President's Fall Address - 2019

Rev. Philip L. Boroughs, S.J.
September 10, 2019

Good afternoon. Our new academic year has begun and I hope that during the summer, in addition to the professional responsibilities and projects you managed, you enjoyed some relaxing and life-giving time with family and friends.

In recognition of the fact that this is the first fall reception for many present here, if you are new to the college community since this time last year, would you please stand?  Welcome. We are very pleased that you have joined us to share in the institutional mission of the College of the Holy Cross.

As usual, Move-In Day just over a week ago was spirited and well-organized, in spite of campus construction and constraints on parking. I spent four hours Saturday morning walking through the residence halls and greeting arriving students and their families. Our new students enjoyed the rousing welcome, and parents were deeply appreciative of all the support they received from 350 student and 80 alumni volunteers who helped them empty their cars and get everything placed in the appropriate rooms.

About 2,500 students, parents, faculty and staff celebrated together the Mass of the Holy Spirit at the end of the afternoon. Our College chaplains are to be commended for the robust choir, augmented this year by a significant number of first year students who came a week early for Choir week, and the thoughtful and professional student liturgical ministers who served us throughout the ceremony and helped us to worship and pray with heightened focus. Afterward, I heard many compliments from both Catholics and those of other religious traditions. Offering families and the campus community an opportunity to step back from all the practical implications of this day and their mixed emotions of excitement and separation, in order to seek God’s help in managing this transition in their family’s life and the beginning of a new academic venture for their children was deeply appreciated.

I realize that a Saturday afternoon liturgy on a three-day weekend makes it difficult for many here to attend, so let me share a few thoughts that I shared at the liturgy that day. As many of you know, Catholics and many Christian denominations share a common lectionary. The readings from the Hebrew and Christian scriptures used at our services are set on a rotating cycle so that a variety of books are highlighted over the course of a few years. At the Mass of the Holy Spirit, we typically use the scheduled readings for the Sunday liturgy the following day, and often this pushes the homilist to attempt some creative stretches between what we are hearing and the occasion we are celebrating. However, it wasn’t hard to make those connections this year as the readings from Sirach, Paul’s letter to the Hebrews and the Gospel of Luke all centered on the theme of humility.

As I reflected with those gathered for the Mass of the Holy Spirit, it seems to me that humility is knowing the truth about ourselves, and not just our limitations and weaknesses, but also our God-given talents and strengths. Both are part of our truth, and accepting that truth leads to freedom and wisdom. As we reflect on the academic enterprise that we are engaged in here, humility is the foundation of all learning. Knowing what we don’t know, asking significant questions, and seeking meaningful answers is the basis of sustained study, research and scholarly writing. True humility also helps us to listen carefully to each other without focusing on what we need to say in response, and it frees us to respect and learn from our differences. Humility helps us to celebrate the success of others and to appreciate appropriately the recognition given to us. Humility also helps us to disagree respectfully while realizing that we don’t have the whole truth. And in order to find that truth, we need to work together.

Our oft-quoted Mission Statement expresses it this way:

Dialogue about fundamental questions among people from diverse academic disciplines and religious traditions requires everyone to acknowledge and respect differences. Dialogue also requires us to remain open to the whole which calls us to transcend ourselves and challenges us to seek that which might constitute our common humanity.

This is part of our ingrained Holy Cross identity, but I think that we can all humbly acknowledge that at times it isn’t easy to realize. We are passionate about our respective positions and perspectives, and we often differ about facts. That is all part of the academic enterprise. But when our discourse becomes heated, we are tempted to pull away from each other seeking affirmation from those who agree with us. Every day in the world around us, whether it be Congress or Parliament or town halls, we see how disagreement quickly can turn to assumptions about motives, and then judgment about character and values. And once begun, trust in the integrity of another is quickly gone and we withdraw from meaningful conversation. I say this acknowledging that this is an easy pattern to fall into and requires a great deal of intentional asceticism to avoid. Frankly, it is something I have to pray over and work on every day. But I do believe that here at the College we all share a common desire to live authentically and, hopefully, we can find the freedom we need to improve our listening skills, to attribute to others with whom we may disagree the best possible interpretation of their concerns, and to find creative and healing ways of engaging one another with respect, for the sake of all members of this educational community. I daily pray for that freedom for myself and for all of us.

