Seventeen remarkable institutions across the United States represent the Mercy mission in higher education



Strategic Plan

Read the complete text of Strategic Plan in the CMHE Vision 2020 document:

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At the June 2014 meeting of the Conference for Mercy Higher Education Board, the Directors witnessed the advent of a reconfigured Board, inclusive of key Sponsor Council responsibilities, and stable CMHE financial reports as a result of office relocation and reduction in staff hours. Given these developments, the CMHE Board determined the development of a new strategic plan was in order. To guide this grant-supported work, the Directors engaged the consulting services of Marisa Guerin, PhD and participated in a series of planning discussions beginning in September 2014.

During numerous fall 2014 discussions, the CMHE Directors focused on the importance of delineating (1) the actual requirements of the sponsorship relationship—that is, the obligations and responsibilities that the CMHE Board must fulfill and the obligations and responsibilities that the member institutions must engage to help secure the sponsorship relationship i.e. the “institutional” realities of sponsorship; and (2) the possibilities for collaboration, programming, and services that are in response to the needs and opportunities evident in the Mercy higher education network i.e. the “prophetic” dimensions of sponsorship. Given these delineations, the Board deemed it essential that the Presidents of Mercy colleges and universities also engage in preliminary planning discussions—both singly and collectively. The Executive Director and Chair of the CMHE Board visited (or are making plans to visit) each president on his/her campus to discuss these issues, and the Presidents Council as an whole engaged in facilitated discussions at the Council’s annual meeting in Washington, DC (January 2015). Furthermore, the Executive Director and CMHE Board Chair visited the local community leadership teams and met with the President of the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas to garner the input of the Sisters of Mercy at both the local and national levels.

This document presents what the CMHE Board has identified as the given institutional realities in the sponsorship relationship with each college or university, and what the CMHE Board recognizes as the possibilities for animation, advocacy, and invitation in collaboration with the Presidents Council and other entities within the network of Mercy higher education—the prophetic elements that ensure the educating mission of the Church and the animating spirit of Catherine McAuley continue through the ministry of Mercy higher education. The CMHE Directors are energized and hopeful for the Mercy mission-centric future of member colleges and universities and the collaborative ways in which the CMHE Board, the Presidents Council, the Sisters of Mercy, and the local boards of member institutions will both animate and advocate for Mercy’s distinct future in American higher education.

Mission and Value Proposition of the Conference for Mercy Higher Education

Until a short memory ago, the Mercy colleges and universities in the United States were led, managed, and staffed in majority by Sisters of Mercy. As the number of religious sisters has declined sharply over the past 40 years, the Sisters have addressed the dilemma of sustaining the values they imparted through their vast educational system. One of the ways the Sisters of Mercy sought to sustain the Mercy tradition and values within the lineage of the Roman Catholic tradition was through the establishment of the Conference for Mercy Higher Education in 2002.

The Conference is situated at the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy offices in Silver Spring, Maryland. Staffed by a full-time Executive Director (Moya K. Dittmeier, EdD) and a part-time assistant (Rita Waters, RSM). CMHE is a national organization bringing 16 Mercy colleges and universities into a common network and providing oversight for the sponsorship relationship between the Sisters of Mercy and the institutions they founded and continue to support. Because of this unique sponsorship function, and the canonical implications that this function implies, the Conference is distinct in the circles of faith-based education—other associations and conferences exist for mutual support and collaboration apart from the reserved powers and other responsibilities implicit in the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy serving as the Public Juridic Person, a canonical designation, for the member institutions.

The Conference’s relationship to its 16 member institutions (15 full members and one associate member) is unique and based upon relationships that previously existed on the local level, before the consolidation of the Sisters of Mercy communities nation-wide. In most instances, the Conference functions as the Member of the Corporation, with corresponding reserved powers. CMHE approves the appointments of presidents and members of the local institutional boards for the majority of the member institutions, as well as changes related to the mission and philosophy of the institution. The Conference also has the responsibility to approve borrowing in excess of the limit set by the Holy See at most institutions. Whether or not CMHE approves the borrowing, however, the Conference is responsible for debt at all institutions, and the Sisters of Mercy currently have a Vatican indult for an aggregate debt ceiling of $500 million for CMHE.

