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At a Glance

Inauguration of Robert L. Manuel

March 21, 2013 – Nicoson Hall 

Good afternoon everyone. These occasions are always a marvel of cooperation within the campus community. I want to thank all those who helped to make this day possible.

I would like to acknowledge the members of the platform party who are here today. We are fortunate to have four former presidents—Gene Sease, Ben Lantz, Jerry Israel, and Beverley Pitts.

Also up here with me are members and former members of our Board of Trustees, as well as two former mayors, Bill Hudnut and Richard G. Lugar.  Dick Lugar, of course, most recently served as our longtime Indiana senator and is a distinguished trustee.

I’d also like to acknowledge trustee Deborah Daniels and vice president Mark Weigand, who served as co-chairs of the stellar Inaugural Committee.

And, Dave , I appreciate your being here and sharing your perspective on higher education. You have set the stage very well for our conversation today.

I’d also like to thank the faculty, staff, students, and alumni for being here today—it is great to celebrate with you all.

Finally, I need to acknowledge the members of my family who have come to celebrate with me and Wilmara and our girls. I’d like to welcome my parents and my wife’s parents. I am glad you are here to meet this community that I have been talking about with so much enthusiasm. 

It is an incredible honor to stand here today, to be a part of this University’s story, to be part of this unique and special place. I thank each of you for the role you have played in welcoming my family and me. It has been an amazing gift that has allowed us to quickly grow roots in an area where we had no previous connection.

The past six months have been remarkable. Little in my formal training prepared me for the pace, intellectual dexterity, or stamina required for this transition. I spent three weeks at Harvard last summer with 50 other new presidents. We crafted our plans, studied theories of leadership and financial management, talked through the macro-level concerns of higher education, and carefully plotted our approaches. It was a wonderful exercise, but the reality of the position is dramatically more complex than the blueprints we created in that group.

During my first couple of months, every conversation began with, “How is your transition going?” The truth? Any transition like this is incredibly disorienting. The best way I can describe the transition is to tell a story from my childhood.

My parents used to take my brothers and me to the beaches in Massachusetts. I was a good swimmer, having competed most of my life, but one day I got bowled over by a wave. In what seemed like 30 minutes of being underwater, I couldn’t tell where up was. I didn’t know where my next breath was coming from, and my senses failed to help me form an understanding of truth—a truth that would deliver me from sure death. Eventually, I did find the sandy ground, remembered I knew how to swim, and—once the panic receded—was able to lift myself out of the water and back to a reality that I found more familiar.

At the end of the ordeal, standing there in what was actually just knee-deep water with my suit down around my ankles and sand in my eyes, and listening to the roar of laughter coming from the crowd that had gathered, I realized two life lessons.

First, I learned that I should always tie my bathing suit tightly before I go into the ocean.

Second, and probably more germane for today: I learned that dealing with uncertainty can be temporarily disorienting, awkward, messy, and sometimes embarrassing—but that in moments of real consequence, the skills we have, the ability to think logically and analytically, and our ability to learn from the past make us resilient, make us survive.  

Higher education has often been disoriented by unexpected waves. In fact, most of the history of higher education can be told by examining the external forces that have been crashing against the walls of our organizations for centuries.

From the beginning, higher education has struggled with questions surrounding who should be educated. In the United States these questions started with the growth of institutions following the Land Grant Acts. Since then, we have wrestled with how to provide opportunities for women and debated how to achieve diversity. These are questions of access.

Advances in technological devices, new theories about how to motivate learners, and the growth in online education require institutions of higher education to struggle with issues of how we teach. These are questions of approach.

Ideas about how closely our universities should be tied to the “real world” suggest that institutions of higher education are still struggling to resolve the role that industry plays in the academy. This is a question of relevance.

Since the financial crisis in 2008—and now with the growing concern over the value of a college degree—institutions of higher education are battling with issues of affordability and value. These are questions of survival.

What’s important to note here is that higher education is in a perpetual state of self-examination. The institutions I have worked for, including UIndy, continually change to meet the external demands placed on them. We are perpetually searching for ways to reconcile demands from a growing number of stakeholders, seeking to balance the education that the world believes is required with the kind of education we all know is needed for a productive citizenry, a competitive society, and the deepening of our intellectual base. We know that true education engages the intellect and the imagination, fosters the ability to make unexpected connections and render insights, and results in a commitment to lifelong learning.

These transformational qualities illustrate why higher education has become such a staple in our society—why it is the most certain route to a better life.

Among the most commonly mentioned threats to colleges and universities today is online education—especially in the form of the Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs. These are produced by some of the leading universities in America (Stanford, Harvard, MIT, and Duke, to name just a few), and are “taught” by some of the most respected faculty from those institutions.

And now some of these MOOCs are being accredited by the American Council on Education as appropriate for transfer credit to other institutions of higher education.

The real danger of this accreditation is that it places the focus on accumulating credentials at the expense of learning. My concern over the MOOCs is that while they are better graphically designed than the same courses I created for NYU back in 1999, their chief purpose is pushing content to the user.

