Fall President's Address 2022

The following is a transcript of the is address delivered by President Thayne M. McCulloh, Ph.D. to Gonzaga University faculty and staff on September 14, 2022.


Thayne M. McCulloh, President

Greetings, and thank you all for coming today. I hope that this is an opportunity to listen and accomplish a few things at the same time. Thank you also to those of you listening in or viewing this asynchronously. I very much appreciate you all. I would like to begin with a Land Acknowledgement followed by a blessing from our Acting Vice President for Mission Integration Dr. Maccarone.

Land Acknowledgement

Thayne M. McCulloh, President

In the spirit of the Jesuit practice of composition of place, we acknowledge that Gonzaga University resides on the homelands of the Spokane Tribal People.

This land holds the cultural DNA and the Spirit of the First People of this place: “The People of the River.” It is their Ancestors who are here and bring forth the power of this place—the knowledge that comes from the land.

We are grateful to be on this land and ask for its support as we work to manifest our intentions during this gathering of hearts, minds, and spirits.


Dr. Ellen Maccarone, Acting V.P. for Mission Integration, Assoc. Professor of Philosophy

We come together at the start of a new academic year to find new colleagues and students. We also find much that has been underway, whether you are on campus this summer or not, there was much that continues, and much that is new. The continuity and the newness together at once a mark of a healthy embracing of our Jesuit tradition when we both find God in all things and meet everyone where they are. And so often that means we are brought along on a new journey that may have started before we arrived on it. Today, we will hear some of where Gonzaga has been and some of where we are headed. Ignatius reminded him where he had been gone trust in God path forward. May we be open to learn from our past and embrace what lies ahead, may we seek understanding and work collaborative for Gonzaga's future, and our own part in it. Our tradition gives us stability and our yearning for the new power to do what is needed. For this, we pray, in all your holy names, Amen.


Thayne M. McCulloh, President

Thank you, Ellen. I want to take an opportunity to thank in a particular way, my colleagues in the office, Julia Bjordahl and Angela Ruff, for your support in putting today together, and for our colleagues at Sodexo, and at GUEST for supporting this event. Please join me in thanking them.

You may be wondering why I chose to offer an address to our community in this new format. In so doing, I am adopting an approach that many presidents now take on their respective campuses, one intended to provide all staff and faculty an opportunity to hear a key message, or messages, at the same time. Historically, I’ve offered such remarks at the fall faculty conference and again at the fall staff assembly meeting, and today’s approach does not preclude opportunities to engage in discussion about concerns or issues that tend to be more specific to staff than faculty, or vice versa. At the end of the day, we are one university, one community, and my hope and intent during this time is to share perspectives, reflections and viewpoints that will be of interest to everyone, and to do so at one time.

This past Spring, our commencement ceremonies were held in person, masks available but optional, in large-capacity arenas. As is typical for our undergrad ceremony, each graduate invited a number of family members and friends as guests, and I was once again able to shake hands with each graduating senior as they left the stage and returned to their seats. For me, it was a poignant weekend, following as it did in the wake of two successive years of very different ceremonies: the first, a delayed, and ultimately virtually facilitated, ceremony; and the second, dramatically modified in-person, socially distanced, masked and subdued outdoor ceremonies. It was in the context of the most recent, far more celebratory ceremony, that I shook the hand of a student who I first encountered the summer of 2020, truly the early months of the pandemic. He and I had crossed paths outside DeSmet Hall, and he asked if we could take a photo together, something that I later learned was actually on a “Senior bucket list.” As we got to talking, through his very broad smile I could sense a lot of emotion, welling just underneath the surface. He was grateful, he said, for Gonzaga. He was grateful that, despite the threat of COVID and the many challenges we were managing, that our plan was to resume our work, inasmuch as possible, in the fall. He said something that stuck with me all through the complicated months that followed this initial encounter: for some of us, Gonzaga is like a light in the darkness.

Over time, I met with that student once in a while, and I learned that, early in the summer of 2020, this student’s Dad had died from complications of COVID-19; a compromised immune system had led to complete, cataclysmic organ failure. Sensing that he would not make it, the Dad had implored his son: go back, finish your degree. He had many reasons not to: as a single child, he worried about his Mom being alone; and he had his own depression and anxiety to deal with. Vaccines – though not a panacea, were still months away, if not longer. But he did stay. He did finish. And now this brilliant, sensitive, thoughtful student is launched into a career for which we prepared him.

Why do we do what we do? What is our purpose, as a university?

