Winthrop University Opening Address
Academic Year 2012-13
President Anthony J. DiGiorgio
For delivery August 15, 2012, 9:30 a.m.
Winthrop in Transition:
Still Values-Based and Aligned to Achieve
Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the opening of another academic year here at Winthrop. This is our 127th academic year.
As returning faculty and staff members know, this is a time of year when we say “welcome home” to our veterans and to our newcomers alike.
So that we may begin that process, would all our new faculty and staff members stand, please, and let's give them all a warm Winthrop welcome?
We also have among us today some other special guests. Please hold your applause until they are introduced:
From the Winthrop University Board of Trustees:
• Vice Chair Kathy Bigham, from Rock Hill,
• Trustee Don Long, from Lake Wylie,
• Trustee Bob Thompson, from Rock Hill,
• Chair of Faculty Conference and Faculty Representative to the Board of Trustees, Cliff Calloway, and
• Student Representative to the Board of Trustees and Chair of the Council of Student Leaders, Kambrell Garvin.
Let’s welcome them!
Often, we have some emeriti faculty members in attendance. These individuals represent the very best of our past, and have laid the foundation for our future.
Let us acknowledge their faithful service to Winthrop, and ask any emeriti faculty in attendance to stand and be recognized.
Now, let me acknowledge members of the campus community who are serving in new leadership roles this year:
• This time last year, Debra Boyd was Acting Vice President for Academic Affairs. We are fortunate, indeed, that even after learning all there is to that pivotal post, she still agreed to continue in the position on a permanent basis. We couldn’t be happier. Let’s thank Debra!
• The Executive Officers have another new member at the table now, too. We are delighted that last Spring, Kim Keel, who had been serving as executive director of South Carolina Campus Compact, agreed to take on the responsibilities of Vice President of University Development and Alumni Relations.
• Kim hit the ground running, taking over responsibility for our Foundation’s second-ever capital campaign, “Distinction: the Campaign for Winthrop.” You will see and hear from Kim a great deal this year, so Kim, please stand so everyone can now recognize you!
• Succeeding Kim as executive director of the South Carolina Campus Compact, headquartered here at Winthrop, is Jessica Lynn. Jessica, please stand so we can welcome you, as well.
We have a few other new faces, or familiar faces in new roles or additional roles this year. I’ll ask each to stand, but please hold your applause until all are introduced from each division:
In Academic Affairs:
• A familiar face in a new role this year is Dr. Jack DeRochi, our new Dean of the Graduate School at Winthrop.
• Tim Drueke, assistant vice president for academic affairs, is now also the new Director of the Summer Session.
• Dr. Meg Webber is the new Special Assistant to the Vice President for Academic Affairs.
In the College of Visual and Performing Arts:
• Dr. Stephanie Milling is the new Assistant Dean.
In the Richard W. Riley College of Education:
• Dr. Debi Mink is now the Interim Director of the Rex Institute for Educational Renewal and Partnerships.
In the College of Arts and Sciences:
• Dr. Adria Belk is now the Director of Student Services.
In University College:
• Margaret Williamson, currently Assistant Dean of the Graduate School, will take on a new role in September as Assistant Dean in University College, coordinating student services and retention efforts.
• Katie Sardelli is Director of Winthrop’s new Resource Center for Adult Learners. (I’ll tell you more about that later.)
In the Department of Inter-disciplinary Studies:
- Dr. Jennifer Leigh Disney, associate professor of Political Science, now heads the Women’s Studies minor, and
- Dr. Cynthia Forrest, associate professor of Social Work, will now lead the Gerontology minor.
Let’s give all these folks in Academic Affairs our thanks for taking on these responsibilities.
We also are very honored to have two international visitors with us from our esteemed partner in China, Nantong University:
Here on what is the first of hopefully many visits to Winthrop is the Vice Dean of the School of Business at Nantong. Let us welcome Dean Ragau Wu to Winthrop. Dean Wu, please stand.
