President’s Remarks

President’s Remarks

October 15, 2009

"There is no other place I would rather be than right here, right now." - Robert O. Davies, EOU president

Thank you very much for this welcome today, and, from my family, thank you for the warmest of welcomes from this wonderful community.  Clearly, there is no other place I would rather be than right here, right now.

First and foremost, I am humbled by the gathering here today.  I am humbled by the outpouring of support from the faculty, staff, students and the community members.  Your presence here today, and those who are listening in from the many locations where EOU has reached out and touched the lives of thousands of students, speaks volumes for your commitment and dedication to this great university.  I am humbled by the many people who traveled great distances to be here today.  I am pleased to be joined by members of the State Board of Higher Education, Mr. Tony Van Vliet, Dr. Rosemary Powers and Dr. Dalton Miller-Jones as well as the Chancellor of the State System of Higher Education, Mr. George Pernstiener.  I am also honored to have fellow President Chris Maples from Oregon Institute of Technology join in today’s celebration.  Mr. Dan Rodriguez, my good friend and former officiating buddy, is also here representing the University of Oregon.  My long time family friend, Mr. Tom Hammerstrom is here today representing Harvard University.

Please allow me to introduce a few of the special people from my life who join us today.  First, I must introduce three ladies who I with deep gratitude call my “extended mothers”.  First, please welcome Mrs. Joy Crowley who saw me through my teenage years growing up in Reno.  Secondly, Mrs. Marilyn Hammerstrom who saw me through my early years growing up in Flagstaff Arizona.  And the person who literally knew me from birth, Ms. Anne Kendall, who was my mother’s intern as an RN also joins us.  Anne babysat my sister and me, and thus served as a referee between us, on many occasions.  They all still call me “Bobby” and I know each could—but they won’t, at least I hope—tell some very humorous stories of me as a growing boy.

I am also honored to have my dear friends of David and Carol Burdette who traveled all the way from Michigan to be here today as well as Mr. Mike and Donna Swanda from Cozad Nebraska.  My wife’s father, Bill Mallory and his wife Roberta traveled to La Grande to be here.  I am also grateful that Ms. Lynn Barger and Andrea Alsippi traveled from Pennsylvania with whom I worked with at IUP.  My dear friend, Mr. Larry Burke from Idaho joins us today for this celebration.  I am also joined by Ms. Bobby Ratchford from Boise who truly keeps our family together.   Each of these individuals, in many ways, has influenced my life and direction and made me a better person.  My aunt and uncle, Fred and Becky Davies traveled from Florida to be with us.  And, my sister, Jenny, is here today from Reno. Even though I will never admit it, or say it again, she is a significant role model for me.  As you have already heard from my father, please let me introduce my mother who instilled in me the compassion and necessity to always assist others.

Finally, I would like to recognize my own team—Cindy and Katie.  They have been very supportive in my journey and have always believed in my dreams.  If you all only knew what I have put them through!  Both Cindy and Katie keep me grounded.  Cindy also keeps me organized and is extremely important in my role as president.  Thank you and I love you.

My purpose today in speaking with you is three fold.  First, I would like to share with you some of my impressions of Eastern Oregon and our university.  I also want to speak about the mission of EOU and outline some thoughts on the responsibilities of the president in achieving this mission.

Over the past few months I have met many good people and was asked what drew me to this position.  Both Cindy and I, and even Katie with her love of horses, were attracted to La Grande and Eastern Oregon itself.  The physical beauty of the West, the rise of Mt. Emily, the clarity of the Grande Ronde, the trout and salmon runs on the Wallowa and Minam Rivers, the magical drive through the Columbia Gorge, the splendid serenity of the Eagle Caps all contributed to our desire to return to the West.  The people of the area and the spirit of the West are also drawing points.  The vastness and ruggedness of the land creates an environment for an ethic of hard work, an expectation that only through effort will one be successful and yet, even with that spirit of independence, this is a very caring and giving community.  This is also a community that knows how to celebrate—I’ve attended more community celebrations here in the past few months than I have in years!  We celebrate our history, our heritage and our future and we celebrate each other.  Because of all of these attributes, this is not only a great place to live; it is a terrific and ideal place to raise our daughter where she will learn these values and principles that make up the Spirit of the West.

