“Thank you all very much. As I’ve said before – and will probably say many more times – Suzanne and I are thrilled to be coming to Bridgewater College and the larger community in which the College resides. For those called to academic leadership, there is no greater honor than to be entrusted with the presidency of an academic community like BC. I am, in equal measure, honored and humbled by this opportunity and I am fully aware of the responsibility and obligation that comes with it - to serve well and honorably and with humility.
I want to thank Judge Agee and all the members of the Presidential Search Committee for their work on behalf of the Bridgewater College community. I know that they invested an enormous amount of time and energy in this process and they did it with a spirit of generosity and good will and concern for everyone connected to Bridgewater.
Finally, I offer my thanks to Chairman Miller and the entire Board of Trustees for the confidence they have expressed in me. I promise them, as I promise you, that you will get the very best I have to offer. You deserve nothing less. To give any less would simply not be worthy of the long, proud tradition of the College and the excellence to be achieved in the years to come.
I am very happy that we have this opportunity to be together today. I’ll be on campus several more times throughout the spring semester, and will continue to meet as many people as possible, but none of those visits will afford an opportunity for all of us to be in the same place at the same time. I hope you gained a little insight into who I am from the brief welcome message posted on the website. I’ll talk a little bit more on some of those themes here today and provide some thoughts about what might lie ahead for us. But those ideas and the path we’ll follow is something that we’ll think through together.What happens after today – and in the years ahead – is not about me nearly as much as it is about us.
One of the most common questions I’ve been asked since the announcement of my appointment is “What brought you here – why Bridgewater?” It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that I was asked that question during the search process as well. It’s a question that is both simple and complex at the same time. It reminds me a little of the question “Why did you marry Suzanne?” Clearly, there’s a lot at stake in responding to either of those questions, and so for all sorts of reasons, I’ll want to proceed carefully. But I’ll also state right at the outset that there’s no single reason, and that the answer to both the “Why BC?” and “Why Suzanne?” questions will change with time. The answers get deeper, richer and more meaningful as the relationships themselves get deeper, richer and more meaningful. Suzanne and I have been married for 23 years – we’ve shared the joys and sorrows of a life together – and I know I’d answer the question of why I married her much better today than I ever could have 23 years ago. I could hope for nothing more than the chance to answer the “why BC?” question again, many years from now – and respond with the wisdom and insight and love that can only develop after a long relationship together.
But for an answer to the “Why BC?” question today, I’ll start here: Of course, it’s your mission: your history, who you are today, and your future. It’s what you do and the way you do it and the reasons you do it. And above all, it’s the people that are, after all, the real substance behind the mission and the history and the future. I am a teacher and a scientist and an academic leader committed to education in the liberal arts tradition. Bridgewater, by mission, is committed to precisely the same thing: a residential liberal arts experience that educates the whole person and prepares graduates for a life of purpose and engagement. It is a mission rooted in, and inspired by, the Church of the Brethren that embraces a holistic view of our students and a correspondingly holistic view to the education of those students. In all the ways that really matter, this is the kind of education I received at Loyola. It’s fundamentally the same mission I served for many years as a faculty member and academic leader at Mount St. Mary’s and at Lees-McRae. Bridgewater seeks to educate and enrich the whole person, in a purposeful way, so that our graduates can be in service to others. The goal is not simply to make students “well-rounded” – it is to liberate them: from intellectual dependency, from the constraints of a single time and place, and ultimately, from a life that might otherwise be lived uncritically or unexamined. Bridgewater embraces the responsibility to educate students in mind, body, and spirit, and to pursue the truth of individual disciplines rigorously - even when that pursuit is difficult and uncomfortable. Certainly, liberal learning prepares students for a career (even if many today do not believe this to be so), but more importantly, it prepares our graduates for the personal synthesis needed to discern their profession as vocation. This is a path not only to economic success, but also to personal fulfillment. In a culture increasingly willing to equate higher education with “job training,” we are increasingly confronted with the reality that our most pressing problems cannot be addressed by narrowly focused expertise. They will only be solved by those who can embed disciplinary excellence within a context of the connections between disciplines – and the wisdom to use their talents in service to authentic human goods. We do more than simply train students for a job well done, we form them for a life well lived.
These are beliefs I hold very dear, beliefs that I know are worth instilling in the next generation of leaders for the Commonwealth, for the nation and for the world. I want to be here because Bridgewater has been living these ideals for 133 years, and I want to serve an institution committed to making sure they continue to be lived for at least the next 133 years as well.
Educating the whole person, of course, demands that we are attentive to teaching and learning in the classroom, but that we look beyond the classroom as well. We must be committed to excellence and the highest standards not just in the classroom, but also in service learning and internships, in foreign study and undergraduate research, and in all of the venues of athletics and residence life. When an academic community like Bridgewater is at its best, it is intentional and explicit about the interconnectedness not just amongst academic programs, but also that of academics and students’ lives outside the classroom. Bridgewater’s outreach in the surrounding communities of the Valley and beyond can be a focal point for student experiential learning and, locally, for strengthening the bonds of a vitally important town-gown relationship. This kind of outreach represents an authentic way to validate the “wholeness” of students and to ensure their success before and after graduation. Faculty, staff and administrators can play a particularly important role in modeling the sorts of behaviors and habits of mind that we seek to instill in our students, and I take very seriously the special opportunities and responsibilities of the President in this regard. My experiences as professor, student advisor and mentor, and as a dean and a college president have taught me well that we often have our greatest impact on students simply by the way we live our life – in and out of the classroom. I have always sought to model for students a disciplinary excellence coupled with commitments beyond my discipline – whether that “discipline” is biology or academic leadership. Suzanne and I are excited by the opportunities afforded a College president and spouse to model the pursuit of excellence and the integration of curricular and co-curricular, of profession and family, which is the foundation for living an educated, intelligent, healthy, purposeful and ethical life.