With us for the entire semester is Professor of Accounting Cheng Ji, who will be both living on campus and teaching in our College of Business Administration this Fall. Professor Ji, please stand so we can welcome you to the campus community.
And now to the Division of Student Life, where there are some changes in positions that you should know about. Please hold your applause until all have been recognized:
• Sean Blackburn is now the Associate Dean of Students.
• Cindy Cassens is Assistant Vice President and Director of Residence Life.
• And Bethany Marlowe is Assistant Vice President, as well as Dean of Students.
Let’s congratulate them.
We also welcome to Winthrop two new AmeriCorps members who will perform a year of public service in this region, working through Winthrop’s Center for Career and Civic Engagement. They are:
• Jillian Wahlbrink
Jill earned her degree in Finance at Villanova University. She will work closely with Winthrop’s ACAD Reading Tent service project.
• Justine Knudson –Justine holds a Bachelor of Arts in English with a Linguistics Emphasis from Boise State University.
One of Justine’s primary goals is to mobilize students to volunteer in health and healthy lifestyle programs that serve low-income populations.
Welcome to you both.
Over the summer, the following changes also were made:
In the Division of University Advancement:
• Debi Barber was named Associate Vice-President for Admissions Operations, and
• Josh Bistromowitz is now Associate Director of Student Recruitment.
In the Division of Finance and Business:
• Michelle Hare is serving as the Interim Director of the Office of Financial Aid, following Leah Sturgis’ move to a position with the Winthrop Foundation.
In the Division of University Development and Alumni Relations:
• Laura Lynn Stubbs is now assistant to the vice president.
Let’s thank all of them for taking on these new roles as well.
Indeed, this is a time of year when the campus community forms itself anew for the academic year to come – when those who have embodied Winthrop University for a part of their professional lives enlarge the circle to welcome new faculty and staff, and yes, new students as well.
Come the end of this week, those ‘newest of new’ faces will start to appear among us, as usual.
We are still counting how many there will be, but we could be on our way to it being one of the largest incoming classes in Winthrop’s history. We’ll keep you updated on that once all tallies are in.
This achievement reflects the work of our entire campus, now in greater alignment than ever before on many fronts – especially when it comes to recruiting the kind of high-achieving, diverse, and socially responsible students for which Winthrop is known.
The division that marshals the recruitment initiative is University Advancement, relying first of all on the dedicated team in our Office of Admissions. But that is just the beginning of the responsibility for building the entering class for each new year.
• Faculty members in all our program areas are more generous than ever with their time in talking with prospective students and families, letting them know they can expect a national- caliber, highly personal, and supportive learning environment here at Winthrop.
• Our Student Life professional staff reach out to students from their first visit to campus, right through Orientation sessions.
They affirm Winthrop’s emphasis on developing the whole student, and provide special support that has been designed specifically to assist transfer students and older returning students.
• Staff in front-line offices -- such as Financial Aid, Cashier’s Office and Information Technology -- all work hard to address whatever issues or questions arise for each student. That work starts before they are enrolled and continues as students assimilate into the campus community.
• Our Campus Police and Traffic staff are on the front lines – both for our opening, and on special admissions days.
They provide efficient traffic flow and a professional demeanor that never fails to impress visitors and families, especially on the all-important move-in days. That visibility speaks to our emphasis on a safe, secure and well-ordered campus at all times.
• And every day of the year – be it a gorgeous Autumn afternoon or a sweltering summer day under a broiling sun – our Facilities staff keep Winthrop looking her best, indoors and out.
As I’ve said often before, it is through the work of the groundskeepers and housekeeping staff team members that visitors recognize that attention to detail and a high standard of quality is ‘the Winthrop way’ across the board.
I think that kind of focused and aligned work across the university is worth a moment of celebration.
