Welcome to the Opening Day of the 2015-16 academic year. It is always a pleasure to see you all on the first day of the year, looking energized and ready for anything. Being ready for anything is a good thing, because anything is usually what we get.
The start of this academic year is particularly exciting because it marks a gigantic step forward for the University, as we simultaneously open two major new facilities, the new School of Business and the new Center for Environmental and Life Sciences. The faculty have been moving into their outstanding new offices and laboratories over the summer, and the students will start pouring into the instructional spaces and occupying the lounges and study spaces when classes begin tomorrow.
Some of you will remember this photo from 2009, when the faculty of the School of Business claimed their rights to the land. I don’t know how many actually believed this day would come, but here it is. The new School of Business is a $66 million, 143,000 GSF building that provides a state-of-the-art teaching and learning environment for our approximately 2,800 students pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees in the business disciplines. Our business programs have long struggled with an undersized and technologically inadequate building, and they will now have the opportunities offered by a facility that provides everything necessary for a forward-looking program, for meaningful collaborations with the business community, for a full array of student support services and student study and project spaces, and plenty of room for growth.
The School of Business was the beneficiary of two recent and very generous gifts. An anonymous and extraordinary $20 million gift (the largest single gift in the University’s history) will support the academic programs of the School into the future. A $600,000 gift from Ellyn McColgan will contribute to the support of the Ellyn McColgan Student Services Center, which will provide support services for business students from admission through their transition to graduation and careers. Ellyn McColgan graduated from Montclair State in 1975 with a degree in Psychology, went on to get an MBA from Harvard, and had a great career in business, rising to the position of President of the Brokerage Group for Fidelity Investments. The formal opening and naming ceremony for the School of Business will take place on September 10. And, by the way, the new building will provide another dining opportunity on campus, The Venture Café, conveniently located just off the south entrance to the building.
The amazing twin project also opening this September is the $55 million, 107,000 GSF Center for Environmental and Life Sciences. This building literally doubles the University’s research laboratory space. The College of Science and Mathematics received close to $4 million in externally funded research awards last year, and they have gotten off to a good start this year, with three new awards received just last week, two from NSF and one from NASA, totaling more than half a million dollars. As visitors have toured these labs from other universities and from the state’s pharmaceutical and health sciences organizations, everybody has been incredibly impressed with their quality and future-oriented design. The building will house a significant number of faculty from the life and environmental sciences, and will be home to the PSEG Institute for Sustainability Studies, the Passaic River Institute and the Sokol Institute for the Pharmaceutical Life Sciences. The new CELS building provides extraordinary spaces for students, both within and outside the labs for gathering, project work and study. The new building will be celebrated through a formal lecture series on emerging science throughout the year, beginning in October. The view of the New York skyline from the building is absolutely spectacular, and I suggest that when you are looking for a space to meet with a colleague, you might want to suggest meeting in the atrium lounge or its outdoor terrace, where you can enjoy the view.
It is a very unusual occasion for any university to undertake the simultaneous construction and opening of two such major facilities, and I want to thank the extraordinary work of Vice President Greg Bressler and his team and Vice Dean of the School of Business, Kimberly Hollister, and her team, and Associate Dean of the College of Science and Mathematics, Jinan Jaber, and her team who were instrumental in this incredible success, from design through opening. Tomorrow, Wednesday, September 2, from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m., all members of the University community are invited to a campus opening celebration where you will be able to explore the two new buildings and enjoy some music and food.
Even as we open these two very important new facilities, we are not, of course, done. The rather noticeable construction site on the east side of the campus is the new facility for the School of Communication and Media. That new School’s mission is to offer cross-platform media and communication curricula that stay at the front edge of these rapidly changing fields. A renovated Morehead Hall opened last year to house the offices of the School, and this new $53 million, 105,000 GSF project will be equipped with the School’s state-of-the-art multimedia studios and laboratories, including a leading-edge, multi-platform “newsroom of the future.” Some key spaces include a 150-seat presentation hall, broadcast studios, radio studios, an integrated media lab, film screening room, classrooms and computer labs. As part of the project, the new connections and spaces attached to Life Hall will also provide some new theater and dance studios.
