Wittenberg Magazine P.O. Box 720 Springfield, Ohio 45501-0720
Phone: (937) 327-6141 Fax: (937) 327-6112
Chairman Steinbrink, members of the board of directors, distinguished guests, faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends, thank you for sharing in this wonderful celebration of Wittenberg University. I am honored and humbled to stand before you today, and I am overwhelmed by the inspirational words and sentiments many of you have expressed.
On an occasion such as this, I would be remiss if I did not take a moment to extend special thanks to a number of individuals. I would first like to thank the presidential search committee for having faith and confidence in me, and its chair Ingrid Stafford, whose support, encouragement and firm commitment to Wittenberg are an inspiration to us all. Thank you also to our Board of Directors for selecting me and providing enormous support as we begin this collective journey.
I would also like to thank the inauguration steering committee whose dedicated service, creativity and hard work made this week and this defining day possible. A special thanks to Maureen Massaro who chaired that group in addition to her numerous other jobs. A special thanks also to all the folks behind the scenes, our facilities, dining services, public safety people who made today and this week possible.
To my family and friends who have traveled here from all across the United States. I am truly moved by your presence here today! I am, indeed, blessed — blessed with a great family, wonderful friends, and many extraordinary mentors. I would like especially to recognize my Dad, my two brothers and their families, and Lin’s mom. And to my wife, Lin, my partner in life, whom I affectionately call a “force in her own right” — and I mean that in the most positive way — I love you. I could not do this without you. And to my two remarkable children — Sarah and David, you make me proud everyday. You truly are the greatest accomplishments of your mother’s and my life.
Lastly, I wish to extend sincere thanks to the entire Wittenberg family, which has welcomed us with open arms. We are truly overwhelmed by your generosity and warmth. I would also like to recognize three extraordinary men – Bill Steinbrink, the interim president last year, whom I am now blessed to have as chair of the Board, Baird Tipson, the 12th president of Wittenberg, and Bill Kinnison the 11th president of Wittenberg. Thanks for being here today. I am honored to be on the same stage with you.
The number 13 has traditionally been associated with bad luck, but standing here before you today as your 13th president, I can honestly say that I feel like the luckiest person alive. Wittenberg is a great university, and I am excited to be here. I am also honored to have this unique opportunity to share some of my early reflections about this special place.
My colleague, mentor and friend, Bro Adams of Colby College, once told me that the biggest change he encountered when he became president was the “weight of the seat.” I already feel the weight of this seat.
Being a college president is a weighty responsibility and, as my 15-year-old son would say, an “awesome” responsibility. And it is a responsibility I take very seriously. In everything I do as your president, my guiding principle will be to do what is best for Wittenberg.
I am truly passionate about what we do here, and although the invitations and press releases surrounding this inauguration have my name emblazoned on them, this day is NOT about Mark Erickson. It is about Wittenberg, about celebrating who we are today, who we will become, the challenges and opportunities we face, and the people and the programs that make us distinctively Wittenberg.
We are, indeed, fortunate – fortunate to be at one of the finest liberal arts universities in the country. In fact, one of my early observations is that we are even better than we believe – better than most beyond this campus realize. In fact, better than some on our own campus fully comprehend.
We have more than 20 Fulbright Scholars among our faculty ranks. We also have five Ohio Professors of the Year, more than any of the other 52 colleges or universities in Ohio. Many on our faculty could teach anywhere, yet they chose to stay here, at this liberal arts college in Springfield, Ohio, because it is here where they can fully engage students in the learning process, and it is here they can make a real difference in the lives of young people.
Our faculty care deeply about this place and our students, not only while our students are here on campus, but long after they leave our hallowed halls.
Professor Emeritus of Biology Betty Powelson, who will receive the prestigious Wittenberg Medal of Honor later this fall, still remains close to former students some 10, 20, even 30 years after they sat in her classes. Betty please stand. Betty is here as but one representative of a rich history of Wittenberg faculty who are great scholars, teachers, and who care passionately about this place. I recently learned that Professor Bob Schultz is also in the audience as a guest of one of the students he inspired, Bill Barton, from our Board of Directors. Professor Schultz, too, is another one of the legendary faculty who taught here.
The great news for us is that this generation has been replaced by another generation of faculty who share their passion for excellence, this place, and our students.
In fact, our faculty is one of the hidden gems of this place. I met several wonderful faculty during the search process — Robin, Tim, and Jo — and came away very impressed. I then came to campus last spring, met more faculty and came away even more impressed. Now that I am here, I can say with confidence that I would put this faculty up against any faculty in the country. And my sentiments are shared by our alumni.
