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The Citizen University Inaugural Speech

by Jim Ramsey last modified Apr 04, 2011 09:34 AM

September 9, 2003

Today we are indeed a center of advanced learning — we are a place of “some consequence.”

To all who are gathered here, welcome to the University of Louisville! This is a very special place.

We take time today from our routine and otherwise busy schedules to pause; we pause to reflect on the past, and we pause to renew our commitments to the future.

Indeed, the University of Louisville has a rich history and tradition dating back to 1798, when it was stated by the members of the city’s founding families that Louisville should be “a place of some consequence” by having a center of advanced learning. Who could have imagined in 1798 the “place of consequence” dreamed of then is what we enjoy today?

Who would have dreamed in 1798 that we would be a respected center of advanced learning with 21,000 students — bright, inquisitive students honored as Trumans, Fulbrights and Udalls and on and on and on?

Who would have dreamed then that we would be a center of advanced learning with a dedicated, internationally recognized faculty and a committed staff — a faculty and staff that has transplanted hands, implanted artificial hearts, counseled Kentucky’s teachers (including my own parents), improved diagnosis of learning disorders and birth defects, developed small businesses, provided social and health services to our community, contributed to the culture of our state, and ensured that our students, our primary focus, are well prepared to become informed citizens and future leaders?

Who would have dreamed then that we would be a center of advanced learning with graduates making a positive difference not only in our home community and state, but throughout the world — graduates distinguished in law, education, business, engineering, nursing, music, dentistry, medicine, social work and the arts and the sciences?

Who would have dreamed of the development of multiple campuses with classrooms, laboratories, residence halls, athletics and other activity facilities that enrich the vitality of our students’ educational experience?

Today we are indeed a center of advanced learning — we are a place of “some consequence.” This great university has helped shape and define the history of this community and the Commonwealth. We are an institution with many milestones that mark our 200-plus years of education and service to our community and to our state; we are an institution that has served proudly the last thirty-plus years as a member of Kentucky’s public higher education family.

And while we could spend much time reveling in our milestones, recounting the names of those individuals who as faculty, staff, students, and graduates defined this institution’s identity, we are better served by articulating how we, who are gathered here, will move forward and meet the challenges before us, how we will build on this history and tradition to achieve the public agenda that we sought and earned and that was given to us by the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

This agenda requires us to play a central role, a leadership role, ensuring a better way of life for the people of our state, a leadership role ensuring improved economic and educational opportunities for all Kentuckians.

The late Charles Kuralt referred to the University of North Carolina as the “people’s university.” We, too, are the “people’s university” — a citizen university — so improving the lives of our citizens is our job; it is our responsibility.

To fully understand and meet this responsibility, we must first acknowledge a difficult truth: At no time in our history have we been more challenged than we are today. We face documented fiscal challenges. The weak economy of recent years has meant slow and no state revenue growth; it has reduced our giving and endowment performance, much as it has done to institutions across the country. Policy changes in Washington are now slowing spending on critical research programs, not to mention critical federal student financial aid programs. But our challenges are more than financial.

We are challenged to ensure to the people that as their university we are achieving the mission they gave to us to educate their sons and daughters, to promote economic development and the quality of life in our state.

We must demonstrate that we are accountable, that we are stewards of the people’s trust, that we are committed every day, every hour, every minute, to the awesome fiduciary responsibility to use the resources given to us to achieve the public good.

For there are those who doubt us, and we must address their doubts head-on. We must address head-on those in Congress who suggest that higher education is in “crisis.”

We must address head-on those in the executive branch of the federal government who say that in the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act the administration must be “hard” on colleges and universities.

We must address head-on comments from business leaders in our own community who say we are not accountable, that our governance system is flawed, that we are not a funding priority.

We must address head-on the work of a national think tank that issues a report card to each state on its higher education system and which twice has given our state and all states the grade of “I” — incomplete — for not being able to prove that effective learning is taking place on our college campuses. For their doubts strike at the heart and soul of the academy.

To address those who doubt us, we must embrace and recommit ourselves — head-on — to the mandate, the challenge, given to us by the Kentucky General Assembly: “to become a preeminent, nationally recognized metropolitan research university" that is part of a "seamless, integrated system of postsecondary education” in our state.

This 1997 mandate has allowed us to strategically build our research enterprise and graduate and professional programs — areas that require continued emphasis if our state is to thrive in the New Economy. At the same time we grow our research strengths, we must also renew our commitment to our core focus of quality and excellence in undergraduate programs.

Yes, we are challenged. But we should remember the words of University of California President Robert Sproul, who once said: “A rich program on a restricted purse! Such might well be the despairing slogan of the hard-beset university president, for unprecedented problems today confront the universities and colleges of America. But there also faces them unprecedented opportunity.”

These words were spoken by President Sproul in 1934. The challenges he faced at the University of California did give rise to opportunity, opportunities that have resulted in a truly great university.

And so it must be for us.

We, too, have opportunities that we must seize as a citizen university to ensure that our progress continues, even in challenging times!

How do we do this? What must we do? How do we move forward?

