Fall 2012 Convocation: “Oh, Yes We Will!”

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Dr. Francine G. McNairy

Convocation was held on September 7 in the Winter Visual and Performing Arts Center on campus. President Francine G. McNairy gave her state-of-the-University address at that time.

Recognition of emeriti and new faculty, staff and union representatives was also noted during Convocation. To see who was recognized, click to view the fall 2012 Convocation Program.

 

You can read the address, entitled Public Higher Education for the Public Good, “Oh,Yes We Will!,” in its entirety below:

Welcome everyone. It is a joy to see all of you and to welcome all new members of the University community to the fall convocation.

I want to tell you about Miss Taylor, my first grade Sunday school teacher. Raised in the south in a poor family in the early 1900s — I doubt that she went beyond the 7th or 8th grade.  When her family migrated north, she became a domestic, cleaning people’s homes.

As a Sunday school teacher, she devoted a significant part of her life to preparing children to excel because she clearly understood the necessity of developing critical life skills in young people.

Picture a very stern, no-nonsense, strict disciplinarian. Not one nurturing bone in her body. Most importantly, Miss Taylor did not suffer fools. I learned this valuable lesson one Sunday shortly before Christmas when she pulled me aside to say, “Francine, we missed the reading of your piece at Saturday’s rehearsal for the pageant.”

I quickly responded–hands firmly planted on my hips–“Oh, I am not doing that anymore.”

You see, I was tired, I mean, after all, I was six years old, and I had been doing these since I was four. I was tired; it just didn’t seem that important to me. Needless to say, that is not the way Miss Taylor saw the situation. She just looked down at me and said, “I see.”

It will not surprise you to learn that Miss Taylor didn’t miss a beat in finding my mother, and my mother took even less time in finding me. “Oh, yes you will,” my mother declared!  “Yes, you will be in that program.”  And yes, I was. Not only was I in that pageant but in all sorts of holiday celebrations right alongside all the other children and youth of that community, all the way through high school graduation.

Miss Taylor saw the big picture. It wasn’t any specific reading that ultimately mattered, it was the collective whole. She realized that it was through engagement with others — repeated engagement — that communities are strengthened. She had a clear vision that contributing to the intellectual and social development of young people served in building a stronger community; she contributed to the public good.

From humble beginnings well over a century ago Americans invested in public education — primary, secondary, and higher education — as a commitment, not only to individuals, but the collective whole. Through literacy in communication, mathematics, and technology an appreciation of physical/natural and social sciences, humanities and the arts, comes an educated population that strengthens every community, state and this very nation.

In very similar ways Millersville University, from its inception as the state’s first normal school to its current form as one of the State System’s highest performing universities, is a story of earnest commitment to the public good.

While a college education enlightens the mind, graduates of Millersville have been called upon to do even more: the enlightenment gained extends beyond the individual; it must be shared.  That commitment to the public good has been the unshakable rock of permanence through whirlwinds of change that has kept this institution solid, sure and poised for future success.

As good stewards and tireless advocates of our mission of access, we respond to changing economic and social conditions of the region. But in every case, Millersville’s transformations represent the work of faculty and staff who, despite whatever differences we might hold at any particular moment in time, have always remained united behind a collective passion to act in service for the public good.

There is no question that we find ourselves still in the midst of a historic and continuing global economic recession. At the same time there is a growing misalignment between the competencies of 20th-century workers and 21st-century career options. It is not that jobs do not exist in our economy today, they do.  But they are either of the subsistence-labor variety, or they are the advanced technical variety.

In the face of the economic pressures on families, the cost of higher education has multiplied astronomically. According to the most recent data from the State System, the national average cost of a four-year degree (with tuition, fees, room and board) has increased by nearly 42% in just the last seven years, though State System universities are well below the 42%. Few consumer commodities have inflated so rapidly. Just as Americans expressed great anger and frustration over the housing bubble, so too many are turning a very cynical eye towards the cost of higher learning.

We find ourselves in a peculiar paradox. Never has higher education been more clearly necessary to protect the ability of the individual citizen to ensure his or her own economic security; yet never has the public felt less trust in the work of the nation’s colleges and universities.

As a public, regional, comprehensive university, we need to be proud owners of our affiliation with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. True, we are not as immune from higher costs as we would like, and, yes, we have a deep commitment to funding quality. Yet, we are also accountable stewards of the dollars that taxpayers, including our students and their parents, entrust to us so that we can continually champion access and genuine service for the public good. In short, people need to continue to hear our story, the story of public access where, with continued state support, we do our level best to make the cost of education as affordable as we can for all students.

Even today there are detractors of public higher education who wonder if this institution can survive as a productive enterprise, and to them I say, “Oh, yes we will!”

