Delivered March 11, 2016
When it was announced a year ago that I was to be the 10th president of Adelphi, I said, “Life is not measured by the breaths that we take. Rather, it’s measured by the moments that take our breath away.”
I couldn’t have understood how meaningful that phrase would be. For the past eight months at Adelphi, my breath has been taken away several times, in a very positive way. Today is no exception.
I am honored, humbled and inspired to stand here before the entire Adelphi community as your president, and I’m extremely proud to be the first woman to lead this University.
I am also filled with great gratitude. Thank you to the Board of Trustees for the faith and trust you have placed in me. I also want to thank our alumni here today who represent the 90,000-member Panther network. You inspire me every day with your accomplishments, showing me everything that Panthers can become, and how you represent this University and our community.
Father Sean, thank you for being here today. You’re one of the first alumni I met in the 10 Under 10 ceremony, and you are a role model for our students and for all of us.
Days like today don’t happen easily, so I want to take a moment to say my thanks to the Inauguration Committee for their time, energy, countless meetings and the debates about whether to use flowers or bushes.
Bob Scott, I want to thank you for being here. You are a historical part of this University, and I look forward to working with you when you return in July.
And to my two dear friends: We had been three deans together. I’ll tell you our trick. Before we would come out for processionals, we would get into a huddle and go, “One, two, three, go deans!” It must have worked.
Thank you to the performers today and last night. We had a student showcase that was just spectacular. I take great pride in spending time with our students and seeing what they are doing in their studies, research, performances and on the athletic field. And I appreciate deeply the faculty members who mentor them.
Professor Moravec, thank you for the beautiful composition. I look forward to listening to it many more times.
I also want to take a moment to thank all of the delegates who are here from other universities. As Dr. Shoureshi mentioned, this is about celebrating higher education together. And I especially thank the university presidents here today. I know it takes a lot of time out of your day to attend something like this. And I understand, now, how busy your schedule is.
I also want to take a moment to welcome the people who are viewing online at our satellite centers in the Hudson Valley and Manhattan and the Suffolk Center. Thank you for being a part of the day with us.
Many years ago my father and I talked about life and careers. We talked about the daily activities of work and family. We talked about all the different things that I might want to accomplish in my life. He looked at me and said, “You know, Chris, you don’t have to have it all at one time. Your life is lived in chapters. You can have it all over the course of your lifetime. It may not come all at once.”
I look out today and see all of my friends who are here from all of the chapters of my life, and I think about my life as a book. You are a very important part of that history. Thank you so much for being here with me today.
I want to take a special moment to say a great thanks to my true north: my immediate family—my husband, Bob, my son, Mason, and my daughter, Mikaela. Thank you for being with me and not letting me stray off course too much.
And Mom and Dad, thank you for inspiring me to be dedicated to education. From the time I was three years old, my first-generation-college parents, who now also have their Ph.D.s, have inspired me to be dedicated to the education and success of others. Thank you for helping me get here today.
I always say people make the place. Last Wednesday I listened to Professor Jennifer Fleischner talk about the history of Adelphi. She said the history of a school is the collective biography of all those who are involved with it. People do, indeed, make the place.
Professor Fleischner also pointed out that the changes at Adelphi over time reflect the broader changes in American higher education.
As we all sit here today and think about Adelphi, it is time for us to write this next chapter. And we will write it together. The achievements of the past are only as valuable as the vision they inspire for the future. Today Adelphi has the foundation to be a great modern university with deep roots.
In July of 2015, I started the 100-Day Listening Tour. Over 400 people participated in person, and over 1,000 people participated online and through email. It was a terrific opportunity for the community to come together and talk about the strengths of Adelphi, the opportunities we have, the challenges we might be concerned with and the priorities we should be focusing on.
In February, we turned towards planning what we should be doing as a University in this next chapter. The planning is still ongoing, but the almost clear consensus from our Listening Tour is that Adelphi should focus on growing enrollment. Adelphi should focus on building our brand and reputation.
Many people said to me, “We don’t want to be the best-kept secret. We want everyone to know about our University, not only the people in New York, but around the United States and around the world.”
“Our Four Key Imperatives”
Today I want to talk about four key imperatives that are part of our future as we move forward. Number one, Adelphi will be relentless in our commitment to student success.
