Why CGU? Why Now?
Installation Speech for President Debbie Freund
September 15, 2011
Good morning CGU and thank you all for your warm words and welcome. And thanks to all of you who have come from near and far to commemorate this day.
I am so honored to serve as CGU’s 15th president. This university’s purpose and community fosters the same meaningful intellectual and practical work across disciplinary boundaries I have fought for my entire career. The 14 presidents who preceded me cultivated this legacy – 86 years in-the-making – of scholarly innovation that has left a profound mark on all of us. I thank them and am humbled to follow their example. And with help from all of you, we will extend and enhance CGU’s remarkable legacy.
Really, the only critique I can make about CGU’s 86 years of groundbreaking graduate education is that it took this long to finally hire a female president!
I want to begin these remarks by paying tribute to our distinguished guests and representatives from some of the world’s leading colleges and universities. We are particularly privileged to be joined by the presidents of the six other outstanding institutions that make up the Claremont Consortium. Presidents Lori Bettison-Varga from Scripps College, Pamela Gann from Claremont McKenna College, Maria Klawe from Harvey Mudd College, David Oxtoby from Pomona College (who graciously invited us to use this gorgeous auditorium), Sheldon Schuster from Keck Graduate Institute, and Laura Trombley from Pitzer College; and though he could not be here today, thanks to Bob Walton, Executive Director of The Claremont University Consortium; and also Gerry Campbell from Claremont Lincoln University, who is here: All of you, thank you for your inspiration, your support, and your gracious welcome to this collaborative consortium.
We are also very fortunate to be joined by our of panel experts – CGU’s own Paula Palmer and Wendy Martin; my long-time health-care friend and fellow Drucker devotee, Bill Pollard; and our panel’s moderator, my friend and mentor, the 11th Chancellor of Syracuse University, Nancy Cantor. From Nancy I learned how many different ways academia can change the world.
Another person who is very special to me, Kenneth Shaw, “Buzz” to those of us who know him, Syracuse’s 10th Chancellor, is with us, too. Buzz, who literally wrote the book on “being student-centered,” taught me how bringing those words to life leads to a stronger university. He also showed me how leading a university is not only a science but also a very fine art.
I also want to publically thank my dad, 98 years young, who is watching in Palo Alto. When I was four years old, my dad told me that I could do anything a boy could do if I had an education. I tell every four-year-old girl I meet the same thing. I owe an equal debt of gratitude to my mom, and I hope you are listening from some place today. My mom taught me to see the beauty and good in all people, a lesson that inspires me every day.
I am especially proud to be joined today by my family: my brother John and sister-in-law Linda Grais and her family, who have supported me every step of the way, and who convinced me that California was always my destination.
And most importantly, I want to acknowledge the two loves of my life – my best friend and advisor, my husband Tom Kniesner; without him, I never would have finished my dissertation, learned the rules of the game, or arrived on this stage today. And then there is our extraordinary son, Willie. Lad, you keep me young and in good shape, since I’m sprinting to learn the possibilities of the world with every conversation we have. I would not be here without your encouragement and love. I thank you both for allowing CGU to share me with you.
As much as we are here to commemorate the installation of a new president, we also are here to celebrate a great university: its mission, its legacy, and you, its prized possession, the people who make up Claremont Graduate University.
I celebrate you – students, staff, faculty, trustees, alumni, friends, consortium collaborators, and academic, professional, and practice partners from places as far flung as New York, China, Sri Lanka, and India, to name only a few. I celebrate you not just because of the things I see you accomplishing – the reasons I am in awe of you – but because in the 10 months I’ve been here, whenever I call on you, you respond. And I will continue calling on you. In fact, the world calls on you.
Every morning, when we unfold the newspaper or check our electronic media, we are confronted by all the twenty-first century’s complex problems, whether famine, tsunamis, or political corruption.
At CGU we read the headlines with the same dismay as everyone else, but because we are a research university, we see those headlines through different eyes.