Despite all the noise, all the suspicion about politically motivated indoctrination, the narrative about whether a college degree is worth the investment “particularly in the humanities” . . . I believe with every fiber of my being that what we do here does transform the lives of our students and is absolutely worth the investment. Through thousands of individual interactions – with faculty, staff, peers, community members, business owners, little kids in the neighborhood, benefactors, speakers, civic leaders – our students gain competence, confidence, and the capacity to, with skill and depth of understanding – engage the tasks that next lie before them. This is the work you do, the work you make possible, each and every day. And our labor of educating occurs both within but also far outside the classroom. Here, in our community, students are learning by observation. They observe how we act and react, and how we treat them. They learn about systems and decision-making by the way we enforce policies or provide services. All along the way, they are appropriating information and tools that will inform the ways in which they work, organize, supervise, and lead. We are a complex, multidimensional, living laboratory.

During his recent visit to Edmonton, Alberta Pope Francis addressed the First Nations people gathered there, saying: "Education must always start from respect and the promotion of talents already present in individuals. It is not, nor can it ever be, something pre-packaged and imposed. For education is an adventure, in which we explore and discover together the mystery of life."

At the beginning of this week, the most recent years’ U.S. News & World Report college and university rankings were released to the public, something always greeted with tremendous anxiety across this country. Those of us who are perhaps more directly involved with the process are familiar with the methodology used to create the rankings, and there can be no question about it: the methodology could be vastly improved. But if you accept that U.S. News at the very least provides a view into how Gonzaga and other institutions are generally regarded by colleagues in higher education space, I think there are some things we can observe with pride. Gonzaga consistently is perceived as an institution that does an excellent job teaching students; in combination with robust and supportive residential in campus community life, excellent support services both academic and social; teaching excellence is I believe a major contributor to high retention and graduation rates.

Just yesterday, I saw that Conde Nast Traveler magazine listed Gonzaga as one of the 56 Prettiest College Campuses in America. There are nearly 4,000 degree-granting postsecondary institutions in this country, most of which have campuses – and if you look at the Top 56 list we are in incredible company! Huge kudos to our colleagues in Plant Services, the Grounds Department, Custodial and all those who work so hard to make this a beautiful campus!

While we are by no means perfect, we should we take pride in this institution and what is accomplished here. And – there are many people who want us to be successful and have stepped forward to support us in achieving greater success. From the Bollier Center for Integrated Science and Engineering to the UW-GU Medical Education Partnership building on The Point south of the Coach Hertz Baseball Field, there is so much generosity that stands behind us and our students, thanks in greatest part to the work of our University Advancement colleagues. I want to take an opportunity to acknowledge and thank our colleagues who work 24/7 year-round in University Advancement for their work in helping to bring those benefactors to us. Thank you.


As I began thinking about the kinds of things I wanted to share for today, I kept coming back to several key themes: gratitude, renewal, and opportunity. Earlier this week, the nation observed the 21st anniversary of the terrorist attacks on 9/11. I can still remember vividly watching the morning news program as what was first perceived to be a terrible accident became all too clearly the intentional act of people bent on destruction. The traditional-aged college students we are educating this year have no memory of 9/11, some of them were not born; but it, and the world’s reaction to it, were transformative. 9/11 changed the way we saw ourselves as a nation, and our sense of national security; it changed airports and airline travel; and it translated into a protracted, costly series of military engagements overseas.

These last 2½ years have also been transformative. I was recalling the run on grocery stores in the early days of the pandemic – for toilet paper. Do you remember that?? Supply chain issues showed up early!

There were a lot of challenging things that happened during the first year and a half of this pandemic. But there are also some things that we learned, and some opportunities that have come our way as well. It is true that we have experienced a significant amount of change in our employee population. Individuals who made important contributions prior to, and during the pandemic subsequently chose other places and do other things. We have gained amazing new colleagues, whose perspective and experience will benefit us greatly. Our students too have been challenged during the pandemic, with whole chunks of learning attempted online and remote, and extensive periods of their educational experience without sports, in-person performances, and important opportunities we know are critical to their social development. They come to us hungry for these experiences and opportunities and remain anxious about what they have missed and what impact that may have on who they are today and what they're capable of doing.

But our community leaned in, hard, when our ability to work in-person was restricted; when we were compelled to get very creative about remote learning and work; when we were challenged to support students who became ill or might well be; when the chance to save lives with vaccines became possible. We lean in, hard. We were among the first places to bring vaccines to the broader community in Spokane because we leaned in on how to get that done. I think we are being called to recognize that COVID has had a transformational impact – it has changed us in profound and permanent ways.

