PRESIDENT'S INAUGURATION SPEECH
October 13, 2012
Chairman Nolan; College Trustees; Bishop Hubbard; all Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet; stage party; faculty; staff; administrators; students; delegates; community representatives; friends and most dearly, family:
Thank you all for being here. Before I go any further, I want to thank the many dozens of volunteers from the College who have worked for months to make this day happen. Led by Mike D’Attilio, this day and the events of this week are the products of their work.
Thank you to the previous speakers for your kind words. However, I am fairly sure that there are some in the audience who take issue with these same speakers. They would appreciate a story Mark Twain reported in his autobiography about his barn-storming, lecture circuit days in the 1860’s. According to Twain, he was once introduced – very reluctantly – in a California mining town in this fashion: “I don’t know anything about this man. At least, I only know two things: one is, he hasn’t been in the penitentiary, and the other (after a pause and almost sadly), I don’t know why.”
I am truly honored and blessed to be standing in front of you today. Forty-three years ago when my parents dropped me off for my first day of college, I could never have imagined that I would have the privilege to speak to you today as the ninth President of The College of Saint Rose.
And, Katie, as my favorite author would surely say if he were still with us: “And so it goes.”
Among academics, there is a saying that we all “stand on the shoulders of giants.” Listening to Sr. Ann Christi, we are immediately reminded of this. I now stand on the shoulders of our Founders. Bishop Hubbard’s comments, moreover, remind us of the critical role played by the Diocese when, in spring of 1919, Monsignor Joseph Delaney approached Sister Blanche Rooney of the Troy Province of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet requesting the establishment of a Catholic women’s college in Albany. Classes began on September 22, 1920 with 19 students and 8 faculty. Today, we have some 4,600 students and 900 employees, including 209 full-time faculty members.
My presidency has been preceded by eight presidents – more shoulders and more giants! On the stage today are my two immediate predecessors – each of whom has contributed significantly and undeniably to the vitality of The College of Saint Rose. Please join me in recognizing Presidents Mark Sullivan and Louis Vaccaro.
I stand on the shoulders of many faculty giants. I learned the craft of teaching at Alfred University from the likes of Frank Duserick, the late Bob Hutter, and my good friend, Mike Mogavero who has joined us today. At Saint Rose, I never cease to be amazed by the steadfast commitment which faculty make to the teaching-learning process. Dr. Mark Ledbetter’s comments about academic excellence being at the heart of our shared vision speak to this commitment. Our faculty, moreover, engages constructively and collegially in the important work of shared governance. Thank you Mike and Mark for your kind words and your presence today.
Similarly, I have been most fortunate to work with skilled academic leaders – Rick Ott, Susan Strong, and Charley Edmondson and many others from Alfred who were mentors and role models; and, certainly Mark Sullivan and Cabinet members, Deans, and Department Chairs over the past eight years – many of whom are here today. Indeed, I have the good fortune of working with a talented group of staff and administrators from across the College. All contribute unselfishly to realizing our mission.
All of us stand on the shoulders of giants from our personal lives. These individuals enrich and sustain. Thank you to the friends of Susie’s and me who have travelled to Albany from near and far to be with us today. One of the things that attracted us to Saint Rose was the strong sense of community we encountered here back in 2004. For us, coming to Saint Rose was like coming home. As another circle of life opens, I am pleased that three of my lifelong friends “from home” are here: Bill Dimmer (from Florida), John Karnes (from Kentucky) and Mark Gregory (from Georgia). The four of us attended grade school and high school together, both with the Sisters of Saint Joseph! Bill, John and I also attended and graduated from college together. Thank you guys for being here.
My family represents the ultimate in terms of “standing on the shoulders of giants”. Here today are my wife, Susan, my daughter Kate; my mother Ann and brothers, Bob, Dick and Paul. My sister Lynn is unable to be here due to health reasons, but she and my brother-in-law Dave are here in spirit. Also here are my sister-in-law Claudia and my nephew, David Giambrone and his wife Missy, and my niece Marissa Giambrone and her fiancée Chris Peters. Could all of you please stand and be recognized.
My mother has always been a rock in our lives – she had to be with five kids in the house by the time she was in her mid-20’s, including four rather active boys. She was always there for us growing up – going to the ball games and dance recitals; cooking late meals; giving us rides to this and that; and, managing our household – all while working many years as a nurse and while caring for our grandmother. As an undergraduate student, when I had a problem or felt down, I knew that I only needed to stick a quarter in the telephone – yes, we did that once – and my mood and perspective would be brightened after speaking with my mother. I can’t tell you how happy I am that she is here today. Thank you Ma.