Other important ongoing construction projects include the complete renovation of Partridge Hall, which will house The Graduate School, which will at long last have a real home base, and the new School of Nursing. Construction is scheduled to begin on Partridge by the end of October, and the newly renovated building is scheduled to open in fall 2016. Partridge as you see it now will look like this by next fall.
In regard to the creation of the new School of Nursing, there continues to be both a regional and a national severe shortage of qualified nurses in a health care environment that is undergoing radical changes. In addition to the simple demand for seats in strong nursing programs, a new program, such as the one we will build here, has the very significant advantage of being able to align itself fully with the new directions of the profession without the burdens of a legacy program. The plan for the development of the School calls for the recruitment of a founding dean, a search which is ongoing as we speak, the subsequent recruitment of faculty, and the launching of an RN to BSN degree program in fall 2016, a full BSN program in fall 2017, followed by an MSN, a five-year BSN-MSN and a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). The Nursing portion of Partridge Hall will include mediated classrooms and specialized spaces, such as a nursing skills lab, an anatomy lab, high-fidelity simulation labs outfitted with state-of-the-art computer interfaced mannequins, a home care lab, a mock quarantine room and computer labs, as well as faculty offices and student and faculty/staff gathering and meeting spaces. A good portion of the ground floor of Partridge will be devoted to a very nice gathering and study space for graduate students and nursing students. I want to thank Vice President Jack Shannon and Associate Provost Fred Bonato for their excellent leadership in moving forward the development of this new School, as well as the Task Force assembled by Provost Gingerich that analyzed the developmental plans and met with consultants. The Task Force was chaired by Dr. Bonato and was composed of: Professor Amanda Birnbaum, Health and Nutrition Sciences; Professor Ada Beth Cutler, College of Education and Human Services; Professor Saundra Collins and Professor Kenneth Sumner, Psychology; Dean of The Graduate School, Joan Ficke; Professor Lisa Hazard, Biology; Dean of Libraries, Judith Lin Hunt; Professor Christine Price, Family and Child Studies; and Professor Diana Thomas, Mathematical Sciences.
Another important ongoing construction project is taking place at the Ward site off Clove Road, just past The Village. While the University has been able to provide excellent clinical facilities for the programs in Communication Sciences and Disorders at a specially designed facility at 1515 Broad Street in Bloomfield, the other growing clinical programs in both the College of Education and Human Services and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences have lacked adequate facilities. That deficit will now be solved with the ground-up renovation of the east wing of the Ward facility, which will be turned into a modern, integrated clinical services site.
There are six programs, with well over 500 students in training, that will use the new Ward clinical facility, including:
- The new Counseling master’s and certification programs, enabling students to treat clients from the community and complete practicum requirements under the supervision of staff, faculty and doctoral students;
- The new PhD program in Counseling, enabling students to obtain clinical hours in both client service and supervision of counselors in training and to complete internship and supervision requirements on site at the clinic;
- The University’s Center for Autism and Early Childhood Mental Health, which has outgrown its clinical space at the 14 Normal Avenue house and will now have excellent space to grow individual, group and family therapy services for families with children on the autism spectrum;
- The Educational Assessment and Intervention Services will have space to expand their clinical services;
- The Nutrition program, enabling students to treat clients from the community under supervision of faculty; and
- The Psychological Services Clinic which offers affordable psychological services to children, adults, and families in northern New Jersey and surrounding areas and which also serves as the primary training clinic for graduate students in the School Psychology and Clinical Psychology master’s programs.
Particular care was given in the design of this clinic to meeting the specialized needs of the different clinical programs while, at the same time, enhancing opportunities for collaborations and shared use of space. I want to thank Acting Associate Vice President for Facilities Mike Zanko, Associate Provost Fred Bonato, Associate Dean of the College of Education and Human Services Kim O’Halloran, and Professor Ken Sumner, chair of the Psychology Department, for their leadership in facilitating the design of this complex project. The current construction schedule calls for the clinic to open its doors this coming January.
