President’s Fall 2016 Update

November 16, 2016

Dear Members of the Seattle University Community,

As we approach Thanksgiving, I wanted to update you on what’s been happening this fall at Seattle University.

This academic year is the 125th anniversary of Seattle U’s founding. We began the year by celebrating this special occasion with the Mass of the Holy Spirit and a kick-off event afterward. It was wonderful to see both Immaculate Conception Church and the Union Green filled with students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends as we celebrated our proud heritage and envisioned how we will carry our Jesuit educational mission forward into the next quarter century. If you haven’t had a chance, be sure to check out some highlights from the day. The rector of our Jesuit community, Tom Lucas, S.J., provided another opportunity to reflect on our history when he gave a lively lecture on SU’s 125-year history. There will be many more festivities and opportunities throughout the year to celebrate our anniversary, including Homecoming in February and Grand Reunion weekend in May. I hope you’ll participate in as many of these as you can.

Our fall term has been quite eventful thus far. In September we welcomed the largest number of undergraduates in our history and a very strong group of graduate students.

In recent weeks we have welcomed many distinguished visitors to our campus, including NBA Hall of Famer and critically acclaimed author Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as well as Lezley McSpadden, the mother of Michael Brown. The Albers Executive Speaker Series hosted Kurt Beecher Dammeier, founder of Sugar Mountain, which includes Beecher Cheese, and Elena Donio, who was recently named CEO of Axiom after serving as president of Concur.

In the lead-up to the 2016 election, Seattle U hosted a gubernatorial debate—the most watched ever—as well as a conversation with the two candidates running for the 7th U.S. Congressional District. We were proud to serve as a venue for dialogue and civic engagement.

While the presidential election was extraordinarily contentious, my hope and prayer is for unity, compassion, respect and healing in our country and world. Here at Seattle U, we recognize an inclusive and welcoming community and support and care for our students are central to living and fulfilling our educational mission.

Last month we officially recognized and celebrated Indigenous Peoples’ Day. This was an opportunity to reflect on our Jesuit and university’s connection with the Native peoples of this area and envision how we might strengthen this special relationship in the years ahead. The Indigenous Peoples Institute, which was launched this month, will help advance this important work.

In the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education College 2016 Ranking, we are ranked #1 among private universities in the Northwest, second among all universities in the region, #4 among Jesuit institutions and #117 overall in the U.S. The primary criteria for this ranking focus on outcomes—investing in the student experience and fostering student success—which aligns with our emphasis on preparing students to succeed in their careers and lives while making an impact in their communities.

Speaking of the impact of our students, for the fourth year in a row, Seattle University was named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll, which recognizes universities across the nation that support exemplary community service programs and partnerships. It’s wonderful to see so many of our students getting involved in a variety of service learning and volunteer opportunities as they work with community partners to make a difference in the lives of others.

Our leadership in sustainability continues to be recognized as well. We are #48 in the Sierra Club’s Cool Schools 2016 ranking—that’s a jump of 100 spots since 2014—and for the seventh year in a row we are highlighted in the Princeton Review’s Guide to 361 Green Colleges.

We continue to receive great support from our alumni, friends and partners. Seattle University’s Gala on Nov. 5 was a wonderful evening and a great show of support for our students. At this year’s event there was a special spotlight on our Jesuit community, reflecting on the purpose and promise they have inspired today and throughout history.

Likewise our supporters at the Costco Scholarship Breakfast in September contributed more than $2 million in scholarships for underrepresented students at Seattle U. Since 2000, 600 of our students have proudly carried the distinction of being named Costco Scholars.

The university is nearly 50 percent through our comprehensive campaign timeline with more than 50 percent of our $300 million goal achieved. Thank you for investing in today’s scholars and tomorrow’s leaders.

This month, we welcomed Shaney Fink as our new Director of Athletics. Shaney comes to us from the University of San Diego, another Catholic university, where she most recently served as Senior Associate Athletics Director and Senior Woman Administrator. Shaney is a dynamic leader and I am confident that she will build on the tradition and success of our athletic program and take it to an even higher level. Congratulations to women’s soccer for claiming its third WAC Championship in four years and to Lila Rice for her first place finish in the WAC Cross Country Championships and being named the WAC Cross Country Athlete of the Year. We look forward to a great basketball season, too.

A major emphasis for us this year is to continue to make Seattle University an inclusive and welcoming community for all. I am grateful to Natasha Martin, our new chief diversity officer, and others for the strides they are making in this regard. This year we are also reflecting more deeply on our Jesuit Catholic character through a Mission Examen. Initiated by the Superior General of the Jesuits, all 28 of the country’s Jesuit colleges and universities will undergo this review over the next few years. We welcome this opportunity to discern together what facets of our mission are strong and where we have room to grow. I am grateful to Father Peter Ely who is leading the Mission Examen Committee and look forward to their good and important work on this.

As we recently announced, Seattle U will seek court review of the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) assertion of jurisdiction following the 73-63 vote by part-time and non-tenure track faculty to form a union. The issue is not about the university’s support for unions. There are seven unions on campus representing 63 staff members. We are also more than willing to engage with our non-tenure track faculty in an alternative, cooperative arrangement once the jurisdictional dispute is resolved. Rather, this is a constitutional and jurisdictional issue. The NLRB is seeking to treat some faith-based universities differently than others. It asserts Seattle U is not “religious enough” because we embrace inclusion and openness over uniform adherence to religious doctrine. The Supreme Court has previously rejected that reasoning as contrary to the First Amendment, and has prohibited the NLRB from asserting jurisdiction over faculty at religious schools because of the potential impact on their faith-based mission.

For certain, we have this and other challenges to confront together as a university community, yet in my view we are an exceedingly blessed institution: blessed by the support and encouragement of our alumni and friends; blessed by the hard work and dedication of our faculty and staff; and blessed by the purpose and passion of our students. And with blessings like these, I have no doubt that in the next 25 years Seattle University’s impact on our community, our region and our world will be even greater than we can imagine today. As always and especially in this season of gratitude, I thank you for sharing in our work and helping us advance the Jesuit mission of Seattle University.


Stephen V. Sundborg, S.J.