Skip to content

April 25, 2003 Presidential Investiture

 

Thank you Chancellor Kirwan. I'd like to thank all our guests: Governor Ehrlich and the First Lady; Mayor O'Malley; Chairman Kendall and members of the Board of Regents; City Council President Dixon; esteemed city, state and federal officials; Maryland college and university presidents; representatives of the University System of Maryland and the Maryland Higher Education Commission; members of the platform party; neighbors; alumni; contributors; faculty; staff; and especially our students. I would like to recognize President Emeritus Mebane Turner for his unparalleled service to the University. Meb, it's always good to have you back in your home away from home. Thank you to my friend Solomon Oliver for his remarks, and to my family and friends for sharing this occasion with me.

In the words of the esteemed philosopher Yogi Berra, I want to thank you for making this day necessary.

This is truly a celebration of the University of Baltimore. To our faculty, staff and students, this is an opportunity to celebrate your present. To our alumni and those who came before us, this is a time to honor the foundation you have created. To the many visitors with us today, I welcome you to this very special place. I invite all of you to take a moment to value what we have achieved and envision what we can become.

I come to this day with the advantage of having been at the University for nine months. I've learned about the people, the place, our opportunities and our challenges. I hope I never stop learning about what we do and how we can do it better. I'd like to share some of what has motivated me, surprised me, and made me realize in this short time how special the University of Baltimore is and how grateful I am to be part of its future.

I admit to some surprise that this is where my career path has lead. For one thing, (as you've heard) I'm from Cleveland, so I make no promises when the Browns come to town. I've worked in government, as a law professor and dean and in business. My love of music has led me to a board chairmanship. Some might call that a varied career; others might call it haphazard. I do know that the values I received in my own education have served me well throughout my working life. And I must admit that I have fun in my new job; I think that's a necessary ingredient for success no matter what you do.

To my friends here from my previous work lives, I want you to know that I am working harder than I ever have, because those around me demand and deserve it. The standard is set by plant workers clearing a snow of Chicago-like proportions nonstop for 72 hours; it's set by the focus of faculty and staff, where few are asked to do the work of many, even at a time of no salary increases. It all starts in our classrooms. Whether at 10:00 at night or all weekend, there is the energized exchange between professor and student that is at the core of what we do.

I've also been reminded that education that engages the mind and captivates the spirit defies chronology -- the University keeps us young. At our university, where the average student age is 32, that may sound like a contradiction, although 32 sounds young enough to me. But, as with many things here, the numbers don't begin to tell the story. We are all made young when we work towards the truth. We are young when we are relentless in the pursuit of goals, tireless in our curiosity about the new, and innocent enough to believe that there can be a better way. I am lucky at this point in my career to have found my own fountain of youth, although one that sometimes makes me feel every bit my age at the end of the day.

What surprises and delights me most is the affection I already have for this university. I sometimes ask myself how that happened so quickly. It's certainly not about football or ivy-covered walls -- our traditions are distinctly non-traditional. The attachment we all feel to our university comes from what we accomplish while we are here and what our graduates achieve when they depart. In the end, these traditions are much more enduring: touchdowns can be cheered, victories can be celebrated, but what we champion here --commitment to the belief that the opportunity of education belongs to everyone -- changes lives.

If we truly accept that belief, we understand that access to education is essential to a democratic society. In the increasingly complex modern world, we cannot equally aspire to those "unalienable" rights if we do not have equal access to an excellent education.

Providing access -- especially to those who may not otherwise have the chance to develop their skills, enhance their careers and better their lives -- is at once noble and ennobling.

Anyone who works in education must be passionate about the idea that what we do has value, that education enriches our ability to thrive in the world. This is true now more than ever, as the gulf between the haves and the have-nots is really a gulf between those who know and those who don't--not because they aren't able, but because they haven't been given the chance. Bridging that divide not only has the power to transform an individual life, but a neighborhood, a city, a nation, a world. When I see evidence of that transformation here -- in the graduation of the part-time student and full-time mother, in the dedication of the adult learner returning to the classroom, in the achievement of the first-generation college student -- I am reminded why we are here and what we are about.

