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Convocation Address

State of the University, 2012-2013

Duquesne University Seal - SmallCharles J. Dougherty, Ph.D.
President, Duquesne University
September 12, 2013


Futhering our reputation for academic exellence.

Our Strategic Plan has three priorities.  They are a renewed emphasis on our Spiritan identity and mission, enhancement of the quality of the student experience, and development of our national reputation for academic excellence.  In recent convocations, I have addressed the first two of these priorities.  Today, I want to speak to you about our third priority, academic excellence.

Before I do, however, I want to reflect a moment on why our Strategic Plan has only three parts.  We might have added sections on financial management, fundraising, campus planning, community relations, legal issues, etcetera.  Certainly our University has important priorities in these areas.  Moreover, it is clear that success in the three areas addressed in the Plan is not possible without successes in these other areas as well.  But the Plan is organized to draw attention to the fact that the heart of what we are is a trinity involving students, faculty and a mission that binds them together. To put it in more dramatic terms, who we are at our core is best illustrated when one faculty member assists one student to grow in knowledge and maturity within a Catholic, Spiritan context.

The academic commitment at the core of this trinity has been part of the Spiritan tradition since the very beginning.  The founder of the Congregation, Claude Poullard des Places, studied with the Jesuits in Paris at the very beginning of the 18th century and he brought their tradition of rigor into his own schools.  Over 100 years later, when the second founder, Francis Libermann, sent missionaries to Africa, he instructed them to put education and the building of schools ahead of conversions and the building of churches.  Both leaders believed that education had a direct link to escaping poverty and all the human degradations associated with it.

This same insight came to Pittsburgh in 1878 when six Spiritans from Germany and Ireland opened the institutional ancestor of Duquesne, the Pittsburgh Catholic College.  At that time, Pittsburgh was home to large numbers of German and Irish Catholic immigrants, working hard but living in poverty.  We were conceived as their way up and out.  This has been a part of our heritage ever since.  Waves of immigrants came to Duquesne later-particularly from Italy and Eastern Europe.  To serve them, our tuition was kept minimal, subsidized by the labor of the Spiritan faculty.  Today we have fewer immigrants and Spiritan faculty, but our commitment to affordability for our students remains strong.

And we keep this historical obligation along with another important commitment of fairness to one another.  Our compensation for faculty, relative to the region's cost of living, is near the very top for all faculty ranks among American Catholic doctoral universities.  While so many other university personnel are losing ground, our general compensation is staying with or ahead of area inflation.  We care for the lowest paid full-time employees with one of the highest minimum wages in the region-$14 per hour.  Despite the recent Great Recession and some uneven years for enrollment, there has not been a single lay off at Duquesne during this Administration. Even in the contentious area of pay for adjunct faculty we have made significant advances, raising the minimum pay per course about 40 percent over the last two years.  This gives us one of the highest pay per course rates for adjuncts in the region. 

Of course, our tuition has risen to account for this-and for the improvements needed for excellence.  But among private first-tier national universities, we have the lowest tuition that is not subsidized by a third party.  Thus, we are recognized nationally as a "best buy."  One reason for this is that we are among the nation's top 20 most efficient universities.  On that list are only four private universities and just one Catholic university.  I thank all of you for your contributions in helping to make Duquesne that one university.

Despite our efficiency, our tuition as a private university is high and many students take on significant debt to pay for it. All of us wish tuition could be lower. (Although I must add that much of the media attention to student debt is overblown.  A good deal of the data they report is driven by debts that non-traditional students are encouraged to assume by for-profit institutions.)  In our own undergraduate setting, the average debt from college loans is modest, on the order of buying a new car.  Given the lifelong and intrinsic value of a Duquesne education, that is a very good deal. 

Most importantly, we retain our commitment to affordability through scholarships.  Many of these funds are directed at minorities in need.  Overall, about one-fourth of our entire annual operating budget is returned to students in terms of scholarships. So, even as we have grown in excellence and complexity, we have maintained our core value of affordability that stretches back to our founding.

But there is one part of who we have been that we are most deliberately moving beyond.  Despite the fact that our name changed from the Pittsburgh Catholic College to Duquesne University of the Holy Ghost in 1911 (after a very brief time as the University of the Holy Ghost), much of the thinking and self-image of our University remained Pittsburgh-bound well into the 20th century.  We were the affordable college option for Pittsburgh Catholics, most of whom commuted and worked part time to pay for their education.

Pittsburgh remains our home and we are proud of it.  The city and our campus within the city have become a major part of our recruiting as students and families want the excitement and opportunities of Pittsburgh but the friendliness and safety of our separate campus.  Many of our students come from Pittsburgh and the region.  Large numbers of our alums live and work here.  Virtually all of our employees are from Pittsburgh and the region.  Our fates are tied together to our mutual benefit.

