Inauguration Speech

October 16, 2009

Thank you, Chairman Weinberg. I am grateful to you for that warm introduction and for your unwavering enthusiasm and support for Cleveland State University.

This entire Board of Trustees exemplifies a commitment to this community and the University that is extraordinary. It was the Board’s sense of purpose, the time, energy and focus that I saw during the search process that convinced me that this was a special group of leaders, committed to the ideals of public higher education and the mission of the University.

The Board’s abiding belief that CSU is an important instrument of transformation for our city, county, and region made it clear that the Board understood the nature of an urban university and was anxious to advance the partnerships and connectivity vital to an urban university’s success.

I pledge that I will do all that I can to take the University down this path and redeem the faith the Board has placed in me.

The leadership of the Board is complemented by the leadership at the local and state level, particularly that of Mayor Frank Jackson and Chancellor Fingerhut. The Chancellor is passionate in his belief that the future of the state depends on the ability to produce a diverse and diversified core of graduates who will be the architects and engineers of a new state economy – one that will be anchored in new knowledge and knowledge service industries.

State leadership is aligned with this vision. In the most difficult of times, our state leadership fought – and largely succeeded – in protecting the state’s investment in public higher education.

I thank all my family, friends and colleagues who have traveled to share this day with us. All have contributed in different ways to providing me the opportunity I have today.

Most of all, I am grateful to my wife and secret weapon, who becomes less of a secret by the day, for supporting me and joining me on this incredible journey. Please join me in welcoming and thanking my wife and partner, Patsy Bilbo Berkman, who shares my commitment to this institution. Our children and other members of our family are also with us today and I would like to ask them to stand and be recognized.

It is an honor to stand before you today as President of Cleveland State University. Dr. Schwartz had a long-planned trip to the Mediterranean and could not be here, but I want to commend his leadership over the last 8 years. I also want to recognize former Presidents Dr. John Flower and Dr. Claire Van Ummersen for helping to construct the University platform we build upon today. Please join me in a round of applause for our Emeriti Presidents.

Since I accepted this position and moved here from South Florida, I’ve been telling everyone that there is no place I would rather be than right here at CSU.

And yes, I think I know all about lake effect snow.

CSU – and Cleveland – already feel like home to me. In many respects my entire life has been spent in preparation for this opportunity. So allow me to tell you a little bit about the trail that led me here.

Virtually all of my life has been spent in cities. I know cities and appreciate them – I draw strength from their energy and resilience, and respect the hard work and determination of their residents.

Secondly, I believe passionately in public higher education. I am a product of the New Jersey state college system, earning a B.A. in political science at William Paterson College. Like so many contemporary students, I worked at a variety of jobs throughout my college career.

I became a college student somewhat reluctantly, waiting three years after graduation from high school before enrolling at Paterson. Until that time, I simply wasn’t interested in going back to school. But once I began, I grew to love the freedom of thought, inquiry and creativity that college provided.

When it came time for graduate school, I applied to several, including Princeton. I was admitted to the Ph.D. program in Political Science with full support, which for the first time in my life allowed me to devote my full attention to study.

After earning a Ph.D. and then teaching for three years at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School, I wanted to teach at a public university, preferably one in an urban environment. So I accepted a professorship at Brooklyn College, part of the City University of New York system, and spent the next 15 years there.

I found that I really loved teaching, and was good at it. Good teachers, of course, are fundamental to education at any level. Nothing is more important. Good teachers are better listeners than talkers -- dialogue is a more valuable teaching tool than monologue.

A teacher’s true mission is to make each student feel he or she has something to contribute and to provide them a path to grow through participation, to create a safe environment for students to make mistakes.

I would have been happy to spend the rest of my career as a professor, but somehow I stumbled into administration, joining the CUNY Administration as University Dean for Urban Affairs, a natural fit given my interest in urban studies.

This brought me face-to-face with the myriad and complex set of issues that confront urban universities and American cities.

Later, I was named founding Dean of the School of Public Affairs at Baruch College in Manhattan. My career eventually led me to a different urban center Miami, where at Florida International University, where I had the privilege of serving as executive dean of the College of Health and Urban Affairs and Provost.

