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(What a) Year in Review

 

By Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, CM

 

After all we’ve been through in 2020, I suspect the surest way to warn off readers is to title a column, “Year in Review.”   Still, the ACCU board adopted a new set of strategic initiatives in January 2020, and the staff has been hard at work implementing them, even if mostly from home.  I’m proud to tell you of my colleagues’ accomplishments.

A not insignificant amount of time this year has been spent working with the nation’s other higher education associations (ACE, AAU, NASULGC, NAICU, AASCU, AACC, AJCU, and CCCU).  Together, we form the “Working Group,” meeting at 10 a.m. each day (as needed) to review and comment upon proposed legislation; to attempt to influence Department of Education actions; and to support, oppose, or file briefs in court cases, as required.   While they do not always listen, Congress and the Administration have continued to regard the collective voice of this group as the official voice of higher education. 

As a newly arrived member to the table, I was at first amazed that the Catholic and Jesuit associations were welcomed as full colleagues when NAICU was already present and representing all of private higher education, but I’ve since learned why.  Our presidents are recognized to have access to the highest levels of government, and they are similarly respected for speaking out effectively when asked.  In short, we are at the table as a subgroup of American higher education because you – as presidents – outpunch your weight class.  So long as I can count on you to contact your elected officials when needed, we as a group will keep our place at the table shaping American higher education.

 

...We are at the table as a subgroup of American higher education because you – as presidents – outpunch your weight class.

 

Which brings us to our most remarkable political development this year as a sector.  While Congress continues to resist inclusion of non-public K-12 education in its pandemic-related funding, private and faith-based higher education was welcomed as a fully equal partner when it came to distributing pandemic aid.  Student headcount, FTE, and Pell eligibility were the markers that determined funding, not our non-governmental classification.   It was all the more remarkable for the lack of any pushback. 

Another component of this success (and another way in which ACCU lives our mission as the voice of Catholic higher education) is our interaction with the media. Speaking on behalf of all of you, we engaged with dozens of reporters from across the country (and occasionally across the globe), from the Baltimore Sun to the Texas Tribune. We spoke on issues ranging from sustainability to university governance to the financial effects of the pandemic on Catholic colleges, helping carry the message of our sector even more broadly.

The news was not always positive. Sadly, we lost Holy Family College in Wisconsin this year.  Its small enrollment could not withstand the additional challenges of the pandemic.  Several others sit in similarly challenging condition, working hard to restructure academic programs, athletic programs, overall staffing levels and other costs.  They do this for survival, but also knowing full well the demographics of the years ahead and the additional competitive challenges those will bring if strong decisions are not made now.  In some cases, our institutions have ceased recognition of longstanding labor arrangements, announcing that they will invite faculty into shared governance in other ways.  Some of you are building additional shared services arrangements.  Many of you are establishing new academic programs to meet current needs.  Some of you are considering bold, institution-redefining moves you intend to announce in the months ahead.  Nearly all of you are deficit-spending from your reserves this year to manage the costs of shifting your programming online and keeping your campus communities safe.  All of this is being done to protect and advance Catholic higher education. 

 

Nearly all of you are deficit-spending from your reserves this year to manage the costs of shifting your programming online and keeping your campus communities safe. 

 

Here at ACCU, we too have shifted all of our programming online, including our Annual Meeting, scheduled for two half-days on February 5-6, 2021.  Thankfully, you’ve responded positively and conference sign-ups have been robust.  (Please take advantage this year of inviting more of your colleagues to attend, since there are no travel costs involved!)

We also established ACCU Consulting Services this year to support our institutions with (1) specialized assistance they cannot find elsewhere, on issues such as mission, sponsorship structures, and Church relations, as well as (2) more affordable, high-quality consulting ranging from financial models, strategy and board governance, to leadership coaching/mentoring.  Unlike other organizations, ACCU does not add a 50 percent fee to the costs of the experts we assemble, thereby making high-quality assistance available at much reduced costs.  We also pre-negotiate reduced fees and other arrangements so that our members can have low-cost access to high-cost resources.  Our senior advisor Tom Flynn has been fantastic in leading this effort.

Other initiatives from the past year included:

  • A new, permanent initiative to provide programming and support for our chief diversity officers, with a particular outreach to the many recently hired CDOs across our institutions. 
  • An initiative to formalize and further develop the profession of mission officers. 
  • Development of online training tools for trustees of Catholic universities, with a goal of rolling the program out in summer 2021. 
  • An agreement with the USCCB to begin development of training tools for new bishops, helping them learn and understand how to “be a bishop for a Catholic university.” 
  • The creation of CIMA 2.0, the complete rewrite of our survey instruments designed to help presidents measure how successful their institutions are on Catholic identity-related goals. 
  • Rebuilding ACCU’s research capabilities. 
  • Achieving 100 percent membership renewals (thank you!), while cleaning up our membership records, improving outreach, and updating portions of our website. 
  • Supporting a national conference on the Catholic Intellectual Tradition (thank you, Sacred Heart University and Seton Hall!), and soon, publishing some of the amazing and helpful talks that were given at this well-attended online event.

 

The pandemic surprised all of us.  One day, though, I think we will all look back with no small amount of quiet pride that we shifted so quickly and in so many fundamental ways so that our missions could continue.  Know that all of us at ACCU are proud to support your important and hard work.  Count on us at every turn, and call us whenever you imagine another way we can be of assistance. 

God bless 2021!!!

 

Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, CM, is president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.