University clarifies project’s role
May 26, 2017
The Santa Clara community has been bombarded with emails, flyers and references by administration about the Sustaining Excellence project.
After widespread confusion among faculty and students regarding what “sustaining excellence” really means for the university, an effort to clarify its meaning through began in late March.
According to Michael Nuttall, interim executive director of the Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education and spokesperson for the sustaining excellence project, the goal of the project is “to generate ideas in order to maintain a position of strength financially as we think about long term growth.”
Some professors remain skeptical.
“Its pretty insulting to be calling these committees, whose job is to decide what to cut, the sustaining excellence initiative,” said Michelle Burnham, chair of the English Department.
Calling the project “propaganda-like,” Burnham suggested that the university undergo an “independent audit” in order to be truly transparent with community members.
After soliciting ideas from community members on what kind of decisions can be made for future growth, 281 ideas in total were recieved and the sustaining excellence committee will report to President Michael Engh, S.J. on their overall findings in June.
A new priority for the project is to become more transparent about its purpose. Until recently, community members have conflated recent short-term budget issues with longterm budget goals, according to Nuttall.
While the two budgetary issues are unrelated, short-term problems have created “a sense of urgency” when it comes to planning a sustainable long term budget, Nuttall said.
“We did a really poor job originally communicating the difference between short-term budget issues and long-term planning related to sustaining excellence,” Nuttall said.
The university hired an outside consultant, Howard Teibel, to identify areas where the school could improve spending and support Father Engh in this process.
His educational consulting firm, Teibel Incorporated, partners with universities to improve future academic and administrative decision making.
Teibel has worked with other Jesuit universities in the past to address budgetary problems.
Teibel’s team gave a framework to the project, according to Rafael Ulate, a member of the “Non-Degree Academic Programming” working committee.
The process was outlined by Teibel Incorporated in order to fit the goals of the working groups into the larger picture.
Father Engh introduced the idea of sustaining excellence in his 2016 convocation speech last September.
Working groups will present findings to university leadership and the President and trustees will make final decisions this summer.
The initiative is expected to be concluded in fall 2017 with a campus-wide announcement of the committee’s findings and decisions.
A more detailed timeline outlining the year-long process is provided on the university’s website.
The project is headed by cochairs Lisa Kloppenberg and Tom Plante, who will report their findings on June 21.
The project also includes a steering committee and working committee consisting of faculty from across the university.
Each working group was tasked with a certain topic, such as “Academic Administrative Structure and Support” and “Campus Services and Procurement.”
The teams of eight members were charged with proposing new opportunities for revenue.
Ulate said the list of community-generated ideas sparked “spirited discussion and acted as a catalyst for energizing conversations.”
As Santa Clara looks to grow the university in size, the sustaining excellence initiative is charged with establishing a more financially sound institution, according to Nuttall.
Nuttall noted that in its simplest form, Sustaining Excellence is about asking “what decisions and investments can be made right now that set us up best for our financial and strategic future?”
The committee hopes to find the answers as part of the larger 2020 plan.
After the committee enacted strategies to become more transparent, Burnham is still left with the impression that “the university seems interested in growing, but not very interested in supporting the people who are apart of it now.”
“In the heart of Silicon Valley and practiced in the art of Ignatian discernment, we are compelled to read the signs of the times, reflect on our circumstances, and rise more fully to our potential in service to our students and the world,” Engh said in an email to university on Sept 28.
Contact Sophie Pollock at email@example.com.