Convocation Address

President Ronald M. Berkman
October 5, 2010



Watch video of the ceremony.

University Honors and Awards

Distinguished Faculty Award for Service and
Recipient of the Dr. Jennie S. Hwang Award for Faculty Excellence

David W. Ball, Ph.D.
College of Sciences and Health Professions

Maggie Jackson, Ph.D.
College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences
School of Social Work

Distinguished Faculty Award for Teaching
Susan S. Bazyk, Ph.D.
College of Sciences and Health Professions

Susan J. Becker, J.D.
Cleveland-Marshall College of Law

Distinguished Faculty Award for Research
John A.C. Greppin, Ph.D.
College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences

Barsanjit Mazumder, Ph.D.
College of Sciences and Health Professions

Distinguished Service Award for Professional and Classified Staff
Donna Helfrich
Cleveland-Marshall College of Law

Joseph J. Mundell, Ph.D.
College of Sciences and Health Professions

While we are now surrounded by youth, bold modern architecture and highly advanced technology, it is difficult to remember that the university is one of the world's most ancient institutions.

The first university was founded at Bologna in the 11th century, those at Paris and Oxford in the 12th.

And although universities have changed, they have not changed beyond recognition. The students are no longer monks, as in the Middle Ages, nor is the curriculum made up of logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, astronomy and music, as in the 18th century.

But the modern university is still recognizably the direct descendant of the institution it was nearly a millennium ago. The durability of the university as an institution is a formidable success: something to bear in mind whenever yet another book or newspaper pronounces that the university is "in crisis."

Needless to say, no institution lasts nine centuries without adapting. Only one century ago, for example, John Henry Newman, the creator of the Catholic University in Ireland, proposed a definition for the ideal university. And although it is still often cited, his inspiring vision bears little resemblance to the universities of today. Newman believed in the need to separate the pursuit of truth from mankind's "necessary cares." His university would therefore be dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. A home for Plato's Philosopher Kings.

Today, I would like to explore a different definition for the modern university.

To consider the modern university is a place for doing worthwhile things.

This definition is neither subjective nor random, but grounded in a fast-growing, self-generated redefinition of a higher education. The definition is implicit in the ever-expanding emphasis that universities place on being hubs of economic development, e.g. work force development, innovation, commercialization, and quality of life.

The degree to which universities can actually produce the elements needed for economic development may eventually determine which universities merely survive, which universities truly thrive, and which universities go into a steep decline.

Few universities are better prepared to do worthwhile things than Cleveland State. And this preparation refers to the readiness of our faculty, our students and to our institutional history and role in greater Cleveland.

It is precisely this point I intend to make when a team of evaluators from the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Universities visit our campus next week to review our accreditation.

And while I won't claim that this brand – CSU as a place for doing worthwhile things – will alone propel us overnight to the top of that bible of all bibles, U.S. News and World Report, I do envision it helping us climb the ladder quickly.

This address marks my first to the faculty since my inauguration address of last year. I am proud of what we have accomplished since then: a K-12 Campus International School opened with waiting lists; a partnership has been established that will bring a branch of NEOUCOM to our campus; the University received its single-largest gift from an alumnus; our enrollment is strong and projecting upwards, with our students coming in with stronger-than-ever academic credentials. Retention has improved – there are attainable benchmarks for improving our graduation rate.

Yes, today I remain as bullish about CSU as I did when I stepped foot on this campus last year as a candidate for the presidency. In fact, I am more optimistic, as I believe that there are two prevailing forces in the country today that foretell great things for our University and our community.

One force is intellectual, the other is political, and both are destined to transform the university that Newman favored – the Ivory Tower – into the one I will briefly sketch today.

The intellectual force is the triumph of the natural sciences. Science has been burning so bright in the 20th century that it has become difficult to argue - as Newman did - that the university need merely to cultivate the intellect. Who today would want to do science without also inventing the silicon chip? Or cure cancer. The intellectual achievements of science have been so large, so clear to all, that it has taken its place as an equally important pillar with arts and humanities as a foundation of liberal education.

The second big force has been the rise of democracy, and the demand for mass education that is one of its corollaries. For most of their long history, universities were the preserve of the elite. Through the whole of the 17th century, fewer than 600 men attended Harvard. By the middle of the 1990s, the United States boasted nearly 4,000 accredited colleges and universities. There has been a dramatic swing in the demographics of higher education as well. Last Sunday's New York Times Magazine reported a titanic shift in the composition of university students.

