A A Email Print Share

State of the University, 2009-2010

Charles J. Dougherty, Ph.D.
President, Duquesne University
September 9, 2010


Our future as a University, like the future of each individual, is shaped to a great degree by how we think about ourselves. What kind of a community are we? More to the point, what kind of community should we be? Let me offer six characteristics of what I hope Duquesne University is becoming and will be.

First, we strive to be a Community of Accountability. We are accountable first and foremost to the students we serve. We must provide them with the very best education, the very best all around experience that we can. We are accountable to those who pay the tuition and give the donations that make our enterprise possible. We must assure that they get the very best return on their investments. Finally, in order for us to satisfy these other obligations, we must be accountable one to another. We must hold each other responsible for the highest performance and then we must express the gratitude to one another that such performance deserves.

We have now had nine years of mandatory annual performance reviews with annual raises tied to them. These moments in the year are not comfortable for any of us but they are essential for clarifying goals and making progress against them. We are also living now with a much more highly structured set of budgetary and administrative controls, though still fewer than many of our peers. Again, none of us likes these burdens, or the charge of “corporate behavior” that they often provoke. But this level of accountability has paid off handsomely for us. Despite the many examples of universities and businesses all around us, the downturn in the U.S. economy has not forced us into any program cuts or lay-offs. Instead, we are growing and adding programs. Nor have we cancelled any annual increases in pay; indeed, through this recession our salaries have continued to advance against the regional cost of living. I am also pleased to tell you that we are paying special attention to our lowest paid colleagues. In 2008, we set a minimum hourly wage of $9.50 to create a University living wage. This year there will be no hourly employee at Duquesne—full or part-time—earning less than $12 an hour.

Accountability works for us as a community. But we must maintain our Duquesne spirit throughout it. Annual performance evaluations should also be times in which we reflect more deeply on our appreciation for one another. They should be moments when supervisors say thank you on behalf of the University. But saying thanks is not only the responsibility of supervisors. A moment’s thought on how much we depend on the help and good will of others to do our own jobs well should lead us to end all our meetings, phone calls and emails with thank you’s. The poet John Donne never worked in a contemporary university but if he had his famous insight that no one of us is an island might have been made with even more compelling force.

Second, we strive to be a Community of Concern for Others. This is the religious and ethical root of our educational mission, to lift up lives through learning. This can mean work with those who share the material poverty of the first generation of Duquesne students. Or, it can mean work with the many others who are less than what they can be as persons for lack of the education we provide. It is also the basis of our concern for our neighbors here and abroad, especially our disadvantaged neighbors. Finally, concern for others animates our commitment to service in volunteering and in service-learning.

Our students are our first responsibility and the first focus of our concerns. For us, this concern must be highly personal. Duquesne students never have been and can never be numbers or faces in a crowd. Each is a single, unique individual whose dreams and future we have the honor to shape. They too must face the accountabilities of living in our community—following rules in the classroom, in our activities, in living-learning centers, in our neighboring communities. But in every instance we owe them our very best personal efforts.

And our students are changing. Over the last nine years, while our students are brighter than ever, they are also more diverse. They are intent on being Duquesne students; we are one of America’s most popular colleges because of the high percentage of accepted freshmen who attend. And our students are also seeking to live on campus in larger numbers than ever. We filled our existing residence halls and acquired Brottier to add apartment style living for seniors. Now we are about to construct a new 12-story residence hall to keep pace with student demand to live on campus.

Concern for others in the surrounding community is evident in our long standing volunteering efforts through DUV and in our new commitment to service-learning. It shows in our annual United Way contributions and in the many individual commitments that Duquesne employees have throughout the region. It is evident in our new stress on links to the Hill District and to Africa. Less obvious, but of great long-term significance, is the care for others that is apparent in the teaching and research interests of our faculty. Teaching for our faculty is service to students and concern for their growth and development. Equally important is the concern for others embedded in our faculty’s research. We attract and retain faculty whose work contributes to building a better world. The methods of our research are the same objective ones used by scholarly minds around the world. But the motives for our faculty research spring from engaged hearts and souls who care about others and the world we share. Even a cursory review of our annual list of faculty publications displays these profound commitments.

Finally, we are and must be concerned for one another. Duquesne University is the place where the paths of our individual lives cross in lengthy and significant ways and where the intensity of our relationships can so enrich our experiences. Ours is and should be a community of mutual support. Racial, gender-based or other invidious biases are wholly incompatible with our mission and can have no place among us. Indeed, we should be building with pride on the facts that African-Americans were students here in the early 1920s, well before they attended most American universities, and that the first woman to attend an American Catholic university was here at Duquesne in 1909.

