Claremont Graduate University:

A Place of Hope, a Place for the Future, a Place Where Research and Teaching Can Help Change the World


Deborah A. Freund, President
Claremont Graduate University
Friday, February 4, 2011

Thank you so much for your warm welcome. In my “hello CGU” e-mail I sent on my first day I told you how happy I was to be here at CGU, and that is still very true today.
 
No matter how much I studied up on the great accomplishments of CGU before I arrived, there are many wonderful things I couldn’t have known until I got here – of course, there’s the sunny, snowless weather in January – but most importantly, there has been getting to meet all of you and seeing the excellent and enterprising work you’re doing. You make CGU what it is, a place of great distinction that is truly making an impact on our community, the country, and the world.
Debbie Freund, Claremont Graduate University
I have also discovered during my brief tenure that you are a caring community. You have invited me to your homes for dinner and made sure I knew where the best restaurants and dry cleaners are. A faculty member even invited me to a high school soccer game knowing I happened to be a huge soccer enthusiast.
 
And students: you have come by my office to chat, stopped me on the street to introduce yourself, even invited me out to sushi. It is deeply appreciated and I thank you all for making CGU so profoundly human to me.
 
I have also learned much from you about CGU, and am grateful for the candor expressed at all of our meetings. I have listened very carefully to your suggestions, priorities and aspirations, and your articulations of the problems to be solved.
 
Today, I want to talk about our aspirations. Your observations and mine – things that came up over and over again – and what is to be done about them. We all want to improve in these areas so that we ensure ourselves a leadership position in graduate education both today and tomorrow. Peter Drucker said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” Let’s create the future of graduate education here at CGU, and let’s do it together.
 
This is an important point. You see, I believe in inclusive leadership – that is, leadership in which everyone plays a role in decision-making. This is your time to be involved; your time to articulate how we might better realize CGU’s promise. If we are going to create the future of graduate education, we need everyone to help create an academic infrastructure strong enough to support that ambition. The time to create our future is now!
 
And I know many of you have ideas about improving the university; you’ve already shared them with me – and you’ve probably been sharing them for a long time with your co-workers and friends and family. Maybe you felt no one was listening. I am a president who listens, who gives you voice and who acts on your best ideas.

Now, in recent years, you have made great strides in realizing our potential; you have created an intellectual community that has made substantial progress in transdisciplinarity and research that makes an impact on people’s lives. Our CGU faculty have undertaken important work in a wide range of fields and have successfully shared this research in the classroom, with the scholarly community, and with leaders and policy makers around the world.
 
It is time to take stock of these accomplishments and build on them. How do we do it? We do it together!

As part of my commitment to inclusive leadership, I have formed the Steering Committee on CGU Excellence to help navigate our all-campus conversation. The committee will be co-chaired by Dean Stewart Donaldson and Professor Jacob Adams, and is composed of many of you here today—faculty, students and staff. The Steering Committee will engage everyone who loves and cares about CGU – to investigate and identify opportunities for our university and provide recommendations on four key areas:
 
Number One: What are the cross-cutting themes that draw together our research and teaching for which we can claim true distinction; that involves multiple schools and engages major national or global needs? In what areas can we really stake our claim as being an institution of innovation? A good example of this is the kind of transdisciplinary research you have all been conducting that focuses on themes like civil society and ethical leadership. There are many more. Can we do more to identify strong unifying concepts like these and highlight them in our future fundraising projects? The objective is to organize our bragging rights and develop momentum.

Number Two: CGU has always claimed, and striven, to be a student-centered research university. What do we mean by this, and in what ways are we falling short of this ideal? I truly believe we have the opportunity to give students an educational experience other universities can’t provide. Our unique size makes possible a level of personalized attention students almost never receive at larger universities. We need to look at this question from two perspectives. How can we improve their academic experience? What about in areas that touch on student affairs such as social support? Do we help students find places to live, worry about our foreign students finding a place to live?  We are also located in one of the most lively and diverse multi-cultural regions in the world. In what ways can we accommodate and welcome the next generation of bright potential leaders whether Latino, African American, Asian, Ethiopian, Native American, and other leaders who may have been shut out of higher education in the past? Our state and nation depend upon these groups.  In essence, what do we have to do to claim we are the best student-centered research university in the nation?
 
Number Three: Are we doing a good job of equipping our students for life after graduate school? Are we providing real-world opportunities for them? Are we doing enough to connect business, the world of work to our classes to enrich the CGU educational experience and give our students a competitive advantage in the job market? Can we expand such programs across the university and include more PhD programs also? Are we prepared for the next generation of students who might be more interested in their smartphones than a talking head at the front of a class? Remember folks, this is the Facebook generation. How can we embed more of these technologies in the classroom? How can we use new technologies to link our students with each other and to the global community? How do we become the best in the nation at ensuring our students are equipped to engage the future?

Number Four: We must more effectively align our internal structures and processes so that we spend less energy overcoming internal friction and more energy moving our goals forward. We need a structure that makes it possible to strategically invest our resources to accomplish our pathbreaking academic work and have more money to invest in our people. The steering committee will assess alternative plans and formulate specific recommendations for realignment in a way that will best support and enable the great research and teaching of this university. Everything is on the table and nothing is off it. And while there is no ideal structure, we must strive to find one that will be worthy of the profound work you are all doing.

