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President's Fall Address - 2020

Rev. Philip L. Boroughs, S.J.
September 22, 2020

REFLECTION

Good afternoon and a very special welcome to the newest members of our Holy Cross faculty, staff and student body. I realize that our new normal of seeing one another on a screen isn’t the same as meeting face to face, enjoying time together, and sharing who we are, and what we study and teach, but I hope that through our online community we can begin to know one another in ways which will only become richer when we can at last meet in person.

Needless to say, I’m sure that all of us are facing one of the most challenging and complex years of our professional and personal lives. With the uncertainties and losses connected to the pandemic, an ominous economic forecast for large numbers of our families and small business owners, an ongoing cycle of racial violence and death, serious concerns about our immigration policies and the status of many of our friends, neighbors and students, a variety of natural disasters which signal ever unfolding climate issues, and a very divided country facing a national election, teaching and learning are more critical than ever, but also more arduous as we quickly must learn new skills and develop creative ways of interacting.

Each day, I marvel at the hard work and resiliency of so many of you as you have engaged the challenges of this moment with energy and creativity. At the dinner table, I hear my Jesuit brothers talking about the latest webinar where they learned how to navigate new technologies to teach and engage our students. In the latter part of the summer, many an evening while walking around campus I saw cars outside the Integrated Science Complex as faculty were working hard in their labs and preparing for fall classes. In countless zoom calls we have continued to engage each other as academic issues are discussed, extensive student programming takes place, and new challenges are addressed. And in recent weeks, it is always a nice surprise to recognize a masked colleague or student crossing the parking lot or to encounter old friends in our socially distanced line for COVID testing.

Early in July I received an email from Stephanie Yuhl of the History Department recommending an article by Leonard DeLorenzo, a professor at Notre Dame. The article is entitled: “Dear Students: There is No Afterwards,” and in it Professor DeLorenzo, who was writing in late March at the beginning on the pandemic, reflects on the disappointment faced by students when their spring semester suddenly came to a close because of rapidly spreading COVID-19. He notes, “There is no way to soften the blow, it is just a loss, pure and simple.” To those anxiously looking for normalcy to return, students and faculty alike, he suggests that there is no “afterwards, when things go back to ‘normal,’” or a return to what was before. For those of all ages living under “the illusion of youth,” it is difficult to accept that “life is about loss” and that truth doesn’t have to be fatalistic or pessimistic, but can be both honest and potentially freeing.

DeLorenzo points out that as we age and mature, we come to realize that progress can’t be assumed, that life doesn’t necessarily get better and that many losses are not compensated. However, he says, if we accept our human condition as it is and accept our vulnerability, which is both individual and collective, we will come to realize “that our lives are on loan and we are meant to give our lives over in service of others.”  There is honesty and freedom in embracing this reality because it can heighten the importance of the choices we do make to live intentionally and for others. We can find our unique meaning and purpose in giving what time, energy and talent we have in accepting responsibility for the good of others, especially the most vulnerable and oppressed. 

Personally, I find it both challenging and liberating to accept on ever deeper levels that “my life is on loan.”  At the same time, I also realize how age and life experience make this reality easier to accept. As educators, with so many challenges before us, it seems to me that part of our mission this year is to help our students and each other to live into this vulnerability and then become more consciously human and responsibly engaged. Of course, as educators we know full well that our students will then look at us to see if we live this truth authentically and with hope. In ways both difficult and potentially very creative, there is no return to “normal” as we have known it, but there are new possibilities for living with greater purpose and hopefully we can accompany our students into them.

In reading the Chronicle of Higher Ed and other educational publications, we keep hearing that higher education will never be the same after this experience. While I doubt that our educational mission will radically change, I do think that how we teach, how students learn, and how we work with each other will now have many more effective modalities from which to choose. We have been forced to learn a variety of new skills and to think even more creatively about how we convey ideas, inspire conversation, and engage one another. These new ways of learning and engagement will give us options we hadn’t considered before, which can enrich and intensify our in-class experiences. And, with all that said, I do know and appreciate that all of us, faculty, staff and students alike, still look forward to being back on campus together. There is an energy in learning and being physically present to each other that we have all missed.