First, as we have said, we must remember, respect and learn from the past, from our distinguished history, from our failures and our successes. There is much in our history to inspire us, encourage us, and strengthen us daily.

Second, we must renew our commitment to the state’s vision that set us on the course of preeminence. The strategies for achieving the goals set forth in this vision have been expressed in our Challenge for Excellence, which we as a campus community now must revisit to reflect what we have learned and to build upon significant accomplishments to date. While our fundamental goals remain the same — excellence in our students’ educational experience; research that improves the standard of living and quality of life for our people; diversity; and working together as one, building internal and external partnerships and collaborations — we must be willing to evaluate our progress and modify our course of action where appropriate. While mid-course adjustments may be necessary, we cannot allow the challenges that we face today become excuses for slowing down our progress.

Third, we must think beyond the boundaries of our campus. We recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech. And we today must dream — dream of taking a “center of advanced learning” and making it a place of even “greater consequence” not only for our students, but for our community and the entire Commonwealth. Our dreams must stretch beyond the Belknap campus, Health Sciences campus and Shelby campus. Our dreams must stretch not only from Pleasure Ridge Park to Prospect, but from Pikeville to Paducah.

And our message must be clear: Higher education and the University of Louisville are making a difference. It’s no accident that there’s a direct correlation between advanced education and contributions to the state’s tax base, between academic research and entrepreneurial development, between reduced crime rates and social services costs and an educated populace. We must demonstrate, over and over, that we bring benefits to everyone in the state — not just the people in Shively and St. Matthews, but the people of Somerset and Salyersville and Smiths Grove.

Fourth, we must know that it is not enough to dream, for it has been written, “Behind the dream — the deed; and Behind the deed — the doer.” We are called at this place to perform the deeds, to be the doers!

You, our faculty, our staff, are the doers. Your deeds allow us to dream of the day when a cancer diagnosis no longer strikes fear, but leads to hope created by new treatments.

Your deeds allow us to dream of the day in the when we can diagnose learning disabilities early in the lives of our children so that we can better help these precious young people to lead productive lives.

Your deeds allow us to dream of the day in the very near future when the best heart care in the world can be found right here in Louisville — so that all Kentuckians have the opportunity to live full and productive lives.

Your deeds allow us to dream of the day when we have helped low- and moderate-income Kentuckians meet their housing needs, when we have helped the paralyzed to walk again, when we have created an entrepreneurial hotbed of economic activity while still helping our state’s manufacturers compete internationally, when we have improved our environment, improved math and science education, improved rural health care.

Yes, our current deeds on campus provide us the hope, the encouragement, that our dreams for a better Kentucky will be a reality.

Fifth, we must fully engage those who have a stake in our success. We must not forget those who built a university committed to the ideals of excellence and quality; we must use the inspiration of our past successes to help us realize that our investment is worth it — worth every ounce of our effort in our classrooms, every ounce of effort in our advising, every ounce of effort in our career counseling, every ounce of effort in our labs, every ounce of effort in our service, in our daily demeanor. Because we, too, can make a difference in the lives of people.

Our history and tradition of commitment tells us of stories — stories that inspire. Stories of a University of Louisville that served as the center for advanced learning for David and Betty Jones, Stewart and Ann Cobb, Junior and Doris Bridgeman, Jim and Ann Bowling, Wade and Alice Houston, the Jim Pattersons and the Dahlems hundreds and hundreds of others like them came who to this campus and were molded, shaped and influenced to leave here and make a difference in the world — individuals who today look back with joy as they recount their experiences on our campus.

And just as these individuals have made a difference in our community and society, every day in our classes and on our campus we have the opportunity to influence the next generation of Joneses and others, who will through their lives improve our economy, improve our quality of life in Kentucky.

To better serve the next generation, to ensure that we are a challenging, supportive, student-friendly academy, we must reengage previous generations within the life of the university. We must reconnect with our alumni, our many friends, our donors, our advocates, our community and state leaders who understand what we can do, what we will do to improve our state, its economy and its quality of life. To each of you I plead: join us. We need you to be successful.

Sixth: We must recommit ourselves to partner with those who share our ideals and dreams. A stronger and healthier Louisville and Jefferson County are critical not only to the future of our people here, but to all the people of Kentucky. Mayor Abramson, metro council, we can together make a difference, not just in Buechel and Butchertown, but also in Burkesville and Benton. Not just in Fern Creek and Fairdale, but in Floyd County and in Frankfort and all of Kentucky.

We must partner with leaders of business and industry and provide for their workforce needs.

We must partner with our healthcare partners to ensure the absolute best treatment of our people. We must partner within our community to continue to build the cultural and social infrastructure that is more important to job creation in our state than any financial incentive program ever designed.

We must partner with our sister educational institutions at all levels. We want to work with Lee Todd and the University of Kentucky and with all of our higher education partners. We want to partner with early childhood providers, K-12 education providers, and educators who provide lifelong learning opportunities for our people. We must be there for Steve Daeschner, Blake Haselton, and all of our school districts, for it is together that we can ensure a better Kentucky.

