President's Town Hall

February 23, 2018

Thank you for coming today to the town hall following our third board of trustees meeting. As promised, I will update the community this way after each board meeting.

I must begin by stating how incredibly grateful I am to Dr. Carole Pfeffer, Dr. Anne Bucalos, Dr. Graham Ellis, and all who worked so many tireless hours to produce our SACS C.O.C. accreditation report and our Quality Enhancement Plan. It was a labor of love and one that advances Bellarmine in so many ways. I am simply amazed by the results and the collaborative spirit of the faculty and staff members who worked tirelessly to provide this level of excellence and creativity. I am confident that our community will commit our energy and resources to succeed with this visionary plan for Inclusivity through Community Engagement. This will need to be a key component of our Strategic Plan. At the final meeting of the team, they indicated that our scope and aspirations may be too ambitious. This comes as no surprise to me as Inclusivity and Community Engagement are so important to this community.

One of the trademarks of higher education in the United States is the commitment to peer review -- to stepping back and looking at the progress an institution has made in the last decade and to challenging ourselves to take on even more to improve the learning environment for all students. We have witnessed this process this past year and very intensely this week.

There is so much rampant skepticism of higher education all around us and this accreditation work is evidence of all that is good and excellent about a Bellarmine education. We do not settle for “good enough” for our students, our faculty or our staff. Our drive for excellence was very apparent this week as the accrediting team visited our beautiful campus.

May I ask all members of the community who participated in any way in the accreditation process to please stand so that we can thank them on behalf of the entire community for their noble efforts in this regard?

While we will not have a final report until December, we have every indication that our reaccreditation will proceed smoothly through the approval process.

It was a year ago yesterday that I came to Frazier Hall to meet the campus community after the search for the presidency. I had been very impressed with members of the search committee but I have to admit I was a bit nervous about our first encounter.

However, I have such vivid memories of that day and the overwhelming hospitality of the faculty, staff, students and the board of trustees.

One year later, I can honestly say that for me professionally, this has been the most rewarding year of my career. I sincerely had no idea what an excellent, compassionate and creative institution I was about to join. And I continue to be so very humbled and honored to lead this greatly committed community full of passion and purpose and one that continues to respond to the call for justice.

Speaking of justice, I want to diverge briefly here to discuss my stance on the violence in our schools and why I chose to speak to this concern. There are those who may think that as a president I should “stay in my own lane” and avoid potentially political conversations.

However, I could not stand idle in the midst of a conflict that affects our academic programs, our profession, and the education of children. I realize that this can expose Bellarmine to criticism, but in my humble opinion, we cannot sit silently when fundamental rights of education are being denied.

Our Bellarmine students are being mentored to confront injustices, to speak out and to take action. We too as the Bellarmine community need to follow our advice. I will not speak out on every issue. Rather, I hope to be selective and direct when the situation calls for a response. Nonetheless, I encourage you to let me know when you disagree. And I appreciate the support of so many who commented and shared the letter with others. We will continue to fight for our institutional values and make it known to others.

There are a few updates that I would like to present to you today and then I will ask Dr. Nancy York and Dr. Sean Ryan to come up to present on the ongoing work relating to the strategic plan. There will be time for a Q & A at the end, and then when we are finished, everyone is invited to a reception in the lobby outside.

As you know over the next several months the undergraduate and graduate admission offices will be working hard to land our new student classes for the summer and fall.  Our Physical Therapy program is doing well with nearly 700 applications for the incoming class.  We are on target to enroll a full class at 76 -- this is an increase of four students.

Our accelerated nursing program has 102 confirmations so far with a goal of 85.  The graduate admission team and the nursing faculty will be working to maximize our efforts to enroll a class above our goal while managing to stay within the limits of our accreditation.

Our new freshman class is beginning to take shape for the fall.  We currently have 4,651 admitted students which puts us within 1% of where we were at this time last year.  I am happy to report that all students who have completed their FAFSAs have now received their comprehensive financial aid awards from us.  We have selected a new financial aid partner, a change I believe will benefit Bellarmine in the long run.  Due to this change we were a few weeks later getting out our financial aid packages this year than last. We still were earlier than many schools in our region.  We believe this delay has caused a lag in our confirmations. We currently have 339 confirmations compared to 408 last year.  We are expecting confirmation activity to pick up now that comprehensive packages are out. We need everyone’s help in the coming months landing this class.  Many have already played a role in helping the admission team, and there will be numerous opportunities to help moving forward.  I ask that you make a concerted effort to help land our first year class when given the opportunity.   

