The Days Ahead
Michael Graham, S.J.
The results are now in and we set a record in December that I never expected to set: Xavier University’s alumni and friends contributed more than $1.8 million to the Annual Fund in that month alone, smashing last year’s record December by more than 5 percent. Throughout the month, the advancement staff and I were holding our collective breath to see how we would do in December, because how we finish the calendar year determines how we finish the fiscal year. In light of the present economic circumstances surrounding us, you can easily understand our nervousness. So this success, we didn’t see coming.
Oh sure: we received several significant gifts that pushed our totals up, and one of those in particular was a handsome one. But for the most part, we get gifts like that most Decembers, and so they tend to cancel each other out. And even without that one very large gift, we would have handily beaten last year’s December total.
A consultant friend of mine I was speaking to recently had an interesting response as I bragged about our record December. Speaking with the conviction that only a consultant can, he said to me that people do not tend in economic downturns to give fewer dollars to the same number of organizations. Rather, they slice off the charities at the bottom of their list so as to continue giving what they would like to give to the organizations and institutions most important to them.
I guess that means that, as 2008 drew to a close, a whole lot of people put Xavier first: put our mission and our tradition first, put our students and our faculty first, put our dialogue, put our engagement, put our outreach and more, put all of that first. And if you think that has given me a lot to think about and a lot to be grateful for as the New Year begins and as our students return for a new semester, you are absolutely right.
You don’t need me to tell you that the economic environment around us is a difficult one—unprecedented, really, to the majority of us. We have all read the papers and seen the reports. We all know people who are weathering the storm in a particularly hard way. Perhaps even some of us are called to be those people. No matter who we are and no matter where we work or what we do, it is touching all our lives profoundly.
That is likewise the case for us here at Xavier University. After careful discussion and much deliberation, our Board of Trustees, in tandem with University management, decided that now is not the time for us to move forward on Xavier Square, that mixed-use, University-community project that was to cover the more than 20 acres of land that flows toward the campus from the intersection of Montgomery Road and Dana Avenue. While we remain committed to some form of the project at some time, we all agreed that pursuing the project now could not be done without taking on a variety of risks that are just unwise in the present environment.
Likewise, the economic climate has required us to throw out the window all that we thought we knew about how it is that prospective students make enrollment decisions. We will likely feel the impact in graduate populations who depend upon personnel development resources from school districts or companies, resources now in short supply. Undergraduates are going to be far more cost-conscious and value-smart as they make their college decisions in the coming months. I can safely say that we have never worked quite as hard as we are now working to guarantee fall enrollments.
And because of the heightened scrutiny on how it is that colleges and universities spend student tuition dollars, we have decided that there is no time like the present to address a variety of structural issues within the University budget. And so, we are taking an extraordinarily hard look at how we spend each and every dollar to make sure that every dollar spent supports as best it can the core mission of the University to form students intellectually, morally and spiritually, with rigor and compassion, toward lives of solidarity, service and success.
No, none of us have seen the likes of this before. But here we are nonetheless. And as I survey the landscape, I can’t believe how fortunate we are to be able to address the present difficulties with strategic assets any institution would count itself lucky to have. Our underlying Jesuit, Catholic character and tradition, first of all, but then, our dramatic growth in so many ways over the course of the last 15 years. Not to mention a remarkably talented and committed group of faculty, who challenge and engage our students every day in ways that make us proud. And by their side, dedicated professionals and support staff across the University who build upon the work of the faculty in ways that likewise advance our mission in the lives and characters of our students. We have as well the most dedicated and talented group of senior administrators—bar none—who have ever served at Xavier University. Our Board of Trustees is second to none in its vision, its talent and its commitment. And then there are all of you out there who are reading these words: our alumni and friends who encourage us in so very many ways and who every now and then send us what you can spare so that we can do better the important work we do.
December’s Annual Fund record, then, reminded me of why it is that Xavier University’s best days remain the days ahead of it: because we are blessed to have here in Cincinnati and across the Xavier nation more people than I could ever count who put Xavier University first. And with you all, I look forward to engaging the work ahead of us.
Blessing to you all it his new year. May it likewise be among the best of years for you, no matter what the challenge may be.