Distinguished guests, Faculty, Staff, Students, Alumni, Delegates representing many
outstanding colleges and universities and higher education associations, Friends
Thank you for your presence today…your being here this afternoon brings honor to
me, but more importantly, much more importantly, to Randolph-Macon, and I am grateful
This magnificent inauguration today would not have been possible without the work
of two significant committees. To Chairman Harold Stark and your colleagues on the
2005 Presidential Search Committee, I say “thank you” for the unwavering confidence
you showed in me. My heartfelt thanks as well to our fantastic inauguration committee,
chaired by Interim Dean Bill Franz and co-chaired by our marketing impresario, Anne
Marie Lauranzon, and to all those at the College who have helped make this weekend
And I would like to add a special word of thanks to Randolph-Macon’s devoted physical
plant employees. They not only make this extraordinary campus lovely for festive
events such as this weekend -- they enable each of us in the R-MC family to teach
and learn and play on one of the most serene and beautiful campuses in America.
Robert Frost once said "A poem begins as a lump in the throat." … I think a journey
begins that way, too.
Rest assured that I had a lump in my throat as well, precisely one year ago, this
very afternoon, when I received a life-changing telephone call. On the other end
was Macon Brock, our distinguished board chairman, and I recall two memorable phrases
from that conversation, spoken from Macon’s heart and in his own incomparable style
of candor, warmth and friendliness. (A style, by the way, that I have come to realize,
characterizes all of Macon’s interactions.) First, he said something that excited
me, something we all love to hear. Macon said to me, “Bob, You’re the one.”
But it was the second phrase of Macon’s that I found even more significant, and
even prescient, when he said to me: “Now is the time for Randolph-Macon.”
It almost reverberated. And I remember thinking at that instant, “I know exactly
what he means by that simple phrase.” And now, coming to this special place and
becoming a part of this special community, I can say it myself: Now is indeed
the time for Randolph-Macon.
Let me hasten to add that it is not my arrival, or even this ceremony, that signifies
that now is the time ; rather, it is all that you have done…everyone here today,
and those who came before you…to bring this special College to its calling at this
single moment in time.
Today, I recognize that I stand on some very broad and tall shoulders, and indeed,
we are all here, standing on those shoulders, not the least of which are those of
my three distinguished predecessors who have joined us this afternoon. In fact,
having four Randolph-Macon presidents on one platform may well be a record. Gentlemen,
I am honored and touched by your presence.
Randolph-Macon’s proud past is magnified by a record of outstanding service and
dramatic accomplishment. Since we were founded in 1830, by foresighted and courageous
Methodist laymen, Randolph-Macon has held true to its liberal arts mission with
an almost laser-like focus. This afternoon I would like to share with you a few
personal thoughts about that mission, about the importance of liberal arts education,
and about our opportunities, challenges, and advantages at Randolph-Macon in the
When I contemplate the importance of the liberal arts, I think first of the ancient
story of the student in search of true understanding, who went to the far mountaintop
home of a great sage. Exhausted after many weeks of walking, the student fell to
the ground at the feet of the sage and said, “Tell me, oh wise one, what is the
answer?” There was a long pause. “It depends,” came the reply. “What is the question?”
The essence of a liberal arts education resides in the recognition that, as in so
much of life, it is the questions that really matter. At its core, a liberal arts
education enshrines the value of cloistering eager young learners in a small classroom
with an inspirational teacher, whose sole purpose is to stimulate their intellects
and light fire to their vivid imaginations. While rooted in ancient Athens, it remains
relevant in present times.
In today’s world, one altered fundamentally after September 11, 2001, our students
must acquire a sophisticated and nuanced understanding of profoundly different cultures.
They must appreciate the historical antecedents leading to our allegiance to the
rule of law, and possess the imagination to grasp the consequences of breaking with
that tradition. They require a comfortable familiarity with scientific method, hypothesis,
and theory. They must have the math skills to grasp issues of probability and accuracy,
and to comprehend the use and abuse of statistics. And ultimately, in the deepest
sense, they will need the ability to find beauty -- and something of their own reflection
-- in the face of the other.
As you know, I was trained in the law, and while I didn’t practice law, I have often
reflected that it is a training that has served me well in my life, and in my career.
