Thursday, October 20, 2022

A Happy Anniversary

A Happy Anniversary


Five years ago today, I enjoyed the remarkable privilege to be inaugurated as Susquehanna’s fifteenth president. As part of that ceremony, I delivered the address below to assembled trustees, faculty, staff, students, and friends of the university along with numerous delegates representing sister institutions. It was an outline of the foundations of our enterprise and my goals for the university.


Dramatic complications have been interjected into those plans, but, as an academic community, we have continued to pursue the objectives presented that day. I am so proud of the concerted effort of so many to advance these objectives. Some highlights include:


·      Community

o   We have continued to engage our broader community by hosting numerous meetings of regional employers to collectively improve inclusion efforts in the valley.

o   We will soon move into our Downtown Center on Market Street to shorten our metaphorical driveway and build on our relationship with Selinsgrove.

o   We have strengthened our ties to the Greater Susquehanna Valley Chamber of Commerce and amplified our government relations efforts.

·      Citizen Leadership

o   Over the past three elections, we have dramatically increased voter participation among our students earning us the most improved campus in Pennsylvania award from the All In Democracy Challenge.

o   We were among the initial institutions to join the Liberal Arts College Racial Equity Leadership Alliance.

·      Global Citizenship

o   We have continued to build on our Global Opportunities, or GO Program, through which all SU students study abroad. During the pandemic, we created virtual opportunities for meaningful intercultural engagement.

o   Our Sigmund Weis School of Business became the first business school in the world to guarantee an international internship.

·      Access

o   We have continued to expand our support of all students with a focus on increasing persistence and graduation rates.

o   We are recipients of a TRiO grant that provides additional resources to support the success of at-risk students.

o   We joined the American Talent Initiative, a collective of the best colleges and universities in the nation that are collaborating to increase the number of students from lower- and middle-income families who enroll and graduate from our institutions. Susquehanna was one of the institutions lifted up by the ATI in their annual report for leading the organization in meeting our goals.


These lofty goals remain our collective loadstones as we continue to advance the university’s noble mission.


The New American Scholar

20 October 2017


On September first 1858, at the laying of the cornerstone of the Missionary Institute, now Selinsgrove Hall, Joseph Casey, Esq. provided remarks that included this quote:


“Education, in its legitimate sense, includes not only the cultivation of the mental powers, but the proper training and development of the moral sentiments and faculties, and its true object is to ‘make us not only wiser but better…’”[1]


Over the past few months, many of you have heard me refer to the four pillars of our work together: Engagement, Citizen Leadership, Global Citizenship, and Access. Truly these are four perspectives on the same fundamental objective of Susquehanna University: helping students to be not only wiser, but better.


Susquehanna has always been an integral part of this community. Leaders of 19th-century Selinsgrove provided land and financial resources to create the Missionary Institute. It was local leaders who insisted that the Susquehanna Female College and the Classical Department be founded along with the Missionary Institute to provide a transformative education for their children who were not called to the ministry, and it is those two branches that persist as the University we know today.


We will strengthen our rich symbiotic relationships with Selinsgrove, Snyder County, and the Greater Susquehanna Valley through an expansion of our Service Leaders Program and a broader array of internships and externships in service to local businesses and non-profits. We will work with commercial and community partners to organize a diversity summit to unite our leading institutions in efforts to improve diversity and inclusion throughout the region. We will build upon our success in developing strategies to improve the environmental health of the river, its tributaries, and our region. We will also expand our capacity to be a resource for action research to the broader community by applying student and faculty expertise to real challenges brought to us by the community.


We will be not only wiser, but better.


This is what we are called to do.


Citizen Leadership has always been at the core of liberal education (meaning a broad-based education rooted in free inquiry and critical reflection), but rarely in our nation’s history has anti-intellectualism been so prominent, and never in our history has the critical relationship between liberal education and the preservation of an enlightened democratic republic been so poorly understood.


Twenty-one years before the laying of the cornerstone of the Missionary Institute, Ralph Waldo Emerson gave his now famous address, “The American Scholar,” to the Phi Beta Kappa society in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was a remarkably forward-looking essay that did much to transform higher education and higher thought in our nation, and ultimately, the world. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. referred to it as America’s “Intellectual Declaration of Independence.”[2]


In his speech, Emerson outlined three tenets of a scholar’s work, and for these purposes, all who teach and study here and at our sister institutions are the scholars to whom Emerson spoke. In summary, these tenets are:


First: The scholar is our most attuned observer and interpreter of the natural, physical world.