It's well established that three women now receive bachelor's and master's degrees for every two men, but in 2009, for the first time, they earned more doctorates as well. Meanwhile, three-quarters of the jobs lost in the current recession were held by men (who were more likely to be in hard-hit industries like construction.) Women have not only become (again for the first time) the majority of the work force, but they also hold the lioness' share of managerial jobs and are the primary breadwinners in more than a quarter of dual-income families. According to a recent, ominously titled Atlantic article, "The End of Men," 75 percent of couples using an experimental sex-selection technology before conception preferred to have girls.

This huge growth is both universal and self-reinforcing. As an increasing proportion of Americans go on to post-secondary school education, so possession of some qualification becomes the indispensable passport to a decent job. And as soon as attending college or university becomes the norm, people who want to distinguish themselves for, say, employers, must ensure that their own degree is awarded by a university with national standing (U.S. News and World Report) or a program that has distinguishing features.

These two forces - the triumph of science and the demand for mass higher education - account for much of the university's success and durability in the 20th century. These two forces have brought about a vast expansion in the number of universities, created hundreds of thousands of academic jobs, and funneled large amounts of public money into the higher-education system.

And yet this success has for some been a mixed blessing. The success of 20th century science has persuaded governments to become the prime sponsor of such research and therefore, indirectly, of the university itself. With the growth of public money has come the demand for more accountability, lessening the autonomy that some would see as a university's defining characteristic.

Moreover, democratic growth in university life has been perceived by some as impacting quality. This does not have to be true. A lot of the people who went to university in the age of elite higher education got there because of advantages of social class, not intelligence. And quality can be protected in a number of different ways.

So if for much of the 20th century science and democracy have been the main forces shaping the university, what force might be shaping us now, and how should we respond to it, to ensure that CSU can anticipate it and take advantage of it?

The new set of ideas that is beginning to win the attention of both academics and politicians – and will have a large impact on both the structure and the spirit of the university – can be grouped under the now familiar heading knowledge economy.

The individuals who see the university in this light portray it not just as a creator of knowledge, an educator of minds and a conveyor of culture, but also as a major agent of economic growth. In such an economy, the university has come to look like an asset. It is not only the nation's R&D laboratory, but also the mechanism through which a country augments its "human capital," the better to compete in the global economy.

And while this notion of the "knowledge society" is, as I said, hardly new (Daniel Bell and Peter Drucker coined the term decades ago), what is new is the way the debate is currently framed.

The notion of a world that is flat, together with declining demand for manual labor, the international competition among countries as well as national competition among states, has given INVESTMENT IN KNOWLEDGE a political significance it lacked before. Policymakers the world over have noticed and envied the contribution of Stanford University to the creation of Silicon Valley or Duke/UNC's contribution to the creation of the "research triangle."

Now, every state in the country, and many countries in the world expect their own universities to create their own versions of the research triangle. This becomes part of the metrics used to determine our worth.

And while this sort of thinking among politicians moves the university ever further from its origin as a "sanctuary," the line of argument naturally enchants many of us who work in universities, because our success in helping bolster the knowledge economy helps our case for more public funds.

The question is: Can the university accommodate all these different demands, and still remain true to itself?

It can, so long we have a sound sense of identity: who we are, what our value is, and where we want to go. The university that has this value awareness will thrive.

I am here to tell you today that Cleveland State is poised to thrive, not only because of the triumph of science and our proximity to the world's best science health care facilities; not only because of the democratization of education and the still growing number of Greater Cleveland students who are enrolling at CSU. There is another reason I feel we are poised to thrive.

Consider what William Deresiewicz, a product of Yale, writing recently in the American Scholar, described as "one of the great errors of an elite education." Deresiewicz describes the error as the notion that an elite education is more valuable than education received at any institution not in the first tier of American universities.

He admits that it took him a while to come to his senses, but he soon learned that graduates of elite schools are not more valuable. Their pain does not hurt more. Their souls do not weigh more. God does not love them more.

In his article, Deresiewicz – the Yalie– goes on to use Cleveland State University to drive home his point. He says that the privilege that comes with an Ivy League institution may be counter-productive to the kind of KNOWLEDGE ECONOMY the US needs going forward, to stay competitive, and that the CSU student is actually better prepared to drive the new economy I just described.

