October 22, 2005
Henry Memorial Center
I am deeply honored and humbled by the trust invested in me by the Board of Trustees, the faculty, the staff, and the community of Washington & Jefferson College. Thank you to the faculty who have welcomed me as a kindred spirit—albeit one who has gone to the dark side by joining the administration. Thank you as well to the staff who do their jobs so well in all areas of the College, and especially to my senior staff who are truly remarkable leaders. Thank you to the students who tolerate my tendency to "drop in" on their lunchtime conversations. Thank you to the Board of Trustees that has been so very supportive of W&J over the years and who have welcomed my new ideas and my ways of working. And thank you to those on the platform who have spoken so kindly and eloquently. I only hope I can live up to your expectations.
I also want to thank those who worked tirelessly to put all the details of this inauguration program together, from the invitations to the magnificent transformation of this gymnasium. That effort was spearheaded by John Plante and Mary Beth Ford, but they had help from many, many folks including Andy Rembert, Bob Vande Kappelle, Billie Eaves, Joy Hopkins, Donna Cillo, and Kim Paletta.
It seems like only a few days ago that I was trying to learn the names of the buildings on campus and puzzling out why alumni spurned the use of "sincerely yours" and instead signed their letters "whichi coax." The last few months have been a blur of activity, but during this time I have fallen in love with W&J as a place rich with history and blessed with an exceptionally dedicated faculty and staff—a place that is undergoing a period of rapid growth and momentum and is therefore poised to embrace a whole world of new possibilities. It is just the kind of college where I want to be, and I am unspeakably grateful that you have given me this opportunity.
I am thrilled to have both my students and my teachers represented here today. Robin Tatu and Debbi Fuhrman were students of mine at Brown University in the 1980s who captured my heart and who challenged me with their fresh ideas and their probing questions. Representing Swarthmore College is Professor Tom Blackburn—my teacher and my advisor—who taught me the importance of having a mentor who guides you not only through college but also through life. Also in the audience is Amy Nelson, the artist who painted the banner depicting Old Main that was our centerpiece at convocation, and my oldest friend in the world, Janet Cable, who can remember what I looked like in third grade. We are also honored to have one of W&J's former presidents and long-time stewards, Dr. Howard Burnett and his wife Mary Anne, with us today.
And then there is my family. My mother here in the front row, from whom I learned persistence and strength. One of the first women to enter Japan after the bomb hit Hiroshima, she earned graduate degrees late in life, and she kept working as a professional archivist into her ’80s. My father is among the college delegates today, representing Knox College where he was a professor for more than 30 years. He gave me a passion for teaching, and around the dinner table he taught me the principles of debate and how to question what I read and heard.
I am also delighted to have my husband's family here, who have learned to put up with this crazy academic transplanted into their midst and who allowed me to take their son on a 30-year journey around the world before returning him to Pittsburgh, his hometown.
Finally, my husband and son, without whom I certainly would not be standing here. When my son was a toddler, college students competed with him for my time. In fact, when he was really mad at me and wanted to dismiss me out of hand, he would look up and command in his little-boy voice, "Go teach-just Go Teach!" In strong contrast to my son, my husband Bob has the patience of a saint. When I announced that I was giving up tenure to leave Brown University and move to Egypt, he just packed our things and boarded the plane, unsure of what the future there would hold for him. He has listened to me rant, held my hand when I was in pain, and turned the other cheek when I would blame him for all the ills that beset the world. I don't know how he's put up with me all these years, but I'm certainly grateful that he did.
Thank you all, family and friends, new and old, for your guidance and your friendship.
I have lingered so long over these acknowledgements because they define my past, and that past is what drew me to W&J. Growing up in a town much like Washington and as the daughter of a faculty member at the college in that town, I became passionate about small, residential liberal arts colleges. I saw how they worked up close—I lay awake at night listening to my parents and other faculty discuss world issues, I opened our front door to many a student who had walked three miles from campus to ask my father a life-changing question like how one decides to get married or whether it is wise to avoid the military draft by running to Canada.
Washington & Jefferson is the same kind of place—a college in which faculty and staff come to know the students as more than pupils in a classroom, but as individuals with life questions that need to be answered. When I arrived at W&J, one of the first questions the newspaper reporters asked me was whether (well, actually, when) W&J was going to become a university, as if that designation was a mark of maturation or prestige. I was glad to respond that while we certainly need universities to provide graduate and professional education, W&J is dedicated to the teaching of undergraduates and we will devote our resources to that end. W&J is a college and will remain so.
As W&J's excellent reputation spreads and the number of our applications balloons (already up more than 130% over the past five years), we may grow a bit larger, but we will remain a small college in which, as they said in the television show "Cheers," everybody knows your name. There are lots of methods to analyze the financial impacts of growth—to predict when we will need to hire more faculty or to build a new academic building—but to my mind, the really important question has to do with the way the place feels. At this point, I have asked the Enrollment folks to sustain an incoming class size of about 375 to 425 students, a practice that will yield a student body of about 1500 in the next few years. At that time, we should probably pause, having grown from only 1000 students just a few years ago, and test the waters. Does it still feel like a small college-that is the most important question we will ask.
