Florida Atlantic University

 
 

Inaugural Address of President Mary Jane Saunders

Carole and Barry Kaye Auditorium
Friday, October 29, 2010, 10 a.m.


Good morning, and thank you for being here with me today on what is surely one of the most important days of my life as I embrace the high responsibility and great privilege of leading Florida Atlantic University as its sixth President.

I'd like to begin by thanking Trustee Blosser not only for that gracious introduction, but also for her dedicated leadership of the Board of Trustees over the past two years. FAU is so fortunate to be served by a board of community leaders who are steadfast in their commitment to this institution and who devote untold hours of their very valuable time to guiding the University's development. Their influence on this University and our entire service region will be felt for many years to come, and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude. Please join me in expressing sincere thanks to the Florida Atlantic University Board of Trustees.

I'd also like to thank everyone who served on the Inauguration Committee, all of the sponsors of our inauguration activities and the students, faculty and staff who planned them and participated in them. Special thanks to Trustee Sherry Plymale and Dr. Mary Ann Gosser, who, as chair and co-chair of the Inauguration Committee, devoted hundreds of hours to putting all aspects of this week of celebration in place. Trustee Plymale oversaw the work of the many sub-committees, and Dr. Gosser coordinated the wonderful musical and artistic contributions of our talented faculty. Mary Mertz offered great administrative support to the committee. This week is the culmination of the dedication and hard work of many members of our FAU family, and I'd like to take this opportunity to offer them heartfelt thanks.

I'm so pleased that the hallmark of this inaugural celebration is inclusivity. Events involving students, faculty, staff and friends of the University have taken place on all campuses, ranging from the traditional, fun-filled activities of Homecoming, to four symposia examining important issues of our time, to last Sunday's "Waves of Blue" concert that generated support for the President's Scholarship Challenge Fund.  Thanks to everyone who participated in these events, which, taken together, have made this a week a celebration of FAU that will be remembered for a long time to come.  I'd like to also thank the distinguished platform guests and speakers who have brought greetings here today.

Some guests who are very special to me have come to join us here this morning, and I'd like to introduce them to you now: my husband, George; my sisters, Elaine, Lisa and Sally; my brother-in -law, Jim; my stepdaughter and son-in-law, Melanie and Will; and my first cousins, Robin and Meg.  George and I will celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary next summer, and we have had a wonderful journey together.  Would you all please stand for a moment?  I'm so glad that you were able to come, and it's wonderful to introduce you to my FAU family.

I'd also like to thank Dr. Michael Schwartz and his wife, Dr. Joanne Schwartz. More than anyone else, Mike Schwartz prepared me to see myself in the role of a university president and helped me through the stages of professional growth that were needed to bring me to this day. He has been a friend, kindred spirit and mentor to me for many years, and I will always be deeply grateful to him for the ways in which he's touched my life. The mentoring relationship is powerful, and it's one that will be encouraged and nurtured at all levels of this University throughout my presidency. You should know that I ask "What would Mike do?" when I'm faced with a tough decision, and so far it has served me well.   

We come together this morning to take part in a ceremony that holds more significance than simply welcoming a new President on board. This is an opportunity for us to revisit the mission of Florida Atlantic University, to reaffirm the role that we as an academic community play in the life of the greater community and to envision a future that holds unlimited potential for FAU.

Let's begin by asking why we're here. The answer is Zen-like in its simplicity: We're here to serve students. Everything that you and I do, whether as a faculty member, an administrator, an athletics coach or a member of the support staff, has serving students as its core objective. We serve them best when we help them succeed academically, which, in turn, positions them to succeed in life.

Since opening its doors in the fall of 1964, FAU has awarded degrees to more than one hundred thousand men and women, and we take great pride in all of them. Some of them have gone on to achieve great things in their work, bringing special honor to their alma mater. The list of alumni in this category is far too long for me to recount by name this morning, but let me say that included in their number are public officials ranging from city hall to the United States Congress, nationally and internationally known entrepreneurs, truly outstanding members of all the professions, acclaimed artists, accomplished scientists, several university Presidents, a Chancellor, an Ambassador and an American astronaut who has twice carried FAU flags into space.

Clearly, this University has been doing its job and doing it well for nearly half a century, and I'd like to acknowledge the leadership contributions of the five Presidents who have brought us to this day:

President Kenneth Williams, FAU's founding father, took the University from concept to reality and built the strong foundation that we stand on today.  Dr. Williams passed away in 1998 after serving as the first President of both Miami-Dade College and Florida Atlantic University.