My father, Robert, was truly a giant with big shoulders. At his funeral a decade or so ago, I described him as a big man, with a big laugh and even bigger heart. My opinion of him has not changed since. I feel his presence today – in fact, I feel it every day. He taught me through example the importance of work ethic; of resilience; of forgiveness; of humor; of patience; of finding some good in everyone. I thank him for these life lessons.
As I start the next leg of my life journey, I do so with my wife Susie and our daughter Kate. For 34 plus years, Susie has loved, supported, partnered, and kept me on track – through thick and thin. She has done so, while also maintaining a very successful career which, currently, finds her as Administrator at the Sisters of Saint Joseph Provincial House in Latham. I know that Susie will be a vital and dynamic leader in the life of this College. She is already on her way to making her mark in this regard.
You have heard from our daughter Kate and what can I say! Her passion for life, for friends, for causes, for politics, for doing the right thing; for riding horses and watching ice hockey; for reintroducing me to Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, the Beatles and Van Morrison; for recommending good books – and much more – all sustain us. I can recall watching Katie play outside of the window of my office at Alfred University when she was attending Montessori school and years later, handing her a diploma as she graduated from Alfred. Here we are again sharing a stage! It can’t get any better. Now with a law degree already in hand, she is but a dissertation defense away from a Ph.D. (easy for me to say, I know.) Katie, thank you for your remarks. We are so very proud of you.
Now in the fourth month as President, I am comfortable stating that my responsibilities boil down a few key items:
•As Danielle Serrano’s remarks suggest, I have a responsibility to be among the students – to listen, to communicate, to be responsive. I also have the responsibility – the moral obligation – to put students first by nurturing rigorous academic experiences; providing opportunities for developing their intellectual, creative and spiritual development; and for providing a supportive and safe living-learning environment. To the students here today, we start together! I ask that you stop me on the green or in the Camelot Room and tell me how you are doing; share your thoughts and ideas, and challenge me to live up to the high expectations that you hold for Saint Rose. I just may stop you too and ask you to tell me about your favorite course; your goals, or how that party in the dorm was the other night.
•For anyone connected to the College, I need to earn your trust, your allegiance, your confidence and your commitment. Your warmth and kindness expressed to me today heartens me as we begin to move into the future together.
•For alumni, I have responsibility to make each of your proud of our College. We are fortunate to have 36,000 alumni who are, as Denise DiNoto described, united in their dedication and devotion to their alma mater. Vice President for Institutional Advancement Karin Carr, of course, is convinced that I will meet each of these 36,000 alums individually by this Halloween.
•Two of my primary responsibilities – working with the Board – include: stewardship of the College – assuring our financial viability as an outstanding institution for the long term; and, to continue our commitment to academic excellence. I have to state that these two responsibilities are inherently and inextricably joined!
•I believe that leaders have a responsibility to shape and articulate vision and to inspire, engage and activate others to buy into that vision.
Thus, since today is an occasion for the Saint Rose Community to reflect, re-connect and re-affirm, I believe our responsibility is one of maximizing the potential of our students. Let’s always be cognizant of and responsive to their changing needs and their aspirations. Let’s always put our students first.
Note that this is a collective responsibility – a shared trust. Matt Bertinetti, a member of my transition team and Manager of our Custodial and Grounds Services, put it this way recently: our success depends not on a “what’s in it for me” mindset, but rather “what’s in it for us.”
This is the Saint Rose Difference. We strive and thrive as a community.
I have the responsibility – as does every college president – to make the case for higher education. This case includes preparation for a job and career, of course! But our purpose is about so much more. Through a commitment to the liberal arts and the humanities, we are about developing multiple ways of seeing and of knowing – believing that this is the pathway from information to knowledge and ultimately, to wisdom, thus ennobling our lives and the lives of others.
Our graduates should have the capacity of what psychologist and Nobel Laureate in Economics Daniel Kahneman has described as “slow thinking” – or discernment and reflection as defining characteristics of how we make decisions.
We are about developing an understanding of community and, more importantly, the ability to contribute to community through service and mutual respect. We are about developing aesthetic sensitivities. We are about speaking truth to power. Our diplomas are not commodities. They signify preparation and capacity for leading a good life.
