President’s Report

Highlights of the Georgetown University Association of Retired Faculty and Staff (GUARFS) End-of-Year Overview: 2021-22
President’s Report

The planning for GUARFS’ 2021-22 program year began with a widely shared hope among the members of our ExCo that we would be able to return to some version of in-person activities. After a year in which the pandemic had prevented us from holding any events in person, the people involved in planning our fall events initially thought (like so many other Americans) that we might have seen the worst of the pandemic and could get finally back to some version of normality. That proved to be wishful thinking. Even though some of us persisted in hoping that conditions in the fall would allow for us to hold at least some events in person (such as the usual fall luncheon), by the late summer it was clear that was not going to be the case. So until March of 2022 everything we did, including meetings of the ExCo, was conducted online.

Even though the pandemic forced us to carry on the work of GUARFS in a significantly different way, however, it has not diminished the quantity of our programs at all. In fact, one of the more interesting things about this period is that the quantity of our program offerings has actually increased significantly. Other than 4the monthly newsletter, which we began in January of 2021, the most obvious evidence of this development is the monthly series of “special events” we also started early in 2021, both of which have now been extended for another full program year.

I like to think the quality of our programs has remained strong as well. But whatever one thinks about that, it is clear that the expansion of GUARFS’ communications and program initiatives during the pandemic era has been accompanied by significant growth in the number of people who are active (dues paying) members of the organization. Some of those folks no longer live in the DC area, moreover, and we owe their involvement in the life of the organization to the fact that our reliance on zoom technology has enabled our reach to expand in that manner. This is a completely unexpected by-product of the pandemic, and it is almost certainly one that will have a lasting positive effect on organizations of our type.

As we have become accustomed to online programming, it has also become evident, moreover, that the pool of talent available to us for delivering courses and other kinds of events has in principle expanded as well. Previously the assumption was that GUARFS had to rely on people residing in the Washington area for its instructors and other presenters. But that ceased to be the case, of course, once we could go online. We have been slow to grasp the opportunity that presents, but in the past year we have taken a step or two in that direction. It had not occurred to me that we might take advantage of it until a member of the ExCo proposed to me that we ask John Haught (formerly of the theology department) to teach a course for us. She immediately added that she knew he no longer resided in the DC area but did not see why that should prevent us from enlisting his services—which, fortunately, we were able to do. The precedent we set with that course opened our minds, and while we were not able to do much to follow up on it in the year under discussion here, my guess is that in the future GUARFS will be making much more use of the talents of GU retirees who have moved to other places. What a wonderful expansion of the possibilities available to us that is!

The courses offered in the fall were:

  • “Of Beauty and Horror: Literature and Film in Latin America,” taught by Veronica Salles-Reese
  • “Crime and Punishment in the 21st Century,” taught by Judith Lichtenberg
  • “Genes, Brain and Mind,” taught by Joe Neale
  • “Political Islam and Modern Muslim Populism,” taught by John Voll
  • “Three Irish Playwrights,” taught by Michael Collins
  • “The New Cosmic Story and the Meaning of Faith,” taught by John Haught

Our spring offerings were:

  • “Ignatian Discernment in Theory and Practice,” taught by Fr. Brian McDermott, S.J.
  • “Dante’s Commedia,” taught by Frank Ambrosio
  • “Jane Eyre Now,” taught by John Pfordresher
  • “Controversies in Global Business II,” taught by Stanley Nollen
  • “Science, Technology and International Affairs,” taught by Charles Weiss
  • “Putin’s World,” taught by Angela Stent
  • “Mathematics and Climate,” taught by Hans Engler

We had 109 registrations for the fall classes and 168 for the ones offered in the spring—figures that represent a modest increase in our enrollments in past years. This despite the fact that in 2021-2022 we instituted a small increase in the fees charged for these courses. The majority of people taking these courses are still GUARFS members, though we continue to make the courses available to alumni and others who are connected with GU in one way or another. My hunch is that we could attract a much larger number of alumni to these courses if we were prepared to market them more aggressively to that part of the GU community.

