Minds in Independent Motion

An inaugural address delivered by David P. Angel on the occasion of his installation as Clark University's ninth President, September 24, 2010.

Standing before you today, I am filled with gratitude, joy, and appreciation for this great University. I am honored to have been appointed Clark University's ninth President. Welcome each and every one of you to these ceremonies. We join together with passion and with purpose to make a difference in higher education and the world.

I will begin by expressing deep appreciation to Chairman Bill Mosakowski and the members of the Clark University Board of Trustees. Thank you for your leadership and steadfast commitment to Clark. My thanks to the members of the faculty, to the administration and staff, and to our students who each and every day make Clark come alive. I welcome past President Frederick Jackson and John and Kay Bassett. We thank you for your terrific stewardship of this University. I am delighted also to recognize delegates representing other colleges and universities.

We have had a splendid week of celebrations. Above all, this week, we have celebrated the accomplishments and lives of purpose of Clark graduates. Would all Clark alumni with us today please stand and receive our applause? Stand and be recognized! Thank you.

My thanks to Paula David, Kristen Williams, and the whole inauguration committee for making these wonderful events happen and for creating such a beautiful setting for today's ceremonies.

This is a joyful day and all the more so because I share it with family and friends. To Jocelyne, Sebastien, Julien, and our families, thank you for your love and support. To Joan Laskoff, thank you for your dedication to the possibility of a just and better world.

Greetings also to all members of city and state leadership joining us today. To Clark alumna Senator Harriette Chandler, Commissioner Freeland, and Superintendent of Worcester Public Schools Melinda Boone, it is most appropriate that you are with us today. Clark is committed to advancing the prosperity of our neighborhood, our city, our Commonwealth, and our world. We are proud to stand in partnership with you in this endeavor.

I am proud to be at a University that truly lives its mission. I am proud that we are passionate advocates for liberal education. I am proud of the work of our faculty who advance the frontiers of knowledge and understanding. I am proud of our students who demonstrate on a daily basis what it means to be imaginative and contributing citizens of the world. I am proud to be associated with a University that creates life-changing educational opportunities for children in our neighborhood.

Each of us took our own journey to be here, to become a part of Clark University. As you know, my own journey began in England. What you may not know is that before going to university, I spent a year as a teacher in a Harambee School in Kenya. Harambee is a Swahili word that roughly translates to "working together." Harambee schools are set up by communities that are not served by government or private schools. These are, if you like, self-help initiatives. The school I worked at was in a farming village on the side of Mount Elgon in Western Kenya. It was in an isolated location. The nearest transportation was a two-hour hike down the mountain. In the rainy season, the mud roads became impassable. The community was poor. I lived in the back of a food store—with no electricity and with food cooked by yours truly on a charcoal stove. Communication was difficult—no cell phones.

The year in the Harambee School was formative for me. For one thing, it taught me self-reliance. But it also instilled in me a passion for engagement in the world and for seeking creative solutions around enduring global problems, whether education, health care, economic opportunity, or the environment.

On coming to Clark ten years later, I found a place that shared these values. This is a place filled with a sense of possibility. Let us together, today, re-affirm that sense of possibility and the commitment to be a place of consequence in the world.

Much of my address looks to the future. But I want to begin with our past. Clark University has always been a pioneering institution. We have been willing, as our motto suggests, to "challenge convention and change our world." This commitment to innovation and engagement is a guide-star to which we must recommit ourselves again today. The title of this address, Minds in Independent Motion, draws on a phrase used by Clark's first President to capture these special qualities of Clark University.

As you are aware, our university was established in 1887 through the generous philanthropy of a local industrialist, Jonas Gilman Clark. Speaking on the occasion of the university's opening, Senator George Hoar noted: "When the purpose of Mr. Clark was first announced there were many people who thought it would have been better to enlarge the resources of some existing college. But, as his plans have gradually unfolded, such critics have become satisfied, not only that this university can do its work without jar or friction with any other, but that the time has come when a work should be done in this country which it may not be wholly convenient for any other just now to undertake."

"When a work should be done in this country which it may not be wholly convenient for others to undertake." These are curious words. They probably referred to the belief of the university's first President, G. Stanley Hall, that American higher education needed a university that would focus entirely upon advanced study, so as to promote this country's progress in science and related disciplines. Accordingly the University was founded in unusual form, as an exclusively research and graduate institution with initially just five departments. Hall proposed a new American University that would accelerate scientific knowledge in this country. He was a pioneer.