Second: The scholar interprets the past and the works of the past to help inform our understanding of the present world.


Third: Now this is where Emerson was seen as revolutionary. The scholar must be a person of action. The scholar must proclaim his observations. He must report his analyses so that they may be applied to the pursuit of a greater good. [3]


As  Shirley Chisholm said, “You don't make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.” 


Emerson further defined the duties of the scholar as:


The office of the scholar is to cheer, to raise, and to guide men by showing them facts amidst appearances… He is to find consolation in exercising the highest functions of human nature. He is one, who raises himself from private considerations, and breathes and lives on public and illustrious thoughts. He is the world's eye. He is the world's heart. He is to resist the vulgar prosperity that retrogrades ever to barbarism, by preserving and communicating heroic sentiments, noble biographies, melodious verse, and the conclusions of history. Whatsoever oracles the human heart, in all emergencies, in all solemn hours, has uttered as its commentary on the world of actions, — these he shall receive and impart. And whatsoever new verdict Reason from her inviolable seat pronounces on the passing men and events of to-day, — this he shall hear and promulgate.[4]


As ground breaking as Emerson’s words may have been to his audience, liberal education has always had its roots in application. The ancient Greeks organized the framework of studies they believed were necessary to prepare free men to be informed and effective citizens. The Latin, artes liberales, referred to the intellectual pursuits for free citizens.


In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle discusses the differences and interrelatedness of applied skills or techne (τέχνη), practical wisdom - phronesis (φρόνησις), and theoretical wisdom - sophia (Σοφíα). We could think about these as skills, problem solving, and an understanding of universal truths. What is true, what is good, and why?


This kind of thinking is our contemporary world’s greatest want, and it is what liberal education makes possible. The Stoics, in a prescient nod to the enlightenment, declared that this intellectual endeavor is what truly made one free.


Professor Coleen Zoller recently reminded me that Plato’s Academy was so named because he chose the location for his lectures to be within a beautiful grove of olive trees named for the hero of Greek mythology, Hekademos (κάδημος). Our beautiful arboretum campus is an intentional nod to that heritage.


The rise of the cathedral and monastic schools in medieval Europe led to the integration of liberal and professional education to prepare students to lead the church. In addition to the Trivium and Quadrivium, these schools provided training in canon law, disputation, and accounting. The Faith had rules, priests preached, and churches had treasuries.


It was at this time that the guild model came to be applied to university life. The Magistorum, or masters, professed and the Scholarium, or scholars, were their students. We acknowledge this part of academic history every time we don these robes for formal events.


The scientific revolution set the stage for the enlightenment and provided some of the best role models for Emerson’s scholar. These scientists observed the natural world and imparted the truth of their science. Copernicus determined that the sun was in the center of our solar system through mathematics. This was then confirmed through direct observation by Galileo, who when asked to recant his finding in the face of 17th-century “alternative facts,” apocryphally declared, “E pur si muove — And yet it moves.”


This same rigor came to be applied to the humanities leading to the Age of Enlightenment, an era that was guided by the motto, “Dare to Know,” and led to the advancement of personal liberty, tolerance, the separation of church and state, and constitutional governments.


The spirit of the enlightenment found fertile soil in the American colonies. The founding fathers were keenly aware of the relationship between liberty and knowledge. In 1765, John Adams wrote A Dissertation on Canon and Feudal Law in which he stated:

 The poor people, it is true, have been much less successful than the great. They have seldom found either leisure or opportunity to form a union and exert their strength; ignorant as they were of arts and letters, they have seldom been able to frame and support a regular opposition. This, however, has been known by the great to be the temper of mankind; and they have accordingly labored, in all ages, to wrest from the populace, as they are contemptuously called, the knowledge of their rights and wrongs, and the power to assert the former or redress the latter. I say RIGHTS, for such they have, undoubtedly, antecedent to all earthly government, — Rights, that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws -- Rights, derived from the great Legislator of the universe.[5]


Our nation’s founders were rapacious consumers of information and systematic in their application of that knowledge in their world’s laboratory. They knew that their inspired experiment to create a democratic republic would require broadly educated citizen leaders to foster and develop this revolutionary form of modern government.


