The Maturing of an Urban University

"Let us plan, dream and envision the St. Thomas that will emerge from the first decade of the 21st century"

In a speech given to faculty and staff on Sept. 5, the Rev. Dennis Dease, president of St. Thomas, discussed the current status and the future of the university.

I would like to speak to you today about the "the maturing of the University of St. Thomas." First, I will comment on St. Thomas’ new Carnegie classification. Second, I will offer a brief observation about the evolution of our graduate programs. Third, I will examine how our own growth plus certain changes taking place in the larger society might affect our programs in the liberal arts. I will conclude with some observations on the importance of strategic planning for our future.

The Carnegie Reclassification

I received a letter in July from Alexander McCormick of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. In the early 1970s this foundation developed the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education to, as McCormick points out in his letter, "aid research on higher education." The classification is updated from time to time to account for changes in individual institutions and the U.S. higher education system.

His letter informed us of changes in the system’s categories and how these will affect St. Thomas. The Chronicle of Higher Education describes these changes as a "sweeping revision of the classification" which "emphasizes teaching, focusing on the number and type of degrees an institution awards, rather than research or selectivity in admissions."

Two major changes have occurred. First, Carnegie has replaced its four doctoral categories with two. Second, it has reclassified many institutions. St. Thomas has been moved from the master’s (comprehensive) category to a doctoral category. In Mr. McCormick’s words:

"We have reduced the extent to which the classification differentiates doctoral-granting institutions. The four categories, Research Universities I & II and Doctoral Universities I & II, are being replaced by two categories: Doctoral/Research Universities-Extensive, for institutions awarding a substantial number of doctorates across a wide range of fields, and Doctoral/Research Universities- Intensive, for institutions awarding doctorates in smaller numbers or in a more concentrated set of fields.

"I am writing to provide advance notification that [the] University of St. Thomas will be classified among Doctoral/Research Universities-Intensive."

Doctoral/research universities

In the preliminary version of the 2000 edition of the Carnegie Classification, the following descriptions are given:

"Doctoral/Research Universities-Ex-tensive: These institutions offer a wide range of baccalaureate programs and are committed to graduate education through the doctorate. They award 50 or more doctoral degrees per year in at least 15 disciplines.

"Doctoral/Research Universities-Intensive: [Our new category.] These institutions offer a wide range of baccalaureate programs and are committed to graduate education through the doctorate. They award at least 10 doctoral degrees per year in three or more disciplines, or at least 20 doctoral degrees per year overall."

For your information, we awarded 35 doctoral degrees last year and 30 the year before.

What does the reclassification mean for St. Thomas? For one thing, when we are listed in the U.S. News and World Report rankings a year from now, our field of comparison likely will be expanded from the "Midwestern Regional University" category to the "National University" category. We will receive official notification from the magazine by next spring.

Growth of Graduate Education

But more importantly, this change of designation represents a milestone in the evolution of this community of higher learning and heralds the steady maturation of our graduate programs — especially our three Ed.D.s, as well as the D.Min. and Psy.D.

The Carnegie reclassification of St. Thomas reflects the breadth and depth of the development that has occurred in our graduate programs in recent years — a tribute to the impressive achievements of our graduate faculties. We can take great pride in the effective ways in which our graduate faculty have responded to the needs of our community. They truly embody the mission of St. Thomas as an urban university.

Our work in the coming year to reorganize the business programs into a College of Business reflects yet another step in our evolution. Business programs at both the graduate and undergraduate levels have matured remarkably and will continue to do so. The new structure will consolidate our resources, strengthen our position when we pursue the prestigious, specialized accreditation by the American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business, and enable these programs to reach new levels of excellence.

Moreover, in just a year St. Thomas will once again, after a hiatus of 68 years, welcome students for the study of law. A law program will afford our students the prospect of a wide array of joint-degree offerings and provide our graduate faculties with new opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration.

The Liberal Arts: A National Dialogue

But what lies ahead for the liberal arts? There are voices today asserting that liberal learning has become a luxury too costly for our society — a remnant from the pre-technological past, and that now priority must be given to technical and professional education. And perhaps some here today might wonder whether burgeoning graduate programs will eclipse what traditionally has been central to our mission: namely, education in the liberal arts.

