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  • Founders' Day Address 2014

    President Paul R. Brown, PhD

    Founders' Day provides a unique opportunity in the life of our University.  Unlike commencement ceremonies, Founders' Day is both a historical exercise, allowing us to collectively reflect on how our past has shaped who we are, and an opportunity to define the goals we have set for ourselves, and to chart our shared course for the future.

    Today's ceremony symbolically unites the past, present, and future of Monmouth University. It is an occasion for solemn rededication of the universal goals and aspirations of higher education, and to the specific aspirations and goals we have set for ourselves.

    That is a very special opportunity, and this is a very special time for all of us. Monmouth University is at a crossroads, but it is a crossroads that we have not arrived at by accident.  We stand at the crossroads of our rich past, our vibrant present, and a future we will shape together.

    This is an exciting moment because over the last 10 months we have, all of us, defined the core elements of our institutional identity, recognizing our many strengths and identifying areas where we know we can do better.  And we must do better, all of us, if we are to compete successfully to realize the lofty ambitions we have articulated during the Strategic Planning process.

    And make no mistake; we are in heated competition every day.  Just as our student athletes compete on the playing field, we are all competing for the time and attention of our students; for financial resources; for the best pool of academically gifted students; for talented faculty and staff; and for potential employers - who will help bring our graduates the success we know they have earned.

    When all of us recognize that we stand on the threshold of change, in a highly competitive environment, we will already be far ahead of when we began our journey together.  By defining ourselves, and our goals-and the challenges and opportunities ahead-we are setting our own course, rather than being passively buffeted by external forces, which are formidable. Let us define the moment, and not let the moment define us.

    Thanks to our Strategic Planning process, we know who we are, and thanks to the hard work from across all areas of our campus, we know where we must go.  We have already taken the first steps to defining our institutional identity - our institutional culture, and thus shaping, our future.

    It is a loaded phrase, "Institutional Identity."  The identity of any institution isn't about its branding or marketing.  It isn't about logos, or typefaces, or taglines. Our identity stems from what we value, and what we want to achieve. We express our values and our goals in the broad vision we articulate for our students, our alumni, and ourselves.  This is our mission.

    Especially on Founders' Day, it is appropriate to ask ourselves; Do we want to be a university that follows tradition, for its own sake?  To do things because that is the way things have always been done?

    We simply do not have that luxury. 

    Let me take a moment to reflect on our history and the many changes we have seen as an institution. By now, anyone with a passing familiarity with the history of our school knows that Monmouth began in 1933 as Monmouth Junior College during the Great Depression.  We were one of six emergency colleges, established with federal funding. Monmouth Junior College went on to become Monmouth College, and 20 years ago this academic year, to become Monmouth University.

    But how many of you know what happened to the other five colleges that began their journey in 1933? Four of them failed-and they failed long before Monmouth Junior College became Monmouth College.  I think there is a lesson for us here. Only one other member of that original cohort-in Union County-survives today. 

    Like our predecessors, we share a deep commitment to, and belief in, the power of education to make a transformative difference in the lives of individual students, and to our wider society.  That commitment is part of our DNA.

    Our history reveals other elements of our identity that are equally important. Whenever faced with new challenges, or new opportunities, Monmouth has demonstrated the ability to compete; to adapt; and to strive for ever greater levels of excellence.             

    It is a challenging endeavor to chart a future course away from what we know and have experienced, to an unknown destination. Our strategic plan is a point of departure from the comfort of what we've been, and a challenging adventure into the new territory of what we want to become.

    We have many of the tools, and the areas of excellence, that will be the foundations of our future.  But not all of them; and not all of the ones we have are aligned the way they should be aligned.

    Engaging with the changes needed is not a brief commitment, and our vision for the future is not a plan that will sit on a shelf.  Nor will it be engraved in stone.  Strategic planning is a process that has no end.

    The reason it has no end is because the journey to excellence has no endpoint.  Striving for excellence means not settling on our laurels, not being "good enough," or being overly satisfied in being simply better than we once were.

