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Message from the Provost: Academic Planning

In this final letter of the semester on academic planning, I want to address current and future academic reinvention initiatives, including the leadership role of the faculty and the need of the University to support faculty work. 

I sense that many are struggling to see what SLU will look like as we emerge – over time – from this phase of transformation and into a new institutional era.   And that may be because much of the Magis Operational Excellence Program we’ve experienced thus far has focused on the deans’ efforts to meet aggressive financial goals.  It’s true that a driving force behind the Magis Program has been the need to erase a serious operational budget deficit.  SLU is not in a financial crisis – but we would be in years to come if we did not act boldly now; unlike fine wine, repeated deficit spending does not get better with time.

I am fully aware that expense reduction does not constitute “academic reinvention.”   But we had to start by eliminating our operating deficit, right-sizing our staff and faculty, and reducing low-enrolled courses.   When that first step is fully behind us, we will have restored the kind of stability on which true institutional transformation can and will happen.  SLU has existed for nearly 200 years and in that time was experienced periods of significant transformation mandated by changing student populations and changing educational, economic, and societal needs.  We are in such a period now.

This period of transformation will take several years; reinvention will not happen overnight.  Truly strategic decisions – those that recognize that a revitalized curricula, ambitious research agendas, our organizational infrastructures, our outreach to St. Louis and beyond – take time to both make and implement.  But we have begun

I want to share with you below a glimpse of SLU’s future – in undergraduate education, graduate education, and research – as the deans, President Pestello, and I have envisioned it through the academic reinvention process.

Undergraduate Education

The SLU undergraduate educational experience will be one that “helps actualize in each student a well-developed mind, a generous heart, and a reflective soul.” Like our Jesuit colleagues, SLU faculty and students do not live cloistered lives.  They live for and among those they serve and those with whom, and from whom, they learn.  Students will leave SLU career-ready, prepared to face local and global challenges, and with practical experience doing so. 

Toward this vision for undergraduate education, to date we have:

  • made significant progress toward adopting new undergraduate student learning outcomes that will direct the development of a University-wide core curriculum that will serve as SLU’s contemporary interpretation of the centuries-old Jesuit educational ideal.  The outcomes will be presented for University-wide deliberation and endorsement early in Fall 2017.
  • begun to analyze our academic and career advising services.  We will implement a model of advising and related support that best facilitates developmentally-appropriate student academic and professional growth.
  • committed to significantly reducing our reliance on part-time faculty, re-dedicating our full-time faculty to teaching undergraduates.
  • developed a new Project Management major in the School for Professional Studies and moved Emergency Management to SPS where the degree programs are best positioned to serve adult learners.
  • begun the process of moving Health Care Ethics to the College of Arts and Sciences, where the normative, mission-driven nature of their work can thrive.

But that is just a start to what will be a multi-year process of transformation.  There is much left to do – much that has yet to be discussed or decided upon by faculty and appropriate academic leaders, including the following:

  • design, implementation, and governance  of a new core curriculum, [and] evaluation of outcomes that inform curricular revision.
  • ensure that intellectual integration drives the design and redesign of all SLU curricula, as the world our students are committed to improve is not defined by academic disciplines or structures. 
  • ensure that our curricula are streamlined to afford students flexibility and foster their intellectual exploration.
  • increase the number of internship and other experiential, community-engaged of global learning experiences.

Graduate Education

In the Jesuit tradition we develop principled leaders whose accomplishments strengthen our communities.  All of our graduate programs will provide disciplinary and professional training  and graduates will be distinguished by their ability to discern the ethical and moral implications of their work, and by their courage to lead for justice – particularly in addressing the social, economic, and cultural issues that challenge St. Louis and urban environments more generally.