These partnerships, these collaborations are not easy. For as we like to say, different organizations have different cultures … different ways of doing things. But we as a state, we as a community, will not reach optimal efficiency if we do not show that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. I have said that through our partnerships we can prove that 1+1 is 3; but our colleague, Dr. Roberto Bolli, recently told me I was wrong — 1+1can equal 4.

Seventh, we must not be outworked, we must be creative, and we must take risks — thoughtful decision-based risks. The challenges we face will require us to think differently, to act differently — to be willing to take chances. And while we should not be afraid to do so, we are obligated as a citizen university to base our decisions, our approaches, on analysis, information, facts. We must find innovative solutions to the challenges we face, and in doing so demonstrate that we are investing in our best efforts to serve our students and state.

Eighth, we must remain true to our mission and our priorities. We’ve been given a job to do. We are often called upon to expand that job, to add to or alter our priorities, to do many good things, to engage in many worthwhile activities; but we must not become distracted from our assignment, from our strategic agenda to become a preeminent metropolitan research university.

Staying focused means that there will be times when we must say “no.” No to partners, no to friends, no to many good ideas that are not integral parts of our day-to-day focus. We must not fear saying no, nor should those who hear that from us misinterpret our message.

Ninth — and I speak from the heart — we must re-commit ourselves to the values that will never fail us, values that will not allow us to deviate from the dreams and the deeds that must be performed to achieve our goals.

We value honesty, openness and fairness. Nothing is more important.

We value respect for all individuals, regardless of position, regardless of length of tenure, regardless of race, regardless of educational background, regardless of tasks assigned.

For it was told to me that President Johnson visited the Houston Space Center and one of the first persons he encountered was one of the custodians. The president said: “What is your job?” The reply: “I have a very important job. I keep the space center clean so that the engineers and scientists can put a man on the moon.” So it is at the University of Louisville: Everyone on this campus is important, critically important to our success.

We must value quality and excellence in all that we do. We cannot do everything, but what we do we will do right, with the highest standards.

And we value humility. May we always have the strength to be humble and to not worry about our own egos and who gets credit or blame, but may we rather worry about our students and the people of Kentucky and the job that they have given us to do.

Now, let’s spend a minute more talking about values because this is important. For these values shall underpin our every action, our every decision. They will influence how we deal with tough situations, how we react in crises, how we celebrate victories.

For it is these values that define not only who we are as individuals, but that define us as an institution.

And those who understand our values will understand the actions we take, the decisions we make. We must make hard decisions. And there will be times to negotiate and compromise; there will be times to stand firm and not deviate from our convictions. Those who understand our value system will understand the actions we take.

And finally, we must commit to moving forward as one university, one community of faculty from various disciplines, of staff with diverse strengths, of students with many goals, and of alumni, donors, volunteers and friends with many interests — but all sharing a singular focus, an unrelenting focus, on the success of the University of Louisville. We must work together to demonstrate our value, our importance, to the citizens of Kentucky through the education of our students, through the economic opportunities we provide, and through the improvements we bring to the quality of life in our state.

If we do these things, if we remember our rich history and tradition;

If we renew our commitment to our vision and strategic plan;

If we think beyond our boundaries of our campus and dream;

If we act upon our dreams;

If we engage those who have a stake in our success;

If we commit ourselves to partnerships;

If we do not allow ourselves to be outworked;

If we stay true to our mission;

If we are driven by our values;

And if we move forward as one university;

We will meet the immediate challenges we face and position ourselves for a great future. We will stay the course — we will move forward to a time in the not so distant future when this center of academic learning is a “place of even greater consequence” as evidenced by Phi Beta Kappa, Order of the Coif and NCI designation; by six-year graduation rates we can be proud of; by $200 million in funded research by 2010 and $400 million funded by 2020; by a vibrant campus life that brings value added to the educational experiences of all of our students.

This is the job we have been given this job; this is our assignment. We need only look at the Boyle Report, the Postsecondary Education Improvement Act, the Kentucky Innovation Act, the Brookings Report, and various economic and social statistics on our state to understand this test. And we have been given specific time frames to accomplish these milestones.

But we must think beyond those dates. So let’s pause one more moment to look into the future. It is our job to ensure that those who come after us, perhaps those who gather on this great lawn in the year 2198, will look back and say that we were true to the course, true to our cause, true to the mission. That our “center of advanced learning” has created an “even greater community of some consequence.”

May it be said in the future that despite the challenges we faced in 2003, we did not back off; we did not retreat; rather we hitched up our belts and did our jobs — to make a better Kentucky. And may the educational experiences that our students are receiving then, and the new knowledge created from our laboratories then, be on a campus that is diverse and encompassing, a campus made better by us today. And may those who look back then say that we did “dare to be great.”

This is our job! It is an important job; it is important to me, for I was born in this community, educated in our public schools in Kentucky, and I believe in Kentucky and its people and all that they can be.

But my part in all of this is simple. For I can only covenant to you that I will work hard; I will do my best, the best that I can do. I ask for your help, your support, your prayers — for your commitment to the great future that we have before us.

Thank you.

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