But our academic aspirations for excellence are now national and international.  It is no longer sufficient for us to look at regional success.  Our peers for comparison are Catholic universities and other quality private universities across the nation.  Our faculty come from the best national programs.  They succeed here and are retained at exceptionally high rates. 

Faculty are drawn here in part, I believe, because of our commitment to the teacher-scholar model of faculty success.  When our self-image was local, emphasis was nearly exclusively on teaching.  There were some noteworthy exceptions to this-the faculty in the phenomenological movement come to mind-but most of our alums remember their encounters with faculty through classroom excellence alone.

Now our faculty are committed to both excellence in teaching as well as excellence in scholarship.  Even as they are leading students into the fundamentals and intricacies of their disciplines, they are themselves contributing to advancing knowledge and technique in those fields.  There are alternatives, of course.  Some small liberal art colleges have never fully embraced the need for scholarship.  Some large research institutions devalue teaching, leaving it largely to junior faculty and graduate students.  But at Duquesne we seek a balance of achievement in both.  Moreover, it is the University's view that excellence in teaching and excellence in research reinforce each other, creating a more well-rounded faculty member.  When there is achievement in both areas at the highest levels, as we document in promotion to full professor, the whole impact of a faculty member's career is greater than the sum of these two parts.

For the last several years, we have published an annual listing of all faculty publications.  It is clear from this, as well as from the many impressive annual promotion and tenure applications, that research at Duquesne is on the rise.  This is so, not only in number, but also in quality.  Many of our faculty have books with leading publishers, articles in leading journals, presentations at important national meetings, and performances in key venues.  The increasing numbers of recognitions for academic quality for the University and from our Schools and programs are a direct result of this important activity.  It accounts, for example, for our listing as a very high research doctoral university in the Carnegie Classifications of Institutions of Higher Education-among only a handful of other Catholic universities.

At the same time, we are emphasizing quality teaching as never before.  Today this means more than solid presentation in the classroom and availability for advising.  It also means the use of more technological support in and out of the classroom.  Blackboard applications are nearly universal among us.  Full use of smart classrooms is on the rise.  Distance learning is increasing. The Center for Teaching Excellence and the Online Campus are the main administrative supports for these efforts.

An area that we are encouraging in our Strategic Plan is the development of interdisciplinary scholarship and programs.  There are several reasons for this.  First, the real world and its problems are not as neatly sorted as our disciplines are.  Taking on those issues often requires coming at them from multiple perspectives at once.  Indeed, many of the most important intellectual breakthroughs now come through the work of interdisciplinary teams. 

Second, this is an area in which Duquesne can excel.  We are large enough to contain a diversity of disciplines but small enough for faculty to encounter one another across their disciplines.  Again, by contrast, a smaller college may not have enough disciplines represented to make a truly interdisciplinary program.  In a mega-university faculty rarely come to know one another outside their departments.  Here we have the best of each without the associated shortcomings.

There are several areas in which such interdisciplinary work is to be encouraged.  The sciences and the health sciences-along with our new commitment to biomedical engineering-are naturals for such cooperation.  Applied ethics is a common concern in many of our schools and programs.  Sustainability and protection of our environment are obvious themes.  Many of our disciplines could offer more to our students by adding business or legal elements.  Issues of peace and justice, including community service and service-learning, are attractive areas.  Anything related to the Spiritan and Catholic intellectual traditions cuts across all our disciplines and should be a focus for us.

One of the explicit emphases in this area in our Strategic Plan is the focus on Africa.  For generations European and American Spiritans have been missionaries in East, West and Central Africa.  Now, as the numbers of European and American Spiritans are in decline, there is a large increase in the Congregation in these areas of Africa.  Local Spiritans there are struggling to establish a university system.  There is a School of Theology in Nigeria through which we grant master's degrees and a university in that country in the early stages of construction.  There is a small but promising Spiritan university up and running in Ghana.  We can and should help these and other Spiritan efforts in Africa.  We are also working to develop partnerships with other African universities and scholars.

At the same time, we are already benefitting from the presence in our Spiritan community and on our faculty of African confreres.  No doubt, we will have the support of more African Spiritans here in the future.  Efforts like our Center for Spiritan Studies are designed, in part, to attract Spiritans here from around the world in the hope that some of them will see a future for themselves with us.

We are also embarked on an effort to establish a major interdisciplinary African Studies Program. It is available as a minor at present. I hope as this effort evolves, it will become a distinctive element in our curriculum, exposing our students to the challenges of a continent they may know little of, and leading to creative, first-rate publications. 