As soon as that happens in January, renovation will begin on Stone Hall, which is providing temporary space for some of those programs and others, and it will be renovated and returned to its original use as student housing in fall 2016. After building close to 1,000 new beds at the Village, and another 300 at Sinatra Hall, and then 2,000 more at The Heights, we thought we might have enough, but, once again, we are facing a student housing shortage on campus, which is a wonderful problem to have, as Montclair State University grows in reputation.
To make use of all these new facilities that we have been talking about, we have the annual blessing of thousands of new students. When we take the official count on Census Day, the 10th day of the semester, we anticipate that our total student population will be approximately 20,300. That number will include about 3,100 freshmen, nearly 1,400 new transfer students, 1,000 new graduate students, and, overall a total enrollment of approximately 16,000 undergraduate and 4,000 graduate students. Our students have come from every county in New Jersey, from 28 states, and many foreign countries. The top choices of majors among enrolling freshmen who have declared a major are Psychology, Business Administration, Biology, Justice Studies and Accounting, and a large number of students continue to express an interest in also pursuing teacher certification in their academic disciplines.
We continue to attract an academically strong and highly diverse class of students. Nearly 29 percent of this year’s freshman class identifies as Hispanic, and 16 percent is African American. The number of out-of-state students continues slowly to grow, and students from South Jersey now comprise 21 percent of the incoming class.
Based on research conducted by the Office of Undergraduate Admissions and the Office of Institutional Research over the course of several years, the University had begun shifting its weighting in admissions decisions away from the SAT and ACT exam scores and more heavily toward the high school GPA. This year, an SAT/ACT optional policy was fully implemented, making Montclair State University the first public university in New Jersey to be entirely standardized test optional. Preliminary analysis suggests that this change had the positive impact we anticipated, increasing the quality and the diversity of the applicant pool and resulting in a freshman class with a higher average high school GPA, which now stands at 3.26.
Looking ahead to recruitment efforts for the coming year, the University is committed to broadening its out-of-state undergraduate recruitment across all majors. During the upcoming recruitment cycle, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions is extending its reach into areas of Maryland, Delaware and Connecticut, and will continue to expand in markets in Pennsylvania and New York, where it has established footholds over the last several years. In the performing arts, the University has already made significant advances in national reputation and recruitment. The University’s Music, Dance and Theatre programs have achieved a national presence and particular distinction, attracting the interest of prospective students from 47 states. Another highlight of the University’s undergraduate recruitment strategy is the newly launched Early College Program. This program – a re-branded and refocused take on the former Hi-Jump program – is designed to provide high school juniors and seniors the opportunity to take college-level coursework and immerse themselves in the college experience at Montclair State.
Just to provide a quick close-up of what these numbers represent, here is an introduction to five incoming freshmen:
Brittany Aponte graduated from Absegami High School in Galloway, New Jersey with a 4.0 GPA. She was an active member of her school’s Spanish Honor Society, Class Council, Math Club and Crew Team. Last summer, Brittany participated in a camp sponsored by the American Conference on Diversity, and she credits this experience with having equipped her with the knowledge to speak up about inequality and effect change. Brittany plans to major in Spanish and to pursue a career in teaching.
Teresa Carrieri graduated from Cliffside Park High School, earning a 3.7 GPA in a rigorous curriculum. Teresa has a passion for helping others, which is evident in how she spends her time outside of the classroom. She holds a job at her local library; volunteers as a peer tutor; and is a member of the Heroes and Cool Kids Club, a group committed to mentoring fifth and sixth grade students on issues like peer pressure and bullying. Teresa will be majoring in Nutrition and Food Sciences, and she has already gained hands-on experience in her chosen field, having participated in the HealthCorps Internship Program at Palisades Medical Center. Teresa is proud to follow her brother, uncle, and cousin, who are all alumni of the University.