But note the semantic difference: my education at law school I refer to as training.
There is a fundamental difference between education and training – or as Aristotle
first observed, between the “liberal and illiberal” arts, the latter of which he
thought “less fit for the practice or exercise of virtue.”
It is in the liberal arts that we find, and confront, the great issues of truth,
of the moral life, of good and evil. Our College’s mission statement speaks to developing
both “mind and character.” This is not training in any conventional sense of the
word, and therein lies our greatest challenge in defending the value and relevancy
of a Randolph-Macon liberal arts education.
The meaning of truth, the value of a poem, the importance of scientific literacy,
the treasure of a magnificent painting, are, in and of themselves, nearly impossible
to quantify. Yet it defies the American experience, to suggest that some things
of great value may at the same time be immeasurable. For deeply rooted in the American
character is a love of practicality, efficiency and measurability. That great American
sage, Ben Franklin, instructed us to always remember that “time is money,” and we
have taken that lesson deeply to heart.
So, a liberal arts education may be well and good, but is there really time for
it? Today there are many voices outside the academy – and a surprising number within
– who advocate that the standard of all education must be that it is practical,
that it is measurable, that it fulfills a means to a productive end, such as a job.
Perhaps the extreme of this position is foreshadowed by the recent Spellings Commission
report on higher education, which portends the unthinkable: standardized tests for
I reject this approach. I would argue that the essence of a liberal arts education
is not the mastery of some defined body of knowledge that one can blindly regurgitate
at test-time. Rather, the immeasurable value of a liberal arts education is, quite
simply, learning to think. The practical outcome we infuse in our students is learning
how to learn...not in semester-length servings, but for a lifetime. And I should
add, the skills our students master in the course of our liberal arts study – to
read critically, to think, to analyze, to write, to communicate, to work in teams
– are all skills that employers actually treasure.
We simply must do a better job, all of us, in telling the success story of the strengths
our outstanding graduates possess when they graduate…and how those strengths connect
to the future. That message is what should inform any discussion of higher education.
Now is the time for Randolph-Macon.
Our beloved late professor, Burnell Pannill, once wrote: “Randolph-Macon is not
a place or a program, but a purpose – a purpose of orientation to life.”
Indeed, we know that Randolph-Macon is not of just one place. We were founded at
Boydton, a tiny town 100 miles southwest of Richmond, and remained there until just
after the Civil War. Several weeks ago, I joined Trustee Emeritus Jack Russell,
and his wife, Patty, for a visit to our College’s birthplace. One cannot help in
looking at our once-massive original building, now decrepit and decaying, covered
with vines and shadowed by leafy trees, and not still see the majestic promise it
must have presented 176 years ago. As I strained through the underbrush to touch
a patch of its crumbling brick surface, I could vividly imagine the dreams and aspirations
of the young students and their faculty members who dashed in and out of that building
so long ago -- the very same kinds of dreams and aspirations that are conceived
and realized, right here, on our campus today. Yes, it has been an incredible journey
for R-MC, filled with lofty ambition and hard work, tough luck and external challenges
galore, and most importantly, filled with ever so much success and countless transformed
lives. I am certain that John Early, Hezekiah Leigh, and the many others who worked
tirelessly to give life and meaning to this College, would be proud and amazed of
where we presently stand. But our purpose today is not to simply sustain our position…for
we all know that merely pursuing a strategy of standing pat is, in reality, a death
Now is the time for Randolph Macon…and to make our College even better.
We start from a position of immense strength. This is a College with many, many
superb qualities and fundamental core values: the most consequential of which is
our commitment to each other. Indeed, the essential, over-riding, redeeming value
of this community is the steadfast commitment of our faculty to our students.
Take a walk with me, any day, on this beautiful campus, “along these avenues of
trees” as our resident poet laureate, Willie Chappell, would say, and we will not
stroll far before encountering a faculty member and student, in animated conversation,
enjoying a “teachable moment.” It might be Professor Bruce Unger, outlining the
most recent UN deliberations, while crossing the historic campus…or first year Professor
Ben Huff leading his class on Virtue and Ethics just outside of Fox Hall. In our
fabulously renovated Thomas Branch Hall, you might discover Professor Aouicha Hilliard
helping a student plan a semester abroad, so as to better understand that complex
world into which she is about to enter. In the dog days of summer you may see a
student who stays on campus, immersed in academic research…another of our core values….working
along side Professors Kelly Lambert or Serge Schreiner.