But, of course, the main draw is EOU itself with its tremendous strength and the excitement you all have for the potential for this university.  In the Spring of 1930 Eastern’s first president, Harvey Inlow reflected on the beginnings of our university.  He wrote:

Less than two years ago, where the first building of the Eastern Oregon Normal School now stands, was a sterile promontory extending into and commanding an impressive view of the beautiful Grande Rhonde Valley.  Unoccupied alike and unresponsive yet to the will and hand of man, lay the rich alluvial valley of the brook where now a college campus awaits the development of future years.  Soon appeared the instruments of surveyor and landscape architect, followed by the busy, directed efforts of many workmen in wood, metal, and stone.  Where nothing had been but barren earth, arose a structure of strength and grace, broad stairs and stately balustrade made way for traffic before unknown.  The physical plant of a new educational institution stood ready for and invited use.  Faculty and students came.  In a day a new center of cultural thought and activity sprang into being where none had been before.  Classes met; assemblies convened; library and laboratory yielded truth and beauty; social organization emerged responsive to community need; sports and recreation contributed to the happy and forceful living; a purpose was born which was to find expression in ideals of service and standards of achievement.

As I reflect on the words of President Inlow, I can not help but imagine how impressed he would be today with EOU in what it has accomplished and what lays before us.  I know he would be overcome by our expansive efforts to provide accessible and affordable education as well as the quality with which we do it.  This was the purpose that was born in 1929 and it is us who express the ideals of service and sets the standards of achievement dreamed by President Inlow.

Over the past few months, I have had the opportunity to meet most of our faculty and staff members.  I can not tell you how impressed I am.  A productive, dedicated faculty is the essential element of any great university, and we are blessed in this respect.  As I have met many of our faculty, I am continually struck by the quality of your academic and professional accomplishments and the dedication you have to creating and transferring knowledge.  We are also blessed by the commitment of our administrative faculty, who have been asked to do more with less, and they continually astound me by delivering on their commitments.  Finally, our SEIU employees also go beyond our expectations in delivering on behalf of EOU and our students.  We have an exceptional team and we must remind ourselves continually of this dedication and commitment.  Your loyalty, your ethic of hard work and an exemplary professional attitude exudes a sense of confidence and pride in Eastern that cannot be matched or hindered.

I’ve been especially impressed by our students.  Several weeks ago, we welcomed the largest freshman class in a very long time.  I met many of these students who deliberately chose EOU.  While they all came from different backgrounds—from major metropolitan centers  to towns of 17, from Juneau, to John Day, to Homedale Idaho, to Oooma Micronesia, to Zimbabwe, and a village in Nepal and all points in points in between.  With this diverse background, it is amazing how quickly they pick up on your confidence and pride and become a community within EOU.  They walk and talk with a sense of passion and commitment to EOU.  Both on and off campus, our students relish the opportunities that are being presented to them because they are here and connected to you, the faculty and staff.

The alumni of Eastern, and the members of the communities in which we serve, also reflect this sense of pride.  I saw it first hand from an alumnus who graduated in 1939 who now resides in Boise, Idaho.  She explained to me that Eastern provided her not only with an education, but a sense of purpose and dedication to a profession and to a community.  Another graduate, one from the class of 1959, now residing in Portland, reiterated this sense of pride and how, if it were not for EOU, that he would not have had the opportunity to go to college.  Coming from a farm outside of Biggs, he ventured to the “Big City” of La Grande where he was made to feel at home immediately.  He fondly talks about his classmates, but credits great professors, and specifically Mary Jane Loso for whom this glorious building is named for giving him the confidence to achieve his goals.  Now, he is an executive in a major multinational corporation—or as he stated, I went from Biggs to Bejing via EOU.  Our community members share this same passion.  Members of the advisory board of our John Day Center left no question in my mind that EOU was the driving force of Eastern Oregon.  As one of these members, who also serves as a county judge and commissioner, stated, “EOU’s presence in Grant County can not be underestimated in what it does not only economically, but emotionally and culturally for our communities.  If it weren’t for EOU, I am not sure where we would be, but it wouldn’t be good.”

