2022 Convocation Address Transcript

President Snyder’s Annual Convocation Address
November 15, 2022

"In Tension"

Thank you, Executive Vice President and Provost Poon.

We welcome today:

  • Members of the Board of Trustees: Chair Paul Viviano, Rev. Eddie Siebert, S.J., and Sister MaryAnne Huepper, C.S.J.;
  • From our Board of Regents: Carlos Cruz-Aedo;
  • We welcome Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer Lynne Scarboro;
  • LMU Faculty, Staff, and Students;
  • Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange, Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary, Jesuits, interfaith leaders;
  • Alumni and Friends: Aurelia Friedman, on behalf of Congressmember Ted Lieu, who will represent LMU in the 33rd District beginning January 2023;
  • LMU Loyola Law School Alum and Candidate for the City of LA’s Council District 11, our home district, Traci Park;
  • Convocation committee;
  • Student workers;
  • Grammy-Award-winning Mariachi Divas and today’s producer / envisioneer John Flaherty! Thank you for that gorgeously intense performance.    

I thank each of you for joining us this morning in person and via live stream.

As part of LMU’s recognition of our history, location, and relationship to the Indigenous communities in Los Angeles, let us acknowledge the Tongva peoples as the traditional land caretakers of Tovaangar (the Los Angeles basin and southern Channel Islands), and the presence of LMU on this traditional and unceded land.  We are grateful to live, learn, and create in this place.

For this year’s convocation, I had several topics I was considering, but in speaking with members of our faculty and staff—particularly our senates—and in visits with our student development professionals and our alumni, we discussed how members of our community want to know more about what we are doing as a university—where we are going—particularly to how we are addressing the challenges we face as a society.  With this as a setting, I will speak today to this topic.  I will begin with one particular tension, then speak to the directions in which our strategic plan and comprehensive campaign are taking us.  I will then share tales from recent fundraising events, and conclude by describing tomorrow’s LMU.

“In Tension” is indeed the title of my talk, so I will start by recognizing the many tensions we are all feeling at this moment. 

Tensions abound at present: We have fiscal worries, geopolitical–and existential–crises; threats to democracy;  threats to our common home—our planet—and climate calamities erupting from inept stewardship of our inventions;  racist attacks;  hate speech;  anti-Semitism;  systemic oppression of women in Iran, across the globe (and in our very backyard);  gun violence;  and social media madness—and: sadly, this is only the short list.   

To be sure, every era has had its tensions, but we feel the strain of them—collectively—and more intensely at this moment—in part because we can now consume and share “All Things Wrong” so easily and rapidly. 

We at LMU are not alone.  These stresses are happening everywhere, and: we will, collectively and personally, be dealing with the fallout from the pandemic alone for years to come.  It has impacted the economy, with inflation reaching nine percent earlier this year and currently at 7.7 percent.  It has impacted our families;  our emotions;  our bonds of social trust;  our capacity, and our endurance.

It has also impacted society’s perceptions of the value of higher education in ways we must answer with confidence and conviction. 

At LMU, we can address this tension directly:  I have worked at now-eight universities.  This is the first—and the only—at which our professors routinely declare that our students are our top priority.  This includes our Nobelist, Pulitzer, and Fulbright faculty. 

At dinners with students, which Carol and I host every month, we hear how much our faculty care about not just all of our students, but each of our students.  We hear also of our Student Affairs professionals, and how they help students become persons for and with others, and again, not just all of our students, but each of our students. 

This is how we realize the Education of the Whole Person—which epitomizes Catholic Social Teaching by recognizing the dignity and God-given value of each of our students.  Our job, ultimately?:   To help coalesce each of the dispositions of our students into something that helps them become what I call “vectors of the greater good” — this can, if we succeed, blossom into an exponentiation of the greater good as each of our students, in their current and future worlds, leads others to do the same.  

Meanwhile, our faculty scholarship is soaring.  In 2018, what we had already accomplished helped us become an “R2,” nationally-ranked university;  and our research and development expenditures increased 62 percent, from $7.9 million in 2018 to $12.8 million in 2021, demonstrating that others are recognizing the quality of our faculty’s achievements and funding them.  We were awarded a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa not after what we heard was typically a try-thrice-and-hope application process—we were named following our first application. 

These honors resulted directly from that faculty success.