There is at least one highly visible effort underway nationally to restart a conversation on the liberal arts. Last November, the Carnegie Corp. of New York, in an effort not directly related to the Carnegie classification, convened a meeting of educators "to stimulate a nationwide dialogue" on the place of the liberal arts in 21st century higher education. Out of that meeting came a challenge paper by Carol Barker, "Carnegie Challenge 2000: Liberal Arts Education for a Global Society." An accompanying Carnegie press release frames the question.

"In the last third of the 20th century, the widely held expectation for an undergraduate liberal arts education was to provide students with the knowledge, values and skills that would prepare them to be active, vital participants in society. But will that model effectively serve the student of the 21st century who is confronted with a world in which knowledge doubles every seven years, and where the explosion of both information and technology affects almost every aspect of his or her life?"

The Carnegie symposium asks whether it is even possible "to conceive a coherent framework for what educated people should know and be able to do" in such a world.

Among the issues raised during that discussion were:

• "Professional and liberal arts education exist in worlds apart, rather than as complementary parts of an integrated curriculum.

• "The humanities no longer play the central, cohesive role in the curriculum that they once did."

The question was then raised explicitly, Do we really need the liberal arts today? As one participant asked, "Why should we be grounding a curriculum in enduring ideas and values when the corporate ethos, as described by author Peter Drucker, is ‘abandon yesterday!’?"

The group found its answer in "the human need for connections."

"In a world of constant change, humans need to make connections between past and future, between their own experiences and the world they live in; they need a frame of reference. One participant cited Eastern Europe today as an example of spiritual disorientation, societies adrift between abandoned yesterdays and unknown tomorrows, lacking any shared system of values to provide direction."

So what is the future for liberal arts education in such a fast-paced, disconnected world?

Well, as Mark Twain once said of Wagner’s music, "It’s better than it sounds." Despite the serious challenges, I believe the prospects are quite good. To quote the Carnegie paper:

"In an information-based, technology-driven economy, all workers are expected to be problem-solvers and communicators; they must be able to assess situations and make judgments on the spot. In the world of the Internet, anyone can be a publisher, and anything can be published. Users, therefore, need to learn to assess information critically; they must be able to select, and to evaluate, skills a liberal education is designed to develop.

"Today, a global economy and information technology are combining to create a world without borders. In such a world, multicultural skills — understanding one’s own culture and other cultures and being able to communicate across differences of language, culture, race, and religion — will be critically important. Understood in this context, liberal arts has become the essential education for all people living in a global, technology-driven society."

In other words, the balanced education of tomorrow will be a sound education in the humanities, arts and sciences. Liberal education will provide society with adults who are productive and inquisitive.

The Liberal Arts at St. Thomas

This brings us to the question, Where do the liberal arts stand at the University of St. Thomas? Personally, I believe the future has never looked brighter for liberal arts education here. Here are some ways we are demonstrating our commitment.

To begin with, this university is blessed with an extraordinary faculty — the most distinguished and renowned in our 115-year history. This is in part the happy result of a decades-old policy of national searches to fill faculty positions. Clearly today St. Thomas owes its growing national and international reputation to its highly respected faculty.

We have made, especially this past year, substantial additions to the regular undergraduate faculty in order to reduce our dependence on adjunct faculty in nonprofessional disciplines and the core curriculum. Of the 34 new faculty positions created and filled this year, 22 of them are in undergraduate programs. At the same time, we remain indebted to the talented and dedicated adjunct faculty who serve our students so well.

We have a strong curriculum, recently strengthened through four years of arduous revision. This resulted in the enhancement of the core curriculum through the development of core courses and efforts to pair instructors. Our attention now must turn to a commitment to an integrated, cohesive core.

New efforts are under way at the undergraduate level, supported by a new Bush grant, "to explore innovative faculty-student interaction, pedagogical collaboration among faculty, both within and across departments, and awareness of academic community among both students and faculty in ways that engage the entire college in campus connections in support of student learning."

The establishment of a new structure, the College of Arts and Sciences, will strengthen the identity and enhance the coherence of our programs in liberal learning.

Strong enrollments coupled with continuous improvements in first-year ACT scores, high school class rankings and grade-point averages indicate the rising quality of our students.