As you can see, I think we have a great deal which we can justly be proud of and I am very thankful for the work and dedication for those who have preceded me.  I would like to name two in particular who join us today.  The first is Dixie Lund, whom we recognized earlier today with the dedication of the Dixie Lund Board Room in Inlow Hall.  She has been a marvelous steward of EOU in multiple capacities that have positively and dramatically advanced our university.  I am also grateful for the work of President David Gilbert who has established a tradition of political acumen, academic dedication, and pride in EOU.  Thank you Dave and Dixie for all that you have done for EOU and I sincerely appreciate your continued council as I follow in your paths.

We must continue to demonstrate our pride in all that we do; in our work, in our teaching, in our research, in our service to the area.

What is this pride built on?  What is its foundation?  And, where can it take us?  These are all very important questions.  Let me attempt a few answers from my perspective.  First, our pride is built on our unyielding commitment to personalized service and dedication to our students and their success.  Our foundation is built on our unwavering commitment to the EOU promise of access, affordability and engagement with Community.  And these essentials allow for us to control our own fate.

EOU is a national model of providing higher education based on access that is not restricted by time, place, socioeconomic status, disability or any other unique characteristic.  The only discriminatory boundary is that we want students who have a desire to learn.  Through our campus in La Grande, our centers and sites, and through our on-line activities, we offer many educational opportunities that are accessible and affordable.  Our partnerships with community colleges and other four-year institutions in the state allow many Oregonians to achieve a dream, a bachelor’s degree, which would be impossible without our commitment to access.  Our model is unmatched by any other university in our system or in the region and is a standard for others to follow across the nation.

EOU’s commitment to affordability sets a new standard that our peers cannot match and is of regional and national importance.  In discussing Citizenship in a Republic at the Sorbonne in Paris, France, President Theodore Roosevelt stated on April 23, 1910:

…in my own home [country], in the long run, success or failure will be conditioned upon the way in which the average man, the average women, does his or her duty, first in the ordinary, every-day affairs of life, and next in those great occasional crises which call for heroic virtues. The average citizen must be a good citizen if our republics are to succeed. The stream will not permanently rise higher than the main source; and the main source of national power and national greatness is found in the average citizenship of the nation. Therefore it behooves us to do our best to see that the standard of the average citizen is kept high…

EOU is proud of our effort to take in the “average man or women” and provide them the tools to do exceptional work when those great occasional crises call for heroic virtues.  And, those calls for heroic virtues are occurring more frequently than ever before as we face a stream of new pathways shaped by a mixture of positive and negative pressures.  On the positive side, technological advances, breakthroughs in scientific discovery, and a global acceptance of cooperation for economic gain will allow for a flattening of the world to enormous benefits.  On the other side, however, ever changing economic crises, unpredictable world events, an unsustainable use of capital and natural resources constitute a force we must recognize and prepare for.  EOU is the university in the Oregon system and the region that is best prepared to ensure that these pillars of our citizenship, these average men and women, can afford higher education and lead us to new and straight paths.

The governor of our state understands the importance of the average man and woman in his ambitious “40-40-20” goal.  The first objective of this grand goal is to have 40% of all Oregonians have at least a Bachelor’s Degree—currently, 28% of all Oregonians, and only 16% of Oregonians who live in the rural counties, have a bachelors degree.  Our commitment to access and affordability positions EOU ideally to assist the State in meeting this goal.  I am always reminded that EOU is the single university in Oregon that serves a geographic region that is slightly larger than the state of the Pennsylvania and the only university that focuses our efforts on the rural goal.  In short, EOU is critical, if not imperative, to achieving the governor’s goal.

The third mainstay of our promise is our engagement with the community.  EOU has a rich and proud tradition of continually reaching beyond our walls and into the community to help serve as we are able to furnish special expertise, to address the needs and problems of our communities and society.  We are engaged regularly to assist K-12 schools in offering expertise on political and policy issues, and our faculty and staff are among the first to volunteer for local causes—from coaching little league to assisting in fundraising for the local hospital.  EOU is not only about educating, it is about making our communities better and stronger.