I believe there is a false dichotomy playing out right now across the land – in our politics, media and living rooms - about the value of higher education. Are we about career preparation or developing a deeper set of intellectual capacities? The fact is that we should be about both and, importantly, the ability of our graduates to have productive careers is directly defined by these deeper and broader capacities. In their recent book, That Used to Be Us, Tom Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum provide a succinct answer to the question of what are employers looking for: “They are looking for workers who can think critically, who can tackle non-routine complex tasks, and who can work collaboratively with teams located in their office or globally.”
I believe, and most employers would agree, with what Adam Falk, President of Williams College has recently written about what really matters in higher education: “the set of deeper abilities to write effectively, argue persuasively, and solve problems creatively.” We need to stay focused on what really matters.
In this vein, I agree with Alexander Solzhenitsyn who wrote, “The sole substitute for an experience we have not lived through is art and literature.” We should heed this advice. This theme was echoed by the editors of the magazine America just last month who wrote: “If democracy is to thrive, all who qualify should have access to four years of higher education which would include the liberal arts, the standard core of literature, history, philosophy, mathematics and sciences.”
Why is this important? Why might I appear to many of you as obsessed with this point? We cannot afford to lose faith in the power of education to provide the next generation with the skills and knowledge needed to survive in an increasingly complex world. The cure for cancer is still in the future. The next great American novelist is still in the future. The next scientific development to deal with the looming calamity of global warming is still in the future. To abandon this robust view of higher education now abandons our common future as global citizens and shortchanges our students. My vision here is simple: we should be a beacon of the intrinsic power of a liberal arts based education to effect positive change in a global society.
In doing so, we must commit to academic excellence achieved through innovation and collaboration. Our long term viability in what is and will be a brutally competitive and unforgiving industry is ultimately tied to our capacity to offer high quality academic experiences. We need to compete on the basis of quality. We will achieve the next level of academic excellence by enhancing our “high impact educational practices” – practices demonstrated to represent impactful teaching and learning including: learning communities; writing-intensive courses; collaborative assignments and projects; undergraduate research; diversity; global learning; service learning; interdisciplinary study; internships; and capstone courses. We need to make such active learning the hallmark of our academic programs.
Allow me to say just a bit more about the concept of academic excellence. As Michael Brannigan, our Pfaff Chair of Ethics and Moral Values wrote recently in one of his Albany Times Union columns, “excellence is its own reward.” Professor Brannigan is telling us that striving for and achieving excellence affirms the human condition and defines our potential – individually and collectively.
As we go forward, we will also reaffirm our mission as an Engaged Urban Campus. The heritage of this College is one of service – a direct embodiment of the “dear neighbor” philosophy of our Founders. In his inaugural address, former President Mark Sullivan said that our campus “never had walls and never will”. He was right on both counts. Thank you Mayor Jennings, Mayor McDonald, Senator Breslin and Assemblyman McEneny for reaffirming the value of our partnerships, and for modeling public service as honorable and important work in a democratic society. And thank you each for being here today.
•We will continue to work with our neighbors and the City of Albany to help anchor the Pine Hills Neighborhood. Our faculty and staff will continue to develop productive partnerships across the region; to offer service trips to Washington D.C., Florida, Louisiana, Honduras and the like. We will look to engage our alumni on a platform of community service, thus reinforcing our shared ethic of the “dear neighbor.” Our ethic of social responsibility includes a continuing commitment to achieve best practices as a sustainable, carbon-neutral campus.
•Be assured that our partnerships will be intentional, strategic and consistent with prudent risk management practices and always aligned with mission – always with the intent of providing students with rigorous learning experiences.
Given the realities of competition and change, we will continue to diversify our academic programs and our markets.
In the last 10 years, we have added new programs such as criminal justice, forensic science, forensic psychology, economics and just recently a new MFA program in creative writing. We are actively planning a doctoral program in Communication Sciences and Disorders, as well as a new Masters in Higher Education Leadership. We have gone from having no online courses to more than 70 on-line or hybrid courses in an average semester.
What priorities are ahead in this regard?
•We must and will continue to diversify our mix of degree and certificate programs – especially at the graduate level. We will do so “where mission meets market” and where we have the capacity to leverage our core competencies.
•We must and will diversify enrollment to increase the amount of students coming from out-of-state and from abroad. I had the opportunity to visit two colleges in Taiwan earlier this summer to explore partnership ideas. I returned with two conclusions: 1) there is much opportunity for expanding international enrollment and exchange, and 2) we have a lot of catching up to do. We have, since July 1, launched aggressive international recruitment efforts with the goal of quadrupling international student enrollment in the next three years. Someone recently advised me that this is a naïve and overly audacious goal. Let’s not fear audacity! Let’s follow the lead of former President Lou Vaccaro - an early champion of international recruitment and exchange - and get on with the work of globalizing our programs.
