In Times Challenging and Uncertain: Plans Change – Values and Mission Endure
Welcome to our 2009 University Fall Conference. This morning we gather and prepare to launch the 120th year in the life of Pacific Lutheran University. We do so with a spirit of hope and excitement, confident about the days ahead, and energized by the presence of one another.
As we begin anew, it is an honor to welcome our faithful retirees and emeriti faculty to this Fall Conference. You have built this great university that we are now called to steward. We stand on your shoulders, we honor your contributions, we are inspired by your example.
It is exciting to welcome all of you joining us for the first time today. Last week at new faculty orientation we welcomed a total of 25 new faculty, 14 are entering tenure-track appointments, 11 are joining us as visitors. Over the past 12 months, 64 new staff and administrators have joined this assembly. The new ideas and abilities and energy that each of you bring is the leaven for our shared future; we look forward to knowing you and working with you.
And, finally, a special “welcome back” to all of you returning to begin another academic year. Whether you have been away on sabbatical leave, away for the weeks of summer, or even for those of you who never left the campus at all, today is a kind of coming home, a fresh start into the wonderful rhythm of another academic year.
Every year there are important changes in university leadership, and this year is no exception.
So today we recognize Steve Olson who, in a seamless transition in January of this year, stepped up to lead as our new vice president for Development and University Relations. And just four weeks ago, Associate Professor of Physics Steve Starkovich became our acting provost for this year, enabling Provost Patricia Killen to embark on her well-deserved sabbatical leave. I ask today that each of you say “thank you” and pledge your full support to these able and dedicated leaders.
PLU is blessed in a special way each year by the work of our remarkable cadre of academic program leaders and deans. This year we will be searching for new deans for the School of Arts and Communication and the School of Education and Movement Studies. During these important transitions, Professor John Hallam from art, along with associate professors Mike Hillis from education and Karen McConnell from movement studies will be serving as acting deans. We thank you for your willingness to assume these key leadership roles.
OUR CALL TO SERVICE
This morning it is my great privilege to report to you, for the 18th time, on the State of the University. As is the case each year, this report emerges from my summer experience and the opportunity it affords to travel and to catch precious days of Minnesota lake time; time amidst the countless e-mails for a a bit of exercise, reading and reflection; a chance to put both recent experience and future plans in a larger perspective and context. Given the unsettling events and intensity of last year, I found that refocusing this summer was both important and, at least initially, difficult.
Then, two messages arrived, two weeks apart, with news concerning two recent graduates; one profoundly sad, the other filled with joy. Together the messages carried a sharp reminder that in times challenging and uncertain it is our values that matter, and our PLU mission that endures, because in every time and season, our graduates are a precious, life changing and transformative force in the world. Let me explain:
The first message came on June 26. It brought the crushingly sad news of the death of Army Lt. Brian Bradshaw,a 2007 political science graduate. Brian was a strong student, an ROTC volunteer and leader, who entered the military, in his own words, “not to win a war but to make the lives of people better.” Brian was killed when an IED exploded along a roadside in Afghanistan. Brian left behind several essays he had written on leadership and service, and more about that later.
The second message on July 10 came from 2005 graduate Lorraine Homem. Lorraine is in medical school in Nairobi, Kenya. On her very first day in the labor ward, with no previous experience, Lorraine was chosen from her class to assist in a third- trimester medical exam. That routine exam unexpectedly became the delivery of a baby girl, who, upon birth was not breathing. Lorraine took charge and resuscitated the child. With her typical enthusiasm, Lorraine wrote that “it was a precious moment,” and the baby “is more than OK, she is beautiful” and “I got to share in the miracle of life. . . God totally rocks, life rocks.”
Brian’s and Lorraine’s very different stories intersect as they remind us that purposeful and meaning-filled lives are built around a sense vocation and a call to service that claims our greatest gifts, that gives life to our most powerful hopes, and that demands our total commitment. And that, of course, is also true for all of us who work here, who make meaning and find purpose in teaching and advising, in mentoring and caring, in guiding and encouraging all of the 3,500 Brian’s and Lorraine’s who will fill campus next week.