So, with all that said, will everyone here – the entire Winthrop team that serves our current and prospective students so well -- please stand and give your colleagues all around you your applause, just as they will also give you theirs?
Indeed, I’ve long thought of such teamwork as being the hallmark of a university community that has aligned itself with a shared sense of higher purpose… a shared sense of values… and a shared sense of commitment to a cause greater than one’s individual interests.
Such commitment, of course, can be summed up in one phrase: service beyond self.
That has been a goal for Winthrop and specifically for its graduates since our founding. Winthrop’s first president, David Bancroft Johnson, led this institution for its first 42 years. And he articulated the goal of service this way, just over a century ago, when he told students in 1911:
‘Winthrop does not stand for an education without purpose. We hold that education is a training of the individual for life’s duties—for service.
‘If you should make no use of that which has been given you for the good of others, you would contradict the best meaning of your education….
‘We need to change our attitude somewhat when we begin the new kind of life after graduation, and think more on “How much can I give?” and less on “How much can I get?”
‘Never forget that your obligation to serve is the greater because of your greater opportunities.’
That is a message we deliver to Winthrop students throughout their time here, and one that will continue to distinguish them from many of their peers in the world beyond Winthrop.
The students coming to us for the first time this year were born, for the most part, in 1994… that date is always an ‘Ouch,’ isn’t it? Consider:
• 1994 was the year Forrest Gump told us that “life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are gonna get.”
• It was the year O.J. Simpson, driving a white Bronco, led Los Angeles police on a slow-speed chase, watched by the world.
• It was a time when Seinfeld made us laugh in a show that was said to be about nothing, and “E-R” introduced us to hypertension-inducing TV drama about every kind of medical crisis imaginable.
• Vice President Al Gore did not – repeat did NOT – invent the internet in 1994, but he did make a speech where he coined the term "Information Superhighway.”
• Yahoo and Netscape were created, and the Amazon-dot-Com domain name was first registered – all in 1994. Little did we know then about where all that was headed.
Also, in 1994, the national debt was 4.6 trillion dollars. Today, it’s 15.6 trillion dollars, and counting.
When the 1990s began, South Carolinians reported that 16.2 percent among us were living in poverty.
But by 2000, Census data showed great improvement: Just 11.1 percent of South Carolinians reported living in poverty as the New Millennium arrived.
And now? Well, official numbers will be out later this Fall, but the expectation is that virtually all the progress of the past two decades will have been lost and then some, with more than 18 percent of the South Carolina population living in poverty.
What happened? How did South Carolina go from 16.2 percent living in poverty down to 11.1 percent, and then back up to 18 percent?
Globalization of the textile industry was just the beginning of hard times that shaped the home life into which many of our new freshmen were born.
The nation knows we barely escaped an official Depression in mid-decade, and economists warn of an upcoming fiscal cliff ahead in January.
Everyone – especially those of us in higher education – know that change has accelerated exponentially, yet there don’t seem to be many coping strategies taking shape just yet.
Today, we are in the midst of an election cycle where discussion of real solutions is paltry compared to 30-second attack ads featuring foreboding music and the most sinister photograph of an opponent that a campaign can find.
Even most of the authors who keep an eye on the far horizon of the future – the authors I’ve often quoted as we at Winthrop prepare to start a new year -- seem these days to be confounded when it comes to practical, workable solutions.
Instead, they are settling for updating earlier work that chronicles the accelerating rate of change.
• Tom Friedman’s most recent book’s main title was “That Used to be Us.”
• Richard Florida recently published a 10-years-later update to “The Creative Class.”
• David Houle will publish an update to “The Shift Age” later this fall – part of it written while he was here at Winthrop earlier in the year.
And, a new author is entering the field with a do-it-yourself guide, coming in October, to be titled “Think Like a Futurist.”
Not surprisingly, futurist Cecily Sommers, whose voice is sometimes heard on National Public Radio, will tell readers to focus on “four constant, universal forces: resources, technology, demographics and governance.”
