Faculty and Staff Planning Week
Aug. 20, 2007
Welcome to the start of a new academic year at Elon University. Our community has an important year ahead. Each of you received notification over the summer of the 2007-08 institutional priorities so that we might have a common understanding of our critical goals. Consider a few examples of important priorities that will shape our future:
- Professors Russ Gill and Helen Walton and the Phi Beta Kappa committee, with the support of Dean Steven House, have been hard at work over the summer months preparing the second phase of Elon’s application to shelter a Phi Beta Kappa chapter. I believe the pursuit of this goal has helped the community to focus attention on matters of academic excellence, academic challenge, and resources to support the academic program. I congratulate everyone involved in this work.
- In late October and early November, the School of Law will host a very important accreditation visit by the American Bar Association. As you know, it is our objective to gain provisional accreditation at the earliest possible opportunity so that members of our charter class are eligible to take the bar examination in any state. It is exhilarating to watch the School of Law grow and mature, and there are many activities happening at the law school this year that you should be aware of. We welcome the second class of students to the law school, 110 strong, as well as our second cohort of distinguished new faculty colleagues. John Alexander, a Rhodes Scholar and former president of the Center for Creative Leadership, will join us this year as the Isabella Cannon Distinguished Visiting Professor of Leadership, taking on major responsibility, along with the dean and the faculty, to further define a program of leadership development that we have envisioned as a hallmark of the Elon law school. Professor A. E. Dick Howard of the University of Virginia will give the first Sandra Day O’Connor Lecture on October 18 here on the main campus. His topic will focus on the evolution of the US Supreme Court from the Warren Court around the time of the 1960 Greensboro sit-ins to the present day, emphasizing the interplay between the Court and several presidents—especially Nixon, Reagan, and George W. Bush—who have sought to change the Court’s direction. And, finally, the law school will host a distinguished leadership lecture series this year in Greensboro, open to the entire campus community.
- We open the year having completed The Oaks apartments and commons building and the new Colonnades residence halls, the latter of which will support six new learning communities. Both complexes add a total of 570 new single bedrooms to the campus. We’ll break ground this spring for Lindner Hall, a 30,000-square-foot anchor building for the Academic Village, which will form a second major quadrangle in testimony of the centrality of the arts and sciences at Elon.
- We’ll continue our efforts this year to reach out more effectively to our alumni, 41% of whom have graduated in just the last ten years. Lindsay Hege, Class of 2004, joins us as assistant director of alumni relations for young alumni and will expand programming for that important group. We’ve also planned an alumni summit this fall to determine future directions for alumni programming, and we’re also planning an Alumni Leadership Day in the spring of 2008, for which we will ask you to help us invite alumni back to campus to speak in classes and meet with students.
These represent just a few of the 33 institutional priorities set for this year, so you can quickly sense what a challenging, exciting, and even historic year this will be for Elon University.
This morning I wish to reflect briefly on seven broad themes. Each of these ideas describes an influence on the University which has promise to shape the Elon culture in positive ways. None of these influences is completely new—in fact some have been shaping Elon since our inception—but all seem to have particular importance at this juncture in our history.
I. Promoting Environmental Sustainability
The first of these influences is a growing commitment to environmental sustainability. For the past several years, an all-campus committee has been hard at work crafting a comprehensive environmental plan for Elon, which was presented in several University forums and to the Board of Trustees last spring. This year, for the first time ever, we have added a category titled Sustainable Environment to our institutional priorities and we plan to continue this emphasis in future years. You will see a lot happening on campus this year to make us greener. We will hire a full-time environmental sustainability coordinator to oversee the University’s manifold efforts towards environmental sustainability. We expect Lindner Hall to be the greenest building we’ve ever built at Elon. We’ve begun to convert our automobile fleet for admissions and campus safety and police to hybrids, and physical plant staff have begun to introduce clean electric vehicles to replace our fleet of Cushmans. We’ll partner with ARAMARK to introduce more locally grown foods into our dining halls and to expand a program to share surplus food with the neediest in our community. And, of course, we are going to further increase our commitment to recycling on campus.
The plan developed by the environmental sustainability committee last year contains literally hundreds of ideas to make Elon greener, contributed from our entire community. Our goal this year is to turn this work into an overall operational plan so that, in classic Elon style, we can set forth clear objectives about environmental sustainability year by year, accomplish those objectives, and measure our progress.