So, the title for my report this year is “In Times Challenging and Uncertain: Plans Change – Values and Mission Endure.” It is a title that reflects my perspectives about our experiences of last year, the times we now face, and the significant opportunities that are ours. And because of the strong values on which we stand, the compelling mission we are called to serve, the amazing work you do, and the precious and able students whom we tend, my report to you is overall both positive and hopeful.
My report to you is arranged around four topics:
• First, I will share important words of thanks and make a special announcement.
• Second, I will review the year now past.
• Third, I will provide an overview of our shared agenda for the year ahead.
• Finally, I will attempt to place our work in the larger context of values and mission.
A Word of Thanks and a Special Announcement
In both academic and fiscal terms, 2008-2009 was a very good year! Indeed, it was, I believe, quite a remarkable year when one considers the unique and unexpected economic crises that we encountered.
Let there be no doubt that it is both your commitment to PLU’s mission and your great work all year that is at the core of this good news story. We asked a lot of each of you, and you responded:
• We asked that you carefully manage your operating budgets to reduce expenses and open a small operating margin, and you did.
• We asked that you teach and administer with uncommon diligence amidst distraction, and you did.
• We asked that you go the extra mile in reaching out to your students to sustain retention, and you did.
• We asked that you take the precious time needed to help recruit a strong new class of 2013, and you did.
• We asked that you work with us to plan for an uncertain future while facing the stressful present, and you did.
To be successful last year we needed your help to achieve each one of these goals, and we did. So today we can look back and say, working well and working together, “we made it!”
Of course, last winter and spring we did not know if we would be successful in reaching our budget goals, and so we postponed a decision on salary adjustments for the year. Now we know, that 2008-2009 turned out to be a solid year financially for PLU with a modest operating surplus that we can put in our reserves. And, as we begin this new year, it appears that our operating budget for 2009-2010 is also within our financial model.
So I am pleased to announce today that the 2 percent pool of funds for salary adjustments that was projected, but given the economic uncertainty we faced, not fully allocated last spring, can now be used to fund a modest across-the-board salary increase for returning faculty and staff.
A forthcoming memo from human resources will provide a full explanation, but the bottom line is this: for returning faculty and staff, your September 30 payroll check will include a 2 percent salary increase. It is an important way to say that working well and working together, “one year of the economic meltdown is behind us,” “we made it,” and “so far, so good.”
So today, as your president, and on behalf of the Board of Regents, our students and their families, as well as the thousands of people who love, care for, and invest in this place, I want you to know that we are profoundly grateful and that you are deeply appreciated. As you hear this report, I hope you hear the words “thank you, thank you, thank you!!”
And now to the year past in more detail.
The Year in Review
Our University Fall Conference one year ago came at a very optimistic moment. As we gathered in this room, we were prepared to welcome another record first-year class, we were excited by the arrival of an outstanding new cohort of faculty and staff, capital planning was moving forward, the comprehensive campaign was on schedule, and our endowment was holding relatively steady, even as the credit and investment markets were beginning to quiver.
Nationally, the conversation was focused on the emerging credit crises and the need for a “Wall Street bailout,” and yet these economic problem seemed wonderfully remote. Then, on the morning of September 29, the phone rang, and we learned that $18 million of PLU operating funds invested with an organization known as the Commonfund had been frozen and were not available to us. Suddenly, Wall Street and Park Avenue had intersected – and nothing would be quite the same. (Fortunately for us $16.2 million, or 90 percent, of our cash invested in the Commonfund has now been returned and we expect a full refund over the next several months.)
Now as I look back over these past 11 months, the events add up to quite a remarkable story!
In my annual report one year ago, I outlined a program of five university initiatives that included: 1) implementing a revised general education curriculum, 2) improving our assessment and faculty evaluation programs, 3) advancing the “Engage the World” campaign, 4) encouraging leadership development and sustainability, and, 5) beginning the 2020 long range planning process. During the past 12 months we have made significant progress in each area. Yet, as we gather today, it is clear that 2008-2009 became the year of “the great unplanned initiative” as all the plans that had been made became less important, and we devoted full attention to organizing and managing the university’s response to the economic collapse that arrived so dramatically on our campus on September 29. “In Times Challenging and Uncertain: Plans ( do indeed) Change . . .”
