Inaugural Address

October 22, 2013

Welcome, everyone. Thank you for joining me in this wonderful celebration.

I would like to offer a special welcome to Senator Orrin Hatch, to Governor Gary Herbert ... members of the Utah State Legislature … members of the Utah State Board of Regents and Commissioner of Higher Education Dave Buhler ... elected officials from Ogden, and Weber and Davis counties … members of the Weber State University Board of Trustees … former WSU president Rodney H. Brady … and my fellow presidents at other Utah institutions … President David Pershing from the University of Utah … President Scott Wyatt from Snow College … President Stan Albrecht from Utah State University … President Stephen Nadauld from Dixie State University … and President Richard E. Kendell from Southern Utah University … as well as many other representatives from higher education.

To my wife, Victoria Rasmussen, to my daughters … Linda, Jennifer and Heather, and to the cutest granddaughter ever, Rylee Rose Jensen: Thank you. You have been my support and my inspiration, and I’m very proud of you all. I would not be standing here today if it weren’t for you. To my Mom and Dad, who were both teachers: thanks for being great role models and getting me started in this family business of education.

To Chair Bonnie Jean Beesley and the Board of Regents: thank you for placing your trust and faith in me to lead this great university. I accept your charge and this responsibility.

And to former President Ann Millner … thank you for making this transition an easy one.

***

During my first semester at Weber State, I tried to do a lot more listening than talking. As a new president, I felt that the most important thing for me to do was simply soak in this great institution. I wanted to learn and understand what makes it tick. 

Here is some of what I’ve learned: 

Weber State University’s identity lies in its core themes of access, learning and community. 

Our commitment to access starts with being an open-admission university, where students from different backgrounds, who experience different challenges, can step through the doorway to their dreams … students like Eladio Bobadilla, who immigrated to this country, and his wife Timaree, who graduated with a degree in early childhood education. They both graduated in three years, and they are both realizing their dreams.

(Video clip of Eladio and Timaree Bobadilla)

Eladio graduated with a Bachelor of Integrated Studies degree in history, English and international politics. Now he is enrolled at Duke University, where he has a full scholarship to pursue a doctoral degree in history. Timaree is head teacher at a well-respected preschool in North Carolina named the Goddard School … an excellently named school, I must say. 

Like Eladio, many of our students are the first in their families to attend college. Who knows how many piano virtuosos ... or math marvels ... might be waiting for an open door to their dreams? All they need is a chance. 

Despite skyrocketing tuition around the country, Weber State remains affordable. It remains accessible. It remains a place where we continue to break down the barriers to a great education, and replace them with opportunities.

U.S. News ranks WSU among the top public regional universities in the West, and we are the only open-admissions university in that list. Affordable Colleges Online ranks us as 17th in the nation for low tuition and high starting salaries of our graduates. It also ranks us as the number-one public university in the state for return on students’ investment.

At Weber State, the door to dreams is always open. 

***

When students reach the doorway to their dreams, they’ll walk through to find a fantastic place for learning. 

Weber State is a place where professors know their students’ names … professors like Adam Johnston, a Governor’s Medal recipient who has dedicated his life to igniting a science spark in students of all ages. 

Weber State is a place where we innovate toward success. For example, our faculty have been increasing student success in flipped classes, where students view lectures online and spend class time in discussions and practicing their skills.

Last week, 70 faculty members participated in a conference on innovative teaching, and our provost’s office will be funding proposals this year to put those ideas into practice in our classrooms and online. 

No matter what your passion, whether it’s nursing, writing or social work, Weber State University can open the door to your dreams. 

Even if your dreams are as big as an elephant … like Tom Bakke’s … Weber State can still help you achieve them. 

(Video clip of Tom Bakke)

I’m pleased to tell you that today Tom Bakke is an elephant keeper at the Toledo Zoo. He works with four African elephants, and most often with one named Renai. Tom not only cares for the elephants, he also educates people on the need to save wild elephants. 

When I was a kid, my dream was to be an oceanographer. Jacques Cousteau was my hero. Somewhere along the way that plan took a left turn, and instead I became a chemistry professor and university president. Those choices were great for me, and I’m REALLY glad that I don’t have a job where I spend 6 months at sea every year.

***

Now that we’ve finished discussing the elephant in the room, let’s talk about community. 

Every great university is a part of a community, and we Wildcats reach out in big ways to ensure that the doorway to dreams is open to students and to our community partners. 

Through our Center for Community Engaged Learning, WSU students, faculty and staff logged nearly 148,000 hours of community service during the last academic year. 

Brenda Marsteller-Kowalewski and other dedicated members of the center get students out of classrooms and into that community. Our commitment to service and community-engaged learning and research earned us early recognition by the Carnegie Foundation as a Community Engaged campus. 