I will always be grateful for the ways this community came together and kept things going for our students. Thank you to all of you who walked this path with Gonzaga these past several years. You made a difference to literally thousands of students and helped us keep the wheels on the bus.

I was reminded of you when I saw – as I mentioned in my reflection at yesterday’s Mass of the Holy Spirit – a video of Duke WBB Coach Kara Lawson. She said, “we all wait in life for things to get easier.” “I just have to get through this.” She said, “Guess what? It will never get easy. It never gets easier; what happens is you handle hard stuff better. If you have a meaningful pursuit in life, if you want to be successful at it, it’s going to go to those people who handle hard well.” She went on to tell her players, “don’t get discouraged if it’s hard.” This is a community that handled hard well.

As I think about the opportunity that we have before us, I am also grateful, for new colleagues who have chosen – sometimes from great distances – to join our university community and contribute to the actualization of our mission. From new staff and faculty colleagues to new leaders in the administration, our community has been blessed with the arrival of an amazing infusion of talented individuals. Following former Provost Deena González, who I am happy to say has returned to us this fall and is teaching as well as working on a number of projects, we welcome Provost Sacha Kopp, who brings a set of experiences as provost and senior academic administrator from several large and well-regarded universities. Provost Kopp literally began working from the day he was offered the position, and I am so grateful for his enthusiasm, his curiosity, his joy of learning, and his thoughtful way of engaging complex issues. Please join me in welcoming Provost Kopp.

I also want to express gratitude to Dr. Ellen Maccarone, Associate Professor of Philosophy and most recently Faculty Advisor to the President, for her willingness to step into the role of Acting Vice President for Mission Integration. Ellen is an extraordinarily thoughtful and empathic individual with a wonderful wit and a genuine love for this university. Her commitment to immersing herself in numerous mission formation programs – ranging from the Ignatian Colleagues Program to her regional leadership for the Spiritual Exercises in Everyday Life program here in Spokane – make her an ideal person to accompany our colleagues in Mission and Ministry and more broadly, the university community, as we discern our path and future as a Catholic, Jesuit and humanistic mission. Please join me in thanking Ellen.

Today is also an opportunity to acknowledge and welcome our new Vice President for Human Resources, Mr. Ray Kliewer. Mr. Kliewer comes to us from Indiana University School of Medicine, a very large organization which employs thousands of people, where he served as CHRO; but his professional background also involves private industry, and out of these experiences brings a wealth of information and knowledge about human resource practices from various sectors. I am very grateful to Ray who is in the process of moving his household across the country for making the decision to come and work with us here at Gonzaga. We will create numerous opportunities for this community to meet and get to know Ray. Would you please join me in welcoming Ray Kliewer to Gonzaga.

Coming out of the early phase of this pandemic and recognizing the transformational impact of this experience – which includes the arrival of new colleagues in the midst of much change and transition – I think we are being called into a period of renewal, of new life, new ways of doing things.

Julia Bjordahl said something yesterday, as I was talking with her about this talk, that framed up perfectly the fundamental question: “How do we operate this small city and still meet the high expectations our students have, given everything that has happened? Because people are depending upon us.

I have worked to serve this community, as president, for over 13 years now. Over the course of that period, I have come to believe a number of things about how a university effectively operates. One of the key learnings I have had is that an institution does not generally reap huge savings exclusively by cutting or reducing expenses. Now without question there are gains and opportunities to be created by becoming more cost-efficient. But greater opportunities for growth and development come through finding new resources that generate additional revenues. Apart from tuition increases, the three most significant sources of additional revenues come from (a) increases in tuition-generation, (b) growth in fundraising, and (c) development of new, non-tuition generating sources of revenue.

I want to give a shout-out to all of our colleagues in the Enrollment Management division: undergraduate and graduate admission, student financial services, the Center for Lifelong Learning, and all the partners with whom these areas work. As I have observed many times over these past years, the work of attracting, enrolling and retaining qualified students with the capacity to be successful both academically and financially is getting more and more difficult, as the competition for students becomes more acute. Despite this challenging reality, our colleagues have successfully enrolled exceptional and increasingly more diverse classes over time, with renewed success at the Law School these past two years as well.

