News

President Peltons State of the University

M. Lee PeltonGood afternoon and thank you for coming to this afternoon's event.

Founder's Day gives us a chance to pause, if only briefly, so that we might reflect on our history - our evolution from a school of modest beginnings to a leading national institution of higher learning. Most important, it provides us with the opportunity to publicly honor the good work of our faculty.

July of last year marked the fifth anniversary of my appointment as president of Willamette University. At the ice cream and cake party that we held in Jackson Plaza, I could not but help think of the opening lines of Wordsworth's Tintern Abbey Ode, which recounts the poet's visit with his sister to the Abbey after a five-year absence:

Five years have past; five summers, with the length
Of five long winters! And again I hear
These waters, rolling from their mountain springs
With a soft inland murmur --- Once again
Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,
That on a wild secluded scene impress
Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect
The landscape with the quiet of the sky.

There is much meaning in these lines for me because encountering them for the first time in my sophomore year in college signaled the beginning of my academic career. Wordsworth describes the melancholy and mythic beauty of loss and discovery that is to be found in nature. And I learned - in this poem and others like it - the power of great art to connect us to themes that endure life times - themes that endure civilizations and cross continents - great and small.

This poem also reminds me of what a difference a professor can make in the life of a young person. In my case, her name was Fran
Stevens, who introduced me to the joys to be found in the world of ideas and beauty.

Though my high school grades and other achievements seemed to promise a sparkling college career, I was an indifferent student during my first year of college.
After having taken time a year off at the conclusion of my freshman year, I returned with renewed energy and purpose.

Professor Stevens' class on 19th century Romantic poetry changed my life. I learned how to read and analyze texts. I learned to appreciate the pristine sensibility of John Keats, the idiosyncratic revolutionary spirit of William Blake and Shelley as well as the lovely nature poetry of William Wordsworth. For a poor kid who was the first in his family to attend college, this was quite a leap.

Under Professor Stevens' leadership and example, the English department tailored a curriculum especially for me. I was allowed to undertake independent work and do special projects. On one occasion, Professor Stevens even asked me to write and deliver lectures to my classmates in a course on Lord Byron in which I was enrolled.

Simply put, she restored my confidence by showing confidence in me, for she knew, as all great professors know, that confidence is the parent of competence.

I know of no human labor nobler, more splendid than teaching. The classroom is where change begins, where transformation begins, where growth begins. It is a place of inspiration and hope. Therein lies our future.

I left my undergraduate college intent on a life of teaching and research. And even after I crossed over to the dark side - as my children might say - to the less inspired world of administration, I have always sought to emulate her commitment to be attentive to the individual needs of individual students - both in and outside the classroom.

It is fitting that we honor our professors on Founder's Day as an apt reminder of what they contribute daily not only to this university but to the larger society, as well.

Before we move to the awards part of our program I want to say a few words about where we have been and where we are going.

The primary marker of the success of our ambitious goals remains our
Strategic Long-Range Plan - finalized during my second year as president. This plan represents the collective vision and wisdom of faculty, trustees, students, staff and alumni. It represents the blue print of our future and earmarks five areas in which Willamette seeks distinction: academic excellence, student life, visibility, technology innovation and diversity.

On two of these benchmarks - it seems to me - we have scored high: in student life and in diversity. Today, admission to the College of Liberal
Arts is more selective, and the academic credentials that students bring to Willamette have increased. The College of Law has courageously raised the standard for student academic achievement. This has been a difficult but necessary change that will, among many things, improve bar passage rates and reward high achieving students. I am especially pleased that enrollments in the School of Education remain robust despite unfavorable state funding for public education. This demonstrates administrative leadership, terrific teaching and the excellent reputation that the School of Education enjoys.

Demands for more social space led to the creation of the Montag Center two and half years ago. A long expressed need for more and better studio arts space has been addressed, in large measure, by our recent addition to the Art Building. Improvements in our athletic facilities have enhanced our intercollegiate and recreational programs.

In the various yardsticks of diversity, we have been successful.
Undergraduate student of color enrollment has increased almost two fold in five years. The College of Law has increased racial and ethnic diversity in its student body and the Atkinson Graduate School of Management has sustained its enviable international student population. And while we have made recent gains in hiring faculty of color, especially in the College of Liberal Arts and more modestly in the Law School, I hope that you will agree with me that our work is not yet done in this important area.

There is more geographic breadth in the student body - in all of our schools - than existed five years ago. More undergraduates than ever in the history of Willamette will have had at least one significant international experience through work, study or travel abroad before graduating. Clearly, the student perspective - in and outside the classroom- is more global in its orientation to issues and ideas that govern human life.

The University has sustained its commitment to enable high school students from very modest means to enroll at Willamette. Endowed scholarship funds have increased by $19 million dollars since 1998. Scholarship support has been enhanced in the College of Law and the School of Education.

