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Message to the Community February 2, 2011

Dear Colleagues,

I hope that you had a fulfilling holiday and that this new year brings you exciting opportunities and deep satisfaction in serving our students.

When I look to the future of this great university, I do so with the highest degree of confidence.  Given the realities around us – an economic downturn of historic proportions, cuts in funding for higher education, challenging regional demographics – how can I be so confident?  The answer is clear: Because of our people.  Duquesne is a community, not by definition, but because of the history, commitment and collegiality of its members.  Over the past two years our community has worked together to overcome one of the most difficult periods for higher education in our nation’s history.  Together we have sought to operate efficiently and manage our finances wisely, while never sacrificing the quality of education that our students deserve.  The results of our combined efforts have been extraordinary.  I want to share a few results that are particularly noteworthy.

Faculty Hiring

The downturn in the economy and cuts in state funding for higher education over the past two years have affected the ability of institutions across the nation to replace full-time faculty or add new faculty positions.  Many institutions have been forced to cut programs and related faculty positions. For example, large permanent cuts have just been announced for Penn State and a process begun to identify academic programs for elimination. We can thank God that this has not been the case at Duquesne University. 

Last year Duquesne hired 20 new full-time faculty, 10 of whom were newly added positions.  This year, we are again bucking national trends in faculty hiring by conducting faculty searches for 30 positions for fall 2011.  The positions range across many disciplines, from Classics, Spanish, and Statistics to Conducting, Law, and Counseling Education.  Of the 30 positions, 8 are newly funded full-time faculty positions, and 22 are replacements necessitated by retirements or resignations.  Departments have been reviewing applications and talking to potential candidates since last fall and are now bringing their final candidates to campus.  The pool of candidates this year has been unusually large and strong.  This puts us in an exceptional position to hire new faculty members who will contribute to the University’s Catholic, Spiritan mission and advance our national reputation for teaching, research, and service.

Finances

Our ability to grow and enhance our faculty is directly related to the solid financial position of the University.  Within the last week, the effectiveness of our financial management received strong independent endorsements from the nation’s two leading rating agencies, Moody’s and Standard & Poors.  At a time when the financial ratings of colleges and universities are being been downgraded, Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s reaffirmed Duquesne’s strong bond ratings at A2 and A-, respectively.  They made clear that they did so on the basis of the Board of Directors’ successful financial leadership and the university’s effective management of budgets, strong demand statistics, and prudent handling of debt.

The University’s endowment has begun to recover nicely from the collapse of the financial markets in 2008-09.  The endowment grew 16% in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2010, the highest rate of growth among all local colleges and universities, and well ahead of the 11.9% national average.

Annually, I meet with the University Budget Committee to share with them my priorities as they work on the next year’s budget.  My comments to the committee were not much different this year than in the past, as the overarching fundamentals that guide the preparation of the budget do not change dramatically.  First, I ask for restraint in setting tuition increases so that we remain competitive in the market and keep a Duquesne education affordable for all qualified students.  Next, I ask that we make the pool for merit-based salary increases a high priority.  We have made measurable progress in this area over the past decade.  We must continue to do so as competitive salaries allow us to recruit and retain talented faculty and staff.  Because of our mission, we have also made significant investments in raising the pay of those at the lower end of our salary spectrum.  Finally, I ask that requests for new spending be linked directly to our strategic plan.  The amount of money available for new spending is always limited.  So it is critical that new budget allocations serve our mission directly by helping to realize the goals of our strategic plan.

Faculty Recognition

Duquesne is blessed by the presence of extraordinary teacher-scholars in our faculty ranks.  Numerous faculty members each year receive national recognition for excellence in teaching, scholarship and service – and deservedly so.  Recently, we learned that the University has received a new level of national recognition for the collective achievements of our faculty. 

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching has just released its updated Carnegie Classifications.  The 2010 Classifications represent 4,633 accredited, degree-granting universities and colleges in the United States.  Duquesne University had been in the lowest, entry level of doctoral universities, but has just been moved up to the classification of Research University/High (RU/H) based upon our increased level of scholarly activity.  Duquesne joins a prestigious group of Catholic universities in this category, including Boston College, Catholic University of America, Fordham, Loyola-Chicago, Saint Louis University, and the University of Dayton.  Only Notre Dame and Georgetown are in a higher category.

On behalf of the entire Duquesne community, I offer hearty congratulations to our faculty for this well deserved recognition and to the Office of Research for the support they provide.

Campus Expansion

Our new des Places residence hall is being constructed on the Stevenson Street edge of campus, on budget and on schedule for a fall 2012 opening.  It will house 430 students in modern suite arrangements.  Our target group is upper classmen.  This is a critically important addition to our on-campus living options, since demand to live on campus is at an all-time high.  A large on-campus population strengthens student involvement in university activities, giving us a very high retention rate.  In addition, a large on-campus population is critical for achieving and sustaining our standing as a national university.

At the other end of campus, we have extended our footprint into downtown proper with the acquisition of Libermann Hall.  This building is filled with academic and administrative space to allow for program expansion and decompression in our tightly filled 50 acres.  We are studying potential uses of the building to maximize its benefit for us and beginning the task of bringing it up to Duquesne standards for safety and attractiveness.

Restoring a Tradition

There are many aspects of Duquesne University that never waver, traditions that have always shaped the positive public perception and reputation of the institution.  Strong academic programs led by caring and committed faculty.  Students involved in the surrounding community.  Alumni leading lives of service and achievement.  Spiritan priests who give so much to all of us and who set the tone for our mission and identity.

There is one tradition for which the University had been known nationally that has – unfortunately – declined for a generation.  This is our proud Duquesne basketball heritage.  Once a national power, Duquesne’s fortunes in men’s basketball reached a new low just a few years ago.

I am pleased to report that through a combination of new leadership, strong support from the University community and our alums, and old-fashioned hard work, basketball success on the Bluff is back.  The men’s team has restored a winning tradition, currently sitting alone atop the Atlantic 10 standings with an undefeated league record and a conference-best overall record of 16-5. We are national leaders in some key statistics. The women’s program has established a powerful winning tradition of their own, as they are well on their way to a third consecutive 20-win season.  They are currently alone in second place in the Atlantic 10 and have an 19-3 overall record.

Like strong academic and student life programs, winning athletic programs enhance the overall reputation of our University.  Success of these programs adds to the spirit and vibrancy of the campus environment, an important quality of life issue for our current students.  It is also an ingredient that prospective students look for in choosing a university.  Winning teams also keep our alumni tied more closely to their Alma Mater.  And they enhance our fundraising success.

These are but a few examples of why Duquesne University has remained a strong, dynamic and growing university in a time of extraordinary challenges for higher education.  My confidence in Duquesne’s future is unwavering because it is rooted in my belief in your commitment to our students and in the Spirit Who Gives Life.

I wish you every success in 2011 and thank you for all that you do for Duquesne University.

Sincerely,

Charles J. Dougherty
President