We, EOU and public higher education throughout our state, region and nation, are at a crossroads.  The decisions we make today have an enormous long-term impact.  And therefore, as stated by Homer above the entrance to Inlow Hall, we must be “Wise in Resolve and Patient to Perform.”  What are these pressures we are facing in higher education?  Just to name a few: declining funding from the state’s general funds; the questioning of the role and capacity of higher education to solve local, regional, and world issues; the accountability of our institutions; competition for students and resources; the multiple goals of providing a public good and a private good for our constituents; meeting market driven demands; preserving the core liberal arts as viable and important programs; and providing services to the community while preserving core resources.

To meet these challenges, as I stated in my Fall address, we must take control of our destiny and our direction.  We cannot sit by idly and wait for the Oregon University System to tell us our direction nor should we wait for the State of Oregon to wake up suddenly and miraculously fund higher education—and EOU specifically—with the resources it not only needs but deserves.

To do this, we must think anew about our work and efforts.  We must set our expectations higher than ever before and we must set in motion plans to achieve these goals.

Therefore, you may ask, in my role as president, what are my responsibilities in fulfilling this mission and meeting these challenges.  Dr. Joe Crowley, long time president of University of Nevada, Reno and presidential scholar wrote:

Those who hold this job, it has been suggested, should have courage, judgment, and fortitude.  They should be bold, compassionate, intelligent, inspirational, energetic, optimistic, prudent, patient, persistent, resilient, responsive, solid, self-confident, stylish, stoical, tactful, trusting, trustworthy, and tolerant.  They should have nerves like sewer pipes.  They should be good listeners with good manners and a good sense of humor and in a good family situation.  They should be willing to inflict pain, lose friends, and accept criticism.  They should be able to live in a glass house and raise grapes from thorns and figs from thistles.  They should be healthy and vigorous, have one blind eye and one deaf ear, plus white hair for that look of experience and hemorrhoids for that look of concern.  And they should be lucky.

Well, I will take the last first, as I am definitely lucky as I am here in the best position I could imagine.  I am sure that the rest will come over time.

As I look at the next five years, I feel it is important that I share with you my view of my responsibilities and to which I will hold myself accountable.  These are six in number:

    1. articulate the short and long term goals and priorities for the university;
    2. provide leadership and direction in developing the budget for the university in support of the short and long term goals and priorities;
    3. coordinate relations with the university’s external constituents, including the OUS System Board and Chancellor’s office, accreditation bodies, legislature, local and county governments, the larger community, alumni and donors;
    4. maintain close communication and consultation with the various internal constituencies of the university including the faculty senate, university council, administrative faculty council, faculty and staff representative unions, associated students of EOU, faculty, staff and students;
    5. establish a commitment to a strong provost system regarding internal operations of EOU; and,
    6. provide general guidance to the vice presidents to ensure accountability and the approval of all major personnel appoints and plans recommended by them.

The most important of these is the articulation of the long term priorities for the university.  This process is not the identification of my own ideas and goals; rather it is to state in a cohesive fashion the priorities of the university that will guide our efforts and work.  It is only through a great deal of communication, discussion and reflection with the members of the EOU community that one can begin to articulate such priorities.  In my Fall address, I outlined the short term goals for the year.  In thinking of the longer term priorities for EOU, we must build on our short term goals.  After much reflection, and discussions with many of you, I present to you some thoughts of our longer term priorities that I believe are of prime importance to the university.  They are:

