Office of the President

A Common Goal

President Earl H. Potter III

Earl H. Potter, III

Transcript of President Earl Potter's Inaugural Speech - Sept. 19, 2008

Vice Chair Grendahl, Chancellor McCormick... members of the St. Cloud State family and all of the many delegates and guests who are here today, thank you for joining in this celebration of a new chapter in the life of St. Cloud State University. I am particularly delighted for this opportunity to welcome back - and thank once again - four individuals who successfully led this university through the challenges and successes of their own eras. Please join me in recognizing former presidents Roy Saigo, Bruce Grube, Bob Bess and Chuck Graham, as well as Alice Wick and Judi McDonald Larkin, who remind us of the dedicated leadership of Robert Wick and Brendan McDonald.

Each of these former presidents served this university with pride and integrity for a space in time. During my 24 years of service in the United States Coast Guard, I learned well the importance of stewardship. For the space in time that I am entrusted with the presidency of St. Cloud State University, I will be the 22nd steward of this great public institution. It is my intention to build on the legacies of each of these leaders and to bring honor and vision to this university and this community.

But before I speak about a vision I would like to take a few moments to thank some very special people. First, thanks to the university leaders on the platform; each of these folks plays a key role in the life of our university. Thank you for all that you do. I especially want to express my gratitude to Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Board of Trustees Vice Chair Ruth Grendahl and Chancellor James McCormick for leading the investiture. I am deeply honored by your participation and grateful for your continuing leadership. A special welcome also to trustee emeritus Dan Coborn, a community leader and longtime friend of St. Cloud State.

I also want to take a moment for a personal note to my wife Christine, and my children, Margaret, Christopher, Binks and Jamie. We are not all here in body but we are all here. I am proud of each of you and grateful for the love and support that you have given me through all of the challenges we have faced together. I also want to thank my sister and her husband, Deanne and Guido DeFusco, your presence here today brings to mind many memories of the family that built the foundation that I stand on today. Thank you both for being here.

Thank you Dr. Curris for speaking so eloquently about the role of universities like St. Cloud State and the importance of our public engagement with communities - of a stewardship of place that creates more livable communities, stronger economies and a more inclusive society. We draw a lot of strength from our participation with colleagues in the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and we are deeply grateful for your leadership of AASCU.

The events of this inauguration have given us all an opportunity to focus on the positive impact this university and its faculty, staff and students have on our community, our nation and the world beyond. During this week we have celebrated the rich heritage and promising future of St. Cloud State University; but, this week we have also done what we all too rarely do - shine a light on the partnerships and the people who make vital contributions to our learning community and enrich our environment with their knowledge, their creativity and their soul.

We are not the ivory tower or a separate town. We are a university community that educates students by example to engage in an active life as part of the community. In his book, Beyond the Ivory Tower, former Harvard President Derek Bok encourages universities to apply concepts of social responsibility both in teaching students and in making positive contributions to meet the needs of society. This is what St. Cloud State is all about. We educate our students in order that they may have full lives and make a difference in the lives of others. We do this work in a community that must be what it teaches..engaged, purposeful and committed to opportunity for all.

Many of you know that when I came here, one of the first priorities I expressed was to build stronger relationships with community stakeholders to make St. Cloud State more universally valued as a community partner.

As I learned about some of the other institutions and organizations in our region, I saw in their objectives and priorities evidence that we have much in common. The mission of the Central Minnesota Community Foundation is to engage people, connect resources and build community. Create CommUNITY's mission is to provide a welcoming, non-discriminatory environment with respect and opportunity for all. United Way brings together people from across the community to tackle the issues that matter most right here in our community, including education, income stability and health. The St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce and Area Economic Development Partnership create good jobs for our students and serve as the voice of business for our region. St. Cloud State University is committed to excellence in teaching, learning, and service, fostering scholarship and enhancing collaborative relationships in a global community.

As for the neighborhood organizations - they want peace and quiet .. Well we're still working on that.