Want to make a difference in our community? Join me for breakfast this Saturday at 8:30 a.m. at the Dee Events Center for Make A Difference Day. Be sure to wear your work clothes, and we’ll show you how Weber State makes a difference in our community.

Of course, Weber State’s community is both local and global. 

(Video clip of student service)

We also continue to build bridges with our closest neighbors. 

For example, as part of our College Town initiative with Ogden City, we’ve recently opened the Community Education Center at the corner of 30th Street and Harrison, where people in underserved communities can get the help they need to navigate the application processes for admissions and financial aid. They can also take classes to gain the language and computer skills needed to succeed as Weber State students.

Our new WSU Downtown facility will also make its mark in the city starting with its grand opening on November 21. And we will continue to reach out to our community partners in Weber, Davis and Morgan counties.

***

Access … learning … community.

These are the core themes of our university that we must keep … the things that make Weber State great, great, great. 

However, dark clouds loom on the horizon, and the ground is shifting rapidly in higher education. Many believe that the business model of higher education is broken, and if we ignore these warning signs, we risk closing the door to students’ dreams. 

We are in the midst of a great Information Revolution. Its scale has been matched only a couple of times in human history, first by the Agricultural Revolution and then by the Industrial Revolution. 

The most obvious result of the current revolution is that vast amounts of data and information now lie literally in the palms of our hands … and this creates huge opportunities on a global scale. Practically every major industry has been disrupted by the direct and indirect effects of the Internet, computing and mobile communications technologies. The industries hit hardest have been in the knowledge industry, particularly journalism and book publishing.

Universities lie at the center of today’s knowledge industry. For hundreds of years, we have served as creators, curators, and disseminators of knowledge for the world. But the Internet has enabled a profound democratization of information, and the roles that we play in higher education must shift and adapt if we are to survive.

There was a time when much of higher education was focused on rote memorization of facts. Today, however, it’s more important than ever to teach our students critical thinking, because as you might have noticed, not everything you read on the Internet is true. Our students need to know how to navigate the vast amount of information that lies at their fingertips. We must teach them how to analyze what they find in the context of what they already know … how to solve problems and acquire new knowledge ... and how to connect the dots to seek out new truths.

Higher education itself has become democratized. Just Google “free tutorial,” and you’ll get more than 600 million hits. The Open University, Khan Academy, University of the People, Straighter Line, Coursera, EdX, Udacity, Canvas Network and many others offer free or low-cost college-level courses; some of them offer college credit and even complete degrees. Some people may ask where Weber State University fits into all of this. Some might even question IF we fit into all of this. 

Of course we do. 

We fit in because there is always a place for excellence. Every great institution is more than the sum of its parts, and we are on solid ground … because we have caring faculty and dedicated staff … and students who are filled with big ideas, ambition and dreams. 

Now, I ask that you help me continue to turn those dreams into reality. Today I want to share with you five priorities of my presidency.

The first priority is to keep college affordable, especially for low-income students.

Education often comes with too high of a price tag. We do well at keeping that price down at Weber, but it’s happening all around us. Yes, education is expensive, but we cannot simply pass that cost to our students to the point where the cost of college is beyond their reach ... or that they remain saddled with debt for years to come. We must keep the door to students’ dreams wide open.

Keeping WSU tuition affordable will require a bold new partnership between Utah’s universities and our state government. This partnership will require a renewed commitment from the state to continue to fund at least 50 percent of the cost of higher education for Utah residents. It will also require commitment from the universities to hold the line on costs and to demonstrate how we provide outstanding value to our students. 

Our Dream Weber scholarship provides a critical financial lifeline to students like Belia, who qualify for a federal Pell grant, by stretching that grant to pay all tuition and fees for up to eight semesters of full-time study. Today, I am pleased to announce a major expansion of Dream Weber to include students with household incomes up to $40,000.

Our message to students is, “If you come to WSU willing to work hard and committed to learning, we’ll help you with the rest.”

Our next priority is to increase our diversity. A great university can only fulfill its potential for educational excellence if it embraces diversity in a full and complete way. The deepest, most meaningful learning is achieved when people who have different backgrounds, experiences, cultures and beliefs gather and have respectful conversations about our differences. 

My goal is to achieve a level of diversity at WSU that reflects the diversity of our community, because only then can we serve as a true leader of our community to work for both economic prosperity and social justice. This is not an easy road to follow. Sometimes the decisions that we make will be difficult or unpopular. But I hope that we will always have the courage and the conviction to do the right thing for our students and for our community.

The reputation of this great institution for both educational excellence and community leadership hinges on our ability to open the door to dreams for everybody. 

