Fr. Poorman delivers annual convocation: 'There is cause for hope and optimism'

By Gabi DiPaulo | August 28, 2019 9:38pm

Fr. Poorman addresses changes, achievements and shortcomings in his convocation address.

Media Credit: Brennan Crowder / The Beacon

In recent years, the university president’s annual convocation speech to faculty and staff has been a platform for announcing goals and policy changes. This year was different. 

President Fr. Mark Poorman’s speech on Tuesday served more as a pause, a reflection on the university’s recent accomplishments, especially in light of challenges facing both higher education institutions and the Catholic Church. 

“Despite the obstacles we face, despite the challenges that go along with being a smaller, Catholic, tuition-dependent, liberal arts institution, I am convinced that the University of Portland is as strong today as it has ever been in its proud, 118-year old history,” Poorman said.

Poorman spoke with pride of UP’s recent achievements, including: 

  • UP currently holds the highest total undergraduate graduation rate among all four-year colleges and universities in Oregon.

  • Forty percent of the university’s undergraduate population identified as persons of color in 2018, up by 14% since 2010.

  • A 12:1 student-faculty ratio in 2019, down from 14:1 in 2015.

  • Ranked ninth in the country producing Peace Corps volunteers of universities this size.

  • An average student-athlete GPA of 3.28 in Spring of 2019.

  • 77% of student-athletes had a GPA of 3.0 or better in spring of 2019. 

  • The latest NCAA Graduation Success Rate was 97%.

  • Campus Ministry Hall Retreats include more than 350 students yearly.

These successes are observed in the face of challenging times for many other institutes of higher education. Universities of similar size and demographics to UP have endured budget cuts, scandals, program eliminations and faculty layoffs

“But there is cause for hope and optimism,” Poorman said.

Poorman turned towards the future, expressing confidence in the university’s future reaccreditation. He mentioned significant curricular changes that will be presented to the Academic Senate, designed to bring coherence to the liberal arts core curriculum and shift a campus-wide apathy towards core classes. Poorman also discussed the success of the strategic plan “Vision 2020,” which will be culminating at the end of the UP 2020 calendar year.

Poorman paused to acknowledge the unique struggles the Catholic Church is facing. Many Catholic universities have seen a sharp decrease in applications, which Poorman attributed not only to the clergy sex abuse scandal but also to a decline in Catholic identity, citing a steep decrease in Catholic baptisms and enrollment in Catholic high schools in the US. Poorman told the crowd gathered in the Buckley Auditorium that to endure these challenges, the UP community must remain focused on the university’s mission by leaning into its Catholic identity.

“This challenge should not prompt us to retreat from our religious identity,” Poorman said. “Rather, it is a call for us to embrace those things that are so important and so essential to our faith: the dignity of the human person; the call to family, community, and participation; the protection of human rights and the most vulnerable, including the poor, the dispossessed, the elderly, and the unborn; care for God’s creation; and, solidarity with others regardless of their differences.”

Poorman also took time to honor several UP staff members for their work behind the scenes of The Bluff, including:

  • Craig Swinyard and the team of the Office of Alumni & Parents Relations, for coordinating and adapting the Junior Parents and Families Weekend, as well as establishing regional alumni chapters across the United States.

  • Kirk Mustain, the general manager of Bon Appetit, for providing food service to students and faculty on The Bluff for 28 years.

  • Sergeant Michael Kranyak and Sara Westbrook of Public Safety, for continuously providing a “calming presence to people in need.”

  • Kevin White, the turf manager of Merlo Field who has ensured that the Pilots play on the “best field in all of college soccer.”

Poorman concluded the convocation with a challenge to the audience. 

“Today, I offer a commendation on a job performed magnificently and a challenge that we all do more,” Poorman said. “When we work together and channel the creativity, the intellectual resources, and the drive that exist at the University of Portland, amazing things can, and will, happen.”

The full speech can be found here.

Gabi DiPaulo is the Living editor for The Beacon. She can be reached at