He says: QUOTE "I didn't understand this until I began comparing my experience, and even more, my students' experience, with the experience of a friend of mine who went to Cleveland State. There are due dates and attendance requirements at places like Yale, but no one (at Yale) takes them very seriously," Deresiewicz says. Extensions are available for the asking – they come with privilege.

In other words, students at places like Yale get an endless string of second chances. Not so at places like Cleveland State. He explains how a student at CSU – a friend of his – once got a D in a class in which she'd been earning an A because she was coming off a waitressing shift and had to hand in her term paper an hour late.

That may be an extreme example, he says, but that it could occur at an elite school is unthinkable. Just as unthinkably, the CSU waitress had no one to appeal to. Students at Cleveland State, unlike those at Yale, don't have a platoon of advisers and tutors and deans to write out excuses for late work, give them extra help when they need it, pick them up when they fall down.

Students at CSU get their education wholesale: it's not handed to them in individually wrapped packages by smiling clerks. There are few opportunities for the kind of contacts Deresiewicz saw his students get routinely—classes with visiting power brokers, dinners with foreign dignitaries.

Students at elite universities also benefit from a variety of special funds available for student travel, research and performance grants and awards. Each year, he says, his department at Yale awards dozens of cash prizes for everything from freshman essays to senior projects. This year, those awards came to more than $90,000—in just one department. We need to aggressively pursue philanthropy and other revenue-enhancing activities so that we can provide these opportunities to our students.

What's more, Deresiewicz notes, students at Cleveland State also don't get an A minus just showing up. There's been a lot of handwringing lately over grade inflation, he says, but the most scandalous thing about it is how uneven it's been. At a school like Yale, students who come to class and work hard expect nothing less than an A minus. And most of the time, they get it. At CSU, our waitress got a D. It would have never happened at Yale.

And I am here to tell you that is the good news – for CSU. And it's why CSU, in the knowledge economy, and not the Ivory Tower culture, is better positioned than places like Yale to make a bigger contribution to the new economy. It is why I believe that CSU has the wind with its sails. It is why I am so bullish on Cleveland State.

This month, the bible of international business publications, the Wall Street Journal, confirmed my bullishness when it reported that U.S. companies largely favor graduates of big state universities over Ivy League and other elite liberal-arts schools when hiring to fill entry-level jobs.

The Wall Street Journal survey revealed recruiters are shifting their attention away from elite private schools to focus instead on state universities.

Of the top 25 schools as rated by these employers, 19 were public, one was Ivy League (Cornell University) and the remaining few were private.

Why? Recruiters are looking for what the new economy needs – people with practical skills to serve as operations managers, product developers, business analysts and engineers. In other words, people who do worthwhile things. For those employees—the bulk of their work force—they turn to state institutions.

Henry Meyer, president of Key Bank, told me the same thing when I first met him. He said that his best hires are not coming from the elite privates but the big publics, particularly CSU, for that very same reason. And he's found that the CSU student, unlike the student from the elite university, is more likely to arrive ready to work - ready to do worthwhile things.

Toby Cosgrove, James Hambrick of Lubrizol and Don Washkewicz of Parker Hannifin lauded these same qualities in our graduates. They all attested to what Henry Meyer said: CSU students come ready to do worthwhile things.

That is, I contend, the hallmark of the CSU student: ready to do worthwhile things. And while we will never turn our back on that component of higher education that provides a firm grounding in the liberal arts, our measurement of success, I predict, will become for Greater Cleveland the same measurement that Cambridge, Palo Alto, and Chapel Hill used when judging the contributions that MIT, Stanford, UNC and Duke began to make when they began doing worthwhile things – when they became producers for the new economy and as a result received the funding they needed to do even more great things, for all parts of their universities. After all, as science confirms, a rising tide lifts all boats.

That's our plan, too.

Our charge at CSU must be to do worthwhile things for Cleveland's health, arts, education, and business communities – but convey strongly to those communities that without their support, without helping us provide the financial backing our students need to attend college and remain in college, our efforts will be a continued struggle – a struggle no one in Greater Cleveland can afford to endure in the face of the highly competitive knowledge economy.

Thank you and I wish you all a very productive year.