While we each have our own unique roles, we share with these and other leading Minnesota organizations the desire to collaborate with others in the region to make this a better place to live - a place where every individual has an equal opportunity to be educated, to raise a family, to earn a good living and to enjoy all the benefits of living in a welcoming, inclusive community. This is what all peoples around the globe want for their children. It is what we want for ours.

It is the "Common Goal" that we all share.

In this region we have recognized that we can't be successful in achieving our separate goals unless we work together. More fundamentally we cannot even shape a vision for our own organizations in isolation. Our unique roles only make sense in the context of a big picture that includes all whose work contributes to achieving the Common Goal that we share.

For St. Cloud State University this recognition has led us to seek a common understanding of the university's impact on the wider community - an understanding that embraces our roles as an economic engine, a catalyst for social change and growth, a source of enrichment and entertainment, a place of opportunity for every member of the community and a partner in tackling the toughest challenges of the day. This is what it means to be a "regional, public, comprehensive university".

When our many roles come together in partnership with a community, the community and the university are different. They stand apart from other communities as a "university town". A town which, according to "The Rise of the Creative Class" author Richard Florida, becomes a magnet for cutting-edge technology and research, creative talent, and people who help develop a progressive and successfully multicultural environment. This kind of town is a center of strength that can drive the success of a whole region and provide products, services, talent and ideas that have an impact on a whole state.

That's what's happening here. New and exciting changes are afoot in St. Cloud. One example of our partnerships is the "Fifth Live" project that will connect the university aesthetically and physically with our downtown. The project brings together the separate plans of the City of St. Cloud, business leaders, most notably the folks from Coborn's, and the University to create an integrated plan for 5th Avenue. The University and the City are playing supporting roles in the center of this project and leading roles on the North and South ends of the Avenue. On the south end of the Avenue a new regional events center will emerge as the National Hockey Center is updated and expanded. On the North end of the avenue the City of St. Cloud will renovate and expand the Civic Center. In this past legislative session the University received $6.5 million in funding for the hockey center. With great community support, efforts are underway to raise additional funds for a $29.1 million facility that will transform it into a regional events center that will help make St. Cloud an entertainment and education destination for Central Minnesota.

Within the campus the effects of partnership are also visible. We are in the midst of planning for a new $42M "Integrated Science and Engineering Laboratory Facility", ISELF for short. In this new facility we will prepare graduates for 21st Century opportunities and challenges. The plan for ISELF was created in partnership with Vice Chancellor Laura King and her staff at the system offices of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, but it probably would not have come together without the support of alums like Joel Goergen, Chief Scientist at Force Ten Networks, the Chamber of Commerce and business partners like Medtronics and Bob Coborn at MicroBioLogics.

The role that our legislative delegation played in reaching this milestone cannot be overstated. Thank you.. Sen. Tarryl Clark, Sen. Michelle Fishbach, Rep. Larry Haws, Rep. Steve Gottwalt, Rep. Larry Hosch, and Rep. Dan Severson. Their support made all the difference in what some have described as a "clean sweep" for St. Cloud - with funding for the Brown Hall renovation that will provide brand new quarters for our excellent nursing program, ISELF planning, the Civic Center and the Hockey Center. We were honored with a visit from Governor Pawlenty this past May, when he came to campus to sign the bonding bill into law. We all thank the Governor for this powerful statement of support and we forgive him for being 10 minutes late because he stopped at a hardware store to pick up a symbolic broom. Margaret Vessel from the Governor's Office is here today representing the Governor. Thank you for joining us. Finally, I want to thank all the others who made this success happen especially Dean of Science and Engineering David DeGroote for his tenacious commitment to do the right thing for our students and for Minnesota.

