(The following message from Provost Andrew V. Abela was included in the the June 24, 2019 Faculty Newsletter.)
This is my final week in the Office of the Provost. I would like to take the occasion to share with you a final word, in the form of a brief reflection on our Catholic mission. This reflection was developed with the help of the participants in the Faculty Orientation Extended meetings this past Spring semester.
A Reflection on the Meaning of our Catholic Mission for the
Academic Enterprise of The Catholic University of America Today
The purpose of this reflection is to assist faculty in deliberating on and understanding the meaning and implications of our Catholic mission for our academic work today, and to help prospective faculty discern whether they would like to join our community.
- Mission of The Catholic University of America
Our University’s mission undergirds these reflections:
As the national university of the Catholic Church in the United States, founded and sponsored by the bishops of the country with the approval of the Holy See, The Catholic University of America is committed to being a comprehensive Catholic and American institution of higher learning, faithful to the teachings of Jesus Christ as handed on by the Church.
Dedicated to advancing the dialogue between faith and reason, The Catholic University of America seeks to discover and impart the truth through excellence in teaching and research, all in service to the Church, the nation, and the world.
- Signs of the Times
For many reasons, these are challenging times for our society in general and for higher education in particular. Some of these reasons include:
1. Broken families: students increasingly growing up with divorce, mixed families, new family structures.
2. Mental illness on the rise among students.
3. Social media and technology in general leading to the inability to sustain focus, to a lack of self-control, and to depression.
4. Consumer mindset in approach to studies, relationships, jobs/careers.
5. Economic instability leading to increased focus on skills that provide stable careers.
6. Flat or declining number of high school graduates (especially in the Northeast US) is increasing competitive pressure among colleges and bringing greater financial stress to most higher educational institutions.
7. Lower enrollment in humanities and public suspicion that the humanities and social sciences lack value.
8. Disciplinary overspecialization among faculty and an increasing lack of interest in unity of knowledge.
9. A paradoxical growth of both scientism (science as the only method for arriving at truth) and a “post-truth” mentality characterized by skepticism towards objective truth.
10. Expectations about and the reality of undergraduate life being influenced by a party culture (underaged/binge drinking, promiscuity, etc).
11. Severe decline in religious belief and practice.
12. Church sexual abuse crisis
13. Broken social structures: increasing isolation, self-reliance, and limited or non-existent communal relations.
14. Low cultural valuation of philosophical explorations of truth or the philosophical underpinnings of contemporary worldviews.
15. Increased concern for social justice and human rights, but lack of sound foundations in philosophy, history, and economics are leading to the rise of identity politics and the suppression of free speech.
16. Growing cultural divide characterized by increasing political and social division, declining civility in public discourse, increasing ideological polarization, inability to dialogue with or even consider opposing viewpoints, need for "safe spaces”, willingness to consider alternative/opposing viewpoints as offensive or even acts of violence.
- Authenticity and Distinctiveness
We believe that an authentically Catholic university is well and indeed ideally suited to address these current challenges. Our mission teaches us to direct all our research and teaching toward wisdom and the full development of the human person. This integrative approach to the pursuit of knowledge in both our academic and professional programs offers an invaluable service to the Church, the nation, and the world.
Pope St. Paul VI provided us with a guide for how to address the challenges of our time when he wrote about a different but related set of “signs of the times”, in 1975 in Evangelii Nuntiandi:
It is often said nowadays that the present century thirsts for authenticity. Especially in regard to young people it is said that they have a horror of the artificial or false and that they are searching above all for truth and honesty.
These "signs of the times" should find us vigilant. Either tacitly or aloud — but always forcefully — we are being asked: Do you really believe what you are proclaiming? Do you live what you believe? Do you really preach what you live? The witness of life has become more than ever an essential condition for real effectiveness in preaching. Precisely because of this we are, to a certain extent, responsible for the progress of the Gospel that we proclaim. (#76)
Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses. (#41)
We agree with Pope St. Paul VI that we must face the challenges of our day with authenticity. In order to serve and educate this generation of students and confront these challenges, we choose to live the mission of the University authentically.
Our mission and identity as a Catholic institute of higher education and research allows us to offer a uniquely authentic witness to the fullness of truth. Grounded in the Catholic faith, we recognize the existence, beauty, and universality of objective truth that is both the foundation of all our disciplines and the object of our research.
