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Published:

September 15, 2010
 
Tagged: President Emeritus

2010 State of the University

Speeches and Correspondence


 

By Robert A. Scott, President, Adelphi University


Introduction

The annual State of the University Address provides an opportunity for us to gather together as a community; consider the state of the institution to which we devote our energy, intellect, and imagination; and contemplate how this year relates to those yet to come as well as to those which have come before.

When the author and historian, Thomas Cahill, spoke here two Octobers ago, I asked him about the series of books he calls his “hinges of history”. I was fascinated by the concept, a metaphor for periods of transition, transformation, even, as he says, transfiguration, “leaving us a world more varied and complex, more awesome and delightful, more beautiful and strong.”

This notion of “hinges” in history, when what comes next will not only be different from what came before, but also transformative, is apt for us as we continue our work on “AU 2015,” Adelphi’s strategic plan, which includes these goals:

  • Recognition as a center of intellectual and creative activity;
  • Relevance in a changing world;
  • Student success in a range of educational goals; and a
  • Sustained reputation as an excellent, yet affordable university

These goals and the related objectives are the combined work of large numbers of us on campus, faculty, students, staff, and administrators, as well as those from off-campus, including alumni and friends, and especially our attentive Board of Trustees.

AU 2015, like any strategic plan, is more about principles for decision-making and priorities for action than it is a lock-step road map. It is about ambitious undertakings, such as the Center for Health Innovation, which builds on both academic programs in our Schools and the College, but also newer areas of strength, such as the Center for Social Innovation and Vital Signs. It is about achieving further distinctiveness and enriching opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students; and setting and achieving greater expectations for student recruitment and retention, student success and satisfaction, alumni involvement, affordability, and financial strength, all with transparency.

So, looking forward to 2015, and looking backward from it, this next five years has the potential to be a “hinge” in Adelphi’s history.

The challenges we will face during this period are both internal and external. Those internal include both the refinement and assessment of learning goals and what an Adelphi education means for undergraduate and graduate students, especially in terms of distinctive elements identifying an Adelphi education as unusually transformational, i.e. “teaching students the wisdom of the ages to prepare them to confront the pressing issues of the day,” in Michael Bérubé’s terms,2 as well as in the identification and development of leadership among the faculty, staff, and administration.

Deans, especially, play a critical and challenging role, looking inward to nurture faculty, ensuring an appropriate curriculum of high quality and outstanding teaching, achieving enrollment goals, and sustaining quality and accreditation. Deans also must look outward to seek opportunities for interdisciplinary teaching and scholarship across the University’s programs in online and blended courses, and other forms of instruction, to prepare students for later learning, as well as to identify opportunities for collaboration and support with agencies, institutions, organizations, businesses, and other enterprises, all in order to enhance student and faculty opportunities for teaching and learning.

The challenges are also external: the larger economy; changes in demographics and college-going patterns; international relations and the ease with which students and scholars can travel between and among countries and campuses; war and peace; poverty and homelessness; social stability; the role of schooling and higher education; and, within all this, the role of faculty.

State and federal regulations also challenge the status quo, sometimes in progressive ways, other times in ways that seem more grounded in ideology than in well thought-out ideas. For families, housing values relative to mortgages, loss of jobs, family members off at war, forecasts of a prolonged recovery, and fear of what might come next all add to the anxieties they face as they contemplate which college to consider.

Other challenges result from societal and cultural forces that press the pace of change, increase urbanization, and encourage technology and medical advances, among others, that colleges must consider in maintaining relevance and quality.

We also must consider the effects of national and international issues on our local plane. Racial and ethnic prejudice, the rise of China and India, the state of the media and politics all affect the agenda for higher education at large and each institution in particular.

It is for these reasons, and more, that we express AU 2015 goals in terms of identity and recognition, relevance in a changing world, student satisfaction and success, and a sustained reputation for high quality and affordability – – a perpetual “Best Value” in Fiske Guide terms.

While it may be comforting to think about Adelphi’s concerns and plans as unique, we must recognize that the broader context for higher education has influence as well. Calls for reform are with us, and not new. There is much to admire in American higher education, but also there is much that causes me anguish, and many twists and turns to anticipate.*

I think especially about calls for renewed focus on student learning; enhanced General Education programs; strengthened systems to assess institutional effectiveness; expanded commitments to prepare students for employment; more accountability about the use of resources. In all of these areas, I think we can hold our heads high, as we either are working on the goals or are well on our way to being a leader in the category.

