State of the University - Founders Day

M. Lee PeltonI am pleased to welcome you to Founders Day. Today we mark with pride the 161st anniversary of our University.

I also wish to acknowledge three professor emeritii who are joining us today: Dr. Henry Bailey III, Dr. Jim Hand and Dr. George McCowen. Please stand and be recognized. Thank you for coming.

To put today into perspective, when Willamette was founded John Tyler was president of the United States; Abraham Lincoln was only thirty-three years of age and a full twenty years away from delivering his emancipation proclamation address. Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin would not be published for another ten years.

Our impressive history is one of our strongest assets, rooted in tradition, an established institution constantly evolving and reinventing itself, rising to meet the challenges of modern society as well as new ways of knowing and discovering what is good and useful.

We must continue to invest in our future - confident that our work is both splendid and noble - confident that we are educating young women and men to knowledge, to virtue, to beauty and to citizenship.

Our mission is nothing less than to change the lives of our students so that they, in turn, will change - for the better - the world in which we live.

Of course, much has changed since the early days of our founding. The university has grown in size. It has added a law school, a graduate school of management and a school of education.

In recent years, our students come to us from more diverse backgrounds: ethnic, racial, economic, geographic - national as well as international. Their high school academic profiles continue to increase each year: higher SAT scores, a greater percentage graduating from the top 10% of their classes and more National Merit Scholars.

And yet much has not changed. We remain faithful to the core values of educating young people to participate fully as leaders in a democratic society. And while we recognize the importance of research to advance new knowledge and enhance classroom instruction, our preeminent activity continues to be teaching.

Our faculty are among the most conscientious in the nation, devoted to their students - both in and outside the classroom. They continue to juggle -with great success - the ever-increasing demands of academic life. Many do this while trying to raise families.

Theirs is a tough and demanding job. And while it has many professional rewards, for too many it comes with considerable personal sacrifice.

I am enormously grateful and impressed by their commitment to this University.

As The Education of Henry Adams reminds us "[teachers] affect eternity; [they] can never tell where [their] influence stops."

Excellence has been the focus of many discussions this year in several venues: in small faculty dinners organized by the Dean of CLA; in presidential fora; and in several luncheons that I have had - and will continue to have - with faculty from all ranks and from all of our colleges.

These conversations make clear that we all care deeply about excellence. I have spoken with several junior faculty in the College of Liberal Arts, some - but not all - of whom worry that the measurements and rewards for excellence are shifting in ways that make it more difficult for them to succeed. And, yet, my own experiences at Willamette as well as my conversations with senior faculty reassure me that what we are attempting to do in the College of Liberal Arts is what we have, in large measure, always attempted to do. As one faculty member recently reminded me, "We renew ourselves every semester - no, every day."

One of the great strengths of our faculties in all parts of the University is the way in which governance is conceived of as a shared activity, irrespective of faculty rank. My conversations in the College of Liberal Arts, in particular, have convinced me that junior and senior faculty share many more similarities than differences about the University's purpose, mission and standards for excellence. We have a shared vision of the University's future and, in large measure, the means to achieve it.

The pursuit of excellence brings focus to what we do as well as what we value as a commonwealth of learning.

Excellence is an aspiration. It is not so much about what "is" but rather about "what might be." It is an ideal whose pursuit is worthy of our best collective thinking and actions.

Excellence is not measured by rankings and polls. And outcome measurements, while important, are limited because we cannot really know the full measure of the success of what we do until many years after our students have graduated.

Excellence is measured by our educational effectiveness and our capacity to do what we say we do - to fulfill our stated mission.

In thinking about excellence and what we do well at Willamette, I am drawn to stories - representative stories that serve as touchstones of our aspirations for excellence.

I want to share with you one story about uncovering secrets.

For nearly three years in a basement vault at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art, five Orthodox religious icons sat unnoticed. They weren't displayed because no one knew anything about them. That is, until art history student and Willamette senior Emily Scott decided to research and unlock the secrets of these lovely sacred icons.

Emily became interested in the icons while searching for a topic for her senior thesis. To fund her research, Emily applied for a Carson Undergraduate Research Grant, which, as you know, provides our undergraduates with a $2,500 stipend to pursue an original idea or area of research beyond what they can study in a classroom setting.

