Inaugural Address

During the bicentennial celebration in Kutztown in early August of this year, Ann Marie and I participated in a walking tour showing many of the homes that were built early in Kutztown's history.  You know, I'm told that the organizers expected 30 or so people to attend this walking tour... 250 showed up to learn the history of the borough and to celebrate with their fellow citizens the founding of their community.  There were many such events that week and Mayor Sandy Green and her team are to be commended for organizing such wonderful events.  These events had a profound effect on us and bonded us to the greater Kutztown community.

At this walking tour, we learned that Kutztown was founded, and prospered, because it was mid-way between Reading and Allentown - just a day's ride by horse or carriage - Kutztown was a "crossroad" between these cities and conveniently located between the counties of Berks, Lehigh, and not far from Schuylkill. 

It was a place where travelers could rest, eat, share stories, and reflect on their journeys with other travelers. 

No doubt, back in 1865 or so, regional leaders were looking for such a "crossroad" to place a college and it was determined that such a place existed in the borough of Kutztown.  We are now in our sesquicentennial year and, as occurred last summer with our community's bicentennial, we have many events planned this year wherein we can come together to rest, eat, share stories and reflect on our journey - both our personal journey and our journey with other travelers.

This inauguration is only one of these many events we have scheduled to celebrate our 150 years. These milestones and activities are not only times of celebration, but also times for reflection - on all the contributions our community and university have made to enhance the lives of citizens and students over  these many years.  These milestones also remind us of the responsibility we have to continue to provide a quality educational experience and enriching community to future populations.  To continue to make Kutztown a "place" where future students, faculty, and citizens will want to work, learn, and lead fulfilling lives.

For the next 20 minutes or so I would like to talk about what the purpose of higher education is - many are questioning this now and I think some have lost sight of what the true, ultimate goal is of going to college.  I want to talk about teaching and the transformative influence a teacher has on a student.  I will talk about what we, in higher education, believe the characteristics or attributes should be of an educated person.  Finally, I will speak of the personal journey that brought me to Kutztown University.

Institutions of higher education in western culture were established roughly a thousand years ago with the primary purpose of educating clergy, bureaucrats, physicians, and the sons of nobles.  Universities were private societies of scholars consisting of faculty and students, with specialized privileges - exempt from taxes, the draft, and civil law.  There was academic freedom, except for atheism and heresy.  Students, at times, became unruly and so dormitories were created - who was in charge of the dorms and the rules governing student behavior in and outside the classroom?  The provost was given this responsibility -- hence the name provost. 

Early American universities were established by churches to train the clergy - Harvard was the first, established in 1636.  Later, our founding fathers believed strongly that if this experiment in a new form of government - democracy - was going to work, we needed an educated population.   Thomas Jefferson said we needed to have an educated population in order to ''exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.''

As the 19th century progressed, our nation was expanding westward and "land grant" schools came into existence to teach agriculture and mechanics followed by "normal" schools to provide teachers for communities across our nation.  Our government was committed to having a population that could read, write, and cipher and with the growing population the nation needed to produce large numbers of teachers.  In 1866, one of those "normal" schools came into existence.  It was called Kutztown State Normal School.

Roughly 50% of American children attended elementary school by 1866 and that percentage increased by 45% through the 1870s.  The numbers going to school fluctuated with our population but the trend was continually up requiring more and more teachers. 

By 1940, 50% of our population completed 8th grade and 5% went to college.  The 1950s brought dramatic change with the baby boom, and with the G.I Bill sending millions to college.  With the prosperity of our country, and our evolving economy, an increasingly higher educated workforce and population was needed. 

By the end of the 20th century 99% of our population finished 8th grade, and about 85% finished high school, and 50% were going to college.  By 2014, 55% of our overall population had attended college with 32% earning a degree.  Today, 68% of high school seniors will go on to some form of higher education with about half of them finishing.  Our nation has come a long way!