Before focusing on the specific goals of AU 2015, I think it would be useful to review two past “hinges” in Adelphi’s history, 1896 and 1929. You know that I believe in understanding and respecting an institution’s heritage as an important component in planning for the future. So, let’s consider some of this history as we contemplate 2015.


 

1896

In the memories of institutions are moments of transition, hinges between one time and another, with each moment of change part of an evolution connecting what happened before with what comes after, both central to the future.

In 1896, Adelphi College was chartered by the New York State Board of Regents. This was the successful realization of a goal fashioned by Dr. Charles H. Levermore, head of Adelphi Academy, and Timothy Woodruff, Levermore’s long-time college friend, successful business leader, Lieutenant Governor of New York, and soon-to-be head of the new College’s Board of Trustees.

The College literally grew out of Adelphi Academy, started in Brooklyn in 1863, the third year of the Civil War. It was founded with the support of war heroes, abolitionists, suffragists, and believers in religious tolerance. It was not long before these supporters, Horace Greeley, Henry Ward Beecher, and Susan B. Anthony, among others, wanted to start an independent college in the nation’s second largest city, home of the longest suspension bridge in the world. The roots of the College, charged with being “a first class institution for the broadest and most thorough training, and to make its advantages as accessible as possible to the largest number of our population,” can be found in its progressive philosophy, expanding curriculum, and recognized success of the faculty and students in their careers. The College opened with 57 students.

The early leaders and faculty of the College were graduates of the nation’s most prestigious and, at the time, innovative institutions of higher education, places where the modern American university was taking shape. Following the Civil War, colleges were expected to pay more attention to societal needs, meritocratic rather than aristocratic standards (as they were understood at the time), and to intellectual attainment rather than moral training as a primary goal.

Adelphi College was created at a time of national importance for higher education, even though only 4% of 18-21 year olds were in college. During this period, the first Land-Grant Act was enacted, Cornell University and the University of Chicago were established, academic departments were being formed, secondary and post-secondary curricula were expected to be more closely connected, electives in addition to a baccalaureate major were required, and an educational exchange to promote higher education for adults was established in Boston.

These initiatives gave strength to the philosophy of “service to society,” as noted in Adelphi’s own seal, “Life without letters of hope, freedom, and service is but a prelude to institutional death,” as interpreted by former Professor James Fennelly.

The “hinge” of history in which Adelphi College was born followed the “Age of Progress.” Think in terms of telephony, cinematography, wireless technology, and the gramophone, all contributing to communications and considered by Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Alva Edison, and Louis Lumière for their “instructional purposes” – – precursors to the technological advances available to higher education today.

This was the time which introduced automobiles, airplanes, and home appliances. Many of the innovations of this period were showcased first at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, whose influence extended across the land and reached Brooklyn. Coney Island was a physical manifestation of an international desire for significant fairs and exhibitions.

There were other efforts to bring nations together, like the first Modern Olympic Games, The Hague Peace Conference, the Panama Canal, and the Paris Exhibition, but also actions that split them apart, like the Boer War and U.S. expansionism in Hawaii, Cuba, and the Philippines.

This was a period of the Presidential campaigns of William McKinley and Williams Jennings Bryan; of the Hearst-Pulitzer media wars; a banking crisis rescued by J.P. Morgan; demands for the rights of women; and efforts to expand human services to combat poverty, homelessness, and poor healthcare. There were widespread concerns about issues of immigration, especially regarding those from China; racial prejudice; the Supreme Court; and the “power of the state … (in response to) the trivialization of culture.” Like our own time, there were efforts to foster community planning, better transportation systems, and improved education.

Adelphi students were interested in these issues, among them the unequal distribution of wealth, inadequate working and housing conditions, the availability of sanitary milk, and preventative healthcare. It does not seem too much of a stretch to think that the efforts of the Henry Street Settlement House in Manhattan and the lives of 12 million immigrants moving through Ellis Island, and the thousands who came under the care of the public health hospital there, came to the attention of Adelphi students.

These were the dynamics of the Western world in which Adelphi was born, the characteristics of a “hinge” in time when our University began. We know some about how these world influences affected the College, its faculty and leaders, and some about how they affected the world. Surely one of the most prominent was Charles Levermore himself. Dr. Levermore earned his A.B. at Yale, class of 1879, and his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1885, where he was a schoolmate and friend of Woodrow Wilson. Levermore became Professor of History at M.I.T., Principal of Adelphi Academy, and then President of Adelphi College, until he retired and joined the faculty in 1912. He continued his efforts on behalf of higher education in Brooklyn, was Secretary of the World Court League and the League of Nations Union, active in the New York Peace Society, and won the $50,000 Bok Peace Prize in 1924.