Overall, we should be a community with a universal presumption of good will, a community of reciprocal civility. It should be a pleasure to work at Duquesne, a privilege to share our working lives together. Sometimes in each of our lives we rely on one another in special ways. Last year, we took a new step to express our concern for those with special needs by establishment of the DEEP program in which employees in temporary crises can receive some financial support from the University with no strings attached.

Third, we are a Community of Academic Excellence. This means we are committed to the best in dedicated teaching, instructing our students in and out of the classroom. We want to be the professors who alumni remember for making a difference in their lives. We want to be a faculty who motivates our students with intellectual insights and helps them find their way in life. We are also committed to the best in scholarship, proving ourselves in the publication of books and articles, in grants and patents, arrangements and performances. We want to be the scholars who make a difference in our disciplines. We want to be the faculty cited by others in our fields, invited to address national meetings, serving on the committees and the editorial boards that steer the academy. Ours is the harder path to academic excellence: not just quality teaching, not just quality research; but quality teaching and quality research.

Teaching has been a central focus of our academic life since 1878. It has and still means excellence in the classroom and availability for support outside the classroom. It has meant smaller classes when possible. Now it means new methods of teaching, sometimes at a distance, and new technologies in support of teaching. For nine years, committees of faculty and IT professionals have had annual budgets to add or replace technologies to our classrooms on a regular basis. As technologies evolve, more will have to be done here. Teaching also means in our case emphasis on the importance of interdisciplinary teaching, where students can benefit from the interactions of faculty with differing worldviews. Throughout, we have the Center for Teaching Excellence as a resource.

Scholarship is the hallmark of a leading, mature university. In the one hundred and thirty-two years of Duquesne University, this is a relatively recent emphasis. But it is exceptionally important to us and to our future. We cannot be the great University we aspire to be without a very strong emphasis here and very strong results going forward. We have now institutionalized scholarly standards in our school’s and University’s tenure and promotion processes to guarantee the success of scholarship at Duquesne. We are taking steps to regularizing sabbatical leaves, providing more time for scholarship. We are spending more on support for labs. The new Strategic Plan’s emphasis on our graduate programs supports this goal as well. Many of our graduate faculty are among our most productive scholars, and they have the help of graduate students anxious to be involved. The Provost, the Deans, and the Office of Research are critical partners in this effort.

Fourth, we strive to be a Community of National Standards. We cannot be content with doing things “the way they have always been done” or in trying not to “rock the boat.” In all of our choices—in everything from the design of academic programs, student life programming, athletic competition, media relations, budgeting—we must look to national norms as guides. The question we must always challenge ourselves with is this: who are the best in our class in the nation in the handling of this issue? Every program, every office among us should have a list of the nation’s best at what they do—and the nation’s best private and best Catholic universities at what they do. And when we make choices, two considerations should be uppermost. First, how do we move closer to these national leaders? Second, how do we institutionalize each decision we make so that we build a continual approach to the national norms into our Duquesne culture?

All of us are too well aware of the budgetary limitations we face. But is it important to remember that there is no university—probably no institution—that does not feel constrained in what it wants to accomplish by the shortage of resources at hand. It is true that Duquesne will not be able to afford to follow the best national norms in every case. Sometimes when excellence is genuinely impossible, ending a program is the honest answer. We faced this directly last year in Athletics. But when we do move forward with a program or policy, Duquesne cannot afford to be ignorant of the best national norms; we cannot fail to set our sights on them. Despite the inevitable shortage of funds, we must struggle to be national leaders in all we do. The alternative of accepting the status quo leads only to mediocrity, something Duquesne can truly never afford.

Fifth, we strive to be a Community of the Spirit. We are Duquesne University of the Holy Spirit, blest to be founded and continually sponsored by the Congregation of the Holy Spirit. There must be a special place among us for our historical and contemporary partners from other religions and for all people of good will. Protestant Christians have been integral contributors to Duquesne for generations. Jews are important to us for the wisdom of the Torah, the founding role of Jacob Libermann in the Congregation, and because of the long history of contributions by Jews on the Bluff. Spiritans have a long association with Islam, especially in Africa. There are increasing numbers of Muslim students studying with us and using their own campus room for prayer. In our times there are also numbers of men and women of good will who do not identify with any religion but who share many of our University’s core educational and moral values. We believe the Holy Spirit is alive in all these expressions of Duquesne University.

Our core religious faith is Catholic, carried in a special way for us by our Spiritan sponsors. This means that there will be moments when concerns that are especially Catholic will have to dominate—in health care coverage, in some hiring, in the curriculum, for example. It also means that our religious life on campus will center on our chapel and Catholic liturgy; always open to others, but Catholic nonetheless. It means that we are institutionally committed to respect for human life and human dignity everywhere. It means that we will be specially focused on Spiritan priorities of peace, justice, and respect for the integrity of creation. Finally, our Catholic tradition gives us a reverence for the Holy Spirit as that Person of God among us who gives us the gifts required for salvation, the fruits of conversion, and the comfort needed for the trials along the way. It is the Holy Spirit who gives Duquesne its life, in all that we are and all we aspire to be.