The University of Baltimore is about student leaders testifying in Annapolis before the General Assembly. Their explanations of the importance of a graduate assistantship, of the impact of increased tuitions, of the right to educational opportunity, mean more than the words of any university president.

We are the campus police officer who is also a graduate student in a class where I guest lecture. We are 5:30 in the afternoon, when our halls and classrooms fill with people who have worked all day, yet whose day is just beginning.

We are about offering scholarships to outstanding and unique community college graduates. This week, full tuition awards were offered to both a 16 year old graduate of CCBC, Essex branch who was home schooled and started his college career at age 14, and to a 55-year-old woman who returned to college after 40 years, has a 3.95 GPA at Chesapeake College and is president of the Maryland Phi Theta Kappa.

The University's traditions reach well beyond our campus-our alumni throughout the city and state number over 48,000. We count as our own-past governors from both parties, lieutenant governors, Maryland's attorney general, city delegates, state legislators and prominent leaders in business, law and the community. One out of every three sitting judges in the state is a graduate of our law school. How many law schools in the nation can boast that the spouses of both the governor and the mayor of their largest city are distinguished alumni and stars in their own right? To those here today who aspire to high elective office: If you didn't attend our law school, you should at least try to meet our graduates.

I said before that numbers don't begin to tell our story, but here are some that do. Although more than 80 percent of our students are from Maryland, as you see here today, we have 65 countries represented in our student body. We are truly a diverse community, with a 32-percent minority student population. We are also diverse in other ways: Our "typical" classroom spans age ranges, work history and life experience. That mix is essential to another of our core values: creating a shared vision does not mean that we are all the same.

Exchanging ideas that are distinct and individual is crucial to the educational dynamic. At a time of national debate about the value of diversity in the classroom and how best to achieve it, the University of Baltimore is ahead of the curve. There is nothing to debate.

I also embrace our unique position in the state system as a university dedicated to opportunity and access. Let no one confuse access with mediocrity. The University of Baltimore is proof that excellence is not the province of the so-called "elite." We are proof that the true measure of ability lies not in test scores, but in achievement. We prove it by a full-time student graduation rate of over 70 percent. We prove it by a faculty of state, national and international prominence, whose recent accomplishments include a Fulbright Scholar grant and the University System of Maryland Regents Professor Award, bestowed for only the second time in the award's 15-year history. As we rededicate ourselves to our mission of access, let us likewise recommit to a relentless pursuit of excellence.

On a personal note, I realize how the nobility of that mission has impacted my own life in truly profound ways. My father, whose parents spoke little English, was educated at a state institution in Ohio. He worked hard to establish a family business in Cleveland --the Eagle Ice Cream Company. My brother Richard and I both worked there. When my father died, Richard left Harvard to run the business with my mother. This enabled me to attend Harvard fulltime. It was an incredible opportunity, made possible by the sacrifices of my mother and brother. I am proud that he is here to celebrate this occasion with me. I am also proud to say that he went on to law school -- at an urban university, part time, at night -- and has been rewarded with well-deserved success. Dick, I thank you for the opportunities you gave me.

It is fitting you are here today, because your story is very much a University of Baltimore story, and reaffirms for me my commitment to this institution and its core values.

It is also fitting that my children are here -- Lara, her husband Bertram, Lael, and Michael -- joined in spirit by their brother Joshua from San Antonio. Would you all please stand? In the wonderful way that one's children magically become adults to whom you turn for advice, they have offered me support and encouragement in this new phase of my life. I've been fortunate to share with each of them the discoveries and growth that inevitably occur in the educational journey, and they remind me again of the importance of our work here.

There was a time when I thought of canceling this event because of the current budget situation. But Beverly Randall, a widely respected member of the UB community who has only recently retired, reminded me that this day is not about me. She said that the University of Baltimore has much to celebrate, and has had few opportunities for celebration, and she's right; one thing I've learned is to always follow Beverly's advice.

I would like to thank the generous donors who have contributed private funds so that no public monies have been used for our investiture. Thank you to the committee that worked so hard to coordinate today's event. I would also like to thank our distinguished alumnus Peter Angelos, who has sponsored the reception following today's ceremony. There is indeed much to be proud of at the University of Baltimore, and it is fitting to take a few hours to celebrate the accomplishments of 78 years.