Now, when the economic crises first hit home, it stopped me in my tracks. My first reaction, perhaps like yours, was hit the brakes, to tighten the belt, to become more cautious and defensive, to measure every action more carefully. Over the past year, and with your support and cooperation, we have taken all of those steps; I hope and believe in appropriate measure. But as we worked through the days of autumn 2008, it also became clear that we needed a new game plan, a revised strategy, as well as a set of goals and priorities that would help focus activity and inform our choices and decisions.
Gradually, a new strategic framework emerged, built around four goals:
Goal # 1: Enrollment and Access
Our first goal is to sustain strong enrollment and ensure student access, because doing so is a matter of both mission fidelity and economic stability. This objective helped inform us as our Board of Regents approved our smallest increase in tuition in seven years as well as a required and much needed 9 percent increase in student financial aid. The Admission Office made major changes in their recruitment and communication plan to reflect the new economic climate facing prospective students and their families. The Office of Development joined in launching Project Access, and now over $500,000 has been raised to fund a total of 143 Project Access Scholarships.
Both last fall, and again during spring semester, our admission, student services, academic advising, student life, financial aid and business offices organized special programs to bolster retention by working with both current and prospective students on personal and financial planning issues. These efforts were supported by faculty and staff across the campus who were extra vigilant and effective in working with current students and helping to recruit the new class throughout the year.
So where do we stand as of today?
• Student retention is holding well at 83 percent for first year students and 77 for transfer students. These percentages are near recent highs, within historical ranges, and better than I dared to expect. Overall, the total number of returning students this fall, both undergraduate and graduate, is basically level with previous years.
• As of today, it appears that first- year student enrollment will be over 700, near recent record years, and well over our budgeted target of 640, and our marketing goal of 680. Along the way, new records were set again this year in the number of applicants, the number of qualified admitted students, and the number of campus visitors.
• New transfer enrollment is estimated to be in the range of 200, down from 230 one year ago. This smaller enrollment is largely accounted for by a decrease in the number of international transfer students as a result of economic and health concerns.
• New graduate student enrollment in the schools of business and education and movement studies has been hit hard, and we expect an estimated 270 graduate students this fall, down about 50 students from last year. Putting it all together, it appears now that our official fall enrollment will be somewhere above 3,550.
I am so very pleased that our core undergraduate enrollment, and our enrollment in three of our five graduate programs, is once again stable. That is very good news.
And one more important point: As we built our operating budget for this current year, both the economy and our projections suggested that it would be prudent to plan for a small enrollment adjustment, so we built our financial plan for this year assuming a modestly smaller total enrollment. As a result, our anticipated enrollment is well aligned with support our budget model for the year.
Goal # 2: Support for Faculty and Staff
Our second goal is to provide the best possible support for you, the remarkable faculty and staff of PLU, the heart and soul, and, yes, the head, of this great place. So, I am pleased that both last year and now moving forward, we are maintaining all faculty and staff leadership, professional development and recognition programs. We are also maintaining all research support, sabbatical leaves, and our modest travel budgets. We were able last spring to make a series of important promotion, market and equity based salary adjustments, and now our 2% across-the-board salary increase this fall. In addition, all fringe benefit programs are being continued at their current level. And, I am especially pleased that we made the decision to continue filling core faculty positions with new tenure track appointments that are essential to assure the long-term excellence and vitality of our academic programs.
Now I am very aware of economic stressors as well. Reducing the number of faculty and staff positions last spring to adjust our cost base as we planned for a lower student enrollment was not easy; it never is. As a community, we share long-range goals for improving compensation are now more elusive. And watching our personal retirement funds shrink rather than grow had been discouraging. But if you read the Chronicle of Higher Education or the daily newspaper, you know that relatively speaking, and so far, we are doing very well in a time of program elimination, salary freezes and reductions, large scale layoffs, mandated furloughs, and cancelled searches across the landscape of American higher education.
It also needs to be said that supporting one another in our work is not just an economic issue. Indeed, it is our shared mission, our sense of call and vocation, and our assurance that we, each of us, are valued and important that really matters when the market is up, and when it is down. By that “softer” standard, we are doing very well.