    That is just as true for us as a university as it is for our students.  We add little value as educators if we do not challenge how our students view the world; challenge them to do better; challenge them not to rest on their laurels. 

    Indeed, the very essence of our mission is to challenge our students so they can depart from what is comfortable and familiar-challenge them to think with maturity and depth about what they hope to become. To do that, we ask them to undertake the same journey of critical self-examination and improvement that I am asking all of us to make. 

    If we ask this of our students, can we demand any less from ourselves? If we don't prepare our charges to ask difficult questions and to strive for excellence, we aren't doing them any favors. 

    Our undergraduate students will not become successful, mature, adults in the classroom alone. Learning takes place in the residence halls, in the dining room, in the offices of student organizations, and on the playing fields. Our graduate students will not excel in their careers without extensive interaction with faculty members who are experts in their fields and current with the demands of the workplace.

    The transformative aspect of a liberal arts education is transformative precisely because it allows our graduates to compete; to adapt; and to succeed in changing circumstances we can't imagine. And if we don't demand the same accountability from each other, we aren't doing the health and future of Monmouth University any favors.

    This year's first-year undergraduate students are members of the Class of 2018. Next year's freshmen will be the Class of 2019, and then off to 2020!  Now add 50 years to that. This is the world we are preparing our students for.

    This is what I mean when I stress, preparation for "Life after Monmouth."  We have our students for a very short time, and in that time we need to prepare them for many, many years to come. How many of us would venture to predict what skills or technology will be valuable in the year 2070?

    For us to succeed-for our graduates to succeed-it will take all of us moving with urgency toward our shared goals. At the same time, we will need to be ready to change and adapt to new challenges and opportunities-just as our forebears were able to do; and just as our future graduates must also do.

    Excellence is a goal that has no end, and is approached only by increments. We need only to look at our own history. Monmouth University did not always inhabit these magnificent buildings and grounds, or have such breadth and stature, as it has today. Our dedication to the liberal arts and professional studies, to teaching and research, these are the elements that have shaped us.

    The strategic planning process has provided us with our blueprint - our roadmap - and our vision for Monmouth University can be realized. We can, we must, we will succeed but only if we are prepared to commit ourselves fully.

    This is not the time to procrastinate, to temporize or to equivocate. This is not the time to stand still or retreat through inaction. Our predecessors have bequeathed us this precious legacy, this University.

    This is the time to let our competitive spirit shine. This is the time to announce that Monmouth University-our faculty, our students, and our alumni are ready to do more and to achieve more. Declaring these intentions means we all need to be involved in sharing our successes far and wide. 

    Faculty must share the success stories of students and graduates; career services must share their success in placing students and graduates in internships and in careers, and we must all encourage our alumni to come back to campus and remain involved.  Doing this means breaking down organizational silos, and taking pride in all that we accomplish together.

    All of the ingredients for our success are present. We have a group of well-prepared students; a dedicated faculty challenged and invigorated by scholarship and teaching; and staff and administrators who care deeply about the past, present, and future of Monmouth University.

    The dramatic change we are demanding of ourselves cannot be affected overnight. But we cannot allow ourselves what in the past might have been considered adequate leisure for contemplation before taking any action.

    It is time to declare where we are headed. We are planning new undergraduate programs, expanding graduate programs at Monmouth Park Corporate Center, building new academic and athletic facilities, all while providing a personalized education to our students.

    Success for our students will first and foremost be undergirded by a commitment to academic rigor. And our progress and our effectiveness as educators must be constantly monitored to document changes in student's intellectual competence and maturity, just as we must document and monitor our own progress as we implement our vision for the future of Monmouth University.

    We've assembled here today to celebrate our history, to recognize our remarkable progress in 81 years, to share our values and to define our next steps on the road to excellence. And, because this is Founders' Day, I will close by echoing the words of President Emerita Rebecca Stafford as she led the charge from college to University twenty years ago; "The time is now. The place is here. The past is ours. Let us begin."