As one member of our Board of Trustees reminded me in a recent planning session on campus, the only thing that is constant in life is change. Thus, today we formally celebrate a change of leadership in the spirit of stewarding Monmouth University to greater heights as we mark our 80th year as an institution of higher education. It is with tremendous gratitude for the support of the students, faculty, staff, alumni, community members, and friends of Monmouth University, that I accept my presidential responsibilities to lead this fine university into our shared future.
To New Jersey Secretary of Higher Education Rochelle Hendricks and the other public servants with us today; those who diligently serve our towns, our state, and our nation; to Chairman Sculthorpe, my “confidant in arms” and my inspiration to do everything I can to make Monmouth the very best it can be; to the members of the Board of Trustees with us today who serve our institution in such dedicated fashion; to my fellow colleagues serving the academy and particularly those with us today from my undergraduate alma mater, Franklin & Marshall College; To my fellow faculty members; to my Cabinet, Administrative, and staff colleagues; and of course, to the students who are the heart and soul of our University, thank you tremendously for allowing me to take this journey with you.
I am humbled and honored to lead us to a Monmouth University that we will shape together; one I know will be filled with excitement, energy, and an abiding passion to make a difference in the lives of our students, and our society at large. It is a tremendous opportunity, and I remain grateful and excited by the possibilities we can achieve together.
On behalf of both myself and my wife, Joan G. Fishman, thank you also for making our collective immersion into the fabric of Monmouth University, and Monmouth County, an extremely rewarding experience. You have made us welcome, beginning with the warmth of the summer of 2013, through the beauty of the fall, into the challenges of a cold and snowy winter, and now in the season that inspired Igor Stravinsky to compose “The Rite of Spring.” Joan and I are thankful, appreciative, and inspired for our journey with you. Thank you very much for opening your homes and hearts to us.
Like all of my academic and administrative colleagues here today, I am very fortunate to serve the academy because we make a profound, life-altering difference for our students. The transformative power of education is addictive, awe-inspiring, and the driver behind everything that I hope to achieve for our fine institution.
Our magnificent campus and our academic goals all exist for one reason: to improve the lives of our students, making it truly both a privilege and a responsibility to serve the academy. It is important that we never lose sight of this important charge as we progress through our daily challenges and responsibilities here on campus. These challenges and responsibilities have become clearer to me since I accepted this distinguished post, now over a year ago.
Since my appointment we haven’t missed a beat in building upon all that makes Monmouth University such a wonderful and distinct university. And frankly, we don’t have a choice. The days of academic contemplation without action are over. Higher education is an extremely competitive industry. We are competing for the best students, the best faculty, and the best administrators, all overlaid with the conviction that what we do is relevant and continues to provide lifelong value to our students, and long-term benefits to society.
I set forth some of my goals and aspirations for Monmouth University in a recent “State of the University” memo, the first of what will be an annual message to our community, and it is it clear to me that we are not only ready for the challenges ahead, we are already facing them head-on.
I am especially pleased to report that we are fully immersed in a comprehensive, transparent, and all-inclusive strategic planning process that will define our strengths and collective goals, and set a path to excellence in the years to come.
Change is inevitable given all that is happening in higher education in general and in particular for mid-size, primarily residential, private universities like Monmouth University.
Given the current environment and its challenges, it could be easy to become jaded about the future of higher education if not for the fact that those of us who serve this industry view it as more than a job, but instead as a calling.
Those of us who follow this calling know that the real value of higher education is measured not simply by the rate of employment of our students six months after graduation. Rather, it is about preparing them to think in critical and creative ways for the rest of their lives.
While I actively embrace the drive for more accountability and transparency, and specifically, measurements to quantify our performance, I simultaneously reject the notion that a lifelong love of learning can be fit neatly into a series of checked boxes based on short-term yardsticks.
My faculty, my student support team members, my coaches, and my administrators really do get it. We understand that the cost of college can be a hardship, but we know the payoff is greater than the well-documented financial rewards that university graduates enjoy. We also understand that helping to lighten the financial burdens on our students, through scholarships and cost containments, is vital to our mission as educators.
Please believe me when I say that our most fervent desire is to serve young adults by helping them pursue their interests and find their passion, and helping them translate those interests and that passion into a meaningful and productive life after graduation. This is my goal for every graduate and undergraduate student who steps on our campus. And I will say that this goal underpins the entire strategic planning process underway now.
Monmouth University’s tomorrow is full of bright promise. Our future success will be built by a collaborative community that embraces and supports our faculty in their efforts to inspire and engage our students to nurture and develop their best efforts as citizens and as scholars.
It is a future of success that also depends upon all of us helping to deliver on the promise of a personal and transformative education—an education that begins from the moment our students step on campus until graduation, and even far beyond.
It is a future that demands we develop and deliver programs that serve both the short- and long-term needs of students and our society. And it is one that must involve compassion and understanding for the wide and wonderful world that we live in.
Change, as I’ve noted, is always certain. We can only imagine what our ever more globalized world will look like in 50 or 80 years' time for the class of 2014. I doubt that the graduating class of Monmouth College in 1956 could have envisioned the world we inhabit today, but the fundamental underpinnings of their liberal arts education continues to serve them so many years later.
Our many successful alumni, some of whom now serve as trustees, are powerful testimony to the power of education rooted in the foundations of Monmouth’s tradition of providing a personal and transformative education.
Monmouth University's tomorrow also demands that we tell our story in a bigger, bolder, and broader fashion. Let’s not keep this gem to ourselves. As an institution, we have come very far in 80 years, but you know, so have many other institutions. Our collective task—for each student and faculty member, each alumnus and friend of Monmouth here with us today—you are the best ambassadors to tell our story, our many great stories, within your community, within our state, outside of our state, and outside of our nation.
I am so fortunate to have had, and to continue to have, stimulating academic roots. I had the benefit of inspirational faculty mentors at Franklin & Marshall College and the University of Texas at Austin, and then incredibly good faculty colleagues at Yale University, New York University, Lehigh University, and now Monmouth University.
And along the way I have had the privilege of interacting extensively with the academy beyond the borders of the United States, primarily in Europe, South America, and Asia. The journey at each step along the way has been meaningful and deeply personal; and making education personal for each of our students is what it’s all about.
There are so many experiences that have shaped my philosophy as an educator; learning squash at Yale – while teaching financial analysis; establishing a lifelong friendship with a colleague from Ghana at NYU; hiring one of the first female Chinese students in the U.S. as a teaching assistant; leading a set of students to Mumbai to experience India’s financial capital and the Bollywood film-making industry; these are just some of the experiences that have established my view of education as transformative, and why I believe our collective duty as educators is more than a profession. It is a calling.
These are just snapshots, but I hope they convey why I see my tenure as president of Monmouth University as an exciting and ongoing academic adventure that we will share together.
And although our journey is just beginning here, at least on a ceremonial level, of course it has already begun for us all on a personal level.
Some of my favorite “new” memories include meeting a student at orientation who told me she can’t wait to start her marine and environmental biology studies; spending time with artists who come to our beautiful campus to perform and inspire our students and the communities we live in; seeing Monmouth almost beat Lehigh in football.
And every time I hear about faculty members who inspire our students by sharing research and their scholarship, whatever their field of study, I am renewed and inspired by the value of our mission.
And fortunately for all of us here today, there are so many more journeys to come. Let me once again thank you for your support, your dedication, and your love of this fine institution.