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July, 2019

I just returned home after the annual “10/20-Year Service Recognition Dinner,” one of the highlights of the year as far as I am concerned. It gives the entire university community a chance to pause, to recognize members who have reached milestones in their professional life at CUA, and — above all — to say thanks. Gratitude is so important, a disposition that begins toward God and then touches everyone and everything he has made.

I was listening to the new Christmas CD by Josh Groban, “Noel,” this week and there is a track on it called “Thankful.” You can hear it by hitting the following link: It’s worth a listen … it says a lot, especially at this time of year.

On campus we are bringing another semester to a close. With Christmas and other religious holidays just around the corner, I thought I would share some thoughts about the state of things at the university that I shared with the members of the Academic Senate last month.

The 2007–08 academic year got off to a peaceful and good start. With our largest-ever entering freshmen class numbers and increases in total enrollments across the board, CUA was positioned well to continue its positive and forward momentum. Tuition and fees represent 61 percent of our operating budget, which, for the current fiscal year, stands at about $185.3 million. This year, our tuition discount rate was about 37–38 percent.

Total giving to the university in 2006–07 through our development operations increased by $2 million, for a total of $17.7 million in cash and securities. This is all good news.

There are many rumors that circulate around the campus about our financial picture. Some folks prefer them to the facts. Permit me to speak directly as president of the university.

Father O'Connell with Vice President Julie Englund

When I was recruited for the position of president 10 years ago, the university endowment hovered in the $39 million range. The most recent financial reports indicate that it now stands at $220-plus million. That is great progress, although clearly not enough given our university’s historic nature and purpose. No president ever believes that his/her institution’s endowment and revenues are ever large enough to meet the institution’s needs and aspirations! With the volatility of the market over these years (and last few months!), the growth in the endowment is attributable to good, strategic management of endowment funds. We have had excellent oversight in the persons of Mr. Ralph Beaudoin, former vice president for finance, and Dr. Julie Englund, current vice president for finance and administration, treasurer. In addition, several years ago we established an investment committee on our Board of Trustees with highly placed and very experienced people from the business and investment worlds who have provided excellent guidance and advice. Along with the money managers that the university has engaged, we have watched our endowment grow significantly. It is especially significant for us to have this growth since interest income from the endowment enables the university to support its operational budget from a source other than tuition alone. Without this interest income, we would struggle.

The issue of faculty compensation has also been the subject of much conversation, some of which is well intentioned but not always accurate. Permit me to speak directly as president of the university and to provide as much factual information as I have about the issue.

In the summer of 2003, then Vice President for Finance Ralph Beaudoin and I set aside $500,000 in the budget for the purpose of increasing faculty salaries. In September of that year, I established the Task Force on Faculty Salaries, under the chairmanship of then Provost Dr. John Convey, with the charge to examine the university budget, in particular that of the academic sector, and to recommend potential internal reallocation and other possible sources for supporting further salary increases. I received the task force recommendations in February and April 2004 for my consideration. Many — not all — of those recommendations were immediately implemented. Along with the proposals for faculty salary increases over a five-year period, the faculty task force also submitted a series of recommendations identifying faculty performance benchmarks as commitments that would support continued salary increases on a longer-term basis. I accepted those recommendations but their implementation continues to be “a work in progress.”

In addition to the faculty salary increases, one must keep in mind that the physical plant and facilities, as well as working conditions and benefits, have also improved. Compensation is a total package, not just a matter of salaries.

Each year since 2004, as I reviewed the university budget for approval, the administration and I remained steadfast in our commitment to the faculty and I do not regret that decision in the least. Other needs of the university, however, were not able to be funded. We do not, after all, have unlimited resources.

The university community needs to be aware that, whatever the assessment of current faculty salaries might be internally, CUA has continued to attract the highest and best quality new faculty from the best institutions around the world.

I also want to address the compensation issue with respect to another very important part of our university community, namely our excellent and hardworking staff. We began a staff compensation review as well. Any potential increases here would also have to be derived from the same operational budget. Through all these processes and reviews, the administration and I worked to balance potential increases with my desire to maintain modest, reasonable and responsible increases to our major source of revenue: student tuition. Despite larger increases in tuition at institutions with which CUA competes, I remained as firm as I could in that determination as well.

With respect to faculty salary increases, the following trends should be kept in mind:

1. The pool for CUA faculty salary increases was 5 percent in FY 2004–05; 5 percent in FY 2005–06 and 5 percent in FY 2006–07. The average increase was 5 percent per year. Some CUA faculty saw salary increases less than 5 percent in those years, while others saw more than 5 percent. Those decisions were made carefully and strategically.

2. The average increase in faculty salaries in higher education in general registered at 3.3 percent in FY 2004–05; 3.7 percent in FY 2005–06; 3.9 percent in FY 2006–07.

3. The average increase in faculty salaries for private doctoral universities on the CUPA (College and University Professional Association) scale registered at 3.1 percent in FY 2004–05; 4.0 percent in FY 2005–06; 3.8 percent in FY 2006–07.