I don’t love cities despite their problems – I love cities because of their problems. In overcoming obstacles that seem insurmountable, they display a nobility and courage in the face of adversity that I find inspiring. Do your worst -- you can knock a great city to its knees, but it always staggers back to its feet, ready to go another round.

In 1975, New York City was in essence put into receivership, and one year later, Cleveland was the first city in America since the Great Depression to go into temporary bankruptcy. Yet both have persevered, overcame, and moved forward.

Call it toughness, or swagger, but that refusal to quit fighting no matter the odds is a quality all great cities share. It’s a quality I sense in Cleveland.

And right in the heart of Cleveland, at the center of its urban core, lies Cleveland State University, the great public institution I am now privileged to lead at what I believe is a pivotal moment for both the school and the city.

I have arrived at an incredibly exciting time. Enrollment rose by 4 percent this year, reaching its highest level in 15 years. More than $300 million in new construction and renovation is underway or planned, including a new student center, College of Education and Human Services Building, and a $65 million project that eventually will add five dorms plus a 300-car parking garage to the campus.

We have seen tremendous growth in all our health science programs and the College of Business. I am proud of the incredible strides made by Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, with 95 percent passing the February 2008 state bar exam on their first try.

Cleveland State is in and of this city, and the connections and bonds between the two must be strengthened. We must build bridges between the University and the city that will provide environments for students to apply and expand what they are learning in classrooms and laboratories.

Our campus’s urban environment is an asset of which we must take full advantage. Students choose CSU because of its downtown location and the opportunity to engage with the business, arts, philanthropic and nonprofit communities. These pathways will lead them to careers in Cleveland and help them stay in Cleveland.

I have found that businesses and organizations here are anxious to bring CSU students into their fold. They have discovered that they can find a nationally competitive talent pool at CSU. And they get dividends with CSU students -- a great work ethic and a commitment to our city. Most of our graduates want to stay here. Our ability to provide a skilled, trained and committed workforce, grounded by a strong foundation in liberal arts and sciences, is a tremendous asset.

An example of the transformative power of higher education can be found in a recent report by the Northeast Ohio Council on Higher Education, which estimated that an increase of just one percent in Northeast Ohio’s bachelor’s degree attainment level would result in another $2.8 billion in annual personal income for the region.

Jobs in the new economy will require education and training, and those jobs won’t come at all if there isn’t a skilled workforce ready to fill them. The average salary for an American with a high school diploma is $28,000, compared with $51,000 for a person with a four-year college degree. And this disparity has been steadily growing – over the last 30 years, the average income of those with a high school diploma or less has fallen in real terms, while the average income of college graduates has risen 19 percent.

It is estimated that two thirds of all new jobs will require some higher education, and at the current rate we are producing college graduates, by 2025 there will be a shortage of 23 million college-educated adults in the American workforce.

Nor are the benefits of a college education merely financial. Those with college degrees are more likely to vote and take an active part in their community, their children will do better in school, and they will even live longer. Today, there is only one reliable route to the middle class, to what we call the American Dream, and that is through education.

Providing the educational opportunities Clevelanders and the residents of North East Ohio need to succeed is our special mission. And that means not only getting them into school, but keeping them here.

For some, an opportunity is all they ask. The campus is home to many courageous and determined students refusing to let any obstacles come between them and their educational dreams.

Students like Jennifer Hakko of Lakewood, a mother of two who worked her way through school to earn a bachelor’s degree last year in Speech and Hearing, graduating Summa Cum Laude, all the while caring for her ill parents. She is back at CSU this year, working on a master’s in Speech-Language-Hearing Pathology.

And Colin Cross, a business major, one of 279 military veterans enrolled at Cleveland State, who came to us after serving for eight years in the U.S. Army, including tours of duty in Iraq and Kosovo.

Many of our students face a triple hurdle to success. College for them is a challenge economically, academically and socially, and to succeed they need support, guidance and encouragement. Our obligation as educators is not just to enroll students but to graduate them. All of us – faculty, staff, advisors, peer students – must re-dedicate ourselves to helping students get past the obstacles standing between them and a diploma. It truly takes a village to graduate a student.

Cleveland State University must lead our area’s recovery. Of course, the idea of public education as a leading force for social and economic advancement is nothing new to this country.