No real surprises there. As forces, all those certainly are constant.
But to me, that list of constants seems one item short – and it is perhaps the most important and powerful universal force among us: Shared values.
Values, once agreed upon, can be a true guiding star when in uncharted waters.
Indeed, values can be the trump of all the other universal forces that emerging futurist Cecily Sommers cites. Our values can:
Guide our allocation of resources.
Steer the use of technology for good or for ill.
Compel us to use solid demographic analysis as a guide for action, and
Challenge our governance system to support and affirm our higher purposes.
I strongly suspect that’s what Winthrop’s Founding President David Bancroft Johnson meant when he challenged our students of a century ago to remember their obligation to service.
Those of us in this room have chosen to devote our working lives to higher education, many for just that reason: it is part of our service to something larger than ourselves. That something is education in general, and public education in particular, because of the power that education has to change the lives that it touches. Winthrop has stood for that power since its founding. And Winthrop gives greater definition to that power through our shared values.
Some years ago, Winthrop’s shared values literally were chiseled into Leitner Wall on front campus: Service. Excellence. Diversity. And, Community. Those shared values are why all of us relish being a part of a campus community that truly is a reflection of the world around us, with students purposefully drawn from all walks of life.
Each one of those students will arrive here – or develop while here – a set of goals for themselves. Those goals will determine where and how they will relate to the broader world around them. And they will have that capacity because of their Winthrop Experiences.
So it remains important that Winthrop going forward continues to have the means -- and the will -- to guide our students in choosing goals carefully, with an eye on the times in which they will live their lives.
In a way, our predecessors set out that obligation when they chartered Winthrop in state law.
If you are new to Winthrop, you may not know that state law requires Winthrop to be a “first-class institution of higher education,”– the only institution in the state with such a standard embedded in law.
In addition, state law requires Winthrop to offer programs and facilities “as the progress of the times may require.”
That is eloquent language, recognizing that change is a constant force shaping our students’ needs and the needs of society itself.
So, in addition to our values, it is important that Winthrop have a means of determining over the years what it is that the progress of the times requires of the university. That, of course, is our “Vision of Distinction,” and this year’s iteration will be coming to you later today.
One of the initiatives you will see expressed there is our commitment to continuing our work toward sustainability – that being in the customary and important sense of that word, emphasizing our impact on the environment.
Sustainability is a word that has multiple meanings and multiple applications, however.
I spoke last year of what it means to impart to our students a “sustainable” and “sustaining” education that will serve them for a lifetime.
This morning, because this is my last Opening Address before retiring as president next summer, I want to share with you some thoughts about what it takes to have a “sustainable” and “sustaining” university, ready to serve students both today and in the next generation.
These days, there are transitions occurring throughout higher education, just as there is a transition in presidents here at Winthrop.
But Winthrop is prepared – indeed, well-prepared, for these transitions, because it is Winthrop’s tradition to keep pace – here’s that phrase again -- as the progress of the times may require.
I realize some of what I will say this may sound like advice to the Tenth President of Winthrop – whoever he or she might be. It really is intended for all of you, who will continue to be the ones to carry Winthrop’s values and Winthrop’s ways into the future.
I was fortunate in my formative years, especially as a vice president, to benefit from the mentorship of a thoughtful and astute president at The College of New Jersey-- President Harold Eickhoff.
What emerged from our close and continuing interactions over many years was a paradigm for taking a university from where it is at a given point in time to where that institution could be if it fulfilled, then expanded, its inherent potential.
There are seven critical elements to that framework for creating what I’ve come to think of as “A University Aligned To Achieve.”
Here at Winthrop, we have employed all these seven elements over our years of working together:
• ELEMENT ONE is that someone has to articulate a vision or dream that could one day become reality.
Together, almost 24 years ago, we articulated such a vision for Winthrop by setting out to all who would listen the following:
“Winthrop will be – and will be recognized – as one of the best universities of its kind.”