Amin Khan graduated from Hackensack High School with a 3.9 GPA. He will be majoring in accounting. During his high school career, Amin took seven Advanced Placement courses, was a member of the National Honor Society and the Spanish National Honor Society, played varsity tennis, and ran for both the cross country and the indoor track teams. While juggling extracurricular activities and school work, Amin also logged over 1,000 hours of community service at Holy Name Hospital and the Prospect Heights Care Center, where he transported patients and delivered flowers and mail to elderly patients.
Keilia Lakeman started her life in Jamaica where as a child she dreamed of moving to the United States so ardently that she would pack a bag and pretend that she and her brother were moving. Her family did get here, and Keilia graduated from West Orange High School with a 3.88 GPA and joins the College of Science and Mathematics as a biology major. During her high school career, Keilia challenged herself with a rigorous curriculum by taking 17 honors or Advanced Placement courses. She has served as a Peer Educator for the Teen Pep Program at her school, volunteered at her church and a local homeless shelter, and earned a place in the highly selective West Orange High School Honors Chamber Choir. Keilia participated in both the French Club and Health Careers Club – a precursor to her planned career in medicine.
Ethan Lynch graduated with a 4.0 GPA from the Morris County Academy for Visual and Performing Arts where he studied theater, film and animation. Ethan has been accepted into our highly competitive program in Musical Theatre. He is an accomplished student and performer, having taken every honors course offered by his high school and participated in both the summer Musical Theatre Conservatory and the Broadway Show Choir at the Paper Mill Playhouse. Another of Ethan’s recent accomplishments includes winning the statewide Young Filmmakers Competition with A Silent Story, a film with a message of tolerance shot in the style of the silent film era. The film was used by Ethan’s school to educate students about how to address harassment, bullying and intimidation.
So there are five of the more than 3,000 entering freshmen, and it is important to keep always in our minds that we now hold their hopes and dreams in our hands.
Relative to our students, I did want to mention one important new program that is being initiated this fall by the Division of Student Development and Campus Life, the Bystander Intervention Program using the tagline “This Is My Campus.” The mission of the program is to engage students actively in recognizing those situations that have the potential to injure their fellow students, physically or psychologically, or damage the University, and to encourage them to accept responsibility to take appropriate action when those situations are observed. One of the things that our really excellent University Police and student affairs professionals will tell us is that it is almost always the case that innocent bystanders saw or knew about a bad event, whether about unacceptable interpersonal behavior or vandalism, and did not tell or seek to intervene in appropriate ways. This lesson about the collective responsibility that citizens have to protect their community is an extremely difficult one to teach, so your help in reinforcing the idea that we all share a responsibility to each other and to the University will be appreciated.
To go with the new students this fall, we have a new class of 20 tenure-track faculty, and searches have been approved for an additional 26 new tenure-track faculty positions for fall 2016. Our new faculty members are a very exciting group of scholars, and I hope you will all get to know them. Their bios will be made available by the Provost online, but to give you a flavor of the new class of faculty, here is a quick introduction to a representative five of them:
Thomas Franklin will be joining the faculty of the School of Communication and Media in the field of Multiplatform Journalism. A highly experienced multimedia journalist and educator, he was most recently the multimedia manager for Northjersey.com, the website for the North Jersey Media Group, including The Record of Bergen County, The Herald News, and 46 community newspapers. In his 27 years in the news business, he has covered countless hard news, political, sports, business and entertainment assignments. In 2002, he was recognized as a Pulitzer Prize finalist for his coverage of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. His now iconic photo of three firefighters raising the American flag amid the rubble of the World Trade Center remains one of the most recognized images in history. In 2007, Professor Franklin began a transition from photography to video production, and in 2012, he was nominated for a local Emmy award for Toxic Legacy, a project about illegal dumping by the Ford Motor Company and its harmful impact on a Native American community. For the past 10 years, he has also taught photojournalism at Ramapo College.
Reva Jaffe-Walter joins us as an Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership. Professor Jaffe-Walter received her BA in Anthropology from the University of Rochester, her MA in Anthropology from Columbia University, and her PhD in Urban Education from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Professor Jaffe-Walter’s research focuses on urban education reform, teacher professional development, immigration and schooling, and education policy. Her book, Coercive Concern: Nationalism, Liberalism and the Schooling of Muslim Youth, is being published in the Anthropology of Policy Series by Stanford University Press.