As you know, Campus Climate surveys were administered to all community members in March and April of last year. In May, Denise Bell, Director of the Office of Assessment and Research, and Michael Kelly, Senior Research Analyst, presented some of the early findings from the student surveys, and over the summer they completed a great deal of analysis on the faculty and staff surveys. They will be presenting their initial findings this semester. They met with the Executive Team last week to share their presentation with us and in one of the slides they are using, a student made this plea when invited to write a comment:

Continue to have open discussion and encourage dialogue. ALL sides deserve to be heard, not just one. Different ideas of handling issues does not mean that the other side is hateful and judgmental; it simply means that they want students, faculty and staff to listen to each other.

The student is anonymous and where this student stands on any of our current issues isn’t stated. But the student is inviting us all to listen humbly to each other, to respect one another even when we differ, and not to make assumptions on the motives of others. It is an invitation that is worth our consideration and discernment.

As we begin to analyze and reflect on the results of our Climate Survey, I’m sure that faculty, staff and students will discuss among their respective constituencies the results that pertain directly to them. However, it has also been suggested that we have open conversations where all three groups can meet together to engage the findings. It would be valuable for students to hear the concerns that faculty and staff have for them, for faculty to hear comments from staff that will help faculty become more aware of and value the professional contributions of our staff, and for staff to learn from faculty and students how and where their care and concern can be most beneficial.

Last spring I had the opportunity of viewing a video created by graduating senior and varsity basketball player, Jehyve Floyd, for a sociology class. He gathered a group of varsity athletes of color and asked them to reflect on their educational experience at Holy Cross. While they deeply appreciated the opportunities and education they received here, these student athletes also commented on how their varying racial identities were perceived by other students, they shared negative comments made about athletes in class, and they talked about the pressures they faced and the expectations they struggled to meet in the classroom and on the field. Watching this hour-long conversation, I felt privileged to listen to these students’ candid reflections and certainly gained new insight into their perspectives and their burdens. I found it freeing to be able to listen, to learn and to absorb what they were saying without feeling an immediate need or obligation to respond. There was a great deal to process and reflect on, and now I want to watch it with others as a prelude to further conversation. As we prepare to discuss our Climate Survey, a similar process might be helpful. First attend a session in which the material is presented, and then later to join a group where its implications can be mined and thoughtful solutions to problems can be designed.

We have many important conversations going on this year. In addition to the Climate Survey, our ongoing work on the Common Requirements and preparation for the NECHE accreditation continues. We need to consider the findings and questions raised by the Mission Priority Examen finished last spring, and also we need to begin to implement the suggestions made by the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee and the Title IX and Sexual Respect and Conduct committees. Further, the College community needs to begin a new Strategic Planning Process, that draws on all the intersecting priorities of these committees, so that among other things, we can begin discerning what needs, initiatives and innovative projects we envision will enhance our institutional mission in the decade ahead. And somewhere in that period, we will begin another comprehensive campaign to realize them. The humility to learn from each other, the freedom to listen carefully to diverse perspectives, the openness to engage in provocative and sometimes challenging conversations, and the unity of spirit to come together to realize our dreams will take discipline and imagination, asceticism and creative rigor for each of us.

Last month, the executive team met at the Joyce Contemplative Center for two days of reflection and planning. We were helped by a skilled facilitator who led us through a process to enhance our communication with each other and to find ways of becoming more efficient in planning, dividing responsibilities, and maintaining energy as we worked together. We are a group that already works well together, but with the intensity of work and issues of this past year, it was a great opportunity to get away, step back, and reflect on our way of proceeding. At the end of an intense day and a half, the Cabinet joined us for further reflection and a meal. The Cabinet includes senior leadership across various sectors of the college’s administration. Given the variety of issues and challenges of the year, I invited the group to think about ways that we could improve communication and renew our sense of community in this academic year, and I specifically asked each person to identify something practical they could do themselves in their own area to accomplish this goal. The goal wasn't to design work for others, but to focus on how we could take responsibility for moving us forward as a community and create more opportunities to listen to one another. Amit Taneja, Associate Provost for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and Michele Murray, Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students, talked about how they could work together to coordinate important critical campus conversations and promote them so that we are focusing on, and not unnecessarily duplicating, important programs. As Speaker of the Faculty Assembly, Miles Cahill said how important it is for him to engage with people who are holding opposing positions and ensure that they feel part of the process, and how critical follow-up is after issues have been raised. Marybeth Kearns-Barrett related how our Chaplains, with outside consultants, have completely redesigned their first-year retreat program for students to focus on how to have conversations across differences and form a more inclusive student community. Several talked about having small groups gather over coffee with senior leadership to engage important issues because in large group settings only a few really get to speak. David Achenbach, Director of Human Resources, said he would investigate informal methods of mediating differences and possibly training mediators to facilitate this process; while Ellen Keohane, Chief Information Officer and Deputy Title IX Coordinator, raised a possibility that Virginia Raguin also raised in an open forum last spring, that we might explore a program in restorative justice for certain levels of transgressions which would promote healing and a stronger sense of our responsibilities to each other.