COLLEGE UPDATES

Just over a week ago, the Board of Trustees met virtually to orient new trustees, participate with some of you in our regularly scheduled committees, and to hold our fall meeting. At that meeting, I shared with them the following information about the state of the College as we begin a new year:

  • As of last week, our overall enrollment is 2992 students. This total represents a 5% drop in total enrollment from last year. I think this low percentage drop serves as a sign of our brand strength and growing reputation.
  • We have 223 students who met the criteria we laid in August and are now living on campus this semester. These students, as well as the off campus students who were granted access to campus, are being tested twice a week. Faculty and staff who are working on campus are being tested once a week.
  • We have posted on our COVID website a daily dashboard which records the results of all cases of our testing protocols for students, faculty and staff. 
  • I want to thank everyone and all of the members of the working groups who put such incredible effort in planning for this fall and are now executing on those plans.

NECHE

I would like to remind everyone that our New England Commission of Higher Education, or NECHE, accreditation team’s virtual visit will take place next week. As you recall, this was supposed to take place last spring but had to be rescheduled because of the pandemic. Please review the emails that you have already received from Assessment 2020 for the times of the open meetings for students, faculty and staff. I hope that you can take part in these important sessions.

EQUAL OPPORTUNITY

Last March, Derek DeBobes joined the Holy Cross community as the College’s first Director of the Office of Title IX Initiatives and Equal Opportunity. I know that some of you have met Derek in the many meetings he has participated in online since then. This summer, he worked with a committee of faculty, staff and students to revise the College’s Sexual Misconduct Policy to align with the federal regulations that went into effect in August. This fall, he will be working with a committee of faculty, staff and students to review the Interim Equal Opportunity and Discriminatory Harassment Policy and the Interim Process for Investigating and Resolving Complaints. This group will recommend modifications to this interim policy, paying particular attention to accountability, due process and fairness, which are critical to ensuring that all members of the community have access to a robust and meaningful system to address discrimination and harassment.

SPRING SEMESTER

Many of you have been asking about Spring Semester. First, let me say that I am immensely grateful for all the work that has been done by faculty, student affairs professionals, chaplains and coaches to help us build community and maintain connections to one another even as we remain dispersed across the country and across the world. We know, however, how important it is that we find ways to be together in person as well. This will not be easy and we will not likely be able to be together in exactly the same ways that we were before the pandemic. But what is clear is that we all miss being together.

For the spring, our plan is to do everything that we can to bring our students back to campus in a way that is as safe as possible, that supports the health of our entire campus and surrounding community, and provides the appropriate care for our students and staff who find themselves with COVID. Only serious community and state public health concerns will prevent us being together this spring.

I have asked all members of the Executive Team to submit to me by October 1st the draft of a plan that describes the elements within their divisions we need to be particularly attentive to with respect to reopening in the spring. These plans will incorporate all of the planning work done this summer; will be based on what we are learning from our current testing, tracing and quarantine and isolation protocols; will include clear metrics for each phase of reopening and for when we are together; and will incorporate what we are learning from what worked and what didn’t work at other institutions.

Throughout the month of October, I will be reviewing and refining these plans with members of the Executive Team as they work with their divisions to finalize these plans by the end of the month. In early November, we will be able to share more details on move-in and housing, class modalities, testing protocols for the spring and other details of what the spring will look like on Mount St. James.

One thing is very clear from the experience of other institutions. We will not be successful this winter and spring unless each of us — students, faculty and staff — commits to our individual and collective responsibility to all members of our campus and local community. Each of us will need to follow all health and safety guidelines in order to ensure our own health and the health of others in the community, in order to continue our time on campus together. This will not be easy, but I have heard from many of you that the benefit of being together on campus is more than worth the cost of adhering to the new rules and guidelines we will of necessity have to have in place. We will be counting on everyone to live up to our responsibility to be women and men, for and with others.