Peter Lohrey joins us as an Assistant Professor of Accounting. Professor Lohrey obtained his PhD in Accounting and Finance from George Washington University. He worked as a research analyst for the Office of Economic Analysis at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and for the major accounting firms, Arthur Andersen and PricewaterhouseCoopers. His work focused on business valuation, commercial damages and complex claims. More recently, he was a director in the Forensic Accounting and Litigation Support Department at McGladrey. Professor Lohrey is a former Naval aviator who specialized in anti-submarine warfare and intelligence collection during his 10 years of service. He is an active researcher who has published in a number of professional journals, including The Business Journal for Entrepreneurs, American Journal of Family Law, The Value Examiner, International Journal of E-Business Research and Credit & Financial Management Review.
Sarah Ryan Lowe joins us as an Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychology, coming from the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University where she worked as an Associate Research Scientist in the Department of Epidemiology. She has her BA from Harvard and her MA and PhD from the University of Massachusetts/Amherst. She has worked as a co-investigator and project director on three Department of Health and Human Services grants focused on disaster recovery from Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. In her doctoral research she explored psychological distress among a sample of low-income, primarily African American women who survived Hurricane Katrina. Already the author of 32 journal articles, Professor Lowe is embarking on new grant-supported research to better understand the long-term mental health effects of Hurricane Sandy.
Bharath Samanathula joins us as an Assistant Professor of Computer Science. He received a BTech from the International Institute of Information Technology and his PhD from Missouri University of Science and Technology. His primary research interests lie at the crossroads of personal privacy, information security, applied cryptography and data mining. In particular, his research focuses on devising privacy-enhanced solutions for essential secure and data-intensive applications in cloud computing, social networks, and wireless sensor networks, and his work has been published in top-tier journals. Dr. Samanthula’s most recent appointment was as Visiting Assistant Professor at Purdue University.
In addition to new faculty, we have several new members of the senior administrative team, including three new deans:
Dr. Robert Friedman is the new dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. He joins us from the University of Washington’s Tacoma campus where he served as Director of the Institute of Technology. Dean Friedman earned his BA in English and Financial Journalism from CUNY, an MFA in Fiction from Brooklyn College, an MS in Information Systems from NJIT, and a PhD in American Literature from the City University of New York’s Graduate Center. He has published four books and over 100 peer-reviewed journal articles and conference papers on 19th-century American literature and culture, as well as pedagogical uses of information technology.
Dr. A. Gregory Cant is the new dean of the School of Business. He joins us from Concordia College where he served as the founding dean of the Offutt School of Business and Robert J. Johnson Chair of Economics and Business Administration. Dean Cant earned a BA in Labor Relations from the University of Western Australia, a Master’s of Industrial Relations from Queen’s University in Ontario, and a PhD in Labor Relations from the University of Western Australia. He has held previous positions at Central Washington University, the University of Western Australia and Edith Cowan University.
Our new Dean of Students can hardly be called new. Margaree Coleman-Carter has been at the University for 35 years, serving with grace, skill, competence and loyalty in a number of positions, and I am delighted to announce her appointment as Dean of Students, an extremely important position with major responsibilities for the well-being of our students.
Also joining us this year in a newly created position is Dr. James German, the University’s new Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education. He comes to us from SUNY Potsdam where he served as Professor of History and Director of General Education. Dr. German will have primary responsibility for developing and implementing policies and procedures that support students’ successful and timely progress to degrees. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in history from Whitworth College and a PhD in History from the University of California, Riverside. His research interests center on the intersection of religious belief and economic practice in early America and on environmental history.
As new people join the University community, it is in the natural order of things that some will leave us, and, as I announced in June, Vice President for University Facilities Gregory Bressler and Vice President for Finance and Treasurer Donald Cipullo will both be retiring from the University at the end of December 2015. These two senior officers have each had long and successful careers and have served Montclair State University with distinction and dedication during a period of extraordinary growth and accomplishment.