Many more suggestions were made, and I mention these as examples of individuals taking responsibility for making a difference, enhancing communications across campus, and thinking of creative ways to unify our community. This work is not just the work of a few, or the administration or staff, or the Academic Governance Council or just for students. It is work for us all that is central to our institutional mission, our Jesuit and Catholic values, and to our identity as a liberal arts college community. We are called to think creatively, and on a variety of levels, for becoming the community we want, and each of us has to go beyond our comfort zones to find healing and hope in the year ahead. I am confident that we can do this, but I am not naïve about the extent of the work and the changes in attitude it will ask of each of us.

Part Two--Practical Issues

Now, I would like to shift gears a bit, and give you updates on a number of issues which touch on our work and campus life. Some of you will be aware of much of this, but I realize that the sharing of information can be sporadic if you don’t regularly engage our website.

Follow-up From Last Spring

As many of you might have seen, over the summer I shared with the campus community follow-up emails regarding the work related to our campus climate undertaken last year by various planning groups and committees, including the review managed by Phil Catanzano of Holland & Knight. Those emails and links can be found at the Communications tab on the Campus Climate website, where you can also find updates on the progress being made on various initiatives and projects recommended by various reviews. Of note:

  • We have appointed a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Implementation Team as recommended by the DEI Planning Group. With Amit Taneja’s leadership, the Team will prioritize the tasks and recommendations set forth in the DEI’s final report; work toward goals established there and define new ones as they emerge; provide updates to the campus community; and establish benchmarks to assess the work undertaken.
  • As you may have read in an email from Dottie Hauver yesterday, a search has begun for a director (and eventually an enlarged staff) of what will be a newly established office of Title IX and Equal Opportunity; the Sexual Misconduct Policy has been updated to reflect the work of the Sexual Misconduct Policy Review Committee; and Jody Shipper is continuing her work with the support of the interim Title IX staff and the College; including training and education around sexual respect and conduct.
  • The Committee on Racial Reconciliation will be continuing their work this year. They are working with the Provost’s office to create the plaques the committee proposed, and a company has been selected to design appropriate memorials regarding our institutional connection with slavery.

First-Year Class

Now, returning to where I began, last Saturday we welcomed 830 first year students to Mount St. James. It was a very successful day and the weather was perfect. The First-Year Convocation began with torrential rain and mercifully it ended when we moved down to Kimball for the President’s Banquet. The Class of 2023 is very spirited and bright and their energy is palpable. The make-up of the class is:

  • 18% first generation
  • 28% domestic ALANA students
  • 4% international students
  • 56% female, 44% male students
  • 20% of the class are from the highest academic ratings

In addition, 109 juniors and seniors moved into The Edge downtown on August 22. Shuttles between The Edge and campus began immediately. Our Public Safety staff adds coverage to our students there from Thursday night to Sunday morning. The Office of Residence Life and Housing hired a graduate assistant and three community assistants to serve as HC resources for students living at The Edge.

Update on Construction and Parking

The Recreation/Wellness Center

Construction began in April and the steel framing of this 52,000 square foot building will be completed by the end of the month. This project is on schedule for opening next August.

The Performing Arts Center:

Construction began in mid-July with the establishment of a site perimeter, removing soil and beginning demolition of the rock ledge with blasting happening typically twice a day at 10:30 and 1:30. A whistle is blown 5 minutes before each blast, but it is primarily heard by those in the upper parking lots. Blasting has a few more weeks to go. This project will take 26 months to complete.


Obviously, parking is going to be challenging for the next two years and will take some patience. We lost 290 spots in the construction zone for the performing arts center and added 270 spots in the front of the Hart Center at the Luth Athletic Complex. We are designing an additional lot to be built directly east of Hart-Luth on the flat space near the south-east corner of the Indoor Field. This lot will accommodate another 90-100 cars. If we can get the asphalt down before plants close in mid to late November, this lot will be available spring semester.