These are difficult times for higher education in Maryland. The state's universities and community colleges must accommodate increasing numbers of students in the coming years while facing decreasing dollars of support. We have two choices: We can be victims, or we can become focused, efficient and strategic with our resources. Our university has a proven ability to succeed with less. I will work for the time when the University of Baltimore excels with more.

We are ready to be a significant part of the answer to the current challenges in our state. As an upper-division, transfer institution, we can and will respond to the growth our community college partners are experiencing. We can and will contribute to the goal of providing a seat in a classroom for every qualified resident who wants one.

A new president is often asked what his or her vision for the university is. I go back to the wisdom of Yogi Berra, who said that it's tough to make predictions, especially about the future.

But it's easier when you realize that the future is determined by what you choose to do today. Last week, I was in a design meeting for the University of Baltimore's first-ever Student Center, scheduled to open in the spring of 2005. It's been an exciting process; in the last six months alone, I've seen the building grow from four floors to five. It now includes another University first: a 200- seat theatre. At this meeting, I was asked what I envisioned for this theatre space. I responded that I believe deeply in the value the arts bring to any community. A university that opens its doors through music, film festivals, poetry readings, plays and lecture series makes itself and its neighborhood a richer place.

Our students deserve all that we can provide, including the essential enrichment of the arts. Our university can go beyond being located in Baltimore's cultural district; we can become an active participant in it.

We can be the career-minded university in a world where most people will have more than one career in their lifetime, imparting work skills and life skills. Our graduates can know how to do in the world and how to be in the world, contributing those vital skills to their workplaces and their communities.

There are other choices to make. We can choose to continue our efforts to make our student experience first-class. We can accept that diversity goes beyond numbers, and commit to the value of inclusion in our curriculum. We can provide for faculty and staff the resources and encouragement to realize full and continued professional development.

We can make sure that the nationally recognized work that takes place on our campus receives local recognition. We can create a campus environment built on open communication, trust, and mutual respect. We can continue to support and encourage campus-wide planning to position our university for growth in all financial climates, to prioritize our goals and maximize our opportunities. We can continue to contribute to the revitalization of our region by partnering with our city and state agencies, making available our expertise in areas of critical need such as criminal justice, public administration, law reform and business development. We can continue to be a vital part of Baltimore's growth by improving the physical environment for our students and neighbors. As the city goes, we go. We can and will continue to make the University of Baltimore Baltimore's university in creative, dynamic ways that benefit both the city and the University.

Imagine a university that continues to react to the changing needs of a non-traditional student body. Imagine our colleges' clinics and centers collaborating across academic disciplines of law, business and applied liberal arts to create a national model of the urban university in the heart of a thriving downtown Baltimore. But bold vision demands that our dreams reach beyond the work of today.

Imagine the University of Baltimore addressing the pressing issue of urban high school retention. The future University of Baltimore Scholars Program guarantees admission to select high school juniors upon successful completion of high school and community college. The program would be unique because select places are also reserved for graduate and professional study. The high school junior knows that he or she can realize their dreams--all the way to a law degree, an M.B.A., a master's or a doctorate.

By offering a concrete incentive to students facing the challenges of education in an urban setting, the Scholars Program becomes a national model for the urban university.

Imagine a new University of Baltimore Learning Center housing a library of the future, and reinforcing our mission of access by serving as the premiere learning facility for the learning and physically challenged on the East Coast. These are all dreams, but dreams are realized when bold vision is matched with tireless work. Our potential is limited only by the boundaries we place on ourselves.

We will be measured not by what we say in times of celebration, but by what we achieve in the face of limitations. I recognize the skepticism that inevitably greets dreams, but ask that we see beyond the difficulties to the possibilities.

I ask us to join in creating a collective vision, knowing that we are stronger together than we are apart. I ask us to meet the challenges we will inevitably face with resoluteness of will and commitment to shared values. I hope that we answer skepticism with a spirit of willingness and cooperation. That spirit is already in the air, fueled by the examples of our students, faculty and staff, who have shown remarkable perseverance to achieve their goals. I ask us to have the courage to dream: to dream big and reach high.

Thank you.