On weekends and many late afternoons you will find our Yellow Jackets, nearly 40
per cent of our student body, representing us…with grace, spirit and skill…in fifteen
intercollegiate sports; upholding a tradition dating back to our earliest days in
Ashland. Nearly everyone on campus works out at the Brock…or at least meets there,
wearing natty gym clothes and looking like they are working out. On a quiet, cool
evening you might just discover Professors Beth Gill and John Rabung, with a group
of freshman, enjoying dessert and discussion. In the College’s nerve-center, the
Bookstore, our goodwill ambassador extraordinaire, Barclay du Priest, is hugging
a sophomore, which in turn reminds that student of the values which drew him to
R-MC in the first place. And on Sunday mornings, church bells remind us that the
Methodist heritage by which we were founded is still alive and very real.
We remain committed to our residential character. In the newly renovated Freshmen
Village…which for some reason is still known as the Motel Dorms…our amazing students
learn to live together. As they do in historic (and, dare I say, still un-renovated)
Mary Branch, our fraternities and sororities and special interest houses. Our commitment
to be a more diverse Community is unremitting, and walking through the Frank Brown
Student Center, you might spot one of our newest groups on campus, Brothers for
Change, planning their next outreach service project. And speaking of community,
we are in an absolutely terrific location: very close to the wonderful city of Richmond,
and not far from Washington DC and even Virginia Beach. Let us promote even more
this fantastic location.
Yes, we have many advantages. And so Now is the time for Randolph-Macon.
The charge before us today is simple: Randolph-Macon is among the most selective,
residential liberal arts colleges in America and among the very best true liberal
arts colleges in the Commonwealth…our goal is to be a leader in all that we do,
all the while ensuring that the liberal arts education we offer remains the best
educational experience for undergraduates anywhere in the world.
Randolph-Macon must lead.
Leadership does not mean focusing narrowly on the first job a college graduate lands;
leadership means shaping the hearts and minds of our students for a lifetime of
learning, service, achievement and fulfillment.
Leadership does not mean blind adherence to a pedagogy more appropriate to bygone
era; leadership means continuing the innovation in curriculum and teaching that
has characterized Randolph-Macon from our earliest decades and in our most recent
Leadership does not mean losing sight of the importance of the individual in the
name of efficiency; leadership means continuing to deliver an R-MC hand-tooled education,
where the value of the person, and his or her mind and character, remain paramount.
Finally, leadership does not mean settling for something less; leadership means
holding each and every part of this College to the highest standard of excellence
in each and everything we do.
To be a leader among all of America’s liberal arts colleges will require extraordinary
levels of passion, energy and resolve, new and creative ideas, and an equally extraordinary
level of help from each of you.
Our agenda is not immodest, but in the words of Daniel Burnham, the19th century
architect who rebuilt the Chicago skyline after the great fire: “Have no small dreams;
they have not the power to stir the hearts...”
After listening intensely for the past nine months, my own heart has been stirred
by what you have shared with me, and I believe we should work side-by-side to address
these important objectives:
First: strengthen our operating budget to levels commensurate with
our academic aspirations and dreams. I have often commented our faculty and staff
do more with less, than any college I know. That, however, is an unacceptable legacy.
Second: Our prized faculty, the heart and soul of Randolph-Macon,
need unqualified support—both enhanced salaries and funds to stimulate their teaching
and research. Inherent in our history and our destiny is the promise that Randolph-Macon
will be the career destination for America’s finest teacher-scholars. Likewise,
our dedicated staff members need to have the tools and resources to continue to
do their jobs at the highest level.
Third: We need additional scholarships and financial aid to enable
us to attract, and equally important, to retain, the very best students we can to
Randolph-Macon. And I don’t use that word “best” as a simple placeholder for grades
or SAT scores; rather, our goal at Randolph-Macon is to build upon our greatest
achievement: adding significant value to students who want to be here.