As Senator Chuck Schumer said, we have to be dedicated to student success to enable the United States and the world to move forward. Our students’ success will help us change the world.
Yesterday I was having breakfast with one of our alumni, a graduate from the mid-’80s. He talked very passionately about his experience at Adelphi. He said that he received a world-class yet intimate and transformational educational experience. He mentioned professors who made a difference in his life. The wonderful thing about his visit was that I was able to take him to one of those professors’ classes. He walked in, they gave each other big hugs and tears came down their faces.
We make a difference in people’s lives.
But I also want to share a conversation that I had with an alumna about a month ago. She also was a graduate from the ’80s, an African American student. She told me she never felt like she belonged here. She tried as hard as she could. She joined clubs. She joined the cheerleading squad. She took a variety of classes and hung out on campus. But, she said, “I never felt like I fit.” She eventually dropped out of Adelphi her junior year. Now she is a successful, world-renowned author.
Research shows that students from underserved populations do not stay in college and graduate at the same rate as majority students. Indeed, only about one in four students from disadvantaged backgrounds who intended to get a bachelor’s degree had done so, compared to two-thirds of students from higher-income families. We have to focus on the things that will help all of our students be successful.
Right now, 91 percent of our students receive financial aid, but there is still a lot of unmet need. But I’m pleased to report that tomorrow night we’re hosting the President’s Gala, celebrating a record year of fundraising dedicated to student scholarships. We have raised over $550,000 in honor of our students.
But student success goes beyond financial need. It also has to do with their transition into college. As president of Adelphi University, I’m proud of our pathway programs that help students with this important transition. The Bridges to Adelphi program is spectacular in assisting the one in 68 children in the United States who are born on the autism spectrum and think they cannot transition into college. Our Bridges program helps these students successfully move from high school into college.
I went to a parents’ meeting in the fall, and it was one of the most moving experiences I’ve had. After the meeting, all of the parents came up to me and said, “This has changed my child’s life. Thank you so much for all that Adelphi is doing to help our students be successful.”
Another example is our General Studies Learning Community, dedicated to students who don’t score well on tests or who don’t have high GPAs, but who have all the potential in the world. They take a customized set of classes in their first year, they receive advising, they receive tutoring and they are extremely successful.
We have just introduced, for Fall 2016, a new pathway program for international students. One of the things that I heard on the Listening Tour is that international students feel like they don’t fit in. It is our obligation, as we focus on student success, to help them transition into a new culture and into our University.
In addition to financial aid and pathway programs, we are going to have a laser focus on retention and graduation. We had the highest retention and graduation this past fall that we’ve had in the last 10 years. That’s terrific. But it’s not enough.
Our students deserve to graduate, and they deserve to graduate in four years. We’ll think about how we can improve our advising system. We will look at how we can increase mentoring opportunities. And we will continue, as I know our faculty members are dedicated to doing, to support the high-impact classes and practices that make such a difference in student success.
Our second imperative is that Adelphi will enhance and strengthen our academic core. In 1896, when we became Adelphi College, our first president Charles Levermore talked about his vision for this University. He said, “We will be a strong liberal arts college, and we are going to offer professional preparation.”
One of our first programs was teacher preparation in the professional schools.
Yet a university changes over time with the landscape of higher education. Over the last 120 years, we have changed from our original vision, and yet we have kept its core.
Today we are a nationally ranked, comprehensive university with over 50 undergraduate majors, over 40 master’s degrees and a suite of research doctoral programs.
But it is a challenging time in higher education today. People are questioning the value of a college education. As Senator Schumer mentioned, the research is clear: People are more successful, they earn more, they are happier and they have a better lifestyle if they have a college education.
People need higher education. It is on us as university citizens to talk about the value of what it means to get a degree.
There are debates about liberal education versus professional training. Of course our students want to get a job. But we are going to maintain our vision of upholding a contemporary liberal education for our undergraduate students. We teach our students to have critical thinking skills, to have intellectual inquiry, to be creative, to be innovative, to understand the arts, to understand the sciences, to understand cultures and to understand the world.
Most importantly, we teach them moral responsibility. Ethical leadership is more important than anything today. And that is at the heart of our liberal education.