4. The index by which faculty salaries increased according to HEPI (Higher Education Policy Institute) registered at 2.8 percent in FY 2004–05; 3.1 percent in FY 2005–06; 3.8 percent in FY 2006–07.

5. The CPIU (Consumer Price Index-Urban) increases registered at 4.2 percent in FY 2004–05; 4.0 percent in FY 2005–06; 4.1 percent in FY 2006–07.   

I believe that CUA faculty salaries have increased at a healthy and steady rate, certainly by these comparisons. The university shall continue to monitor this issue and has retained the services of a consultant, the Mercer Companies, to assist us in this process. As the president and employer at CUA, I have remained committed to do the best I can for all our employees and for students paying tuition and fees. We all should keep in mind that this has been the first real, systematic and coordinated effort to do so.

Each year, I engage in a pas de deux with the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) regarding the possible removal of the longtime censure of CUA’s administration following the dismissal of one of its professors. This year was no exception as the same annual correspondence was dutifully exchanged. The AAUP has dug in its heals with the two conditions that CUA invite that professor back to campus and that it change the “Statement of Academic Freedom” approved by the Academic Senate and the Board of Trustees. I have countered with the position that every American university has the right and responsibility to govern itself according to its own identity, mission, standards and procedures. I have expressed a willingness to consider other alternatives leading to removal of the censure but the AAUP seems quite fixed. Despite this stalemate, CUA has experienced the renewal of all its academic accreditations throughout these years and has built an outstanding faculty.

Father O'Connell meets with members of the committee he has assembled to plan the Pope's visit to campus in April.

The extraordinary success of the recent Opus Prize celebration and events at Catholic University was due to the hard work of many dedicated students, faculty, staff and administrators at CUA. Chief among them were the members of the Opus Prize Administrative Oversight Committee that I appointed in summer 2006 to work on this project: Anthony Buatti, Dan Creel, Tori Engelstad, Bill Jonas, Katie Lee, Suzanne McCarthy, Jonathon Meyer, Victor Nakas (chair), Dr. Mimi Schuttloffel, Emmjolee Mendoza Waters, Dustin White, Emilie Wittenberg, Cathy Wood and Dr. James Zabora. Thank you for the many hours you devoted to Opus and for your commitment to making it as meaningful an experience as possible. I am also grateful to Jessica DePrizio, associate campus minister for liturgy and worship, for making all the arrangements for the beautiful Mass in St. Vincent’s Chapel that preceded the awards ceremony.

The Pope is coming! I have already communicated that great news and its implications for the university in previous messages. CUA’s Office of Public Affairs has posted a Web site related to the papal visit that will be regularly updated. it can be found at

CUA athletics has experienced much success this fall. Senior cross country athlete Alys Cheatle ran her way into history books by qualifying for the NCAA Championship meet. This is the first time a CUA runner has advanced to the nationals since 1991. Congratulations, Alys! The football team also had a solid year in Head Coach Dave Dunn’s second season. The Cards went 5-5, which was their best finish since 1999, and two players were named first team all-conference. We look forward to continued success for this young squad. We received two Coaching Staff of the Year awards from the Landmark Conference. Congratulations to Field Hockey Coach Gia Cillizza and her staff as well as Volleyball Coach Nagy Abdelrazek and his assistant. These awards show what outstanding athletic leadership we have at CUA, beginning with Dr. Michael Allen, director of athletics, and including our coaches. As for our winter sports, both basketball squads are off to great starts and the swim teams have already competed in a number of conference meets. I encourage all students, faculty and staff to attend a game or two at the DuFour Center and cheer for our student-athletes.  Our teams appreciate and need our support.

This “most wonderful time of the year” brings with it great joy and many festive gatherings.  Here are just a few:

1. The Annual CUA Christmas Tree Lighting will be held in the Pryz this year at 5:15 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 7. This is a change in location from past years.

Members of the CUA community gather at last year's President's Annual Christmas Party.
2.  The Annual Christmas Concert for Charity, co-sponsored by the university and its neighbor, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, featuring music of the season presented by the university chorus and orchestra and the National Shrine’s chorus, will be held in the shrine’s Upper Church that same evening at 7:30 p.m. The recipient of the charity this year will be Providence Hospital’s Perry Street Family Health Center.

3.  The Board of Trustees will convene for its quarterly meeting on Dec. 10–11.  The educational presentation will focus on university development. 

4.  The President’s Annual Christmas Party will be held on Dec. 20 from 3 to 5 p.m. in the Pryz.  Prior to the party, an Advent/Christmas Mass will be celebrated in Caldwell Chapel at 2 p.m. All university employees are invited and welcome to attend.

And so, my friends, this letter closes the way it began — with gratitude.  May you celebrate the special joys of this season with those you love most in the world in the ways that are most meaningful to you. My thoughts and prayers are with you this Christmas, as always. Enjoy the break. All God’s blessings to one and all throughout the New Year!

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Last Revised 30-Nov-07 12:30 PM.