We see how our research in the field, the lab, and the libraries evolve into new solutions for these problems. We see how our engagement with communities near and far helps us better understand the nature of these problems, and how we can address them. And we see how our teaching inspires generations of scholars and leaders to seek ideas bigger than one person alone can imagine, to accept challenges that no one field can address, and to engage the world with the resources that our open minds and compassionate hearts together represent.
When all of you in this room take this CGU perspective into the world – when you answer questions from prospective students, when you recruit faculty, when you engage partners – two crucial questions tie these conversations together: Why CGU? Why now? I’m going to tell you.
One, because our students are fast at work on issues of urgent social importance.
Students like the five from our School of Politics and Economics who recently won the Wikistrat Grand Strategy Competition. They beat out universities such as Oxford, Cambridge, and Yale, by developing the most innovative strategies to address problems related to geopolitics and globalization.
Or students like Francisco Valle, a PhD candidate from our Drucker/Ito School of Management, who, after just publishing his book How to Win the Hispanic Gold Rush, is fast at work on another, investigating why and how US businesses are failing to connect with our growing Hispanic population.
Or students like Sue Feldman, whose path-breaking dissertation and funded research blends information systems and technology, education, and social welfare, was used in a recent White House presentation to demonstrate how the best technology – hers! – can be used to transform the health system.
Might I proudly point out that before receiving her doctorate last May, Sue had already attracted millions of dollars in grants and published seven articles!
As much as we are teaching these students – and hundreds like them – they are teaching us as well. Their perspectives and experiences complement our own. It is an exciting partnership, and we must continue to learn together.
Why CGU? Why now? Because our faculty turn their research into innovations that change lives and communities.
Just look how Education Professor William Perez’s crucial work on the DREAM Act has brought that legislation closer to passing congress than ever before. Or how Economics Professor Paul Zak’s research in neuroeconomics offers new insights into the psychology of markets. Or how technology Professor Brian Hilton’s work on GIS software saved untold lives after natural disasters struck Haiti and Japan. Or how Arts and Humanities Professor Lori Anne Ferrell’s scholarship across English, history, and religion has led to our newest insights on the King James Bible and, thus, on western civilization. And how Assistant Professor Hamid Mavani from our School of Religion has been working with Najeeba Syeed-Miller and Kathy Black at Claremont Lincoln to design a new program that provides traditional and academic training to future Muslim clerics and will produce indigenous religious leaders better able to serve the American Muslim Community?
Working with scientists at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, our faculty and students are collaborating on an extensive project that will enable us to link climate-change predictions to their impact on California’s native plants, ultimately laying the groundwork for answering hard questions about our planet’s future.
Surely, our faculty change lives, but they also change entire fields of study. Think of Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihayli, whose influential work challenged the field of psychology to consider maximizing well-being and quality of life as much as treating psychological ailments.
Or Professor Michael Scriven, who founded the field of evaluation science by combining perspectives from sociology, psychology, medicine, economics, and education, to only name a few.
And of course, there is Peter Drucker. Peter’s refusal to recognize the boundaries between management and the liberal arts has opened up previously unthinkable opportunities. I imagine the day when an accomplished humanities student, trained right here at CGU, reads Drucker alongside Shakespeare and realizes she has many other career choices; not just at the academy, but in the nonprofit and for-profit sectors.
What do we see in these examples? That CGU has always been a place where great minds are nurtured and future leaders born. It is a place where special individuals – like students Francisco and Sue; like professors Mihaly, Michael, and Peter – are free to follow their passions, share their ideas, and build the relationships that uncover novel solutions to the world’s thorniest problems.
Why CGU? Why now? Don’t you see? Because we represent the very collaboration and mutual respect that the world so desperately needs.
I’ve seen this collaboration and respect in action many times. It is the sum of your character, the way you deal with each other and with the professional and practice communities we serve.