Goal #3: Academic Excellence
Our third goal is to maintain and, when possible, strengthen the excellence of our programs. I have referred to this effort as making “selective quality strikes” and I believe they are especially important in these difficult times – we cannot stand still. So, for example, major progress was made last year in responding to the NWCCU accreditation recommendations on assessment of student learning, faculty review policies, and institutional research. Planned revisions in general education moved forward on schedule.
In addition, even as the economy collapsed around us, we were able to secure $1 million in matching gifts to qualify for a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation challenge grant and endow our new Global Scholars Grant Program that will increase access to study abroad for all of our students. When our remarkable chemists secured the NSF grant to acquire our ground breaking NMR Spectrometer, we turned to our science graduates who provided the $400 thousand necessary to support the creation of this important new laboratory. This past spring the Jolita Hylland Benson Chair in Elementary Education was established and fully funded by the Benson Family Foundation, and throughout the year, progress continued on funding fully the Kurt Mayer Chair in Holocaust Studies.
Another key to advancing our quality initiative is to continue to seek funding from non-traditional sources. Already this year we have secured more than $2 million in federal and state support so that both the safety and quality of living in Hinderlie and Hong residence halls might be improved. There are other similar opportunities for us in the realm of both public and private grants for everything from student faculty research and creative projects to targeted capital projects to new initiatives in environmental sustainability. I salute all of you who are now involved in preparing over $12 million dollars in grant proposals.
Goal #4: Long-Range Focus
Our fourth goal is to maintain a long-range focus, even while dealing with immediate and short-term issues. So last year we resolved that we will continue to make high priority capital investments and avoid deferred maintenance, we will continue buying computers and instructional equipment and avoid a technology deficit, we will manage our endowment with a steady hand and a long terms focus, and we will continue to hire new tenure track faculty and maintain professional develop support that is essential to future excellence. We further resolved that we will maintain our leadership and steady progress in becoming a more sustainable campus, and, as our program this morning makes clear, we will move forward on our 2020 long range plan.
In all of these ways and more we are determined to keep our eye focused on the university’s long-term future. In doing so, I trust hat we will continue to find in today’s challenges the pathway to new opportunities.
Yes, my friends and colleagues, the PLU’s institutional story in this past year is replete with good news. And with each passing year I am more aware that such good news and progress at the institutional level is built upon excellent work and real achievement at the individual and department level. A brief, and admittedly incomplete, scan across the campus indicates that last year was no exception to that rule!
Across the academic division of the university, the heart of the story is the daily work of over 250 individual faculty who with great expertise and professionalism, as well as personal care and attention, teach and mentor our students. Our collective excellence is grounded in your every class and lab and studio and individual conference. All of us celebrate your great work.
The leadership and vision for global education of many, many faculty over more than three decades has established PLU as a globally focused university and last May earned us the Senator Paul Simon Award for Campus Internationalization; making PLU the very first private university in the West to be so honored.
A representative from NAFSA, the sponsoring organization for the Simon Awards will be with us at Opening Convocation to present the award to our entire community.
Academic excellence is the direct product of faculty research and scholarship and, in just the past year, division of humanities faculty published 6 books, 65 articles, 25 essays and poems, and made 120 public presentations, while natural science faculty published over 30 articles and earned six research grants totaling over $250 thousand. In the social sciences, faculty published 23 articles, and the Severtson/Forest Foundation grants supported six student-faculty research projects resulting in four conference presentations. Our professional school faculty produced over 100 articles, unique performances and exhibitions. I salute you all!
The work of individual faculty and staff comes together in achievement of our students and the recognition they received. So last year 11 graduates were accepted to medical school, while in the School of Nursing 97 percent of bachelor’s graduates and 100 percent of master’s degree graduates passed their state boards at first sitting. One more PLU graduate received a Fulbright Fellowship, bringing our 34 year total to 80. Our student Mathematics Modeling team won a meritorious award, the second-highest award possible, and the student MediaLab received a college division Emmy Award for their film “Illicit Exchanges: Canada, the US, and Crime.” At the end of the academic year, the University Wind Ensemble and Jazz Band completed highly successful tour of China.
In the student life division, staff and students worked together to advance sustainable practices in the residence halls and to promote such practices across the campus. Our Lute athletes won conference titles in volleyball and baseball. Innovative new programs engaged students of color, addressed issues of self-care and suicide prevention and encouraged social awareness and engagement. Our student life professionals are recognized nationally as leaders in developing programs that support our educational mission, with clear learning objectives and carefully planned program assessment.