George Washington’s belief in the critical role education would play in our national development continued throughout his career of public service. The draft of his first inaugural address embraces the foundation of liberal education:


Whenever the opportunity shall be furnished to you as public or as private men, I trust you will not fail to use your best endeavors to improve the education and manners of a people; to accelerate the progress of arts & sciences; to patronize works of genius; to confer rewards for invention of utility; and to cherish institutions favourable to humanity.[6]


In his final annual address to Congress, Washington outlined his dreams for a new nation, calling for the formation of a national university and a national military college:


The assembly to which I address myself is too enlightened not to be fully sensible how much a flourishing state of the arts and sciences contributes to national prosperity and reputation.


… and a primary object of such a national institution should be the education of our youth in the science of government. In a republic what species of knowledge can be equally important and what duty more pressing on its legislature than to patronize a plan for communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country?[7]


Washington was not alone in his patronage of the intellectual future of the republic. The five authors of the Declaration of Independence were public intellectuals of the highest order. Robert Livingston was a distinguished man of letters who amassed a personal library of over 4000 volumes. John Adams was a founder of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Roger Sherman was a member of the Yale University faculty and served as the University’s treasurer. Benjamin Franklin provided the leadership to create the College of Philadelphia, which became the University of Pennsylvania, and of all his accomplishments, Thomas Jefferson took his greatest pride in having established the University of Virginia.



Ours is a nation conceived in intellectual idealism. The visionary leaders who conceived this republic were deep thinkers who embodied the best citizenship that is at the heart of liberal learning. They were avid scientists, political theorists, natural historians, and moral philosophers. Theirs was, however, an idealism deeply rooted in practical wisdom.

Among the many articles in the first volume of the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society (whose early members included Franklin, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, Thomas Paine, and Benjamin Rush) were the Society’s observations of the Transit of Venus in 1769, an essay on grape cultivation and wine making, and designs for an automated bilge pump. The preface of that initial volume stated:



Knowledge is of little use, when confined to mere speculation… the members propose to confine their disquisitions, principally, to such subjects as tend to the improvement of their country, and advancement of its interest and prosperity.[8]



The American Academy of Arts and Sciences was established in 1780. Its founders were John Adams, John Hancock, and James Bowdoin. Among the members inducted the following year were Washington and Franklin. Its creation is another notable example of the founders’ belief in the relationship between liberal learning and citizen leadership. As their Charter states, the purpose of the Academy is:



… to cultivate every art and science which may tend to advance the interest, honor, dignity, and happiness of a free, independent, and virtuous people.[9]


The same spirit of scientific thinking and its companion flourishing of the enlightenment that fueled these societies, provided the spark that created our new republic, and to provide a citizenry equipped to lead this nation, the founders cultivated institutions of higher education rooted in the liberal arts.


As noted before, Franklin founded Penn and Jefferson founded the University of Virginia. Washington provided support for the creation of Washington College in Maryland, and he provided a transformative gift to the Augusta Academy, which is now known as Washington and Lee University. Patrick Henry and James Madison were critical to the founding of Hampden-Sydney College, and Madison succeeded Jefferson as Rector of UVA. Hamilton College was named for Alexander Hamilton, one of its first trustees, and Benjamin Rush founded Dickinson. 


These institutions and those founded upon their model, prepared the next generations of leaders. Our liberal arts colleges have continued to produce a disproportionately high percentage of leaders in science, letters, business, and government. We develop informed citizen leaders in no small part to safeguard democracy from thuggery and mob rule.


And so, here we are 241 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence and 180 years after Emerson’s address in a nation so starved for citizen leadership that we find ourselves perilously divided not over competing social philosophies of left and right, but quite literally over issues of right and wrong.


We have entered into an anti-intellectual climate in which a significant portion of our populous is willing to reject scientific facts in favor of convenience and self-interest. An inconvenient truth is no less true. 


Likewise, spewing hate speech is not an exercise of civil liberties; it is a mockery of them, and denying social justice for any of us, diminishes justice for all.