Our plans to create an undergraduate residential and housing system that knits together academic and social student life received a big boost with an $11 million dollar gift received last year. The residential commons program will enhance teaching and learning at Willamette. It will be distinctive, and it will distinguish us from other highly selective colleges and universities. However, much planning remains: Who will live where and when will they live there? What architectural spaces and features best meet our programs objectives? How are the various parts of the commons to be staged and over how many years? What is the cost and how will we fund or finance it? Who among our faculty will live there and how will they be rewarded?

Certainly, my own thinking about the residential commons program has evolved during the last two years. I have concluded that any redesign of our residential system must involve - as a top priority - significant improvements to our current housing as well as the addition of new living spaces that upper class students will want to live in. Therefore, I have asked the residential commons planning groups, under the leadership of Bob Hawkinson, to make sure that these twin goals have priority in our commons planning, even if it means making significant modifications to our current commons program and facilities design.

Certainly, our regional and national visibility has been enhanced through more focused efforts to tell the wonderful stories of achievement and excellence that characterize who we are and what we stand for. Our emergence into the so-called top tier of national liberal arts universities and colleges as well as our invitation to participate in national scholarship, awards and philanthropic programs speak to a growing prominence. Our faculty - on both sides of Winter Street - continue to receive national recognition for their research, their scholarship and their teaching.

Most notably, when I am traveling east of the Mississippi these days, I hear "Willamette" spoken more often than "Will-a-met." And surely, this is one measure of our success in this area.

We have made some, but not nearly enough gains in technology. A two million dollar challenge grant from Bert and Candace Forbes has provided incentives for other donors to participate in our technology initiatives. The Eaton Hall addition has added more smart classrooms and the offices vacated from Smullin Hall will allow WITS to expand in much needed space. A technology advisory group comprised of several technology leaders and innovators from the Pacific Northwest has been formed to help us think carefully about the role of technology at Willamette as well as help us identify support for our goals. We have improved our network capacity and we have developed plans for an equipment replacement program. However, none of these gains have kept pace with the exponential demands for more and better technology. We significantly lag behind our national peers in our technology operating budget, network capability as well as stabilizing funding for long-term equipment replacement.

During the last five years, we have made substantial commitments to academic excellence. A major salary adjustment in the College of Liberal Arts lifted all faculty ranks from near the bottom of their respective salary scales to the median and above. A step system was put into place to help sustain these gains. CLA established a new leave program for junior faculty and increased funding for faculty development. We have added net new ladder faculty in CLA, Law and the Atkinson Graduate School of Management. This year we endowed two faculty chairs - one in American history and the other in the Law School - as well as completed funding to endow the director of the Hallie Ford Museum. The Law School has endowed a government and law program, established a business and law program and funded several new professorships. Atkinson has established a dean's fund that will enable its new dean, Jim Goodrich, to support initiatives that will enhance Atkinson's reputation and reach.

Despite these goods efforts, we have not done nearly enough to support our faculty and our goal of academic excellence. We must do a better job and we will. For the next five years our planning and resources will focus on academic excellence as our highest priority.

I have asked the deans of CLA, Law and Atkinson to provide me with specific plans to enhance academic excellence in their respective areas within a five-year time frame.

The College of Liberal Arts has been engaged in complex and thoughtful discussions regarding faculty workload. Our faculty - whether in CLA, Law, Atkinson or Education - are conscientious and 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, it often comes with considerable personal sacrifice.

The CLA faculty workload committee, chaired by Professor Meredy Edelson, has documented thoughtfully the demands of teaching, scholarship and service on CLA faculty. Any reasonable set of remedies to reduce or reallocate workload will require significant investments in new faculty as well as increased support for faculty development. These remedies to address workload come at a time when the gains that we had made in CLA faculty salaries have eroded somewhat relative to our peer group. Clearly, we will face a set of tough choices and trade-offs in the CLA academic excellence planning model.

The College of Law has identified its top priority as the need to close the gap between Law faculty salaries and the national average. The dean envisions two new faculty and significant enhancements to faculty research and scholarship budgets.

The Atkinson priorities will reflect its long-term plan to expand its MBA program to metropolitan Portland. This expansion will require new faculty. Salaries increases and additional support for faculty research and travel is also needed.

These are worthy and ambitious goals that have a very good chance of enhancing academic excellence in CLA, Law, Atkinson and the School of Education. We will need to add at least three million dollars permanently to the annual operating budget within the next five years in order to satisfy every need identified by the deans. We undertake this process during challenging economic times.

It is unlikely that we will not be able to do all that we would like or do it at the pace that we would like.

However, we must start somewhere and we must start sooner rather than later. The draft budget that I will recommend for approval by the Trustees includes an academic excellence reinvestment plan that sets aside $1.1 million permanent dollars over the next three years. During years four and five of our reinvestment program we will continue to identify new sources of funding - especially through our fund-raising efforts.

As I reported to you recently, we have raised $35 million towards our $125 million "From Exceptional to Extraordinary" campaign goal. In other words, we have raised 28% of our goal in only 18 months. If we are able to achieve our goal of raising $45 million dollars of endowment in support of academic excellence during the life of the campaign, we will add more than $2 million dollars to our operating budget for these purposes.

