Caleb Sharp, Student Writer
This past Fall, the newly appointed President Jennifer Bonds-Raacke went on a school-wide listening tour as part of her strategic plan to guide Saint Martin’s University for the next three years. The listening tour consisted of a series of meetings with faculty, students, and monks to assess and address various concerns related to on-campus operations, such as funding and barriers to student success, among other things. After countless meetings with these interest groups, President Bonds-Raacke and her staff carefully curated a list of common themes mentioned during the listening tour and presented her findings to a group of faculty and staff on January 18th.
President Bonds-Raacke opened her presentation by emphasizing SMU’s unique identity as an intersectional blend of Catholic Benedictine values and liberal arts traditions. She makes the point that centering the school’s curriculum around these two ideologies benefits students and faculty alike.
Photo Credit: Caleb Sharp
After establishing what she considers the core of SMU’s identity, President Bonds-Raacke dives head-first into transparently relaying issues and concerns raised by faculty and students during her listening tour.
She first talks about issues related to the lack of equitable compensation, which has led to difficulties in retaining and hiring new faculty members. “We say that we’re Catholic Benedictine; that we value everyone, that we see God in everyone, that we treat everyone’s work with dignity. [In spite of this] we have employees who can’t afford the health insurance for their families that we offer. Or, up until the Spring semester, we weren’t reimbursing for travel at the federal rate of reimbursement.” President Bonds-Raacke defers to SMU’s adherence to its Catholic Benedictine values of treating everyone’s work with dignity, which involves being equitably compensated for that work.
Another recurring theme mentioned during the listening tour was that of open communication between the faculty community and the leadership of Saint Martin’s University. While SMU leadership and faculty have generally had an open line of communication in the past, President Bonds-Raacke addressed several instances of the leadership disregarding collaborative efforts put forth by faculty.
“The University Budget Committee was one example [of closed communication]. Another example was the State of the University addresses. The community was invited together, they were given information, but they weren’t invited to give information back or collaborate or meaningfully work together to produce whatever that decision might be.”
After addressing concerns raised by faculty, President Bonds-Raacke shifted the discussion toward concerns raised by students.
She says, “When students talk about what’s great about Saint Martin’s and what they love, it’s you guys. It’s their personal relationship with faculty and staff. However, our retention rates are not what they should be first to second year. And when we really look at the data by different groups, our students of color, our black males in particular, do not fare well in our system.” Despite positive relationships fostered between faculty and students, President Bonds-Raacke points out that many students, especially students of color, are dropping out of Saint Martin’s at an alarming rate. In order to better serve the needs of students, President Bonds-Raacke says, “Moving forward, we need to think about what we need to do as an institution to increase opportunities for our students to be successful.”
President Bonds-Raacke’s emphasis on transparency, communication and community building is a promising sign of Saint Martin’s University’s bright future to come.