President Glenwood Creech's 10-year term of office saw dramatic growth of the donor base as he won many friends of wealth and influence for the University and made FAU the state leader in the establishment of million-dollar Eminent Scholar Chairs. Dr. Creech retired to his native Kentucky in 1983.  We learned just a few weeks ago that he passed away on July third of this year.

President Helen Popovich, the first woman President in the history of Florida's State University System, expanded the student body to include freshmen and sophomores and focused on increasing the racial and ethnic diversity of students, faculty and staff. Dr. Popovich left FAU in 1989 to serve as the President of Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan. She is now a higher education consultant, and she called this week to wish me well.

President Anthony Catanese presided over a period of explosive growth during which the size of the student body more than doubled; hundreds of new tenure-track faculty came on board; dozens of new degree programs were added; the number of campuses increased from three to seven; the FAU Foundation's first capital campaign overshot its goal by nearly a hundred million dollars; and a half-billion dollars in construction projects were carried out University-wide. Student life was greatly enriched during his 12 years in office, most notably by the addition of a football team to our intercollegiate athletics program. Dr. Catanese left FAU in 2002 to become the president of the Florida Institute of Technology, where he is still serving.

President Frank Brogan, a distinguished alumnus of FAU, left the position of Florida Lieutenant Governor to return to his alma mater as its fifth President. During his six years at the helm, the University grew to a whole new level of maturity as admission standards were raised; critically important partnerships were formed with The Scripps Research Institute, the Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies and the Max Planck Society; the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute joined the FAU fold; hundreds of millions of dollars in construction projects moved forward; and our young football team, under the leadership of legendary Coach Howard Schnellenberger, made history by winning two college bowl games back to back. President Brogan is now serving Florida's entire State University System as its very energetic Chancellor, and I'm so pleased that he has joined us today.

That brings us to today - to this moment in the history of an institution that was created by the Legislature in 1961 as Florida's fifth public university, thus establishing the first state-funded center of higher education, research and community service in Southeast Florida. In August of 2011, we'll begin a year-long observance of the University's 50th year - its golden anniversary - and you'll be hearing more about that in the months ahead.

From its moment of creation to the present day, the concept of stewardship of place has resided at the very heart of what this University is all about, and I'd like to take a few moments to discuss what that means to all of us.

While we take pride in the fact that FAU has expanded its reach to attract students from many parts of our country, and, indeed, from around the world, we must never lose sight of the fact that serving local students and communities is an essential part of our core mission.

Someone once said that all politics are local, and I'd like to invoke that thought in connection with how we think of ourselves as a university community. Certainly, much of what we do here knows no boundaries; scientific discoveries are of importance to people all over the world, as are great artistic creations and advances in the many disciplines that are taught in our classrooms, lecture halls and laboratories.  But it's what we do on the local level that integrates us into the very lives of the communities we serve and makes this University a force for good in the most immediate sense.

I was very glad to discover when I arrived at FAU that we already have units and individuals who are committed to community outreach, volunteerism and service learning, and who are doing an excellent job of giving real substance to that facet of the University's mission. I intend to make strong emphasis on community engagement a hallmark of my presidency, and I call upon each of you to do whatever you can to help make FAU a truly stellar citizen of its large service region.

Our campuses are literally treasure troves of expertise that can bring benefits of many kinds to the people who live in our area, and it's up to us to let them know that we're more than willing to share our time, talents and knowledge with them.  I know that many of you are already engaged in very meaningful outreach activities, and I'd like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank you for all you're doing to put a helpful human face on Florida Atlantic University.  We must never forget that FAU was created to be an agent of positive change right here in our own corner of the world.

Let's take a fresh look at what's going in the six counties in FAU's service region - Broward, Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River and Okeechobee.  Their aggregate population stands at 3.6 million, and during the coming decade more than three hundred and thirty thousand graduates are expected to be produced by the high schools in those counties, and a fair number of them will come knocking on FAU's door in pursuit of college degrees.

Serving the students in this pipeline will continue to require a carefully coordinated team effort with the school districts in our region and our trusted, long-time partners in higher education: Broward College, Palm Beach State College and Indian River State College.  The articulation agreements that FAU has had for decades with these three outstanding partner institutions have delivered life-changing educational opportunities to thousands upon thousands of students. FAU remains fully committed to maintaining these critically important relationships, and we thank each one of our valued college partners for all they're doing to broaden access to higher education in South Florida.

