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He has also had to grapple with the increasingly strident public opposition to the Catholic Church's stance on same-sex marriage, contraception and clergy abuse, drawing fire from R-74 supporters last spring when he defended the amendment to R-74 that exempts religiously affiliated schools from having to accommodate same-sex weddings. “[It] protects us from having to make our chapels available for same-sex marriages. To require us to utilize them for this purpose would violate our identity and commitment as a Catholic University,” he said.
In spite of the harsh criticism he endured, Sundborg emerged from those crises with his reputation untarnished, a testament to his resilience and fortitude.
Sundborg is upbeat too about SU’s ability to leverage jobs for its graduates and contribute to the region’s economy during a time of recession. Increasing SU's emphasis on STEM disciplines, he says, will help graduates compete in an increasingly competitive workforce. “We’ve weathered the economic downturn well," Sundborg said. "A lot of people want to come to Seattle, and we’re situated right in the middle of the city."
Not one to ignore economic realities, Sundborg acknowledges the financial hurdles faced by the university’s 7,484 graduate and undergraduate students. “The hardest challenge is to make our education affordable to students and to their families through our own reductions in costs and through generous financial aid,” he said. “I am very optimistic because of how financially sound a university we are.”
In spite of the economic recession, SU students have been successful landing jobs in nursing, sciences, criminal justice, finance, and communications, though Sundborg acknowledged that college of education graduates have had a tougher time landing jobs.
Job placement for SU's business and economics program, the Albers School of Business, has been particularly high. “Last June, 88 percent of our undergraduates were placed within three months of graduation," says Joe Phillips, Albers' dean. "Our accounting and finance majors are getting the most offers. They have been finding jobs with larger employers such as Boeing, Paccar and Russell.” The reputation of the Albers School is reflected in some well-known alumni like Stan McNaughton, CEO of PEMCO, Dan Wall, senior vice president at Expeditors and Michelle Burris, executive vice president and CFO of OncoGenex Pharmaceuticals.
Sundborg gets high marks by the faculty. “He’s done a terrific job inspiring people,” said Phillips. “People trust him and want to do well by him. He’s set a great tone for our campus, faculty and staff. He has been supportive of the business school.”
That sentiment is borne out by Seattle civic and educational leaders like Washington State University President Emeritus Sam Smith. “When I was chair of the NCAA Presidents Commission and president of the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges, I got to meet most of the presidents in the U.S. There is no question but that Steve is in the top 5 to10 percent as far as leadership and accomplishments,” Smith said. “Keep in mind this is looking at all universities big and small."
Phyllis Campbell, Chairman of Pacific Northwest JPMorgan Chase & Company, shares Sundborg’s optimism about Seattle University’s future. “Steve Sundborg is one of the remarkable educational leaders of his generation. He leads from his deep inner core, informed by his Jesuit training. There is no accident that Seattle University and its students have a well-developed ethos of social justice and commitment to community. We are truly lucky that he has chosen to stay on over 16 years as the leader of Seattle University.”
Asked what his long-term goals are, Sundborg sounds a familiar drum beat. “I would especially want to leave a legacy of having strengthened and secured for the future the Jesuit mission of Seattle University. I want to have led us confidently into an era of leadership of non-Jesuits of our mission. I am proudest of fostering the mission of founding the Seattle University Youth Initiative and building a great campus for a great educational mission.”
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