Home»Local News»It’s our turn; it’s hour time: Inaugural address from the President of Mount Saint Joseph University

It’s our turn; it’s hour time: Inaugural address from the President of Mount Saint Joseph University

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Editor’s Note: This is the entire inaugural address by Dr. H. James Williams, the seventh president of Mount Saint Joseph University. The story is in the June 2017 edition of The Catholic Telegraph.

I woke this morning thinking, how blessed I am to be associated with a Living Legend. And I am not referring only to at least a couple of persons in this theatre with us this morning. I am referring to Mount St. Joseph University! This venerable institution of higher education. And I know that, perhaps, your first reaction is to recoil and ask, “Has he lost his mind?” Most of us usually think of colleges and universities as the bricks and mortar they often display most prominently. And perhaps many, if not most, are, indeed, the inanimate objects that represent themselves. However, the Mount, as we affectionately refer to her, is a living, breathing, being and has been for a long, long time. The Mount is people – and not just any people – it is us – all of us, and not just faculty, staff, and students, but all of us in this theatre; indeed, all of us and any of us who love this institution, give to this institution, want this institution to thrive or even to just survive. The Mount is every student, faculty member, and staff member, who walked through these hallowed halls at some time or another, or supported this University over its many years of life. And it’s up to us, now, to assure that she continues to live – and really live! Indeed, it is our time to move her closer to immortality – until it’s time for us to pass along an even better, more impactful Mount to those who will follow us!

Today marks a passing of the mantle to us – again, all of us. We are the Mount. And from our founding, in 1920 to this very morning, we have always done what was necessary to be successful – that is, to achieve our overall purposes – as embodied in our mission, values, and beliefs.

And as I watched my children grow, develop physically and mentally, and evolve and as I think of my own personal and professional development, I know that it happens continuously – but also in leaps and spurts. And, now, it is time for the Mount, time for us, to take another “big leap” forward. However, to do so, we must, as we have in the past, let go of petty fears and attachments to some of the ways we have always done things, and act boldly, definitively, and, of course, collectively! Our foundresses, the Sisters of Charity, and those who have come before us have shown us how – over many, many years, and over many, many challenges. IT’S, NOW, OUR TURN AND IT’S OUR TIME!

Good morning – and allow me to welcome you to Mount St. Joseph University, to this University Theatre, and to this Presidential Inauguration! We are so very happy and excited to share this special day with all of you – our very special guests!

Before I begin my inauguration comments, per se, I need to express thanks to some very special persons who are here today. Please indulge me.
(1) First, I must thank the Mount St. Joseph University Family, faculty, staff, students, Alumni, Board of Trustees, and the Sisters of Charity for the trust they place in me to lead this wonderful institution. I am, indeed, humbled.
(2) Also, please allow me to thank Linda Liebau, Sister Mary Ann Flannery, and the Inauguration Committee, who have worked so diligently and exquisitely to make these three days possible.
(3) I also must thank my lovely wife – and the Mount’s First Lady – Carole Campbell Williams, for her love, support, and commitment to the work we do; she and I have been doing our thing as a team, now, for 29 years. I am a blessed man.
(4) I thank my children, daughter, Michelle McAlister, son-in-law, Tory McAlister, and my son, Garrett Williams, and his guest, Rabiath Mama. God blessed Carole and me with some very special children.
(5) I extend a very special “thank you” to my mother, retired Pastor, Reverend Lula Mae Williams, my very First Lady, if you will; she has always been there for me, through the good and bad and especially when I was at my lowest. I learned some valuable leadership lessons over the years, just observing my mother in her work as Pastor. Unfortunately, my father could not make it, due to some health issues. Still, I want to thank him, in his absence.
(6) I also want to thank and acknowledge the First Lady’s siblings, niece, and grand-niece; that is a very tightly knitted group. They have traveled from across the Country to celebrate this inauguration with us.
(7) And I would like to recognize all my siblings and relatives here this morning, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, and grand-nieces and nephews, all of whom traveled more than 400 miles to be here. They have nurtured me, served as role models for me, and supported me for as long as I can remember. Thank you!
(8) I also have great friends and former colleagues who traveled from Grand Valley State University, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to be with us today: Vonnie and Antonio Herrera; John and Jenny Reifel; and George and Beverly Grant. Thanks, everyone.
(9) I need to say thanks to a couple of other friends, and mentors of mine: Dr. Dave Ricchiute, Professor of Auditing at the University of Notre Dame. Dave was such a great friend and role model as I began my career in higher education, at the University of Notre Dame, as a young 27-year-old, trying to learn how to be an effective faculty member.