The faculty recruited by President Levermore and Dean Anna Harvey, whose name adorns the home of the Ruth S. Ammon School of Education today, were not only well-educated but also leaders in their fields, whether in art, teacher preparation, health, the classics, math and science, history and literature, and much more.

The College had supportive trustees and patrons, and, while never wealthy, achieved relative financial stability for a while until enrollment growth and debt burden became too much to handle. The College stopped enrolling men in the regular program in 1912 in order to allow more room for women. In an interesting parallel to today, a Student-Faculty Committee was formed to discuss issues of common concern and to foster further cooperation.

So, in this first period, Adelphi achieved singular recognition as a center of intellectual and creative activity and relevance in a changing world. From all we can tell, students achieved success in a wide range of educational goals and the College had a reputation for excellence and was affordable – given the growth in enrollment, even if it was in fragile financial condition.


 

1929

The overcrowded conditions caused by enrollment growth and sharing quarters with the Academy continued and a drive to raise the $1 million necessary to expand without further debt was begun. The Pratt family offered a prime site, and a campaign was begun to construct and equip a building and to landscape a field. With a $300,000 Challenge Grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, the drive began in September 1922 and was finally completed by May 1925.

However, by this time, with 652 students, the Board concluded that the 2.5 acre plot donated by the Pratt family left too little room for further expansion. A Committee of Trustees researched alternative sites, deciding on Garden City in 1927. The Brooklyn site was sold for over $1 million and a contract for designing the first three buildings in Garden City was awarded to the premier architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White. At the dedication of the cornerstone of the new campus, President Blodgett “declared that this day marked the fruition of a hope and the realization of a dream.” “But,” he added, “we must not forget that a college is more than a campus and buildings. If a college ends with buildings, it falls far short of fulfilling its real purpose.”

In these early years, the College was expansive in its activities, joining with other institutions to help restore the library of Louvain University in Belgium, in sponsoring a stone marker and bronze plaque at Whitman College in Washington to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the Oregon Trail, and hosting international speakers, including the tutor to the Crown Prince of Iraq.

Students were active in fundraising for earthquake victims in Japan, supporting missionary work in China, volunteering to help children’s organizations and orphans, and protesting unemployment, poverty, and war. This was another period when public health was given prominence, especially for child and maternity care.

Academically, the College grew stronger, with external recognition, new programs and requirements, and a system of honors. Students came from all over the metropolitan area, and alumnae were represented as executives, teachers, professors, editors, members of the clergy, medical professionals, social service leaders, and public policy experts.

In a few years, the Trustees acknowledged that the College had expanded beyond its resources; the bond mortgage company guaranteeing the principal and interest went bankrupt, “making the guarantee practically worthless.”10 The stock market crashed one month after Adelphi opened in Garden City.

The world outside the College was in turmoil. The economic collapse spread worldwide; Stalin and Hitler were taking advantage of circumstances to expand their powers; there was famine in China; riots broke out between Arabs and Jews in Palestine over control of the Western Wall; and revolution and civil war broke out in Afghanistan.

At the same time, there were great efforts at promoting peace, including the Kellogg- Briand Act (also called the Pact of Paris), proclaimed by President Hoover as an effort for all countries to renounce war as an instrument of national policy. Up the road from Adelphi, Charles Lindbergh began his historic flight to bridge the Atlantic.

In U.S. higher education, major reforms in undergraduate education were active, led by educators whose names became synonymous with General Education, Great Books, a Core Curriculum, and experimental colleges, including Stringfellow Barr, Scott Buchanan, Robert Maynard Hutchins, and Alexander Meiklejohn, among others.


 

2015

At this “hinge” in its history, Adelphi had achieved academic recognition, demonstrated relevance in a changing world through its programs and its activities in the community, fostered student satisfaction and success, and sustained a reputation for excellence, even while it still struggled financially, entering receivership in 1937. Enrollment had fallen during the preceding years of economic downturn.

The issues before us today have a familiar ring for those who have studied the history of Adelphi, higher education, and national and world affairs. Context still matters; principles for decision-making and priorities for action still take precedence; we still seek “fruition of a hope and the realization of a dream” for this University, just as President Blodgett did for the College.