Here is my central and most important point about environmental sustainability at Elon: if we are really serious about being green, we must reduce our consumption of energy from conventional sources. This year we are asking all of you to join in and help us reduce Elon’s energy consumption by 6%. This is a very ambitious goal but one that we think is doable given the ingenuity, creativity, and commitment on this campus. Today I’m asking every single department and division of the institution to think about what you can do in your corner of Elon—be it Johnston Hall or the School of Communications or Human Resources—to contribute towards this end. All of us can learn to turn off lights in our offices when they are not in use, to shut down our computers when we leave for the day, and, most importantly, and to adjust to office temperatures that are a tad higher in the summer and a tad lower in the winter. We’ll also be working very closely with the Student Government Association to try to promote some very effective messages to encourage environmental responsibility in our student body.
Lots of small actions on all of our parts will add up to a real difference. If you have an incandescent light bulb in your office, e-mail Ed Eng and ask that it be replaced with a compact fluorescent. If you don’t have a blue recycling container nearby, ask for one. You’ll be amazed at how much material you can help keep out of the waste stream.
II. Advancing Scholarship
A second major force that is unfolding at Elon is that we are becoming a more scholarly community. The scholarship and creative work of the Elon faculty, which manifests itself in many important new books, scholarly articles, and creative works, is the foundation of a scholarly community. It is heartening to see more students engaged in serious scholarship through our excellent undergraduate research program as well. These efforts are supported in many ways: growing our digital and print library collections; improving faculty-student ratios; increasing the percentage of full-time faculty; and increasing the number of sabbaticals to support faculty scholarship.
This year we will take additional steps towards strengthening the place of scholarship and intellectual achievement at Elon. Distinguished University Professor Tom Henricks and Associate Dean Tim Peeples co-chair a very important presidential task force on scholarship that will make its report to the University community this fall. In words that Professor Henricks wrote to me last week, “the general theme of the task force’s work is to articulate the intimate connections between teaching and scholarship as the two critical dimensions of the faculty role and to build an institutional support system that strengthens that relationship. Strong teaching is enriched dramatically by strong scholarship, and strong scholarship by the faculty is necessary if we are to have worthy scholarship by students.” I urge your careful attention to the work of the task force, which I expect will make a number of important recommendations about supporting scholarship at Elon and celebrating the intellectual achievements of our faculty, staff, and students.
Many of us believe Elon should do more to recognize the truly exceptional scholarly achievement of upperclassmen and women. I plan to bring to the Board of Trustees this fall a proposal to create the Lumen Prize to assist Elon University juniors and seniors in the attainment of ambitious and serious intellectual goals. I am suggesting a prize with a value of $15,000, which could be used for scholarship assistance for the final two years of study on top of existing financial awards and support for research, international study, equipment and supplies, a summer stipend, and other approved expenses. My hope is that winners of the Lumen Prize will receive special mentoring and support in pursuit of graduate fellowships and international awards such as the Rhodes, Truman, Goldwater, and Rotary scholarships. I’d like to suggest that we plan a two-year pilot test of the Lumen Prize, in which we would award 15 prizes each year beginning this spring, and then, if successful, increase that number to 25 prizes beginning in the 2010-2011 academic year. This is a wonderful opportunity for Elon to recognize and celebrate the very best achievements of Elon University undergraduate scholars.
Increasingly, as we search for and select students for our Fellows programs, we find ourselves in competition with the best institutions in the country. Considerable thought was given over the summer months by faculty directors of our fellows programs and academic administration to increasing the level of financial support for academic scholarships for these important programs. As we begin to recruit the Class of 2012, the University will increase its support for Presidential Scholarships substantially, increase the number of Elon College funded fellowships from 30 to 50, increase the Honors Fellows awards substantially over a two-year period, and continue to support the growth of other fellows programs through endowment resources.
III. Connecting with External Communities
A third shift under way at Elon is the nature of our engagement with external communities near and far. Elon has had a long and impressive track record in the area of service and civic engagement. The Kernodle Center for Service Learning and student-run Elon Volunteers! are examples of successful long-standing programs that have engaged our students in the community. More recently we have become a home institution for North Carolina Campus Compact, in which Elon is leading a state-wide conversation and a series of programmatic initiatives on civic engagement.