And I must acknowledge Dr. Hazell Reed, Retired Educator and Senior Level Administrator, my good friend and mentor as I began my first dean job, as dean of the Delaware State University School of Business. He taught me so very much about how to be an effective senior-level administrator in higher education.
(10) And it is my distinct pleasure to recognize President Emeritus Arend “Don” Lubbers, of Grand Valley State University – and his lovely wife, Nancy. President Lubbers served at Grand Valley State University, where I spent almost nine years as Dean of the Seidman College of Business. President Lubbers served Grand Valley with distinction for more than 32 years and set a sterling example for me of how to provide leadership in a higher education setting. Indeed, he was one of the first college presidents to encourage me to consider opportunities to serve in the president’s role. Thank you, President Lubbers.
(11) I know there are other college and university presidents and chancellors in the theatre; please stand, as you can, to be recognized. We appreciate what you do individually and collectively for higher education – in this Country and around the world.
(12) Finally, I need to give a big thanks to all the delegates this morning, especially the Mount alums who have come back to honor their Alma Mater on this very special day. I also extend Carole’s and my special thanks to the new Mounties – that is, those alums of the class of 1967 who are celebrating their Golden Anniversary! Congratulations, Ladies!

As I said, this is a very special day – in large part because it is about so much more than any president. This is a special day in the life of the University because, today, we pause for only a brief moment – in the overall scheme of things – to celebrate our past, our present, and to anticipate and celebrate our future! Indeed, what we are really here to do is to celebrate and share with all of you, and each other, the essence of WHO WE ARE!

President Lincoln admonished us, many years ago, that we must be careful to acknowledge the cause-and-effect facts of life; he noted that “there are no accidents, for every effect must have its cause. The past is the cause of the present and the present will be the cause of the future.” I understand and appreciate this truism. Consequently, I must begin by recognizing and paying homage to Saint Elizabeth Bayley Seton, who founded the Sisters of Charity, in 1809, in Emmitsburg, Maryland. We also pause to honor the four Sisters of Charity who sojourned from Emmitsburg to Cincinnati to serve this community, in 1829. On March 25, 1852,
(1) Sister Margaret George,
(2) Sister Josephine Harvey,
(3) Sister Regina Mattingly,
(4) Sister Gonzalva Dougherty
(5) Sister Anthony O’Connell,
(6) Sister Sophia Gilmeyer, and
(7) Sister Antonia McCaffrey
became the first official “Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati.” We sing all their praises, for if it were not for that noble group of Sisters we would not be here today!

The Sisters made a significant impact on this Cincinnati region for many years, serving it in so many important ways and toward so many important ends, especially in teaching and healthcare, including fighting pandemics, and building hospitals, many of which also housed nursing schools.

In the aftermath of World War I, and almost immediately after the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, in 1920, the Sisters decided it was time to expand educational opportunities for women in society, so they opened the doors of Mount St. Joseph University – at that time “The College of Mount St. Joseph on the Ohio!”

I want to thank all the leaders who have charted the path forward for Mount St. Joseph University since that founding: beginning with the “Mothers General” of the-then “College of Mount St. Joseph on the Ohio,” who led the University as de facto presidents until (1) “Dean” Sister Maria Corona became the first official President, in 1959. She was followed, in turn, by (2) Sister Adele Clifford, (3) Dr. Robert E. Wolverton, (4) Sister Jean Patrice Harrington, (5) Sister Francis Marie Thrailkill, and (6) Dr. Anthony Aretz. Each of these outstanding leaders made a difference in this place and helped to make the Mount what it is today.

And we are specially blessed this morning to have with us the fourth President of Mount St. Joseph University, Sister Jean Patrice Harrington! Please help me show our love and appreciation for Sister Jean Patrice Harrington – our President Emerita!! [APPLAUSE] Thank you, Sister Jean Patrice for the work you did to help the University achieve its current status in this community, across the Nation, and around the world. I want you to know you continue to inspire all of us here at the Mount, especially Carole and me. Thank you.

And if I may, Sister Jean Patrice, I would like to share a quote from your inauguration acceptance speech that so well describes my sentiments at this moment. On November 6, 1977, you quoted St. Paul and, now, so do I: “I am given to you by God that I might serve you and that, together, we might serve him.” Thank you, Sister Jean Patrice.