In addition to the reserved powers and issues of sponsorship, the Conference has offered mission-related programs that stem from sponsor accountabilities or offer value-added to the member institutions. With respect to value-added offerings, students attended four-day programs focused on the global concerns of Mercy at the United Nations in 2009, 2011 and 2014; a DC Justice Immersion program was offered in May 2012 for 41 students from nine participating colleges and universities and the same program is now in the planning stages for August 2015. Since 2007, three symposia around issues related to Catholic, Mercy higher education have been held at various campuses and have brought faculty and administrators from across the network of Mercy higher education together for intense discussion and sharing of best practices. CMHE also plans annual meetings of the mission officers, the chief academic officers, and the Mercy Presidents Council. With respect to programs arising from sponsor accountabilities, a mission program for senior leaders and board members has been developed and offered twice at the national level, with plans for annual local and national offerings to be held in alternating years. In addition, a decennial mission peer review process for each of our institutions is underway, with four reviews conducted since fall 2012. In addition to these activities, a “dashboard” of indicators of the financial health of Mercy colleges and universities is now compiled annually; these “dashboards,” integral to the CMHE Board’s decision and approvals processes, inform the Directors of potential issues and trends with respect to the financial realities at member institutions.

Member Benefits

More generally, the Conference sees the following as member benefits:

• recognition of the member college/university as a Catholic institution that is sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas (the public ecclesiastical juridical person);

• fulfillment of reserved powers requests according to the bylaws of each member institution;

• sustainment and strengthening of mission through the Mission Self-Study and Peer Review Visit in conjunction with the institution’s decennial accreditation visit;

• orientation and formation of new senior leaders and board members with respect to the Mercy mission in the Catholic Intellectual Tradition and the Critical Concerns of the Sisters of Mercy in light of higher education;

• overview of the financial health of each institution vis-à-vis its peers within CMHE through the annual review, Dashboard of Financial Health indicators;

• forums for professors to explore the intellectual richness of Mercy teaching and learning through national symposia and through publication of related scholarly papers in peer reviewed journals;

• timely updates on important issues concerning the Sisters of Mercy, the Catholic Church, and member universities and colleges;

• opportunities for collaborative efforts, namely, shared research and grant writing and the cultivation of foundations in support of the work of Mercy higher education.

Sponsor Obligations

The Conference also has obligations as a sponsorship entity for the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, the ecclesial public juridic person for the member institutions. As this entity, CMHE is obligated to:

• act on behalf of and on a delegated basis for the Public Juridic Person of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas to confer and confirm Catholic and Mercy identity on the member institutions;

• ensure fidelity to the Mercy charism;

• exercise the governance reserved powers according to specific institutional documents which may include: appointments of presidents, appointments of board members, approval of debt according to canonical limits, and approval of changes in the mission or philosophy;

• assure mission and fiduciary/stewardship responsibilities through method(s) of accountability review and take subsequent action when necessary.

• engage member institutions in areas related to a broader understanding of Mercy mission and Catholic Identity in higher education, both locally and globally.

• provide validation and credibility for the Catholic identity of its member institutions;

• respect subsidiarity.

Priority Issues

Given the above needs assessment and the multiple conversations that have taken place over the past nine months, the CMHE Board identifies the following as planning priority issues:

Advocate—decide how to face the world, what impact can be made because of who Mercy higher education is, in concert with the Institute Leadership and the Presidents Council; clarify organizational documents, structures, processes, roles, policies to reflect the current reality in which the CMHE Board now holds the full delegate powers of the sponsors, and ascertain the understanding of each president and respective board with respect to the reserved powers and the sponsor-relationship.

Animate — develop and enhance programs that promote an understating of the Mercy mission, particularly with respect to the formation of presidents, senior leaders, and trustees; identify a development model for CMHE that will ensure its future, including fund development and the continued advancement of the Mercy mission; develop and enhance programs and other key initiatives that foster the Mercy mission on campuses.

Invite – with the endorsement of the Presidents Council, continue the development of and support for affinity groups to reinforce the Mercy mission; extend an invitation to all who wish to learn more about the Mercy mission in higher education and offer programs and presentations on an annual basis and as need is determined; develop and strengthen well-qualified candidates, particularly women who wish to advance as leaders in Mercy higher education; seek to communicate at all levels and across all interest groups and constituencies with the Conference.

Action Matrix for Recommendations of Strategic Planning Task Forces - TBD

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Vision 2020: Animation, Advocacy, and Invitation