Whether they enroll at FAU as freshmen or come to us as transfer students, many of our students are the first members of their families to attend college.  This is a deeply meaningful development in the social and economic evolution of any family, and I often find myself thinking about how privileged we are, as an academic community, to be able to introduce so many young people to the joys and challenges of university life.

This came into sharp focus for me in August, when I addressed the Class of 2014 during Freshman Convocation. There are moments in life when change becomes a palpable presence, and Freshman Convocation is a highly memorable occasion for that reason. Every member of every incoming class - especially those who are the first in their families to attend college - is setting out on a journey to a whole new place in life. While their ultimate destinations may vary, the process always involves profound personal growth and conscious development of the ability to think critically.

In my remarks to those twenty-seven-hundred young newcomers to our community, I advised them to be open to ideas that might differ from their own, to value diversity of thought and philosophy, and to actively work on expanding their view of themselves and their world. When we abandon our preconceived notions of who we are and where our personal boundaries lie, exciting new horizons come into view. I heard from many of our faculty that that message also resonated with them as a definition of a liberal arts education today and a core value of this institution.

The process of breaking old molds and creating new ones for ourselves can feel quite alien at first, but the rewards can be enormous. This inauguration is themed "Making Waves," and that is an apt descriptor for my life.

I've always embraced change as a growth opportunity, and I'd like to share some of my own story with you today. I'm the oldest girl in a family of six children - and that, in and of itself, may have gone a long way toward preparing me to someday be a university president. I'm pretty sure my sisters believe this to be true! My father was the purchasing agent for a small business dealing in bicycle parts, and my mother was a public school teacher - initially in the first grade and later for students with intellectual disabilities. My youngest brother was born mentally disabled, which motivated my mother to learn teaching strategies that would help him and other kids who were facing that kind of challenge. Both of my parents always showed tremendous confidence in all of their children, and they encouraged us to follow our dreams.  I know they would have loved to have seen this day.

From the beginning of my school years, I loved both literature and science. I wanted to read every book in the public library at the end of our street in Worcester, Massachusetts. However, I realized in college that "reading" was not a career and that the creativity and challenge of science appealed to my inquisitive nature. Science provided me a way of examining the infinite variety of things that exist in the natural world, of understanding them, of manipulating them and discovering their previously unknown properties, and then passing that information along to future generations.  I changed my major from English to biology as an undergraduate and then took two graduate degrees in botany.  I will always consider myself a scientist, and I'm privileged to hold the rank of professor in the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science here at FAU.

I taught and conducted federally funded research (my writing skills certainly helped there), and then an opportunity arose for me to step into a leadership role. I became the Director of the University of South Florida's Institute of Biomolecular Science, an interdisciplinary research institute that supported and coordinated work taking place in four colleges, seven institutes and the USF medical school ---while still teaching and doing research. I found that I could make a major impact on scientific research by supporting graduate education, writing and then leading program grant awards and mentoring young faculty.  That pattern was replicated at the National Science Foundation, as founding Dean of a College of Science and then as Provost at Cleveland State University.  I was fortunate to be part of the academy when opportunities for women -- especially those in the sciences -- opened up. This administrative service has culminated in the unparalleled opportunity and huge privilege of serving as the President of this vibrant young University.

The words "only in America" come to mind at this point in my story, and, indeed, our nation is known around the world for opening the door of opportunity to people with the will to walk through it.  My own experience is never far from my mind when I meet incoming students who are standing on the cusp of their own "only in America" experiences. And isn't it wonderful to know that you and I have important roles to play in putting them on the road to success?

In recent years, we've put many programs in place to help students stay on track and move steadily toward graduation. Just this month that effort got major reinforcement when our Office of Undergraduate Studies received a $1.6 million dollar, five-year Title Three grant. This is a federal program called "Strengthening Institutions," which provides funds to shore up the safety net under students who are at risk of dropping out during their second to third years of study. We're using this grant to establish a program that we're calling AcCESS, which stands for Academic and Career Enhancement for Second-Year Students. The program will offer stepped-up advising services to students, along with tutoring and career counseling. We want EVERY student who enrolls at FAU to achieve the dream of earning a college degree, and we're doing everything we can to give them the tools to do that.