At the same time, the pursuit of truth is inseparable from the moral life. Our faith, when fully and authentically lived, creates a shared set of moral norms that underlie our interaction with each other and with our students. These foundations provide a strong existential ground for all that we do as a university community. Our faculty have the privilege of engaging in genuine interdisciplinary research and educating our students with a view towards the unity of knowledge. Furthermore, we are free to interact with each other and with our students in a spirit of civility, generosity, and genuine care. These freedoms derive not from a mere commitment to a code of conduct but are grounded in existential convictions; a majority of us hold these as people of faith, and all of us value belonging to a community shaped by these convictions.
This shared understanding of truth allows each of our academic disciplines to engage with questions that are difficult if not impossible to address without such an understanding, and are therefore often ignored, despite their foundational importance. These questions include:
1. Anthropological questions: what does it mean to be a human person according to our discipline, and what assumptions do we make about his/her origin, abilities, flourishing, and destiny? What do we learn from this discipline about what it means to be human?
2. Epistemological questions: what are the foundational truths about our discipline, and how do we know them? What methods do we use to discover new knowledge, and what is the status of that knowledge?
3. Ethical questions: what determines right and wrong in our discipline? What norms exist regarding its proper practice, and the appropriate use of its findings? Where do these norms come from?
4. Existential questions: what is the purpose of our discipline? Why do we dedicate our working lives to it, and why is it an important discipline for our students to learn about?
5. Metaphysical questions: what does our discipline say about the nature of reality? What is the foundation of the phenomena that we experience and study? (Cf. Fides et Ratio, 83)
- Role of Catholic Faculty
The faculty (Catholic and non-Catholic) are the heart of our University. In order for our mission to succeed, it is important, as Ex Corde Ecclesiae requires (Art. 4, §4), that a majority of our faculty are Catholics committed to living out the Faith. If that is true for the entire University, it should also be true for each school and department. The shared understanding of reality and truth that is so vital to our mission, distinctiveness, and culture can only be maintained if a majority of the faculty are committed to it at an existential level: that they are so convinced by it that they strive to conform their very lives to it.
The heart of this shared understanding of reality is that “God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength. He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church. To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son as Redeemer and Saviour. In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 1).
The existential commitment of our Catholic faculty is therefore not just to a set of truths and a worldview, but to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the risen Lord himself.
Once hired, faculty who hold the Catholic faith enjoy no privileges distinct from faculty of other faiths or none. All are full and equal members of our faculty. The only distinctions we have among faculty, aside from distinctions among academic disciplines, are by track: tenured, tenure-track, and contract (clinical/practice/etc.), and by rank: assistant, associate, and ordinary. Subject to these distinctions, once hired, every faculty member has an equal vote in all formal deliberations, all are equally eligible to be elected to our Academic Senate, and all are valued members of our community. The only exceptions here are typically the unique requirements for our Ecclesiastical faculties and for administrative positions, where oftentimes a specific commitment to the Catholic faith is sought. (Administrative positions in academia, unlike those in business or government, are not part of the normal progression of career success. A successful professor rises from assistant rank, through associate to ordinary rank, ending as emeritus; digression into administrative positions is generally seen as a sacrificial distraction from the normal academic career progression and is not aspired to by most academics).
- Role of Faculty Members of Other Faiths or None
Faculty of other faiths or no faith make a distinctive and important contribution to our mission, advancing the dialog between faith and reason. Catholic and non-Catholic faculty working together demonstrate how, at a time of great division in our country and our world, colleagues from different faiths and cultures can work together harmoniously and effectively.
Our rich academic collaboration in research and teaching between faculty of different faiths or no faith builds upon a progressively widening set of shared commitments to truth. We acknowledge our differences while maintaining these scholarly commitments, be they the commitment to the search for truth shared with atheists and agnostics, the awareness of a divine transcendence permeating the visible world shared with Hindus, the acknowledgment of the existence and the call of the One God, Creator of the Universe, shared with Muslims, the common spiritual patrimony, including the people of Israel created and called by the one God and their sacred writings, shared with the Jewish people, the faith in Christ shared with Protestant communions, and the doctrinal and liturgical patrimony shared with the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches.
We strive to avoid all temptations to syncretism or relativism, or to defining truth down solely to overlapping consensus, all of which would be a betrayal of these very commitments to truth (The Second Vatican Council's Declaration on the Church's relation to non-Christian religions, Nostra Aetate, and the Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio, inform our vision of human and academic cooperation at The Catholic University of America).