In my many visits with alumni since my announcement as president, I’ve heard the same refrain about how this professor or that professor challenged and inspired them, changed their lives. The most recent conversation was just this past Friday evening as I shared dinner with Bill Martin, a member of our Board of Directors. Bill is the athletics director for the University of Michigan, the former president of the United States Olympic Committee (the one who put the USOC back on the right track) and a very successful businessman, and he spoke eloquently about the English professor at Wittenberg who inspired him and the campus environment that prepared him for success.
During my interview for the presidency, Professor Jo Wilson told me that she recently hosted the wedding of one of her former students at her home. Many places talk about such relationships, but this is a place where they really happen. The examples of such lifelong student-faculty relationships are endless. They distinguish us, and they are part of what make us Distinctively Wittenberg.
And these relationships are not just limited to our faculty. The other day I shared lunch with one of our first-year students who came to my office. It was a delightful lunch. I came away very impressed by this young man, by his maturity, compassion, and commitment to the values of this place. As I left the dining room, Ann McGree, the woman who checks IDs at the student dining room stopped me and said “isn’t he a great young man?” In that moment, I realized that Ann already knows all our first-year students by name and a little bit about each of them. As I took another step, three of our students passed and said, “We love you Ann.” That does not happen everywhere.
When I interviewed here, I asked to meet some folks from security, maintenance, and buildings and grounds, and I met with three remarkable gentlemen, Carl Loney, Mark Goheen, and Kenny Lake. I was blown away by their passion for this place. The most memorable moment was when I asked them what they were looking for in a president, and Kenny told me he wanted to have a president who would give him a hug. Well, those of you that know me know that I am hugging guy, and yes, I give Kenny a hug every time we see each other on campus. Our staff is extraordinary, and they are passionate about this place.
Our academic programs also include some surprises you might not expect to find – such as one of the finest East Asian Studies programs in the country and an outstanding Russian Studies program. And an extraordinary marine biology program – yes, here in landlocked Ohio – thanks to our partnership with Duke University. And you might not realize that we have more than 80 of our alumni living in Japan, or that the founder of the Hong Kong stock exchange is a Wittenberg grad, as is the owner of the largest travel agency in the Far East. This place is full of surprises, wonderful surprises.
Without a doubt, this is a marvelous place, but we are also a place that is slow to “crow” about our successes. Perhaps that comes from the Scandinavian part of our Lutheran heritage. As a part Swede and part Norwegian myself, I know firsthand the art of understatement that comes from this ethnic heritage. At a dinner recently, a friend shared that his mother once told him, “I don’t want you to brag, but it is okay to boast.” Well then, we at Wittenberg need to begin boasting a little more!
As I told a group of 25 international guidance counselors who visited campus this summer, there may be some places that can do a better job of preparing their students for their very first job, but few, if any, do a better job than Wittenberg at preparing them for a lifetime of learning, a career, and life in the fullest sense of all that means: how to be a community leader, a friend, a parent, and a global citizen. I believe this passionately.
I also know that Wittenberg is a great place that aspires to become even better, and that excites me. In fact, it’s one of the major reasons I came here. I am not a maintainer. Life is too short, and that simply would not get me up in the morning. While we can celebrate our accomplishments and our strengths, we must also look to our challenges, our opportunities and our future.
And the higher education landscape of today is incredibly challenging. The competition for the best and the brightest students is fierce, especially here in Ohio; the expectations of students for the amenities on campus are unprecedented, and the true costs of educating a student in a residential setting are soaring.
We at Wittenberg are at a very important moment in the life of this fine university, an inflection point if you will, where what we do and how we respond to this competitive environment over the course of the next six months, year, and two years will map the trajectory of this university for decades to come.
For the last couple of years, this campus has been engaged in a strategic planning process to define our collective future. That process is now entering the final stage of its evolution and will be completed by the end of the fall semester. The result will be a vision for our future, and
To our friends and alumni, yes, you can consider this fair warning; this plan will shape the biggest and boldest campaign in Wittenberg’s history. A campaign that will inspire you to fuel the future of this great university.
Make no mistake, this strategic plan will provide the blueprint for excellence in all that we do, and from its several themes will emerge a place that puts the development and success of students squarely at the center of our thinking for they are the reason we are here. As I said in my convocation address, we are educating the next generation of world leaders, and although the scholarship and research we do is very important, our primary focus at Wittenberg is the education of the 2,000 young men and women who call this campus home.
Although the final stage of our planning process has just commenced, I would like to reflect upon several themes I anticipate emerging. Please know that this is not an exhaustive list nor a prescriptive list of what must be, but rather some early reflections from this president of less than three months.
One theme I can imagine is reinvesting in the historic heart of this campus.