The University’s history is rich and consistent with accounts of change and transformation at regular intervals. Sometimes the actions we have taken have been proactive:  Through assessment, reflection, and creativity, we have discovered innovative ways to improve and strengthen the institution’s ability to serve. In other cases our actions have been reactive:  In thinking about all that we have been dealing with in these past few years, it is helpful to remember that we are not new to the challenge of continual improvement and creative change in times of great difficulty. Our predecessors took on the recession of the 1880s; the great depression of the 1930s; the disappearance of traditional-aged students in the war years; the sudden and urgent rush of hundreds of thousands of returning GI’s in the 1940s; the social tumult of the 1960s; and the devastating loss of faith in our political leadership in the 1970s.  Throughout it all, Millersville University has kept moving forward, kept insisting on self-improvement, kept the conversation going and kept the faith. There were times when our very survival was at risk, and we found our collective will to keep our doors open because our mission of public service demanded it of us.

I have the utmost confidence to proclaim “Oh, yes we will” because of the future plans we are building on our rock-solid foundation of service for the public good and our transformation agenda.

This is perhaps best illustrated in our definition of student success. You may recall that at last year’s convocation we pledged to build such a definition as part of our commitment towards transformation. Hear these words from the faculty and staff who collaborated on this draft:

Students’ immersion in the Millersville experience awakens their intellectual curiosity, heightens their self-awareness, and sharpens their personal desire to engage in deep learning — empowering them to make productive contributions to our dynamic world.

Embedded in this definition are five key factors that merit special attention.

Intellectual curiosity and personal desire are habits of the mind which comprise the foundations of a liberal arts education. They represent the intrinsic motive to engage in disciplinary and interdisciplinary critical inquiry that will manifest into lifelong learning.

Self-awareness is the critical and introspective understanding of how each person learns and the discernment of each person’s unique gifts for leadership and service to the broader community.

Deep learning is achieved by students having the necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities to succeed in all of life’s pursuits. Of particular importance at Millersville are writing, critical thinking, global understanding, computation and technological literacy which support discipline-specific learning in the majors.

Finally, the promise of productive contributions codifies that we are preparing students to realize that no man or woman is an island.

Blessed with a quality public education, it is incumbent on each of our graduates to “pay it forward.” With the pride and confidence of Millersville alumni, they will enter a dynamic and rapidly changing world with the power and fortitude to make a difference, and “Oh, yes they will!”

Know that this remains a living definition, and we welcome your insights. Over the next few days I invite you to go on the Millersville University home page, click on “Site Index,” then the letter “T,” and choose “Transformation.” Review the words again, and then let us hear your thoughts. Is it bold enough? Does it challenge us enough? How would you strengthen it? How will we assess it?  How will you be an active contributor in achieving its aims?

Thanks to the tireless, collaborative efforts from many of you who have been working in Action Idea Teams about framing the areas of student success, advocacy, and University structures, we can point to further instances where — “Oh, yes we will” — make transforming differences for the good of the public we serve. Let me mention just a few highlights:

  1. We will reframe advisement by enhancing mentoring opportunities where students will know they are being served as holistic persons and not just random numbers scheduled into particular classes.
  2. We will place greater focus on general education, moving it from a distribution model of a collection of courses that students perceive they should complete as soon as possible, to a course of study that unites the campus as a community and provides common ground for meaningful dialogue.
  3. We will expand the frontiers of global education with more international partners as well as opportunities for global awareness.
  4. We will find innovative ways to tap into unmet opportunities for partnerships within the region.
  5. We will continually seek enhancements for our facilities, including state-of-the-art technology to further engage our students and respect their diversity in how they acquire knowledge.
  6. We will continue our advocacy agenda, as our key stakeholders supported us and raised their voices to the state legislature and governor to find a way to refrain from further reducing the appropriation and lifting some of the archaic regulations that have held us hostage.

We invite you to also go to the Transformation website to remain informed regarding the progress of each of the action idea teams. I urge each of you to renew your commitment to the work of Millersville.

Ours is a powerful story of nurturing the minds of our students who have made, are making, and will make amazing impacts on the lives of others. So many demographics support this claim:

  • Fact:  47% of our graduates remain in the five counties surrounding this campus, and 72% of our alumni choose to reside within Pennsylvania. These women and men provide the region with an educated workforce, consume goods, pay state taxes, raise families, engage in the community and send the next generation of learners — their most precious treasures — to our doors.
  • Fact:  Our students, through our service learning experiences, our departmental internships, and our extensive co-curricular programming put the theory of the classroom into action in the community.- More than 3,700 students performed 134,000 hours of service learning. According to the Independent Sector, the value of this service to the local community was approximately $2.9 million dollars.
    - In addition, our students contributed about 75,000 hours in volunteer activities.
  • Fact:  With full tuition costs of $6,428 per year, students at Millersville receive the highest quality, affordable, four-year educational opportunity in the region.
  • Fact:  Those who know us best – our faculty and staff, both current and retired – have assisted our present “Soar to Greatness” capital campaign with 628 individuals gifting $3.3 million.

Our commitment to serving the public good has been validated by the Carnegie Foundation for the advancement of teaching, recognition by the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll with distinction and, most recently, in an independent assessment by Washington Monthly.