  • Parking lots have been reorganized so that faculty and staff are parking closer to campus (in front of Brooks-Mulledy, Clark and Hanselman) with students in front of Hart-Luth. We have also added 50 spots on Fitton Road and Kimball Road for faculty and staff. For large conferences of more than 225 participants, we are leasing spaces off campus and providing bus transportation to campus. This impacts approximately 12 conferences in the fall semester.

Common Requirements

The faculty is continuing its work on the Common Requirements. Just over a week ago, a group of 70 faculty and staff gathered for a four-hour workshop to review the work of the steering committee. The workshop was structured to get feedback on three main questions:

  • What is our vision and purpose for the Common Requirements?
  • Which educational goals emanating from our hopes and dreams for our students belong in the Common Requirements per se, as distinct from Montserrat, the majors, and other aspects of a Holy Cross education?
  • And what are some possible ways in which we could set up our Common Requirements in order to achieve the desire goals?

Based on this feedback, the steering committee hopes to present a proposal to the Faculty Assembly on the vision and learning goals for the Common Requirements. They will then begin to develop models to achieve these goals.

Recent Rankings

Recently, U.S. News & World Report released their rankings on the colleges with the highest 4-year graduation rates. Holy Cross is tied with Bowdoin for 2nd in the nation for 4-year graduation rates at 91% and we are one of only 4 with over 90%. The only college ahead of us is Julliard with 94%. Seven colleges and universities are just behind us at 90% and they include: Amherst College, Notre Dame, Georgetown, Hamilton and the Naval Academy.

Yesterday, U.S. News reported that Holy Cross is ranked 27th among the country’s 215 liberal arts colleges. Holy Cross improved 8 positions from last year and shares the 27th position with Bryn Mawr, Colorado College, Kenyon and Soka University of America. For those unfamiliar with Soka University, it is a non-sectarian liberal arts college in Orange County, CA founded on Buddhist principles with about 400 students and an endowment of $1.3 billion!

The biggest contributor to the improvement this year was our receiving the full-benefit of our reported average standardized test scores. U.S. News penalizes test-optional schools that provide scores less than 75% of their enrolled first-year students by reducing the reported average by 15%. Since 76% of our entering first-year students provided scores last year, we avoided the penalty and our relative position in the selectivity category of the U.S. News rankings improved significantly.

  • In other rankings, Kiplinger ranked us 22nd Best Value College in the nation for 2019
  • Washington Monthly recently ranked Holy Cross #7 for “Affordable Elite Colleges”   
  • Money Magazine ranked Holy Cross as the 15th most transformative university in the United States. This ranking is based on scores for graduation rates, earnings and student loan repayment to determine schools where students do better than would be expected from their academic and economic backgrounds.

Update on search for VP for Mission and our Interim VP for the VP for Communications and Marketing

VP for Mission:  As you know, Fr. Bill Campbell, S.J. left the College in July because he had been appointed by our provincial as the new director of the Gonzaga Eastern Point Retreat Center on August 1. Consequently, we opened a search for his replacement and identified 3 finalists. The first candidate, Fr. Jim Voiss, S.J. from the Jesuits West Province was here yesterday. Our second candidate, Nancy Dallavalle, from Fairfield will be here tomorrow and the final candidate the following Thursday.

Interim VP for Communications:  Four weeks ago, Marisa Gregg was named interim VP for Marketing and Communications. A formal search will begin next semester to replace Dan Kim who recently accepted the position of SVP for Communications at Brandeis. Marisa is moving ahead on our integrated marketing planning process with Admissions, Academics, Advancement and Athletics. She, Provost Margaret Freije, and Vice President for Advancement Tracy Barlok are engaging outside expertise to both structure a plan and timeline, and outline creative resources needed to implement a plan.