Thirty-three years later, Wallace Atwood, the second President of Clark University, gave a remarkable inauguration address that once again called upon the University to challenge convention and change our world. Speaking in the raw aftermath of World War I, he stated: "Have we not reached the period when we cannot easily solve the problems as a nation by spreading out, by expansion, by the appropriation of more lands and more resources? If this epoch has been reached, we must solve certain problems of this nation in a new way…If we wish to establish new methods for solving international problems, if we are tired and disgusted with the methods recently relied upon, we must see to it that certain physical problems dealing with the actual living conditions in the different parts of the world are first solved." This was a powerful call to be a place of consequence in the world.

Our third President, Howard Jefferson, perhaps said it best: "Those responsible for developing the character of Clark were never interested in making it merely one more university or college. They resolutely avoided slavish imitation. They spent fully as much energy defining the unique purpose of the institution as in working out educational programs. In the second place, our responsible leaders have been unusually sensitive to the urgent needs of the social and educational situation within which they made their choices." This tradition of challenging convention and changing our world has carried forward until today, as for example in the pioneering leadership of Dick Traina and John Bassett in ensuring Clark's commitment to our neighborhood partnership.

So with this pioneering legacy in mind, what should we imagine for the next chapter in the history of this great University? What does it mean for us to Challenge Convention, and Change our World today? Will we have the confidence, courage, and vision to be more than "one more university or college" and to be a place of consequence in higher education and the world? Standing in the shadows of Jonas Clark Hall, of Atwood Hall, of the Jefferson Academic Center, let us, as Howard Jefferson admonished, be "unusually sensitive to the urgent needs of the social and educational situation."

At Clark we have within our grasp the opportunity to make a lasting mark in American higher education at a most critical time for our country and our world. Two questions loom large:

  1. How will our model of liberal education be advanced to prepare graduates for the new challenges of the twenty-first century? and
  2. Can our nation's research universities be a renewed force for addressing society's most pressing concerns?

It is up to us to define and demonstrate a path forward.

Today, many question whether liberal education will adequately prepare graduates for the very different world of the twenty-first century. Where will the creativity, skills, and capacities needed to build future industries, economies, and communities come from? Will liberal education continue to be the force of opportunity of decades past and the currency of a strong and compassionate democracy? Too many college graduates are faltering as they enter the economy and seek to make their way in the world. Too many college graduates are struggling to translate their passion and commitment into career and citizenship, finding dissonance in place of meaning and dislocation in place of opportunity. Families and friends seek assurance that investments in education will enable graduates to pursue lives of purpose and achieve career success.

At Clark we re-affirm the enduring value of liberal education as a powerful foundation for life, career, and citizenship. It is not an exaggeration to say that our community, our country, our world needs liberal education. Liberal education enables us to approach problems through multiple ways of knowing; to probe rigorously the evidence behind the claims; to think deeply, critically, and creatively; to listen, really listen, and engage in dialogue; to learn from and appreciate difference. Surely as we look at our world—the challenges of climate change and of economic dislocation; the persistence of poverty, violence, and inequality; the erosion of tolerance; and the fracturing of civic institutions—we must conclude that liberal education is a most precious resource and an investment in our common future.

But I also believe liberal education must advance, must become more deeply attuned to the profound changes that are underway in our economy, our society, and our democracy. Three areas, in particular, warrant our attention. First, we must strengthen the capacity of our graduates to carry liberal education into the world, to contribute to the resolution of global challenges, and to enable students to translate passion into a purposeful life and successful career. In addition to all of the classic advantages of liberal education, we must develop a broader set of capabilities of effective practice: the resilience to pursue a path in the face of doubt and obstacles, the confidence to act and make good decisions under conditions of uncertainty, the ability to persuade and mobilize others behind a goal, the judgment to make value-based decisions when tested, and the creativity to seek innovative solutions to challenging problems.

Second, we must find ways to address issues of access and affordability. Liberal education is nurtured in the classroom, the research laboratory, the library, the art studio and on the stage, in student organizations, through clubs and sports, through volunteering, study abroad, and community-based research. This, quite simply, is a costly and labor-intensive endeavor. I believe that the colleges and universities that will prosper over the next decades will be those that have successfully navigated two challenges. They will have found ways to demonstrate more directly, more rigorously, and more visibly the benefits of the degree without compromising the educational principles upon which that value is built. And they will have found ways to slow significantly the rising cost of higher education. These are difficult challenges that will require creative thought, visionary leadership, and determined practice.