And we don’t just teach and accompany well.  We also understand that affording our premium education requires a premium sacrifice, so we support students with financial aid, which nearly 85 percent of our undergraduate students receive, and we assure that they begin their careers in ways honorable and solid, where their work is aligned with their passions.  That is why—and how—we placed last year, within six months of graduation, 98 percent of our students into full-time employment or graduate or professional schools or service, and supported 15 Fulbright finalists over the last three years. 

And why are our students so sought after?  Why do we so often hear of how valued they are?  In large part because of our liberal arts core.  Our students are given a survey of what is known; how to think, read, write, process information with perspective and nuance; how to imagine what is possible; and how to work with others in ways productive.  And, as is consistent with our curriculum, our co-curriculum, and our scholarship, our students’ North Star is one of purpose—one that is directed toward the wellbeing of others—those here, those to come—and of the Earth.  Summarized?  Yes: We approach higher education with intention

Where We Are Going

LMU’s value is recognized, and we sustain that value by working continually to get better.  Where go we from here?  Our roadmap for our efforts is: our strategic plan, supported by an infusion of new resources from our comprehensive fundraising campaign.  Each is built on this observation: As we look toward our human future, a future riddled with even more seemingly insurmountable challenges—and tensions—we are drawn to focus on three key commitments: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; Creativity and Innovation; and Expanding Our Reach and Impact. 

Each of these fulfills our mission AND secures a better future—with the intention of creating the world we want to live in. 

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Let’s peer into our strategic priorities, beginning with diversity.  If we seek to have the most creative persons working together to solve human and earthly problems, we must assure that all creative persons are involved—we need all human talent to be at the proverbial “table,” sharing insights from different identities, perspectives, and lived experiences.  But for us to be diverse in this way, we must also assure equity, so that each powerful voice is at the table charged with the power of solution.  Equity enables inclusion; deliberate inclusion yields diversity; and diversity brings wonder.

Thus, DEI is central to our educational mission, while also being deeply grounded in Catholic Social Teaching, which speaks to the immutable dignity of each person born and to the contributions that a blessed diversity of members makes in the image of God. 

This impulse toward greater inclusion is central to our strategic and campaign initiatives to improve access: the world’s most creative minds need to be at LMU.  Many such individuals are ready for an LMU education and can indeed become that vector for the greater good.  But not all can afford to make that happen.  This is why we seek to double our endowment in financial aid through our campaign.  So far we have raised nearly $80 million in scholarship support, two-thirds of which is endowed. 

LMU has more than 30 transfer and pathway agreements (and growing!) with community colleges throughout California and Arizona.  On a per capita basis, we have more transfer agreements than any of our competitors.  An increasing number of students intentionally plan, for financial reasons, to attend community colleges for two years, then move on to four-year institutions, but financial assistance is usually necessary.  Our  campaign will build bridges that allow these students to realize their dreams—and become those very vectors toward a brighter future.

We are also hiring and retaining the best minds available.  We were proud to welcome one our most talented—and diverse—cohorts of faculty and executives this fall.  And we will strive to do even better on the faculty scale next fall.  Our Recruiting and Hiring Teacher-Scholars for Mission Initiative seeks to attract an ethnically diverse, gender-balanced faculty with the intention of enhancing our educational goals and the quality of the LMU experience by broadening our talent base.  

Always with an eye toward improvement and greater impact, we are mindful of the need to enhance our curriculum and pedagogy with these concepts in mind.  The recently announced $2.5M Driving Change grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute exemplifies our faculty’s incessant desire to learn more and gain more knowledge about systemic racism while also ensuring greater equity for students from underrepresented backgrounds in STEM education.

Innovation and Adaptability

Catholic Social Teaching speaks to us as being born in the image of God the Creator.  When God breathed life into us, we were blessed with the purpose to, as God did, create.   This restless desire is at the heart of our mission, especially when viewed as the essence of St. Ignatius’s magis

Innovation and Adaptability, our second commitment, is how we progress and enact impactful changes creatively.

Uplifted by our Catholic, Jesuit, and Marymount values, our strategic plan and campaign assure that we will continue to improve society by encouraging a culture of experimentation and risk-taking, dismantling silos, boosting interdisciplinary and co-curricular collaborations to meet the challenges ahead.  And to do so the LMU way: Morally.  Ethically.  As persons for and with others.

This is in our wheelhouse.  Just look at what we’ve been doing:

Our Innovation in Digital Education and Leadership (iDEAL) Institute, embedded in LMU School of Education, works with school districts and educational leaders to implement educational technology and blended teaching and learning methods that are beneficial to all types of learners.  The iDEAL Institute was the FIRST group on our campus to use Zoom for remote instruction—and it did so more than a decade ago!

