Members of the Board of Trustees, Dr. George Abraham, Director Rosie Mauk, Provost Amott, Deans Butler and DeMeis, Professors Ruth and Tinkler, Chaplain Adams, Student Trustees Nunez and Abogan, members of the faculty, staff colleagues, students, invited guests and 50th Reunioners returning:
Welcome to Convocation and the beginning of the 2005-2006 academic year.
We begin this academic year in much the same way as students who have come to the Colleges in generations past. Since 1822 and 1908, Hobart men and William Smith women have come to Geneva from all over the world to embark on an intellectual journey and receive a broad liberal arts education that allowed them to lead lives of meaning, productivity and success.
But we cannot begin these official ceremonies of the academic year without acknowledging the passing of Bill Scandling, Class of 1949.
In the history of an institution there are individuals who by virtue of their intellect, hard work, generosity and personal commitment transform a place for generations. Bill Scandling was such an historic figure for Hobart and William Smith Colleges.
Trustee Judy Cross said it best when she wrote: “In my mind, Bill and the Colleges are inseparable in the second half of the 20th Century. It truly has been a saga of a young man who started his career on the campus and then remained personally involved through philanthropy and service.”
For those who are new to our community, I urge you to read about Bill Scandling. Although he graduated more than 50 years ago, his presence and legacy is felt everyday on this campus. Most obvious is the Scandling Center – named in his honor to recognize his Board service and leadership dating back to 1967, and his generosity.
But there are countless other quiet personal ways, acts of extraordinary generosity that Bill Scandling did anonymously, to make this a better place. Students who are Scandling scholars know of the important access to a Hobart and William Smith education thanks to his philanthropy. Faculty members, coaches and staff colleagues know of his handwritten notes, telephone calls and ‘pats on the back’. Kappa Alpha fraternity brothers appreciate his loyalty and commitment. Genevans know of his genuine concern for this city and its economic well being. Presidents of the Colleges -- and certainly this President -- know of his valued counsel, good judgment and supportive volunteer leadership.
So today we honor Bill Scandling for his unfailing dedication to the Colleges. He touched this community in significant ways and we are profoundly grateful for his lifetime commitment to Hobart and William Smith Colleges. I ask for a moment of silence.
We have an important year ahead of us – as an institution and, of course, an important year for students. Let me address each separately.
For the Colleges, I see this as a critical time to build upon the energy of recent years, deepen the successes of our new initiatives, address with honesty and confidence some of the challenges we have and work to secure our future for generations to come. No small task.
But we will do this with remarkable advantages of volunteer leadership – our Board of Trustees, alums, parents and friends of the Colleges who are committed to our success.
We will do this with an engaged faculty who bring life into the classroom and change lives. We are most fortunate to have these teacher-scholars who care deeply about our students’ academic success and futures.
We will do this with an extraordinary group of staff colleagues – some who joined us this summer like our distinguished new Provost, William Smith Athletic Director, Director of Admissions and others. Working alongside talented colleagues who have been here for many years, we have a dynamic team to address these issues.
And, of course, we will do this with a student body that is engaged and anxious to make this a better place. The entering Classes of 2009 join with upper classes and our student trustees, student governments, clubs, athletic teams to make this campus come alive.
In this academic year, we have the opportunity to build upon the initiatives first addressed in our strategic plan. I want us to take what are already impressive efforts and bring them to the next level of excellence. Specifically, the Center for Global Education, Center for Teaching and Learning, Finger Lakes Institute and Salisbury Center for Career Services – were all recommendations of our strategic thinking together -- and now a reality. What can we be doing to expand our reach, serve our students better and honor our mission? We can honor the memory of our talented first Center for Teaching and Learning Director Anita Canizares – whom we lost suddenly this year – with this focused attention.
New energy has infused our approach to Residential Education and Student Life and Leadership. This year we must capitalize on this, engage our diverse community and work together to build the kind of learning community to which we aspire as we launch our new Fraternity Judicial Board and new sexual harassment policy.
This year we must continue our civic dialogue on important issues of the day. Our Chaplain will lead the Fisher Center in a creative year focusing on gender, religion and politics. The President’s Forum will become more interactive with a radio show working with the Current Affairs House. I want this campus to stand out as a place where dialogue can be informed and civil. This campus must be a safe place to explore the diversity of experiences we bring with the exchange of ideas – allowing our students to form their own opinions.