Simply focusing on pushing content to students disrupts the tender balance between credentialing and learning. A nation that is concerned about its competitiveness can’t afford to simply credential its populace; it must ensure that they are educated to be creative, to be innovative, to be engines of discovery.

MOOCs will not replace high-quality undergraduate education. They will, however, force all institutions to prove that they deliver a real value to their students. These massive online courses exist as a response to our inability to answer the question of value.

Continuing to be silent on that topic will dramatically drop our chances of survival. If we want quality and the life preparation of students to determine our value rather than time, cost, and convenience, we must deliver a better answer to these questions: What differences do we make in the life chances of our students? What value do we add to the productivity of our communities? And how do we enhance the competitiveness of our economy?

In his recent State of the Union address, President Obama stunned the higher education community when he said, “Tonight, I ask Congress to change the Higher Education Act, so that affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid.” He went on to say that through his “college score card” the federal government will be better able to tell prospective students which colleges give them the best “bang for their buck.”

Many higher education leaders heard this as a call for increased regulation by the federal government, and I see this as another broad-strokes attempt to define the 4,500 institutions of higher education in our country by a single standard of success.

If we fail to address the issue of affordability, and if we continue to value credentialing over learning, it is possible to imagine a time when the federal government, in the name of cost-effectiveness, allows organizations outside of higher education access to federal dollars in return for their credentialing services. If simple content delivery and credentialing become the coins of the realm, there are many companies out there that can do that far more efficiently than higher education. No institution in the world delivers content to massive numbers of people better than Google or Apple. Whether these corporate giants will actually wade into this field is questionable, but if content delivery alone is what becomes valued in education, then we lose. 

We must take a deep and hard look at our costs. We must understand better the long-term effects of our education on our students. And we must articulate the distinct value of our degrees. 

Let’s take a moment to explore how UIndy can address these questions.

Five months ago we began the Vision 2030 strategic planning process. It involved conversations and surveys with more than 1,600 faculty, staff, students, alumni, and community members. This process suggested that our work must be guided by three principles:

First, our progress must be tied to the values and traditions that have animated our University for 111 years and that are underscored by our relationship with the United Methodist Church. Here are some of those values:

  • Our education will include a personal connection among students, faculty, and staff.
  • It will establish service as an expectation of all our students.
  • Our education will demand that each of the members of our community understand the importance of civility.
  • It will be characterized by accessibility to all members of our society.
  • It will be devoted to the principles of inclusiveness and diversity.
  • And our education will always reflect our commitment to community by tying the complex problems of society to the exercises in our classrooms.

These are the core characteristics of our institution. They were present in 1902, they were present in 2002, and they will be present in 2102.  

The second principle that will inform our work is that those core values must drive multidisciplinary approaches to problem-solving. We must more closely reflect the world of work to make UIndy an instrument of change throughout the region. Many of our programs already tackle issues in our community and elsewhere. Now is the time to become intentional about that approach. We must institutionalize the blending of liberal arts and professional education to prepare our students for life and for careers. These actions will demonstrate our value and become our mark of distinction. 

The third principle that emerged from our strategic planning process is that we must be an anchor for the community, not an island in the middle of it. This area of the city enjoys many rich traditions but has seen development occurring to the north and south. We need to work with the greater community to place our neighborhood needs at the table when development decisions are being made. 

Many communities, including ours, struggle to attract residents with activities that stir the imagination, fuel the desire for learning, satisfy the need for cultural engagement, provide wellness opportunities, and educate children. UIndy has all of those characteristics inside of our campus. We should feel an obligation to use those strengths to support the good work being done by other like-minded organizations in our area. We should band together to make the case to the city and the state for why continued economic development in this area is not only needed but also a good investment. We are one of the biggest employers and one of the biggest consumers of goods and services on the south side. It is only fitting that we should aid our community in bringing a wider range of services and amenities to our neighborhood.

The core values of our University have remained the same for more than a century. But if external pressures are not addressed, our accrediting agency or the government will likely hand us a set of expectations that are unrelated to a real education. The moment is at hand to define our value to the world.

In the University’s early years of struggle, not even surviving was a sure thing. Thriving must have seemed a remote goal, yet thrive we did. The healthy state of the University today could easily make us complacent. Thanks to our predecessors who practiced adept stewardship of our mission—not to mention visionary management and planning—nearly everything about UIndy today is the best it’s ever been. Here are just a few reasons to celebrate. 

We produce more occupational and physical therapists, and more clinical psychologists, than any other university in Indiana. 

The test scores of our clinical psychology doctoral graduates are the fifth highest among these programs in the nation. 

Our Department of Teacher Education just received a National Model of Excellence Award for its collaborations with K through 12 schools.

We have dramatically increased our enrollment and improved our quality of students over the past ten years.

We are steadfastly devoted to ensuring that our students can afford our education, devoting more than thirty million of our own dollars to help them afford this education. 

More than forty percent of our students are first-generation, and we are committed to their success.  

Yes, there are many reasons to celebrate.