For instance, last February we embarked on a university-wide collaborative process called the Steering Committee on CGU Excellence. And though it was called a committee, everyone at CGU was urged to contribute.
The committee was a remarkable success. As I have said before, I have never seen anything like it in my 30 years in the academy.We learned so much about ourselves and our ambitions, clearly identifying the areas where we are strong and where we need to get stronger. For me, however, there was a more fundamental lesson.
I knew that many of us would have different, sometimes conflicting visions for the direction of CGU. And because I believe in inclusive leadership – leadership in which everyone plays a role – the central challenge of the committee was to make certain that the vision of the future we chose was not my vision, or our new Provost Jacob Adams’ vision, or any other one person’s vision; but the voice and vision of faculty, students, staff, and trustees converging: our vision!
This was your success, not mine. And, together, we will build on it.
Why CGU, why now? Because we know how to collaborate across the disciplines in order to change the world.
For instance, just look at the first-year success of The Claremont Long Beach Math Collaborative. Imagine this: at full strength in four years, 100 African American male high-school graduates from Long Beach who never aspired to go to college will be freshman! They will be experts in the foundations of math, able to pursue any career, after spending four special summers being taught by CGU’s best Teacher Education math graduates, living at Harvey Mudd and being inspired by the creativity of their faculty and staff, mentored by successful African American students at Pomona and Claremont McKenna, and being followed at home by their teachers in Long Beach Unified.
Or look again at the San Antonio High School garden program we developed with Scripps College so students could actively learn about sustainability.
Or look further at the field-based clinics sponsored by our School of Mathematical Sciences in partnership with the Claremont Colleges, where our students solve real-world problems for government agencies and industries across the world.
Yes, our nimble size allows us to more easily build professional relationships and collectively develop ideas for how we might work together to address pressing global issues.
We can even extend this operating principle, for example, by staying connected with our international friends like the Drucker Alumni and Society Chapters in Japan, Korea, and even China, that are keeping former students and business leaders engaged with us and with Peter Drucker’s teachings.
And we can apply the principle systematically at home through the Center for Transdisciplinary Research and Engagement that our Steering Committee proposed. That center can create new possibilities to tackle the big work of health care and education, corruption, floods, famine, you name it; and it can do this by matchmaking and bringing collaboration across the disciplines to new heights.
But whatever our ambitions, we must remember always that collaboration and diversity go hand in hand. You’ll recall I mentioned Francisco Valle’s book How to Win the Hispanic Gold Rush. The findings in his book challenge us to be more welcoming to the multiethnic populations that define our region, and increasingly define our world. Valle challenges us to better understand the cultures from which our CGU constituents come, and respect those cultures on campus, so everyone feels comfortable and valued. A welcoming, supportive community is so important because, as his work illustrates, the more CGU learns from the diverse people of the world, the better we will be at solving the world’s problems.
When we see CGU in these terms, the answers to these questions become clear. Why CGU, why now? Because our students, our faculty, our very ways of understanding and engaging the world make us more adept at confronting the challenges of the twenty-first century.
We are all here to better understand our world, and then to find ways to make our time on earth more alive, more stimulating, and as free from suffering as possible. Let this love of knowledge and love of life be our intellectual center of gravity. Then let us use this commonality as we move forward together to do good work.
Let us take this culture of collaborating across the disciplines in teaching and research, our deep engagement with communities near and far, our respect for each other, and extend the hand of welcome and partnership beyond Dartmouth and 8th Avenue, and beyond Foothill, to anywhere we know we can make a difference.
In 1923, our first University President James Blaisdell said, “We are only at the beginning of things to come.” That statement is just as true today as it was back then. In Blaisdell’s farewell address 30 years later he also said “I am not interested in the past except as a prophecy for the future.” And though over the last 86 years CGU has changed its organizational structures, its initiatives, even its name; this university’s purpose of making the world a better place has never changed and never will. The tremendous achievements of CGU’s past prophesy a bright future ahead.