As former President Wolverton remarked during his inauguration address, “…the facts and figures of this venerable institution are well documented and readily available.” On the other hand, those facts fall short of describing who we are as an institution of higher education. First-and-foremost, we are a Catholic-Christian University, ecumenical in nature and catering to those of great faith, those of little faith, and those of no faith. Indeed, we serve the needs, and embrace those, of all faiths! Moreover, we believe in and subscribe to the tenets of the Catholic Intellectual Tradition and view faith and reason, as mutually re-enforcing. Finally, we are an institution founded by the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, with a charism of charity, simplicity, and humility and “daring to risk a caring response” in everything we do and every assignment we undertake.

We take great pride in helping students understand and appreciate that, while they must know what to do, that is a necessary but not sufficient ingredient; they must also know WHY they do it and HOW to do it: with compassion and caring.

This is who we have been since our founding, in 1920.
This history of challenges, opportunities, and accomplishments, the Mount embraces with relish; it is WHO WE WERE, as reflected in the actions and strength of the Sisters and those who have preceded us.

Present
Of course, since the past is the cause of the present, it is also WHO WE ARE!
Who are we?
Late on Monday morning, eight little children 3, 4, and 5 year-olds, from our 5-Star-award winning Children’s Center walked into my office; then, they all sat and sang Louie Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” to the First Lady and me. We also received beautiful smiles, hugs, and a huge postcard proclaiming “We Love You!”

Who are we?
As I arrived to work yesterday morning it was approximately 6:30 – and the grounds crew was also arriving as I made my way to the building. One of my colleagues, who takes such great care of our beautiful lawns and gardens, greeted me with a warm “good morning” and big smile and nodded in the direction of the sunrise. He said to me “what a beautiful way to begin the day”; and I agreed. He went on, “Mr. President, I get to watch the beautiful sunrises, along with my good friend – as he motioned toward our other colleague on the grounds crew – and I get to watch the sunsets with my wife; what a beautiful life!” And I just thought to myself: Wow!

And I as I continued my walk into the office I reflected on Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton’s “Grace of the Present Moment,” as my colleague, English Professor Buffy Barkley, so aptly quoted her in one of Dr. Barkley’s writings. We talk about that a lot around here: “The grace of the present moment.” We remind ourselves to be truly present in the moment and to pause and recognize the grace of the present moment. It inspires me, often.

If you really want to know who we are, read the many quotes we have inscribed on the walls throughout the Campus – like the one on the wall just down the hall, by Aristotle: “To educate the mind, without educating the heart, is no education at all.”

These stories and quotes, indeed, speak to who we are today, in terms of character, heritage, hope, fortitude, and desire! Fundamentally, and at the core, we are who we were and who we will forever be: a Catholic-Christian, ecumenical, diversity-embracing institution of higher education, practicing and celebrating charity, simplicity, and humility, while daring to risk a caring response. Moreover, these underlying values continue to sustain us as we fulfill our mission of delivering a quality, interdisciplinary liberal-arts-based education that effectively integrates professional curricula, while emphasizing values, integrity, and social responsibility.

Our liberal arts focus is not by happenstance or serendipity. The Sisters of Charity understood, from the outset, the importance of a liberal education; that is to say a “liberating” educational experience is critical if students are to develop themselves in ways that allow – and even promote – life-long learning and commitments to the common good. As a liberal education institution of higher learning we focus, first-and-foremost, on the development of the intellectual skills sets (i.e., those skill sets that facilitate and sustain our learning over our lifetimes). These skills include reading, writing, listening, speaking, communicating, critical thinking, and problem solving, including analyzing, synthesizing, evaluating, and even creating. A “Liberal Education” is a “liberating” set of experiences oriented towards facilitating the developing and nurturing of the intellectual skill sets. Indeed, as former President Thrailkill noted, in her inauguration speech, “…it liberates from ignorance, indifference, and isolationism…”

Of course, that is not to denigrate the importance of the professional skills sets, which are also very important. In fact, the Mount touts and promotes the developing of the professional skill sets, as well, which is especially relevant, given our core values, especially the “integration of life and learning.” We expect students to, not only know what to, or even just to know why and how – we also expect them to actually do it. To integrate life and learning.

Indeed, perhaps our most compelling pedagogical core strength is our purposeful focusing on and ability to teach, promote, and nurture the best of both: the intellectual skill sets and the professional skill sets. Indeed, our academic programs offerings espouse the best of both.