As we prepare for the future, let’s just remember we are not the first to confront the need for change. Those who came before us made course corrections for this institution along the way. They navigated the twists and turns of circumstances and responded to the unexpected in their path. We see evidence all around us of the University’s responses, both bold and subtle, to the changes it confronted—changes that came in the form of booming economies, depressed economies, shifting academic disciplines, changing workforce needs, evolving populations—even wars.

One of my predecessors in this office, who is now seated behind me, is famous for having said that there is a good reason why our rearview mirrors are so much smaller than our windshields. And in fact, even as we honor our past and learn from it, we have continued to look ahead, to plan for what’s coming down the road. 

UIndy’s ability to adapt and remain relevant is illustrated by the Hanni family, which has sent us sixteen students over the years.  The first to come to what was then Indiana Central College was Larry, a member of the Class of 1958. Five Hannis are enrolled here today—Leslie, Lyndsay, Josh, Blair, and Chelsea. 

There are many legacy families at UIndy. Such families are bound to us not by time, but by affinity—they are loyal to the UIndy education because, at each moment in time, it offered them value. They demonstrate that our impact is generational, not merely momentary. The University adapts and refines and grows. It changes to meet the needs and challenges of each generation.

After understanding the core values of UIndy, studying how each of the past presidents guided our institutions to relevance in their time, and looking squarely at the waves about to hit our shores—I begin to see the potential for meaningful growth and change in a way that will ensure the relevance of UIndy well into the future. We see that the progress we have enjoyed is not a foregone conclusion—that the decisions we make today will have a very real impact on who and what we are tomorrow.

Our decisions and actions will make the difference, in the same way the untold number of such decisions made in the past have transformed us—from a tiny academic island with only a handful of students to a thriving institution of more than 5,000 students and 28,000 alumni, with relationships and partnerships around the world, with flourishing academic programs, and with a fundamental connection to our city—and the potential for a much more powerful connection to come.

We can solve these issues because change is in our DNA. Look at all that we have done in the past century. There are far too many to mention today—but here are a few.

We changed our name overnight. Twice.

After evolving from a residential campus to a commuter campus, we made a decision and transformed back into a residential campus within a decade.

We more than doubled our enrollment and built seven residence halls in twenty years.

We created educational opportunities for our students around the world.

We built an innovative nursing program that has partnered with leaders in the health industry, is responsive to employer needs, and is recognized as one of the region’s best.

We created the first degree program in Indianapolis to be offered in the evening.

We created the first Executive MBA program in the city. 

We opened the Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center, a cultural landmark on the south side, and engineered a major campus beautification program.

We launched two important Centers of Excellence, in education and in aging & community.

We were singled out to be the only private institution among four universities to help Indiana pilot the national Woodrow Wilson teaching fellowship program.

We partnered with our namesake city to transform a distressed and pot-holed Hanna Avenue into the safe and attractive thoroughfare we enjoy today.

We helped Indianapolis host a Super Bowl.

And most recently, we created the Richard G. Lugar Academy—partnering with one of the most respected men ever to serve in the United States Senate—to create opportunities for our students to study and work for a semester in Washington, D.C.

We continue to be nimble and relevant—our education continues to have value—because change is in our DNA. 

Part of realizing our greater potential is being able to recognize it in the first place. We should not be afraid to dream big, or feel compelled to compare ourselves to any other institution’s success. Embrace an ambitious vision of what we can be, what impact we can have, and then summon the courage to make it happen. We can do that if we recognize the work that we’re good at, and focus on our strengths.

To maintain our relevance, to define our value to future generations of students, to ensure that education and not credentials get produced through our institution, I offer the following charges to our community:

  1. Draw from our experience in facing change to extend the way we engage each other. Be bold in thinking about how to teach, how to learn, how to connect with the industry. Let history inform—not define—our approach.
  2. Become active in the conversations we will have as a community about our path forward. The plans we make are communal—they will impact us all, and they cannot be fulfilled without your involvement. Think of the role you play in making us institutionally competitive.
  3. Be uncompromisingly devoted to quality. The bar lowers in increments, not leaps. A continued focus on where the bar sits is critical to maintaining our standards.
  4. Progress within each of our disciplines is critical—but so too is the need to generate new research, programs, and ideas among them. So think across the academic disciplines and with each other. Revolutionary change will come when we bring disciplines together.

It’s expected that we will encounter obstacles along the way. It’s natural to be cautious. But because of all the work of the people on this stage—in this room—and many who are unable to be with us today—we are poised for greatness.  The only failure we have to worry about at this moment is one of the imagination.

I’ll tell you why I am confident that we will embrace the challenge.

UIndy has an unparalleled history of being creative and flexible in times of change. 

I also sense that our community is ready to engage collectively in the pressing questions of our day.

And I know that our institution makes a spectacular difference in the lives of the students who learn with us: we are transformational.

Our eyes are focused on the road ahead, but we will still depend on the rearview mirror. As we continue to discern the path forward, and define our educational value for future generations, we should do as John Wesley said: we should “light ourselves on fire with passion.” And the whole world will come to watch.

Thank you.