Although we all know the limitations of popular college rankings, St. Thomas’ steady improvement in those of U.S. News and World Report’s annual "Best Colleges and Universities" issue has served as another indicator of the health of our program. Given our reclassification, we can no longer expect that we will be positioned near the top of our rankings. What we can expect, however, is that wherever we land, we will move up from there. We will continue to improve the quality of a St. Thomas education.

Through increased opportunities for international study, including special programs existing or underway in London, Paris, Rome and Havana, our students have dramatically increased their rate of study abroad. In 1995-96, 415 students studied abroad. That number increased by 77 percent, to 733, students last year — ranking St. Thomas No. 2 among master’s institutions in the United States.

And in the area of resources, a growing endowment, careful financial management and the generosity of our benefactors have lent stability to our programs.

Finally, another tangible way in which we demonstrate our commitment to the liberal arts is through high-quality, well-designed physical facilities. In the last nine years, approximately 85 percent of our faculty have moved into new or renovated space. In 1997 we opened the Frey Science and Engineering Center to update our science facilities. This past year we dedicated over $10 million to the total renovation of Albertus Magnus Hall. Not wanting to tear down one of our landmark buildings, we instead gutted the building and rebuilt a facility that is home to seven programs in the humanities and social sciences. It has been renamed the John R. Roach Center for the Liberal Arts, after Archbishop Roach, who chaired our board of trustees for 20 years and who has long been known for his support of liberal education.

The John R. Roach Center enables us to group under one roof the offices of the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences as well as the departments of Theology, Philosophy, English, Psychology, History, Political Science and Geography. It is fitting. Brick and mortar have their limits, of course, but one way an institution can demonstrate the importance it gives to a program is by providing up-to-date, state-of-the-art facilities in a signature building.

This past summer we also renovated space in the O’Shaughnessy Educational Center for our departments of Economics and Sociology. And in July we completed the renovation of the St. Thomas Rome campus, and dedicated it on Oct. 6.

The Liberal Arts and a Physical Campus

In recent years St. Thomas has pursued an aggressive building program to improve the quality of its programs. In the next few years we intend to add an aquatic center, a new music education building, a new McNeely Hall and a law school facility.

Some might question whether substantial investments in brick and mortar are wise in an age when information technology has made possible the virtual campus. I cannot imagine a genuine, liberal learning community except within the context of a traditional campus.

However, some have gone so far as to suggest that, given the potential of emerging technologies for distance learning, campuses as we know them will soon become a thing of the past. Forbes magazine quoted Peter Drucker in 1997 as saying, "Thirty years from now, the big university campuses will be relics. Higher education is in deep crisis." And in a March 13, 2000, op-ed piece in the New York Times, Arthur Levine, president of Teachers College, Columbia University, outlined what he regards as some of the "enormous implications of the new technologies."

Permit me to quote at length from Levine’s column, as well as from several astute observations it evoked from readers. He writes:

"It is possible right now for a professor to give a lecture in Cairo, for me to attend that lecture at Teachers College and for another student to attend it in Tokyo. It’s possible for all of us to feel we’re sitting in the same classroom. It’s possible for me to nudge (via e-mail) the student from Tokyo and say, ‘I missed the professor’s last comment. What was it?’; have my question translated into Japanese; have the answer back in English in seconds. It’s possible for the professor to point to me and my Japanese colleague and say, ‘I want you to prepare a project for next week’s class.’ If we can do all of that, and the demographics of higher education are changing so greatly, why do we need the physical plant called the college?

"Not long ago a questioner at a conference asked what my biggest fear was. I answered: ‘I think in the next few years we’re going to see some firm begin to hire well-known faculty at our most prestigious campuses and offer an all-star degree over the Internet. So they’ll take the best faculty from Columbia, Oxford and Tokyo University and offer a program at a lower cost than we can.’

"A top-notch professor on our campus touches a couple of hundred students a year. The lower-paid online professor may touch thousands. The economics is not in our favor.

"The biggest danger is that higher education may be the next railroad industry, which built bigger and better railroads decade after decade because that’s the business it thought it was in. The reality was that it was in the transportation industry, and it was nearly put out of business by airplanes. Colleges and universities are not in the campus business, but the education business."

A senior at Cornell University responded to Levine, stressing the co-curricular value of campus-based education. He writes: "Classroom education has its value, but most students who go to work for top firms and enter top graduate programs do so not only on the basis of their academic credentials, but on their leadership experience as well. You cannot develop leadership through a network of computers; leadership is developed on a campus."