The admission and enrollment services division works tirelessly every year, and especially last year, to both recruit and retain our students. The admission office, more than ever, focused on combining the old-fashioned one-on-one approach with the latest technology and communication strategies. The financial aid office developed new programs for counseling current students while adjusting to massive changes in both federal, the student loan market, and veterans programs. The staff in student services was again there to mentor and counsel each student regarding enrollment, financial aid, as well as their academic and personal planning issues.
The finance and operations division does remarkable work each year – and never has their work been so important. From managing the cash flow crises of last fall, to monitoring expenditures on a daily basis, to preparing budget projections and models over and over again – well, it has been simply a Herculean effort, and very well done. The results speak for themselves in balanced operating budgets, careful asset management, and an endowment that lost only 11 percent last year (the national average was 20 percent).
And while helping steer us through the recession, there was other work to be done: Massive changes in auditing standards continue to complicate life and, as all of you know, new pension plan regulations required the complete redesign of our retirement program. Along the way, the Martin J. Neeb Center was completed, the campus was cared for, the students were fed and housed, dozens of searches were conducted, all of us were paid each month, our emergency mitigation plan was accepted by FEMA, our campus master plan moved toward completion – and the list goes on, and on!
The development and university relations division faced incredible challenges last year. Yet, they were not deterred. Our alumni, friends and donors stood side-by-side with us as we faced unprecedented uncertainties. Indeed, throughout the year, our donors did not pull back, rather they stepped forward – and, in the end over 10,000 donors (an increase of 7.28%) contributed over $11 million to PLU.
As I mentioned before, the special Project Access Scholarship program drew almost “one-half of a million dollars” in support and our 2.3 million dollar annual fund goal was fully subscribed for the first time in seven years. The “selective-quality strikes” I mentioned, including the Global Scholar Grants, the NMR installation, our newly endowed chairs, as well as our public capital grants were made possible by generous donors and excellent development work. Given the economy, “mega” gifts were rare, and so the comprehensive campaign total grew more slowly, yet reached a total of $63.5 million by year end.
In addition to these achievements, it was an award-winning year for the division. KPLU won numerous journalism awards including the “Sigma Delta Chi” award for a remarkable series on the impact of war on children; only five such awards were given. U magazine – our new magazine-style view book concept that was developed jointly by admission and university communications – was feted as the most improved publication in the nation and received a gold medal in the Council for Advancement and Support of Education 2009 Circle of Excellence Awards Program. And, just weeks ago, in June, the Council announced that PLU has been selected to receive a CASE-Wealth Engine Circle of Excellence Award for sustained and superior fund-raising performance. This award is based on results over a three year period, 2006 to 2008, during which PLU received over 50,000 individual gifts totaling more than $45 million.
Well, there you have it, individual achievement is the foundation for institutional success! That is at the core of our larger 2008-2009 university story. So, it is not surprising that when we once again last year turned to our students and asked them how we are doing, their responses on the Student Satisfaction Inventory provided an overwhelming vote of confidence in and affirmation of your work. And that, my colleagues and friends, makes our daily assignments not only gratifying, but it reminds us as that what we do, each of us, really matters because students matter! In challenging and uncertain times, plans change, values and mission endure!
And so we look ahead to the new year.
The Year Ahead
Your university leaders have been busy during these weeks of summer laying out a work plan for the year ahead. A summary of our work is on your table, it is called the “2009-2010 Planning Report” and it describes the top initiatives for each of our five operating divisions. At the beginning of the report, the top of page 1, you will find our University Initiatives. I will comment briefly on each, and I will do so reverse order.
Initiative # 5: Accreditation Progress
The fifth initiative set out for the coming year reflects our continuing commitment to making steady progress on quality enhancements in the academic arena. It calls on us to “make the next level of response to the NWCCU recommendations on assessment and institutional research.” As I mentioned earlier, those of you in academic leadership positions across the campus did remarkable work last year in articulating clear learning objectives for each program. This year, the task of assessing the effectiveness of our programs in terms of those objectives needs to take the next step, as does our capacity for institutional research support. Our first interim progress report is due to the Northwest Commission on September 21, and, on October 19 a representative from the Commission will be on campus to review our progress. The Provost’s Office is leading the way with with great effectiveness, faculty support and energy for the task is high. In the year ahead, we need to sustain our momentum, and I am confident that we will.