In addition to our support of faculty, we must also be mindful of the role that classified staff and administrators play in enhancing academic excellence. They are equally committed to ensuring that Willamette provides its students with a first-rate educational experience. They support the faculty in countless ways on a daily basis and their important work - whether in facilities, grounds, admissions, housing or printing, to name only a few - tell a remarkable story about a remarkable university. I am grateful for their dedication and hope that the 4% base salary pool that we have asked for in next year's budget will represent one small step towards a fuller recognition of their vital role in the success of this community of learning.

Ours is a busy campus. Willamette's Music and Theatre departments put on more than 26 musical performances and six theater or dance productions last year.

The Hallie Ford Museum of Art received more than 25,000 visitors last year -- including 80 group tours from area schools and other groups --- who took in eight exhilarating and fascinating exhibitions. The Museum is fast becoming the region's cornerstone for fine arts experiences and educational opportunities.

The Atkinson Lecture Series has been particularly successful this year, with two sold-out lectures, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and humorist David Sedaris. Benazir Bhutto, former prime minister of Pakistan, is the featured speaker in February.

Our students continue to distinguish themselves. Two students from the College of Liberal Arts were named Udall Scholars - given to undergraduates nationwide who show potential to shape the discourse on issues related to the environment. Two students, both chemistry majors, received the highly prestigious Goldwater Scholarship, a national award established to recognize the nation's top students in mathematics, science and engineering. The College of Law won the national environmental law moot court competition. In a rare accomplishment, the Law school team captured the Best Brief award. Atkinson School students earned a Superior Merit Award from the national professional chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management. MBA students made significant contributions to the Salem-Keizer community through the PaCE (Private, Public and Community Enterprise Project) Program. Each year PaCE teams create a real enterprise, establish and market a product or service and donate the proceeds and substantial volunteer hours to their non-profit partner.

With the support of the School of Education's $1.4 million grant from the US Department of Education, this year's MAT students are becoming innovators in the use of technology to enhance learning. One student is developing an online field guide for stream aquatic life for his high school while two others are connecting their middle and high school students with students in Ecuador to compare ecological data and develop Spanish and English language skills.

Drea Ferguson, (MAT '95), was selected this fall as one of 100+educators across the country to receive the prestigious $25,000 Milken Family Foundation Educator Award. The award is presented to teachers and administrators for furthering excellence in education.

Willamette University is an important intellectual, economic and social resource and though our core mission is to educate students, I believe that we also have a compelling commitment to our community, our state and our nation. A truly engaged university has an obligation to use its many gifts to make our nation - and the world - a better place to live. The Willamette Academy, the minority graduate dissertation fellowship, the Dempsey and Atkinson Lecture Series are examples of programs whose broad purposes extend beyond our core mission.

We must open the doors of opportunity for our nation's young people; we must provide occasions that engage the public in significant conversations about the welfare of the nation - whether it be under the auspices of our Public Policy Research Center or the Oregon Law Commission, housed on our campus.

I will continue to speak on behalf of social justice and equality wherever I am asked to and wherever there is a need. Five years ago I said to you that "our commitment to diversity will unsettle some, but it will ultimately create a greater bridge of understanding between differences, where we will both see and appreciate our commonalties in our diversity."

But to do this well, to do this at the level of excellence that we expect at Willamette is hard work that commands all of our resources, from faculty development grants that create new courses, to the scholarships that yield a talented and diverse student body, to funds for innovative programs that link work and learning and prepare men and women to change the world. We must continue to empower our community at Willamette to create a sense of responsibility for each other.

The democratic ideal is equal opportunity for full human development, and, since education is an intrinsic part of human dignity, the democratic ideal demands that we should strive to see to it that all have the opportunity to attain the fullest measure of the education that is possible to each.

Let us be mindful of our future and of others in that future.

One of our goals should be to offer young men and women the opportunity and the access to achieve this most democratic of ideals. I believe that they should have the chance to have that education which will fit them for responsible democratic citizenship and will develop their human powers to the fullest degree.

The key to the American dream is education. Not the kind of education that is available only to those privileged by history or family income. Not the kind of education that is built on narrow self-interest rather than a compelling vision of what we could be if we were truly open to the best that is known and thought in the world.

But the kind of education where the doors of opportunity are open wide, where the table is set for all to enjoy life's bounty.

And if we are to be an engaged university - a full participant in our democratic society - we must not turn our backs to the nation's wants and problems. Much like Dorothea Brooke in George Eliot's grand 19th century novel Middlemarch, we are "a part of that involuntary, palpitating life and ... [we cannot]... look out on it from ...[our] luxurious shelter as a mere spectator, nor hide... [our]... eyes in selfish complaining."

We have charted a course for the university to follow into the future, while remaining true to our past. The broadest goal of our planning efforts has been to strengthen our community's intellectual life. We see this as a commitment both to support vital and successful programs and to continue to take bold intellectual initiatives that will allow us to enhance the academic excellence and creativity for which we are noted.

Five years have passed with a swiftness that sometimes surprises. I appreciate your support during this time and thank you in advance for your continued support through the next five years.

Thank you.

01-30-2004