This may not be apparent on its face, but the construction on this campus of a 30,000-seat stadium, which got under way just two weeks ago, is an important element of our strategy to retain students through graduation. Studies have repeatedly shown that students who become immersed in campus life through participation in social activities and athletic events have an increased likelihood of persevering until they earn their degrees.  We human beings are social creatures, and most of us crave interaction with other people. Shared experiences are the glue that binds us together, and nothing has the ability to unite a university community like a stadium, where everyone comes together as one to cheer for the home team. After years of waiting, planning and hoping, we're finally on the verge of giving FAU students something to really cheer about - a stadium of their own!  

The twenty-eight-thousand students who are studying for degrees at FAU today will pursue their lives and careers in a world much different from the one their parents and grandparents knew as young adults. Technology has made it easy to communicate at warp speed while doing little to increase understanding between people. Political and economic divisions are rending the fabric of many societies, and the recent onslaught of natural disasters has added a profoundly tragic dimension to the suffering of people all over the world.

A new study from Harvard University indicates that only 6.7 percent of the world's 6.8 billion people hold college degrees. While this figure has increased by almost 1 percent over the past 10 years, the educated elite is still razor-thin, and it falls to us to provide the kind of leadership in government, business, religious institutions and non-profit organizations that will pave the way to peace rather than heightened discord. Our job is to do everything within our power to prepare the next generation of leaders to succeed in this crucially important mission.

To meet this objective, we must be willing to change and grow as an institution. Charles Darwin said, "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change." Stasis means death for organizations as well as for organisms; that which doesn't change will die . . . or become irrelevant. Florida Atlantic University is not about to travel down either of those dead-end roads. Our strategic plan, which will soon undergo extensive review, is all about identifying and embracing changes that will make FAU even more useful to our students and the greater community than it is today and to meet emerging needs.

While it's not yet clear what role exclusively online, for-profit universities will play in the future of higher education in America, we've seen ample evidence that many students at FAU want an eLearning option and will take advantage of it when it's offered. Interest in online teaching is increasing among faculty, along with concerns about ensuring the quality of such classes, developing consistent pedagogical processes and providing adequate training and software to support the ongoing development of this rapidly evolving educational venue.

To address all of these issues on an institutional level, one of the first things I did upon arriving at FAU last summer was to appoint an eLearning Task Force. That group carried out a thorough examination of the issue and in September submitted a report to me containing a number of recommendations that are built around the proposed establishment of a Center for eLearning at FAU. This center will oversee all aspects of the eLearning enterprise, from working with individual faculty members on course design to coordinating the whole universe of eLearning resources for faculty and students. The expansion of our eLearning capabilities will open up a whole new area of pedagogy for FAU, and I'd like to thank all the members of the task force for their comprehensive report and thoughtful recommendations.

I decided to call this address "Making Waves: Celebrating and Cultivating Discovery, Diversity and Distinction" because I really like the image of making waves, and it fits FAU in so many ways, from our location a mile or two away from one of the most famous beaches in the world to the ripple effect that our work has on the greater community.

The thing that makes universities unique among society's institutions is that they are the places where a conscious effort to acquire new knowledge takes place every day. From the Middle Ages to the present day, scholars have been hard at work advancing our understanding of how the world works, discovering and explaining basic scientific principles, developing ingenious ways of harnessing that knowledge to improve life on Earth, and interpreting the human experience through inspired writing, art and music. Universities have the ability to transcend time and place, to reach far into the future to touch and shape the lives of generations yet unborn. That amazing dynamic continues to this day, and we're all part of it - we're "making waves" that will lap up on shores we may never see, and I find that enormously inspiring.

One of the primary jobs of the modern American university is to introduce students to the great diversity of people and cultures on our planet and to help them understand, appreciate and celebrate the ways in which we differ and the ways in which we're all the same as human beings. Maya Angelou has written a very moving poem called "Human Family," expressing that thought as only she can, and I'd like to share it with you now: 

I note the obvious differences 
in the human family. 
Some of us are serious, 
some thrive on comedy. 
 
Some declare their lives are lived 
as true profundity, 
and others claim they really live 
the real reality. 
 
The variety of our skin tones 
can confuse, bemuse, delight, 
brown and pink and beige and purple, 
tan and blue and white. 
 