AU 2015 is comprehensive as well as specific, building on both heritage and recent history. It encompasses faculty, staff, students, alumni, patrons, and neighbors both near and far. It builds on our principles of transparency and integrity; emphasizes leadership and ethics; encourages innovation and new approaches to enduring challenges, using online and blended courses just as a previous generation used the L.I.R.R.; and anticipates the impediments to its own fulfillment.

It acknowledges progress, such as our recently approved General Education program as a new start, but not as an end. There is more we can do to create a signature element to an Adelphi education, emphasizing the liberating arts and sciences, the transformative value of student-faculty interaction, the essential importance of fostering both a knowledge of history and an ability to imagine, preparing students for lives of good character and active citizenship as well for earning a living in careers and commerce. Such an education is relevant, but not relevant as often interpreted. We mean relevant for problem-solving and a fulfilling life, not simply for some immediate task or need.

AU 2015 is organized around what we call “transformative goals,” such as new academic programs, including Public Health; multi-disciplinary courses, scholarship, and creative activity; community outreach and education in health and related areas to be anchored by a new Center for Health Innovation; and a recognizable identity which emphasizes leadership and ethics in graduate and undergraduate academic offerings and experiences. We also include increased undergraduate participation in internships and service, or community, learning. For these goals, we have identified a Fall 2008 baseline and have set both basic and “stretch” goals for 2015. As new initiatives are developed, they will be brought forward through the normal faculty and trustee governance processes, just as the process to date has been open and transparent.

In addition, we have established what we call “greater expectations” for ongoing objectives, such as faculty accomplishments; student participation, satisfaction, and success; technology support for teaching and learning; admissions selectivity and affordability; diversity in who we are and what we teach; alumni participation and philanthropy; and financial and facility health. We also include external measures of institutional progress, which apply to sites in Hauppauge, Manhattan, and Poughkeepsie, as well to the main campus in Garden City. Details and the rationales for these goals and objectives can be found at http://www.adelphi.edu/adelphi2015/.

I think of AU 2015 as the third phase in a decade of strategic planning. The first phase, 2000-2002, I consider as “Righting the Balance,” bringing enrollment, faculty, programs, services, and both academic and facilities planning into greater alignment. The second phase, “Assuring Quality,” 2003-2010, included bringing all accreditations up-to-date; building new facilities for student housing, fine and performing arts, sports and recreation, and certain programs in education; ensuring financial stability; and embarking on the first-ever comprehensive fundraising campaign.

This current phase, AU 2015, I think of as “Raising the Bar.” We have secured our footing and can, again, extend our reach and deepen our impact, keeping the mission and character of Adelphi intact.

In this phase, as before, Adelphi is not just a passive member of society during a period of transition, but also an agent of change in the broader society that provides the context for which we plan. We must consider the competitive environment for higher education not only on Long Island, the Metro New York region, the Middle Atlantic States, and nationally, but also internationally. After all, our students come from some 40 states and over 60 countries, the latter benefiting from our partnership with the LIFE program of ELS-Berlitz.

The environment is complex, and different for the University as a whole, certain undergraduate majors, and the several graduate programs. There is no single overall competitive environment, but nevertheless, we must fashion a coherent and coordinated set of strategies to achieve our goals.

Public health, especially with a focus on children’s issues, healthcare, nutrition, exercise, obesity, diabetes, and regional disparities, seems to be a particularly strategic initiative that would build on Adelphi’s historic strengths and contemporary assets in terms of faculty, programs, initiatives, technology, and facilities. It has the potential to be both strategically comprehensive and sufficiently compelling to strengthen the identity not only of particular programs but also of the University as a whole. It will require even more interdisciplinary efforts and collaboration among units, but these are within our reach and necessary to provide and enhance the trans-disciplinary knowledge, skills, abilities, and values needed for our students to manage complexity, synthesize multiple specialties, make judgments, and solve 21st Century problems.

Enrollment at all four sites now totals about 8,600 students, with some 6,735 in Garden City. Overall, each year, we enroll 900-plus freshman, 500-plus transfer students, and over 1,000 new graduate students.

We have been fortunate to achieve our enrollment goals during the current economic disruption. Eighteen months ago, we worried that families would not ask if Adelphi was affordable, and simply conclude that it wasn’t, so we redoubled our efforts to inform prospective students and their families and guidance counselors that we are affordable and can help. In order to continue our progress, we must remember that we rely upon enrollment more than on endowment; as a consequence, our central theme is still and evermore, enrollment based on mission is everyone’s job if everyone is to have a job.