“Why Bridgewater?” Because your historic church relationship is an important part of your identity and this heritage informs the life of the College. Integrity, equality, service and community would seem to me to be core values for education and the pursuit of truth anywhere. That they are intimately tied to your heritage says something very important about our understanding of the human person and our obligations to Bridgewater’s future. Your commitment to the notion of community and how we live and learn in community resonates very deeply with me. This sense of community cannot be taken for granted and must be continually nurtured. It is the combined efforts of all that result in engaged and successful students and a thriving institution. I see my role as guiding and articulating a shared vision of who we want to be; helping to identify strengths and weaknesses in achieving our goals; and finally ensuring adequate resources for the implementation of the academic and co-curricular policies and programs that make the vision a reality. As a practical matter, there is an essential collaborative component to my view of this work – it is truly servant leadership. Not every decision will please everyone, but if we operate with a sense of trust and good will, and remain focused on our mission – our students – we can do the very important work to which we are called. A synthesis and harnessing of ideas, values, and views from faculty, staff, students, alumni, Trustees and the local community can propel an institution to new heights. It is a key role of the President to guide the many voices, letting everyone hear their own in the single voice with which an institution speaks.
“Why Bridgewater?” Because there are real challenges facing higher education that will demand creativity, risk-taking, persistence, and a confident sense-of-self to solve. All of these traits are present here, and I want to serve an institution committed to finding solutions and to the future of residential liberal arts education. The very nature of higher education is being questioned, publicly, and from many different directions: questions of accessibility and cost, accountability and accreditation, degree completion, the nature of our economic and financial aid models, the challenges of on-line programs, and even the viability of the liberal arts. I am persuaded that there are solutions to the challenges that everyone in higher ed is facing. And I am absolutely convinced that the traditional, residential liberal arts college is not merely viable, but an essential component of the broader landscape of higher education. One of the strengths of the American system of higher education is its diversity: community colleges, large public universities, research-intensive institutions, and, of course, us – the residential liberal arts college. For students to thrive and flourish, they need to find an institution for which they are a good fit. This is real for me in a very personal way. Our daughter is a junior at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and our son will be a freshman next year at a small, liberal arts college (we don’t know where exactly yet, but we know that’s the environment he wants to be in). For Emily and Will, their individual choices are absolutely perfect – neither would thrive or grow or experience as much if they were to switch places. An education is not a commodity that any customer can acquire anywhere or in any manner. It’s not always just a question of cost, it’s a question of value. And for the record – and for our students – your Bridgewater experience is worth much more than what you pay. I know this may be hard to believe right now, but unlike almost anything else you can spend money on, your education, all the lessons you learn, will make a difference throughout your life and increase in value over time.
I think a part of the current higher ed debate and the questioning of the liberal arts stems from a relative lack of high profile and vocal advocates for what we do here. We all know that the skills, attitudes, and habits of mind that are cultivated in a liberal arts education are essential to dealing with the challenges facing our communities, our nation and our world. It will be essential, then, that we advocate thoughtfully for the holistic experience we offer our students, that we take seriously the challenges of cost and access, and that we engage new technologies and modes of delivery so that we can adapt them to what we do rather than letting anxiety drive us to become something we are not.
So how will we respond to these challenges? How do we ensure that we are doing the very best we can for the students who are sitting here today and for the students who won’t be sitting here for years or decades? Well, we won’t come up with the answers today, and no one among us will come up with the answers alone. In the best traditions of the academy, we will do this together. Every constituency connected to the College will have to play a role if we are to do it well. We will need to focus on curriculum and academic excellence. We will need to nurture and sustain an excellent faculty and staff. We will need to ensure that all of our athletic, co-curricular and residence life programs match the level of excellence that we demand of our academic programs. And since strengthening programs and personnel will require adequate resources, we will need to we have a strong operating plan that strengthens existing revenues and explores possible new revenue streams. And of course, we will need to broaden and deepen the support we receive from alumni and friends. The arrival of a new President to the College offers a singular opportunity to strengthen existing relationships and to build new ones. The promise and potential of Bridgewater College, embodied in you - the students, faculty and staff - are compelling, and communicating that promise and potential to broader constituencies is a privilege that I will relish. I look forward to building and strengthening relationships with members of all the communities of which Bridgewater is a part, and gathering the financial support of those who share a vision of excellence for the College. This support will not magically appear, but if we continue to make a difference in the lives of our students and they continue to make a difference in the world around them, if we continue to demonstrate excellent outcomes - our graduates! – we will earn the support of a great many people.
In many ways, you’ve already laid the groundwork for all of this with your strategic plan. Any good strategic plan will always be a work in progress, it will always have to adapt as it is implemented, but the plan as it exists already identifies and anticipates well the challenges we’ll face, the areas in which we need to improve, and the areas of strength we need to leverage in order to fulfill our mission. With a central focus on student success, your plan – our plan - already provides a framework to ensure academic excellence, a competitive market position, and a secure future. There remains much to be done in order to turn that vision into our reality. But I am supremely confident that together we can exceed our expectations.
Certainly there is more that could be said, but there will be plenty of opportunities to come. For now I will end as I began in my web message - I am honored and humbled to be chosen to serve as your president. Suzanne and I are thrilled to be joining the BC community and we look forward to a long and ever-deepening relationship with faculty and students, staff and administration, and alumni and friends of the College.”