The Mount offers more than 40 academic programs at the undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral levels, including a new Liberal Arts Major, which combines the best of traditional liberal arts majors, allowing concentrations within that major, and which evolved, organically, through the entrepreneurial spirit of our Arts & Sciences faculty. We offer music and graphic and other arts programs, as well as sterling Business and Education programs, at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

On the other hand, the Mount is probably best known for our truly outstanding and long-standing health sciences curricula, which build upon our terrific behavioral and natural sciences programs, including Chemistry, Biology, Bio-Medical, Social Work, and Psychology programs. Our undergraduate and graduate programs in Health and Wellness, Athletic Training, and Nursing have distinguished themselves and hold great promise for the future, including our doctoral programs in Nursing Practice and Physical Therapy – and our most recent addition, a Physician Assistant graduate program (which kicks off in January of 2018)!

In terms of professional skill sets development, the Mount understands and appreciates that to meet its mission and its values of the integration of life and learning – and service above all – we must provide students the wherewithal to apply that learning where we live and where it matters most.

Consequently, we support professionalism and career development opportunities for students, primarily through our, first-in-the-Country “Education-at-Work” partnership, our Talent Opportunity Program, Internships and Co-ops with for-profit companies, Summer Internships with not-for-profits, an abundance of Service Learning opportunities, and even more pure community service opportunities. In fact, service is one of our core values and strengths, as the University continues to earn national recognitions for service, including the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll. As a case-in-point, the very first component of these Inauguration days to be identified and tied-down was tomorrow’s service activities. Moreover, as we prepare to celebrate our Centennial, in 2020, we have already identified what the service activity will be for the year-long celebration.

All these opportunities to apply what they learn in real-world settings sets our students apart and make them especially attractive to employers. In fact, more than 78% of our students have some type of hands-on experience prior to graduation. All these components, working together, resulted in the most recent Placement Rates of 95% for undergraduate students and 98% for graduate students. That is to say, within six months of completing their degrees, 95% of our undergraduate students are either in full-time jobs related to their majors or have been admitted to graduate schools.

I could go on and on, enumerating the wonderful things faculty, staff, students, and alums are doing on Campus and in the communities we serve and support across the Country. However, I also know that, while we must honor the past and take cognizance of the present, we must always think about creating the most appropriate future for the Mount and its constituents. The question is always “What have you done for me lately!” So we look forward, in eager anticipation, of the future we are forging for the Mount and the communities we serve.

Future

… the present will be the cause of the future! We take this admonishment especially seriously. Consequently, we have begun to develop a vision for what the Mount must become. It’s time for another growth spurt!
Transformation 2025 is a vision we are developing for what the Mount must be by 2025 to continue to fulfill its mission at the highest levels. In other words, AS Wayne Gretsky would say, “we are skating to where the puck will be” at that time. “Transformation 2025” is being developed to accelerate Mount St. Joseph University’s ability to deliver a high quality, liberal arts education that includes experiential learning, career preparation, and personalized attention.
Ultimately, as now, the Mount will focus on students and, thus, the creation of compelling student outcomes that result from differentiating academic programs, unforgettable learning experiences, and high-impact community outreach opportunities are compelling elements of “Transformation 2025!”
Transformation 2025 will embrace, augment, and amplify the Mount’s rigorous, holistic approach to continually improving learning, preparing students to meet the future and respond creatively, with informed, impactful decisions.

Transformation 2025 will be underpinned by six interrelated, overlapping, interactive, and mutually supporting pillars of quality elements, with the most important being (1) Engaged Faculty and Staff and (2) Impactful Student Learning Experiences that Lead to Outstanding Student Outcomes. Still, (3) Sustainable Financial Infrastructure, (4) Brand Recognition and Visibility; (5) relevant, compelling Academic Programs, and (6) Appropriate and Facilitating Physical Infrastructure are critical components.

Of course, we will need everyone, working together, to move the University forward as we must.
(1) No university is better than its faculty. Faculty colleagues, I have shared with you this sentiment on any number of occasions. I thank you for everything you do and have been doing to assure that students have the best chances to educate themselves well, under your care and tutelage.
(2) Staff Colleagues, we all know how invaluable you all are; this university would shut down in a heartbeat if you were not who you are and if you did not have the level of commitment to this place and to excellence that you reveal every day. I thank you.
(3) Students, you are the heart and soul of this place – and always will be, even when you leave these hallowed grounds for your callings and responsibilities in and to the world around us. I know you will continue to exemplify the mission, values, and beliefs of Mount St. Joseph University.
(4) Alums, you are our secret weapon and always have been. However, for this next venture, we need all of you – all of us – working together. The Mount has more than 17,000 living alums, across the Country and around the World. And we have more than 11,000 alums right here, in the Greater Cincinnati Region. Indeed, I meet another Mount alum virtually every day. Your Alma Mater needs you like she has never needed you before. We know we can count on you to rise-up with us, as we shine the light in different ways on who we are and how we can do our part for the betterment of our communities!
(5) Delhi, we thank you for working with us over these many years – and for your renewed emphasis on charting pathways forward that are mutually beneficial for Delhi and the Mount. We appreciate your partnership and look forward to expanding and deepening our partnerships.
(6) Greater Cincinnati, we know that we are just one of your many wonderful assets. Still, we know that our alums are making significant contributions in business, community organizations, government, sports, and other community activities every day. We pledge to reach out more aggressively and more consistently to support this broader community’s needs and to develop truly productive partnerships to promote the common good. We know you will join us in our noble cause! Thank you!

