It has been almost 20 years since I arrived on our campus to teach full time in the School of Franciscan Studies, honored to have been invited to a faculty post and eager for the opportunity to share the Franciscan intellectual tradition with students.
Later, as Dean of the school and director of the Franciscan Institute, I delighted in the opportunities to collaborate with an international network of pre-eminent scholars, historians, theologians, and philosophers and work with highly respected Franciscan administrators on projects of intellectual importance. At the heart of it all were the students who came to this university from nations and places the world over to immerse themselves in our highly respected Institute programs.
If anyone would have told me then that one day my performance in those roles would cause the board to call me to service in university leadership, culminating with my nomination as the 20th President of this university, I would have dismissed such an idea.
Now, having served nearly 12 years as your President, I begin this new year and new academic semester confident it is the right time and the correct season to announce my intention to make this spring semester my last as the 20th President of St. Bonaventure University.
Last Tuesday, I notified Bob Daugherty, the newly elected Chair of our Board of Trustees, and set in motion a process for our board to commence a proper and thoughtful search for your 21st President. Today, I make public my decision.
It has been a long time since this university has had the opportunity to experience a peaceful and proper transition of its presidency. Long ago, I determined my departure needed to permit such a deliberate, thoughtful and engaged process.
Announcing this now provides all of us the opportunity to participate in a well-planned transition, celebrate the accomplishments of the past, reflect on the challenges of today and imagine the changes, knowledge and needs that will be required for the university to celebrate success in the future.
This decision has not been an easy one since the relationships at the heart of our St. Bonaventure community have become more precious with each passing year. For that reason, I felt it important that I directly communicate with you and make clear my reasons for its timing.
New Strategic Plans and Investment in Continued Positive Change:
Last year, this university received the most favorable outcomes of a Middle States accreditation review in decades. It affirmed the work done in the last 10 years by faculty leaders and administrators to create the “culture of assessment” we promised at the close of our 2005 Middle States review. That 2005 review, you will recall, occurred in the early period of my Presidency and followed a tumultuous period of university history.
Our accrediting body’s 2014 positive review was strong validation for these many years of intense effort to move SBU forward. The review also delineated the moment for us to close the books on that decade of recovery and rebuilding and open a new chapter of re-imagining this university facing 21st century demands — and do so with similar success.
The inauguration of a new period of planning for and then implementing major new institutional goals is a perfect time to invite new executive talent to the office of President. It would be a disservice to SBU to inaugurate important new strategies only to have the President depart mid-stream and risk delay in the much needed execution of a new plan.
Today, this campus is truly engaged in a very healthy, thoughtful and authentic process of planning. In fact, our board’s engagement in and approval of a new university plan later this year is prescribed in our Middle States review with a due date of December 2016.
Fundraising to Support the New Plan:
Closely tied to the development of a new plan is the need to find resources to fund it. Whether that will take the form of a new, multi-year comprehensive campaign or some other fund-raising program, our donors need to have confidence that the school’s leadership is equal to and accountable for the new strategies for which they are providing hard-earned money. The plan, the funding program, and the executive capacity to lead both — all three of these elements — must be synchronized for success. Here again, the timing is right to select a new president to lead this effort.
Higher Education and the Challenge to be Successful in the “New Normal:”
There are few colleges or universities that have not been impacted in serious measure by significant changes to the higher education landscape. It does no good to seek comfort in the assurance that lots of universities are in the same or far worse straits than us. We must continue to find a way forward to enable the changes this “new normal” will require. That, too, will benefit from new executive talent.
The Rule and Life by which I fulfill my Franciscan vows states the following: “No one is to appropriate any office or ministry whatsoever; rather each should willingly relinquish it when the time comes.” (Chapter 8, Art. 27). That time has come for me. I have served using the talents that are mine and believe those talents served the university well during my tenure. It is now time for a new leader whose competencies will be equal to the new and very different demands of the next decade.
In the months ahead leading to the close of this academic year, I hope to begin to find occasions to adequately express my gratitude for the honor of serving as the 20th president of St. Bonaventure University. While it is a task that will take the rest of my life to complete, I hope to make a good start of it in 2016.
My next year will be a sabbatical — my first and last all rolled into one! During that time, I will continue to be available to provide support for a small number of very specific and time-sensitive university projects.
It is my hope that by sharing here my rationale for this decision and its timing, it will be understood, supported and respected by both the campus community and our devoted national community of alumni and friends.
May we continue in these coming months of this new year to do the work that the renowned and revered Fr. Tom Plassmann described as “building a better Bonaventure.” For more than a decade as your President, I have dedicated all of my efforts to do just that. It is a habit of mind and heart that I do not intend to break.
May the Lord give you peace!
Sr. Margaret Carney, O.S.F.
President of the University
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