Those 16 words have guided countless decisions for this campus community over the years.
• ELEMENT TWO: The next step is taking that broadly stated vision and articulating the key goals that will be part of fulfilling it.
Together, we at Winthrop set out those goals through our very first “Vision of Distinction” work plan – and we have carried those same strategic goals into each and every iteration of the Vision work plan every year thereafter. We did that so all of us – newcomers and veterans alike -- would know the purpose of our work together each year – and so the rest of the world will, too.
• ELEMENT THREE in the framework of an aligned university is that there must be a shared commitment across an enterprise to embrace a program or activity only if it can be done in an exemplary manner.
From that element came Winthrop’s 1990’s commitment to have national accreditation for 100 percent of its programs for which such accreditation is available – or not to have the program.
Early on, some folks in South Carolina and even here on campus thought that was an unattainable goal. In the Southern vernacular, some folks may even have thought Winthrop was getting “above its raising” to just suggest such a thing.
But, together, we made that Winthrop’s reality – and we were the first institution in the state to do so! That high standard of quality continues to serve us well to this day.
• Under ELEMENT FOUR of our framework for an aligned university, there must be leadership in place that can harness the extraordinary talents and energies of the university community to move the university forward.
That leadership goes well beyond the president, of course – it includes the people chosen to be vice presidents, deans, department chairs, office directors and crew supervisors across the institution, in every aspect of the enterprise.
As I look out across this room, I see countless faces who have been a part of that leadership cadre at Winthrop.
Together, over the years, we have made quality the standard for how things are done at Winthrop, no matter which part of this extraordinarily complex organization is involved.
• ELEMENT FIVE is a particularly key one for the success of any complex enterprise: There has to be a willingness to take calculated risks from time to time. Not wild risks, but informed risks that are bold enough to be meaningful in the adaptation of the university to what the progress of the times may require.
Steve Jobs had to take risks to launch the i-Revolution. Throughout history, American presidents have had to take risks from time to time to explore space or enlarge the freedoms of the nation. Business leaders take calculated risks to expand their product lines or open a new territory.
Similarly, Winthrop periodically has had to take calculated risks to achieve a higher standard of quality and a greater degree of viability in the changing marketplace of higher education.
I must thank our Board of Trustees for the support they have provided over the years for those important steps to be taken. And special thanks to this campus community for your tenacity and creativity in seeing them through to successful implementation and completion.
Likewise, ELEMENT SIX is also something of a calculated risk, because it sometimes raises questions within the campus community. That is the emphasis that Winthrop places on having the way we present our campus reflect the overall quality of the university.
From time to time, Walter Hardin will get questions about how much we invest in pine straw and landscaping at Winthrop, or why we give such attention to traffic and parking signage and so forth.
The answer to that is simple: Those who would cast their lot with Winthrop – be they prospective students and families, new faculty and staff recruits, potential donors, public sector officials or the general public – will make assumptions about Winthrop based on what they see as they walk or drive through our campus.
That’s why our cross-campus “View Group” and our Facilities Management staff has worked closely in recent years to see to it that Winthrop’s external presentation of our campus to the world communicates that we give deep attention to detail and quality in all who do – even how we trim the grass and mark our parking spaces.
We want them to see such an inviting campus that they will spend enough time with us to know that this same attention to detail and quality infuses the academic and personal development work with students that goes on inside our buildings.
It’s simply communicating the Winthrop Way through another dimension of the University.
And finally, there is ELEMENT SEVEN in creating an aligned university – or an aligned enterprise of any sort.
That is a “can-do” attitude. Think of how many of your colleagues here at Winthrop demonstrate that on a daily basis, in ways too numerous to count.
Indeed, I’m sometimes asked how Winthrop managed to both survive and grow stronger during the Great Recession.