Next, we have a community imperative to address our technology and operational needs for our students, faculty and staff. For some, this will be hard. We may ask people to change the way they do their jobs. But our future as a 21st Century campus depends to a significant degree on our investment and implementation of an enterprise information system.
The Middle States Report affords us the chance to reflect thoughtfully on the excellent accreditation we received and work with our new Provost and Dean of the Faculty to address their recommendations and build on their commendations.
I believe we must work this year to bolster our admissions effort so that we can bring a more diverse group of students into our community. And we must honestly address the challenging issues of our students’ success and retention.
In the past four years our campus has been improved thanks to the generosity of our alumni and alumnae, parents and friends of the Colleges. We have made key campus investments so that the academic experience of our students is enriched and the learning outside the classroom is advantaged. Stern Hall, the Finger Lakes Institute, renovated space for the Center for Global Education, Public Service Office, Salisbury Center for Career Services, Bozzuto Boathouse, Cozzens Field, McCooey Field, construction of North and South residence halls, renovation of Comstock, Hirshson, Geneva, Jackson, Potter and Rees are all important developments.
This year, we move forward with renovations for an expanded Admissions Office and construction of a new Studio Arts building at Houghton House, thanks to William Smith alumna Katherine Elliott, Class of 1966.
This year, as we plan for our future, we must also work to secure and enable the future of the Colleges with the financial resources needed for the 21st Century. Our capital campaign has shown great progress. I am heartened by the tremendous generosity and have great confidence for the future.
Robert Hutchins, the distinguished President of the University of Chicago from 1929 to 1945, wrote a thoughtful essay titled “The Idea of a College.” He said: The power we want our graduates to have is power in -- and over -- the unpredictable future. The power the college is best equipped to help them gain is intellectual power. It is the power of understanding and judgment.
That is our charge at Hobart and William Smith as well. With these efforts and initiatives we will focus our year.
Second, let me speak about my hopes for you as students. You arrive or return to a remarkable place. Use it. Soak it up. Seize the day. Take this year as a chance to explore areas of study or interest that you have not done before. Work hard to get out of your comfort zone while keeping your eye on your day job – a student.
I come to this advice after reading this week’s New Yorker. In it, Dean of Columbia Journalism School Nicholas Leman profiles the conservative radio talk show host and columnist for the Weekly Standard, Hugh Hewitt.
Some may know the name from the 100 radio stations that air his daily show. Others may have read one of his six books, or his columns in the evangelical magazine World. Others who took my political science class may recall his call-ins and right-wing brand of politics. I invoke his name because he was my college roommate at Harvard.
What’s my point here? My hope is that our students would see the richness of our community and reach across the divides of race, gender, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation and politics and learn from this moment in your lives.
Since our days as undergraduates, Hugh Hewitt and I have maintained a friendship – and while we probably haven’t convinced each other of anything, we have learned a lot from each other.
In his recent book, “If It’s Not Close They Can’t Cheat – Crushing the Democrats in Every Election and Why Your Life Depends On It,” Hewitt writes: “As I have explained many, many times over the years in print and over the air, my closest friend since 1977 has been Mark Gearan. Mark is currently the President of a fine old college in upstate New York, Hobart and William Smith Colleges.”
He goes on to cite my work in the Clinton White House as Deputy Chief of Staff, Director of Communications and Peace Corps Director, adding, “Mark and I are political opponents and very close, indeed, inseparable friends. He’s just wrong about nearly everything, and I hold out very little hope of his ever changing.”
So my lesson here to students – be prepared and open to new ideas and difference. It may come in varied forms – and while it may not result in a lifelong friendship like mine, it will certainly help you, if you learn from it.
I begin this year with enthusiasm for the talented arriving classes, the promise of our new colleagues and with respect to our faculty and staff colleagues who have served the Colleges for many years. With gratitude to the Board of Trustees for the honor they have entrusted to me, I open these ceremonies and this coming academic year of achievement.
Opening Remarks, Mark D. Gearan
August 31, 2005