To uncover the icons' secrets, Emily poured over dozens of images of icons whose details were well known, looking for similarities and differences. She also sought the help of Orthodox iconographic scholars and experts.

Through her research, Emily discovered that four of the icons were Russian in origin. One, a panel of the Virgin Mother and child that featured intricate patterning in the clothing of the figures, is from the Ukraine. Three of the icons were painted in the Eastern European Byzantine style, which is characterized by figures with elongated faces and narrow facial features. Based on their size and condition, Emily concluded that some of the artworks were most likely personal icons that were displayed in private homes, carried with the believer and displayed in churches.

Emily is currently working on completing wall labels for the icons, and the artworks are being cleaned and readied for display. They should be available for public viewing at the Hallie Ford Museum within a few weeks.

What is especially satisfying in the context of excellence and what we do at Willamette is that Emily has discovered through her research project her own career calling. She plans to pursue a Ph.D. in art history so that she may become an art history professor and share her love of religious icons and other artworks with others.

The pursuit of solving a problem - of uncovering secrets - became a personal discovery that has changed her future.

This is a student who was guided, nurtured and sustained by faculty who took an interest in her - not only as a student but also as an individual.

They not only provided classroom instruction, they provided encouragement and advice. They set high standards for learning and achievement. Their commitment to Emily ignited her interest until it became a flame - a flame of purpose and determination.

This is the Willamette that I know and the Willamette that I have come to love. Her experience is representative of the experiences of all of our students who are open to the enormous possibilities for growth and discovery that Willamette offers them daily.

Willamette University recognizes that "excellence" lies in the hearts and minds of those who work in the classrooms every day -- those who spend their days developing courses, teaching, grading papers, advising, being attentive to their research and scholarship, writing and delivering papers at academic conferences, writing letters of recommendations, attending concerts and athletic events, organizing on-campus symposia, writing grants, overseeing theses and senior research projects, chairing committees and providing other types of services to the University community. It is the professor who focuses on the flowering of the individual student - who, ultimately, leads Willamette students to their futures.

Theodore Roethke once said, "When I say I teach out of love, I mean just that, by God."

Our recent conversations regarding excellence in the College of Liberal Arts have been productive and have reinforced the need to examine with care how faculty apportion their work. We must move forward with exploring how to maximize individual opportunities to excel, while recognizing - and rewarding - the diversity of interests and talents that comprise our faculty.

Towards this end, I have requested that the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts establish a faculty working group to examine how we might best use our resources - new as well as reallocated - in support of a reconfigured faculty work load that recognizes the increasing demands on faculty time.

I have charged the group to:

  • Generate ideas for creating flexibility in the workload that will enhance faculty productivity and well-being;
  • Analyze and articulate the trade-offs necessary in plans for flexibility, including elements of financial feasibility;
  • Suggest variations in incentives, rewards and evaluation that might contribute to greater flexibility;
  • Compare data and suggestions available from other workload studies; and
  • Visit other campuses where workload issues are prominent.

The working group will be charged to present a set of options and recommendations for discussion and consideration of the CLA faculty at its Fall Retreat.

In two and half weeks, I will present to the Board of Trustees a balanced budget for fiscal year, 2003-04. As you well know, the nation's poor economy and negative growth in the financial markets have a direct impact the University's operating budget. While I am very pleased to report that Willamette's endowment performance has exceeded most national financial benchmarks, we will have substantially less in endowment income to support our budget over the next two years. This is significant, given that endowment income accounts for about 15% of our revenue base. Large increases in property and casualty premiums and utilities costs have put additional downward pressure on the operating budget.

The budget will include a recommendation for modest, but competitive increases in tuition; a smaller administrative staff; it will restore equipment budgets; maintain our commitment to the CLA faculty salary step program; provide long-needed salary increases for part-time instructors; as well as include compensation increases for our lowest-paid employees.

Responding to the need to sustain excellence among our faculty, the budget will add $100,000 to the College of Liberal Arts over the next three years to support faculty leaves and faculty research grants.

Also, for the first time in our history, this year we have established a $700,000 endowment from unrestricted gifts to support start-up funds for new faculty on a permanent basis. The income from this endowment will be available beginning the next academic year. We will continue to add to the endowment until the generated income fully meets the University's on-going start-up funding needs.