I want to single out Veronica Salles-Reese for special commendation here because as the coordinator of our “Learning Community” program she has done a truly outstanding job. I think I speak for all the members of the ExCo when I say that her willingness to take on that assignment just as we were beginning to learn how to cope with the challenges posed by COVID has been a godsend. Not only has she steadfastly been highly dedicated to the task, but she has had the technical skills to make possible a smooth transition to online learning as well.

In 2021-22 we continued to hold an ongoing series of “special events” designed to meet the needs and interests of our membership. This part of our program included online presentations (one each month during the program year) and, finally, a single in person gathering. The latter took place in March 2022 at the Glenstone Museum in Potomac, Maryland. The others featured the following topics:

  • “The Kennedy Institute of Ethics: Past, Present and Future”
    Daniel Sulmasy, current Director of the Institute
  • “Reflections on the 2020 Census”
    Robert Groves, GU Provost & former director of the US Census Bureau
  • “White Space, Black Hood”
    Sheryll Cashin, Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Law, Civil Rights & Social Justice, GU Law Center
  • “GU’s Role in the District of Columbia Today”
    Christopher Murphy, Vice President for Government Relations & Community
    Engagement, and Heidi Tseu, Associate Vice President for Local Government & Community Engagement
  • “Child Development Revisited: All the Things We Thought We Knew”
    Diane M. Jacobstein, Clinical Psychologist and Associate Professor of Pediatrics,
    GU Center for Child & Human Development
  • “Meaningful Philanthropy”
    Mindy S. Bopp, Executive Director of Planned Giving

These events have not always been as well attended as we hoped, but I don’t think I am alone in thinking they still have value—and not just for the information they provide about the topics they address (some of which have to do directly with GU itself). They also enable GUARFS to be a more active presence in the lives of its members, and I suspect they are one of the reasons why our membership has steadily grown in the period since their inception. As of this writing we are now up to 144 dues paying members, which represents an increase of almost 50% in the course of the past program year.

As we approached the end of the calendar year (2021) we confronted the same problem we had faced the previous year with respect to the GUARFS tradition of holding a holiday party in December, and we handled that problem in the same manner as we did in 2020. The party was held online, with the program consisting of a series of prepared contributions, games and multiple opportunities for the participants to chat in “breakout groups.” Suzanne Bronheim played the host, and the program highlights included a presentation on the careers of famous GU alums by Prof. Anthony Arend, current chairman of the Department of Government, and a taped greeting from the Provost. Another person who deserves special mention here is Charles Leonhardt from the staff of GU Information Services, who has provided tech support for our public events, including all the meetings of our courses and the special events. He has consistently provided that support in a way that has been invaluable to GUARFS, and he has dealt with all the various people involved in these events with grace and courtesy, including even the ones (like yours truly) whose tech skills are rudimentary at best.

An additional reason for the increase in membership we have experienced is surely the continuation (and refinement) of the new communications strategy we instituted at the start of 2021, under the capable leadership of Suzanne Bronheim. In saying that I mean above all to refer to the online newsletter, which is now provided to all living GU retirees (a number now exceeding 800). But I also have in mind the other online messages we now send out regularly to that same audience—messages that include reminders of upcoming events, along with information about registration procedures. All that has greatly helped in getting the word out about our various program offerings, and on the whole we have been quite satisfied with the results of our efforts in this regard. So in the main we have just kept on doing the things we started doing back in January of 2021. The only change we have made in our communications strategy during the past program year is that early in 2022 we decided to recast the newsletter as an every other month publication. None of this would have been possible, I want to add, without the staff support the Provost has generously provided us in the person of Jaeidah Reed (a member of his team), who succeeded Chioma Okoyeigwe in that role in the fall. Both Jaeidah and Chioma have proved to be vital assets in the development of our online communications.