I tell them that in the beginning, in Fall 2008, when the nation was still reeling from the disruptions, the Winthrop community adopted an approach of shared sacrifice in the immediate short term and applied its “can-do” attitude with dedication to ride out the most challenging economic disruption since the Depression of the 1930s.
As “the New Normal” took hold, across the campus, faculty and staff alike worked to conserve our resources, while keeping the focus on our top three priorities:
o Insulating our students’ experiences from the impact of cost reductions.
o Keeping our campus safe and secure, and
o Investing as necessary in building the kind of student body that Winthrop was created to serve.
Our mantra was to enable future development of the University while coping with the demands of the day.
We succeeded, by invoking that can-do attitude, by many of us taking on extra work when necessary, and by focusing on our shared values and our shared vision, even as we shared in sacrifices.
Finally this year, the State offered a welcome recognition of that tenacity, in the form of a long overdue salary increase for eligible employees.
And, building on a study undertaken this past year, work continues to assess when and how we can make additional institutional investment in salary improvements, as the economy improves and resources allow.
While our recurring operating support from the state this year still was not increased from the Great Recession low point, Columbia has shared some additional one-time money with Winthrop for this academic year.
When you see Sen. Wes Hayes and Rep. Gary Simrill, please extend thanks to them for some very important work they did throughout the session to help that occur.
So, yes, as the campus community enters this year of transition, we can say that Winthrop is -- and increasingly is recognized as –one of the best universities of its type.
And we can say that we rode out the storm from the Great Recession and we are positioned to continue the journey to ever-greater distinction.
Those are blessings that the work of everyone in this room – and some others as well – has made possible.
However, much as we might like, we cannot simply declare success in achieving our vision for Winthrop, and then move on in life. There remains more work to be done.
Ours is an enterprise that exists in a constantly evolving world full of delightful surprises.
Who in 1989 would have envisioned 3-D entertainment being as prevalent as today?
Or phones that do everything Dick Tracy’s fancy wrist radio would do -- and then some?
Or that a professor in the Ivy League could offer a course on-line and have thousands of students sign up – and that it would be free for all those students?
Our higher education journals these days are filled with reports that portray a traditionally organized campus as somehow on the road to becoming arcane in the face of the fast-moving digital learning revolution.
We all have learned a new acronym this year: MOOC – for Massive Open Online Courses.
And there’s a new brand name in the marketplace – Coursera. Coursera markets itself as providing “The World’s Best Courses. On-line, for Free.”
Coursera has some sterling names involved with it, to be sure: Princeton, Stanford, Michigan and the University of Pennsylvania. Duke, Johns Hopkins, Georgia Tech. Now, the University of Virginia signed on.
But as of yet, there is no coherence to the curriculum, no unifying standards as to content, and nothing past a certificate of completion – kind of a note from the professor -- in the way of a credential.
So it was amusing a couple of weeks ago to see, via the Chronicle, that even the founders of on-line Coursera recognized that they needed some genuine, in-person, real-life “face time” to talk about what’s working and what’s not in their experiment.
And when I say ‘face time,’ I’m not talking about iPhone/iPad version of Face Time. I’m talking about the in-person kind.
So what did they do? The invited everyone to an old-fashioned picnic. And not an on-line virtual picnic, but a real one – with beanbag toss games and burgers on the grill.
Hundreds of people came to that picnic, some by airplane from a continent away, and some on bicycles from a few blocks away. But what they all had in common was hunger for the opportunity to connect in person. Students with faculty. Faculty with each other.
And students with other students who had been in the same class, but never the same place, as part of a learning community.
That desire to connect face to face to learn from each other’s perspectives and experiences, and hopefully put those lessons into action, is part of what “community” means in an academic sense. That’s why “community” is one of Winthrop’s key values.
We model that from the formal way in which we induct new students into our learning community through Convocation, right through to Commencement, when faculty applaud all that our newly minted alumni have achieved as they file out of the ceremony.