Initiative # 4: Strategic Technologies
Our fourth initiative represents the redoubling of our commitment to use existing and new technologies to full advantage in our work in support of both the academic program and administrative tasks. The Strategic Technologies Initiative” has taken shape over the past year under the leadership of all university vice presidents, working with Information and Technology Services and University Communications. The focus of this initiative is to better leverage our significant investment in technology in ways that will streamline work flow in offices across the campus, better support planning and decision making by providing both academic and administrative leaders the real- time information they need, and provide the information platform necessary for a more aggressive, timely, and strategic communications and outreach program. Information and Technology Services is already in the midst of a major reorganization to support this initiative. The long-term impact of the project is exciting to contemplate.
Initiative # 3: The Campaign for PLU
Our third initiative reconfirms our commitment to building the long-term financial health of the university as we rely on our alumni and friends to support and invest in our mission and vision. We will “continue the leadership phase of ‘Engage the World: The Campaign for PLU.'” As you may recall, this campaign has a goal of raising $150 million. In 2007-2008, the campaign broke out of the starting gate very fast, and the first $50 million in commitments was quickly secured. Last year, when the economy collapsed, it became clear that major changes in strategy would be necessary – so attention shifted to Project Access, the annual fund, and those smaller, strategic projects described earlier. Overall, the support of our donors has been remarkable. But the progress of a comprehensive campaign depends on a relatively small number of “mega” gifts, the once in a life time gift, the multi-million dollar gifts, and, in a period of economic turmoil, those gifts are very few and far between. So the campaign currently stands at $64 million.
The focus this coming year will be a three part strategy: 1) The annual fund and student financial aid, 2) building and rebuilding the endowment through an emphasis on planned giving, and 3) moving forward with a series of smaller capital projects. As the economy strengthens, we are confident that the pace of campaign progress will increase, and that the total campaign line will again show a steeper rate of increase.
Initiative # 2: PLU 2020
Initiative number two reflects our shared belief that embracing the future wisely and effectively requires that we plan together and that periodically we ask all members of the PLU community to help. And so we will set out this year is to “complete the first year, the study year, of the PLU 2020 long range planning process.
Over the past two decades, our long range planning projects have served us well. So, following the model of PLU 2000 and PLU 2010, the university long-range planning committee spent last year developing a proposed program of study and a planning process that might focus our attention toward 2020. That “plan to plan” was widely distributed on the campus last spring (copies are on your table this morning). Indeed, over 200 individuals made helpful suggestions and comments, before the proposal was reviewed and the planning process authorized by the Board of Regents at their spring meeting on May 2.
We have called this first full year of this effort as “the study year” and, in a way, the work begins today. In the next hour we will hear from one of American higher education’s most informed and respected voices David Warren, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. Moving forward, the long range planning committee will be establishing a series of study committees to prepare background documents and reports. In addition, the committee will be encouraging every department across campus to undertake its own study program as we prepare for “the discussion year” in 2010-2011. I very much look forward to the PLU 2020 conversation.
Initiative # 1: Economic Challenges Continue
Initiatives two through five set out what we might consider to be “business as usual” for the university. But of course, as we learned so quickly in the fall of last year, these four initiatives are surely necessary but are nowhere near sufficient. The stark reality is that we remain in the midst of unprecedented economic turmoil and our plans for the year most certainly must include our first initiative for the year which is to: “address the continuing challenges of a changing economic landscape with a focus on market research, revenue enhancement, and strategic financial planning. Successfully steering the university through these unprecedented economic times continues to be our greatest challenge.
The initiative reflects two assumptions: First, we believe that the economic turbulence and uncertainty of the past year is not yet behind us, and, even if an economic recovery is in the making, the impact of the year now past will be felt for several years into the future. Second, we believe that we must do our best to understand, address and manage the reality of our economic circumstances, rather than simply react to changes that impact our future. In that spirit, we have identified three specific projects for the year ahead:
• First, we are undertaking the first year of a market research, image assessment and positioning study. This study will in important ways inform our work in student recruiting, fund raising and constituent relations.