In the first category, we need to be open to developing new academic programs and refining- or re-architecting existing programs to ensure they are contemporary and relevant, as we seek to attract new populations of students to the university. Studies show there are enormous opportunities to address contemporary, real-world needs in areas such as applied technology – data analytics, cybersecurity, blockchain applications, database management. Another area with enormous needs are in the healthcare professions, e.g., Nursing, Physician Assistants, Public Health. I want to be clear: I am not advocating for developing programs in these spaces in response to the current fad, at the expense of the humanities and liberal arts-based core courses; but I believe we must. Now is a good time to move boldly into the space of imagining the best ways of providing the kinds of educational programs that our students need and are looking for and will allow us to remain competitive.

This year we will embark upon review and revision of our institutional strategic plan, and effort led by Provost Sacha Kopp. Ideally an institution’s strategic plan should speak to and articulate our collective aspirations for Gonzaga over the next several years; it should clearly articulate our institutional priorities and those priorities should animate the work of our college, schools, departments and divisional areas. Our most recent plan captured many of the desires we had coming into the second decade of this millennium; but where we find ourselves, coming out of the initial years of this pandemic, and conscious of the increased competitive field within which we work, obligate us to reflect on the question of, “how will we be successful given what we know, what we believe is important, and what we want for our students and ourselves?” And we must acknowledge that the combined forces of dynamic change in employment and the expectations of those who work here, coupled with a very real impact of economic inflation, obligate us to reassess the assumptions that underpin our individual and collective priorities and efforts at Gonzaga. If we are to remain accessible and affordable for students – while at the same time making appropriate and necessary or increases to salaries and compensation, we must examine what our priorities are and reimagine the ways in which work is successfully undertaken and our goals achieved.

This important examination and evaluation effort, which inevitably results in making significant, even difficult choices, need not be careless or insensitive and its approach. Our plan for surviving, and even thriving, in the face of COVID-19 was made so much richer and more robust with the involvement of large numbers of people, focused not only on the question of how to get through this challenging circumstance, but how to do it well, and reflective of our mission values. We took a very bad situation and made the best decisions we could cause given the circumstances. Utilizing a similar approach, I believe we can be very successful in our strategic planning efforts.

Grand Challenges

As we began the new academic year, Provost Kopp and I announced an initiative which needs your support and engagement. On August 18th, I sent out a message to all staff and faculty, asking for your participation in an evaluation of our current institutional plan. We need your involvement and perspectives. Framed in terms of “Grand Challenges,” the Provost is seeking ideas and input across five categories or areas of focus:

  1. Research and creative activities
  2. Student success and development
  3. Formation and development of faculty and staff
  4. Programs of Study
  5. Sustainability and stewardship

This last category, as it has consistently been throughout my time, is defined broadly and includes the ways in which we utilize and deploy our resources.

During this next year, as the Grand Challenges project unfolds and moves forward, we will be paying careful attention to this process and developing priorities for our next major fundraising campaign. Our colleagues in University Advancement do amazing work, every day, to generate gifts for a wide array of programs and activities at the University. But they need direction and to know what we want.

As a companion to the institutional planning effort, we also need your thinking to inform planning in your specific department or area. This year, I will be asking our senior administrators to engage in a process of re-examining and re-evaluating the goals and operating assumptions that guide and direct work in their areas. The shifting landscape of our work, and the changing needs of our employees, demand that we thoughtfully consider where our institutional resources will best be deployed in fulfillment of our educational mission.


Several years before the pandemic ever washed upon our shores, colleagues and I undertook, at my request, a project that was intended to bring consistency and a common language with which to narrate our desires and expectations for each other as employee colleagues: faculty and staff, executives and supervisors. Having expressed our hopes and aspirations for our students in the institution’s mission statement, this effort has been an attempt to express our aspirations for ourselves those who work in animate that mission every day. And ultimately, this project, which in its most recent form was sponsored by Dr. Michelle Wheatley and shepherded by Professor Brian Steverson and Director of organizational development Sherry Steinaway, revealed that as we have grown larger and more complex, there are indeed enormous variations between individuals in areas when it comes to the experience of work, supervision, and peer interaction. The institutional work values, which were promulgated formally for the first time in December 2019, are intended to be tools and guidance, versus mandates. Vastly improved from their original form, the work values are not and can never be perfect, but I believe we do need a set of aspirations to more clearly define what we want for ourselves as individual covert contributors, as well as our collective work experience. I am grateful to Sherry and Brian for their work across so many departments and areas over the past year. They, together with many engaged colleagues, have worked to identify ways in which the work values can support improvements in communication, supervision, policy development and trust building.

In case you have not seen them more recently, our university work values are on the myGU website and are another expression of this ongoing project. What we want for ourselves as employees, what we want from each other, and for our work environments is the focus of this particular project and I hope members of this community will continue to engage and invest in in this process. The only way it can be successful is if we choose to support, adopt, promote, and advocate for these types of values as we continue to develop, clarify, modify, and create policies and approaches reflective of what we want for ourselves as a community.

