Inaugural Address

The university seal above the words

INAUGURATION: November 10, 2014

Hello Denton, Dallas and Houston, Bienvenidos a todos, Welcome to Texas Woman’s University.

Thank you, Regent Bancroft and Regent Wilson. This is an extraordinary day for me and one I will always cherish. There is no higher or more humbling feeling than to be acknowledged like this in the company of your family, your friends—many who have come here from all over the country—your peers, colleagues and members of the community at large.

I’m so grateful to the many wonderful faculty and staff who planned this day and the terrific students who so proudly guided us around the campus. I hope you had the opportunity to meet some of the most talented and committed faculty I’ve known on your tours today. There is so much to showcase at TWU and what happens in classrooms is at the heart of it all.

I want to extend my personal thanks to the dignitaries with us here today:

  • First, Congressman Michael Burgess, Representative Myra Crownover, (congratulations on your recent reelection) and Mayor Chris Watts.
  • Our Board of Regents, and also the citizens of Denton for the very warm welcome Chad and I have received, and of course
  • The leaders of other universities who have come to Denton today:  President and Chancellor Khator, Chancellor Jackson, Presidents Hodge, Herbst (accompanied by Dr. Polansky), Pattillo, Rogers, and Chater, Provosts Burgrren and Gorman, and all my colleagues and friends from Miami University, and elsewhere. It means so much to me that you would honor me with your presence. Thank you.

No acknowledgement would be complete without recognizing those closest to me—my family. My brother Patrick and his wife, my son Max, and of course, my husband Chad who has been my rock and inspiration, but I especially want to thank my mother and father who traveled here from Belgium to be with me on this day. Merci d’avoir fait le voyage et fait l’effort d’etre ici pour fêter avec moi.

I have to say that preparing for this moment—and the inaugural speech—has been a struggle for me. On one hand, there is the perceived expectation to speak from the mind and deliver an eloquent, sophisticated talk. On the other, is my desire to speak from the heart and my feelings about this day and my thoughts about the future.

Well, those of you who know me won’t be surprised that I’ve chosen to go with the heart...because the unique role we play, the kind of students that we nurture, and the faculty and staff who serve their needs, is what so deeply touches me.

I’ll start by saying that in the last few months, all the discussions I’ve had, all the observations I’ve made, and all the materials I’ve read, have led me to one conclusion: Texas Woman’s University already has many of the things the experts say we need to be great and stay great, well, maybe we could use a few more resources!

We are surrounded here on the Denton campus by reminders of that legacy of tradition and greatness—the statue of the Pioneer Woman; the stories told by the stained glass windows of the Little Chapel; and the collection of First Lady gowns. Though I am moved seeing these symbols of an enviable past, we must now go further and envision how we will thrive and maintain our leadership in the coming decades. We must amplify this sense of clear purpose and “forward-looking” that is palpable on our Houston and Dallas campuses.

I can’t help but be reminded of the story about the three workers constructing a building: when asked what she was doing, the first worker, a carpenter, said, “I’m framing a window.” The second worker, a brick layer, when asked what he was doing said, “I’m making a wall”; the third worker, just a simple hod-carrier, when asked the same question said with great pride—“I’m building a magnificent cathedral.”

So in that spirit, I see our university as not just a place: it’s a living, breathing organism with a heart, mind, body, and a purpose. And it’s a force: a positive, dynamic force with the capacity to do great things for the community and the region. 

That is a foundation on which we can build and make real what we know is possible. And it’s a strong foundation because for 113 years this university has been anchored on one corner by the conviction that we exist to serve...such as serving returning soldiers after WWII by becoming a world leader in the fields of nursing, occupational and physical therapy.

The spirit of that kind of service is still with us but I also want TWU to be seen as a thought leader and contributor through the sharing of its knowledge and wisdom. And we’re good at it. 84% of our graduates are employed within the first year and on average our alumni earn the 2nd highest salaries in the state.

But we can also serve our community by sharing our talents in areas like the fine arts. We are proud when our dance, theatre, design and literature contribute to the quality of life of the community.

I want to anchor another corner of our foundation with imagination and innovation. Let me give you two recent examples of how universities can creatively combine their talents with their capacity for service to the community.