- Academic Freedom
We believe that our faculty’s shared understanding of truth and reality establishes an “atmosphere of academic competence where freedom is fostered and where the only constraint upon truth is truth itself.”
The University’s motto is “Deus Lux Mea Est”: God is my light. The image of light is a helpful one. In the same way that light illuminates without changing what it falls on, our Catholic mission provides the conditions that allow us to see more clearly into our disciplines and therefore to be better scholars and teachers.
This reflection was developed over the course of the Faculty Orientation Extended meetings (monthly meetings of faculty hired within the past five years with the Provost) during the Spring semester of the 2018/19 academic year, with extensive contributions from the many faculty participants in those meetings. The contributors raised important questions and suggested specific answers, language, and edits to this reflection. I extend my warmest gratitude to all of them.
There is more — much more — that can be said about the implications of our Catholic mission for our academic work, and I hope that this brief reflection will occasion further discussion and elaboration of this vitally important topic.
(The following message from Provost Andrew V. Abela was included in the the June 6, 2018 Faculty Newsletter.)
I thought that I would send you one more newsletter to let you know that yesterday the Board of Trustees approved the Proposal for Academic Renewal, with one small amendment. In the version that the Academic Senate submitted to the Board, the new Benjamin T. Rome School of Music, Drama, and Art was to be established on August 20, 2018. Since we have already hired the new dean, the Board was comfortable establishing the new school effective immediately. I look forward to working with Dean Jacqueline Leary-Warsaw and our students, faculty, and staff in Music, Drama, and Art in the launch of this exciting new school.
You’ll recall that one objective of the Proposal was to reduce our operating budget by $3.5 million through a reduction of 35 faculty positions. I am very pleased to inform you that, as of yesterday morning, our hopes to achieve this through voluntary means alone have been realized. The details regarding a couple of departures are still being finalized, but I think I can say with confidence that this part of Academic Renewal is now complete, and has been accomplished without any program closures or faculty layoffs.
Now that the Proposal has secured the Board’s approval, we can focus our efforts on implementing its many forward-looking initiatives, including the creation of the new Center for Teaching Excellence, the establishment of our Endowment for the Humanities, and renovations of our labs, classrooms, and performance and studio spaces.
I would like to take this moment to reflect on the Academic Renewal process as it unfolded over the past nine months. I acknowledge that this past semester in particular hasn’t been an easy one. We have had some very difficult conversations. I’m sure that many of you can think of things that could have been done better. Still, I hope that we can all agree that the version of the Proposal approved by the Board was superior to the version I presented to the Academic Senate in March, and that our collaboration has paid off. The numerous improvements to the original draft are the result of the tremendous efforts of a great many people. They also testify to a broad and deep commitment to the good of the University. I am grateful to every person who worked to make the Proposal better.
Given the significance of the issues involved, the intensity of the dialog that ensued was not only predictable, it was entirely appropriate. I also expect that some of you still have concerns and questions, all of which will surely take time to work out. I look forward to engaging in continued dialog to this end, and would be happy to meet this summer with any faculty member or members, and respond to your emails to firstname.lastname@example.org. In addition, we will be adding a Questions/Suggestions web page to the Provost Office website that provides an opportunity for faculty to submit comments, questions, suggestions, and concerns anonymously, should you prefer that. I will review each item posted, and endeavor to offer a response either on the Provost Office website or through other appropriate means.
We should not let the challenges of this past semester hide the many and important successes we continue to have. After the undergraduate freshman shortfall two years ago, our enrollment bounced back in the following year, and this Fall’s class will represent a further increase. Our new graduate enrollments to date have increased significantly compared to last year, turning around a four-year decline. Our student retention is the highest it’s been since we first started tracking such statistics in the early 1990’s. This past year we approved the first major change to our Core Curriculum in decades, affirming our commitment to a broad-based liberal arts education. We are embarking on an exciting exploration—funded entirely by philanthropy—into how to bring a Catholic University education to low-income Hispanic families in the Southwest through a hybrid online-local combination, to be piloted in Tucson, AZ. Our fundraising has quadrupled since 2010, with each of the past three years setting all-time fundraising records for us. Given the success of our Academic Renewal effort, instead of diverting every new dollar generated from all these achievements towards closing a budget gap—and spending all summer looking for additional cuts—we can now focus all our efforts on investing in our future.