For some time now the Provost has underwritten a set of research grants for retired GU faculty that is administered by GUARFS, and that is yet another way in which that office has contributed significantly to the ability of this organization to serve the needs of its members. We now have a committee that oversees the review of applications, and John Pierce, the secretary of our ExCo, chairs that committee and takes primary responsibility for organizing the application process. This past year we recommended to the Provost that eight of the applications be funded (for 2021-22), and in the spring we added another four (for 2022-23).

The officers of the GUARFS ExCo are elected for two year terms, and the terms of the current groups officers were due to expire in May of 2022. Anticipating that development, I appointed a nominating committee that had the task of coming up with a new slate of officers for the 2022-2024 period. The committee was chaired by John Pierce and had Bill Licamele and Veronica Salles-Reese as members. The committee was expected not only to fill the positions occupied by the four officers but also to inquire about the willingness of the other members of the ExCo to continue serving. When the committee reported back to the ExCo in November, it indicated that most all of the other ExCo members were prepared to continue serving, including the current secretary (John Pierce) and the treasurer (Mary Ann Mahin), and the committee put in nomination for president the name of the current VP (Suzanne Bronheim) and for vice-president (Stanley Nollen). Those recommendations were unanimously approved by the ExCo. Just before those actions were taken, the sitting Events Coordinator, Virginia Flavin, submitted her resignation, and a few months later she was replaced by Kevin Conroy on the recommendation of the nominating committee.

For some time now GUARFS has been a member of the Association of Retirement Organizations in Higher Education, which is a national body designed to promote collaboration among organizations like GUARFS. AROHE holds a national convention on every odd-numbered year, and GUARFS has often had representation at that event. Like so many other events, the 2021 AROHE convention had to be held online (in October), and that enabled several of the members of our ExCo to participate at one point or another. I think we all found the experience enlightening, and the thing in particular that was instructive to me was the large number of these organizations that now exist across the country. That and the magnitude of some of them. I attended one panel, for example, on which some of the speakers came from schools where the retiree organization is a big operation, with thousands of members, paid full time staff and elaborate on campus facilities. The schools in that category tend to be large state universities, but it was eye-opening to hear about the scope of the programs maintained by their retiree organizations.

In the past few years another such collaborative body has also been created by the representatives of retiree organizations in Jesuit Colleges and Universities in this country. It’s a working group of the AJSU—the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities—and we have been well represented in that body by Bill Licamele, who has actually taken a lead role on a couple of their projects.

Bill has also been the prime mover behind a new GUARFS initiative that is just beginning to get off the ground. At his urging we have now created a “faculty ambassadors” program in collaboration with the Alumni Association. The idea is to identify retired faculty who would be willing to give talks to alumni groups on subjects of interest to them and then to make those names available to the organizers of such groups throughout the country. In the conversation about this project in the ExCo it was observed that the availability of platforms for online meetings (zoom, etc.) will make it much easier to arrange such events than it previously would have been. At Bill’s initiative we have begun to identity faculty who would be willing to offer such presentations The current number is small, but hopefully there will be more—and more–people as this project unfolds.

Finally, I want to report a change that has recently been made in our business procedures. At the urging of Mary Anne Mahin, our treasurer, the ExCo agreed to change the dates for the organization’s fiscal year. Starting this year, it began on July 1 and will end on June 30 (2023) instead of May 1-April 30. This puts us in conformity with what is now standard practice at GU.

As this report is being finalized, we have finally been able to hold in person another of the end-of-year cluster of events GUARFS has been used to holding in past years. I refer to the special mass honoring new retirees as well as those retirees who have died in the past year followed by a luncheon sponsored by the President’s office. The pandemic has prevented us from holding these events in the last couple of years, but after careful consideration, we decided to return to the old practice this year. In part this was because the luncheon could be held outdoors under tents. The appointed day turned out to be a lovely one, and both the mass and the luncheon were well attended—over 60 people. But we decided not to hold the business meeting that has usually accompanied the luncheon because we thought that holding that event separately online (at a later date) would enable GUARFS members living elsewhere to take part. It remains to be seen whether that this will be an experiment worth that is repeating in the years ahead.

R.Bruce Douglass

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