Of course, in recent history, colleges and universities not only produced teachers but provided education for a multitude of disciplines and subject areas.  Here at Kutztown, along with teacher education, we also produced scientists, mathematicians, computer scientists, communication specialists, those in the many disciplines of the arts, business, and in many other fields.  As our nation becomes more service and technology based, requiring advanced knowledge and skills, more and more of our population will need to graduate from an institution of higher education to be successful. 

But the benefits of going to college, both in the past, and in the future, involve so much more than just acquiring knowledge and skill in a discipline.

Andrew Delbanco, in his book "COLLEGE:  What it Was, Is, and Should Be", told the story of how he was speaking to an alumni group about how college prepares good citizens when one alum said "that is fine, but you miss the point... college taught me 'how to enjoy life'.  He said that college opened his senses as well as his mind...his alertness to color and form, melody and harmony, all had been heightened and deepened ... he was grateful for this." 

He quoted another colleague, Judith Shapiro, who when speaking to young people about what they should expect from a college education said "You want the inside of your head to be an interesting place to spend the rest of your life."

Delbanco explained that a college education has no room for dogma - only for debate about meaning, or meanings, of truth.  Higher Education is among the invaluable experiences of the fulfilled life and colleges have an obligation to coax and prod students toward it.  And so how do we "coax and prod" students?

I recently read The Social Animal by the New York Times columnist, David Brooks.  He has several chapters on education and I want to share a few of his observations with you:

He believes essentially that the most successful teachers are those who develop a one-on-one relationship with their students - he thinks we shouldn't so much "teach" students as "apprentice" them.  Many students learn best through imitation, by being mentored by their professors in the recital hall, the art studio, the science or computer lab, the athletic field, in the residence hall, in the field experience, and in the classroom. 

You have heard me say often, it is not so much what we know that makes us great teachers, but who we are. . .  It is through the example we set in the classroom that we inspire our students - we are most successful when we tell them about our educational experiences, our research, and when we put into practice what we teach.  We need to fill the classroom not only with our knowledge, but also with the full presence of who we are.

Brooks believes we should force students to make mistakes.  He believes that the pain of getting things wrong and the effort required to overcome error creates an emotional experience that helps burn things into the mind. 

He said teachers should have students interrogate their own unconscious opinions.  As part of my research on Oral Tradition when I was a Peace Corps volunteer and later a Fulbright scholar in West Africa, I interviewed famous griots or storytellers.   A repeated theme I found was their belief that all knowledge, ability, and wisdom is passed on to an individual at birth and, in educating apprentices, their role as teachers is not to pass on new knowledge and ability but rather to awaken in young people that which is already there deep inside them.  The years of practice and training merely releases that which already lies within their unconscious. 

You have often heard me speak as learning being an "awakening" and as griots believe, we need to "awaken" the ideas and beliefs locked within students and bring these to the surface. 

It is said that some people dream of worthy achievement, while other stay awake, and experience it. 

Joseph Campbell said that in the old days in the Catholic church, when a child was being confirmed, the priest would gently slap the child to wake them up to God.  I'm not asking KU professors to slap their students - but we must symbolically "wake up" our students, to challenge their minds, to alert them to the possibilities that exist before them. To make them work hard, and experience the personal growth and the joy that comes from a threshold achieved, and a grade well-earned.

Delbanco says that the whole secret of the teacher's force lies in the conviction that men and women are convertible.  And they are.  They want awakening.  Teachers have always been in the business of trying to "get the soul out of bed, out of its deep, habitual sleep."  The fact that students can be inspired, as well as trained, has always been the true teacher's aim and joy. 

It is said "the mediocre teacher tells.  The good teacher explains.  The superior teacher demonstrates.  The great teacher inspires."

Brooks says we need to force our students to work.  And to work hard.  One attains knowledge and ability through practice and frequent tests and assignments strengthens the relevant networks in the brain that help with retention of information.  When we first learn to drive a car we think of every move and then with practice it becomes automatic.  So, should it be with reading, writing, math and other subject areas. 