I will close by expressing my admiration for and gratitude to the many faculty, students, and staff who engaged so vigorously and intelligently in these important discussions. It is my privilege to work with you all. I wish you a well-earned, restful summer.
(The following message from Provost Andrew V. Abela was included in the the May 15, 2018 Faculty Newsletter.)
You will have read in President Garvey’s email of May 9 that the Academic Senate approved the Proposal for Academic Renewal, by a vote of 35 to 8. Since there were a number of changes made during that Senate meeting, I thought that I would take this occasion to share the highlights of the Proposal, as approved by the Senate.
- The establishment of a new Benjamin T. Rome School of Music, Drama, and Art, containing all the students, faculty, staff and programs from the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music and the School of Arts and Sciences’ Departments of Drama and Art. The Department of Media and Communication Studies will remain in the School of Arts and Sciences.
- The reestablishment of a Department of Economics in the School of Arts and Sciences, and the renaming of the Busch School of Business and Economics to the Busch School of Business.
- The creation of a Center for Teaching Excellence to support full- and part-time faculty, as well as graduate students. University faculty whose teaching excellence has been recognized by the University will be invited to serve as mentors at the Center.
- Implementation of the Faculty Handbook-specified full-time, tenure-track teaching load of 3:3 along with teaching load equivalencies for strong research contributions; for graduate student guidance; for certain service contributions, such as chair responsibilities; and for Advancement support. Instead of the originally proposed classification system of Doctoral, Professional, and Undergraduate units with differential teaching loads, the Senate decided to create a Unit Standards Committee. This new standing committee of the Academic Senate will recommend standardized weights for various faculty activities to the deans and me, for the determination of actual teaching loads in each school.
- Elimination of 35 full-time faculty positions without closing any academic programs or reducing our range of courses or course sections. As I have indicated from the beginning, we hope to achieve most if not all of this reduction in positions through voluntary means. We are very close to achieving this goal.
- Renovation of Mullen Library, science laboratories, classrooms, and studio, performance and rehearsal spaces funded through philanthropic giving and capital improvement projects.
You can see the full text of the Proposal, as approved by the Senate, on the Academic Senate Archive, which is located in the Team Drive. The next and final stage is for the Proposal to be considered by the Board of Trustees at their June meeting.
(The following message from Provost Andrew V. Abela was included in the the April 16, 2018 Faculty Newsletter.)
In the March 9 issue of the Faculty Newsletter I wrote about the Academic Renewal project. I explained that the Academic Senate would commence deliberations on the Proposal for Academic Renewal at its March 15 meeting. Last Thursday, April 12, the Senate held its second round of deliberations.
In advance of the April 12 session, three committees of the Academic Senate — the Academic Policy Committee (APC), Budget and Planning Committee (BPC), and the Committee on Faculty Economic Welfare (CoFEW) — analyzed the proposal and submitted reports that contained a number of proposed amendments. Likewise the organizations that represent our students — the Student Government Association (SGA) and the Graduate Student Association (GSA) — presented amendments.
As the mover of the proposal, I had to determine whether I considered an amendment as “friendly” to the overall goals of the proposal, or as “unfriendly.” I tried to accept as many as I could in an effort to build as wide a consensus as possible for the Academic Renewal project. In that spirit I accepted the SGA amendments, both of which involve leaving the Department of Media and Communication Studies in the School of Arts and Sciences. I accepted all of the GSA’s amendments, which focus on mentorship initiatives and other support for graduate students. I also approved the change for the name of the proposed new school, which would be called the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music, Drama and Art, or Rome School of Music, Drama and Art.
There was insufficient time at the April 12 session to review all the proposed amendments. The Senate will convene an extraordinary session this week for that purpose. Nevertheless, at last week’s meeting, the Senate adopted a resolution to refer the Proposal on Academic Renewal, with amendments, to the Senate Ad Hoc Committee elected in February. The Ad Hoc Committee’s charge is to consult widely with students, faculty, and staff who will be affected by Academic Renewal and to submit a report to the Senate by May 2, in time for final action on the proposal at its May 9 meeting.
In order to enable you to see all the relevant documents related to Academic Renewal, we will be sharing the Academic Senate Archive files with all faculty. You will receive an email invitation to view the folder and access the file through your University email’s Google Drive. In the folder you will find the Proposal for Academic Renewal; the APC, BPC, and CoFEW reports; the student government amendments; my written response to all the recommendations that I shared with the senators; and other documents.