Toward this vision for graduate-level education, we have:

  • committed to grow the graduate programs in Parks College of Engineering, Aviation, and Technology; the Physician Assistant Program in the Doisy College of Health Sciences; and the Master of Public Health program in the College for Public Health and Social Justice.  The School of Nursing aspires to expand its Ph.D. program and to become a leading program developing the next generation of nursing educators.
  • moved selected graduate programs into other colleges/schools with more appropriate academic ecosystems will help them grow.  For example, while the Center for Sustainability has incubated several academic programs since its founding in 2010, those programs will be moved to other units as the Center focuses on fulfilling its goal to be a hub for interdisciplinary research in sustainability.  Accordingly, the M.S. programs in Sustainability and Geographic Information Sciences will move to the College of Arts and Sciences; the M.S. in Urban Planning and Development will move to the School of Social Work; the Ph.D. in Sustainability will remain part of our Integrated and Applied Sciences program. 
  • begun planning for the realignment of some academic units to break down barriers to interdisciplinary scholarship, pedagogy, and curriculum development.
  • Again, much more needs to be done at the graduate level, including:
  • extending existing partnerships, and develop new partnerships, with other educational and research institutions, corporations, government entities, the legal community, or other “communities of innovation.” 
  • developing strong incentives – primarily to faculty, but also to academic leaders – to create new programs or grow existing ones.
  • expand executive education programs and non-credit professional education across academic units to bolster our development of leaders already serving the St. Louis region (and beyond).


SLU stands among the great Jesuit research universities that have created new knowledge through scientific and scholarly study and put that into practice in the classroom and community. Faculty research forms the foundation for that work and gives us an opportunity to use discovery to advance impactful teaching and service. The future of our fields, and the future of SLU, includes interdisciplinary research and discovery.  We must work together to break down intellectual and organizational barriers to collaborative inquiry and advance impactful responses to the grand challenges of our time:  poverty, food and water security, social and economic justice, healthcare for all, respect for human life and dignity, big data and secure computing. 

Toward this vision for excellence in research at SLU, and through our academic reinvention work thus far, we have:

  • engaged groups of SLU faculty – sometimes in partnership with colleagues at external institutions – to explore joint research opportunities in areas where SLU can be distinctive and connect faculty from multiple schools and departments in areas of common interest
  • refocused the Center for Sustainability exclusively on the research agendas of its interdisciplinary faculty.
  • increased the number of grants made from the President’s Research Fund and added Spark Microgrants to provide more opportunities for “seed” funding for faculty research.
  • supported dean-sponsored efforts to incentivize faculty who choose to seek external funding for research.
  • begun planning for an improved electronic system that will make it easier for faculty to apply for funding and manage sponsored awards.
  • The recently completed five-year Strategic Plan for Research will direct our efforts as we seek to: 
  • increase the number of faculty with external research funding and double the dollar value of our research enterprise.
  • identify and prioritize areas where we can pursue our mission as well as be distinctive and eminent.
  • create more opportunities for students to work with our distinguished faculty at every level.
  • seek philanthropic support to make Saint Louis University a destination for the most innovative scholars in the humanities and humanistic social sciences.

The visions offered above, and our plans to achieve them, are fundamentally grounded in and dependent upon the faculty’s engagement, commitment, and leadership.  Accordingly, we must do everything we can to empower and support faculty work across our shared purposes of teaching, research, health care, and service to the community.  Central to our academic reinvention efforts must be our commitment to equitable workloads that are appropriately distributed to maximize the impact of faculty interests and expertise; significant and sustained support of faculty development initiatives; and recognition and rewards that demonstrably value faculty excellence.  Only when we build up and retain a world-class faculty, and ensure equitable opportunities for their professional advancement and recognition, will we be able to realize the future we all envision.

Finally, our academic reinvention work thus far has clearly demonstrated that how we engage our faculty colleagues in this work is critical.  I have been working with the deans directly, and they have been consulting with their faculty as appropriate in their colleges/schools.  We’ve held many open fora encouraging input from students, faculty and staff.  Timelines have sometimes been tight, but I’ve been impressed by the efforts of all to ensure contributions from as many constituents as possible.  As we continue our transformational work, we must continue to prize open deliberation and transparency in decision-making.  Ultimately, our greatness as an institution rests on our good faith in shared governance.  

With that I will close this series of Spring 2017 communications on academic planning.  In Fall 2018 we’ll hold more face-to-face meetings to discuss our planning and reinvention efforts.  Until then, I thank everyone for their commitment to the stewardship of the University.


Nancy Brickhouse, Ph.D.