    1. Strengthen the perception and reality that EOU is a national leader among universities with a regional mission in the two-fold mission of delivery of high quality education and engagement with the community.  This will be achieved by our commitment to our EOU promise of access, affordability and engagement with the community.  By living up to our promise, we will be viewed as a critical component of the Oregon University System.  This will require us to develop a financially viable plan that is self-sustaining as well as documenting the quality of our educational value.  We must commit our efforts to outcomes assessment and institutional research.  This is for all of our programs, academic and non-academic, so that we can make decisions based on data and fact, not conjecture or anecdotal information.  In doing so, we must always be transparent and inclusive in our decision making processes. Furthermore, we must be unrelenting in our efforts to communicate to legislators, members of the Board, and other decision makers on the impact EOU has on the region, state and beyond as well as our commitment to our high standards of academic quality and our engagement with the community.
    2. Continue to improve recruitment and retention efforts-this is crucial to our ability to have a viable and stable financial picture.  We must own Eastern Oregon as a recruiting base!  Then, we must expand our recruiting capabilities outside of the region as well to seek new viable markets that are being underserved.  We must be insistent and unabashed in our efforts at promoting EOU and position our university in niche markets.  We must refine our marketing strategies and expand our marketplace based on research and data.  We must be aggressive with our centers and sites in meeting our access mission.  We must formalize and expand our relationships with Oregon’s community colleges and establish new partnerships.  We must examine our offerings at these centers and sites and build upon our success and strengthen those that show potential.  Soon, we will be setting specific goals for our recruitment efforts not only for the next year, but for the next five, and we will establish the tactics to achieve these goals for all of our educational modalities.  This will be a university wide effort.
    3. Third, we must continually improve the student life at our university-both for our on and off campus students.  Learning occurs both inside and outside the classroom, and we need to make sure our co-curricular activities, on and off campus, meet the needs of our students and prepare them for a life after graduation.  Our faculty and staff must be engaged in these efforts as we are responsible for the environment for our students.
    4. Our fourth priority is to build on our partnerships and find new ways to serve our communities.  We must put our energies in assisting K-12 organizations, in the economic development of our communities, assist in work force development and many other community and civic minded opportunities.  We have outstanding collaborations with OIT and ODS for dental hygiene, Oregon State for Agriculture, OHSU for nursing, and Western and Southern Oregon Universities for selected programs, as well as with 16 community colleges.  We must build on these efforts, create new opportunities and expand the offerings to meet the needs of our current and potential students as well our communities.
    5. The fifth priority we will pursue is fortifying our ability to diversify our revenue streams.  As I stated in my initial address, we will always be reliant on state funding for base support; but that does not mean we need to be beholden as we need to take the steps now to become less dependent on the political whims of those in Salem over whom we too often have little control.  This means identifying new segments to serve and in different ways, returning to our entrepreneurial spirit to cultivate new programs that meet our mission and promise and provide financial sustainability.  Furthermore, we must aggressively seek private funds in a coordinated and deliberate fashion that will enhance our efforts and further our mission.

We have an enormous opportunity ahead of us as we build on the success of our history and expand our traditions.  I promise you that this will be hard work, but it will be worth it.  No doubt, there will be critics and there will be those who say we can not meet these challenges.  There are those who will say EOU should be absorbed, significantly altered or our autonomous nature be restricted to a set of pre-defined and narrow objectives.  As resources become scarcer, as legislators look to cut expenses, rather to invest in the future, we will hear the cries of pundits and self-proclaimed experts about what needs to be done in Eastern Oregon and at our university.  To those individuals, I say we are here and we are serving as no other institution is able to do.  I say to them that we are more important than what can merely be read in a newspaper article, on some static report, or heard through the Salem Hallway rumor mill.   They need to visit our campus, our centers, meet with our students, our faculty, our staff and those in the community.  Then, and only then, can they truly understand the importance of EOU.  Then, they will understand the impact EOU makes in our state and in our extended region, let alone to the thousands of international alumni and students and the lives they impact.  As we think of those critics, let us remember President Roosevelt who stated:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

We are that man in the arena and we are striving valiantly and with great devotion for an extremely worthy cause.  We are not only fighting for an institution named EOU, we are fighting for what it stands for—the opportunity for individuals to attend a cherished institution of higher learning that will enable them to achieve their dreams, to reach towards a greater good, to leave an inferior pathway for one with greater promises, to elevate someone’s horizon beyond what they could have envisioned previously, to open minds and souls to new opportunities and aspirations for a better place, a better society.  That is what we do and we do it extremely well.  Let us silence the critics not by our words or promises; but with our actions and outcomes.

It is my honor, it is my privilege, to join you in this arena and I will be with you, arm in arm, as we strive together in triumph.  If we fail, we will learn and try again.  And then we will succeed, because that is the spirit of EOU, always to be looking for a new way, a new method, a new venture to serve with refreshed enthusiasm.

Thank you for this opportunity to serve you as president of EOU.  I am humbled by your outpouring of support. There is no other place in the world than I would rather be than right here, right now.

Bob Davies
President, Eastern Oregon University

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