Our vision for the future must challenge us to reinvest in the historic assets of this campus – in buildings like Koch, Blair, Carnegie, and Zimmerman – and create new spaces like the new residence hall rising along Alumni Way or the new Rosencrans Fitness Center. We must also renew our efforts to make this campus come alive with art both inside and outside our buildings.
Our partnership with Springfield and the surrounding community is another compelling theme. Community is central to the advantages of a residential college, to liberal education, and to our institutional values. Our future is inextricably tied to Springfield and Springfield’s is tied to us. Unlike many of our competing liberal arts colleges that find themselves surrounded by cornfields or pastures, we are located in an urban setting, and we embrace this fact.
We believe this so strongly that we require our students to do community service as part of their undergraduate experience. Our students also benefit from internships and real-world experiences in the community to round out their liberal arts education, and the community benefits from engaging these bright young minds in various projects and activities that serve our residents and shape our future. In addition, Paul Parlato and our Community Education team provide many rich opportunities for adult education in our local community and beyond.
As I sit in Recitation Hall and look out the windows in the back facing Buck Creek, I can imagine a pedestrian bridge connecting us to the remerging downtown with its new hockey rink and combined hospital. Somewhere between here and there I also see a coffee shop, a bookstore, an ice cream shop, and maybe even a sushi bar, or clothing shop – a series of shops that one typically sees in a college town that could serve not only our students and faculty, but the hospital workers, city employees, and the rest of this community. Wouldn’t that be fun?
Wittenberg must be a fully engaged partner with our hometown of Springfield and Clark County. My own prior experience at Lehigh where we partnered with the town of Bethlehem has demonstrated that great things can happen when communities and universities make partnership a priority. I have no doubt that we can make such a partnership work here.
Global citizenship and diversity are core values in my own life, and in my mind, must also continue to be educational imperatives for us as a collective community and hallmarks of a Wittenberg education. Part of what drew me to Wittenberg is the fact that these core values are central to this university and deeply embedded in our history. We were in the business of bringing international students to Wittenberg long before it became fashionable to do so.
Two of our most prominent alumni, Ronald Li and H. P. Kong, first came to Wittenberg in the 1940s. And I just learned last night that Ruth Chai, a Chinese student, came to Wittenberg in the 1920s to pursue her master’s in education and was so taken by the place that she named her son, Winberg. He attended here also and co-wrote the book, The Girl from Purple Mountain, with his daughter about his family’s journey.
We need to continue our focus on international engagement. We need to bring the world to Wittenberg and Wittenberg to the world. The world is getting smaller every day, and the more our students truly understand that world, the better prepared they will be to lead it.
Our longstanding commitment to diversity must also infuse our classrooms and curriculum. Our students must be taught that difference is something to celebrate and embrace. We must prepare our students for a diverse world, by ensuring that we are diverse ourselves. In researching my comments for today, I learned that our founding president, Ezra Keller, ensured that from the beginning “the gates of the college in Springfield were open to all, regardless of color or race.” Broadwell Chinn was among the first African Americans to enroll in 1875.
Then there is the Hon. William A. McClain of the Wittenberg class of ’34, for whom the Black Culture House on campus was dedicated and renamed in 2004. Judge McClain won the National Intercollegiate Oratorical Contest while at Wittenberg, an accomplishment that made him realize that “his blackness was a badge of honor, not a badge of shame,” and that he could do anything he wanted to do. Today, Judge McClain remains one of the most respected attorneys in the nation.
Another theme for our strategic plan surely must be a renewed commitment to integrated learning both in and outside the formal classroom. One of the enormous strengths of a residential liberal arts college is the blurring of boundaries between the intellectual and social lives of our students. The conversation that occurs in a political science class should naturally flow into a hallway conversation in a residence hall. Similarly, the learning obtained as the leader of a student organization should naturally inform the debate and discussion in a management class.
This summer as 110 faculty and staff joined me to welcome the class of 2009 to our campus, we ran in and out of the residences with our students talking with them, laughing with them and enjoying the exchange. That is what should happen at a place like Wittenberg. This past week I spent two days and a night living in a student residence hall, engaging in discussion with our students about their lives, their aspirations, their successes, and their failures.
It was a wonderful experience, despite the shared bathrooms and lack of air conditioning. But it reconfirmed the fact that I should spend more time in our student settings. I naturally stop in a faculty member’s office, or the student center, but I rarely journey to a residence hall. I need to do that more. We all do, and we need to create natural opportunities for that to occur. Faculty, don’t worry. I am not suggesting that you should live in a residence hall, but I am suggesting that we should have more seminars in residence halls, perhaps even a system of connecting faculty and staff to residences as faculty fellows.
I am also suggesting that our residence halls and dining halls should be alive with intellectual discussion and debate.
