First and foremost, I want to take this opportunity to thank you all for being here today. To the Board of Trustees, President and Mrs. Neff, distinguished guests, representing sister colleges and universities, members of the faculty, staff, students, devoted alumni, citizens of Huntingdon, other loyal friends of Juniata, and last, but certainly not least, friends and family. Juniata College and my wife, Pat, and I, are honored by your presence.
James Quinter was the first president of Juniata. It is his words, "uncommon vision, uncommon commitment," that we honor today. Historically we do not know within what context President Quinter spoke those words, but we can speculate. Juniata in 1876 was a new, struggling college. It began, as all important things do, with a vision and a commitment. Quinter, and the principal founders, the Brumbaughs, and Jacob Zuck, were members of the Church of the Brethren - a church uncomfortable with the need for higher education for its youth. Each of these men made an uncommon commitment, giving much of their life and wealth to sustain Juniata through its birth and early years. It was the uncommon vision of these founders that convinced a reluctant church to send their sons and their daughters to Juniata.
An uncommon vision for a college founded not to copy the then common male-only models of Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, or Princeton, but rather one founded on the values of the Church of the Brethren - community, peace, and service - values as important today as they were in 1876.
I appear before you humbled by the knowledge that I stand on the shoulders of not only President Quinter, but nine other presidents, each of whom in his own way advanced Juniata's vision and commitment. Especially, I wish to recognize the one predecessor I know best, Dr. Robert Neff.
Presidential transitions are inherently difficult, made even more so, when one follows a highly successful president. One of the true tests of a great president is how he or she prepares for a successor. In this regard President Neff has no peer. Bob, thank you for all you have done, and I'm sure will continue to do in the role of President Emeritus for Juniata. I also, want to recognize President Emeritus, Dr. Fred Binder who is joining us today.
In the transition of a college presidency, it is not only how the president prepares, but also how the president's spouse prepares. Dottie - Pat and I want to express our deep appreciation for all you have done to make our transition so enjoyable.
I am delighted to announce today that to honor Dottie Neff, and the three other living presidential partners, the Board of Trustees, in its February 24th meeting, passed the following special resolution:
BE IT RESOLVED, that the Board of Trustees of Juniata College recognizes the spousal partners of the college's past presidents for the unselfish and inexhaustible service they have rendered over the years to enhance the life of the college.
NOW, THEREFORE, the Board of Trustees acknowledges its profound gratitude to
- Mrs. ELIZABETH WERTZ ELLIS,
- Mrs. LOUISE LEE STAUFFER,
- Mrs. GRACE BRANDT BINDER, and
- Mrs. DOROTHY ROSEWARNE NEFF
for their wisdom, grace, charm, and generous spirit by bestowing upon them the title
PRESIDENTIAL PARTNER EMERITUS
While the vision and commitment required of those who love Juniata continues to evolve so also does the role of president. In President Quinter's time, the trustees, undoubtedly influenced by the faculty, defined the president's role as "acting officially for the college but only on stated occasions." Today college presidents have many roles but foremost among them is to lead the development of the vision for the future of the institution.
When a new president arrives, the college community has both expectations and apprehension about what he or she is planning. To illustrate this, I turn to one of America's great philosophers ≠ Charles Shultz. For this purpose (with apologies to Judge Charles Brown, Juniata Class of 1959 and member of the Board of Trustees) all of you should think of yourselves as Charlie Brown and think of Snoopy as your new president.
As always, Charles Shultz exposed the real truth. New presidents have less than a full grasp of the unique issues and opportunities presented by their college. And, of course, any successful vision must come from the entire college community, not just the president.
So rather than give you "The Vision," I want to explore some questions and challenges we must consider as a community in defining our uncommon vision and uncommon commitment for the future. To begin: what skills or competencies will students need for a fulfilling and useful life in a time of great change and great opportunity? We know the 21st Century will be different from the 20th in at least one important aspect - because of advances in medicine, the lowering of pollution, and a reduction in the use of tobacco, college students today can expect to live much longer than their parents or grandparents. In fact, some suggest that today's college students will live twenty years longer than the average life of their grandparents and these extra twenty years will come with both a healthy mind and body. What education can we provide today that will prepare our students for this much longer life?
To compound this question, quoting from the book Blur: the Speed of Change in the Connected Economy, by Stan Davis and Christopher Meyer, "five years from now 85% of your college level knowledge will be obsolete." While I happen to think this percentage is a bit high, the truth is that many things learned in college, even at Juniata, will become obsolete.