Our fundraising efforts are ahead of last year. Since June 1, we have received over 1.6 million dollars in new cash gifts and 5.7 million dollars in new pledges and commitments for total philanthropic support of 7.3 million dollars. This is running well ahead of last year.

Within that amount, over 1.2 million dollars is part of the annual fund, an 11% increase over last year at this time. We have initiated a new Parents Circle campaign to engage parents in development activities to support the annual fund.

We are focusing on raising new dollars for scholarships and just announced a new $250,000 endowed scholarship from a new trustee.

I am happy to report that our freshman retention rate from fall to spring this year was 92.5% -- better than our 10-year average, and a big rebound from last year’s shortfall. I want to thank every one of you for the efforts made to get us back on track and special thanks to the student success center, the student affairs staff, the faculty and all who worked to help our students thrive and succeed on campus. We need to continue to support as I would like to see progress in our retention and graduation rates going forward. Please continue to reach out to students who may not be on anyone’s radar screen. I know that we can help them succeed.

Our transfer numbers were down a bit this spring compared with recent years. We had 22 transfers entering in spring 2018 compared with 31 transfers last year. However, we have begun to implement changes that should provide more positive results moving forward. We are in the process of streamlining the approval of transfer credits, and we are working on improving transfer services. We have also started a new initiative aimed at recruiting and retaining veteran students on campus. A new space on the top floor of the library provides support and guidance to veteran students and this space and program support has been provided by many of our veteran alumni. In fact, $79,000 has already been raised to support these efforts.

Let me update you on the follow up on the recommendations of the Resource Management Advisory Committee. As you may recall, there were nearly 200 recommendations and I have already reported on a number of decisions related to the implementation of many of these suggestions.

As you know, the announcement of the reduction of six credits from the 126 credit hour requirement for the undergraduate degree passed through all appropriate faculty governing bodies. This change not only provides financial relief due to offering fewer courses to fulfill the sophomore and junior IDC requirements, but will also result in making our degree programs more attractive to transfer students. It will make it easier for students to graduate in four years and it will allow students to take a more balanced course load for all semesters of their degree programs. With the elimination of IDC 200 and 301, faculty members are already working intentionally to identify ways in which these critical learning outcomes can be addressed within the various majors.

Our analytics courses are being incorporated into the MBA program, and in time, we will be offering undergraduate courses as well. And I continue to look at opportunities for administrative restructuring for efficiency and effectiveness.

A couple of other recommendations were to eliminate the December commencement ceremony and to move the celebration of all graduations to the May commencement ceremony. I have accepted this recommendation and it will become effective immediately. As for the commencement ceremony this May, we have accepted the recommendation to hold the ceremony outside rain or shine. Weather permitting, this will go smoothly and will be a beautiful tribute. This decision allows us to provide unlimited space in the stadium rather than reducing the availability of tickets to two per graduate when the ceremony was moved inside.

The Resource Management Advisory Committee will be reconstituted with new and fewer members and will continue its work reviewing budget development, income and expenditures, and looking for new revenue, cost reductions and reallocations. Provost Carole Pfeffer and Vice President for Finance Bob Zimlich will issue a call next week for nominations for this committee for the coming year.

When I met with you here last September, I shared some basic premises that I hoped we could agree upon and commit to as a university community. I want to reinforce those guiding principles today.

The first is respect and being respectful to one another. I hope to provide regular opportunities for communication and interaction so we won’t fall into the trap of an “us vs. them” mentality.

The second is seeing the good in each other. Let’s commit to assuming that our underlying motives are positive, and that they are intended to benefit our students and the Bellarmine Community.

The third principle that I hope will guide us is to trust and be trustworthy. Let’s trust each other’s expertise in our respective roles and not assume that we know better. We might not always agree with every decision, of course – but we CAN agree that every decision is the result of a trustworthy process.

Finally, I would like us to commit to candor – to dispelling rumors, addressing matters candidly and openly and head on, admitting mistakes, sharing credit where it is due. 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.

I hope that you agree that we have done pretty well in living up to these guiding principles.

I will continue to keep the community up to date as we work through the recommendations of the Resource Management Advisory Committee, progress on the strategic plan, and any major developments or decisions.

Thank you.