These changes are happening because more of us are thinking about how we can develop our full potential for community partnerships. This fall's "welcome back" campaign is another good example. We approached other campuses and the St. Cloud Times with an idea to visually and emphatically welcome our students back to the community. We made our students feel welcome, but we also reminded our community how much those students and the presence of our educational institutions benefit us all - economically, culturally, and in so many other ways. Communications Director Loren Boone could have decided to make this project a St. Cloud State effort. Instead, he reached out and our partners in higher education responded with enthusiasm. A commitment to partnership is permeating the whole university..and it shows.

We've strengthened our working relationship with the city, thanks in part to the enthusiastic support of Mayor and alumnus Dave Kleis. Mayor Kleis shares our belief that the community needs the university and the university needs the community to move forward. We are part of this community. Most of us live here and we are bound by a common goal: to have a decent future for our children in a community that offers opportunity for all. Engagement is the way to achieve these shared goals.

As a university we will align our capacities with the needs of the region. Our community and our state face challenges that the university and its people will not ignore. We will work diligently with our partners to make this a better place to live and work and learn and through our own growth we will help our region change. To this end I have created and charged a "Diversity Task Force" to build a comprehensive plan to strengthen our learning community through the development of an anti-racist culture that supports the success of every member of the university community.

As we consider better ways to improve the excellence of our academic programs and the other experiences that enhance a St. Cloud State education, we will keep regional, state and national needs in mind. In the coming year we will create a micro-loan program funded by gifts from private donors. This program will be operated by students and faculty of the G. R. Herberger College of Business in a manner similar to the way they now operate an investment fund.the Husky Fund. This new activity will, like the Husky Fund, offer a rich learning opportunity but it will also benefit the community by funding small, startup businesses whose needs do not meet the thresholds established by traditional banks and other lenders.

We know that we are preparing students for jobs that don't exist today and teaching them the skills they will need to answer questions that have not yet been asked.

With these ideas in mind, we have developed an academic plan that will enhance those distinctive characteristics that set us apart from our peers and create new program offerings that focus on our strengths and build to embrace new opportunities.

We will complete a vision for a "global university" that will guide the management of and program development in international studies.

Even as we work to "green the campus" we will bring together those faculty whose scholarship and teaching includes issues of sustainability to build a center of strength as a resource for our community.

This year we will complete the updating of our comprehensive facilities plan. The heart of the plan is the commitment to provide state of the art learning spaces for our growing programs. But we will attend to the many needs we have as a campus as well: We will reshape our interface with the community, turning the university "inside out" to make services to the public more accessible. We will maximize the value of our location on one of America's great rivers, a commitment that echoes the work of a new regional collaboration that will focus on the role of the Mississippi River in our communities. We will expand and modernize our residential facilities and we will pay more attention to the overall campus environment in our designs. We have already begun with wide community and campus consultations and we will continue to "plan in the open" as the vision crystallizes.

I know that I have told a number of you who are here today that now is the time to talk about our future. It would not have been right to "announce new directions" last year. I needed time to listen, time to share my thoughts with the community and time to reflect on the responses that I got. I have heard our community speak and today I can tell you that the people of St. Cloud State University share my understanding of and vision for both what we are and what we may be. As is always the case where people speak the truth, their actions speak even louder. The people of this university care about and are engaged in this community. They make a difference. In preparation for this week's celebration our Inauguration Committee asked the faculty and staff to share some of the ways they and their university are making their community a better place to live. I would like to share the picture that emerged in their answers. They are serving on boards or taking other leadership roles for a wide variety of community organizations and services - including the public library, the Sarcoma Foundation of American, Independent Lifestyles, Mothers of Multiples, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, and the Minnesota Women's Consortium.

Our employees have been instrumental in organizing and leading the Islamic Center, the Community Garden, the Community Anti-Racism Education initiative, the Sexual Assault Task Force and the Dawn Kendig Bone Marrow Donor Registry and the American Heart Association, to name a few.