RACIAL VIOLENCE AND ANTI-RACISM

Over the past several months, our country and world have been rocked by racial violence and death. Sadly, these are not new realities in our country, but the frequency and depth of the racism that supports them has finally caught the attention of the larger community. With persistent and large rallies, protests and memorials, thoughtful public scholars have pointed out that racial acceptance is not an adequate response, rather proactive antiracism is necessary to dismantle white privilege and create a level playing field after a long history of embedded systemic racism. The emergence of a more broadly based consciousness  asks all of us to assess our assumptions, our conscious and unconscious bias, and our ways of proceeding. 

I know that many members of our community have been engaged in anti-racism efforts for a long time. I am grateful for the opportunities that the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the Office of Multicultural Education, the Chaplain’s Office, and the McFarland Center provided this summer for us to engage in conversations about these issues.

Embedded in anti-racism is a rejection of the memorialization of historical figures associated with slavery. For me this once again raised the question of the appropriateness of keeping the Mulledy name on one or our residence halls. Subsequently, I have received similar requests from both faculty and staff, and from the SGA. To contextualize these requests, a quick overview of some of our institutional history will be helpful, especially for those who are new to our campus community.

In 2015 and 2016, following work done the year before at Georgetown University and its institutional involvement with slavery, I constituted the Mulledy/Healy Legacy Committee to examine the appropriateness of the Mulledy and Healy names on two of our residence halls. 

In 1838, Fr. Thomas Mulledy, S.J., while serving as Provincial of the Maryland Province, authorized the sale of 272 enslaved persons owned by the Jesuits to pay off debts at Georgetown University. In the controversy which followed within the Jesuit community, he resigned his position and spent the next five years in a form of exile in Europe. Because of the relatively small number of Jesuits in the U.S. during that period, he was then asked to return to the United States in order to found the College of the Holy Cross.

In those early days after our founding,  four Healy brothers from Macon, Georgia attended the College. Sons of a white father and racially mixed enslaved mother, the Healy children shared the status of their mother in the state of Georgia and their father sent them north to ensure their freedom. Years later, when both parents died within months of each other, the executors sold the family plantation and its 43 enslaved persons. Money from that sale came to Holy Cross when Patrick Healy, the second son and now a Jesuit scholastic serving at the College, was not able to inherit his share of the estate because of his vow of poverty. Consequently, Patrick received permission from his superiors to give his share, or $2300, to the College to restore Fenwick Hall following a devastating fire in 1853. This was the largest gift the College had received up to that time. The other nine Healy children were all living in the North by then, but had they remained in Georgia, they, too, would have been sold.

After months of meetings and sessions with campus constituencies, the Mulledy/Healy Committee decided not to remove the Healy name, but couldn’t find consensus regarding the Mulledy name. Consequently, I proposed, and the Board of Trustees confirmed, that we would alter the name of Mulledy Hall to Brooks-Mulledy Hall, to indicate the transformative work of Fr. John Brooks, S.J., the 29th president of the College, in recruiting several young black men to the College in the early 1970s in order to diversify our campus. 

Now, four years later, in the face of ongoing racial violence, and the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement, statues have toppled and names have been dropped by various colleges and universities, and we have turned again to the issue of the Mulledy name. I have decided, and our Board of Trustees, the Jesuit community on campus and our provincial have supported, that we remove the Mulledy name from the residence hall and change the name of Brooks/Mulledy Hall, to simply Brooks Hall. We want to retain recognition of Fr. John Brooks’ commitment to more fully integrate our campus and, shortly thereafter, to institute co-education at the College. Further, the story of Fr. Mulledy, the source of the Healy’s gift to the College, and the complexity of their family’s racial history should be memorialized, studied and taught on our campus, as should the fact that where our campus stands had at one time had been part of the lands of the Native American Nipmuc tribe. Currently, we are in the process of having plaques fabricated for Brooks Hall and Fenwick Hall which detail this history, as well as a campus plaque referencing the Nipmuc tribal community who once lived here. 