I've sailed upon the seven seas 
and stopped in every land, 
I've seen the wonders of the world 
not yet one common man. 
 
I know ten thousand women 
called Jane and Mary Jane, 
but I've not seen any two 
who really were the same. 
 
Mirror twins are different 
although their features jibe, 
and lovers think quite different thoughts 
while lying side by side. 
 

We love and lose in China, 
we weep on England's moors, 
and laugh and moan in Guinea, 
and thrive on Spanish shores. 

We seek success in Finland, 
are born and die in Maine. 
In minor ways we differ, 
in major we're the same. 
 
I note the obvious differences 
between each sort and type, 
but we are more alike, my friends, 
than we are unalike. 
 
We are more alike, my friends, 
than we are unalike. 
 
We are more alike, my friends, 
than we are unalike.

That really says it all, doesn't it? Our challenge as educators is to help students discover this great truth for themselves, and studying abroad is a very effective way of doing that. Here at FAU, we have a highly proactive Office of International Programs that's always seeking out new study abroad opportunities for our students. Last year, FAU students went to countries that included Germany, Spain, Brazil, Ecuador, India, Sweden, South Korea, Portugal, Japan, Ireland, France and Finland. Study abroad is a uniquely enriching experience, and I intend to make it a focal point of my presidency. We're in the business of educating citizens of the world, and we must never forget that. 

Another way in which this University is generating waves that will touch the future is in its strong commitment to sustainability. Next week I'll have the pleasure of joining Dean Stevens in cutting the ribbon of the new headquarters facility for our College of Engineering and Computer Science. We can all take great pride in the fact that this is the first university academic building in South Florida that's been designed to achieve the highest LEED standard - the platinum credential.

This state-of-the-art facility will be a center of learning not only for FAU students, but also for K-12 students and their teachers, as well as practicing engineering professionals and other members of the public, who will be invited to take part in outreach programs that will increase their understanding of energy-efficient technology. All of this is happening within the context of our Mission Green initiative, which is reaching into every corner of life at FAU to adopt and maximize the best sustainability practices. During my presidency, FAU will continue to play a leadership role in this critically important effort.

So much has been said about our University's rapid development as a center of research, and about the enormous promise inherent within our partnerships with Scripps, Torrey Pines and Max Planck, that I don't feel the need to deal with that subject at length, except to say that one of the core themes of my presidency will be the continued growth of our research enterprise. As a scientist, I take great pride in leading an institution that is a fully engaged, productive participant in the most advanced discoveries of our time, and whose researchers are making truly important contributions to the future health and well-being of the people we share this planet with and the planet itself. Discovery and creativity of all kinds will continue to be encouraged, valued and rewarded at Florida Atlantic University.

One especially exciting example of the degree to which FAU is maturing as a center of discovery is the recent designation of this University as the home of the new Southeast National Marine Renewable Energy Center.  Based in the College of Engineering and Computer Science, this national center is conducting research on ways to tap the power of the oceans as a source of clean, affordable energy.

FAU's leadership in diversity has become a familiar story, as year after year we've had the most racially, ethnically and culturally diverse student body in our State University System. Let us not forget that we also boast the country's most generationally diverse university community, with more than nineteen thousand intellectually vibrant, experience-rich Lifelong Learners in the mix. They add a dimension to the life of our University that cannot be measured by any conventional means. They infuse our community with an energy that's all their own, and they inspire us to keep on learning, keep on growing and keep on looking ahead for all of our lives. Every kind of human diversity in the FAU family will be appreciated and celebrated throughout my presidency.   

My goal will always be to grow this University in a way that serves students and generates funding to create and support top-quality programs.

I'd like to close by saying thanks to all of YOU, the heart and soul of FAU. Thanks to our wonderful faculty across all the disciplines, who are so generous in sharing their knowledge and time with students and so skilled in advancing our mission; thanks to our hard-working and often unsung staff, who provide the kind of wall-to-wall support that allows our large and complex academic enterprise to open for business every day; thanks to our alumni and donors, who understand what FAU is all about and do so much to help us keep on moving to higher ground; thanks to our partners in the public and private sectors, who walk beside us as trusted companions on our journey into the future; and last - but certainly not least - thanks to our students, who come to us seeking to improve their lives through knowledge and who enrich the life of our University in an infinite variety of ways.

I'm proud to be one of you; I'm proud to tell your story; and I'm very, very proud to be your President. 

Thank you very much.




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