• Second, we propose to conduct a series of studies around potential areas for revenue growth enhancement.
• Third, we will continue to expand our budget modeling capacity in a effort to identify and better understand our short and long-term strategic alternatives and choices.
It promises to be another busy and exciting year. As I have worked on these initiatives, I am reminded that, in very important ways, we are the shapers of our own destiny as a university. God never promised it would be easy, and these, my friends and colleagues, are days of significant challenge. For 120 years PLU has met those challenges, and I believe that the will and capacity of this assembly will likewise prevail.
I conclude with reflections about our context, about values, and our PLU mission.
Context, Values, and Mission
The events of our shared experience over the past 12 months carry and encapsule some very important life lessons. For starters, we all learned, once again, that experience is shaded and colored in powerful ways by the unexpected and unpredictable. No matter how creatively we dream, how well we plan, or how rigidly we seek to control, we are not in charge! The world is challenging, it is uncertain. Given that reality, someone advised, “be sure you always rest well so that you have the energy to absorb the unexpected!”
I think we also learned something about the importance of trust and integrity. On the global and national stage we witnessed what happens when trust erodes, we were shocked to discover that our most sophisticated financial systems are based on that elusive capacity to depend on one another. Every organization, including PLU, functions well only when we trust one another and work together with a confidence in the shared good will and intentions of one another.
Excellence matters. In times of complexity challenge and uncertainty, doing one one’s work well is even more important. Whether caring for our campus and buildings, teaching or counseling our students, or tending a university donor, or managing the endowment – excellence matters, and the results show more clearly in the these testing times.
And, in a dramatic way, we learned that material wealth is elusive, it too is uncertain and, in the really larger scheme, of life, not as important as we often think!
Yes, the unexpected and unsettling days of 2008-2009 were, I believe, a remarkable time of learning and growth for all of us and for this community. When you look back, you can see clearly that we were able to “absorb the unexpected,” we worked together with remarkable trust and confidence in one another, we focused and did our work well, the very best we could! And, we learned once again that our greatest shared successes find their significance not in the material, but in the powerful and enduring mission of this Lutheran place.
You know the formula: Life is a gift. All of our talents and abilities an inheritance. Learning is privilege. Vocation is a quest. Meaning and purpose are grounded in and shaped by giving and serving. We believe that is true for PLU, for every student we would educate, and for each of us.
Lorraine Homem is one who knows the gift of life, the blessing of talent, the joy of learning, the quest for vocation and the life give power of service. Her report to me on the incredible story of bringing a life into the world, and then saving that life seconds later, concluded with a message meant for all of you. She wrote to thank us for her time at PLU and for “all of your encouragement” to excel that you have provided her “along the way.” Her message rings out, I could not have done it without you!
I believe that Brian Bradshaw would thank you as well – if only he could be with us to do so. But in a sense we do have a message from Brian. As he prepared to begin his education at PLU in 2002, Brian was already an insightful young man. In an essay titled “Reflection on Service” He wrote:
“Service is the foundation of life.” “… we all have gifts and talents that can benefit others.” “… meaning (is found) in pass(ing) to others that which we value most.” “As life creeps along at what some of us see as breakneck speed, others want it to hurry up. [But] we must think along [life’s] journey about what we are doing with the short time we have. With the little time we have, we must use it to help or serve others. . . . [And] service is not a requirement but a guideline. . . . (and) . . . life is a constant state of giving and sacrifice.”
Brian’s words remind us why what we do in this place matters so much, and sadly, in Brian’s case, his words also remind us of the horrible, horrible cost of war.
Today as a new year begins, and if the past be prologue, we know that the weeks ahead will be filled with all that we expect and anticipate, and with the unpredictable, too. We will experience moments of great elation and satisfaction, as well as times of disappointment and uncertainty. Along the way, we will once again be challenged to remember the lessons of this past year, and we will find our enduring strength in the values and mission that ground our own daily sense of vocation and service.
My great hope and prayer is that it will be a good year for each of you. I look forward to sharing the journey with you.
May we do it all Soli Deo Gloria!