The next priority is to maintain beautiful and sustainable campuses.

We’ve made great strides in that direction this year with the completion of 5 major construction projects:

  • Residence Hall Three in the Wildcat Village is a beautiful living and learning facility that promotes student collaborative learning.
  • The new Wildcat Center addition to the Stromberg Complex will help students build strong bodies and strong minds.
  • The new building on our Davis campus houses high demand programs and builds bridges to valuable community partners like Hill Air Force Base.
  • Later today, we dedicate the spectacular new Marquardt Field House, which is part of the Weber County Sports Complex adjacent to the Dee Events Center.
  • And next month, we will open the WSU Downtown facility on Washington Boulevard as part of our commitment to our College Town Initiative with Ogden City.


All of these projects have been completed as beautiful places for living and learning, and all have been constructed with an attention to energy efficiency and sustainability that reflect our commitment to become a carbon-neutral university by the year 2050.

Our next step is to secure state funding for a state-of-the-art science lab building. Thanks to $3.5 million in funding provided by the legislature last year, the design process is now well under way. I am pleased to announce that this magnificent new building will be named the Tracy Hall Science Center, in honor of H. Tracy Hall, a distinguished alumnus of Weber College who invented synthetic diamonds at General Electric laboratories in 1954. Dr. Hall was the uncle of Alan Hall, the Chairman of our Board of Trustees. We are truly grateful to the Hall family… to Alan and Jeanne and to Alan’s cousin David Hall and his wife, Karen... for the lead gift that makes this exciting new building possible. It will breathe new life into science education at Weber State in ways that help our future scientists step through that doorway to their dreams.

The fourth priority is to work with our faculty to reimagine the way that we teach our classes, especially at the undergraduate level. We have a large nontraditional student population, and nearly 80 percent of our students are employed. Our students have many demands on their time, and a one-size-fits-all approach to education simply will not serve them well. We must ensure that our teaching methods inspire our students to work hard on their education and ensure successful outcomes.

Weber State has been a leader in offering fully online courses, but that isn’t always the best choice. Sometimes, face-to-face instruction is an essential element of great teaching. That’s why we need more hybrid and flipped courses like the ones our developmental math program has been pioneering with great success. 

Our faculty members are not only exploring new ways to teach, but also new ways to involve students in the teaching process. Every teacher knows that there is no better way to learn a subject than to teach it to someone else. That’s why strategies like student peer review and peer instruction are gaining a lot of traction for ensuring student success.

The fifth priority of my presidency is to ensure that the bonds that connect us with our community remain strong. I’ll continue to support our athletic and performing arts programs, which serve as excellent community ambassadors for Weber State and stoke passion for our institution.

Earlier this month, I joined with our students, trustees and Ogden City officials to sign a College Town Charter. The charter establishes a framework for extending and deepening our partnership. The success of Weber State University is intertwined with the success of our community. This charter helps to ensure that we will strive together and thrive together.

And WSU will continue to work with our Davis County community partners like Hill Air Force Base and area businesses and governments to ensure that our academic programs remain in great alignment with workforce needs. When our graduates walk out of the doors of Weber State University and into their dreams, the path to a career should be a short one. 

***

As president, I cannot achieve my vision for this great university alone. I need more to make it possible. I need you.

Trustees: I need your continued guidance, your support, your wisdom. I need you to help me ensure that the door to students’ dreams will remain open. 

Faculty: I need your continued commitment to fantastic teaching … your skill in making light bulbs appear over students’ heads -- the energy-saving kind, of course -- I need your ability to instill passion. I need you to guide students through that doorway to their dreams.

Students: I need your desire to learn, your engagement. Your drive and your commitment. You can’t do this half-heartedly. You must have the courage to walk all the way through the doorway to your dreams. 

Staff: I need your dedication. Your love of this institution. Your willingness to go the extra mile. I need you to ensure that Weber State can realize its own dreams … and can step through its own doorway to a bright future.

Alumni and Friends: I need your willingness to step forward to commit your time, energy and resources for the benefit of our students. You already enjoy the benefits of your higher education; the return on your investment. All of you benefitted in some way from the assistance and contributions of others who came before you. I ask you now to pay that gift forward by contributing to the education of today’s students and the students of tomorrow. 

On January 7, 2014, we will celebrate the 125th anniversary of this great institution by announcing the public phase of a comprehensive fundraising campaign for Weber State. I want every one of you to think about this and decide how YOU are going be a part of that campaign for the benefit of our students. 

On the other side of each of our doorways lie endless dreams. Today represents a threshold. Let’s step over that threshold together. 

Thank you, and go Wildcats!


Weber State UniversityOgden, Utah 84408

Privacy PolicyTerms of UseNondiscrimination Policy