Skip to main content
MenuSearch & Directory

Reflection Series: What Does It Mean to Be a Preeminent Jesuit Research University?

by Ken Olliff on 10/24/2023


When I joined Saint Louis University as vice president for research in 2016, our collective goal was to grow our research to generate momentum that would propel SLU into the ranks of the nation’s top private research universities. Now, seven years later, we have accomplished a lot! We have won hundreds of highly competitive grants, attracted scores of high-caliber researchers, published in the top journals and with the most prestigious university presses, secured two very large philanthropic gifts — the list goes on and on.

One measure of our collective success is SLU’s growth in research expenditures. At the September meeting of SLU’s Board of Trustees, President Fred Pestello, Ph.D., shared that, according to the National Science Foundation’s Higher Education Research and Development survey, SLU grew in annual research expenditures from $42 million in 2016 to $79 million in 2021, the last year data is available. That equates to 87% growth, which makes SLU one of the fastest-growing private research universities in the nation. Among private universities with at least $30 million in expenditures, we grew the fastest! This growth also firmly establishes SLU as being well on the path to R1 status, which, depending on forthcoming changes to the Carnegie classification, we could achieve in the triennial review that will take place in 2027.

These accomplishments are a testament to the incredible work of our faculty, students, research staff and many others, and expenditures are only one aspect of our growing research eminence. We have accomplished so much together in realizing our vision for SLU Research, and we still have much work ahead of us — many challenges to tackle and many opportunities to seize. But we have certainly generated momentum.

Amid all of these accomplishments, our overarching goal is to become a preeminent Jesuit research university. That is, we aspire that our research should also be an expression of our Jesuit mission. As we now build on our successes and plan for our future, we have an important question to ask ourselves: What does it mean to be a preeminent Jesuit research university?

I would like to invite us to spend some time wrestling with this question over the coming year. I’ll be inviting members of our community to contribute to the conversation by penning columns in this newsletter that we will archive on a blog. I’ll get us started by sharing a few of my thoughts here.

Like many of us in higher education, especially at Jesuit institutions, I think of my profession as a calling. Through my work, I seek to help the world and improve the lives of my fellow humans. I believe deeply that science and scholarship, rigorous inquiry and argumentation, are fundamental to these goals. Not only does humanity progress through discovering and transmitting new knowledge, but human ingenuity flourishes when there is freedom to explore, experiment, debate and innovate.

As I’ve been reflecting on this question myself, a few commitments seem to characterize our work together:

I imagine that those of us who have been at SLU for a while might take these kinds of ideas for granted. Yes, of course that’s what we’re here for! But sometimes when I’m with colleagues from other universities or other industries, I am reminded of how special SLU is as a place that is truly grounded in a mission. And when I read the newspapers each morning, I’m reminded of how incredibly vital our work really is.

So, I invite you to follow this column over the next months as different members of our community reflect on what it means to be a preeminent Jesuit research university, and I invite you to add your own voice as well. It is a tremendous pleasure and privilege to be on this journey with you.

In gratitude, 


Headshot of Ken Olliff

Ken Olliff

Kenneth A. Olliff serves as Vice President for Research and Partnerships at Saint Louis University and as Director of the SLU Research Institute, posts he has held since 2016 and 2018, respectively.

Read Other Essays in the Series

Claire Gilbert, "A Humanist’s Perspective on What It Means to Be a Preeminent Jesuit Research University"