A disability rights slogan from the 90s, "Nothing about us without us," recognizes that all policy decisions affect the disability community.  Our Coelho Center for Disability Law, Policy, and Innovation addresses this important tension, and, in close coordination with our LMU Loyola Law School, trains, empowers, and mobilizes the next generation of disability advocates.  One of the Center’s most recent innovations: a partnership with Verizon and Waymap to make LMU and the world more navigable for people with disabilities—particularly those who are blind or sight-impaired.

Our Alumniour lifelong Lions, our ambassadors, the students whom we taught, formed, and accompanied on their journeys—are out there searching for solutions to the UNIVERSE’S most pressing problems—and along the way, they are giving back to their alma mater to ensure that our mission soars.  Just look at Tom Mueller, space travel visionary (class of 1992),  and one of the world’s leading experts in propulsion, who recently gave a $5M gift to establish an aerospace propulsion lab in the Seaver College of Science and Engineering.

And with this Drollinger Family Stage and our SFTV Howard B. Fitzpatrick Pavilion—and eventually our Engineering Innovation Complex and Performing Arts Complex, which are part of our campaign—we are harnessing our interdisciplinary prowess and enabling outcomes that honor our traditions and meet a future that will rely in ways unprecedented on our collective creativity.  

By working together to improve upon our human inventions, in spaces constructed with creativity at the forefront of their purpose, we are unlocking new gateways for deeper learning, and in the process, we are igniting new partnerships, inspiring further collaborations—Yes, purposefully creating the world we want to live in. 

Which brings me to our third commitment: Extending our Reach and Impact. 

Extending Our Reach and Impact

When I arrived at LMU, I pledged that we would cease to be LA’s “best kept secret”—that we would refresh our approach, and even our ways of thinking about ourselves, and act intentionally to elevate LMU’s reputation, so that the distinguished scholarship and teaching excellence of our faculty, the life-changing work of our Student Affairs team, and the stellar achievements of our students could receive the recognition that they deserve–encouraging yet more outstanding learners and educators to view LMU as their destination of choice, helping to pave the way for our enrollment and other successes.

I am proud that we made that commitment and are seeing it through, and I think it is self-evident that LMU’s global impact is stronger and its future is brighter as a result.  I recognize that this choice, like any significant choice, has given rise to its own share of tensions, and of course it has taken time for the benefits to emerge.

Raising our profile and telling our story has never been an end in itself.  It is a means to realizing our mission.  The better-known we are and the more philanthropic support we receive (and those two items correlate positively), the more opportunities unfold for our students and faculty to encourage learning. 

This is part of extending our reach.  Another is to recognize that the more engaged we are with the world around us, the more our students can experience transformative insights that will help them to grow as whole persons and to serve faith and promote justice throughout their lives—as those very vectors.

Meeting the demands of our increasingly interconnected society requires us to be amply engaged in the world.  Global-mindedness, foreign language acquisition, intercultural competence,  and adaptability all translate to influential, world-changing, employable Lions.  To this end, Provost Poon and his team have boosted study abroad opportunities by 63 percent;  international student enrollment has increased by 12 percent;  and we obtained observer status in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.  Happy International Education Week, indeed!  Here’s to our champions of global imagination: our one-thousand international students and roughly two dozen international faculty members, our Fulbright scholars (past, present, and future), and our Lions participating in our now-106 study abroad programs.  And with the help of our campaign, through international scholarships, LMU will recruit even more global citizens—to the benefit of all who are educated here—and we will include many international students who are the first in their families to go to college.

How do we invigorate our efforts?  Through philanthropy, which we have been intensifying.  I have been on the road lately, with deans, members of our Advancement team, and others, telling the LMU story, singing your praises at a series of fundraising events across the USA.  We’ve been calling these Beyond the Bluff, and we are beyond excited to speak with alumni, parents, donors, and friends about how LMU plans to benefit our world.  

Here are a couple tales from the road. 

In Seattle, I had a conversation with a parent concerning business ethics and how disheartening it is to hear so many stories of deception in the startup ecosystem.  I was proud to share how our Master of Science in Entrepreneurship and Sustainable Innovations seeks to address this age-old tension by developing leaders who are responsible, ethical, and values-centered.