We have taken steps to reduce costs, including the creation of a self-funded health insurance plan that Willamette has developed in partnership with several of our Pacific Northwest peer institutions. And we will continue to search for other consortial arrangements of this type to increase efficiency and reduce cost.

Under the leadership of Jeff Eisenbarth, Vice-president for Financial Affairs, the budget process has become more open and inclusive. Every member of the faculty and administration has been offered the opportunity to review and comment on the priorities and assumptions that underlie next year's budget. I strongly believe that a transparent budget process produces better results because it encourages the full participation of faculty and staff in shaping what is eventually recommended to the Board of Trustees for adoption.

I will recommend to the Board of Trustees that we move forward immediately on plans to renovate the fourth floor of Eaton Hall and the Smullin basement. This three million dollar project will add nine offices and three classrooms as well as a faculty-student lounge, a media room, a seminar room, and storage rooms to the fourth floor of Eaton. The Smullin renovation will consolidate WITS offices and programs.

Departments with overlapping interests now divided between buildings and floors will be consolidated, sowing the seeds of teaching and research collaboration. The classrooms will include cutting edge technology. Faculty will be able to project powerful historical images, show video clips of noteworthy events, project a multitude of maps and access the vast resources of the Internet - all with the push of a button. The addition will house expanded media holdings including a centralized space for an indexed film library. In the media rooms students will be able to design web projects, produce movies and create class presentations with digital imagery.

I will be meeting with CLA faculty leadership during the next month to determine a process to identify a permanent dean of the College of Liberal Arts. Among our first tasks will be to determine the qualifications and characteristics of the new dean.

I very much appreciate the steadiness of purpose and good judgment that Professor Carol Long has brought to the dean's office during a time of transition.

Our accomplishments this year have been many. And I am able to highlight only a few.

College of Liberal Arts:
The Lilly Project, supported by a two million dollar gift from the Lilly Endowment, has already, in its first year, introduced our students to the joys to be discovered in religious vocation.

The Luce Foundation's support of establishing a Junior Professor of Chinese Studies is also in its first year and has brought Chinese literature, languages and cultures to our students in ways that would not have been possible without external funding.

This year we are celebrating the 20th anniversary season of the Grace Goudy Distinguished Artists Series. The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center played here in the fall, and David Shifrin and Jon Nakamatsu will be here in the spring. In the world of musical performance, they are all quite extraordinary.

The Hallie Ford Art Museum exhibit, "In the Fullness of Time" was absolutely stunning in both conception and execution. Not only did it bring to our campus notable Egyptian artifacts and treasures, it also brought scholars from around the globe to talk about the significance of ancient Egyptian culture and art. It many respects, it was Willamette at its best because it supported our academic and instructional purposes while, at the same time, it reached out to the surrounding communities.

This past summer marked the start of The Willamette Academy. With 30 students last year and 20 new students this year, the Academy will introduce underrepresented students of color from Salem/Keizer middle schools and eventually high schools to the importance of attending college. The program includes a summer leadership residency program as well as ongoing tutoring and support for these students and their families during the regular school year. For many of these students, The Willamette Academy has already been a life-changing experience, opening wide the doors of opportunity to a better life.

Our students continue to win national honors and awards in recognition of their individual excellence and achievement. Four Willamette students received national honors in 2002: we welcomed one recipient of the Harry S. Truman Scholarship; one Watson Fellowship; one recipient of the Morris K. Udall Scholarship and one Fulbright Scholar.

School of Education:
The School of Education is in the second year as the lead institution of a three year, $1.3 million grant from the United States Department of Education. The Preparing Tomorrow's Teachers to Use Technology program brings together K-12 teachers, education students, and faculty across disciplines at six northwest universities.

The Center for Excellence in Teaching has greatly expanded its service to teachers through its Continuing Licensure Program and provides significant professional development opportunities for K- 12 teachers.

The School of Education was successful in their program review with the Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission this past fall.

College of Law:
The College of Law received its largest gift by a single individual in its history this summer. The Peterson Family Foundation donated $2 million dollars to establish the Ken and Claudia Peterson Center for Law and Government.

Over the last few years, nearly 25 percent of the faculty at the Law School are new members. Although there has been this transformation of faces of faculty, the values of excellence have not changed. The essential values of excellence remain. Because we know scholarship informs the classroom, Willamette continues to deliver high-quality legal education by bringing the best available legal scholars to the classroom.

