Alumni Weekend 2009
Alumni Weekend Opening Ceremonies
Remarks by President William G. Durden '71
Ladies and Gentlemen and Fellow Alumni:
Welcome to the Opening Ceremony of Alumni Weekend 2009! This very special weekend is your opportunity to renew old friendships and revisit the campus that holds so many memories. It is also your opportunity to experience your college as it is today—to understand how and why it has changed, how it reflects and connects our students with the contemporary world, and how the distinctive characteristics we so value in a Dickinson liberal arts education are still at the core of what we do. Most importantly, this is your opportunity to remember what it means to be a Dickinsonian and how this identity has shaped your life.
I am confident that you will find a college that is vibrant, exciting and extremely articulate about what makes a Dickinson education so distinctive and so very useful. The importance of a strong sense of identity has become increasingly apparent over the past eight months as we navigate the extremely volatile waters that characterize our national economy.
As many of you know from reading the various email updates that have been sent to you, the administration, the Board of Trustees, and the All-College Planning & Budget Committee have spent countless hours developing a flexible and realistic strategy that will allow Dickinson to not only survive, but also thrive in the current economic crisis. We intend to maintain our momentum and reposition Dickinson permanently among the nation’s leading undergraduate institutions.
Let me be absolutely clear. The challenges we face are serious, just as they are at all other leading liberal arts colleges and many other colleges and universities. We are confronting a multi-year budgetary challenge that will require us to reduce significantly our expenditures to compensate for the 23 percent drop in our endowment and declining revenues from philanthropic support—a loss that is actually far lower than those at many of our competitive institutions.
At the same time, we recognize that our students and their families are also experiencing unusual financial pressure as a result of the economic downturn. Increasingly, they are questioning if a liberal arts college is worth the price. We have, therefore, enhanced our commitment to access by increasing our financial aid budget next year by 12 percent over that spent in FY 2009 to $31.5 million.
As serious as these challenges are, we also confront this crisis from a uniquely advantageous position. The momentum and increased national reputation Dickinson has enjoyed in recent years has generated a quiet, steady confidence that translates particularly well to leadership in trying times. As a result, both the Board of Trustees and the administration are approaching the current challenges not as crisis management, but with an eye toward maximizing opportunity from adversity. We remain committed to a dynamic future for Dickinson especially during these difficult years.
We are extremely fortunate to have a seasoned team of administrators who approach the current challenges with deliberation, discipline and prudence. We are also fortunate that a few nationally recognized colleagues have joined us in recent years as some of our long-time administrators retire or seek other opportunity. This is, therefore, the same team in spirit, skill and determination—now enhanced—that confronted and successfully overcame the College’s financial challenges a decade ago. Dickinson has, in other words, already been operating with a strong commitment to fiscal, business-like discipline that is serving us particularly well under current economic duress.
We also have our long history on our side. This is our distinctive asset. Earlier this year, we celebrated the 225th anniversary of the charter that established Dickinson College. That charter was, of course, granted during the turbulent years that followed the close of the American Revolution. In the 225 years since Dickinson was chartered, just think of the national crises our College has endured – Civil War, two World Wars, the Great Depression and minor recessions too numerous to count. The College was even forced to close its doors twice during the early 19th century because of lack of funds – something we will certainly not have to repeat again in this crisis.
The point is that Dickinson College has confronted – and conquered—countless national and institutional challenges for more than two centuries. Dickinson has survived—and thrived—because of a spunky determination to turn challenge into opportunity. It is this same grit, fortitude and above all, pragmatism—frontier pragmatism borne of this region of the country in the 18th century when we were founded—that serves us so well during the current crisis.
