I would like to welcome you officially to this year’s faculty convocation. Every year, I look forward to the sights and sounds of a new academic year. From the sight of family, friends and volunteers helping our students on Move-In Day. To the Green filled with students just chatting or checking out the latest episode of “Glee” on Hulu. To the sound of tires squealing as cars go around and around the first two floors of the parking deck trying to find the perfect spot. It is great to have everyone back!
This year will be significantly different from years past for a number of reasons. I will just mention a few.
First, due to the efforts of our enrollment services team led by Associate Provost and Dean Tracy Gottlieb, faculty, staff and administrators, we are welcoming our largest freshman class in 30 years—with 1,326 registered students as of today. Not only is it one of our largest classes, it is also one of more academically prepared classes, with the average two-part SAT score increasing 27 points.
Will all members of our enrollment services team, as well as faculty, staff and administrators who helped by sending letters, calling or spending time with potential students, please stand to be recognized. It is amazing what working together on a common goal will do. I ask for a continued and hopefully increased commitment from this body to help recruit next year’s class of servant leaders.
This year we intend to invest in programs designed to increase retention. Based on our historical retention rates, we stand to lose as many as 225 of our freshmen by their sophomore year. As I alluded to two years ago before this body, this is simply unacceptable. I ask for your assistance in helping identify students at risk.
Second, and for the second straight year—which I hope is the sign of a trend—our students have successfully competed for very prestigious external awards. We have four Fulbright awardees, two Truman finalists, a Udall Scholar and a Pickering Scholar. This means we have had eight Fulbright awardees in the last two years compared to two in the prior 152 years. I wish to express my gratitude to Professor Jim Kimble who coordinates and provides leadership to this initiative and to all our faculty who write letters of recommendation, help prepare essays and mentor our students. Please stand and be acknowledged.
Third, for a significant number of our senior faculty, this will be their last year. We will miss the more than 350 years of leadership and experience at Seton Hall. If you are among those who are retiring—and you do not mind being honored—please stand and be acknowledged. To our faculty, thank you.
Fourth, we are coming through our first layoffs in a quarter of a century. This past June was a difficult time on our campus, and for those of you who were on campus with me, you will know what I mean when I say that I hope it does not get repeated during my time at Seton Hall.
While the enrollment numbers are strong, as I gently reminded Dr. Gottleib, the last time we were at 1,300 was in 1981, and within five years we dropped to 878. We are not in a sprint but a marathon, with small victories at every mile marker. This is but one marker. Our financials will improve over time only if we continue to meet and exceed our revenue goals and keep a rein on our expenses.
This year represents a year of uncertainty in many ways. I know a number of you have voiced concerns or apprehension over the many “interim” or “acting” appointments at Seton Hall. I do not understand why people are so concerned over the fact that our provost, vice provost, dean of Arts and Sciences, dean of Business and dean of University Libraries are interims—did I miss anyone?
I would prefer instead to look at this year as a year of opportunities. An opportunity to continue the transformation of Seton Hall, an opportunity to continue to make our students and their learning central to everything we do.
In his book Transforming a College, the late higher education scholar George Keller identified a number of factors that led to the rapid rise of a formerly obscure college in North Carolina: Elon University. These factors included quality (everywhere), planning, financial acumen, marketing and most importantly people—paying attention to the selection, training/development and rewarding of people.
You are our greatest resource, and I hope, with your help, to be able to increase our investment in our people this coming year.
As your president I look forward to addressing the challenges we have this academic year. I hope that with your wise counsel, to make the decisions that strengthen our University. I will end by sharing one of my favorite quotes from Pope John Paul II who said, “Stupidity is also a gift from God, but one mustn’t misuse it.” I will try to not be guilty of misusing this gift.
Thank you and have a great year.