I believe it is a sign of a maturing and sophisticated institution that more of our outreach is taking the form of academically-based, multi-year partnerships that are designed from the outset to be sustained for the long run.
This summer we welcomed our alpha class of 26 rising 10th graders from all 6 public high schools in Alamance County for the Elon Academy, an intensive, academically challenging 4-week residential program. I am profoundly grateful to Professor Deborah Long, Dr. Peter Felten, and Professor Judith Howard; the Elon Academy staff—Professor Richard Mihans, Darris Means, and Kim Johnson; Elon Academy faculty from the University—Professors Joyce Davis, Christa Arangala, Kim Pine, Mat Gendle, and Stacy Saltz as well as the many other faculty, staff, and students who contributed to the wonderful success of this first year. Our goal is to keep these bright minds focused on the prize—a university education—despite the economic barriers they face.
I am convinced there will be a ripple effect in all six high schools when Elon Academy students return for the fall semester with a heightened sense of purpose and a commitment to excellence and achievement. The Elon Academy is an example of the powerful force for change that Elon University can be in our community when we put our minds and energies behind important social issues.
The work of Professor Tom Arcaro and all the faculty and students involved in Project Pericles has set a national example of a deep and sustained commitment to civic engagement and social change. Members of the Class of 2008 will travel to Mexico to continue their work on poverty and education issues in Chiapas. The work of the Class of 2007 on pediatric malnutrition in Honduras continues, and parent Kevin Trapani has provided for the work of each class to be sustained through an endowed gift. Project Pericles is leading the way in helping our students understand that service at the highest levels is connected to knowledge, engages those being served as partners in the enterprise, and promotes change through sustained commitment.
IV. Changing the Culture of Alcohol Abuse
A fourth influential force that is potentially culture changing and could make us a much healthier community is to lessen the influence of alcohol on campus. A Presidential Task Force on Alcohol, yet another outcome from last year’s Academic Summit, will call on all of us to send strong and unambiguous messages to our students that students’ decisions not to drink are welcomed and that underage drinking is not condoned by the University. We want to articulate a powerful message to our student body that binge drinking is antithetical to the goals of our academic community. The task force will also likely make a number of recommendations later this fall about increasing our educational efforts with students and parents regarding drinking, and increasing the number of social and recreational experiences on campus that do not involve alcohol. Under the leadership of Vice President Smith Jackson and Professor Jeff Clark from the Department of Mathematics, the task force has already proposed, and I have endorsed, a stronger set of sanctions and penalties that will be applied, beginning this fall, to students who violate the University’s alcohol policies. The task force has also recommended that, beginning this fall, first-year students participate in an on-line alcohol education program that will help them understand the real risks that alcohol use presents in a college setting.
It is time to set a new standard about alcohol use at Elon. I ask that all of us on the faculty and staff pay careful attention to the report of the Presidential Task Force on Alcohol, because I believe it will provide us with a set of strategies to create a healthier community for learning at Elon.
V. Building a Culture of Philanthropy
A fifth force shaping the University’s future is a growing culture of philanthropy and endowment building. Although our new Ever Elon campaign was launched only eight months ago and will be in the leadership phase through next summer, major donors are already responding to the University’s plan to strategically build our endowment in a way that will underscore our most closely held values.
As you heard me announce at graduation, Furman and Susan Moseley of Seattle have already committed the largest scholarship gift in the institution’s history in order to fund scholarships for women of potential with high financial need. Trustee Allen Gant and his wife, Denise, and Glen Raven, Inc., have committed a major gift to support undergraduate research in the physical and life sciences. Trustee Shelly Hazel and her husband, Jack, and Trustee Wes Elingburg and his wife, Cathy, have pledged professorships in law and accounting, respectively. Trustee Jim Maynard and his wife, Joie, have committed to help us expand scholarship opportunities in business and teacher education. These are just a few of many gifts that have been received or pledged that will help us to achieve crucial goals.