But we are more than a small college. We are a liberal arts college, which means that we are dedicated to providing the kind of education that liberates the mind and the soul so that our graduates can dive into life with an insatiable curiosity that will enrich their lives for decades to come. On a very practical level, through individualized attention, we teach our students the skills that will serve them well as they move from career to career and last them a lifetime—skills in writing, speaking , critical thinking, and creative problem-solving. And, as a liberal arts college, we ensure that students have a basic knowledge not just of one field but of all areas of human endeavor: literature, history, politics, the arts, language, culture, and science.
This philosophy of education is uniquely American. In most other countries, students limit their studies to a narrow field (physics or history) by the time they reach high school. In most other countries, a very small percentage of the population seeks a college degree. But America has fiercely embraced the idea of providing mass higher education. Today, more than 87 percent of high school students report that they expect to go to college. This is a good thing because a liberal arts education is vital to the strength of our participatory democracy. Our founding fathers—two of whom are remembered in the name of this college and a third of whom, Benjamin Franklin, provided the funds to start our library-our founding fathers knew that a democracy could only thrive if its citizens were educated.
That is why Washington and Jefferson Colleges were founded in 1781 on the frontier—way out beyond the Alleghenies—because education was essential to spreading our democracy westward. (W&J has, by the way, fulfilled that mission admirably, graduating more than 88 college presidents including presidents of Princeton, the University of Michigan, and Penn State as well as the founding presidents of Ohio University and Miami University of Ohio.) Without an education, how could the citizens of this country elect their leaders wisely? Without an education, how can we engage with each other today in reasoned and informed debate to determine the advisability of a war or the need for increased taxes or the wisdom of cloning stem cells?
I am concerned about the future of our democracy because we rarely practice this kind of civil debate. Our politicians engage in personal attacks; television shows do not present point/counterpoint but rather insult/counter insult. On our streets, too many disagreements are settled not with reasoned engagement but with violence. Where can our students learn the art of civil discourse if not in small classes at a college like W&J? How is our democracy to survive if students are not pulled out of this insanity and given four precious years to reflect, to learn how to learn, how to listen, how to question, and how to debate?
This civil discourse must be learned not only inside the classroom but in the residence halls and on the playing fields as well. That is why we are a residential college. When I was teaching at Brown University, I realized that there were times when I was unintentionally teaching hypocrisy. Within the classroom, my students would speak out strongly against racism, and then some of those very same students would be caught scribbling racist remarks on a dormitory door. A colleague of mine, a researcher at Wellesley College, shared with me her recognition of this danger. In interviewing young women about their educational experiences, she listened to a student describe how her professor was acting in class. "And what did you think when he did that?" the researcher asked. "Do you want to know what I think?" the student replied, "Or, do you want to know what I really think?"
We must not teach students to say what they think we want them to think in the classroom and then act in an entirely different way outside the classroom. As a residential college, we must do more than inspire minds in the classroom; we must also inspire lives.
Perhaps the most important lesson we can teach our students is to talk to one another across lines of difference from positions of respect. Washington & Jefferson College has a history of teaching just this kind of debate. Think of the Civil War veterans, men who had fought fiercely both for the North and the South, coming to this campus, fresh from that war's bloodiest battles, walking these hills, living in the same room with young men whom they had been trying to kill only weeks earlier. Those young men disagreed openly—sometimes even engaging in sword duels—they certainly did not hide their opinions, but talked them out and worked to understand one another—in other words, to learn together.
Think of the members of 1922 W&J football team—the one that played in the Rose Bowl. Earlier that same season, the team forfeited a game rather than agree to bench their black quarterback when the opposing team (Washington & Lee) refused to play with an African American on the field. I might note that other schools facing Washington & Lee usually benched their black players out of "courtesy" to the southern team. Not W&J. Their abstract principles, learned the classroom, and their concrete actions, expressed on the playing field, matched perfectly.
When W&J decided to admit women, the first class was met by "Women go home" signs when they arrived for fall semester. But the women stayed, and the insults became debates, and the college learned to embrace differences of gender.
I have had discussions with many of you-staff, faculty and students alike—about how reluctant we are today to voice contradictory opinions, to disagree with one another. But a college is a conversation; only by talking together can we learn together. Remember our college motto, juncta juvant, together we thrive. We intentionally bring students, faculty, and staff here from a wide variety of backgrounds. We may not come from different sides of the battlefield, but we are from Alaska's open country and from the crowded streets of Washington DC, from affluent gated communities and from impoverished inner cities; we are white, black, Hispanic, and of mixed racial background; we are politically conservative and politically liberal; we are gay, straight, and everything in between; we have siblings and we are only children; we are artists, business entrepreneurs, computer geeks, athletes, bio-chemists, dancers, archeologists, gardeners, vegetarians and carnivores. The richness of our diversity is crucial for the conversation that is our college. We must cultivate this diversity, and we are working hard to do so. We must hire more faculty and staff of color and recruit more students of color, and we will do so. And we must go beyond mere access, but we must learn to talk together in such a way that all voices are heard, arguing across lines of difference from positions of respect. Hate speech is not civil discourse, but neither is silence. We are fortunate enough to live in a country where we can speak our mind, and we should exercise this right lest we forget how to do so. Civil, reasoned, honest debate is not always comfortable, but it is essential to our democracy.