We have not suffered financially as have many other institutions because enrollment remained on target, we budgeted conservatively, we do not have large debt obligations, and we do not rely on variable unrestricted investment income to support fixed operating expenses. As you who read about higher education are aware, we are in a period of turbulence.

Private colleges and universities are facing challenges due to their cost structure. Public colleges and universities are facing the twin challenges of cutbacks in state support and large enrollment increases due to the recession and their subsidized prices. One consequence is that as classes grow larger, the commitment to provide the courses required for a four-year degree grow dimmer. There are also socio-economic consequences for public institutions as a result of the changes in the family circumstances of the students enrolled.

Another force at work is the for-profit college, whose numbers now enroll about 8% of all students in higher education, but which consume over 20% of federal student aid in terms of Pell Grants and loans.

Beyond higher education and the immediate economy, Adelphi’s people and prospects are affected by other external forces, such as poverty amidst wealth, dependence upon imported oil and concerns about depleted water supplies, fear of terrorism, the realty of war, demographic shifts, poor regional planning, and persistent questioning of the role of government.

While Adelphi as an institution does not depend on government support to any significant extent, our students do, and working with elected officials to help protect student interests has often required sorting through confusion and conviction, or as one author put it, “breaking through myth and mist.”

Again, in this time, Adelphi students and faculty are active in society, using Winter and Spring Breaks to help impoverished communities in this and other countries rebuild homes and schools; working on community action projects in nearby towns; bringing clarity to issues like immigration; initiating civil society programs for students from Macau; developing another ICAN project series; advancing the Levermore Global Scholars Program mission for service; supporting the Community Fellows Program; and using the history of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911 as a book to read in common.

To advance our global awareness still further, this fall we welcome as Distinguished Visiting Scholars both Dr. Maud Edgren-Schori of Stockholm University and the Honorable Ambassador Pierre Schori of Sweden to our classrooms and community. You will be hearing more about and from them.

Our approach to education is distinctive. When we say Adelphi is a “community”, we mean that we are more than a gathering or a collection of people, but a place apart with shared values. When we say Adelphi is the “engaged” University, we mean that we, its people, are involved in meaningful ways in the life of the broader community, and welcome neighbors to our campus lectures, events, and activities.

Fortunately, our good work has been recognized by the “Fiske Guide to Colleges” for a fifth year, by “Forbes Magazine” and “U.S. News” rankings, and by “The Princeton Review.” Adelphi is different today from what it was in 1896 and 1929, larger, more complex, with a broader reach, yet I would hope that Presidents Levermore and Blodgett, and their colleagues, would recognize their legacy. We have built on their foundation, following their values, and will strengthen Adelphi still further – – guided by heritage and principles.

AU 2015 is an opening door, a hinge, beckoning us to see today in its fullest context, challenging us to bridge the past and present, and keeping the future in view. It is a “hinge” because we have secured our present, in strong shape, by building on past success, and are ready to expand our horizons in terms of quality, comprehensiveness, and impact, even with the challenges we face.

When President Levermore retired, he said, “I love this institution to which the best part of my life has been given, and I shall always work and pray for its welfare.”He challenges us to do the same, in our day, entering this door to AU 2015.

Thank you.


Footnotes

1 Cahill, Thomas. Mysteries of the Middle Ages. New York: Doubleday, 2006, “The Hinges of History.”

2 Bérubé, Michael, “The way We Learn,” The New York Times Book Review, Sunday, January 31, 2010, p. 11.

 

3 Fennelly, James. The Adelphi: Love Child of the Brooklyn Brownstones. New Jersey: The Laughing Leprechaun Press, 1996, pages 9-20.

4 Briggs, Asa and Daniel Snowman, editors, Fins de Siecle: How Centuries End 1400-2000. New Haven: Yale

University Press, 1996, p. 177.

5 Briggs and Snowman, p. 163

6 Briggs and Snowman, p. 162

7 Barrows, Chester L. Fifty Years of Adelphi College. Garden City: Adelphi College Press, 1946, p. 106.

8 Barrows, p. 129

9 Barrows, p. 133.

10 Barrows, p. 138.

11 Barrows, p. 129.

12 Lucas, John. “Seventy Years Later.” The American Scholar, Winter 2010, p. 51.

13 Stein, Leon. The Triangle Fire. Ithaca, NY: ILR press, 2001.

14 Barrows, p. 57.


*See my essay, “The Modern American University: A Love Story,” On the Horizon,

forthcoming Fall 2010.

 
Tagged: President Emeritus