It is also useful to remind ourselves that the Spiritans followed Africans throughout their diaspora, notably into the Indian Ocean, Caribbean Sea and inner-city America.  With this in mind, our commitment to Africa is matched by a similar commitment to the Hill District, our African-American neighbors.  We have multiple community service projects there, of course.  But the Hill, presuming community agreement and the requisite sensitivities on our part, can be an important arena for teaching and research as well.

In order to keep our academic progress on track, it is very important that faculty members actively pursue external funding.  We are all aware that these are difficult times for government funding, but applications in these areas must continue with support from our Office of Government Relations.  Foundation and corporate funding remain important options, with assistance from our Office of Corporate Relations. The Office of Sponsored Research is the main administrative office for support for all external grant efforts.

The University cannot carry the financial burden of our entire research enterprise but we do make dollars available for start-up and bridge funding. There are also several competitive grant opportunities within the University, including the Presidential Scholarship Award, Faculty Development Award, and the Paluse grants.  We want to create more such opportunities.  The Schools also have their own support programs for research and for initiating grants applications. 

One of the great advances in our academic life has been the increase in endowed chairs, some funded with external money, some from within.  These honors highlight the achievements of our faculty and reflect credit on the University.  They also create more opportunities for creative research.  A dozen years ago, the University had one endowed chair.  Today, with these installations, we have 21.  Establishing more such chairs remains a priority.

One mark of a great university is outstanding graduate programs.  We do not have many graduate programs and I, for one, have less interest in beginning new ones than in strengthening the ones we have-particularly our Ph.D. programs.  The graduates of our Ph.D. programs are hired at other universities and spread the reputation and influence of Duquesne.  When I was just beginning my work in philosophy, for example, I was advised that there were only two intellectual centers for the study of phenomenology in the United States.  Duquesne was named as one.  That was my first academic encounter with the University and it shaped my desire to join this community years later.

Over the last several years, we have worked to raise the stipends of graduate students in our doctoral programs to attract and retain better candidates.  We have also most recently added health insurance coverage in some of our leading Ph.D. programs for the same purpose.  For a number of reasons, it is hard to estimate the cost of insurance coverage-who will take it when offered, the nature of their health and illness experience, the costs of the care itself.  When these total costs become clearer, we hope to add health insurance coverage to more of our Ph.D. programs.  We are also coordinating the recruiting of graduate students as never before.

I have a request of deans and faculty regarding their doctoral programs.  Despite the importance of the prestige and the numbers of our graduates to us, we cannot ignore the glutted job market in some disciplines.  When it is clear that our graduates are not getting jobs-not full-time jobs-in the fields in which we have trained them, we should limit the number of new students entering our programs.   Throughout, our emphasis in graduate education should be on quality and the success of our graduates, not on quantity.

We have worked hard and cooperatively with deans and Facilities Management to expand and renovate our academic areas.  Our general rule-following the core of our Strategic Plan-is that administrative functions should go to our expanding periphery and that the cornerstones of academic life and student life should stay in our campus center.  

We have and will continue to add property at our edges, when it is prudent and the price is right.  This is part of responsible campus planning for future generations-just as generations in the past assembled the properties that compose the heart of today's campus.  Those who are critical of such expenditures should contemplate the contemporary fate of a Duquesne University without Academic Walk but filled instead with decrepit row houses and city traffic flowing through the center of campus.

Among our more important additions over the last decade are the Libermann Building (whose space allowed us to commit to an engineering program), the Muldoon and Cooper Buildings, which give us control of the south side of Fifth Avenue and Chatham Square, and all the property on Forbes Avenue that allowed for the building of the Power Center and the beautification of our front door to the City.  Most recently, we have continued that beautification by removing the dilapidated Bagamoyo Building at Forbes and Magee.

Virtually every School has seen major renovations in the recent past.  The two exceptions are Law, which has just received a new Legal Clinic on Fifth Avenue next to the Cooper Building, and Business, whose turn for major renovation is next.  Most of the spending for this work has come from internal sources, but grants from government and foundations have helped.  From 2002 to 2012, over $29 million was spent renovating academic units.  Another $22 million is planned for 2013 to 2017, including construction of a theatre on campus.

These renovations, of course, included upgrades to our technology infrastructure in classrooms and WiFi connections.  The former is ongoing, though most of our classrooms are now smart with computers and projectors.  The latter-WiFi-is now universal on campus both indoors and out.  We also have several locations on campus for distance education links and more are on the way as this method of learning is becoming more a part of student and faculty expectations.

On that topic, let me offer this view.  Distance education as the main component of a program is best suited for the adult, self-motivated learner.  These are students who already know how to learn and can do so with little direction.  Undergraduates, especially at Duquesne, are best served in real, unmediated educational relations with faculty-the standard classroom experience.  They are in the process of learning how to learn at the collegiate level and need more direct faculty support. 

