President Julive Sullivan addressed faculty and staff on May 15 at the fifth annual OneUniversity gathering, celebrating the academic year and looking toward the future. Below is a transcription of Sullivan’s remarks.
It is the end of the academic year and many of us are doing double, and sometimes triple, duty. We are doing our daily jobs, as well as pushing to complete projects and initiatives before the end of the academic year, preparing for and participating in ceremonies and celebrations honoring our new graduates, and launching projects that create our future, such as our Chapel expansion and construction of new residence halls.
I want to express my immense gratitude for all of your work. You are incredible, and I come to work every day grateful to be a part of this community.
I cherish this time, once a year, when we gather as One University to celebrate and recognize our commitment to one another and our collective achievements in furthering our mission.
When we crafted our strategic plan almost five years ago, a central theme that emerged was working and acting as One University. Let me read this theme to you as articulated in our strategic plan: “we are a unified community of diverse students, faculty, staff and alumni working together to fulfill our mission. As one university, we recognize the entire St. Thomas community serves as the foundation for achieving our vision for a better world. We will create formal and informal structures that support a system of collaboration and integrated decision-making for all units on campus as well as a campus culture where meaningful relationships develop among people otherwise separated by role, profession, discipline, geographical location or organizational structure.”
And I will add, “develop meaningful relationships with persons otherwise separated by any other category we use to identify ourselves.”
This is so important today. We live in a society that becomes more and more divided every day. More people live in their silod echo chamber and only allow in perspectives and viewpoints reinforcing of their own. Social media and targeted marketing contribute to this by setting “our channels” so that we only hear what we want to hear. This foments and reinforces inflexible attitudes, division and hate. We cannot let St. Thomas reflect this kind of culture.
Thus, I feel very blessed to be part of a university that recognizes and appreciates our individual differences, and sees us as one university with a common mission. A mission of advancing the common good and of respecting and promoting the dignity of every human person. And, of course, a mission centered on serving our students.
Today, I want to reflect briefly on some of the ways I believe we have grown in our strength as One University.
Growth does not mean that we always agree, or that we are always comfortable.
It does mean that as we face challenges, we grow in empathy for one another. We grow by understanding and learning from one another’s perspectives. We become a healthier university because we approach a common mission with a diversity and richness of thought and perspective.
So, how did we grow and strengthen as One University this year?
First, our faculty debated and approved a new core curriculum. This was very challenging and sometimes personal; as such a debate is at every university I have known. All of our faculty consistently put our students first, yet, as you would expect, they had different views of how to best achieve this. I want to thank everyone who participated in these debates. For regardless of what your perspective was, I know you were, and remain, committed to our students.
Now, that we have an approved core, I want to strongly encourage all to come together as one university and embrace new opportunities to implement it and animate it, so it can be as rich as possible.
Another example of our growth as One University was the racist event that occurred on campus last fall. As One University, we rose up and emphatically declared that this racist act violated our shared convictions. Even more importantly, we made an intentional and collective commitment to become a more inclusive, equitable, and just institution. I am so inspired by how everyone has come together to embrace the hard work required by this commitment.
What are other ways we have pursued a common mission as One University this year?
Dougherty Family College
We will soon see another class of Tommies off into the world. And, included among our 2019 graduates is our very first class of Dougherty Family College students. The efforts of so many faculty and staff across our campuses led to a successful launch and two years of operation of the Dougherty Family College. Graduating our first class makes me very proud!
Certainly, St. Thomas has changed the lives of our DFC students. Moreover, we as a university have been challenged to learn and grow. By knowing and serving our DFC students, we have learned valuable lessons and renewed a deep connection to our convictions and our mission of advancing the common good.
As of today, 90 percent of our 61 DFC graduates plan to continue their studies at four-year institutions, and I am delighted to share that 32 Dougherty graduates, or just over half, currently are planning to continue their studies at St. Thomas.
I am very proud of how the Dougherty Family College reflects our growing and strengthening as One University.
Sustainability is a renewed area of focus for our work as One University. It engages all of us in the care of our common home, both locally (including here at St. Thomas) and globally.
This work is firmly rooted in the Catholic social thought principle, care for creation. There also is an inextricable link between sustainability and advancing the common good, especially given the disproportionate impact climate change has on historically marginalized communities.
Our sustainability council, comprised of St. Thomas faculty, staff and students from across campus, has created a comprehensive action plan to advance our commitment to sustainability.
As we implement this plan, we will infuse sustainability in our academic programs, student life, facilities and operations, public engagement, and administrative functions.
There will be many opportunities to read and hear about this plan as we launch the implementation over the next few months.
There is a great deal of student enthusiasm and momentum around our sustainability efforts. The Undergraduate Student Government just passed a resolution urging the university to expand its efforts to mitigate the global climate crisis and to keep environmental sustainability at the forefront of all decision-making processes. They also indicated that sustainability will be a major focus of their work next year.
I want to spend a minute talking about another opportunity we may soon embrace as One University. This one involves athletics, which is a significant part of the fabric of our St. Thomas community. Currently, we have approximately 700 student-athletes on campus, which represents 11% of our undergraduate population. I am very proud of these excellent student athletes and their outstanding coaches.
As you have probably heard by now, there are serious questions about whether St. Thomas will be able to remain in the MIAC, our current athletics conference. There are concerns about our dominance across all sports.
In the last five years, St. Thomas has won 64 of the 117 MIAC regular-season championships, which is more than the number won by all of the other schools combined. This year, we won 11 of 22 total regular-season championships, and we just swept the MIAC All Sports Award (both men and women) for the 12th year in a row.
In addition, we consistently compete for, and often achieve, a top 10 national ranking among all 440 D3 schools in the country for the Director’s Cup, which is based on success in all sports. This year, we currently rank #10 in the country.
We have marvelous coaches who recruit and develop outstanding student athletes. And we are not going to change that.
While our athletic conference may change, our commitment to academic and athletic excellence will not. We control our own standards, whether it is for admissions or any other standard of excellence, no matter what conference or division we compete in.
In addition, we continue to have superb athletic leadership with our new VP and Athletic Director, Phil Esten. If we do have to look at other conference options, he will lead this effort and involve members of our St. Thomas community.
We have a strong and proud athletic history at St. Thomas – and I am certain we also have a bright future.
As we close out this academic year, we are approaching the conclusion of the 5-year timeline set forth in our St. Thomas 2020 strategic plan.
I am amazed at the progress we have made in the past 4 and ½ years. It is extraordinary and reflects our collective strength as One University.
Next fall, we will start the process of “refreshing” our goals and priorities. We will engage in a community conversation about what is finished, what will continue, and what we need to emphasize as we refresh our strategic plan.
St. Thomas is a thriving, changing and dynamic institution because of you. You are willing to think big and to do the collaborative work necessary to make progress.
I want to again express my deep gratitude for each of you. Thank you for being a part of this ever-dynamic community. Thank you for your dedication to our students and for embracing the changes that ensure St. Thomas continues to flourish.
You are dedicated to improving the St. Thomas experience for our current community as well as for future generations.