At the same time, we must ensure that our curriculum is current for the 21st century. One of our strengths must surely be the integration of our learning into real world experiences – internships, co-ops, study abroad. The world does not come in “neat little boxes” and neither should our curriculum. Our students must be challenged to think across various disciplines, work as effective team members, and lead wherever they are called to do so.
Our current and future students must also see Wittenberg on the national stage. There is much that makes this university distinctive, but we have not clearly articulated that to the broader world. We have not answered the question, “Why Wittenberg?” as clearly and compellingly as we must. But we will. The good news for us is we have a great story to tell.
To my mind, we should not and cannot be a regional university either in the students we attract or the way we talk about who we are. We presently enroll students at Wittenberg from 40 states and 19 countries, but our percentage of students beyond this state and this region is not as high as it should be.
While we plan to continue our commitment to our regional base, we must also expand our efforts and broaden our reach to students in the East and in the West and the South and North so that we can provide these prospective students with the unique opportunity to become part of this extraordinary place. We have already hired an admission representative in Chicago and will hire an East Coast representative within the next few weeks. We have also stepped up our international recruiting efforts. And all of us, not just our admission counselors, must spread the word about the great things we are doing here. We are nationally ranked, and we must be nationally and internationally recognized.
Our Lutheran heritage, high ethical standards and service to the broader world must also continue to define this special place we call Wittenberg.
Our relationship to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is one of our distinctive strengths. We should not only be an anchor for our Lutheran students, but I also believe our connection to the Lutheran church provides us with a wonderful platform to discuss values, ethics and for our students to ask important questions such as: Who am I and how do I fit into the larger world? My experience has been that students at this age desperately want to talk about these topics – not in a prescriptive way but in a way that welcomes all viewpoints and perspectives.
As Wittenberg’s president, I want to challenge our students to grow spiritually and challenge us to fully realize the potential of our Lutheran heritage.
This is also a place committed to service and focused on ethics. Our honor code speaks to the high expectations that we have of our students. Our community service commitment speaks to the value we place on serving others, and our values statement as a university reinforces our commitment to the education of the whole person, to pushing our students to be not just the finest student scholars, but the finest human beings they can be.
Throughout our history, we have equipped students to lead inspired lives of service to the broader world. Throughout our history, hundreds of students have served in the Peace Corps, with Teach for America and VISTA. Ted Trautman, one of our prestigious Smith Scholars who is with us today, will continue this tradition.
As a result of his time in South African Kingdom of Lesotho this summer with history professor Scott Rosenberg and 28 other students who volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, Ted now says he is resolved to live his life and shape his career in a way that works to further international development. He plans to serve in the Peace Corps after graduation just like many of our alumni.
Such stories – and there are many – consistently inspire me, and they should inspire you. They also show some of the ways we prepare our students to serve the world. Such service distinguishes us, and it is what makes us Distinctively Wittenberg.
As I conclude my remarks I cannot help but think of two important individuals in my life, people who have truly inspired me to do what I have chosen as my life’s work. The first person is Carl Wartenberg, an assistant dean at Princeton who quite frankly is the reason I decided to work in a college or university setting. The time Carl spent with me and the compassion and caring he modeled has shaped who I am today. Sadly, Carl died about a decade ago. But I know that he is looking down from above today and smiling.
Interestingly, Carl was 11 years older than me while my other source of inspiration is 11 years younger than me, and that person is Chris Marshall, who is here today. I came to know Chris first when he was a student at Lehigh as he struggled with a personal crisis in his own life. Chris is now the alumni director at Lehigh, the godfather of my son, and the best friend one could possibly have. He, like Carl, inspires me and challenges me by the way he leads his life.
I provide these two examples, not only because they are important in my own life, but because they speak to the powerful impact that faculty and staff can have in the lives of their students AND the powerful impact that students and former students can have in shaping our lives. Colleges like Wittenberg provide this wonderfully fertile place that can truly inspire lives – lives of service, compassion, mission and meaning. Lives filled with passion. I think our motto captures it best, “Having light we pass it on to others.”
As I look around this chapel I see story after story where that light is being passed on.
As we begin this new chapter in the life of Wittenberg, expectations are high for me, and I know that, and, in fact, embrace that, but they are also high for all of you, for our students, for our faculty, for our board, for our alumni, and for this community. My mantra will be: “Nothing but the best is good enough for Wittenberg,” and it should be yours, too, because our students deserve nothing less.
The promise of Wittenberg is great, and it will be realized if we are all working together and pulling in the right direction. I am truly inspired by the work we do, by all of you, and by the future we share. We are Distinctively Wittenberg.
Wittenberg Magazine P.O. Box 720 Springfield, Ohio 45501-0720
Phone: (937) 327-6141 Fax: (937) 327-6112