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Remarks from Convocation 2014

Presented at Iona's Convocation on September 9, 2014, by Joseph E. Nyre, Ph.D., President of Iona College

I begin by extending a special welcome to our new faculty, staff, administrators and students.

There is something very special about the rhythm of academic life with its almost mythic quality for annual renewal at the beginning of each fall semester. While summers are no longer all that they used to be because of the levels of activity, they still provide some richly needed contemplative time. We can come to the shore for a while from the whitewater rafting that seems to be the new norm during the academic year.

So let me share, as candidly as I can, some of my contemplations, conclusions and commitments.

The 2013-2014 Academic Year was a necessarily exhausting year for so many people because we asked so much of you. We knew that year two of the strategic plan (a course, a plan we charted together) was going to be the most intense, especially in the academic arena. Yet, we probably underestimated how much we were taking on at one time and underappreciated the giant steps we took forward. To the relief of many, this year will bring far fewer initiatives – the easy ones like governance, administrative review and compensation.

Let me be more specific. The faculty of this College led and participated in most of the strategic plan working groups. The administration and faculty challenged one another; some might say “fussed” at each other, which is not altogether an unnatural state of affairs in the academy.

At the end of the day, there has probably never been another faculty in the country that has produced more positive change in a single year, seriously and conscientiously addressing the core, program review and faculty workload among many other initiatives. I am deeply grateful for those outcomes and for the courage of the faculty who led those efforts.

I contemplate the College’s attempts to openly and frequently communicate across, and within, the faculty, students, staff and administration. The College has been focused on improving communication, but we can and must do more. We must elevate this priority. This is a call to action for all of us. I’ve received Dr. Hugh Short’s (Chair of the Senate), Andy Albrecht’s (Chair of SAC) and CJ Funaro’s (SGA President) commitment. And you certainly have mine. Dr. Short has joined monthly cabinet meetings to ensure the faculty voice is present. I will be working to be more accessible personally, and informally, to the faculty, staff and students, while still meeting my other responsibilities. We need to listen and learn more directly from each other what is on our minds and what ideas we have for keeping Iona moving forward.

I think we also learned last year that there are ambiguities in our governance structures. I ask for your partnership in finding ways to strengthen shared governance this coming year. I ask that we find more venues where we can come together to share perspectives, and to discuss and even debate the most important questions for Iona.

In contemplating the College and preparing for the academic year I was rereading historical documents of the College and the reflections of Iona’s past presidents. I was struck by their reflections of phases of their time as president, discussing being “tied to the desk” as essential in the early years and that was certainly the case for me. The first phase was marked by more crises and challenges than I anticipated, yet collectively we were able to move our strategic plan forward:
  • Endow a faculty development fund;
  • Award our first fully endowed faculty chair;
  • Launch new academic programs;
  • Move forward on campus improvements; and
  • Make progress on our goal of making Iona financially sustainable in the highly charged and competitive higher education landscape.
I want to spend more of the next phase of the presidency, beginning this year, focused on the soul of the institution. On our mission and on our people. On diversity, as called for in our strategic plan, and on positioning the College for the next 75 years. We need to engage in conversations and action collectively and individually on these and other topics. We want to understand better what you are experiencing in your classrooms or in your unit.

Why do I feel we can make this shift now? Because, one, our team is in place. And I am especially thrilled to welcome a new and permanent partner in the Provost’s Office. And, two, because our fundamentals are strong.

This fall we opened the doors to welcome the best qualified freshman class in over five years, following one of our largest last year. This was our goal, and thanks to you and especially the immense efforts of the Enrollment Management Division, we achieved this goal. Now people, you know me, I always want more. So, I want you all to help us bring in an even stronger class next year, and retain, and graduate, students at historic levels.

We opened the doors at a milepost for us financially. We hit the magical $100m mark in our endowment, virtually doubling the endowment over three years with the intention of doubling again over the next five years. We were also only one of nine colleges in the country to have its credit upgraded by Moody’s. Again, I want more for Iona. We will also need to focus in this next phase on our comprehensive fundraising campaign:
  • So that we do more than double that endowment;
  • So that we reduce our reliance on tuition revenue;
  • So that we keep Iona affordable for our students; and
  • So that we support our faculty and staff at higher levels.
This continues to be a mission-driven institution that cares about academics, cares about student life, and cares about a transformative experience. We see it in the face of the freshman and in the loyalty of our multitude of successful alumni.

Colleagues, do we have lots more work to do? Absolutely. Is higher education facing unprecedented challenges? Undoubtedly. Will we always agree on what are the best solutions and approaches? Probably not. Can we, though, come together through mutual trust, open communication, and a genuine commitment to the core values, to the mission, and to the vision of Iona College? Of course we can. It’s the Iona way. And you have my commitment to do all that I can toward the noblest of aims.

Thank you and may God bless you.