University Work Values

  • Promoting Excellence in Academic Endeavors and Professional Practice
    Fostering intellectual depth, competence, reflection, and creativity in pursuing exemplary, rather than satisfactory, outcomes.
  • Sharing Responsibility for Mission Identity and Leadership
    Making a personal commitment to learn about Gonzaga’s mission, discovering ways to contribute personally and collaboratively to our distinctive learning and research community.
  • Affirming a Commitment to Human Dignity
    Engaging one another with profound respect, professionalism, and an ethic of care while supporting one another’s continued learning, development, and maximizing of potential.
  • Advancing a Culture of Inclusiveness
    Developing cultural fluencies and global awareness, and practicing habits that enable us to value, recruit, and support community members from historically underrepresented backgrounds.
  • Caring for the Earth while Stewarding our University Resources
    Recognizing the interconnectedness of human life and the Earth, safeguarding and conserving University resources, balancing the needs of the moment with those of the future.
  • Cultivating Individual and Community Accountability
    Demonstrating mutual commitment to our shared project by holding ourselves and others responsible for actions, expecting appropriate behavior, and aligning activities with ethical and professional standards.

With the arrival of Mr. Ray Kliewer, our new VP for Human Resources, our community has gained a wonderful, and highly experienced chief human resources officer who I believe will – once he has had an opportunity to engage with the amazing colleagues in HR and more broadly across the university, to understand both the history and context of our employment practices as a university – be of significant help in creating a competitive, contemporary people-first approach for our institution. This will involve not only evaluating staff pay and total compensation but working with the provost and deans to examine faculty salaries and compensation across the range from tenure-track to short-term, fixed-term contracts. But beyond the core issue of salaries and total compensation, we need to take what we have learned in the pandemic and examine the broader context within which work takes place. What additional resources do we need to develop and provide for supervisors and supervisees? What are the circumstances within which on-site, remote, or hybrid work approaches, ought to occur? What are the ramifications of evolving our institutional expectations around work for important tangible resources such as office space, physical and virtual learning environments, and technology tools? I have asked Mr. Kliewer and Provost Kopp to co-chair an advisory committee that examines – in a comprehensive manner – our physical space issues and needs, together with current employment practice, so to come with informed and integrated recommendations regarding priorities and decision-making.

On an even deeper level, however, I think it is important to acknowledge that all of you – whether you are new to the university or have been here for decades – all of you have wisdom and perspective about what we need to be focusing on as we imagine together the future for Gonzaga. And I want, and need, to hear your voice. Our success through the pandemic was assured by the commitment so many people made to join together in common purpose and work together creating responses and solutions. We proved to ourselves that we can do hard things.

Gonzaga University has been affected by COVID-19 in real and lasting ways, no question about it. But there is no going back; and getting stuck in our efforts to try and return to a pre-pandemic reality, as tempting and comforting as that is, is actually not the answer. Instead, we need to acknowledge and affirm that the pandemic made what we do even more important. What we do is even more critical today than it was before COVID-19 hit, and we have figured out how to do this really well.

Gonzaga’s success begins with our people. Jesuit higher education at its best is a highly relational endeavor, involving an enormous amount of interaction and interpersonal connection. Excellent academic, co-curricular, support services and programs, are created and made possible by talented, committed colleagues. We seek to facilitate an experience that truly does provide students the opportunity to develop as whole persons, and then seeks to link that individual to a network of experiences and opportunities that will advantage them in their chosen profession, whatever that might be.

The work of our administration is to support and facilitate the work of great colleagues, while simultaneously paying attention to what our students need and are asking for, as well as coordinating efforts in service to the achievement of our institutional goals. But to do this effectively, we need your involvement and your voice. We need to know what you need. I don't know the answer to this question, unless I hear it.

In this coming year, I ask each of you to engage in some aspect of the work that represents our efforts to renew our university and obtain for it, and ourselves, as much opportunity for success as possible. We need your best thinking when it comes to the revision of our strategic plan, the development of responses to the Grand Challenges project, the adoption of our work values, the development of our human resources strategy, the integration of our Inclusive Excellence Strategic Plan, and our approaches to better supporting our students in this time when their success at the secondary level has been impacted by the pandemic.

So, thank you in advance, for your participation, your investment, and your involvement. May God bless each of you, and our endeavors, in this new academic year. Thank you once again for being here.