Of course, there are exceptions to this general view on both sides.  Some of our largely distance-learning graduate experiences are enhanced considerably by periodic visits to campus and face-to-face encounters with faculty.  Our undergraduates are now coming to us with high school experience that includes widespread use of digital support in the classroom and in some cases with distance-learning experience.  These are areas in which we must continue to experiment, staying mindful of our both our mission and the niche we have in a competitive educational environment.

Among our major academic resources is the Gumberg Library.  We have not identified the funding for the major renovation that the building needs, so we are doing pieces at a time.  We have concentrated on making the entering floor more inviting and user-friendly.  As libraries have evolved in the digital age, they have become less significant as sources of general information, much of which is now readily available on hand-held devices.  They have themselves become major centers for electronic resources.  In addition, they are more than ever areas for study, including group study.  Gumberg is packed with students at the end of each semester.  So, what we have done is to add more accommodating furniture on that floor and more outlets for charging electronic devices.

The second clear function of the new library is greater stress on special collections and scholarly work on them.  Because of this, we have created the Center for Spiritan Studies in which a major effort to digitize key works in Spiritan history is ongoing.  We have also renovated the Simon Silverman Phenomenology Center, making it more accessible to our own and visiting scholars.  We are aware that more needs to be done in our library and we are actively seeking support for it.

I want to add now a special appeal to deans, faculty and all those playing a role in the academic hiring process.  It involves diversity.  We have much to be proud about in Pittsburgh.  We are a remarkable success story in the recovery from a dying rust belt city to a contemporary green economy.  Duquesne is pleased to be a key player in the "eds and meds" miracle that has led and sustained this recovery.

But on measures involving diversity, Pittsburgh has a long way to go.  In fact, we have the least diverse population of any major metropolitan region in the nation.  According to data reported by Harold Miller of FutureStrategies, only 12 percent of our metropolitan area's residents are non-white, the smallest percentage among the top 40 urban regions in the country.  We are at the wrong end of other key markers as well.  Black unemployment is 2.6 times white unemployment, the seventh worst of all national regions.  The average working African-American earns the second lowest wage of all 40 metropolitan areas.  Less than a fourth of all working blacks are in management, business, science or arts, the second lowest of the top urban regions.  Among the top 40 metropolitan areas in the U.S., working-age African-Americans in Pittsburgh have the third highest rate of poverty.   Black children here have the sixth highest rate of poverty of all American urban regions.

Because of our mission and tradition and particularly because this data expresses such suffering among our own neighbors, Duquesne has an obligation to be part of the solution to these problems.  As one of the region's major employers, one obvious way for us to help is to hire more minorities, especially African-Americans.  To that end we have had two strategies in place for several years.

The first is an administrative Minority Hiring Program, a small but successful effort.  At any given time we have three to five minorities who we have hired because they have promising backgrounds and skills, despite the fact that we have no open positions for them.  We rotate them through various administrative units as extra, temporary employees, giving them on-the-job training and experience in our working culture.  When an administrative position does open up, they are often the best qualified applicants at that point and we hire them.

This effort is matched by a Faculty Minority Hiring Program that has had more mixed success, working well in some schools but not at all in others.  The idea here is that when a department is conducting a national search for an approved new hire, it is not unusual to encounter minority applicants who are close but just not right for the position.  Perhaps we are looking for a European historian, for example, and a minority specialist in American history applies.  Or, all of our top candidates have completed their Ph.D.s and some even have publications, but a minority candidate has not yet finished the dissertation.  Our program, with review by the Provost, allows for hiring two new faculty members for the one open position-the top candidate as well as the minority.  The Provost and the Dean then develop a strategy for returning the affected department to its previous size over time, but leaving it with a more diverse makeup.

About 10 percent of Duquesne's faculty have left us over the last two years, accepting the terms of our voluntary buy-out program.  We have been deliberately slow to replace them as we watch our enrollment carefully.  But last year we had a record freshman enrollment, thanks to our Enrollment Management Team. That record has been exceeded by this fall's number.  This means that there will be more hiring of faculty than usual over the next several years as we sort out the implications of faculty retirement losses against increased student demand.  I ask you to bear our Faculty Minority Hiring Program in mind if you are part of a hiring team.  This can be a moment for us to take a great step forward in diversity and to make a positive difference in the life and vitality of the Pittsburgh community.

Finally, as always, I want to express my gratitude to all of you, but particularly this year to all those in Academic Affairs-Provosts Pearson and Austin, deans, faculty, academic support area professionals, executive assistants and secretaries. The academic excellence that undergirds our growing national reputation is your creation.  You are a critical part of the trinity at the heart of who we are as you bring our students an education for a lifetime in our Catholic, Spiritan tradition.  You serve God by serving our students.  For all those students and for all those who represent our mission and identity, I thank you.  Thank you for all you do for Duquesne University of the Holy Spirit.