We need each of us and all of us to rally to the needs of these Mount, Delhi, and Greater Cincinnati communities. Indeed, as we approach our centennial, in 2020, we resolve to prepare the Mount to excel for at least another 100 years!

In 1829, the Sisters of Charity ventured from Emmitsburg, Maryland, here to Cincinnati, to set up shop, if you will, because they were committed to an unyielding desire to serve. They saw an unmet need and an opportunity to serve – IT WAS THEIR TURN AND IT WAS THEIR TIME!

During the Civil War, the Sisters volunteered to serve as nurses at some of the bloodiest battles, because they were committed to an unyielding desire to serve. They saw an unmet need and an opportunity to serve – IT WAS THEIR TURN AND IT WAS THEIR TIME!

In 1920, almost immediately after the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, the Sisters decided it was time to expand educational opportunities for women in society, so they opened the doors of Mount St. Joseph University – at that time “The College of Mount St. Joseph on the Ohio”; they were committed to an unyielding desire to serve. The saw an unmet need and an opportunity – IT WAS THEIR TURN AND IT WAS THEIR TIME!

During World War II, the University revamped the undergraduate programs significantly, without compromising quality, to educate students within three years, to aid the war effort. We were committed to an unyielding desire to serve. We saw an unmet need and an opportunity – IT WAS OUR TURN AND IT WAS OUR TIME!

In 1962, after 42 year of successfully fulfilling our mission to serve young women, we determined that we needed to accelerate and multiply our impact by expanding the Campus. We took a major financial risk, building the entire Campus in one fell swoop! At least, in the main, that is why we are here today. We were committed to an unyielding desire to serve. We saw an unmet need and an opportunity – IT WAS OUR TURN AND IT WAS OUR TIME!

Indeed, in 1986, the University concluded that it could continue to cater to, and support the needs of, women as it attended to a growing need for education in a more diverse and inclusive workplace; thus it decided to open its doors to men. That had to be an extremely difficult decision to reach and equally difficult to implement. However, in the life of The Mount, it was time! We were committed to an unyielding desire to serve. We saw an unmet need and an opportunity – IT WAS OUR TURN AND IT WAS OUR TIME!

When the Mount began a football team, in 1989, as the first sport for males, the odds were stacked against her; the naysayers said it could never happen – not at a previously all women’s college. Still, the University prevailed, the program thrives, even to this day, and we now have 24 NCAA Division III sports that cater to more than 40% of our students! We were committed to an unyielding desire to serve. We saw an unmet need and an opportunity – IT WAS OUR TURN AND IT WAS OUR TIME!

In 1998, when we added the Harrington Center, We were committed to an unyielding desire to serve. We saw an unmet need and an opportunity – IT WAS OUR TURN AND IT WAS OUR TIME!

In 2004, when we added the Football Stadium Complex; we took another “big leap” forward. We were committed to an unyielding desire to serve. We saw an unmet need and an opportunity – IT WAS OUR TURN AND IT WAS OUR TIME!

In 2014, we decided we needed to change our name from the College of Mount St. Joseph to Mount St. Joseph University. It was a difficult idea for all of us to absorb and to own. However, again we succeeded in sterling fashion. We were committed to an unyielding desire to serve. We saw an unmet need and an opportunity – IT WAS OUR TURN AND IT WAS OUR TIME!

Now, let me end where I began.
Growth and development often happens in leaps and spurts. And, now, it is time for the Mount, time for us, to take another “big leap” forward. However, to do so, we must, as we have in the past, let go of petty fears and attachments to some of the ways we have always done things, and act boldly, definitively, and, of course, collectively! Our foundresses, the Sisters of Charity, and those who have come before us have shown us how – over many, many years, and over many, many challenges. Now it’s up to us!

As I close, I am reminded of a comment by former President Barack Obama: Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek. We all know this. INDEED, IT’S OUR TURN; AND THIS IS OUR TIME!

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