With this edition of Inside CUA Online, I am introducing a new column called "From the President's Desk." Its purpose is to provide information to CUA faculty and staff about the state of affairs of the university. Several years ago, I established the Administrative Council — which comprises all the deans, vice presidents and other senior administrators and meets several times during the academic year — to assist in providing updates on the latest developments to the faculty and staff with whom they work. However, I am told that the information provided at Administrative Council meetings does not always flow to faculty and staff as I had originally hoped. Later I recommended the creation of Inside CUA Online so that the faculty and staff might have an additional source of information. "From the President's Desk" is my most recent initiative to ensure that the members of the CUA community receive all the news about CUA that is — to borrow the famous New York Times slogan —"fit to print." The Web has become an increasingly important and effective way to communicate across the campus and I intend to continue and enhance that effort by making it the primary source for campus news.

In this inaugural article, I wish to give you a brief report on the state of the university at this point in the academic year. I will begin by presenting some data that constitute a snapshot of the university's current situation and then share some other information and news.

The university welcomed 703 new full-time freshmen this year; our budget target was 700. By comparison, last year 624 new full-time freshmen enrolled. We continue to recruit aggressively and have expanded our efforts by identifying volunteers in our traditional recruitment areas to assist in the process. Our admissions and financial aid staff worked very hard to produce this new population and I am grateful to them. CUA's freshman tuition discount rate continues to decrease, which is important because lower tuition discounting increases the revenue available to address other university needs.

Eighty-nine new transfer students enrolled in September, compared with 82 new transfers last year. Since our budget target was 100, we fell short by 11 students.

On the positive side, we are attracting students with better test scores. This year's entering class has an average SAT score of 1176, approximately 26 points higher than last year's freshmen.

CUA's full-time undergraduate population totals 2,467, compared with 2,383 at this time last year. Since our budget target was 2,433, we are enjoying a full-time undergraduate increase of 34 over budget prediction and 84 over last year's headcount.

In the area of student retention, we have more good news: Our freshman-to-sophomore retention rate was 85.5 percent, an increase of 3 percent over last year; our sophomore-to-junior and junior-to-senior retention rates were 92 percent each, the highest they have been in some time. The credit goes to the faculty and to many of our staff members who provide such wonderful service to the students.

The news on graduate enrollment was not as positive. The full-time graduate population totals 686. We fell short of our budget prediction by 40 students. We continue to see a downward trend in part-time graduate students, approximately 63 students fewer than were budgeted. On the other hand, our overall graduate headcount actually increased by nine students compared with last year, the first such increase in 13 years. Much good work has been done in the offices and by faculty and staff, but graduate recruitment and enrollment continue to be a concern that needs our attention.

The Columbus School of Law exceeded its budget goal for full-time new students by 29 enrollees. As you know, the law school moved from the second to the third tier in the latest U.S. News & World Report rankings, primarily because the entering class last year was so large, and this increased the faculty-student ratio. In addition, the LSAT score average was not as high as we would have liked. The dean and faculty have worked hard to introduce measures to contain the size of the first-year class and we have aggressively increased financial aid to attract applicants with high LSAT scores. Based on these indicators, we have every reason to expect that the law school will return to the second tier and that, thanks to the adjustments noted and to other initiatives being introduced, it will move up in the rankings.

CUA's total full-time enrollment is 3,830 and our total part-time enrollment is 1,697, giving us an overall enrollment of 5,527.

In the area of housing, our resident student population is 1,979, or 97.5 percent of available capacity (2,028). Since we budgeted for 1,832 residents, our housing revenues have increased.

Undergraduates last year received a total of $18.3 million in financial aid. Graduates students received $7.4 million and law students were given $1.7 million.

The issue of growth and stabilization of our enrollment remains critical for the institution. We especially need to experience growth in the full-time and part-time enrollments of our master's programs. We must also aim for an annual freshman enrollment of 800 new students as we simultaneously continue to improve our retention rates. Such enrollments accomplish three things:

At present, we have a full-time faculty population of 357 and a part-time faculty population of 308. Seventy percent of our faculty are tenured and 59 percent are Roman Catholic. I mention these facts because I am frequently asked about them.

Grant activity in the last fiscal year has increased, with a positive variance of $4.9 million in direct activity and a corresponding increase of $1.9 million in indirect activity. This increase is due to the efforts of the faculty and I thank them and express my congratulations.

Our average class size is 17 students. I am struck by some disparities in class size and course loads in several of the disciplines, with some faculty having a very high student load and others with class sizes and total student load in the single digits. Our full-time faculty/student ratio is approximately 15:1. Our total instructional staff (full-time, part-time and graduate teaching assistant) faculty/student ratio is 9:1. This raises some academic and financial concerns in my mind that I shall address in the near future.

We recently welcomed several new academic deans to campus: Father Robert Kennedy as interim dean of the newly re-established School of Canon Law; Dr. Larry Poos in the School of Arts and Sciences; Professor Murry Sidlin in the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music; Dr. Sara Thompson in Metropolitan College and Dr. James Zabora in the National Catholic School of Social Service. Mr. Carl Petchik has assumed responsibility for facilities and maintenance as executive director of facilities operations. Mrs. Susan Pervi is now the vice president for student life and has been making some important changes in that area. I have placed the Department of Public Safety under her supervision in that division and have shifted Human Resources and Postal Services from the administrative services area to the Division of Financial Affairs, under the leadership of Vice President Ralph Beaudoin. I want to commend and thank Susan Pervi for her tremendous work on the preparation of our Campus Master Plan, which will be reviewed by the District of Columbia government in February 2003.