As Americans, we learned long ago, that the ongoing development of an educated citizenry is not something reserved for the few, but a right which we should all share. I am honored to be part of an institution like Millersville University, which stands tall with pride in maintaining the core values of access, quality, and service to the greater good. More than ever before, in today’s advancing technical and global society, America needs public higher education every bit as much as it needs public elementary and secondary education. And it needs public higher education to be strong, responsive, and intentional.

It is incumbent upon all of us who have committed our lives to public higher education to be prepared at all times to rise to our own defense.

One of the best ways to share the value of public education is by telling the stories of our alumni who change for the better the communities and this world in which we live.

If you watched the Summer Olympics, chances are you saw the runner from South Africa, a double amputee, who became the first-ever Olympic competitor to participate in the games using prosthetics. As amazing as that performance was, so, too, is the amazing accomplishment of a Millersville alumnus, Dr. Hugh Herr, himself a double amputee, whose work on developing artificial limbs has improved the lives of hundreds of disabled soldiers as well as those injured in civilian life. Recipient of a MacArthur Fellows Program “genius” grant, it was his testimony, expertise and professional reputation that convinced the Olympic committee to allow the young athlete to compete.

Did you ever feel rejection and later find the will to forgive? That is just one life lesson we all can learn from alumna Florenz Maxwell. Florenz came to Millersville in the 1950s from Bermuda, and the reception she received was, sadly, far less than welcoming from administrators, faculty and students than anyone should receive. Frustrated, she left, but given an opportunity nearly two decades later, she returned to attain a master’s degree. An acclaimed librarian, she was named by Queen Elizabeth as a Member of the Order of the British Empire for library services to youth and community. In 2011 this gracious woman provided hospitality in Bermuda for honors students from throughout the State System as they participated in an International Summer Study Research project, co-led by her son, now a tenured professor here at Millersville.  What irony!

As anyone in the workforce will testify, networking and building relationships are keys to success.  No one knows this better than Paul Beideman, class of ’71, who recently retired as CEO of Associated Banc-corp headquartered in Green Bay, Wisconsin. He served on numerous higher education boards, and recently established the Beideman mentor program with our Honors College. Connecting alumni with current students, the program leads to interesting employment opportunities for recent graduates. What a way to pay it forward!

I could go on sharing the stories of women and men who, in their young adulthood, found something special at Millersville that called them to serve the public good. Those lessons became life practices.

Our story of the public good comes not only through illustrations but also through empirical data. Nine years ago at my inauguration I urged each of us to boldly share the Millersville story. You have more than complied with that urging. The following information was collected from a 2012 follow-up survey to one initially conducted in 2008; just hear some of the results of your collective efforts:

  • Awareness of Millersville in the region is high, ranking by non-alumni second only to Penn State.
  • Millersville continues to be seen as a source of pride for the region. While we would anticipate this from our alumni, 62% of non-alumni responders felt this way, a 20% increase, up from 42% in the 2008 survey.
  • More than 70% of alumni and 50% of non-alumni see Millersville as a go-to destination for cultural events.
  • When compared with eight regional competitors, Millersville was ranked by our alumni as:
    • First for quality faculty
    • First for economic impact
    • Second for opportunities for research

You are to be congratulated; our story is being heard and remembered. But this is no time to rest on our laurels; there is still much work to be done.

Millersville, know that this is our time. This is our day. This is our turn to answer with a strong voice “Oh, yes we will!” Make a memorable mark of public service through Millersville University on our communities and our world. We must be clear about why we exist. We must be clear about the value we provide to the society we serve. And we must be proud to share this message far and wide.

I challenge us all to think of any more important ways to contribute to the societal good than to see this university continue to thrive. This university exists to serve the public good, and it will be here long after each of us has taken our leave.

And, speaking of leave taking, I’m sure that you are all aware that I will be retiring in January. I will have more to say about that at a later time. But for now, please know what a deep privilege and humble honor it has been to serve these past nine years as your president. I have particularly valued the relationships I have with so many of you.

My time with Miss Taylor is long past, but the memory of her stern voice and her passion still burn deeply within my consciousness. So, too, lives within each of us the spirit and vision of the forbears of this institution. Millersville was at the forefront of the first serious response of our young nation to realize its potential by educating its people. That movement, in which we played a proud and substantial role, led our nation to unimaginable success in the Industrial Revolution that soon followed.  We must do the same in the Information Age into which we have entered — entered with a workforce in many ways not ready for what has already arrived.

As a high performing public university we have a tremendous obligation to continue to serve the public good — it’s a responsibility that hasn’t changed since 1855. That obligation has always required of us that we keep our eyes on the horizon, and stay responsive to changing societal needs.

It is helpful to remember that we are not new to the challenge of continual improvement and creative change in times of great difficulty. Our predecessors took on the Great Depression of the 1930s; the sudden and urgent rush of hundreds of thousands of returning GI’s in the 1940s; and the devastating loss of faith in our political leadership in the 1970s. Throughout it all, Millersville University has kept moving forward; kept insisting on self-improvement; and kept the progress going.

Are we good at that?

Will we continue meeting the promise made to our students of offering them an educational opportunity that is second to none?

Will we be able to deliver on our vision for true student success?

Let me hear you answer, “Oh, yes we will!”

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