  • San Francisco chose to make use of one of its university architectural colleges to offer designs for the new Giants’ baseball stadium that would eliminate the problem of wind funneling that wreaked havoc on pitching and batting in the old Candlestick Park.
  • In Boston, a consortium of universities have been invited to help the city prepare its bid for the 2024 Olympics, by turning to its schools of urban planning, business, journalism, and sports medicine—each looking to develop plans that will not only dazzle the Olympic selection committee but also for solutions to problems that have plagued previous host cities.

To serve in that way, we rely on the tools we have available...and academics have lots of tools!...not the least of which is a great deal of intellectual capacity and experience. We now have to develop a culture of innovation, and think of new uses for these tools. We already have a concentration of the best and most diverse minds available that rivals many corporations and governments.

 In fact, right this minute, TWU has about 15,069 students, 842 staff members, 436 faculty members, 409 adjuncts, and 10 Regents—that adds up to 16,765 minds we could instantly set to work on a problem. Surely there are very few problems that can’t be solved or dreams realized by 16,765 determined minds.

At the third corner of the foundation is our sense of Ethos, our character and our integrity. In fact, maybe more than anything, that is what brought me here. It’s who we are and what we want to be. I feel so inspired and blessed as this is a university that has a strong and very confident sense of itself. 

Going back over a hundred years to its beginning, when we set out to educate women—a segment of our society, mind you, that didn’t “go to college”—this is still deeply embedded in our character. Similarly today, we welcome those who now need and want a baccalaureate and graduate level college education—who are smart, talented, who represent the next generation but who may not traditionally have been the “college crowd” such as our returning veterans, recent immigrants and even students who have aged out of foster care and are now homeless. 

I have to brag here because it’s important to make the point that this isn’t just high-minded rhetoric. The homeless students I just spoke about...well, nationally, on average about 2% successfully reach a baccalaureate degree.  Here at TWU, it is 80%.

But let me strongly emphasize here, that because we are proud of who we are and who we serve, we have no less commitment to the quality of our educational experiences. That means maintaining and continuing to build an exceptional faculty—one of my highest priorities, and continuing to have nationally highly ranked programs as we do today in nursing, OT, PT, dance, music therapy and others. 

At the 4th corner is our special commitment to women. I want TWU to be known by women everywhere—women of every race, faith, nationality, political view and socioeconomic status—a place where they will be embraced for who they are, where they will feel safe and supported, and where they can realize their potential to become leaders in this dynamic state. After all, women are now about 51% of our country’s population—and 90% of our enrollment!

But, I also want to say loud and clear that we also embrace our male students, faculty and administrators, as they have very much contributed to our depth—and something else TWU has plenty of...what the positive psychology movement of today calls GRIT.

In an earlier address I gave here on campus, I mentioned a term probably unknown to many as it comes from the US Military. They say we are in a “VUCA world”—an acronym that defines our current world context as Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous.

However, to be successful in this world, experts tell us that cognitive brilliance alone won’t suffice. Thriving in a VUCA world also requires social, emotional, and spiritual intelligence. It requires developing networks, flexibility and adaptability—skills that have often been associated with women. So as an institution dedicated to educating, and drawing on women’s ways of understanding the world, we at TWU should lead the way in the VUCA world!!

And, at TWU, we have one more quality that the experts overlook—a long tradition of refusing to sit still, refusing to rest on our laurels. Instead, acting on the desire to move forward and to reach higher—We are Pioneers.

I may have thrown some of you with the title of today’s address by using the phrase “inflection points.” I will speak more about them in a minute, but Inflection points are what we might call dramatic events that significantly alter the environment and become the drivers for change. There are many inflection points and while we have to be prepared for them, they also present many new needs and opportunities. And those needs and opportunities, in my mind, especially play to the strengths of women: nurturing, providing, sustaining and relating. In fact, if I were to name this era, I think I would name it the “Age of Relationships.” 

If we are going to successfully sustain our planet, our society, our lineage we need to apply these strengths and develop even more skilled graduates who can become leaders, caregivers, health professionals, teachers, artists, scientists—and, thoughtful citizens.

I spoke about inflection points a few minutes ago and I want to mention three that all higher education leaders must confront and definitely us here at TWU.

 First, the practical aspects of globalization.  