Now, this is not strategic planning. I know you are exhausted by strategic planning. In large measure you have thought about much of this before. Now is time to collect, review and harness it. I acknowledge and appreciate that confronting the future can be scary. But this is not about gloom; this is exciting. This is why I came to CGU, because I was excited both by its success and its potential. This is about how special you all are, this is about how we want to spend our intellectual lives, ensuring our work has the broadest possible impact on the world. If we can clearly define our goals, improve our governance, and move rapidly to align our organizational structure, the students and scholars we attract and the communities we serve will applaud our creation of a more effective university. It will also enable us to tell a more compelling story to those who would be inclined to support us.

The connective tissue that unifies our efforts on these four important objectives is transparency. I want to usher in a new culture of transparency at CGU. We are such a small school, which means there is no reason for anyone to be in dark on new developments. The steering committee will be available on a number of fronts to hear your input. There will be an interactive website for you to voice your thoughts; there will be town hall meetings, and meetings with the committees of all CGU’s major governance structures. The website and many emails will list all of these meetings, and I want all of you to be there.

The committee will collect and synthesize your thoughts into a report to be delivered to me and shared with our board in May. Furthermore, I will disclose everything I tell the board about my recommendations.

The committee will complete a report on objectives one, two, and three by the end of March, and another report on objective four by the end of April. Yes, this is an aggressive time schedule, but it is time to get this process moving. “Plans are only good intentions unless they degenerate into hard work,” to use another piece of Drucker wisdom. And again as he said, it ultimately is not a matter of what we say but what we do on Monday morning!!

It is time for all of us to roll up our sleeves and do the hard work of self-examination. In what areas can we claim to be among the best? In what areas do we need work? The best way to ensure we are leaders in graduate education is to look at the challenges of the future from a variety of angles, which means we need everyone at CGU to be involved.

If indeed the best way to predict the future is to create it, I am very excited to be assisted in this work of creation by every one of you.

Now, before I end, I wanted to say a few more words about why this endeavor and being at CGU is important to me. One of the most exhilarating things I have been able to do with you is to see connections among your collective work that you may not have had time to see yet; I know how busy you are! For example what connects Peter Boyer and William Perez?

I recently had the pleasure of getting to know Peter Boyer and his music. His composition, Ellis Island: The Dream of America had a powerful effect on me and led me to reflect again on why I’m so passionate about education in general, and CGU in particular.

You see, I would not be here before you without Ellis Island, the story that Peter’s beautiful music tells us about.

Most of you know that I was born to Jewish parents. My grandmother was from Poland, and my grandfather was from Belarus. Grandpa escaped the pogroms under a wheelbarrow and made it on a boat headed to Ellis Island. My grandmother had a similar story. They met in New York in the sweatshops. They had two boys, my father and uncle, who were told the only chance they had to make it in life was to get an education. So the family made it their life’s commitment even though they had no money, and faced continuous discrimination along the way. In the process, both went to college and both were at the head of their classes. Then there was graduate school.

My uncle went to Harvard, became editor of the Harvard Law Review, and yet could not get a job at a law firm because he was a Jew. Eventually, he got a job in the first all-Jewish firm in New York. My father was one of the first Jews to go to NYU Medical School. My uncle paid 12 dollars-a-month out of his 25 dollars-a-month salary to send my dad there. When he graduated, he wanted to become a surgeon, but no hospital would allow him to train because he was a Jew. Eventually, he became an anatomy professor until a Jewish hospital with a residency opened. Despite these challenges, they both went on to lead successful careers, made possible only by their education and the scholarships they received.

And their important work and persistence paved the way for me and a whole generation of Jews to live the American Dream. My being your president is the embodiment of the American Dream. And it is what Peter Boyer’s work always will remind me about.

This is what the research and creative work that you all do means. It comments on my family’s story and champions our successes. Most importantly, though, your work is assisting a new generation of immigrants and first-generation students who are facing similar challenges to what my family encountered. For instance, Will Perez, in the School of Educational Studies, through his pioneering research and advocacy, including his crucial work on the Dream Act, is addressing the problem of students, who by no fault of their own may not be able to access the American Dream.

Consider again the changing demographics of Los Angeles and the Inland Empire in particular. The coming generations will contain unprecedented numbers of first-generation college-goers, from which future scholars and leaders will surely emerge. This is our opportunity and it is a tremendous one.  This is a place where our research and teaching also truly can distinguish us; we can incorporate the newest research on aspects of our changing demographics into virtually every discipline whether literature, religion, or management. In so doing, we will better prepare ALL of our students for life after CGU—our graduates who choose academia will be on the cutting edge of their fields and know how to teach topics others do not. And we will better prepare those who choose jobs in other sectors for the challenges they will face.  We can be the institution of choice for future students, giving them access to the American Dream the way my father gave it to me, and his parents and brother to him.

I want CGU to be a place for hope, a place that creates a promising future for others, a place for the future, a place where research and teaching can help change the world. That is why together we must create the best, most efficient university possible: so we are ready to facilitate the promise of thousands of future students hungry to realize the American Dream.

Thank you for listening.

And now, in the spirit of inclusive leadership, I welcome your questions.

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