgrading.  We need to renovate Founders, Camino, and Olin halls and several other older buildings.  In other words, we need a long-term plan to address these needs.  We cannot continue to operate as we have before on an annual basis.  This will take time and a deliberate effort.  We also must look at how we function and how we can work more efficiently.  We cannot just continue to operate in the same way and pass the costs along to our students.  We have an obligation to be better stewards of our resources. 

These types of issues may compel some universities to question or even change their identities.  At the University of San Diego, however, we are guided by our faith, rich history, a strong sense of purpose as articulated in our mission statement, and a clear set of values in our response to these obstacles.  To realize our full potential and fulfill our mission, we need not only to develop a bold vision for the future, we must also create a systematic, rigorous, and ongoing planning and assessment process that sets the standard for a contemporary Catholic university.

The big question that the Strategic Planning Steering Committee and the Board of Trustees had to consider is: what is our vision for the future?  We believe it lies in four key elements: First, that we are a contemporary Catholic University.  Second, that we exist to confront humanity’s urgent challenges.  Third, that we seek to set the standard for how a contemporary Catholic university addresses those issues, and fourth, we do this because no university is better than USD at producing innovative Changemakers.

Therefore we prepared the following vision statement: The University of San Diego sets the standard for an engaged, contemporary Catholic university where innovative Changemakers confront humanity’s urgent challenges.

To accomplish such a bold vision will require a great deal of work.  So, we identified six pathways forward to help us achieve our vision.  First, however, we needed to do some soul searching of sorts, and address a number of pressing questions:  A few that we were searching for answers included, What does it mean for USD to be a Catholic University? And what distinguishes us from the other 196 Catholic colleges and universities in the US?  This point was driven home for me when I attended my first meeting of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities meeting in Washington DC last February. 

At one point, there were breakout sessions for participants to join others whose universities shared the same charism or founding order, so the Jesuits got together in one room and the Benedictines in another and the Christian brothers in yet another.  It was very clear at that moment that USD is a bit different than most.  Yes, we were blessed to be founded by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart and Diocese of San Diego.  But we are truly something unique.  

In today’s world, USD is a fully a contemporary Catholic university in every sense of the word.  While we may lack the advantage of being directly affiliated with an order with hundreds of years of history and theology behind it. we are, however, contemporary, in that our growth and development has primarily been in the second half of the 20th century and into the 21st.  We have mostly matured as an institution in the aftermath of Vatican II and have been the beneficiaries of the wisdom of many contemporary scholars, theologians, practitioners, church leaders and church doctrine that has helped us carve a unique place in Catholic higher education.

The most recent of those being Pope Francis’s encyclical to the world, Laudato Si: On Care of our Common Home.  Most people on our campus and across the globe are inspired by our Holy Father’s call to view the globe differently and care for our common home by looking out for the most vulnerable among us.

During our planning process, we were inspired by his call for the creation of what he called an integral ecology.  In other words, an interdisciplinary approach to addressing humanity’s urgent challenges.  We believe that as a contemporary Catholic university, we have a responsibility to encourage and enact care for all creation by embodying the urgent call of the Church through teaching, scholarship, campus culture, and community partnerships.  Being a contemporary Catholic University also means celebrating the liberal arts as well as the work of our professional schools to produce graduates who are prepared to enter the world and to lead purposeful lives, as well as having successful careers in the 21st century.

As a contemporary Catholic university, we know that a 21st century liberal arts education provides the opportunities to study the historical, cultural, and scientific/technological forces that have ushered in this century and that will shape our future.  Students learn to challenge ideas, and to discern significant truths about reality, faith, and human existence in their lives and careers.

A 21st century liberal arts education also delivers the learning outcomes that 80% of employers desire, according to surveys by the Association of American Colleges and Universities.  These include the ability to write and speak effectively, construct and evaluate arguments, apply knowledge in real-world settings, make ethical decisions, and work in teams.