Later in this program, you will music combining a western hymn and a Zulu anti-apartheid song. This piece was composed to commemorate the hard work of Nelson Mandela and Fredric Willem de Klerk, who reached across their lines of difference and worked together to end apartheid in South Africa. I thank the music department for bringing us this piece that exemplifies the miracles that can be wrought by reasoned, caring civil debate.
Just as we cannot remain within our comfort zone and talk only with those who share our opinions and convictions, we must also expand our conversation beyond our national boundaries so that we can prepare our students to enter a global society. We have hired our first director for study abroad and off-campus programs, Mr. Viet Ha, and he is building relationships with colleges and universities so that our students can study abroad and we can welcome more students from other countries to our campus here in Washington. This intersession, W&J students will travel with faculty to Italy, Mexico, China, Africa, England, France, Australia, and Spain. The faculty and students who design these courses know that international experiences can change one's life-and that, after all, is what education is about.
Even as we look beyond the borders of this country, we must not forget our local community. Let us remember the story of how W&J came to be located within the city of Washington. When Washington and Jefferson Colleges decided to merge for financial reasons in 1865, the towns of Washington and Canonsburg each bid for the right to call W&J their own. Washington wanted to be the home of W&J so badly that its citizens marshaled the astonishing sum of $50,000 to outbid Canonsburg, and so we sit here today—not 17 miles away. W&J thrived because Washington and East Washington offered it a location on the National Road, now route 40, the main route from the east coast to the western territories. W&J thrived because Washington was the county seat, an attractive location for local men with ambition to become leaders. And W&J has, in turn, always had a strong commitment to this region, helping to educate the sons and then the sons and daughters of local merchants, coal miners, steel workers, lawyers, doctors, and secretaries. This heritage is one we will sustain, even as we extend our reach beyond this region. I am truly excited about the opportunities for the college and its surrounding communities to grow together. We live in each other's backyards, and we rise or fall together. Let us choose to work in concert and not at odds.
In addition to a heritage of diversity and of local commitment, W&J has a remarkable record of educating leaders within the sciences. I understand that we are third in the country per capita for graduating people who go on to become doctors. Many of America's leading physicians, medical researchers, and bio-medical entrepreneurs hold degrees from W&J. We must keep this heritage strong, and therefore in the next few years, we will build a new science building to provide our faculty and students with state-of-the art facilities and equipment. And we will not only build a science facility—a physical building—we will also provide endowment monies to expand the opportunities for students to do research with and learn from faculty, provide scholarships for science students, and ensure that the building and its equipment are upgraded and maintained.
In the next few years, we will also sustain our heritage as a college that understands and supports the scholar-athlete and that knows the importance of athletics to the mental sharpness and physical well-being of our students. So, we will build a recreation center with indoor tennis courts, a 200-meter track, expanded basketball courts, and room for a community gymnasium. Our current facilities are so limited that varsity teams practice from 4 o'clock until midnight, leaving no time for intramurals or for recreational sports Once the new center is built, varsity scholar-athletes will have the support they need and all our students will have facilities that will allow them to play basketball or tennis or racquetball just for the fun of it. This initiative, too, will include funds for an endowment to ensure that the building and its equipment remain state-of-the-art.
Why all this talk about endowment? The endowment is the financial foundation for the College. We need endowment income to keep our tuition costs low and provide financial aid to those students who need it. We have students who work two or three jobs to meet their student loan payments—we need to provide them more support so that they have time to study. We need endowment income so that we can hire and retain the kind of caring, dedicated faculty and staff that have made this college great. We need endowment income to pay our skyrocketing energy and health care bills. We need endowment income to support growing programs in international study, to bring more musicians to campus, to make our campus more environmentally and hence more economically sound, and to host internationally renowned speakers. Quite simply, we need to double our endowment in five years. This is not some abstract goal—this is absolutely crucial.
Fulfilling the lofty goals I have laid out will require the efforts of everyone here—students, faculty, staff, trustees, alumni, family, and friends. Collectively and individually, we must all pledge to make W&J great. If you question our ability to reach these goals, reflect for a moment upon the history of Washington & Jefferson, consider our recent growth, and look at the remarkable achievements of our alumni-the nation's top doctors and lawyers, successful and creative entrepreneurs, and internationally renowned business leaders. What an extraordinary legacy we have for such a small college. Although many of our students describe themselves as average Joes and Josephines, they are anything but average. And their interaction with our faculty over four years opens their minds and inspires their lives—as it has done for 224 years. This remarkable heritage has laid the groundwork for our future. A world of possibility lies open before us. So, today let us all recommit as a community to actively advancing the important mission of W&J. There is no nobler task.
Thank you all for inviting me to join you in the exciting adventure that lies before Washington & Jefferson College.
Dr. Tori Haring-Smith