Bellarmine Moving Forward

Condensed version of remarks delivered to faculty and staff on September 26, 2017.

I continue to be incredibly enthusiastic about our students, faculty and staff and the quality of the academic and student experience. This is a compassionate and caring community that has captured the hearts of so many in Louisville Metro and beyond. I consider it a great privilege to stand before you today and to commence our new sense of shared governance and social responsibility.

Let's start with some basic premises that I hope we can agree upon and commit to as a university community.


The first is respect and being respectful to one another. Too often organizations can get into an “us” versus “them” mindset. I know you know what I mean. It always starts with “the administration” or “the faculty.” I don’t believe this is intentional but rather it tends to happen when there is a lapse or void in communication or interaction.

Seeing the good in each other

I hope that we will make this pact – that we start from the premise of seeing the good in one another, including our underlying motives, which are intended to benefit our students and the Bellarmine community. I am "a glass half full" type, to which I credit my parents and my faith, so I try to assume the best in others and I hope that we can all commit to this with every interaction. We are human and there will be exceptions but I think it should be our second commitment to one another. If something is confusing or unclear, or if rumors abound, let's take it upon ourselves to communicate with one another to dispel the rumors.


Naturally, there will be matters of confidence that cannot always be transparent, usually within legal constraints, and then we will need to expect a level of trust in one another. I would call that our third commitment – to trust and be trustworthy. We need to trust each other’s expertise in our respective roles, and not assume that we know better.


And fourth, whenever possible, I would like to commit to candor – to dispelling rumors, to addressing matters head on and to admitting when mistakes are made. After all, this is something we are modeling for our students as well. We have to remember that there are always at least two sides to every story – many perspectives besides our own – and we may not have all of the same information. We can’t always agree with every decision. But we can agree that every decision is the result of a trustworthy process.

Let’s commit, then, to respect, to seeing the good in the other, to trust, and to candor. Let these become good habits in our life’s work.

When issues arise that impact the whole community, the whole community will work on them together.

The higher education market is more volatile and competitive than ever before, something we’re mindful of when we develop budget projections. We have the same amount of money for operations as we had last year – but that amount is four percent less that the amount we projected in this year’s budget. We have to make up that difference through a combination of reallocating resources, cutting expenditures and generating new net revenue.

This is not a crisis; we are a strong institution. We just completed our $100 million capital campaign – and while this was mostly for construction of new buildings, plus many important academic enterprises such as scholarships, an endowed chair and professorship, the international fund, learning communities, faculty development and more – and, while much of what remains is in planned giving – this and our reserves will help us.

Let’s talk about some possible solutions and a plan for moving forward.

The first action is to create a resource management advisory committee of faculty and staff representatives. I have asked Robert Zimlich, the vice president for Finance and Administration, and Carole Pfeffer, the provost, to co-chair this body. The immediate charge to this committee will be to make recommendations for savings, cuts and reallocations to align the fiscal year budget. This work needs to begin immediately, to prepare a plan in the next month and to continue the work for the next six months to a year. We will continue to look for immediate opportunities for fund raising as well to ensure this success. We will accept names of faculty and staff volunteers and nominations through the normal governance structures. If you are interested in serving, please submit your name through those channels. The committee will be comprised of approximately twelve members of the community.

My second request is to begin a strategic planning process. I anticipate it will take approximately 18 months to develop a five to seven year plan for the future of Bellarmine. I am asking Sean Ryan, Vice President of Enrollment Management and Dean of Continuing and Professional Studies, and Nancy York, Dean of the School of Nursing and Clinical Sciences, to co-chair the steering committee of the strategic planning process. Again, I would ask that we solicit volunteers and nominees and that a large representation of faculty and staff members form work groups to explore initiatives that will be considered for the next strategic plan.

The recommendations will come to the president and I will be transparent with my decisions regarding the recommendations. I also ask that we engage our Board of Trustees throughout the process and that projected expenses be developed for any initiatives under consideration. Ultimately, the plan will need the Trustees’ approval, and we will develop a financial and fund-raising plan to secure the resources.

This will require a clear vision, a strong collective commitment, a great deal of creativity, and some very difficult and perhaps unprecedented choices. We need to hear all voices but we will not likely reach a consensus. However, in listening, truly listening to one another, I am convinced that we will emerge a stronger institution.

We have strong convictions and we will stand by them, but we will also be open to new pathways, new technologies and new ideas. Yet, I firmly believe that this requires each of us to look beyond our individual needs, beyond our department or school or division, to assume a collective responsibility for Bellarmine’s present state and for its vision for the future.

We must look to our core values, to who we are as a community, and to how these sacrifices, whatever is required, will move the organization forward. We will find strength in working together to envision the future but that will likely require some new ways of operating to secure the immediate resources needed to balance the budget and to move us ahead. All members of the community will be encouraged to submit recommendations for immediate budgetary savings or revenue enhancements.

Going forward, we will have Town Meetings after each Board meeting to discuss developments there and any other topics we need to address.

I look forward to continuing this conversation and to working on these important matters with the whole community – and with respect, seeing the good in each other, trust, and candor. … In Veritatis Amore.

Susan M. Donovan, Ph.D.