Vice President Bressler came to Montclair State University in 2006, and he has presided over a massive development of the University’s campus, constructing, renovating and improving the University’s instructional facilities and enhancing the campus environment. Just a selection of the projects he has managed include: the Student Recreation Center, the Cali School of Music, Sinatra Hall and The Heights student residential projects, CarParc Diem, Schmitt Hall, the construction of the new campus energy and utility infrastructure, the Morehead Hall renovation, and the new School of Business and Center for Environmental and Life Sciences. Greg brought the highest level of commitment and professionalism to his position, and he is leaving the University’s physical environment in vastly better condition than he found it – better equipped for its educational mission, with a greatly improved and more sustainable infrastructure, and more beautiful.
Vice President Cipullo came to the University in 2000, and he oversaw the greatly expanded and far more complex financial management of a growing University. During his time at Montclair State, the University’s annual operating budget grew from about $132 million to more than $380 million; the University-held investment portfolio grew from $6.3 million to more than $136 million. During that period of time the University undertook 11 complex bond issues, including financing for new construction and renovations and refinancing of old issues to achieve more favorable rates and significant savings. From construction financing to accounting practices, investments, procurement, contracting and business operations, Vice President Cipullo’s integrity, skill and knowledge contributed in essential ways to the reputation the University enjoys for sound financial management. During a period of diminishing state resources that coincided with major growth in programs, personnel and facilities, he safeguarded the University’s assets and enabled their responsible management.
Greg and Don have both earned strong reputations in the statewide higher education community, and they have been deeply valued by me and their colleagues and well-respected by the Board of Trustees. I will miss them both tremendously when they leave in December, and I am enormously grateful to them for the quality and extent of the efforts they have devoted to this University. They will soon, alas, be off to other challenges.
And now cometh the inevitable Opening Day sermon. So, my beach book this August was The Goldfinch, for which Donna Tartt won the Pullitzer Prize. The book is a brilliantly told but maddening story (reminiscent to me of Fielding) that has, at its center, the 17th-century painting by Fabritius of a chained pet goldfinch. In summing up, at the end of the book, Tartt says:
“…I don’t care what anyone says or how often or winningly they say it: no one will ever, ever be able to persuade me that life is some awesome, rewarding treat. Because, here’s the truth: life is catastrophe. The basic fact of existence – of walking around trying to feed ourselves and find friends and whatever else we do – is catastrophe. Forget all this ridiculous ‘Our Town’ nonsense everyone talks: the miracle of a newborn babe, the joy of one simple blossom, Life You Are Too Wonderful To Grasp, &c. For me – and I’ll keep repeating it doggedly till I die, till I fall over on my ungrateful nihilistic face and am too weak to say it: better never born, than born into this cesspool. Sinkhole of hospital beds, coffins, and broken hearts. No release, no appeal, no “do-overs”…. no way forward but age and loss, and no way out but death….does it make any sense at all to know that it ends badly for all of us, even the happiest of us, and that we all lose everything that matters in the end – and yet to know as well, despite all this, as cruelly as the game is stacked, that it’s possible to play it with a kind of joy?….To try to make some meaning out of all this seems unbelievably quaint….And I feel I have something very serious and urgent to say to you…and I feel I should say it as urgently as if I were standing in the room with you. That life – whatever else it is – is short. That fate is cruel but maybe not random. That Nature (meaning Death) always wins but that doesn’t mean we have to bow and grovel to it. That maybe even if we’re not always so glad to be here, it’s our task to immerse ourselves anyway: wade straight through it, right through the cesspool, while keeping eyes and hearts open. And in the midst of our dying, as we rise from the organic and sink back ignominiously into the organic, it is a glory and a privilege to love what Death doesn’t touch…. And I add my own love to the history of people who have loved beautiful things, and looked out for them, and pulled them from the fire, and sought them when they were lost, and tried to preserve them and save them while passing them along literally from hand to hand, singing out brilliantly from the wreck of time to the next generation of lovers, and the next.”