Public education in America has a long, sterling history of inclusion. Unlike in meritocracy-based systems in Europe, Americans have always considered education an asset not to be jealously guarded, but to be shared. It is an attitude that served us well for more than 200 years, sparking the creativity and invention that made us the envy of the world.

But for all its long and noble tradition, U.S. public higher education has been slipping noticeably over the last decades. When I graduated, the United States had the highest rate of degree attainment in the world.

Among younger adults today, it’s a different story. Other nations are achieving degree attainment rates dramatically better than ours – as high as 54 percent among adults aged 25-34, compared with 39 percent for the U.S. According to the Lumina Foundation, of the 30 nations who make up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development 29 have increased degree attainment among their young adults over the last 10 years.

The United States is the only country to see a drop, and it has fallen from first to tenth in the percentage of young adults with college degrees.

All this merely ups the ante for CSU. What we do here is not only vital to the future of this city, region and state, it has global implications.

I am confident we can meet this challenge. If you were to make a list of Cleveland State’s strengths it would be a long one, but number one would be its outstanding faculty, with more than 90 percent holding the highest degree attainable in their field. They are productive, talented, committed – and I’ve been here long enough to know that they share my love of teaching, scholarship and service.

And working both behind the scenes and on the front lines is a remarkable group of committed administrators and staff, who make everything we do possible.

And since coming here, I have been heartened and energized by the vast store of good will that exists for CSU in the Cleveland area. People recognize that this university embodies their hopes for the future, and they have a burning desire to see us succeed.

And succeed we will. It would be premature for me on this occasion to offer an overarching “vision” for Cleveland State University. It is my intent to continue to listen and learn, and that process, now four months along, is still ongoing. While I am very excited about some initiatives I will describe shortly, I intend to ground these ideas in more dialogue with all of the CSU constituencies.

But I am guided by certain principles. We will align our mission to reflect the needs of our students, our city, our civic and business community and our academic strengths.

I believe in public university systems, with an emphasis on cooperation rather than competition. The recent restructuring of the state’s institutions into the University System of Ohio reflects the vision of a system strategically aligned, differentiated but still acting in concert.

As part of the state’s plan for higher education, we have identified two signature themes. One of these themes will be health, a natural direction for us given the outstanding medical and health-related institutions based in this region. This strategic focus on health and health education dove-tails perfectly with our goal of increasing the depth and breadth of our sponsored research.

The second signature theme will be in Sustainable Communities. Again, this is a natural choice because of CSU’s outstanding Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs, coupled with the Nance College of Business and the Fenn College of Engineering. Their focus will be on finding new ways to restart and sustain urban economies, which again offers direct benefits to the city we call home.

Building our research component will be a top priority. Research, like everything else in the Twenty-first Century, is undergoing rapid change, and ours should reflect those changes. It has been said that the technological advances of the next decade will come not from the discovery of new knowledge, but by making connections between already existing pools of knowledge.

Our research agenda ought to reflect who we are, what we are and where we are. To the degree possible, our research priorities should be unique to our community.

I am very excited about our emerging partnership with the Cleveland Municipal School District and the College of Education in the establishment of a K-12 school here on campus. There are a number of reasons to do this – provide a venue for training the teachers of tomorrow, it will spark collaborative research and it will provide a school that serves all students in the city.

This school will become part of a much larger tapestry – a vibrant and active urban corridor.

I am struck by the amazing potential of the corridor that forms the Cleveland State campus. This neighborhood has it all – it’s pedestrian-friendly with great walkability, has good public transit and boasts the second-largest theatre district in the United States. Our extended campus has its own hospital – St. Vincent’s – and two institutions of higher education – CSU and Cuyahoga Community College.

In short, our campus has the potential to become an exciting, diverse, cosmopolitan neighborhood, and I intend to do everything I can to make that a reality. I envision faculty and staff coming to live here, sending their children to school here, and together building a vibrant neighborhood.

Nothing could be more important to this region’s future than the task that has been assigned to us, and we must not fail. From what I’ve seen and learned here, I have every confidence that together, we – students, faculty, staff, donors and supporters – will all participate in leading the way to new ground.

It is with humility and a burning passion to realize the goals I have outlined that I accept the presidency of Cleveland State University.

Thank you.

engaged learning
Mailing Address
Cleveland State University
President's Office
2121 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44115-2214
Ms. Shane Connor

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