Throughout our long history, we have developed a singular identity that describes the useful liberal arts education offered at Dickinson College. We are results oriented. If anything, we are better positioned to withstand the current challenge because we are so very confident of who we are and what we value. Rest assured that we remain absolutely and unconditionally committed to maintaining the excellence of those core characteristics that define a Dickinson education and distinguish us from our peers: a low student-faculty ratio that encourages individualized and small-group learning (you know your professors for a lifetime and they truly care about your lives); a highly talented student body (unlike other prestigious colleges and universities, Dickinson will never be driven by a single number like the SAT in determining who gains admittance; we will always take an informed risk on a student who may seem unorthodox but who seems to have that “spirit” to thrive in our community); a commitment to access and diversity among our students (Dickinson’s “face” today is far from what most of us remember—thank goodness!); and a focus on key areas of excellence—global education, environmental sustainability and a commitment to a useful liberal education as preparation for engaged citizenship in a democracy—and that includes employment and public service (to include military, government and community service)!
Just “holding our own” through these difficult years, however, will not be enough. Our aspirations are much higher. Despite the magnitude of the challenges we face, it is absolutely imperative that we maintain that strong sense of dynamism that has come to define Dickinson. Over the next year, for example, we will, draft the Strategic Plan that will guide us for the next five years. Many of you will be asked to participate in this process by reflecting upon and articulating those “premium assets” that add value and define the essence of a Dickinson liberal arts education and give us a competitive edge in comparison to our peer institutions. Over the last decade, Dickinson has been able to reposition itself in higher education by relying on this series of Strategic Plans to provide focused direction. Ten years ago, our admissions’ cross-over schools included Muhlenberg, Allegheny and Penn State. In the last two years, they have included Brown, Middlebury, Hamilton, Tufts, Colby, William and Mary, Colgate, George Washington University, Franklin and Marshall and Kenyon. That said, after a few years of absence we are but “the new kid on the block” in this group of high accomplishment and face, therefore, considerable reputational and financial competition. Although we are right in there with them today, all these colleges and universities have endowments much larger than ours.
In my remarks to the Board of Trustees at our most recent meeting, I put it this way:
I believe strongly that our best strategy to weather this crisis, based on what we know now, is to be focused and explicit about our identity and what we offer of value to our students. We must accompany this with managing our finances and operation well. And smart leadership in these times…is not to hunker down, entrench and cut to the bone programs and people essential to our sustained success. Rather, we must responsibly and fairly align or programs and people to the value we offer our constituents and invest judiciously in those opportunities that will positively reposition us still further in higher education when this economic crisis fades into history.
Because of the prudent but dynamic management of the College’s able administrators, support staff, faculty and students (student representatives are, of course, part of our budgetary decision making process), we find ourselves in a uniquely favorable position to sustain our momentum during the next several years. We have spent the last several years laying the foundation for future innovation and, with these building blocks in place, we will maintain our dynamism. Let me give you just a few examples:
- Last fall, we dedicated James and Stuart Halls of the new Rector Science Complex. This award-winning, state-of-the-art science facility with its focus on fostering interdisciplinary research will continue to transform the way we do science at Dickinson. Most importantly, it will enhance the way we position our students for leadership in a 21st century society that places high value on maximizing the new connections and new knowledge that emanate from scientific discovery.
- Just last year, we received a major grant from the Mellon Foundation to launch a campus-wide environmental sustainability initiative. We have now established a Center of Environmental and Sustainability Education under the direction of Dr. Neil Leary, a sharer in the Nobel Prize that was awarded to former Vice President Al Gore. This Center complements our many existing sustainability programs in and out of the classroom—such as our farm in Boiling Springs, our biodiesel production, our wind and solar power, our statewide effort to monitor with citizens the quality of Pennsylvania’s streams. It is for these reasons that we are one of only 15 colleges and universities nation-wide to receive the highest grade awarded on sustainability efforts and the only college or university in Pennsylvania to receive the Governor’s Award for Sustainability.
- Last fall, we completed the renovations of Biddle Field that include two all-purpose synthetic Field Turf playing surfaces, a state-of-the-art eco-lighting system, visitors’ bleachers and an eight-lane track with a steeplechase water hazard. The promise these renovations hold for our student-athletes was immediately apparent when Dickinson trounced F&M in its first night game “under the lights” last September. Over 5,000 students, faculty and community members were there—a great, spirited evening in Division III athletics!