Perhaps the key question for us is: what knowledge never becomes obsolete? There are, I believe, certain skills that, once mastered, will serve us well over a lifetime. And I would submit that our mission statement details these skills clearly ≠ "the abilities to read with insight, to use language clearly and effectively, and to think analytically." This is precisely why Juniata has chosen, and will, I believe, continue to choose to be a residential liberal arts college. We believe that a liberal arts curriculum - actively engaging students both inside and outside the classroom in a community of scholars - is the best way to master the key competencies necessary for a long life in a rapidly changing world.
Returning to the question "what is our uncommon vision and commitment for the future," we must also consider our historic mission. President Calvert Ellis perhaps put it best - "Juniata has never been a college for geniuses," he said, "although a few have survived!" (A recent example is, of course, Nobel Prize winner Bill Phillips.) He went on:
"Juniata will continue to admit students with intellectual capacity and then develop in them an appetite to know so they will accomplish more in graduate school and life than would have been expected when they entered college."
Loren Pope, former education editor for The New York Times, illustrates our success in this regard in his book, Colleges That Change Lives:
One little group of upperclass students felt so strongly about the quality of their [Juniata] experiences that they asked me, "What's the difference between [Juniata] and Amherst?"
My answer was that Amherst has more very bright, more sophisticated, and more well-to-do freshmen than Juniata, but by the time they're seniors the situation has been reversed. The Juniata seniors' talents have been doubled and sharpened, and they have been better equipped to cope, to adapt, and to take risks - things they will have to do in this new world. And women could not have more encouragement or better role models than at Juniata.
I have no doubt that we will continue this special mission; a mission that has been particularly important for those in central Pennsylvania.
What uncommon commitment does Juniata have that will enable us to continue this mission? In their book, Transforming Higher Education: A Vision for Learning in the 21st Century, Michael Dolence and Donald Norris suggested this, "mature organizations . . . would rather miss opportunity than make a mistake. Mature organizations tend to be risk adverse, inflexible, unadaptable, unwilling to change, even in the face of new market forces." When one scans higher education, one sees many mature organizations.
It is within this context that Juniata has an enormous advantage over most other colleges and universities. Dr. Sue Esch, professor of mathematics at Juniata, says it best "if anything, Juniata is flexible."
How could this be - a college committed to the liberal arts yet flexible, willing to change, willing to take advantage of opportunities? Deeply ingrained in this faculty's value system is a willingness to consider and act upon new opportunities that improve the education of our students. Our curriculum was learner-centered long before the term was coined. In the 1970s, this faculty developed the "Program of Emphasis" that encourages Juniata students to create their own individualized major. Today, over 50% of our students take advantage of this option.
In my observation, the program of emphasis has another important, perhaps unanticipated, impact on this community. If over 50% of our students have a unique program of emphasis, and each student has two faculty advisors from different departments, the advisors tend to focus on how best to meet the students' objectives rather than how to meet their own department's objectives. This tends to break down the artificial walls between departments so prevalent, and in my view so destructive, at most other colleges and universities.
This year we saw an excellent example of how this uncommon value works. In May, potential donors approached us with the possibility of a gift if Juniata was interested in developing an information technology program. Rather than quickly dismiss this opportunity with "it's not within the liberal arts," or "this new department will compete for our department's resources and students," Provost Jim Lakso and a group of faculty and students began working on the concept. Was there a way that an information technology program could fit within the liberal arts? Within six months a plan to develop the concept was created, initial members of the information technology business council recruited, the donors satisfied, and a $1.5 million gift received with a pledge for an additional $1.5 million this year.
True to our uncommon vision, the nation's first endowed information technology program at a liberal arts college will provide the opportunity for all our students to add this important competency to their programs of emphasis. Those who graduate with a specific major in information technology will not be technicians, but rather will become leaders in information technology, because the program includes the competencies learned through an "inclusive" liberal arts approach. They will not be just leaders of technological change, but leaders of change in the right direction for the right purpose.
The willingness of a faculty to adapt, to take risk, to change, and to work cooperatively for the good of each student is something quite rare. We must, however, continue to put this attribute to work in refining our learner-centered approach to education. Ernest Boyer, noted educator, author of the book College, and coincidentally the recipient of a Juniata honorary degree at President Neff's inauguration said this:
"A most unusual paradox exists in higher education. On the one hand, we are sure that people learn at different rates. On the other hand, one of the few generalizations we can make about a college baccalaureate degree is that it usually takes four years. In the area where people are most flexible, our educational structure is most rigid."
Our students do come with a wide range of learning styles and academic experience. Our challenge is to continue to add flexibility to our program of emphasis to take additional advantage of our incoming students' academic diversity. For example, we should place our highest academically achieving students in very challenging courses immediately, and by doing so, give them the opportunity to graduate in less than four years. At the same time, we must give our less experienced students a greater opportunity for a successful freshman year by linking them with the right faculty. This will not be a simple task but I have no doubt that it can be accomplished by this faculty.