Another reader focuses on the need humans have to gather: "Mr. Levine confuses the idea of genuine education, which depends on personal interaction among people and ideas in an intellectually and aesthetically stimulating environment, with an economic model of the efficient exchange of money for information and credentials. American universities are in far more danger from failing to sustain the conditions of high quality face-to-face education than they are from dot-competition."

Another reader writes: "It is lamentable that the college experience, which often includes forming the best friendships of one’s life and having life-shaping experiences for four years in a new place, may devolve into sitting at one’s desk in one’s own home, without human contact. Is this truly learning? Only in the most narrow sense of the word."

I might add to this that Bill George, chairman and CEO of the Fridley-based Medtronic Inc., one of this country’s most respected and successful corporations and no slouch when it comes to the savvy use of technology, has stated that Medtronic explicitly modeled its new world headquarters, now under construction, after St. Thomas’ Minneapolis campus. George firmly believes that such a setting will best foster the kind of creativity and research upon which Medtronic’s success depends.

This is just a sample of the national debate. As for me, I side with those who, to paraphrase Mark Twain, find reports of the demise of the liberal arts physical campus to be "greatly exaggerated." Facilities that are functionally appropriate and aesthetically pleasing, and located in a setting of natural beauty, do indeed provide a stimulating learning environment and a major asset to any community.

This is not to say that we do not need to explore seriously the potential of new technologies to more effectively carry out our mission. It is crucial to the successful future of St. Thomas that at the graduate level and for a variety of nondegree offerings we eagerly seek and appropriately engage the emerging technologies for distance learning.

The liberal arts, however, particularly among the traditional college-age population, will continue to require the personal face-to-face interaction that our undergraduate program provides so well.

Strategic Directions

The strategic planning in which we will all be engaged this coming year will, among other things, enable us to develop a table of needs for our next capital campaign. And here is where we will face a second brick-and-mortar issue: namely, how much further investment in new construction is wise given our many other needs? Our challenge will be to find the right balance.

Last year a series of campus forums and an online survey generated a list of issues critical to St. Thomas. To begin strategic planning in a way that would be both manageable and fruitful, the top eight issues were chosen as a starting point:

• Catholic identity and university mission

• Diversity

• Enrollment: Undergraduate

• Facilities and finances

• Faculty

• Graduate Programs

• Technology: Online learning

• Technology: Organizational structure

Eight study groups were formed — about 80 people in all. They presented their findings and recommendations to the executive vice president’s cabinet in June. [The board of trustees approved the strategic directions on Sept. 21. See pages 18-19 for a complete text, which also is available on the St. Thomas Web site.]

The ultimate goal of this strategic planning process is that both current programs and future growth be strategically managed in order to achieve nothing less than excellence in the education of our students.


Let me congratulate you — our faculty and professional staff — for all you have achieved here at St. Thomas. Our new Carnegie classification serves as a tribute to what you have accomplished with such excellence and signals the beginning of yet a new era in the life of this community. Our graduate programs can take genuine pride in the way in which they respond to the needs of our community. Our undergraduate programs are more vital than ever and the liberal arts and sciences continue to play a central, cohesive role in the curriculum. We are in this strong position today because people have cared and people have planned.

Now we must begin to plan again and to dream and to envision the University of St. Thomas that will emerge from the first decade of the 21st century. This is a daunting task because much is at stake and the work of shaping our future can stir our passions so. Yet in the end, the work of planning, like the academic calling itself, is a noble enterprise.

As Anne Matthews has written in her New York Times Notable Book of the Year for 1997, Bright College Years, "Campuses often look pastoral but act commercial, struggle to maintain serene facades even though questioning and conflict are their natural condition, frequently prefer to say A but do B. And yet the campus is home to the most serious work in the world … [and] a hardy, unkillable core of transcendent purpose. When smart people live at close quarters with the great mysteries (natural and human, present and past) the cost is often high; joining the knowledge business can be as risky as staring into the sun. But even in its least cost-efficient aspects — the dead ends and last stands, the instants of insight as unpredictable as earthquakes, the challenges and dissections that must follow every one — real value lies, and honor, too."

God bless you for the remarkable work you do with such dedication and distinction.