President Leo M. Lambert delivers Opening of School Address

In his annual speech to faculty and staff, President Lambert kicked off Elon's 125th anniversary year by discussing a dozen important topics.

President Leo M. Lambert used his annual opening of school address on Aug. 19, 2013, to discuss a dozen topics, including challenges and opportunities of the upcoming academic year. He talked about the financial challenges colleges are dealing with, and the changing ways education may be delivered in the future. He also spoke of the plans to expand access to global study opportunities, the residential campus plan, the Center for Access and Success, the School of Law, the university’s alumni body, the intellectual climate on campus, the move to the Colonial Athletic Association, expanding professional development opportunities for staff, building community at Elon and the university’s 125th anniversary celebration.

Lambert’s address kicked off Planning Week for faculty and staff as they prepare for the 2013-2014 academic year.

Click here to watch excerpts of President Lambert’s address on YouTube.

Highlights of President Lambert’s opening address:

President Lambert discussed bleak predictions being made about the future of higher education, with the economic challenges facing families, dwindling government support, and the advent of low-cost online education alternatives.

“…Very clearly, some institutions will not survive the convergences of these storms. But I want to describe to you this morning why I believe Elon is in a position of relative strength, as well as the factors that we must continue to focus on as we sail into these turbulent waters.  First, let’s take a look at all of the great things we have going for us: First on my list is you. There is not a doubt in my mind that the single greatest resource Elon has for its students is you, our talented and committed faculty and staff.”

Lambert said Elon has established a strong brand as a fine, residential, selective liberal arts university with strong professional education. Elon now has a national reach in recruiting students and is working to expand its international recruiting. And Elon remains a strong value with a price that is $10,000-20,000 less than many of its competitors.

“…We have many strengths upon which to build a successful future, of this I am confident. We will stay true to the essence of what makes us quintessentially Elon. We are investing $100 million in the residential campus because we believe that is an essential part of the undergraduate experience. We will continue to emphasize small classes and learning environments that are engaging and challenging. We will take our hallmark experiential learning programs to still even higher levels of excellence.”

Online education

Lambert said the rise of online learning models for higher education is the result of cost and affordability pressures and the changing expectations of today’s “digital native” students. Many students are finding ways to graduate in less than four years and some expect to earn graduate degrees through innovative programs combined with their undergraduate majors.

“So, it is very clear to me the world of enrollment management is going to get increasingly complicated.  Even if students change their course-taking patterns by a mere 10 percent—say through a combination of taking more on-line courses, early graduation, and other factors—this has huge budget implications for Elon. 

We don’t want to end up like the proverbial lobsters in a pot of cold water on the stove, unaware that the burner has been turned on and that the environment around us is changing profoundly.

My overall optimism about our future is based on our track record of innovation. We do need to take seriously the questions about how the digital frontier will reshape higher education and ensure that we are investing in faculty development and the technology infrastructure to carry us into the future … I see our future as a very creative and powerful mosaic of learning experiences for faculty and students, very much centered here on our residential campus, but with powerful opportunities for learning in the wider physical world, as well as in the online world when offered at a level of quality that would make us proud to say that it was part of Elon.”

Center for Access and Success

Lambert noted the addition of Professor Jean Rattigan-Rohr to his senior staff, where she has taken on the responsibility of opening Elon’s new Center for College Access and Success, integrating the Elon Academy, the Watson and Odyssey scholarship and mentoring programs, and The Village Project.

“Why is this work so vital? Think about the world outside our campus. Twenty-six percent of children in North Carolina live in poverty; in Alamance County, it’s 30.4 percent. Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress show that the largest factor impacting reading and math scores across the nation is child poverty rates. If the Elon Academy and the Watson and Odyssey programs have taught us anything, it is that we can make a difference in changing the future of young people born into less-than-privileged circumstance—through education. Now more than ever, we need to bear down on this idea and commit ourselves even more deeply to the principle of increasing access and success for all students.”

100% Access to Global Study

In working to meet the Elon Commitment goal of achieving 100 percent access to a global experience for undergraduate students, Lambert announced the expansion of need-based financial aid for global study. Beginning next year, Elon will add $125,000 annually for three years to the existing budget of $120,000.