Alfred North Whitehead said that "Civilization advances by extending the number of operations which we can perform without thinking about them."

Malcolm Gladwell writes in his book "Outliers" that genius and high levels of skill and competence results not so much at birth, but from countless hours of practice, study, and hard work.  So should it be for our students.

Brooks spoke of the importance of young people pursuing multiple interest and tasks - to study math and music, English and Theatre, Business and Computer Science, History and Psychology, as examples.  Creativity comes when two disparate fields crash in one mind, like two galaxies merging in space. 

He believes, as do I, that all of us should have multiple perspectives on looking at the world.  My life has been greatly enriched by the countries I've lived in, the languages I've studied, the many cultures I've experienced, and the many people from around the world with whom I have had the privilege to interact. 

I was well prepared for life by the disciplines I studied in college - history and communication - and by the excellent liberal education I received that embedded in me a "curiosity" about nearly all things.  How much richer our lives are if we are curious ... to read that new book, to try that new recipe, to hear that new song, to see that new exhibition, to discover how far our physical conditioning can take us, to touch, to smell, to feel, to think, to learn... to learn... to learn. 

So, our job as educators is to awaken our students and to make them curious.

This why having a strong general education curriculum is so necessary for the education of our students.  It not only provides a foundation for all information and skill acquired, but also enables these "collisions" to occur in the brain, that lead to higher knowledge, and even enlightenment. 

Yeats said that Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. 

It is said that Life-long learning is essential to our health, our heart, our soul, and to our community.   To learn and to teach keeps us vibrant, to not learn or teach, is to wither away.

So, all this being said, what ultimately is the goal of higher education and what is it we want of our students when they leave Kutztown University?  Yes, we want them to be learned and skilled in their discipline but we want much more than that. 

To answer this question I turn again to David Brooks, this time in his most recent book, the Road To Character.  This is how he describes actualized or enlightened individuals...

He says that these people are calm, settled, and rooted.  They are not blown off course by storms.  They don't crumble in adversity.  Their minds are consistent and their hearts are dependable.  Sometimes you don't even notice these people, because while they seem kind and cheerful, they are also reserved.  They possess the self-effacing virtues of people who are inclined to be useful but don't need to prove anything to the world - they display humility, restraint, reticence, temperance, respect, and soft self-discipline. 

They radiate a sort of moral joy.  They answer softly when challenged harshly.  They are dignified and restrained.  They perform acts of sacrificial service with the same modest everyday spirit they would display if they were just getting the groceries.  They are not thinking about what impressive work they are doing.  They are not thinking about themselves at all.  They just recognize what needs doing and they do it. 

They make you feel funnier or smarter when you speak with them.  They effortlessly move through different social classes.  After you have known them for a while it occurs to you that you've never heard them boast, you've never seen them self-righteous or doggedly certain.  Things have not been easy for them - they have struggled - and have developed a deep humility as a result of the struggles.

These are the people who have built a strong inner character, who have achieved a certain depth. In these people, at the end of their struggle, their climb to success is not nearly as important as the struggle to deepen their soul.  

This is what we strive for in higher education and here at Kutztown University - to set our students on the path to self-knowledge - to build character.  In my position as president of Kutztown University I have met people who have displayed many of these characteristics -- the alumni, who struggled through college many years ago, and want to give back to those young people coming after them ... to make the path a little easier.  To the many friends of the university who generously give of their time and their resources because they believe in our mission.

To faculty and staff who tirelessly give of their time to make our campus beautiful, to enrich the lives of their students.

To individuals such as our honorary doctorate designee, Guido Pichini, who so epitomizes these attributes of strong character.

These are the attributes that we want our students to strive for, that all should strive for, that I strive for. 

Yes, let me again say that I am honored to be here before you all today.  You know, there is frustration in getting less than you think you deserve, and gratefulness comes from getting more than you expected.  I like to think of myself in the latter situation. 

I had not expected to gain so much from my education but I was made curious and was awakened by great books and caring teachers... some who are here today.  I am grateful for the life my education has provided me. 