This is only one small step of many more we need to take to become more intentionally anti-racist. As an institution and community we must continue to research the history of the College and understand that history in connection with the legacy of slavery and persistent social inequities. I have asked Provost Freije to work with faculty to develop a plan to do this work, and strategies for sharing the results of this ongoing work with our larger Holy Cross community. I am setting aside resources to fund this effort. 

On a broader level, we must continue our commitment to serving the underserved and providing the financial aid necessary to allow highly qualified students of all backgrounds to attend the College of the Holy Cross. The Office of Advancement and the Board of Trustees have been working on the design of a campaign specifically focused on raising funds to increase financial aid for underrepresented students. We will announce the details of this initiative before the end of the calendar year. 

A PERSONAL ANNOUNCEMENT

As I draw these remarks to a close, I would like to share with you some personal news. With the blessing of the Board of Trustees, I have decided to step down from the presidency of the College of the Holy Cross on June 30, 2021. Certainly beyond the joys of my ordination and my ministry as a Jesuit priest, serving at the President of the College of the Holy Cross has been a distinct honor and privilege and the highlight of my professional life. As you can imagine, this decision was not an easy one. I have been discerning for the past year what is best for this institution which I love, and for myself. And I have been in close conversation with our board chair Rick Patterson throughout this time. When I began my term as president at the age of 62, I was older than most beginning presidents; and now nine years later, I feel that new energy and some different skills are needed to address the realities of the coming years. This time feels like a natural inflection and transition point for the institution: our seven year campaign just ended most successfully and we have now begun a strategic planning process that will set goals for the College for the next three to five years. As I know from my own experience nine years ago, it is important that a new president be part of that process before it ends, as it will give shape to his or her energies and commitments throughout their term of office.  

Tom Joyce, member of our Board of Trustees and Chair of the Finance Committee, will chair this search and Vivian Brocard, President of Isaacson Miller, and principal, Anita Tien, will direct our search. Rick Patterson will be assembling a representative search committee in the weeks ahead. 

As I reflect on the past nine years, beyond the challenges, tragedies and painful realities we have experienced and continue to engage, I marvel at all that we have accomplished together:

  • Most importantly we have seen 6,302 young adults benefit from the transformational educational experience we offer here at Holy Cross and become alumni of this great institution. This is at the heart of what we do and why we have committed our lives to them.
  • As I mentioned: We have just completed the largest campaign in the College’s history, raising over $420 million to further the educational experience of our students, faculty and staff. Further, the loyalty and generosity of our alumni place us in the top 10 of all colleges and universities for the percentage of annual giving, and that commitment has continued in exciting ways throughout this campaign.
  • As a consequence of their generosity, we have the made structurally visible our commitment to an education which integrates mind, body, spirit and community in the spectacularly beautiful and heavily engaged Joyce Contemplative Center; a dramatically expanded Luth Athletic Center which finally provides equitable resources for both women and men athletes; a dramatic, state of the art, Performing Arts Center worthy of the remarkable commitment to the arts in our Theater, Music, Dance and Visual Arts departments, and the soon to be opened Joanne Luth Recreation and Wellness Center to serve students, faculty and staff by promoting healthy opportunities for recreation and exercise.
  • In addition to the new spaces we have built, we enhanced the student experience:
    • We expanded our wellness programming and our counseling center and we have reorganized the Office of Multicultural Education.
    • We renovated the Kimball servery and expanded dining options on campus to accommodate students’ desires and dietary needs.
    • We renovated the Brooks Concert Hall for concerts and recitals.
    • We have heightened the relationship between student affairs and academic affairs to better integrate planning and shared goals.
  • We instituted number of new academic initiatives:
    • With donor generosity, we established the J.D. Power Center for Liberal Arts in the World, created the Vocare Initiative, expanded the Center for Writing and support for Faculty Development.
    • Through two significant Mellon Grants we created Arts Transcending Borders and the Scholarship in Action initiative to support faculty and student research with Worcester entities.
  • I am very proud of the work we did in strengthening our Jesuit and Catholic mission and resources to support the spiritual life of our community:
    • We created a robust retreat and program schedule at the Joyce Contemplative Center, so students, faculty, staff and alumni can experience the benefit of quiet reflection and Ignatian spirituality.
    • We recently completed our Mission Priority Examen which affirmed our Catholic and Jesuit identity. The office of the chaplains has increased the number of retreats we offer and about two-thirds of our students have some kind of retreat experience during their time at Holy Cross — we are a leader among Jesuit schools!
    • In addition, the Office of Mission and Ministry, which had just been enhanced by a new vice president when I arrived, developed the Lenten Reflection series now reaching over 5,000 campus members and alumni, and the college chaplains host regular mission orientation sessions for new administrators and staff.
  • To support our campus community
    • We created the Office of International Students and joined the American Talent Initiative to increase diversity.
    • We created a new position, Associate Provost for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and a new office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to lead our efforts in this area.
    • We expanded a new office of Title IX initiatives and equal opportunity and are currently expanding its staff.
    • We professionalized and reorganized a number of divisions including the Department of Public Safety; Human Resources; Athletics; and College Marketing and Communications which is now led by a vice president. We also professionalized the operations and upgraded the IT systems and processes we use in finance, human resources, and other administrative areas.
  • And we have also invested in our surrounding communities:
    • We have continued to support the city of Worcester through our students’ work through CBL and SPUD;
    • We are funding the Bookmobile for the City of Worcester to support literacy and the downtown ice rink which provides a recreational opportunity for all in Worcester.
    • In West Boylston where our Contemplative Center is located, we are funding extra hours at the West Boylston Public Library.
    • We also celebrated a number of milestones together:
    • the 40th anniversary of coeducation,
    • the 50th anniversary of the Black Student Union,
    • and the 175th anniversary of the founding of the College, with events throughout the year culminating in a moving liturgy in St. Joseph’s Chapel with Cardinal O’Malley as the principal celebrant, followed by a wonderful picnic on the Kimball Quad and musical entertainment provided by our students.