In Boston, while chatting with a donor, I shared that our Media Center for Arts and a Just Society  breaks down the silos that too frequently prevent action and change.  They were impressed to learn that this collaboration between BCLA, CFA, and SFTV unites students from all storytelling disciplines and encourages them to embrace the tensions of our world, and with purpose, create something that inspires hearts and minds, and propels people to act—with their actions based on truth.

And in a couple days, we will be in San Francisco speaking with alumni about why their investment in the campaign matters and how they can help us reach our ambitious goal of $750 million for student scholarships, endowed chairs and professorships, and competitive academic facilities. 

No surprise: the audiences love hearing about our successes because they love LMU.  They are appreciative and they are proud because they know that their alma mater is improving in its ability to fulfill its mission and impact the world;  they can see that the work our faculty, student development professionals, and staff are doing each day, and the choices we are making together, will enhance the value of an LMU degree for them and for all present and future Lions.  And, with intention, they want to invest in LMU’s future, our future, and they have: We recently surpassed the $250 million point in the campaign and continue to pursue gifts ambitiously as we approach the campaign’s public phase.  So many of you are involved in this, and I thank you warmly. 

In Five Years

So, where is LMU at present, and where will we be in five years? 

Together, we have been working our way through the tensions of our time with intention—making purposeful, strategic choices now to position LMU strongly for the future—and to open up even greater opportunities for our students and alumni to impact the world for good.

In five years, we will be a community that is more equity-conscious, more intentionally anti-racist and more inclusive in everything we do—in our curriculum, our pedagogy, our student life experience.  We will be known as a university that recognized and partnered with the zeal of this moment’s students, whom I call not Generation Z, but the Solidarity Generation—one that is tightly in tune with our sacred mission.

Through improved scholarship fundraising, expanded pathway programs for community college students, more universal access to high impact learning practices, and by formally attaining recognition by the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities as a Hispanic Serving Institution, we will become an exemplar for successfully recruiting, retaining, and supporting creative students who must overcome obstacles in their search for a best educational experience. 

Five years from now, our increasingly innovative and interdisciplinary curriculum and our commitment to deepened research and discovery will distinguish LMU as a place where the world’s thorniest problems are being engaged creatively—and constructively.

Students will choose LMU for our academic quality as well as for our creativity and concern for justice and the common good—for our success in international education, experiential and engaged learning, and reflective, collaborative, multi-disciplinary partnerships in the classroom and beyond.  And yes, they will pack Gersten and other venues as our Athletics success also continues to rise.

Through our interdisciplinary core curriculum, new interdisciplinary degree programs and concentrations, and a “creativity-ready” campus anchored by our new Performing Arts Complex and Engineering Innovation Complex, we will be the premiere destination for the most ethically minded, students, inventors, performers, and dreamers, who use their combinatorial creativity to imagine transformative works with lasting impact.

Through the provost’s strategic investments in start-up funding for new graduate and professional programs and in improved research support infrastructure, our educational impact will blossom.

In five years, LMU will set a national standard for whole person education sustained through personalized connections in a student-centered community—one where academic affairs and student affairs are not just on a same page, but are working together collaboratively on transformative initiatives. 

We will be known not only for improved retention and graduation rates, but also for a deepened sense of belonging and a more supportive and engaging learning environment for undergraduate students, graduate and professional students, distance learners, and post-traditional students.

Throughout these tense times, through our fears about the future and worries of the day, I remain optimistic about the world we live in because I am aware of what this university—LMU—can do.  

This positivity I feel, the positivity that gets me through the day, and that gives me hope for tomorrow, comes from each of you:  The life-changing work of our students, faculty, student development professionals, staff, board members, and alumni; your unshakable courage and your perseverance amidst unrelenting pressures.  Your care for one another, your solidarity, and your love and conversations, that helped me in my discernment process, and which enabled LMU to increase the base pay for our lowest-compensated workers to $21.  I know the pressures of your work collide daily with the pressures of your personal lives; I know there are times we find these pressures difficult to bear.  And yet, you remain dedicated, and you help us work through these tensions with INTENTION. 

Amidst LMU’s many—and increasing—accomplishments, if at any time you feel alone, if you feel unseen, I hope that you can step back and recognize the full impact that LMU, through your work, is having on the world beyond our day-to-day.  I hope that you can feel as I feel about you–that what you are doing is creating the world we want to live in—and that, through that, we are, in ways that transcend each of our contributions, doing God’s work in creating: a better world, a more inclusive world, and a more harmonious and joyful world.  Bless our dear university; bless each of you; and thank you.