Finally, we strive to be a Community of Distinction. We are the only Spiritan university in the world. There are European high schools that bear the name ‘college’ but they are not colleges in our sense. There are small institutions in a few nations in the developing world that use the term ‘university’ but they are not universities in the American sense. We are the only genuine university in the Spiritan tradition. This provides endless opportunities for us to define our mission and identity in unique ways, calling on over three hundred years of Spiritan history and tradition. Our new emphasis on Africa is an expression of this. So is our long tradition of openness to other cultures and traditions. Our annual lecture on the theology of the Holy Spirit is now established as a major scholarly event. Our Center for Spiritan Studies is digitizing Spiritan classics and publishing an annual journal. Our new Strategic Plans calls for increased attention to ways in which we can be a greater asset to the Congregation of the Holy Spirit.

We are also the largest and most comprehensive Catholic university in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. There are others in the eastern part of the state that are nearly as large as us, but we are the only Pennsylvania Catholic university in the national category of the U.S. News & World Report rankings. We are the only Catholic university in the state that has the complexity of ten schools. These are considerable distinctions since, after New York, Pennsylvania has more private universities than any state in the nation. As a consequence, we are a leader in Catholic education in Pennsylvania. As one of only twelve Catholic universities in the U.S. News national category, we are leaders in our tradition in the United States.

We have a home that is a model urban campus. We are a short walk from all the benefits of the downtown of one of America’s great cities, with endless employment opportunities, cultural activities, and nationally significant sports teams all at our door step. Yet on our Bluff we have the serenity of a world apart. On our 50 acres, we have some of the most attractive green space, landscaping, and scenic views of any urban university in the nation. Our new front door on Forbes Avenue is a campus welcome of stunning beauty. Our new promenade over the Monongahela is part of the recovery of the drama of Pittsburgh’s rivers. Classically, beauty is the constant companion of truth and goodness. All three should flourish together here. Moreover, every year we are in an intense competition for the best and brightest students. The beauty of our campus helps to assure our ongoing recruiting success. And in our peace and isolation, we are safe. Our police department is one of only three accredited campus police units in the state. Is there another urban campus in America that has the security of a major hospital and a fire department as its two institutional neighbors?

Our home is Pittsburgh. It has been for one 132 years and will be as far as we can even imagine. Challenging ourselves constantly with national norms is not incompatible with appreciating the distinctiveness that our hometown has and will give to everything we do. And it gives us great advantages. We are a place of big city opportunities and amenities with small town accessibility and friendliness. Pittsburgh is a city that knows and respects hard work—of all kinds. We have grown from a fort in a clash of colonial empires, to a melting pot of ethnicities in the nation’s major steel city, to a center for the new economies of education, medicine, and eco-friendly ventures. We have shed the old smoky city mantle for repeated recognitions as America’s most livable city. Our aging population, emerging technologies, and the Marcellus Shale give us unique opportunities for study and for service. Native Pittsburghers among us make our University a “can do” environment, “can do” with energy, cooperation, and a smile. And ours is a city to which it is easy to attract and retain talent from across the country and around the world.

The last distinctive ingredient of Duquesne is our people. We have the largest and most diverse Spiritan community that we have had in years, working in partnership with us as never before. We have more living Duquesne alumni than ever, spread around the nation and the globe. Because of conscious efforts on our part, they are connected to us more closely than ever—through communications, events, and athletics. They care about our common future and give of themselves—in time and treasure—as never before. They have helped boost our capital campaign past the $100 million mark. Our students are the best we have ever had academically and they are the most diverse. Their own sense of ownership of the University is intense and inspiring. Their parents follow events on campus and opportunities for their sons and daughters closely and with great care. And I hope you and the many talented generations before us will forgive the possibility of conceit if I say that we now have the best faculty and the best staff that we have ever had in the history of Duquesne University.

In 1878, after three failed attempts, we became the first Catholic university in Pittsburgh. Five generations before us have struggled to preserve and improve this institution, despite prejudice, financial hardships, and world wars. Now this University is ours. We must preserve it and pass on to the next generation the very best Duquesne University that we possibly can.

Thank you for your part in this grand and inspired venture. Thank you for what you helped us to accomplish last year. And thank you for what you will do to shape Duquesne University’s exciting future. I wish each of you the very best in our 132nd academic year. May the Spirit Who Gives Life lead us and bless all we do.