Our people are active participants in the Civil Air Patrol, Nordic Ski Club and Neighborhood leadership groups. Our faculty, staff, students and alumni dominate participation and leadership in nearly every major musical organization in the community, including the St. Cloud Symphony, the Municipal Band, the Great River Chorale, the Heartland Symphony Orchestra, the Minnesota Center Chorale, Paramount Jazz Orchestra and the Riverside Brass Quintet.

They serve on school boards and school site councils and advisory boards. They sing in church choirs and serve on committees in a variety of endeavors, all in their spare time. One woman wrote in to say she's one of 153 state volunteers who lurks around swamps in the middle of the night to study frogs for the DNR. These are just a few examples of how hundreds in the St. Cloud State community are making a difference in the lives of others. In doing so they build stronger ties between those inside and those outside the perimeters of the campus. Best of all, these faculty and staff offer living examples of engagement for our students. That is what is best about St. Cloud State University. We prepare our graduates to put learning into action. We do that by educating students in an environment that is what we teach. It is a learning community that makes a difference. We teach our students how to learn for a lifetime and how to make a difference with their lives.

One of the most powerful tools we use to meet these objectives is "service learning". In service learning projects students put into practice what they are learning in the classroom and enhance the well-being of the community at the same time. Environmental and Technological Studies professors involve their students in Habitat for Humanity, river cleanup and water quality projects. Business professors give their students experience in consulting, feasibility and planning projects for business, industry, civic and charitable organizations. Community studies and nursing faculty involve their students in programs that benefit health care and elderly care facilities. Students develop their character, communication skills and professional knowledge through these projects but most importantly they come to understand more about what they can do with their education. They can make a difference.

So if we are doing all of this already, what more is there to do. Well, what you see is the result of literally hundreds of individual and collective efforts. What we do is is not focused, individual efforts are often not sustained and we cannot say that every student has the same opportunity because there are too many students to handle with the way we now work. So,... We will create the infrastructure to engage all of our students. We will create channels and processes that allow us to focus and sustain efforts. We will take what we know about powerful learning experiences and we will make that experience a hallmark of a St. Cloud State education. And we will create access to the university that makes the full force of our power to support change fully available to the people of Central Minnesota. We offer some extraordinary experiences to our students.including those opportunities that extend beyond the classroom..experiences that are life-affirming and life-altering. One of the most stunning this past year resulted from the vision, planning and execution that went into the Holocaust Oratorio project that involved 200 students and music faculty in an extraordinary series of events. I want to thank the faculty and everyone who made this happen.

We're going to show a short video that will offer you a glimpse of an educational experience that is an excellent example of one of those opportunities that becomes the highlight of a students' educational journey and brings new meaning and new perspective to everything they do for the rest of their lives. Students and faculty from St. Cloud State presented the European premier of the Holocaust Oratorio, "To Be Certain of the Dawn." They were joined by children of the SCSU Cantabile Girls Choirs and students and faculty from the College of Saint Benedict and St. John's University on a performance tour of Germany, France and Switzerland. They presented their emotional oratorio in many settings, but it was the performance for World War II concentration camp survivors at the remains of the Natzweiler-Struthof camp in France that left an indelible mark on their hearts.

We'd like to share some of that experience with you through a video created by videographer Holly Santiago and Dan Wildeson, director of our Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning.

..and the learning has only just begun. I want to thank the many music faculty and others whose vision and passion for this project has created an unforgettable memory for anyone who has been touched by its powerful message. The students, faculty and staff involved will never be the same. St. Cloud State University will never be the same.

Trustee Grendahl and Chancellor McCormick, not a day goes by that I don't reflect how grateful I am to be in St. Cloud. Every day I am reminded of the wonderful students we have and what a privilege it is to be working for them. And every day I'm reminded of the tremendous commitment and talent our faculty and staff so willingly share with these students and with the community. We are not what we will be but what we are is a fine university that makes a difference in the lives of thousands of people every day. I love this place and I'm proud to be leading St. Cloud State University.

Thank you all for coming. May a hopeful vision lead you forward and may the wind be always at your back.