I have good news as well as bad news to share about the university budget and finances. The good news is that we have received a clean audit from the auditor, KPMG, and the best management letter related to it in anyone's memory. The auditor spoke to me about a 53-page management letter that was sent to CUA just a few years ago detailing numerous problems and about this year's letter, which was less than a single full page. For this we owe a great deal of gratitude to Ralph Beaudoin, Michelene Sheehy, Susanne De Graba, Angelika Maske and their staffs.

The bad news in this area has been and continues to be the volatility of the stock market. This past year, CUA's endowment decreased in value, with $7.3 million in unrealized and realized losses. As of the end of the second quarter of 2002, the endowment's value was $140.6 million. At its peak, the endowment was $174.5 million. Thus, we have lost $33.9 million in value through June 30, 2002. This drop will eventually reduce the endowment payout to the university by $1.5 million, which, in turn, will reduce the amount that the university has available to spend.

When we read these figures, we might be inclined to respond with great concern. However, it is important to remember that investing in the market is a long-term venture. Over time, in the actual results it has achieved and by comparison with other institutions, CUA has performed incredibly well in the market during difficult economic times.

One obvious conclusion to draw from this news is that CUA needs to increase its level of contributions, both for operations and for capital. Over the past seven years there has been an increasing dependence on market returns to grow the endowment. The focus needs to shift from market returns to new contributions. Institutional advancement — which includes alumni relations, development and fund raising — plays a very important role in accomplishing this shift. Our history in this area bears witness to the need for steady improvement. Working with others, I have tried to improve this university function as much as possible and in a number of concrete ways, not the least of which has been major changes to staff over the past few years in the areas of development, alummi/ae relations and public affairs and my own efforts to contact alumni/ae and prospective donors. And although the annual gifts have increased thanks to combined efforts, they are nowhere near what they need to be for an institution such as ours. Other strategic initiatives are in the planning stages to complement the work that has been done in the past few years. Much more needs to be done. I believe we have a great story to tell and to sell, but we need to do that carefully, sensitively and with a unified, positive effort.

After much thought, consultation and discussion with the provost and all of the academic deans, I have decided to withdraw Catholic University from the Association of American Universities. Rather than summarize the reasons for my decision, I reprint here the letter that I sent to the AAU on October 7:

Dr. Nils Hasselmo
Association of American Universities
1200 New York Avenue, N.W.
Suite 550
Washington, D.C. 20005

Dear Dr. Hasselmo:

The Catholic University of America (CUA) developed and approved an institutional strategic plan in December 2001. The process that preceded the adoption of the strategic plan provided all members of the institution with the occasion to study its past and present accomplishments with a view toward building its future direction as a graduate research institution with a strong undergraduate component both aspects of which emphasized the humanities. It was an intensely gratifying experience that, I believe, mobilized all levels of the university community to embrace the future with vision, courage and enthusiasm.

As you know, CUA was one of the fourteen founding members of the Association of American Universities (AAU) in 1900. Since beginning my service as president of CUA in 1998, I have had the privilege of participating in various meetings of the presidents and chancellors of AAU institutions. I have found the experience both interesting and informative as my colleagues discussed many of the issues that research universities in the United States face in the current academic environment.

In recent years and among other things, AAU has focused upon clarifying criteria for new and continuing membership. The approval and subsequent publication of "AAU Membership Principles" in 1999 and "AAU Membership Indicators" in 2000 provided all of us in AAU with the opportunity to reflect upon our own membership and our place within AAU. Coupled with the efforts of my own institution to engage in a serious process of strategic planning, discussions occurring within AAU have led me to review CUA's continuing membership with members of my administration, including the chief academic officer and all of the university's academic deans.

While all of us believe that CUA is well positioned to fulfill its academic research mission, it has become clear that CUA and the vast majority of AAU institutions are moving forward but on different trajectories. That becomes evident as one studies the various membership indicators that can be identified by both AAU and CUA. Our institutional emphases and energies are different than those of most of our colleague institutions in AAU. As president of CUA, I believe that the university community here must focus its attention on its mission, reflected in those emphases and energies, in a consistent, concentrated and comprehensive manner. For that reason, I write to notify you that CUA will withdraw from membership in AAU, effective October 20 of this year, the date of the beginning of the AAU Fall Membership Meeting.

CUA takes great satisfaction in its long and historic relationship with AAU and in its special role as a founding member. The university will always refer to that relationship and role with much gratitude and pride. I thank you for your personal support and for your efforts to provide quality leadership for this great organization. With every best wish, I am

Sincerely yours,
Very Reverend David M. O'Connell, C.M.

Obviously, I did not make this decision easily. I do not believe, however, that CUA can or should become distracted from the pursuit of its self-determined mission and its own institutional priorities.

Finally, as I write this column, The Washington Post has published news of the U.S. Armed Forces Retirement Home's receipt of a multi-million dollar bid to develop the 49 acres adjacent to our campus. By federal law, Catholic University has the right of first refusal and 60 days to respond with its own bid to acquire the land. I can assure you that this opportunity is one that we are carefully studying, again with a view toward building a future filled with new and exciting possibilities for us and the neighboring community.

I believe that CUA is stable and in a good position to move forward and I hope that the information I have provided gives you some encouragement that the challenges we face together are being addressed in a serious and thoughtful way.