Atkinson Graduate School of Management:
After a comprehensive national search, the Atkinson Graduate School of Management will welcome James A. Goodrich, currently associate dean of School of Business and Management at Pepperdine University, as its new dean, beginning in July of this year.

It is an exciting and significant moment in the development of the Atkinson School, and I am confident that the new dean - in consultation with his faculty and administrative colleagues - will work tirelessly towards our goal of establishing Atkinson as the leading business management school of its type in the Pacific Northwest.

I wish to extend publicly my gratitude to Professors Steve Maser and Debra Ringold who have led the School with great care and wisdom during this interim period.

And while this was a year of many gains, we also suffered loss in the faculty.

Kelly Ainsworth's contribution to the University was enormously significant. He built and nurtured what is arguably one of the leading off-campus programs in the nation. He extended Willamette's sphere of influence around the world. He was like the artist in one of Browning's best-known poetic monologues, "scenting the world, looking it full in the face." Though he was a historian by training, he was a cultural anthropologist by temperament. He had that rare capacity to live fully in the present moment.

Professor Donald H. Turner, the College of Law, died early last year. He taught with distinction for thirty-one years. Don's last day of work exemplified his legendary devotion to his students. After a full day of teaching, he continued coaching moot court students until almost midnight. He passed away two days later at the Salem hospital at the age of 71.

Both of these great teachers of young people will be missed.

Willamette is also very fortunate to have a strong network of support in its administrative and classified staff: those who work on the front lines serving students and supporting faculty, who work hard every day to keep Willamette running smoothly, to keep the campus grounds beautiful and its facilities in good working order. Your loyalty and dedication are commendable. You are an important part of what makes Willamette a great place to work and to learn.

In closing, I would like to comment on an issue that, in recent days, has generated more heat than light. It has been discussed by many, but understood by few. And, yet, its outcome will have enormous consequences for this nation and for the higher education community of which we are a part.

As you know, the Supreme Court has agreed to take up two law suits involving the admissions practices of the University of Michigan undergraduate and law school programs. The plaintiffs have challenged University of Michigan's use of race in the admission process, calling into question the use of so-called affirmative action measures to achieve racial and ethnic diversity in student enrollments.

In my view, this may be the most important civil rights legal case involving race and education since the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown v. the Board of Education. I believe that the Court's decision will shape the nation's commitment to social justice and equality for many generations to come.

The Bush administration has filed a brief on behalf of the plaintiffs claiming that Michigan's use of points for race in the scale developed for admitting students amounts to a quota system. This misrepresents the facts. Michigan does not use a quota system; it does not use set-asides; academic qualifications are the single most important consideration for admission; each applicant competes against every other applicant based on the merits of their scholastic records, their promise for academic success and other characteristics deemed important to sustain a diverse student population. Moreover, applicants receive points for other characteristics, such as geography, that are equivalent to those assigned to race.

The Bush administration argues that a race-neutral process should be exhausted before any consideration of race is used in the application process. However, the administration so-narrowly defines the circumstances under which race may be used that, if adopted, it might have the effect of over turning the law of the land which - since the Bakke decision in 1978 - has ruled that it is acceptable to use race as one of many factors in admitting students to a college or university.

President Bush has publicly extolled the virtues of admission practices adopted by the Texas and Florida University systems that admit the top 10% of students from every high school graduating class. And, yet, several studies continue to show that representation of students of color in these state systems has declined - not increased since the adoption of the 10% plan. Nor does it take into account graduate and professional schools or private universities and colleges that recruit a large share of their students outside of Texas or Florida.

Diversity matters.

The different points of view that emerge from diverse cultural heritages and ethnic backgrounds enlarge our aesthetic horizons, enrich our intellectual discourse, sharpened our historical perspective and give increased focus to who we are and what we stand for as a nation.

We also know that the growth and expansion of new knowledge in the 21st century will be increasingly inter-disciplinary and that the typical work environment will require interdependence and collaboration for its success.

And surely, one of the outcomes of a good college education is that it should prepare its graduates to succeed in a work environment that is increasingly diverse and global in many of its dimensions. America's future will depend, in large measure, on the capacity of people with increasingly different cultures, backgrounds and skin color to study and work together.