A third way of considering what it means to be a contemporary Catholic university is providing access to students from populations traditionally underrepresented in higher education, and more importantly, ensuring they succeed to completion.  One way to do so is through greater access and inclusion.  You may recall that last year, we heard from members of our campus community that we could do a better job of creating such an atmosphere.

In response, last spring I created four task forces to address ways we could accelerate our work in this area.  Each taskforce was charged with assessing our current data and processes, identifying best practices, and creating priority action steps for implementation by this fall.  I am pleased to say that the four task forces took this assignment very seriously and identified a number of ways we could quickly take steps forward and we have already seen some of the fruits of that labor.

In the next few weeks, I will be providing information identifying specifically what we have done and are planning on doing with regard to these recommendations.  I am very happy to report today that there is evidence that our progress with regard to diversifying our campus continues to move forward.  For example, this fall we welcomed one of the most diverse class of freshmen students in history, making the current group of undergraduates one of the most diverse group of undergraduate students ever enrolled at USD.  We still have so much work to do – but we should celebrate what has been accomplished by so many people over several years because this provides us with a great foundation for the future!

We have also made progress in the last year in attracting a more diverse group of faculty.  All of this is remarkable and a real testament to our academic leadership; our Provost, deans, associate provosts, our department chairs, our admissions office, financial aid and enrollment management teams, and everyone who supported these efforts. 

Thirty seven percent of freshmen reported being a person of color; 36 % of all undergraduates report being a person of color; and 43.5% of new full-time faculty reported being a race other than white.  To me, this is only the beginning of what will be a more comprehensive approach to access and inclusion that will be highlighted in our new strategic plan.  We recognize that although we have achieved some success recently, we still have a ways to go to where all students and faculty feel welcomed at our campus community.

Another issue that kept emerging during our planning was our location.  The very name of our university produces positive reactions from almost everyone I meet, and those reactions are almost solely based on our many assets as viewed by visitors; world-class tourist attractions, and the best year-round climate in the United States.  And of course, we should celebrate and tout those attributes.  But as an academic institution, we are about more than our location in America’s most livable city.  We are about engaging the local community in meaningful ways that brings about positive change in society.  For many years, our faculty and students have engaged in meaningful work locally, whether it was volunteering or developing service-learning courses working closely with the Mulvaney Center or Changemaker Hub on campus.  Or the significant work that has been ongoing through our School of Law clinics engaged in important local issues.  The School of Leadership and Education Sciences work with local non-profits and schools is especially noteworthy.  Our work on our international border with Mexico is also extraordinary.  Organizations such as Justice in Mexico or the Trans-border Institute in the Kroc School, which helps to build sustainable peace in Mexico and the border region, are great examples of efforts to embrace our place near an international border.

Yet, despite all of the many ways we are engaged, there is still so much more we can do by clearly highlighting the ways USD is an anchor institution for our community and seek out new ways to form strategic and democratic partnerships with key community collaborators that share our vision and values.  Other universities such as University of Pennsylvania, Johns Hopkins and USC have employed anchor strategies and helped elevate their reputations internationally because of this important work.

We will also need to encourage, support and reward engaged scholarship by faculty and students to highlight how USD values all forms of scholarship identified by Ernest Boyer and the Carnegie Foundation for Teaching.  We will do this through our active engagement in what we call Changemaking, developing ethical, competent leaders who seek to bring about positive change in our society.  And not be just participants, but leaders who identify solutions to what Pope Francis has called “Humanity’s urgent challenges.”  As one of only ten universities to be identified as an Ashoka Changemaker university and be classified by the Carnegie Foundation as a “Community Engaged” university, we have a special place in higher education which we should leverage and build upon in the future.

Last year I stated that if we are wise and deliberate in our efforts, we can present to the Board a new vision statement and a set of goals for the future that will help us continue on our ascendency as one of the great Catholic universities in the 21st century.  After one year in my role, I am more optimistic than ever that we are on the cusp of something great, and I look forward to serving with you to develop specific goals and objectives that will help us reach achieve our vision by the year 2024.

Thank you for your attention today and for all that you do to help us fulfill our mission.

James T. Harris III, DEd