I had not expected the level of maturity that resulted from my years in the military.  I am grateful that I had that opportunity. 

I had not expected the depth of understanding that would result from my Peace Corps and Fulbright experiences, and am so grateful for having had these opportunities to serve in Africa. 

I had not expected, at the age of 50 years old, to have met Ann Marie and been awakened to the simple gift of love, and to have a witness to my life.  How grateful I am for Ann Marie!

And, yes, I had not expected to have ever bonded with a dog, but I am grateful for Wynnie too! 

Indeed, gratefulness comes from getting what you had not expected. 

I most certainly had not expected to be president of a university such as this and how grateful I am to all of you for giving me this opportunity.

I look out at the audience and see myself in so many of you.  I see the leader of our student government and see myself 39 years ago when I was a student leader.  I see the faculty and remember the joy I felt when I was hired as a professor and was actually paid to think, write, and teach.  I see our faculty and staff governance leaders and I'm reminded of my own experience in such positions and the importance of bringing about a positive and collaborative relationship with all those with whom I worked. 

As a department chair and then an Associate Dean and Associate Provost, I practiced the basic principles of leadership and learned the inner workings of a University and its culture.  As a provost and academic vice president, I fell back on my experience and the things I had learned over many years, and the best practices I was introduced to outside the university, and applied them day by day.  And now I serve as President of Kutztown University.

Yes, I share a long history with higher education...  I think of what the historian Johan Huizinga said about having a strong historical connection to an institution -- he said that having a contact with the past is a sensation as deep as the purest enjoyment of art; it is a sensation of going beyond the self, of overflowing into the world around you, of touching the essence of things, that through that history - one experiences truth.

It is my hope that all here feel as I do about higher education and about this institution's role in higher education - I look out and see that I have been honored by the many university presidents and other university representatives attending - they all represent institutions and faculty who want to serve their students to the best of their ability - But, what puts KU apart from these other fine institutions.?

What puts us apart is that KU is OUR University - these beautiful grounds and buildings are Ours, the 150 years of its existence are a part of Our collective memory, we take pride in the accomplishments of the 72,000 alumni that came before us because they are OUR alumni. 

We have many things that make us unique, many programs and areas of distinction, but the most important attribute is our pride in our institution, our tireless pursuit of quality, our desire to awaken students so they can reach their full potential, to make them curious so they will enjoy living within their own minds for the rest of their lives.  To make them a part of our KU history, to welcome them into our family, that through our student's association with this institution they will feel that they are a part of something bigger than themselves. 

We have much to do as we go forward.

Our choir just sang "Ain't Ready to Die".  Ain't Ready to Die, the song goes, because there is too much to do to fight poverty, to serve God. 

Well, let me say that, despite all the challenges, higher education in this country Ain't Ready to Die.  We must continue to educate, enlighten, and awaken minds in the years to come.  

With the lack of adequate funding and other challenges before our state system some say that the 14 universities are at risk... but our state system Ain't Ready to Die and under the exceptional leadership of Chancellor Frank Brogan and Chair of the Board of Governors, Guido Pichini, we will continue to provide students with the opportunity to go to college at affordable state-supported Universities. 

Some wonder about the future of this university but Kutztown University Ain't Ready to Die! Building on the many accomplishments of previous leaders such as President Cevallos, and President McFarland, and the many other leaders of past and present, this university is poised to move forward and provide a quality education to future generations. 

And, I Ain't Ready to die either!  There is too much to do. 

I pledge to work with the faculty, staff, students, alumni, and all other constituencies to do all in my power to ensure that the role of higher education continues to strengthen in the coming years, that our state system will prosper, and that Kutztown University, located on a crossroad, in this beautiful place, will grow stronger ... I pledge to champion the values expressed in this presentation - to awaken, to make curious, to build character, and to instill a gratefulness and a humility that for our students will lead to an educated mind, an enlighten soul, and a life fulfilled.