Other Searches

  • Among those who stood up at the beginning of my address were 7 new tenure track faculty in 7 different departments, 3 post-doctoral fellows in Environmental Studies, Asian Studies and Ethnomusicology, and a full-time professor of practice in Health Studies with a focus on Global Health.
  • Our new Athletic Director, Marcus Blossom, joined us in July from Boston College and before he was really even in place he had to hire a new men’s Head Basketball coach, Brett Nelson, from Marquette University. Brett served on the basketball staff for 5 years, the last two as Associate Men’s Head Coach. Brett replaces Bill Carmody who retired in June. Our search for a new women’s basketball coach will begin near the end of the season. And, speaking of Athletics, I am grateful to Professor Sarah Petty of the Chemistry Department for succeeding Professor John Axelson as our new faculty representative to Athletics. My thanks to John who served in this role for 23 years!
  • Finally, we will be meeting with Eco-Action in the next few weeks to discern an appropriate position description to support our Sustainability program.

Jesuit News

Over the summer 3 Jesuits left the Ciampi Community for other communities and works. 96-year-old, Fr. Charlie Dunn, former dean of students, moved to our retirement community in Weston, Fr. Paul Harman has moved to our theologate in Brighton to serve as a spiritual director to our theologians there, and as previously mentioned, Fr. Bill Campbell has moved to the Eastern Point Retreat House. Two Jesuits have joined our community:  Fr. Keith Muccino, who is a physician, has joined us from Loyola University Medical School in Chicago to assist Miles Cahill in our Pre-Health Advising Program and to work with students at UMass Medical School. Fr. Frank Savadera has joined us for one year. Frank is from the Philippines and recently completed his doctorate at Seattle University. He specializes in multicultural education and will be interning under Vice President Michele Murray.

Finally, the Jesuit Community will be moving out of Ciampi Hall in the summer or fall of 2021. The College will build a smaller community residence on Kendig Street adjacent to the Luth-Hart Center. Our current home, Ciampi Hall, will then be renovated for a residence hall. Architects have estimated that it can house 75-100 students.

Campaign Progress

At our recent Board of Trustees Meeting, Vice President Tracy Barlok announced that the Become More Campaign has 10 more months to go and we have currently raised $386 million of our $400 million goal. We have no doubts that we will meet and exceed our goal by the time the campaign ends in June. On Thursday, the leadership committee of the campaign will be meeting in New York to discuss where we go from here.


Finally, in early August we dedicated a long-planned statue of St. Peter Faber adjacent to the Hoval. Peter Faber is the first of three statues commemorating the early founders of the Jesuits, including Ignatius of Loyola and Francis Xavier. The other two statues, now being cast, will be placed in the spring. When assembled, they will be seen walking together and talking to each other on their way.

 At the First-Year Convocation, I shared their story with our incoming students. Peter, Francis and Ignatius were roommates at the University of Paris in the 1530s. Peter, while naturally bright, came from a very humble background in Savoy; Francis was a member of the nobility from Navarre; and the much older Ignatius, from the province of Guipuzcoa in northern Spain, had by now, renounced his social position as a member of the minor nobility and was begging his way through graduate school. Francis Xavier’s family had supported the French in war with Spain, while Ignatius was on the opposite side and was seriously injured fighting for Spain. Coming from different generational, ethnic, socio-economic and political backgrounds, in time, these three students overcame their differences, and shared their deepest desires, struggles, and commitments. And with Ignatius’ leadership, they formed the nucleus of the emergent Society of Jesus. As I address our first-year students, I wonder with them what differences and struggles they will overcome, what meaningful conversations they will have deep into the night, what dreams and deep desires they will share that make a disproportionate difference in our world?  And I tell them that their four years together engaging this liberal arts education has the potential to give their lives direction and purpose, if they let it.

I believe, the same can be true for us, their faculty and staff. We span various generations, have different identities and come from very diverse backgrounds. Our religious commitments and political positions vary widely, but we regularly engage in important conversations, discern together our common goals and seek to realize our hopes for our students, the College and our world. We are committed to helping our students grow intellectually and develop the skills they need to listen and to speak across differences, to appreciate distinct ways of seeing human reality, to develop a global awareness, to care for our Earth, to promote greater social and economic justice, and to support interreligious understanding. We work to ensure that their imaginations are stimulated by the arts, history, science and technology, and their commitments are grounded in ethical and spiritual values. And we hope they will develop habits for a healthy and sustainable living.

Because we have found our vocation, our calling, to teach, educate, form and also participate in an educated and committed community of learners, I believe that we will find our way through this period of tensions and challenges, new understandings and possibilities. And, hopefully, we can model for our students what it means to be life-long learners and global citizens whose lives are marked by humility, openness to hear one another, and a shared commitment to creative action.

Thank you. And now, let us enjoy some conviviality together.