We must do better. The domains in which we will apply citizen leadership are sustainability, social justice, and diversity. I frequently tell students that we are here to learn how to have difficult conversations. Like Emerson’s scholar who “raises himself from private considerations, and breathes and lives on public and illustrious thoughts,” we must rise above the noise that distracts our public discourse from the fundamental aims of responsible action, compassion, and human decency. We must be the world’s eye, we must be the world’s heart, and we must be the world’s voice.

We must not despair, as Abigail Adams wrote, “These are times in which a genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or in the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed…Great necessities call out great virtues.”[10]


This was our calling in 1858, and it remains our calling today. We must not only be wiser, we must be better.


This is what we are called to do. 


At Susquehanna University, we welcome the stranger. Our friends in Hillel recently reminded us that this is the most frequent command in the Torah. This is how we learn what we have in common and how we can learn to celebrate our differences. This is what it means to be a Global Citizen.


The term cosmopolitan is attributed to Diogenes of Sinope, the great Cynic philosopher who is said to have lived in a large clay pot. When asked from where he came, Diogenes said, “I am a citizen of the world.”


Our friends the Stoics who declared that it was a liberal education that made one free, developed Diogenes’s dictum into the concept that each of us is from two communities: the place where we are born and the human community writ large.


Over 2,000 years later, in Perpetual Peace, Immanuel Kant wrote:

The peoples of the earth have now gone a great distance in forming themselves into smaller or larger communities; this has gone so far that a violation of rights in one place is now felt throughout the world. So the idea of a law of world citizenship is not a legal flight of fancy; rather, it is necessary to complete an unwritten code of civil and international law as well as mankind’s written laws; and so it is needed for perpetual peace. Until we can establish a law of world citizenship, we must not congratulate ourselves on how close we are coming to that.


Susquehanna’s Global Opportunities, or GO, Program requires that all our students have a study-away experience that engages them in different cultures. Our academic preparation before the GO trip and the interpretive unpacking that happens on campus after our students return strives to give them the skills to appreciate and respect cultural difference. We must prepare our students to be effective advocates for their neighbors near and far.


This is what it means to be a global citizen.


This is what we are called to do.


There are many things about this institution that inspire me, but our history of providing access to a transformative, world-class education to meritorious students from across the socio-economic spectrum remains one of the most moving.


As Marie Curie said, “You cannot hope to build a better world without improving the individuals. To that end, each of us must work for his own improvement and, at the same time, share a general responsibility for all humanity.”[11]


In 2014, the New York Times published a ranking of the most economically diverse colleges and universities in the United States. Susquehanna University was proud to be ranked 9th in the country


Susquehanna achieved this position with the lowest endowment per student of the top-50 institutions. The average endowment per student of those top-50 institutions was over 9.4 times that of Susquehanna, and the institution with the next lowest endowment-per-student ratio was still 60% higher than Susquehanna’s.


At Susquehanna, 31% of the students in this year’s incoming class are PELL-eligible, meaning that socio-economically, they come from the lowest 20%. This means that Susquehanna is making it possible for a 70% larger-than-average share of America’s most financially disadvantaged students to transform their lives with a high-quality university education. In contrast with our 31%, the Ivy League only enrolls an average of 18% PELL-eligible students.


From these humble beginnings and with our modest means, our students outperform the highest-ranked institutions in the nation. This spring, Zippia published a list of the colleges and universities in the United States with the highest employment rates of its graduates. Susquehanna was ranked No. 1 in Pennsylvania and No. 9 in the nation.


Since its founding, this university has done more with less. This has been the result of institutional grit and self-sacrifice coupled with the scrappiness of our students and alumni who will not let go of their goals.


The landscape of higher education continues to elevate the challenges in our path: when adjusted for inflation, the families sending students to Susquehanna have less capacity to pay than they did in 2000, and the resources required to sustain our academic competitiveness and reputation have continued to outpace those means. The world needs Susquehanna graduates now more than ever. This is why we must secure the funds to make a Susquehanna education available to all deserving students in perpetuity.


This is what we are called to do.  


This is what we must do for the New American Scholar.