These will allow us to:
- keep the gates of the University open to more students with financial need
- offer more scholarship assistance to the very best students we are trying to attract against key competitors
- support and retain an outstanding faculty through the addition of professorships and increased faculty development support
- preserve and maintain our beautiful campus and physical plant
- provide greater access to the Elon Experiences, especially by giving students with financial need the resources to participate in study abroad
Fund raising at Elon is a team sport. The success we are enjoying in the campaign is due in large measure to the wide range of individuals who are actively involved in fund raising. Many faculty and staff have been instrumental in helping us craft compelling proposals to donors. Trustees have been active in the solicitation of donors in the most enthusiastic way, after committing major gifts themselves. The momentum that is building to acquire new resources to further strengthen what is best about Elon—our commitment to truly engaging students in their learning—is palpable and inspiring. I am confident that the Ever Elon campaign, with its principal emphasis on endowment building, will help us to deepen quality across the University and will strengthen us in our quest toward excellence.
VI. Deepening our Spiritual Traditions
The sixth important force that I want to discuss with you this morning concerns the religious and spiritual traditions of the campus. One of the most powerful and eloquent statements made by a member of Elon’s alumni body was offered by Edna Noiles, Class of 1944, when Edna and her husband Doug made a gift to endow the Vera Richardson Truitt Center for Religious and Spiritual Life. Edna said that their gift should be used “to help students explore their faith and other faiths so that they may be able to go out into the world and lead lives of reconciliation.” What an inspiring challenge Edna issued to us—at a time in which there is so much intolerance and violence in the world over how we as humans we should encounter the Divine.
We at Elon have an opportunity before us in the ecumenical experience of our denomination, the United Church of Christ, to be a beacon for religious pluralism and understanding. The congregation of the Elon Community Church, which has been so integral to the nurturing and support of the college and whose history is so intertwined with our own, has extended an invitation to the University to explore with them the creation of a community spiritual life center, providing space for Catholic mass, Protestant worship, Jewish Seder and Shabbat services, and Muslim daily prayers, as well as an invitation to join with them in sponsoring lectures, readings, and other activities for the broader community that will create an environment of religious tolerance, respect, and understanding. I can’t think of a more important time in the history of our nation for Elon to provide leadership in this regard, and I have asked our esteemed chaplain, Richard McBride, to take the lead in involving our faculty and staff in exploring this partnership.
VII. Nurturing our Strong Community
The seventh and final idea I want to raise this morning is a theme I have touched on nearly every year since becoming president, and that is the importance of community at Elon. The idea of community is central to our identity at Elon, often bringing to mind pleasant events such College Coffee, annual occasions like the Daniels-Danieley awards luncheon, and days like this coming Friday when the entire community pulls together to welcome and move-in an entering class.
But the Elon community is often most powerful and eloquent at difficult times. Over the course of last academic year and this past summer, many of us attended funerals or memorial services for three of our students. Losing Kaitlin Hammil, Michael Foreman, and Thomas Barnett was painful beyond words. But some among you, Jana Lynn Patterson and Chris Leopold for Kaitlin, Anne Cassebaum for Michael, and Michael Fels and L.M. Wood for Thomas, did find eloquent words of compassion and admiration to leave with families and friends. They helped families understand that these students were a part of this community, that they were known here, that they experienced happiness here, that there were faculty, staff, and classmates who cared and wanted to help each with his or her respective challenges, and that their lives mattered to us. This too is community—deeply and personally expressed—that reminds us how intimately our lives are connected to each other at Elon.
This morning I have tried to articulate seven broad ideas that will help shape the future of this institution. There are many days when I read the news of the world and feel discouraged—but usually not for long. We here at Elon are in the business of creating the future. We influence the world greatly by the 1100 graduates who are sent forth each year as a force for good. That’s what I try to bear in mind on the way to the office each day.
In a world with enormous environmental challenges, we at Elon can make our corner of the Earth greener and prepare a succeeding generation to steward our planet.
In a culture of celebrity, Elon can be a place of serious ideas.
In a nation of gated communities, we can model engaged citizenship and create sustained change.
In a culture of excess, we can curb the insidious effects of binge drinking.
In a nation where we spend more than we earn, we can build an endowment to help secure Elon for succeeding generations and invest earnings to live our most cherished values.
In a world where religious violence and animosity are rampant, Elon can be a place of religious pluralism and understanding.
In a fragile world, Elon can be a community of welcome and interconnectedness.
Let Elon be a model for the world we want our children to inherit.1
1 With a bow to Distinguished University Professor John Sullivan