“To meet our students where they are, when they come to us; and to challenge, to stretch, to increase their capacity for knowledge, imagination and creativity. We do this in the context of a faith community of care, concern and accountability: to help them in the process to discover what God wants of, and for, them.”
This is how, in a recent talk, I attempted to frame my view of our fundamental mission. As we reflect on the 2013-14 year, the evidence of our success is both overwhelming, and humbling.
This year at Gonzaga University, our students presented original research at conferences nationwide. Stretched and supported in equal measure by our talented faculty, these students bypassed their own expectations. Learning continues to expand outside our classrooms – and beyond our shores. At the heart of this endeavor are the relationships built between faculty, staff and students – without which effective learning cannot take place. Our graduates continue to secure employment, graduate school admission and service placements with nationally renowned employers, universities and programs. Finally, our Catholic, Jesuit and humanistic mission is broadly understood and embraced as the University’s compass, with faith and hope always the wind in its sails.
We are pleased to report that Gonzaga has completed a highly productive academic year in 2013-14. This is nothing new. Our distinctive Jesuit education, anchored in the vibrant community of our campus, has always enabled our students to undergo faith-filled and mature transformations of character -- to develop rich interiors as analytical thinkers, knowledgeable practitioners, and imaginative and ethical problem-solvers.
Nationally, though, higher education remains in turmoil – open to criticism over rising tuition rates and student debt; vulnerable to the frustration of those students who are unable to find employment; and open to abandonment by families whose economic situations remain shaky. Paradoxically, higher education also remains easy to romanticize in our personal memories. We all share a tendency to believe that the remarkable education we experienced at the college of our youth is the very best college experience possible. None of these sentiments serves our current students well in the present moment. I believe the times call for deep thoughtfulness within higher education and clarity of mission; for keeping a weather eye on cost efficiencies, as we are doing; and for extending the groundwork needed to assure internships, externships and research assistantships for our students, and employment for our graduates.
Gonzaga entered the 2013-14 year with a strong freshman class of 1,239. The academic heft, leadership qualities and diversity of this class tell us that we are on the right track, enrolling students who will thrive intellectually and spiritually, inter-culturally and creatively – developing into the ethical young leaders our world needs today. We welcomed, too, an extraordinary wave of new leadership this year: a new vice president for student development; three new deans and an interim dean; as well as talented new directors for the Center for Global Engagement, the Jundt Art Museum, University Ministry and more. These highly capable leaders came from coast to coast – or from right here on campus, bringing new energy and ideas. They have listened carefully to their colleagues, coming to understand Gonzaga’s Jesuit, Catholic identity, its academic rigor and distinctive emphasis on learning beyond the classroom, its students and the incomparable Gonzaga community.