We’ve been talking about globalization for years, but I believe we’ve reached the tipping point. Today, talent can be accessed from anywhere; it is no longer place-bound. What does this mean for faculty?  If a student has unlimited choices, will faculty have to begin marketing themselves? Will institutions have to begin marketing their faculty? What does this mean for the content of doctoral work, a significant part of our degree programs? What does this mean for physical versus virtual institutions?

And globalization also has significant implications for course content. Are we teaching our nurses to be responsive to the “Uncertain” part of VUCA, such as the recent Ebola situation—or understand a variety of cultural responses to the rapidly changing view of end-of life decisions? Are our speech pathologists prepared for the required and different cultural responses to something like vocal disabilities? Global considerations are now part of everything we do.

Second, is the dynamic change in demographics

Again, we are near the tipping point...this is a major issue facing Texas right now. We no longer have time to gently stir the melting pot.  We are already embracing a rapidly increasing proportion of our students who are first-generation college students. To make the point, and I consider this a great opportunity, right here at TWU 26% of our undergraduate students are Hispanic—up dramatically from just a few years ago. Personally, I think that will give us a leg up in making TWU a destination school of choice for more international students—one of my priorities.

But, I also reflect on what it will mean for us to have a student body whose major cultural heritage is different from those who teach, and lead, and govern. What changes will we need to make to educate these coming generations in ways that will allow them to become equal partners in the leadership of education, government, business, and every other facet of life?  These are issues of equity in my mind and heart.

The third inflection point takes place in the higher education market and the changes in its funding model.

Some well-resourced universities are caught in a market escalation to compete for a strata of students by turning their campuses into a country club-like atmosphere (lazy rivers etc). There may be a need for them, but that is not who we are or want to be.

When you step onto this campus, you feel the intensity of that returning military veteran or first generation student—that they are here to learn...and we are here to help them reach their goals. That is the role we embrace and we want to be the best at it. This requires a different allocation of resources, one focused on services rather than amenities.

So what was at one time, a residential campus here, is now a mix of residential and commuter campus. Some of our students complete much of their coursework on-line and do not spend much time on campus. What concerns me is that without a strong campus life, students disconnect. They are more likely to drop out, and even if they complete the credential, they become disengaged alumni—not helpful for them and bad for us. 

So when they are here, we want—we need—a campus experience that not only enhances their education and builds relationships, but reminds them of the importance of TWU in their lives. And I will just say it now...one of those experiences we desperately need is a new student union.

And isn’t it reasonable to consider in a student body made up largely of women, that childcare will be an issue? What can we do in terms of scheduling and services to make sure being a successful young mother—or father— doesn’t mean being a failed student? I want every student—resident, commuter, or virtual—to know that TWU will fully meet their needs, will never stint on the quality of their education, and will always be committed to allowing them to grow to their full potential. That includes working to bring campus life to our students, such as holding campus life events where they are; but the experience of our students here in Denton and Houston and Dallas must effectively build a relationship with the university as well. 

Those are three very powerful forces that are real, but to “lighten up” a bit—there is a fourth inflection point that I’ve been reminded of lately, and that is the impact of what happens when a new Chancellor arrives...(glad to hear some chuckles—I just wanted to be sure you were still listening) Of course, the change I will bring will only be positive and well-received...

In closing, I think of that simple construction worker who saw the bigger picture, the magnificent cathedral—much like those pioneer women of old, their confidence firmly in place, who watched as first one house, then another, and another, then a school and a store that grew from the wilderness and became a town, a community. So, too, it is for us.

Now, we take our own pioneering steps beyond the safe and well-loved present, beyond the inflection points, into the future. Then, when we face the volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous VUCA world, we embrace it with Vision, Understanding, Clarity and Agility—a different VUCA.

And humbly, being reminded by the words of Robert F. Kennedy we can say; “There are those who look at things the way they are and ask, “Why?”—I dream of things that never were, and ask, “Why not?”

Again, I want to express my deepest thanks to our special guests and all of you for being here today, and for honoring me with the challenge and opportunity to help make TWU a vital part of the well-being of this community and Texas as a whole. It is a great privilege and I will do my utmost to live up to your expectations.

Thank you and please enjoy the rest of the day.