In other words, it is in the enlightened self-interest of our nation to support efforts to enhance diversity and pluralism on our college campuses.

Diversity matters.

Yet, despite the clear and urgent need for us to do a better job of bringing and supporting diversity in our communities of learning, there are those who are opposed both to the methods of inclusion as well as to the inclusion itself.

It seems that for every person who says that he or she embraces diversity, there are two others who do not support the legal means to achieve it.

The opposition to affirmative action is based on several cultural myths.

I will mention just one.

The first is that universities have always admitted students based purely on academic merit, and therefore, the inclusion of race or ethnicity in the admission process undermines a process based on purely objective criteria.

However, this has never been true. A recent study confirms that athletes and legacies - a fancy admissions term for the sons and daughters of an alumnus or alumna - have a better chance of being admitted to a particular university than any other groups - by far.

Why have the anti-affirmative action crusaders not been as vigorous in their demands that universities admit athletes based solely on their test scores as opposed to how fast they can run 40 yards or how far they can throw the football or shoot the sweet jump shot.

And what about scholarships and admission practices that benefit, let's say, for example, the son of a former ambassador to the United Nations, Director of the CIA, Vice-president and president. This son was denied admission to a Houston private school, but was later admitted to Andover - one of the nation's top private high schools - and who, while a student there, earned mediocre grades and SAT scores below the average of the students we admit to Willamette and yet, nevertheless, was admitted to Yale University. Where is the moral outrage here? And why stop there? Let's eliminate the scholarships and preferences given on the basis of demonstrated leadership in high school or the ability to sing or to play an instrument well or geography or any other set of criteria used to construct out of the application pool a community of young people with diverse talents, diverse abilities and diverse interests. Where are the campaigns to undo these practices - practices that are common at almost all of the nation's colleges and universities?

Finally, I ask you to shut your eyes for a moment and try to imagine an America where those same people who benefited from affirmative action disappeared completely from the positions in government, business, industry, art, and education that they now occupy.

We must make clear that pluralism enriches and enables the meaning and value of the other.

Towards this end, I will ask the Board of Trustees to join with other universities and colleges in support of the amicus curae brief that has been filed by the American Council of Education on behalf of the American higher education associations in support of the University of Michigan's admission practices.

I hope that this will send a clear signal that Willamette cares deeply the nation's future and the need to keep open the doors of opportunity for all Americans.

Let us at Willamette embrace diversity as well as the means to get there.

The enrollment of students of color in the College of Liberal Arts has increased by 50% in the last four years. During the same period, the average SAT scores and other indicators of academic strength have grown at impressive rates.
In the face of the politically correct opposition to the means of achieving diversity, I ask that you join with me in keeping a steady course at Willamette, recognizing that excellence and diversity in an academic community go hand in hand, recognizing that what we do here is made stronger and more beautiful and more effective by the rich tapestry of diverse view points and experiences that we are able to bring here.

The partnership of excellence and diversity came to light for me in Saturday's news of the tragic loss of the entire crew and space vessel Columbia. These seven citizens of the world - six Americans and an Israeli, who gave their lives in the name of science, were singularly gifted scientists, among America's best and brightest in their fields. But they were more than that. Not just exceptional as individuals, but as representative examples of excellence and diversity: five men, two women, an African-American male, a colonel in the Israeli air force and a female from India. Together, they were far more representative of the diverse composition of the human population on planet Earth than perhaps any other team of astronauts yet to travel into space. We owe them our gratitude for their courage and bravery in the face of great risks.

Let's each of us pledge on this anniversary of our founding to fulfill our University's great and noble purpose, to accept the call to greatness in our dedication to excellence - real excellence - in our dedication to teaching, to research, to service - let us accept this responsibility and what it means with dignity and purpose.

We cannot afford to be silent. Let us create out of the rich diversity of human experience a common community of learning that will turn the tide of human want into a mighty sea of joy and light.

Finally, I wish to reiterate my personal commitment to Willamette University and to you, faculty, staff and students. I have come to love the Pacific Northwest, and I find great satisfaction in my work here. I am far from finished with the work I came here to do. I look forward to working together over the coming years on behalf of this University and the promise of greatness it holds.

I leave you with the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."

Thank you very much.