September 10, 2019
I am absolutely thrilled to have the honor of serving as the 6th chancellor of Indiana University South Bend. My deep thanks to goes everyone who was involved in the search process for your engagement, enthusiasm and hospitality. I want to also express my gratitude to President McRobbie, Executive Vice President Applegate, and the Indiana University Board of Trustees for appointing me to this position.
I am also grateful to all of you for attending this afternoon’s ceremony – delegates from other universities; faculty, staff and students; alumni and community members; and, government, business and local leaders. Thanks also to the speakers this afternoon for their kind words. And, to the very talented musicians who have helped to make this day even more special. I want to especially thank those of you who traveled from places around the country, from coast to coast, to be here. It means a lot to me. One of the great joys in my career has been the pleasure of working with so many talented and dedicated colleagues, like you, both on and off campus. We have been through and achieved a lot together! And, there is more to come!
I also want to give special thanks to my husband and parents, who are here today, as well as other family and friends who are not. It has been a long road, one filled with excitement and sometimes disappointment, but always movement forward. I knew I could always count on you to celebrate with me or to offer a much-needed shoulder to lean on. I have never known for sure where my path would take me, but I knew that if I was open to it and trusted it, the journey would take me to precisely where I was supposed to be. IU South Bend is precisely where I am supposed to be and I would not be here today without the support of all of you, so thank you!
This day represents a very special and important milestone for the university – the appointment of a new leader, a new chancellor. That significance is not lost on me. I know I am building on the legacy of those who have come before me. Leadership is an integral factor in the life and success of any organization. So much of what we see and experience here is the result of the vision, dedication and hard work of prior chancellors and others who have come before us. It is also significant to be appointed to this position during the IU Bicentennial celebration year. How many chancellors can say that? That makes this occasion even more special.
From humble beginnings in 1916, offering IU extension classes, to becoming the full-fledged comprehensive university that we are today, IU South Bend has come a long way. The vision of IU South Bend to better educate and prepare Hoosiers in this region was galvanized by IU South Bend’s first Chancellor, Lester M. Wolfson. Opening its doors at this location on the St. Joseph River in the early 60’s, IU South Bend has since become a pillar of this community. Everyone I meet has a connection to the university, whether it be through their own experience, their children, relatives, friends or neighbors. And, it is a foundational driver of the local economy with students who are from here and stay here when they graduate to become alumni who, with the faculty, staff and others in the community, are committed to the success of South Bend, Elkhart and the broader Michiana region.
As the only public comprehensive university in the region, in essentially a 60-90 mile-radius, or more depending on which direction you go, we have an opportunity and a responsibility to provide access to educational programs to members of our community with the ultimate goal of improving their lives, the lives of those around them, and the social, economic, and environmental well-being of our community. We are the place with the people and programs than catalyzes progress and, as part of Indiana University, fulfills the promise we have made to the people of the state of Indiana. This is what is so special about IU South Bend. The public mission of higher education to serve communities in this way is deeply engrained in me, from my own college experience through my faculty, campus and national leadership roles.
Reading through Wolfson’s papers in preparation for today, I found some interesting and insightful passages. He was quite a thinker and an articulate speaker. I am not sure I can match his eloquence, but I will do my best. I would like to share two short passages from the remarks he made at the start of the academic year in 1970, nearly 50 years ago, because I think they are still relevant to us today.
He was talking about planning as the university continued its growth upon a strong base of programs that have essentially laid the foundation for our current programmatic areas, and he said, “If we plan too tightly, we may limit our choices; if we plan too loosely, we may become the prey of an energetic department, something which is, and ought to be a, a garden, aspiring to be a jungle.” Here, he offers up wise words about developing prudent strategy and focus, which we will be attending to during our strategic planning process this year.
He went on in these remarks to say, that the task at hand, “is to get matters back in hand, to be modest about what we can do institutionally to solve societal problems directly, but to be more un-apologetically convinced than ever before that what we can do, by means of our scholarly disciplines, to help our students see more clearly and feel more exactly will have its sure effects in the betterment of life.”
What these words say to me is that we should be ever more convinced that we are an important intellectual beacon and hub in this community. We play a key role in contributing to the collective effort of solving societal problems in partnership with others in our community – other educational institutions (from pre-K through 20 and beyond), government, business and industry, non-profits, community, religious and social organizations. We all have a role to play, and this university has a particular responsibility to be an anchor, a convener, an educator, an equalizer, and neutral territory for efforts we undertake together for the betterment of the people, families, organizations, economy and environment of this part of Indiana, in particular.