- And we just learned that the borough of Carlisle has received full funding to narrow High and Hanover streets from four to two lanes. This includes the stretch of High Street that runs directly through the middle of our campus. Creating a safer, pedestrian-friendly ambiance for the campus has been one of Dickinson’s long sought goals and one that the College supported by a commitment to fund a traffic study in 2007. We are so very excited about the positive changes it will bring to our campus in admissions and to both the College and the community in increased safety.
There is, of course, no better manifestation of our strong momentum and rising prestige than the achievements of our graduates. When we peruse the plans of our most recent graduates—and I encourage you to do so on the Web site—it is clear that we are welcoming a most promising, highly ambitious group of new alumni. Next year, for example, we will find members of the Class of 2009:
- Attending law school at Harvard, Yale, the University of Virginia, Tulane and the University of Pittsburgh;
- Studying medicine at Case Western Reserve University, the University of Glasgow and the University of Edinburgh;
- Launching careers at Chubb Security in Chicago and at Credit Renaissance Partners, Societe Generale, the Bank of New York Mellon and Barclays in New York City;
- Fulfilling a summer research internship at the Princeton University Center for the Study of the Brain, Mind and Behavior and then pursuing a Ph.D. in neuroscience;
- Entering the Peace Corps, CAC AmeriCorps, World Teach (in China) and Teach for America;
- Pursuing advanced degrees in molecular biology, international relations, atmospheric chemistry, archaeology, urban education, journalism, computer science, applied behavioral analysis, international and constitutional law at the London School of Economics, the University of Colorado, Boston University, Princeton, Brown, Columbia, Dartmouth, and Penn; and
- Entering military service as a commissioned officer through Dickinson College’s Army ROTC program.
And just last week, we learned that one of our recent graduates, who plans to study next year at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School for Public and International Affairs, was selected for the highly competitive ODNI National Security Analysis and Intelligence Summer Seminar. Caitlin Rice was one of 35 students selected from an applicant pool of 700 to engage with senior intelligence community managers and senior policymakers as they address the theme “Political Instability—International Systems in Transition.” This is a tremendous opportunity for her and her acceptance further reflects Dickinson’s ever-rising prestige.
These accomplishments—and those too numerous to list here—are the true measure of the success and momentum of Dickinson College—this is a useful education that yields results. As alumni, it is our achievements, our contributions to society that give Dickinson prestige and visibility. We will recognize three alumni for their accomplishments in just a few moments—a tangible reminder that we serve as role models for our students whom we hope will become the informed, thoughtful and productive leaders of our democratic society. As alumni, our greatest responsibility is to insure that our College can continue to fulfill this most fundamental and important purpose.
Dickinson’s ability to maintain a dramatic sense of dynamism ultimately rests with our ability to sustain the resources that make a Dickinson education possible. My administration will continue to work hard to control costs, maximize investments and attract those students with the potential to become distinguished and accomplished alumni.
But we also must depend on you—our alumni—to support the College—our only undergraduate college and a lasting part of our personal identity. Indeed, many of us here today received scholarships from Dickinson to make our futures possible—monies for these grants provided by grateful alumni. And more than ever today, scholarship monies are absolutely critical for Dickinson’s ability to attract students in an unbelievably competitive environment. As we enter the final stages of the First in America capital campaign, we will need your assistance to push us over our final goal of $150 million by 2011. We have already passed the $134 million mark—an incredible accomplishment in these times—we are a year and a half ahead of schedule. But, as many of you know, the last stage of a campaign is often the hardest.
Equally important, we must depend on you to support the Annual Fund—those revenues that have an immediate impact on the operating budget and financial aid. These are the dollars that we can deploy to ease our current fiscal situation, sustain the excellence of our operations and make it possible for our students to afford a Dickinson education—an investment that will return professional and personal dividends for a lifetime.
The Class of 2009—those accomplished students who have such high ambitions—already understand the importance of giving back to their College. Do you know that 90 percent of this year’s senior class participated in their gift drive? This is astonishing for any college or university in this country. This sets a College record both in terms of participation and total dollars raised—over $15,000. More significantly, we have found a direct correlation between the rate of participation in the senior class gift drive and alumni giving. We, therefore, fully expect this class to continue giving at rates that exceed those of the past. The last few years of exceptionally high senior class giving has resulted in a percentage of giving that is higher than any previous classes. I suggest it is time for all of us to follow the example set by this exceptional group of recent graduates. As alumni of a leading liberal arts college we have a great deal of work to do. PRESTIGIOUS COLLEGES JUST DON’T HAPPEN! They are embraced emotionally and financially by alumni who understand their responsibility and opportunity of being gratefully the graduate of a leading institution. TO EXCELLENCE BELONGS RESPONSIBILITY.