Third, we must renew our commitment to listening and dialogue to bridge difference. Our world today is at risk of conflict across many fault lines of difference, whether religion, race, political beliefs, or class. Universities must be places that go beyond the presence of diversity to model practices that promote the search for mutual understanding. We must affirm our support for freedom of speech. At the same time, we must all share the responsibility for civil discourse, for responding as a community to hurtful and divisive acts, and for learning from each other.

There is another call for leadership in our society today, namely, for research universities to be a renewed force for enabling solutions to society's most pressing problems. We will respond to this call by developing focused areas of research and graduate excellence that empower action on critical human concerns. Clark University will be known as a place that is shifting the paradigm on urban schooling, on genocide studies, on energy and the environment, on child and family well-being, and on emerging areas of strength in the sciences. As we search for new paradigms, we must also reflect on issues of meaning, of identity, of ethics, and of purpose. The humanities at Clark will energize conversations across disciplines on major contemporary issues of concern.

Clark will demonstrate the role that universities and colleges can and must play in fostering partnerships that build vibrant and successful communities, here in the United States and around the world. Clark is already cited nationally as a model for local community partnerships. In coming years, we will broaden our reach globally and institutionally. We will develop more international partnerships to ensure that we are a university that is globally relevant and engaged. We will partner with a wider range of institutions, including businesses and health care organizations, to ensure multiple opportunities to link research with practice.

We are on our way. The educational goals of Liberal Education and Effective Practice endorsed by the faculty are a strong vision and powerful statement of intent. Over the coming decade Clark will put in place a new model of liberal education that combines the enduring benefits of rigorous liberal education with the development of a broader set of capacities of effective practice—capacities that powerfully and distinctively enable students to pursue their passion with purpose in the world. We will re-examine the Clark undergraduate experience in all of its dimensions—from the classroom to the research laboratory, from the co-curricular experience to the athletic field and residence hall—with an eye to ways in which we might best fulfill our commitment to what it means to be a graduate of Clark University. We will be a thought leader in liberal education across all three of our areas of concern, including that of access and affordability. We will measure outcomes and demonstrate results.

We will build on our strengths and on initiatives that are already successful, such as student involvement in cutting-edge research in the sciences. Programs such as the Steinbrecher Fellows are powerful proof of the educational results that follow when undergraduate students are afforded the opportunity to engage in work of consequence in the world. Our accelerated degree program, with the fifth-year free for eligible students, is an innovative response to the question of affordability.

We will also consider new ideas. Over the past few months, I have had time to meet with many recent graduates of Clark University. I have discussed with them the conviction we have of the need to renew liberal education for the twenty-first century. These conversations have generated a thoughtful idea that merits our consideration. In effect, alumni have asked why the model of Liberal Education and Effective Practice concludes at the point of graduation. What if we imagine not a four-year program with a fixed four-year finish line, but a program that in concept extends into the early years of alumni status? The moment of graduation becomes a point of transition, not an ending.

The good news is that we have many recent accomplishments to build on. The establishment of the Mosakowski Institute for Public Enterprise provides the locus at Clark for linking world-class scholarship with determined practice. We have recruited a remarkable faculty who tell me they chose to come to Clark precisely because we are a place that forcefully brings together outstanding scholarship with student learning. Through generous philanthropy, we have strengthened our academic programs and enhanced our facilities, including the splendid Academic Commons that stands ahead of me. Twice in the past decade, the University has been able to announce the largest single gift in our history. We have wonderful students who inspire me with their passion, talent, and academic excellence. Among faculty, staff, students, alumni, and trustees, all, there is a palpable sense of optimism and possibility that Clark over the next decade will be a fast-rising institution. I can assure you that we will not lack for leadership in grasping this opportunity.

I wish to close my remarks with two thoughts: the first is a challenge, and the second is a commitment. We have this month on campus begun the formal planning processes to define the strategies that we will use to accomplish our goals. The challenge I place before us is to be bold, to be willing to go deep in considering alternatives and possibilities, and to have the courage to let go. When we hold too tightly to the here and now, we limit our own capacity for creative thought and possibility.

The commitment is to an open, inclusive, and thoughtful planning process. We will explore, discuss, and deliberate choices and possibilities together.

We will need additional resources to accomplish our goals. I intend, in this regard, to be a tireless advocate for Clark University. We will engage with alumni, friends, and supporters of Clark University as never before.

The work we commit to now, together, will propel Clark forward, unambiguously elevating our reputation as one of this country's finest research universities. Join with us and shape this future. Thank you again for this privilege and honor. Jocelyne and I look forward to meeting many of you in the reception that follows, and over the coming months.

David P. Angel
Clark University