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.
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
- 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
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
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
- 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
- create more opportunities for students to work with our distinguished faculty at every
- 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
Nancy Brickhouse, Ph.D.