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State of the union

Fr. Leahy delivers a five-year analysis

Photograph of William P. Leahy, SJ and others Befitting the completion of five years as president, William P. Leahy, SJ, took the occasion of Faculty Convocation on September 5 to assess progress, identify areas for development, and outline a plan for increasing fund-raising for the University. He touched on areas of achievement and several areas of challenge, saying that Boston College must continue to pursue excellence in academics and research while devoting equal attention to its financial resources and deepening its commitment to a Jesuit, Catholic mission.

In a review of the University's financial progress since 1996, Fr. Leahy noted that the endowment has grown from $590 million to $1.1 billion. Annual gifts received have more than doubled, from $24.6 million to $50 million.

During this time, the University has taken on major construction projects, among them: the upgrading and expansion of Higgins Hall classrooms and laboratories for physics and biology; the renovation of the upper-campus dorms; and a new office building below O'Neill Library.

In the area of academic progress, Leahy touched on gains among students, faculty, and programs. Undergraduate applications, he noted, have risen from 16,501 to 19,059--and the acceptance rate has gone from 41 percent to 33.5 percent. The average SAT score has climbed from 1,248 to 1,300; the representation of AHANA students on campus has increased from 18 to nearly 22 percent. Similarly, in BC's graduate and professional schools, Leahy said, applications from graduates of the more selective colleges are on the rise, as are test scores.

In the past five years, he reported, the University has benefited from 59 new faculty positions: "26 to increase the number of full-time teachers of undergraduates, and 33 in departments and programs selected for special emphasis." Annual external research support coming to the faculty has more than doubled, from $18 million to $36.5 million. Boston College, said Leahy, has also made "significant progress toward our goal of becoming a more international university." The number of students studying abroad has grown, from 350 to 685, and international partnerships have multiplied, from ties with 13 universities in 13 nations to 66 programs in 31 countries.

Leahy noted the substantial transition in leadership at Boston College during the past five years, with the University hiring an executive vice president, academic vice president, vice president for student affairs, and deans of Law, Management, Social Work, and the College of Arts and Sciences. He praised the individuals who had been "at the heart" of prior progress. "Those who have taken their places," he said, "face the significant challenge of continuing and building on the legacy of their predecessors, who did so much to help make Boston College the distinctive place it is today."

In defining that challenge, Leahy cited the intense competition within higher education today. "I am convinced," he said, "that we must continue to sharpen and refine our academic planning and make it the driving force in BC's development." He called for examining "more explicitly" the relationship between teaching and research and the balance between undergraduate and graduate or professional education. And he spoke of the need to involve more full-time faculty in undergraduate instruction, advisement, and non-classroom activities.

Leahy said that in the realm of academic research, "We cannot do everything. . . . Excellence will be achieved by emphasizing those areas that are consistent with our mission and capabilities." The University, he said, must pursue "targeted, well-funded, realistic goals."

"We have major aspirations for Boston College," Leahy told the audience in Robsham Theater. "To achieve them, we must obtain additional financial resources." Accordingly, he announced that the University will increase the size and scope of its fund-raising operations. As part of this expansion, vice president for University relations Mary Lou DeLong will become senior vice president, and a vice president for development will be hired.

"We are first and foremost a university," said Leahy, "but we are also an institution with distinct religious and educational roots that must be nourished and made more vibrant." He described the duty of faculty and staff to sustain a "dialogue between faith and con- temporary culture." Some, he said, will do this "implicitly. . . when they teach students to be critically reflective about knowledge and its uses." Others will do so more directly, "from [within] Catholic intellectual tradition and other religious traditions."

"I have met many impressive people since July 1996," said Leahy. "I realize more than I did five years ago how much good is being accomplished at Boston College and what a distinctive, caring culture we have."

"The history of Boston College shows that there have always been issues and struggles," he observed. "And we have worked through them. I am more confident than ever that we will live up to our motto, 'Ever to Excel,' and keep making a unique contribution to American intellectual and religious culture."

Sean Smith

Sean Smith is editor of the Boston College Chronicle.

Photo: University President William P. Leahy, SJ, greets Cheryl Presley, vice president for student affairs (right), and Judith Vessey, the Lelia Holden Carroll Professor of Nursing, following his address to the full faculty. Photo by Lee Pellegrini

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