SO: Does this current fascination with on-line learning mean the time of institutions like Winthrop has come and gone?
I don’t believe so. In fact, it might surprise some to learn that Winthrop offered 75 completely online courses last year – and another 39 that were hybrids, with about half the course on-line.
Keep in mind, Winthrop offers more than a thousand courses a year, so the percentage remains small and purposefully selective, but yes, on-line learning is part of what we do at Winthrop.
On the other hand, we’ll continue to start our year off next week with a good old-fashioned in-person picnic, same as ever. Because that speaks to our values, to the Winthrop way of doing things.
Our faculty know intuitively that a class that integrates on-line materials and discussions is simply using the language of today’s Digital Native students to make them more successful learners.
But at Winthrop, such work is virtually always done within a larger context allowing for personal interactions that include mentoring, nurturing and advising of students by faculty who truly want to know their students as individuals.
That is consistent with our values as educators, particularly where our traditional-age students are involved, and it is consistent with our values as a learning community.
Winthrop also recognizes that these days, not all the learners who come to us are fresh from high school. Some are transfer students who had matriculated at a two-year college, another university, or a technical college. Others are military veterans who will use special federal benefits to expand their educations. Still others are returning students, who started degree programs in years past, but were unable to complete their degrees for a variety of reasons.
This year, to support all of these individuals as members of our learning community, Winthrop is launching a special Resource Center for Adult Students as part of University College.
This center will be both a place where these students can find assistance responsive to their different stage in life, as well as a place for adult students to gather to find the support and camaraderie of individuals with whom they have much in common.
There are a few more such transitions around us.
For the past 18 months, Winthrop has been giving Phelps Hall a much need renovation, part of our transition to residence hall spaces that have greater appeal to student populations than what was built five or six generations ago!
And, as most of you know, Dacus Library over the summer has been getting a major rejuvenation, designed to bring its spaces into line with how today’s students use libraries – often tackling projects in teams, just as they will in the world of work.
Does that mean our library no longer will have books? Of course not – we are just adapting to the progress of the times.
We see such transitions in the community around us as well. The Bleachery property next door to campus is now cleared, and much discussion continues about how best to transition it into the future.
In fact, Winthrop and Rock Hill will be updating a survey this year to assess whether the incoming generation of active adult retirees will have interest in living in a residential community designed for lifelong learners, with Winthrop the magnet for private developers and potential residents alike.
That’s just another transition in the making, around the notion that the Bleachery can one day return to an economic development hub for Rock Hill – just a different kind from its history in centuries past.
Likewise, our College Town work with merchants along Cherry Road and downtown will continue this year, as we work with the City to make the area more pedestrian and bicycle friendly in the ways that today’s students will find attractive.
This is how Winthrop as an institution performs its service to the community, setting an example for our students, and doing so with good spirit.
One of the joys of being president over these many years is how many times I’ve opened a letter or an e-mail -- from a parent or a recent alum, or a donor, or even just a patron of a Winthrop event -- and heard in glowing detail about a wonderful interaction that person had with a member of the Winthrop family.
Frequently, the same phrase arises from these various fan letters: “We could tell the person we talked to really loves Winthrop.”
It is those types of comments that have made this work so rewarding, both for Gale and me, for our trustees over the years, and I would hope for you all as well.
For you and I always have had in common a passion for higher education in general and a passion for higher education on the Winthrop campus in particular.
Such passion is a quality that I believe the Board’s Search and Selection Committee will look for in the next president of Winthrop as well.
For it is having a passion for this enterprise that unites our campus community, regardless of whatever the world beyond our campus may throw in our direction.
It is that passion that enables me to say with confidence that Winthrop today is one of the best universities of its kind anywhere. It is so because of the work done by hundreds of you, working together, in good times and bad.
There is no finish line to such work.
As recent Olympic competitions reminded us so well, one team simply hands off to the next. So it is here at Winthrop.