Fourth: It can be said that our facilities are currently in the
best condition in our history; yet there are essential ways we can expand, equip,
and modernize them – as well as upgrading our technology, campus-wide -- in order
to serve better our students, faculty and staff, particularly in the sciences. And
that may mean building a few things…
Fifth: We have to remain committed to our strategic goals of enhancing
student engagement, at all levels, and for all students.
Finally, Randolph-Macon deserves to enjoy a reputation corresponding
to our achievements and contributions to the Commonwealth and to our nation. In
some regards, our jewel of a college is relatively unknown. We all have a responsibility
to proclaim the success story of this institution. To those who may doubt we are
as good as I claim, I have a simple request: please lower your voices.
Let the rest of us press forward to sing out, clearly and strong, the incredible
advantages of this College, this place, this wonderfully special community.
You might ask, “where do we begin?” Working together: our outstanding board, our
valuable faculty and staff, our dedicated alumni, parents and friends, we start
by launching the most ambitious capital campaign in our College’s history…a campaign
that not only adheres to our financial needs, but is fueled by the expanse of our
aspirations as well. While the campaign will ask each of us to give more then ever
before, our efforts will also, I hope, inspire greater participation by our alumni
-- back to a level equal to the days when Randolph-Macon College graduates were
counted among the most supportive in America. Churchill once said “you make a living
by what you do; you make a life by what you give.” And no where will this sentiment
be more celebrated in the coming years than here at Randolph-Macon.
We have also begun looking at the possibility of growing the College. We do not
want to be larger for larger’s sake. On the other hand, if our costs can, in fact,
be spread over a larger student body, and, most importantly, if we are convinced
we can grow our numbers of students and faculty without losing the essential character
of this wonderful institution, it is incumbent on us to explore this opportunity.
Likewise, we cannot lose our commitment to being as efficient as we can, and keenly
sensitive to holding down tuition costs.
Because now is the time for Randolph-Macon.
On a personal level in order to help achieve these goals I am making my own commitments
to you: first, to continue to listen…you have helped me learn so much already about
this special place…and I know that I can be effective only if I stay intently in
that listening mode in the months and years ahead. Likewise, I will strive to actively
seek out your opinions and your advice…and ultimately search for consensus, whenever
possible. And, as I have said often: I am firmly committed to the practice of shared
responsibility and governance. To the greater community, and to those outside our
environs, I pledge to communicate….vigorously, expansively, continuously…so that
we can increase understanding, whenever and wherever possible. Deeply respecting
the loyalty, dedication and superb quality of our faculty and staff, I will proudly
tell our story, whenever and wherever I can. Next, I will pour my heart and soul
into building relationships that will strengthen and sustain this College. Finally,
I commit to you that I will seek to make decisions, however difficult, using one
simple principle: what is best for Randolph-Macon and our students?
In return I make a few requests of you: first, that we, together, remain committed
to Randolph-Macon’s important legacy of a high sense of civility…what professor
and author P. M. Forni describes as “gracious goodness” …in what we do, in all that
we do. Second, I ask for your resolve to stand with me, whatever our minor differences,
towards the great objectives of making our College better in every way, every day.
Indeed, only by working together, collegially, determinedly, and regardless of our
vantage point, will our College be afforded the greatest chance of advancement.
And finally, I ask for your prayers, for me and for our beloved Randolph-Macon,
for without them, this journey will be made infinitely more difficult.
You have entrusted me to be your president: to guide, lead, and steward this College.
You have asked me to protect and preserve the traditions, values, and virtues that
define Randolph-Macon, and to build upon the enormous achievements of the 14 presidents
who have walked this path before me. You have called upon me as the president of
Randolph-Macon to sturdy her keel, add to her ballast, re-supply her stores, and
fill her sails. It is a profound responsibility and honor, and I relish, from the
bottom of my heart, its challenges and its mighty opportunities.
Our own James Scanlon has said: “Randolph-Macon, in one sense, belongs to us…but
surely in another sense, we belong to Randolph-Macon”
Yes, indeed, we all belong to Randolph-Macon…and the future of our treasured College
belongs to all of us.