“We are proud of the fact that 72 percent of our students have participated in study abroad and another 2 percent have had a global experience through our new Study USA program. But the fact remains that the most overwhelming reason the remaining students do not participate in study abroad is related to financial need. We can and should do more to level this playing field.”

Residential Campus Plan

This fall, Elon opens the first two buildings of the Global Neighborhood, part of the Elon Commitment goal of transforming the residential campus. The plan includes seven residential neighborhoods, each with special identities. Lambert said the aim of the plan is to integrate students’ academic, social, and co-curricular activities within residential campus neighborhoods in order to create an immersive, 24/7 learning environment.

“I believe the residential campus plan is vitally important to our identity as a residential liberal arts university … Our plan is not only to be more residential, but to create intellectually oriented residential communities, and I believe this is one of the most significant investments we will make in Elon University in this decade.”

Intellectual Climate

Lambert pointed out the increasing success Elon graduates are having in applying to the nation’s top graduate programs. Many of those students were challenged to high levels of achievement through the university’s Fellows and Lumen Prize programs. He encouraged students, faculty and staff to give serious thought to Elon’s academic climate.

“I would like to offer a word of encouragement this morning to the students, faculty and staff who are giving serious thought to the issue of intellectual climate on campus and asking good questions … Do we celebrate nerd culture, as our students call it? … Elon prides itself in being responsive to the needs of all learners, and I thank all of you who are paying special attention to young people on campus who are seeking the highest levels of challenge and connection with others who are committed to the life of the mind.”

School of Law

Lambert said the School of Law has a challenging and important agenda in the year ahead as it searches for a dean to succeed George Johnson and completes a new five-year strategic plan.

“This is a time in our law school’s development to determine what its programmatic distinctions and hallmarks will be, and, of course, all of us are vested in their success.”


The opening of the new Martin Alumni Center at the corner of Haggard and O’Kelly avenues is the latest development in Elon’s work to expand alumni relations programs. New alumni awards programs have been created and more alumni are returning to campus to speak to classes. Lambert said that a new group called the NextGens, alumni who have graduated from Elon more than 10 years ago. They will join the existing Young Alumni Council as a new advisory board.

“Great universities have great alumni bodies. Alumni are not just about the university’s past. They represent our future. More than any other time in Elon’s history, our national reputation will rest in substantial measure on the accomplishments of the young men and women we send forth in the world each year to accomplish great things. People will point to those accomplished women and men and say, ‘That very fine person went to Elon.'”

Colonial Athletic Association

Elon athletics is in a transition year as it completes competition in the Southern Conference and prepares to enter the Colonial Athletic Association in 2014. Lambert explained the advantages of moving to a conference that better aligns with Elon’s student and alumni populations.

“Transitions like this are not easy. When we joined the SoCon, we started out at the bottom competitively, but rose steadily. There are expectations to raise more money each year to cover travel costs. But if we take our cue from the lions outside the New York Public Library, Patience and Fortitude, I think the move to the CAA will prove to be a very good thing for Elon in the long run.” 

Community at Elon

Lambert said Elon’s strong sense of community is one of its greatest strengths, and said each member of the community should be concerned when encountering a lack of respect that compromises someone’s safety or well-being.

“We have a way to go in creating a more perfect university—more accepting, more welcoming, more respectful. We are a good place, filled with many, many good people, but we can be even better.”

Lambert called special attention to the work of the multicultural center and asked for support for the center’s new staff, including the new director, the associate director for diversity education, and a new position, the assistant or associate director for race and ethnicity, focusing specifically on supporting African-American students at Elon.

He said Elon’s Inclusive Community Council will continue to focus on the Black, African-American and African communities at Elon and said conversations are beginning in anticipation of a growing Hispanic community at Elon. He also announced the formation of a special task force that will focus on the LGBTQIA community at Elon.

“There is much more that we can and will do to make Elon a fairer and safer place for members of the LGBTQIA community at Elon, and I look forward to the progress we will achieve.”

125 anniversary celebration

Lambert concluded his speech by wishing the community “happy quasquicentennial.”

“In this special anniversary year, let’s all be reminded this morning of the exceptional privilege it is to serve this university together. I wish you a wonderful academic year.”

Watch video excerpts of President Lambert’s speech below…