Clearly, as will always be the case, we have much more work to do and changes to make, but there are moments when it is important to pause and note all that we are achieving together.

CONCLUSION

Earlier in my remarks, I quoted Professor Leonard DeLorenzo who wrote: “Our lives are on loan, and we must give ourselves in service of others.”  While that is existentially true for us all, it is also literally true in my case. Twenty years ago I was loaned from my then-named Oregon Province to the Maryland Province when I went to work for Georgetown University. And when I came to Holy Cross, I was then loaned from the Oregon Province to the then-New England Province. We have now amalgamated provinces with new names, but the sense of being on loan on many levels has been a part of my identity for years, and I have been wonderfully graced in each new work and community. I hope to take a sabbatical after I leave Holy Cross and will then be reassigned to another Jesuit work, hopefully with less responsibility!  While the job of being a college president isn’t getting any easier, as all my colleagues attest, nonetheless, the College has been a graced place for me as a Jesuit to give myself in service of others. And I know it is for all of you, as well. 

Having been a student, then a staff member and later a faculty member at institutions where a major leadership transition took place, I know well the uncertainty that it occasions. But the Executive Committee of the Board and I believe that this is a good time for us to make this transition as we begin a new season of our institutional life following a most successful campaign, as we continue our strategic planning process, and as we prepare for new opportunities and realities in the near future. As I observe the College’s ever growing reputation; strong enrollment and outstanding students; its remarkably dedicated and caring faculty and staff; our truly selfless and committed executive team, cabinet, and their associates; the most active and loyal alumni in the country; and a Board of Trustees that is the most extraordinarily supportive, generous, and cohesive Board that I have experienced at any of the universities where I have worked, I am confident that in the next eight months, we will attract an excellent and skilled president who will generate exciting opportunities and resources and take the College to new heights. 

We are named The College of the Holy Cross, the symbol of Jesus’ great love for humankind. I have every hope that we will become even more effective in becoming an inclusive, respected and flourishing academic community that continues to be transformed and to transform our world with courage and commitment. The challenges we face are real, but so are the opportunities and possibilities. Let us go forward in faith and in hope, knowing that our loving God who has accompanied the College of the Holy Cross through many challenging seasons over our 177 years, will continue to lead us forward now.

Thank you.