So that’s what Donna Tartt said, and this is what I say. If we are not always happy to be here, if all is not fair, if the way has not been made perfectly clear for us, maybe it is our job just to persevere, to wade straight through it, to focus on saving the beautiful thing – the language, the history, the science, the art – from the mire of extinction. Then, at least, though we will die and we will lose everything in the end, it will not be before we have saved something real and passed it on to the next generation, and not before we have taught that next generation how to recognize beauty – whether in the word, or the formula, or the song or the incredible, exquisite use of something. If we can teach ourselves that whether it is about nothing or something or some place in between the two, we certainly cannot let it be about the petty stuff, the disappointments and disagreements and jealousies, about who likes who or who’s right or who’s wrong. And if we can teach ourselves that it cannot be about who got more porridge than I did; that it cannot be about parking and politics and showbiz and gaming the system; then maybe we will be able to teach the next generation that it is not about those things, and not about me, me, me, and what I want and what I deserve. It is about seeing that there are things worth understanding and things worth loving. There are things worth saving from the fire.
And that thought has blended in my mind with all that has been said in the media in the last few weeks about the ten-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and those of you who were here in this theater ten years ago, on September 6, 2005, may remember that I spoke about that situation. I said then:
Finally, I cannot end my remarks today without reference to the ongoing tragedy and devastation that nature and man have wrought in New Orleans and in the larger region of the Gulf coast states. I know that all of you have been following the media reports with as much concern, anger, and disbelief as I. The cataclysms of nature are one thing; they are given to us. The failures of society are quite another thing; we are responsible for those. In this case, the massive failure of government especially at the national level, the inadequate preparation, the slow and awkward response, must be painfully obvious to all. This is the United States of America in the 21st century, and our fellow citizens have died of dehydration, have been crammed into buildings without sanitation or food and water, citizens have been transformed into refugees, families with small children have wandered the highways of the south going they know not where. Above all else, the pictures on T.V. tell a story nobody can fail to see. Katrina has revealed the continuing divisions of race and class in our society. It is those who have the least that have lost the most – in too many cases their lives and in other cases their families, their children, their communities, their homes and possessions, the already marginal shelters that were all that stood between them and outright destitution…. I am sure that many of you have asked, how do we just go on about our business in the face of what is happening to hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens? I say, when we see what we have seen, it becomes clear that we must go on about our business, because our business is to correct for the human failures responsible for so much of the devastation. Our business is to educate the scientists who understand the hurricanes and the geology; our business is to train the technologists who know how to mitigate the forces of nature; our business is to train the strategic managers who know how to get trucks and buses down the highway and water to survivors; our business is to educate governmental leaders who will be more effective at serving the needs of the people entrusted to their care; our business is to educate an informed, inquiring, and compassionate citizenry who will work and live in ways that contribute to the general good. And, above all else, our business is to do our piece to break the back of the class divide. That is why our cornerstone value is that our student population will reflect the society in which we reside and why we will continue to work to assure that all students who come here have an equal chance of educational success. Our students are rich and they are poor; they are home-grown and immigrants; they have been to good schools and to bad; they are all races and religions, and our job is to help each of them flourish, to give them what they need so that they in turn can be productive and responsive and engaged citizens and understand that it is not acceptable for tens of thousands of Americans to be abandoned in a time of desperate need; we must give them the quality of education that will enable them, in the face of great challenges, to act with intelligence, compassion, integrity, competence, and speed.
So that is what I said 10 years ago. Today, how as a nation would we respond to another Katrina? How would we respond if North Africa were a boat ride away, not from Europe, but from our shores? How have we responded to our own southern border and the influx of refugees? What happens when the refugees are actually our own home-born and bred children living in suffocating poverty on the streets and back alleys of our cities? I said 10 years ago, and I say again today, we are a significant part of the long-term answers to those questions, because we shape and prepare the people who will shape the society, and we should never underestimate the importance of what we are doing here. There are things worth saving from the fire.
So, let us recommit ourselves today to the importance of our calling. And with that thought, and with the utmost sincerity, I wish each and every one of you a very good year, filled with accomplishment and satisfaction.
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