As we round the corner of our own centennial and IU’s bicentennial, now is an opportune time for us to take a close look at our mission and ask, “how can we help more students and families achieve their dreams, how can we elevate the educational attainment of the region, and how can we deepen our engagement in the community”? We are at an inflection point in our history, one that will build on our strong past as we head in new directions. The prospect of working with all of you to shape a renewed vision for IU South Bend is an exciting one to me. I believe strongly in the approach of shared leadership, where leadership is not only the responsibility of those with formal titles or positions, but of everyone. It is through the cultivation and engagement of leaders across our community who can reach out to engage others that we will shape this new vision and achieve new goals.
As we take up the mantle of strategic planning for the next century or, more realistically the next decade, I believe we need to focus on Impact, Audience and Opportunity.
We need to deeply understand our impact on the lives of students and the community and ask how we can maximize what we are doing well to have an even greater impact. For example, the university has been working to increase its retention and completion rates and has made significant progress. This semester, we have reached a new record high retention rate for first-time full-time freshmen of nearly 68%! And, the retention of our Hispanic students continues to be higher than our average retention rate. It takes a commitment by everyone to make the kinds of changes that have already been made and these are just a few examples of the great things we can do together.
We need to look closely at the audiences of students we are currently serving and those we are not, and ask how we can expand and diversify our reach. This includes traditional age students, adult/returning students, former foster youth, students of color, our Veterans (if you see one today, thank them for their service), those from well-off families as well as those of lower socio-economic status, high achieving high school graduates, those who identify as LGBTQ and those who are differently abled, just to mention a few.
Through the stories of so many who have come here, and the stories of those who we have not met yet, we can learn more about ourselves and our community in ways that will help us maximize opportunity for all. I have heard so many of these stories, many from students who made a deliberate choice to come here as well as students who came here thinking they would only be here a year or two. But they got involved, made connections, and realized that IU South Bend was the place for them. That is because we have an outstanding faculty and staff, high caliber programs, and our own great story to tell. This is why one of my priorities going forward will be to help us all tell our stories so that more people across the region and the state will have a better understanding of how great this place really is.
As many of you know, one way I am contributing is by Tweeting @IUSBChancellor. So, in that spirit, I would like to Tweet out this moment of my installation ceremony! (hand phone to Applegate to snap a picture of me w/ audience in the background and tweet). Hold on while I tweet this out. And, now – just like that -- you are part of the storyline of IU South Bend!
You all know better than I do that our programs provide engaging academic and co-curricular experiences that are relevant for students and families in our region, to all who seek to improve their lives and the lives of those around them. Our society, our democracy functions best when education is a priority and those who seek it can attain it. Providing the opportunity to access these high quality programs is a critical role for IU, and in this region, for IU South Bend to play as we all strive to improve, to innovate and to solve the complex challenges we face. Solutions to these challenges will require new and diverse perspectives, creativity, collaboration and an ability to work across boundaries and disciplines. As E.O. Wilson, a prominent Harvard biologist and sometimes rebel-rouser, has said, “We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely.” This is what we do here. We provide the kind of education that prepares students to go out into the world and make a difference.
I believe it is also an exciting time in higher education, nationally and in the state of Indiana. We face both opportunities and challenges as an institution. However, this is a not time when we should be discouraged by the impending demographic cliff, political climate, or fiscal uncertainty but we should be motivated to figure out how we can turn our challenges into opportunities and leverage our strengths to serve an even greater number of individuals.
One of the reasons I was so interested in the position of chancellor here was because of the mission and opportunities I have been describing. I continue to be impressed and inspired by the dedication of the faculty and staff at IU South Bend to go above and beyond to serve our students and our community. I look forward to working with all of you to amplify that commitment in strategic ways that will reify this university’s place as a more visible, more impactful difference-maker for our region. IU South Bend is already serving as an important hub of intellectual, creative, social, educational, environmental, and entrepreneurial activity in South Bend, but I think we can do and be more to achieve greater collective impact with our partners. Engagement, inclusion and equity sit at the center of these ideals and these values are important guide posts for me as a leader.
I may now have the title of Chancellor, but I am a scientist at heart. I constantly question things (which, I think must have driven my parents crazy when I was growing up and now keeps my husband on his toes!), I seek evidence-based solutions, and conduct experiments to test new ideas, solve problems or just make things better. I am confident that the data have a story to tell and, with interrogation and interpretation, our analysis will help us forge a more strategic and effective path forward.