As a learner-centered community we must be intentional about rewarding academic achievement and creativity. Sometimes, we must look to examples in our past. Juniata's Dean of Students, Kris Clarkson, is already exploring the possibility of assigning residence hall rooms based on class rank, a model we abandoned sometime in the 1960's. The completion of the William J. von Liebig Center for Sciences in early 2002 will eventually give us the opportunity to move academic departments out of several nearby houses. Perhaps teams of students will gain the opportunity to live in these marvelous facilities by successfully competing for them with innovative year long projects. We must be committed to finding more resources to give Juniata students the opportunity to test their academic skills just as we do their athletic skills in competition on and off campus and through internships. Also, I hope we will explore the possibility of a common summer reading assignment for incoming freshmen that will serve as a year long centerpiece for discussion with faculty members and their fellow classmates.
A learner-centered college requires faculty with high levels of teaching and advising skills. While there probably has never been a better time to attract outstanding faculty, the truth is that most new faculty (and I know this from painful personal experience) arrive with very little practical knowledge of how to be effective teachers and advisors. We must be committed to finding the resources to reduce our new faculty's first year teaching load so that they can properly develop new courses, learn the complicated role of advising at Juniata, learn how students learn, have the opportunity to experience the whole college, and have the chance to pursue research and publishing opportunities from their dissertation. It is unfair to their students and to these bright new faculty members to push them immediately into a full teaching and advising load. My hope is that part of the solution will come from retiring faculty members who wish to continue to teach part-time and to be mentors to new faculty. This will require funding for these part-time positions and finding offices and lab space so that these valuable and experienced faculty can continue to contribute to the life of this community.
As we consider the future, there are also other challenges faced not only by Juniata but by all of higher education. First, all of us must become more affordable. There is no simple solution to this problem; however, over the next year this community will discuss and I believe will act upon a number of interesting options: a capital campaign to raise funds for financial aid; the development of a national prepaid tuition program that will reduce the cost of education for parents and grandparents who are willing to prepay; an opportunity to reduce energy consumption; the establishment of an enrollment target based both on our educational values and on economies of scale; the opportunity to increase income from summer programs; the need to strengthen our existing partnerships and explore new ones that lower cost while increasing educational options; the need to provide training and equipment to improve staff productivity; the opportunity to expand financial aid by matching scholarships provided by businesses and other organizations; and exploring the possibility of divesting assets that are no longer viable.
Second, our belief in the values of community, peace and service has led us to recognize and support diversity. Next fall, we will see a new pedestrian quadrangle just outside these doors. But it only becomes a GRAND quadrangle when the pedestrians on it better reflect the citizens of the world. We have been successful in increasing diversity in some ways. We have been extraordinarily successful in attracting international students through an uncommon commitment by the whole College to this goal and a successful partnership with our sister Brethren colleges.
Nearly 6% of our student body, tied for first with Swarthmore in Pennsylvania, come from outside the United States. We expect that percentage to continue to grow. Indeed, within our majority population we are more diverse by ethnic heritage, religious background, age, family dynamics, geographic origin, and social and economic differences than ever before in our history. We have, however, been less successful in attracting American minority students. As many of you know, this is no simple task, yet Juniata remains strongly committed to increasing the number of minority students on campus.
Third, as we look to the future, clearly, Juniata can only succeed if Huntingdon succeeds and Huntingdon will only succeed if Juniata does. In March, Juniata agreed to provide approximately one-half the cost of a new planning initiative for the Borough of Huntingdon - a plan that should identify opportunities for both this city and its college. We will also seek additional ways to partner with the Huntingdon School District to strengthen the quality of education for all our children. These are only a few of the potential partnerships that will help us both.
Finally, as we look toward the future, it is important to recognize that a time of great opportunity comes rarely to a college. Juniata is enjoying one of those rare moments when we have both opportunity and, I believe, the will to seize it.
Paraphrasing Calvin Coolidge, "It is a great advantage to a president, and a major source of safety to the college, for the president to know that he is not a great person." I serve as Juniata's 11th president with both a deep sense of humility and the knowledge that I can only succeed with the continued help and guidance of this board, faculty, administration, staff, students, Juniata's many friends, and my presidential partner, Pat.
I also believe that an institution can only accomplish what it is willing to dream. I pledge to you a willingness to not only dream with you but to do all that I can to turn our dreams into reality.
With hard work, and God's help, we will continue the evolution of President Quinter's dream for Juniata - a college of uncommon vision, uncommon commitment.