Winter 2023 President's Message
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ACCU's Not-So-Annual Report

By Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, CM



The cartoonist, Phil Witte, once pictured a CEO seated behind an impossibly large desk saying to a staffer, “Let’s just issue last year’s annual report and see if anyone notices.” 

ACCU did something similar several years ago when we simply stopped issuing an annual report.  No one complained, or even asked about it.  As we suspected, it was a lot of work (and money for a four-color publication) for too little return. 

As we enter Year Four of our 4-year set of strategic goals, though, perhaps it’s a good time to pull back the curtains and show you what your association has been working on.   As we do so, it’s important to remember that the day-to-day work of the Association is not described herein, just the new projects.  All of this is the accomplishment of an eight-person, hard-working staff, assisted in many instances by volunteer presidents and other senior leaders. 

First, and foremost, ACCU’s board asked us to expand ACCU as a “larger tent".  We’ve done so by adding programming for diversity officers, campus ministers, women leaders, future leaders, service-learning professionals, charism leaders, and mission officers.  All of these now have their own gatherings, programming, and leadership.  Some are publishing best practices within their fields.  The mission officers are going further by creating their own association, which will exist within the larger ambit of the ACCU.  For faculty, Collegium has agreed to work with ACCU to expand its offerings.  Stay tuned for more information on this latter initiative as it begins to take shape.  We’ve tried too to become more relevant and welcoming for our Canadian and other international colleagues.

We’ve strengthened the advising services available to Catholic Higher Education institutions.  The “ACCU Advising Services” practice is fully up and running, having served 120 of our universities to date in a variety of pro bono and paid engagement arrangements.  This past year, we added new president mentoring, quarterly check-in’s, and executive coaching to our services.  Advising services are designed as a membership benefit, which means that ACCU does not treat this as a revenue source.  We simply pass along the consultant’s fee, and for larger engagements, a de minimus charge for our staff’s time.  This enables our institutions to secure affordable, first-rate support on topics ranging from strategy, board governance, sponsorship realignment, strategic partnerships and merger conversations, mission audits, speech policies, leadership mentoring, and much, much more.  We’ve also created “behind the firewall’ ACCU website resources for presidents on topics ranging from transgender issues, Title IX, and Post-Dobbs resources.

ACCU is leading the conversation on new forms of sponsorship as religious congregations are less able to provide itWe’ve led a national study on the changing sponsoring practices and are educating the Holy See, Conference of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM), Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), canon lawyers, and bishops to help them learn this as well so they can be supportive as our institutions begin to adopt these new models.  We are providing extensive advising and education to our members, their boards, and sponsors on this topic, since so many are currently engaging this question.  We are also working with Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), the regional accrediting bodies and AGB so that their members understand these sponsorship/governance changes as they occur.  A publication on sponsorship models that can be of service to presidents and sponsoring congregations will be released soon.   

At the request of many of you, we’ve strengthened the Annual Meeting, first, by moving to a new hotel with more room.  We added new pre-conferences, supporting ACCU’s “larger tent,” and rebalanced the number of speakers away from “our own” and added more outside thought leaders.  New types of vendor relationships were invented increasing the number of vendors and related income, keeping the cost lower for participants.  Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU) and National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) partnered with us to minimize schedule conflicts.  A mobile app was adopted for usage during the conference, social media was increased, and speakers have been more disciplined in the length of their remarks to allow more time for Q&A.

Training tools and programs have been created and/or strengthened for those leading or supporting the work of Catholic universities.  Videos with which to train trustees on their roles at Catholic universities are up and running, with more being added every month.  The AGB has added Catholic components to its own trusteeship education program in partnership with ACCU.  The ACCU Institute for New Presidents has been redesigned and the percentage of new and interim presidents participating is now over 90%.  Interfaith America and ACCU have partnered to create training for moral leadership in highly charged diversity-related moments for presidents.   The Rome Seminar was also redesigned and received strong reviews this past summer.  The Vatican-based program provides presidents and a few other senior leaders with the chance to learn firsthand how the Church works at its highest levels.  With no small amount of excitement, ACCU will announce a new formation initiative for U.S. bishops to learn their roles in supporting Catholic higher education institutions in their regions.  This project is foundation funded and being done with the support and partnership of the USCCB.  Stay tuned!

More tools have been revised or added to strengthen the missions of our institutions.   Working with ASACCU and JASPA, the student affairs’ Principles of Good Practice have been completely updated.    Our mission assessment tool, CIMA, has been tightened, shortened, and improved to work on students’ phones.  An alumni survey has also been developed and added to our longstanding freshman and graduating senior surveys.  We’ve also stopped charging for the survey, making it a membership benefit rather than a revenue stream for ACCU.   In the new year, we intend to create a mission audit instrument campuses can use as they self-evaluate the mission component for their regional accreditation, and documents that search consultants can use with trustees as they consider candidates for presidencies.  We’ll also be evaluating all publications for reprinting, elimination, rewriting, or addition of new topics/resources. 

Going forward, we hope to strengthen and assert some level of direction in Catholic higher education research.  We’ve already rebuilt the systematic and intentional collection of data that can be used by ACCU and our members in advocacy and fundraising.  Boston College’s new doctoral program in Catholic higher education has invited ACCU to propose projects for students to undertake.  We’ve created a repository for service learning and community engagement research at Catholic universities and we are working toward making our Journal of Catholic Higher Education freely available online. 

Finally, ACCU has worked steadily throughout these past three years to strengthen government and Church relations.  ACCU now sits on the American Council of Education’s Monday and Friday working groups, discussing all matters before the United States Congress and Department of Education, asserting our voice as needed on matters which affect our institutions and working to secure funding during this pandemic period for our institutions.  We’ve supported and joined key lawsuits before the Federal courts and the Supreme Court, playing a particularly important role on religious freedom issues.  As ACCU president, I now sit on the American Council of Education (ACE) board and chair the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) Secretariat.  And we have key Catholic university presidents on many of the key higher education associations, including Eric Spina (University of Dayton) as chair of NAICU’s board; Fr. Peter Donohue (Villanova University) and soon, Reynolds Verret (Xavier University of Louisianna) on the board of ACE; and Jack DeGioia (Georgetown University) as chair of the NCAA. 

On Church relations, ACCU enjoys strong working relationships in the Vatican Dicastery of Culture and Education as well as the Dicastery overseeing religious life.  I have joined the board of the International Federation of Catholic Universities (IFCU).  At ACCU’s request, the U.S. bishops reestablished the Higher Education Working group of five presidents and five bishops so that we can talk about the issues that sometimes divide us and how we can work together productively. 

Financially, ACCU is living within its means and ending each of its budgetary years in the black.  Intentionally, we have kept any increase in membership dues at or below inflation each year.  We have a modest endowment, which we save as a rainy-day fund, but have not had to use.  By cutting our spending in other areas, we were able to raise employee salaries to the 50th percentile of comparative positions, lessening our risk of staff turnover.   Our audited financials and 990 are reviewed carefully by the board and are always available for the asking.  

All of this is possible because of a small staff that serves our ACCU members so well:  Rebecca Sawyer, Sandra Kerr-Porcari, Nadine Jalandoni, Lorraine Sloma-Williams, Michelle Evans, Sean Phillips, Alex Flinn-Palcic, and Tom Flynn.  These are good years for the ACCU, and that is directly attributable to the hard work they do every day.   It’s a result, too, of all of you saying “yes” every time our office calls and asks for your help.  The most important word in ACCU’s name is the first: “Association.”  You make all this good work possible.  God bless you for it.  As the new year begins, know that ACCU is grateful every day to work alongside and in service of all of you. 


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

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