And, it is possible for a University to change, yet still remain the same at heart.
Some campus veterans in the audience might be saying to themselves right now: “Here comes that Bart Giamatti quote.”
And you are right!
For some years now, I have shared the following as part of opening address because I so admire how the words capture the essence of what a university is. We even have these words on the backs of our Blue Line T-shirts that new students wear at Convocation.
They come from A. Bartlett Giamatti, the 20th century Renaissance man who was at various times president of Yale University, as well as Commissioner of Major League baseball:
“The university today is very different from the one 25 years ago, or 50 or 100 or 250 years ago, and yet it is not different.
“It is still a constant conversation between young and old, between students, among faculty; between faculty and students; a conversation between past and present, a conversation the culture has with itself, on behalf of the country….
“ Perhaps it is the sound of all those voices, over centuries overlapping, giving and taking, that is finally the music of civilization … making the world, for its pain, work. It is a good place that continues to want to make her children better.”
Yes, in many ways, we are very different from the Winthrop of 24 years ago. We have made many transitions.
Yet at heart – in our values -- we are now the Winthrop that existed then, and that will exist another 24 years from now, or another 127 years from now, because we believe in the power of this kind of education to change lives –and we believe in that passionately!
The challenge ahead is to make the most of each day we are given. After this year, Gale and I intend to do that – just in a little more low-key and private way.
Winthrop Founder David Bancroft Johnson put it this way:
“It is by the wise use of time that we make ourselves competent for Eternity.”
Each generation has its own transitions to make through the time it is given, from child, to young adult, to parent, to elder.
It is that way in your family, and in ours. Granddaughter Gabriella graduated from high school in June, and in a few days will be 18. She is making plans for a big transition in her life, as she prepares to move from New Jersey to San Diego to live with her Aunt Darrah and cousins Beckett and Jack. She will begin the California adventure in January.
Daughter Darrah has been a Californian for several years now. She copes gracefully with all the stresses that any executive of a complex non-profit organization and mother of two young boys will recognize, because there still are only 24 hours in each day.
Grandsons Beckett, 10, and Jack, 7, will undergo their first major separation this year, as Beckett moves up to California’s first-step middle school and Jack remains in his elementary school.
Each boy has his own personality– Beckett the Elder is organized, a planner who sees something to be done and does it, finding great satisfaction in helping his Mom.
Jack the Younger is the more mischievously inclined with a great imagination – a California boy in every way. It will be interesting to see what his transition to life in a different school from his big brother brings, as his new school year begins, too.
I hope that all our children and grandchildren – and yours -- continue to feel the sense of excitement that a new school year brings.
This is the start to my own 67th consecutive school year – starting as an elementary school student, and then as a junior high school student, a high school student, an undergraduate, a high school teacher, a graduate student, a university professor and psychologist, a university administrator, and finally, as a university president.
So I know that this time next year, it won’t seem quite right to not be opening the pages of a fresh notebook or work calendar, and preparing myself for the first day of classes in a new academic year.
But as I noted earlier this year, when I announced my upcoming retirement as president, our entering class this Fall will be greeted by one president, and awarded their diplomas by another.
So it goes, year after year, student after student, in this wonderful calling of higher education.
So, as we begin Winthrop’s 127th academic year, let me remind all of us: It is Winthrop’s capacity to adapt to change, while staying true to the fundamental values that define us, that has made it possible for Winthrop to reach – and celebrate -- a 127th year.
And it is that same capacity that enables me to declare that Winthrop is on course and aligned to achieve whatever the rest of the 21st century asks of us – academically, and in every other way.
On behalf of both Gale and myself, thank you for all you have done --and will do-- for Winthrop University and its students. And thank you for making Winthrop a better place for your having been here.
Best wishes for a great academic year, and as is our custom, I invite you to now join your colleagues in Tuttle Dining Room for fellowship and some refreshments.
Let’s make this year Winthrop’s best ever!