Today is the kind of day, and today’s event is the kind of event, that looks both backward and forward. We would not be standing here, shovels in our hands, absent a great deal of work by a great many people over the last many months and years. Property acquisition, a new campus master plan, refinancing University debt, the generosity of alumni and friends, and uncountable hours of planning specific to both the new home for the Williams College of Business and the new Learning Commons, have all prepared the ground these shovels of ours just turned.
But it goes back even farther than all of this, I think. Eight years and eighteen days ago upon the occasion of my inauguration as President, you charged me with renewing and enhancing the academic programs, profile and environment of Xavier University in a manner consonant with our historic character as a Jesuit, Catholic university. That charge was not a new one to me, because I had heard it already in my many conversations with the members of the Board of Trustees before I took office as President and, afterwards, through the many Listening Sessions with faculty and staff with which I began my Presidency. Renewing the academic character of Xavier University was one of the great themes that threaded its way through all of those conversations. It was as if we all sensed back in 2001, that Xavier University was only halfway through a process, a process begun in Father Jim Hoff’s own era, back when we dedicated the Lindner Family Physics Building, closed a portion of Ledgewood Avenue and created the Academic and Residential Malls, restored Hinkle, Schmidt and Edgecliff Halls and Bellarmine Chapel as well. Back when we built two new residence halls and a student recreation park. Back when we created the Gallagher Student Center and watched as the Cintas Center itself rose up out of the ground, the signature projects of Father Hoff’s visionary era. But, as I said, we were only halfway done. Left generally untouched was addressing our core academic facilities with the same dedication we brought to bear on, for example, Gallagher and Cintas. And all of that changes today!
But today’s groundbreaking is not so much a sign that, now, finally and at last, we’re beginning this renewal you called me to in 2001. Rather, it is a sign that we are now well into it. Not that there isn’t more before us to do – there always is, of course, and always more for us to do especially here at Xavier University for we are indeed a people of, a University of, the magis, the more. But we have accomplished much together in these last years. Building upon the successful 177-year tradition of the College of Arts and Sciences, Xavier’s premier college in the Jesuit tradition, and the almost 100-year tradition of graduate programs, we filled 26 new tenure-track lines and established a third honors interdisciplinary program, the program in Philosophy, Politics and the Public, as well as created a new interdisciplinary minor in Catholicism and Culture. We have crystalized efforts to integrate services provided by academic advising, TRIO, the Learning Assistance Center, the Office of Student Success and Retention, and the Career Services Center in order to improve student academic preparedness, success, retention, graduation and career preparation. We reconfigured the College of Social Sciences as the College of Social Sciences, Health, and Education, and restructured as well the Information Resources division. The Provost administrative structure, which we launched in 2004 by conjoining the divisions of Academic Affairs, Information Resources, Student Life and Leadership and Mission and Identity, has increased interaction across all these divisions, highlighting our commitment to fostering an integrated learning community. Meanwhile, in the Williams College of Business, we established centers in business ethics, investment research and entrepreneurship, and launched a signature program in mentoring (which we are now planning to export across the University, complementing the many different forms of mentoring in the other two colleges), while as well enhancing the relationship of the business school to the surrounding business community. Likewise, the Initiative for Catholic Schools begun in 2003, has paved the way for establishing a Center for Catholic Education. Administrative reorganizations now well underway will lead to a robust Center for teaching and learning to promote innovative teaching methods, interdisciplinary teaching, Ignatian pedagogy, and faculty development in general. Next month, we will launch officially the Eigel Center for Community Engaged Learning, whose work has already begun to build upon and extend the work of the Community Building Institute, a fruitful collaboration of long standing between ourselves and the United Way of Greater Cincinnati. In all these ways and in many, many more, we have together been laying the deepest and most important groundwork for what Xavier University will become in the years ahead.
I say all this because I think it is important for us to be clear about what it is we do today. In Christianity’s early years, believers drew a crucial distinction between the Church and the Church house – a distinction which we unfortunately blur when we say the word “Church” and think first of a building and not of the people inside, the people who make the building the special place it is. Just so, what we do today. Today we break ground for buildings. But these buildings cannot possibly live up to our high hopes for them unless we continue to advance the important work that we have already begun to renew programs and reinvigorate administrative structures, unless we better support our faculty and more completely care for our students. And that work, our most important work, will continue long after you and I gather again on this spot sometime in early Fall, 2010, for another celebration, one where we cut ribbons and take festive possession of these buildings whose beginnings we mark today.
I learned an important lesson back when we built the Cintas Center, for the Cintas Center would not have been built unless we got a great deal better at a whole number of things: fundraising, neighborhood relations, financial modeling, alumni relations, the athletic program itself, men’s basketball in particular. If the Cintas Center has repositioned Xavier University in any significant way – and we all know that indeed it has – that repositioning has come about in no small measure because the Cintas Center’s greatest gift to the University has really been the enhanced level of expertise and collaboration across a broad variety of fronts important to our collective advancement. This new home for the Williams College of Business and the new Learning Commons will be like that only more so, because these buildings sweep in the vital heart of the teaching and learning mission of Xavier University. And that vital heart is all of us gathered here together today, from the youngest freshman to the most senior faculty member and all of the rest of us – everywhere and everyone – in between.
If my time here at Xavier University, a time that began first in 1984 but began again in 1989, has taught me anything, it has taught me this, as I worked for years as a faculty member, directed once upon a time the University Scholars Program, led for a while the University Relations Division, collaborated with the admissions office and with physical plant and with so many others, and as I got to know Xavier University alumni and friends across the country: I came to realize vividly that there are more good people at Xavier University than there is time to get to know them. And that is who we all are together: the good people of Xavier University. This is our day, all of ours together, because today is about the past that is our past and, even more, about the future that is our future together. And it is likewise always a great day to be a member of this great community – which is to say that it is always great to be a Muskie. But today, it is an especially good day to feel that in our very bones.
Ladies and gentlemen, faculty and students, Trustees and staff, alumni and friends: Today and always, now and forever, Let’s Go X!