•While we have made very significant strides in diversifying our student population, we will continue to treat this goal as a priority while simultaneously nurturing an environment of inclusiveness where all have an opportunity to excel.
•We must and will develop and expand alternative learning options. For example, we need to look squarely in the eye at Massive Open, On-Line Courses – MOOCs – and ask – what can these do for us? We need to creatively leverage the power of technology consistent with our mission. While we are and will be anchored firmly in our Pine Hills Neighborhood, both our market reach and the very quality of what we do can be extended as a function of technology and imagination.
To achieve our mission, to live our dream, we must continue investing in people – recognizing the importance of recruiting, retaining and supporting talented faculty, staff and administrators critical to our mission.
Faculty represent our core and as such are the key to achieving the “next level” of academic excellence. We need to continue to commit to hiring faculty with both the credentials in their field and the passion for teaching and mentoring students.
We will develop and implement a plan for funding chairs and lectureships, as well as for visiting scholars, creative writers, artists, professional residencies, and curricular innovation. We will not allow short term economic realities to limit our long term aspirations.
For faculty, staff and administrators, we need to provide a quality work environment, fair compensation, and opportunities for advancement and professional development. We also have more work to do to diversify the ranks of faculty, administrators and staff.
Finally, we must deal with the twin issues of affordability and accessibility, as do most if not all colleges and universities.
Perhaps no problem is more vexing than addressing the reality that college is increasingly unaffordable for many.
We know that federal and state governments, the media and, most importantly, families are concerned with the cost of college and rising student debt! Public anxiety over the cost of college is higher than ever. This anxiety has only been exacerbated by the deep recession of 2007 - 2009 – and its long-lingering aftermath.
Our ability to realize our mission as a tuition-driven institution is and will be predicated by our ability to address the issue of affordability head on.
What can we do?
•As noted in my first priority, we need to better define and communicate our value proposition – our brand! We need to take the offensive in answering this question: What is the value of a degree from The College of Saint Rose?
•Since we are constrained in our ability to increase tuition rates beyond what the market will bear, we need to develop a comprehensive fundraising campaign which squarely and aggressively builds scholarship capacity to support the cost of attendance. This priority has an urgency to it and I cannot overstate its importance. As part of the inaugural year of my Presidency, I am announcing a scholarship initiative – “Students First” - designed to help secure the future of the next generation of College of Saint Rose students.
•At the same time, we will continue to diligently contain costs; allocate and re-allocate scarce resources to priority needs, and balance budgets. This work is neither glamorous or pain free – nor is it always popular. But, it is part of my responsibility. Fiscal responsibility, moreover, should not be seen as a threat to our mission. My view is that fiscal prudence and resource stewardship enable mission achievement.
As I close, here is my appeal to you!
Whatever your relationship to the College might be, I ask you to be proud of this College - actively and enthusiastically proud.
Each of you is positioned to be a brand ambassador in your community and in your professional circles. Talk us up. Get to know us better by checking us out on our webpage or through social media, including my Twitter account at SAINTROSEPRES. Please visit campus or attend a concert, lecture or athletic contest. If we reach out to you for assistance in recruiting students, finding internships or developing service learning sites, please consider helping us out. We need your time, talent and, yes, we need your treasure.
This is an exciting time for the College and a challenging time for everyone in higher education. Sister Tess Wysolmerski, Professor of Biology Emeritus, sent me a note after I was named President in February which began with a quote from Napoleon: “A leader is a dealer in hope.”
My hope is that united by a rich heritage and shared mission, we will continue to thrive as a private, independent institution which lives the values established by the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet in 1920.
My hope is that we will put the best of the past into service of the present and future.
My hope is that we will expand the vector of change – the range, spectrum and breadth of change – needed to further advance to the “next level” of academic excellence; that we will embrace change; that we will be imaginative, innovative, pioneering and diligent regarding how best to serve our students.
My hope is that we will continue to demonstrate a passion for teaching and learning; a commitment to the pursuit of knowledge; and, a shared sense of purpose centered on our mission.
My hope is that in 2020, when we reach our College’s Centennial, we will proudly celebrate the outstanding achievements of students, alumni, faculty and staff that grace our history.
My hope is that by 2020, each of us will have impacted this institution in a way that propels us into our second century.
Please join me on the exciting journey ahead. I am proud to serve this great institution. I will do my very best to fulfill your trust and confidence.
Thank you for all you have done and will do for The College of Saint Rose.
Thank you for listening!