I am, of course, fully aware that you and your families are facing unprecedented challenges in your personal and professional lives. The economic volatility with which we all must contend apparently knows no boundaries. But if there was ever a time to give back in any amount to Dickinson College, it is now. As you move about campus this weekend and reminisce with friends, take a moment to think about the comparative advantages your Dickinson degree has afforded you, advantages that have distinguished you among your peers, and advantages that have allowed you to find opportunity amidst adversity. Never forget that Dickinson’s rising prestige and visibility continues to enhance the value of your own degree. It is an investment that is well worth protecting through annual philanthropic support. It is an investment that allows you to continue to express your confidence in the College’s future. It is the emerging “Dickinson Edge” from which we all benefit—even to combat that now faint, but still most annoying issue of confusing Dickinson with Farleigh Dickinson. Gratefully, our massive recent publicity has wiped most of that out except for some lingering, tenacious stronghold in New Jersey (and we are working on that!).
We must never forget that Dickinson has a long history of conquering adversity. Although we were founded during the intense political and economic upheaval that accompanied the birth of our nation, our founder, Dr. Rush pushed himself and his colleagues relentlessly with tenacity and determination. At one point, he appealed to those who had supported establishing Dickinson by writing, “What is to be done? Shall we sit down in despair and give up on the College for lost? By no means! ... strike while the iron is hot, and may Heaven kindly bless and prosper our effort to revive the object of our labors and affections.”
Now it is our turn—our responsibility—to follow in the footsteps of those who have gone before us to protect and advance Dickinson College—the object of our affections. Despite the economic turmoil that surrounds us—because of the economic turmoil that surrounds us—we must “strike while the iron is hot” to advance for the 21st century the timeless vision and purpose Dr. Rush laid out for our College. This is our chance to complete a dream in American higher education for our college and our nation.
It is time for those of us here who witness the status and accomplishment of our college this weekend to communicate enthusiastically what we see and hear to those who are not here—those who may be unbelieving of or indifferent to what is happening here—the high regard with which Dickinson is currently considered in the public and the high spirit and national profile with which we are working.
It is time for us to stop responding when asked where we went to college—“Oh, you probably won’t know it. It is a small college in Central Pennsylvania”—and realize that we are nationally recognized. Rather we should proudly respond by saying merely “Dickinson College.” And if someone by chance still says “Never heard of it,” (of course, most liberal arts colleges are not widely known as branding in higher education is based on Division I athletics—basketball and football) the proper response now is, “That is unfortunate for you and displays a gap in your education as it is well-known and is America’s 16th oldest college chartered as “First in America” just days after the signing of the Treaty of Paris ended the American Revolution. It was founded by a signer of the Declaration of Independence (Dr. Benjamin Rush) and named for a signer of the U.S. Constitution (John Dickinson). It has graduated a U.S. president and a Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court as well as numerous associate justices. Its oldest building was designed by Benjamin Latrobe—the architect of the capitol building in Washington, D.C. It was founded as a model for a distinctively USEFUL American liberal arts education. It is the historic sister college of Princeton University, and its original donors include Thomas Jefferson, Aaron Burr, John Marshall, James Madison and a distant ancestor of President Barack Obama, Gabriel Duvall.
It is time for us to assert the power and prestige of our alumni network to act relentlessly as a support network to each other and current students—for jobs, advice about graduate and professional schools and simply to offer encouragement and mentoring. Our alumni network is more important than ever in these demanding times and Dickinson—we—are already gaining recognition for having one of the best networks in service of a college community. We deliver results and that is part of the premium of a prestigious liberal arts education.
Enjoy your weekend. Reconnect with old friends; revisit favorite places on campus. And BE DICKINSON PROUD!