Like Emerson’s Scholar, The New American Scholar is an observer of nature, an interpreter of the past, and a person of action, but the New American Scholar represents the spectrum of human diversity. The New American Scholar is more likely to be a woman than a man. The New American Scholar is truly a citizen of the world: as young people come to our colleges and universities from around the globe to become, and to help all our students to become, cosmopolitan citizen leaders. This is Susquehanna. We are the New American Scholar.


Let us celebrate our motto through action: Achievement. Leadership. Service.


We will celebrate access through academic achievement,

We will celebrate engagement through service to the community, and

We will celebrate our citizenship in the world through leadership.


Susquehanna University educates students for productive, creative and reflective lives of achievement, leadership, and service in a diverse, dynamic, and interdependent world to “make us not only wiser but better.”


This is what we are called to do.    Thank you!

[1] Joseph Casey, Esq.: “Remarks delivered at the laying of the corner-stone of the Missionary Institute at Selin’s Grove, PA, September 1, 1858.”

[2] Susan Cheever: American Bloomsbury: Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau; Their Lives, Their Loves, Their Work, 80. Detroit: Thorndike Press, 2006.

[3] Ralph Waldo Emerson: The American Scholar. 1837.

[4] Ibid.

[5] From John Adams: A Dissertation on Canon and Feudal Law, 1765.

[6] G. Washington: Draft of the First Inaugural Address, c. January 1789

[7] __________: Eighth Annual Address, 7 December 1796

[8] “Preface,” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, volume 1.

[9] Charter of the Incorporation of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 4 May 1780.

[10] Abigail Adams, Letter to JQA, 19 January 1780.

[11] Pierre Curie (1923), as translated by Charlotte Kellogg and Vernon Lyman Kellogg, p. 168

Friday, October 7, 2022

Achieve, Lead, Vote


Yesterday, on my way into the Campus Center for lunch, a group of students sitting at a table called out to ask if I was registered to vote. I replied that I had already mailed in my ballot and received confirmation that it had arrived. The student group was not advocating for a candidate or a party, just participation in democracy. They gave me an “I voted” pin and asked me to wear it to encourage students to do the same.


Last weekend, as part of Family Weekend, Nick Clark, Professor of Political Science, presented a session entitled, “Understanding Why People Vote and What is Going to Happen in the 2022 and 2024 Elections.” Nick shared a range scholarship on reasons why people do or don’t vote, issues that affect participation in and outcomes of American elections, and historical election results across midterm and presidential elections during the past six decades.


There were many families in attendance. They were deeply engaged in the presentation, and as it ended, a number of them praised Nick for his clarity and his non-partisan approach. They were clearly relieved and surprised that he did not share his leanings or favor any side. He responded to the latter by indicating that this is the tradition of his discipline in the classroom.


I was momentarily surprised by their surprise, but then remembered how much the press and many politicians accuse the academy of indoctrination. There are correlations between educational attainment and voting patterns, but that has been true for at least a century, and it has shifted from one side to another. Our faculty and their colleagues around the country strive to give their students the tools to be informed citizens, and they encourage them to participate in democracy, but that’s where it generally stops.


Susquehanna University has been engaged in a concerted effort to increase student participation and engagement in elections. The table at the Campus Center is an example of those efforts. A co-curricular effort called “Achieve, Lead, Vote” was another. It was especially focused on promoting student voter participation in the 2020 election.


Recently, I received the NSLVE (National Survey of Learning, Voting, and Engagement) report from IDHE (Institute for Democracy and Higher Education), which is run out of Tufts University. This report collects voter participation data for institutions of higher education around the country and analyzes those data across time. They also disaggregate the data to help institutions strategize ways to continuously improve voter participation among their students, and by extrapolation, their alumni.


These efforts have helped increase voter registration and voting rates by students across higher education. In 2014, the national undergraduate voting rate was 18%, in 2018 it was 39%, and in 2020 it was 68%.


Historically, Susquehanna had trailed the national participation rate with only a 7% voting rate in 2014. This climbed to 28% in 2018, a significant improvement, but still well behind national numbers.


That changed in the 2020 election. We went from trailing to leading. 75% of SU students voted in the 2020 election. It is one of the most dramatic improvements in the nation. I am grateful for the work of my colleagues from the faculty and staff who have helped students meaningfully engage in the democratic process, and I am proud of our students for exercising one of the greatest privileges of citizenship.


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