We will maintain our Core Four, as they are affectionately called: AU arts and humanities, including the performing arts; AU STEM and social sciences; AU professions, education, communication and business; and AU health and wellness.
Our University is strong in all four of these core areas, and we will continue to expand and develop programs that help us maintain those strengths.
We will continue to look at interdisciplinary programs. I think we are at our best when we collaborate and think of new ways of looking at programs. I am especially proud of the launch of the interdisciplinary neuroscience program last month.
Of course, the heart of our academic core is our faculty. We have recruited impressive and passionate faculty such as Professor Moravec, a Pulitzer Prize winner, and Denise Hien, who has federally funded grants on trauma and substance abuse. There are so many wonderful works that our faculty members are doing, there are too many to name. So one way to accelerate our academic core is to support our faculty in teaching, program development, research, scholarship and creative work. They, indeed, are the core of this University. They are the ones making the difference in our students’ lives each and every day inside the classroom and outside the classroom.
The third imperative is that we will be a model of a university that creates a culture of diversity and inclusion.
One of the stories that struck me in the history of Adelphi was the story of Helen Taylor Holmes. In 1945 she came to Adelphi as the first African American student. It was scary for her. She was not welcomed. The Board of Trustees had
to vote on whether she would even be let in. They had to recruit a roommate to live with her, because everyone else refused to. And as hard as she tried, she never felt like she fit in. She would often hop on her bike and go home for comfort.
In 1980, the alumna I mentioned earlier felt the same way. Forty years later! Today we still have people on our campus who do not feel included. And that has to change.
In December I asked Associate Provost for Faculty Affairs and Institutional Diversity Perry Greene to help me create a diversity walk. I asked him to gather a diverse group of faculty, staff, students and alumni to walk around the campus and tell me what it was like from their lens. The results were inspiring and saddening at the same time.
We have a lot of work to do. And we have a lot of opportunity. We have a lot of great people here who have good suggestions on what we need to change. I think all of us are going to need to dig deep and challenge our stereotypes, challenge our prejudices and develop an awareness and empathy for different points of view.
Our fourth and final imperative is that Adelphi will continue to be a connected university.
Going back to 1896 and Charles Levermore, we were located in Brooklyn when we first started, and he envisioned Adelphi being connected to that city and our students having all the opportunities of living in a metropolitan area.
As Long Island’s oldest institution of higher education, we will continue to be connected to the needs of this island, the needs of our state and the needs of the region.
As part of our liberal education core for undergraduates, we have a strong mission for civic engagement and service learning. We have terrific programs in place, such as the Jaggar Community Fellows Program. We will continue to put community engagement at the top of our list.
We will look at serving the workforce needs of our region. As the senator mentioned, the hope of tomorrow is the university of today. The state and the city are counting on us to help serve workforce needs now and for the future.
We will engage in strategic partnerships in this region, because the only way to move forward and innovate is through strategic partnerships.
We are going to create a greater connection to our 90,000 Panther alumni. I can’t think of a better way to demonstrate what is great about Adelphi than looking at all of our alumni and having them engaged with our University and our students.
We will also deepen our connections globally, as the world continues to get smaller.
We will deepen our connections to our place. As Dr. House mentioned, our main campus is right here in beautiful Garden City, and we are next door to the best city in the world. We have satellite centers in Manhattan, and up in the Hudson Valley where we have been for 40 years, and two in Suffolk County. With dynamic learning hubs around the state, we will continue to leverage our place and deepen our roots throughout the entire area.
Finally, we will deepen our connections with our rich heritage. We are, indeed, a modern university with deep roots, and we will continue to respect and celebrate the heritage that has come before us.
As we move forward in writing this next chapter together, these four major imperatives will light our way:
The medal I accepted here this morning is engraved with our University seal and the University motto, “The truth shall make us free.” Here are some truths that I know we will carry as we move forward:
So I’m going to end where I started. The greatest asset of this University is our people. No other university can replicate who we are.
During these challenging times in higher education, I call upon everyone’s intellect, passion and ingenuity to help us write the next chapter for Adelphi as a modern university with deep roots.
Because, collectively, we are all Adelphi University.