I want to express my gratitude to everyone who has dedicated much time and effort on the Proposal for Academic Renewal. I want to encourage you to attend the town halls meetings that the Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Academic Renewal will convene to solicit your feedback.
I look forward to seeing you all at University Research Day on April 19.
Andrew V. Abela, Ph.D.
(The following message from Provost Andrew V. Abela was included in the the March 9, 2018 Faculty Newsletter.)
I trust that you have all had a restful Spring Break.
This month’s newsletter focuses on the Academic Renewal project. Back in September, I hosted three Town Hall meetings where I shared with you concerns about the increased competition for students resulting from the decline in the number of high school graduates in the northeast United States and of private high school graduates nationwide. We talked about how, in order to succeed in this new environment, we need to find ways to strengthen both our academic excellence and our financial sustainability.
Since then, each University academic unit (department, or non-departmentalized school) has undertaken a self-study, and these self-studies have been reviewed by the Deans’ Council. Based on this work, and on meetings and consultations with the Senate Budget and Planning Committee, the Senate Academic Policy Committee, the Senate Committee on Faculty Economic Welfare and several student groups, we have developed a formal Proposal for Academic Renewal, which I submitted to the Senate yesterday.
The specific objectives of the Proposal are to enhance the University’s research reputation, support sustainable teaching excellence and enable significant revenue improvements. It includes the following initiatives:
- Improved support for faculty and student research
- Increased investment in teaching development support
- Creation of a new School of Music, Visual, and Performing Arts that will bring together all arts faculty to foster cross-disciplinary efforts in and anchor the University’s commitment to the Arts
- Reinforcement of the benefits of undergraduate education being delivered by active, world-class researchers, scholars and practitioners
- Continuing to launch new programs in areas of high interest to current and prospective students
- Maintaining all current programs, courses and sections, and low student-to-teacher ratios
- Renovating science laboratories, classrooms and performance and rehearsal spaces
The Academic Renewal project will adjust teaching loads, without exceeding the norms enshrined in our Faculty Handbook. This will allow more students to have more of their courses taught by faculty who are leaders in their fields of research and scholarship, and will reduce teaching costs and hence strengthen financial sustainability. The rebalanced teaching loads will result in fewer faculty in certain academic units, which will be addressed through voluntary incentives and, depending on the number of voluntary departures, potentially also a reduction of faculty through non-renewal of contracts and elimination of tenured positions.
Our intention is to ensure that no programs, courses or sections will be cut as a result of the Academic Renewal project, so that the quality of the student experience is maintained and strengthened. With the assistance of the consulting firm of Kennedy and Company, we determined the minimum number of faculty necessary for each department or non-departmentalized school to staff its current course offerings. The difference between that number and the current faculty count gave us the estimated faculty reduction required, approximately 35 fewer than our current staffing. The Proposal calls for the elimination of those positions after the Spring 2018 semester.
Of this number, approximately 25 are faculty who have indicated an intention to leave voluntarily, the majority by taking the current Early/Voluntary Retirement Incentive Program. The remaining ten or so would be faculty whose contracts are not renewed or whose tenured positions are eliminated. The current estimate is that four of these would come from the School of Architecture and Planning, three from the School of Music and three from the School of Arts and Sciences (two from the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures and one from the Department of Media and Communications Studies).
I share these numbers with you in the spirit of transparency, but at the same time I want to emphasize that they are still only preliminary. Indeed, the final count will not be known until the end of April, when all signed agreements for voluntary retirement have been submitted. It is possible, indeed highly desirable that, through voluntary withdrawals and other efforts, no involuntary reductions of faculty will be necessary.
Senate deliberation on the Proposal for Academic Renewal will begin next week, at its March 15 meeting. The Senate, through its designated committees, is expected to consult widely with faculty, students and administrators prior to its final vote, anticipated to be held during its May 9 meeting. The Senate’s recommendation will then be forwarded to the Board of Trustees, which will vote on the Proposal during its June 5 meeting.
In order to find out how to participate in the consultation, or to obtain a copy of the full Proposal, please contact your Senate representative. A full list of representatives by school may be found here: http://academicsenate.cua.edu/membership.cfm.
While I recognize that this process is a cause of unease for some of you, I remain convinced that the Proposal sets the right direction for our University, to ensure a strong future for our students, faculty and staff. I look forward to the coming Senate review process as an exercise in vigorous shared governance oriented towards strengthening our University as a comprehensive Catholic research institution.
Andrew V. Abela, Ph.D.