I think I was drawn to study biology and, in particular, genetics because I enjoy understanding the interactions of components within complex systems, sometimes hidden but always ready to be discovered by an inquiring mind. Living systems are complex and complicated, with many interacting parts, like the genes in your genome that work together to make you who you are. And, universities and communities are complex systems of equally interesting and discoverable interactions. This is one aspect that I enjoy about my role now as a chancellor – understanding the complexities and revealing how they can work better together.
My love of biology started in high school, with a smart and engaging biology teacher, Mr. Babb, but also through the writings of authors such as Emerson and Thoreau. As a college student, I enjoyed all of the courses I took but I was especially drawn to the ones that took me outside. I am particularly enamored by forests. One of my favorite past times is to go hiking in the woods. It is humbling to walk amongst the giant trees knowing that they are the living scaffold for a multitude of beings from the microscopic fungi that live in the soil to the mammals and birds that use them as food and shelter.
In so many ways, trees are the backbone of their communities. They are certainly the most visible! It is easy to focus on the trees that you see before you when you are walking in the woods, but it takes a bit more effort to step back and see the bigger forest, the bigger picture, and all of the interactions that makes up these magnificent communities. A book that changed the way I think about forests is The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohllenben, a German forester. In it, he describes the complex interactions amongst trees in forests that I never knew existed, perhaps because I was so focused on the trees themselves.
I would like to share with you a passage from his book that describes why trees live in interdependent communities because it is how I see the community I am joining and it also serves as a reminder of why communities are so important.
“But why are trees such social beings? Why do they share food with their own species and sometimes even go so far as to nourish their competitors? The reasons are the same as for human communities: there are advantages to working together. A tree is not a forest. On its own, a tree cannot establish a consistent climate. It is at the mercy of wind and weather. But together, many trees create an ecosystem that moderates extremes of heat and cold, stores a great deal of water, and generates a great deal of humidity. And in this protected environment, trees can live to be very old. To get to this point, the community must remain intact no matter what. If every tree were looking out only for itself, then quite a few of them would never reach old age. Regular fatalities would result in many large gaps in the tree canopy, which would make it easier for storms to get inside the forest and uproot more trees. The heat of summer would reach the forest floor and dry it out. Every tree would suffer.
Every tree, therefore, is valuable to the community and worth keeping round for as long as possible. And that is why even sick individuals are supported and nourished until they recover. Next time, perhaps it will be the other way around, and the supporting tree might be the one in need of assistance.”
Next time you go for a walk in the woods, think about the community you are entering and, perhaps, reflect upon the communities of which you are a member. Think about the interdependencies and the roles that each of you play to ensure the community survives and even thrives.
I have now had the rare opportunity to join a new community in my role as chancellor. This community is a special one, comprised not of trees, microbes, birds and mammals but of scholars, artists, scientists, craftspeople, innovators, professionals, care-givers, movers, shakers, and leaders. And, as we move forward together, I am looking forward to continuing to learn more about everyone and everything, but most of all to ensuring that the community is thriving.
The grounds of this campus are beautiful and, in fact have several different communities of trees. As I have been walking around campus, I have been mindful of these trees and thought it might be nice to commemorate my installation, my joining of this community, with the planting of a tree within one of these beautiful communities. We will have this tree planting ceremony in a few weeks and I hope you will be able to also join in those festivities. In addition, we will be publishing an arboretum map with markers of the trees on campus that will also commemorate this milestone but more importantly make more visible its members, much like my efforts to improve the visibility of IU South Bend in this region.
To the IU South Bend students, I look forward to the journey we will take together over the next few years and to congratulating you as you walk across the stage at commencement. To the new faculty, I look forward to the journey we will take together as you work towards tenure. I can’t wait to review the thoughtful portfolios you put together of your teaching, scholarship and service in the coming years. To the faculty who have been here for awhile, I look forward to working with you as stewards and leaders of this university. To the staff, I look forward to celebrating significant accomplishments and work anniversaries with you, whether it be one year or thirty. To the alumni, I can’t wait to hear the stories of how IU South Bend changed your life, and maybe the lives of those around you and in your community. To the community and business leaders in the region, I look forward to the relationships and partnerships we will build in service of our shared goals.
Together, we will go far. Thank you!