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University celebrates fourth annual Academic Day

President outlines goals of strategic plan for academics and future development on campus

10/26/04

Xavier University President Michael J. Graham, S.J., set his sites on the giant blue spruce tree towering over the intersection of Dana and Ledgewood avenues as the literal focal point of the Xavier of the future.

Graham noted that the tree sits on the highest elevation on campus and as such should hold a “signature building” that would say, “Here’s Xavier University and here is what we do. It would be a premiere academic building.”

What that building will be or when it will be built hasn’t been identified, but it's part of the University’s new strategic plan, which is in its final stages after several years of preparation. The unveiling of that plan was the focus of Graham’s talk in closing the University’s annual Academic Day on Tuesday, Oct. 16.

For four years, the University has celebrated its academic life with a day of presentations, speeches and student performances centered on a certain realm of academics. This year’s theme was “Ethics: Educating for a Good Society,” and featured several programs that challenged the University to engage students in the responsibilities of good citizenship.

The morning session’s keynote speaker was Robert Bellah, Elliott Professor of Sociology Emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley, who addressed the capacity crowd on Educating Citizens in an Imperial Society. Other activities throughout the day included a faculty discussion, a musical presentation of the Slavoink Dances, a film and discussion based on life in Jamaica by filmmaker Stephanie Black and a tribute to the late James E. Hoff, S.J., former president and chancellor of the University who died in July.

Graham’s introduction to the strategic plan included the vision of a physically transformed campus that embodies the plan's intangible academic changes. Those changes specifically look toward enhancing the academic environment for students and faculty as it also encompasses the University reaching out to its urban neighbors.

“It’s about our finding new ways to embody better the ideals we hold close to our hearts, and it certainly has an impact on our students,” Graham said.

The long-awaited strategic plan, titled “The Power of X: Planning Strategically at Xavier,” embraces four themes that represent the essence of Xavier. “This takes what we do here to our very best and moves it forward,” Graham said. “We will find new ways to drive the mission, vision and values of the University more deeply into what we do here.”

Graham outlined the four themes or goals of the plan and some of the details of how they will be put into effect:

• Recruit, retain and develop students to achieve Xavier’s outcomes, also referred to as the graduate at graduation. One way to do that is to help students become more engaged in owning their educational experience by understanding the importance of the core courses required to graduate, Graham said.

It’s also important to focus on increasing the diversity of the student body in regards to recruiting minority and first-generation students, and to increase financial aid resources and the number of applicants to Xavier.

As part of that effort, Graham said the University is searching for a vice president for diversity.

• Foster integrated learning and academic programs of distinction. The University will take another look at its core curriculum in light of the fact that 60 percent of the faculty have been hired since the last review 12 years ago. Also, collaborative research between students and faculty can be expanded and enhanced with the creation of a center for teaching, learning and research as part of the new construction plan.

• Create a community-engaged learning network. The University took a giant step toward that goal, Graham said, with the announcement this week of a federal grant of nearly $400,000 Xavier won for a community engagement plan put together by the University’s Community Building Institute.

The grant funds a plan that focuses on using University resources to improve housing, schools, business and leadership in the surrounding communities and includes a day care center that Xavier faculty, staff and students could use as well as neighborhood residents.

“It’s doing something distinctive and ties us even better to the community,” Graham said.

• Develop the people of Xavier. The goal, Graham said, is to carry on the work of mission and ministry to keep alive the history of Xavier and its Jesuit mission and offer professional growth opportunities for faculty and staff.

None of this can happen without increased funding, however, he said. Part of the plan is to engage in “serious fund raising” with a strong donor base that can support the initiatives of the strategic plan and the development of the Academic Quadrangle. The project includes the renovation of Alter Hall and McDonald Library, the expansion of the library and a new wing at the Williams College of Business in the first phase and the construction of additional buildings in subsequent phases.

The vision of the quadrangle is especially pleasing, Graham said, because it represents what makes Xavier unique. “I like this rendering because it did not put the buildings with their backs to the community, but they have their arms wrapped around like an embrace and says to the community we are a part of you,” he said.

The annual Academic Day event began in 2001 when Graham decided to celebrate the University’s role in society each year by bringing to light topics of importance to the institution.

The first year’s theme was the new academic vision statement crafted by faculty. The second year, the focus was academics as the University presented the new honors program, Philosophy, Politics and the Public. Last year’s theme was diversity.