2009 Investiture Speech

Posted On October 20, 2009 by Mark P. Becker
Categories Speeches

Good afternoon.

Thank you for being here on this historic day in the life of Georgia State University.

First I’d like to thank Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin for joining us today.

Your continued commitments to, and support of, Georgia State are made all the more evident by your presence here today.

To the members of the Georgia General Assembly: Thank you for your service to this great state, and thank you for your support of GSU.

Chancellor Davis: Thank you for your kind words and ongoing dedication to quality higher education in Georgia.

To chairman Hatcher and other regents and representatives from the University System: Thank you for your service and leadership.

I also thank the senior leadership of the university – the provost, the vice presidents, and deans – for taking part in this celebration.

Thank you to Brad, Paul, David and Greg for bringing kind greetings from the alumni, faculty, staff and students.

A special thank you goes to GSU Professor and Poet Laureate of Georgia, David Bottoms, for committing his extraordinary talent to marking this occasion.

This event, with all of its traditions and ceremony, is:

• A time to celebrate our university and its heritage as we mark a passage in leadership;

• A time to renew our commitment to the values and goals that have helped this extraordinary university thrive for nearly a century; and

• A time, if only for a few moments, to imagine the possibilities of our future as we prepare to embark on our second century.

For me, and for my family, this also is a powerfully personal experience of which we are honored to be a part.

I thank my wife and the first lady of this university, Laura Voisinet.

Laura and I have been partners and a team for more than 26 years, and we would not be on this stage today were it not for her commitment to keeping our family balanced, and for her support of me as I have taken on increasingly larger challenges.

I thank you Laura for your love, and for seeing possibilities in me that I could not see.

Laura and I are blessed to have a number of family members here.

Our daughter Julia, my brother John and his wife Terri, my brother Michael and his wife Anne, Laura’s brother David, and my Aunt Charlotte are all with us today.

Our son Matthew is studying in China, but he is with us in thought and in spirit.

Also with us is my mother, Mildred Becker.

Mom, thank you for believing in me, and for instilling in me that education is the path to a successful life.

I also thank the delegates from other colleges, universities and professional organizations.

You represent many of the institutions that make our nation the world leader in higher education.

It is a special privilege to share this day with two of my predecessors, Sherman Day and Carl Patton.

Thank you Carl and Sherm for your contributions in helping transform GSU into the institution that it is today.

To the Georgia State faculty: Thank you for your continued support of, and commitment to, both our students and to our larger mission. Georgia State is poised to achieve even higher levels of recognition and impact because of the talents and energy you devote to making this a great institution.

To the Georgia State staff: Your continued hard work is evident on every corner of our dynamic campus, from the Aderhold Learning Center to University Commons and countless points of pride in between, and beyond. Thank you for all you do.

And to the Georgia State students: It is a delight to have you here on this special day. Keep working hard and striving, the future belongs to you.

And to the larger Georgia State community: Thank you for being here. This is your day to celebrate this university that you so dearly love.

Humble beginnings

As we prepare today to envision our future, let us take a moment to reflect on our past.

Georgia State was founded in 1913.That year there were 48 students who met in a classroom building on Walton Street. That small school began with a strong, focused concept, and through adaptation and innovation evolved into a larger, thriving research university with global reach and impact.

In short, we are here because previous leaders imagined the possibilities for a robust academic institution in downtown Atlanta.

In our earliest days our programs were not supported with State funding. The sources of funding were tuition and support from the chamber of commerce. Likewise, the very first building constructed for the programs in downtown Atlanta was funded by local businessmen.

I dare say that George Sparks, our founding leader, and his faculty colleagues were successful in garnering such support because of the relevance and impact of the education that they were providing.

Indeed, in 1931 the Board of Regents stated that Georgia State, then known as the University System Center, was, and I quote, doing a splendid work and is growing in numbers by leaps and bounds. It will not be many years before this unit of the University System will be one of the most popular in the whole system.

At the time, Georgia State had about 700 students.We cannot know whether they imagined the Georgia State of today – one with nationally recognized programs of study in six colleges; a university with residence halls, research laboratories, a technology and business incubator; and an athletics program fielding teams in 18 sports; or a university with more than 30,000 students.

Today we continue to do splendid work. We have recently again grown by leaps and bounds, and by a wide margin we are the second largest unit in the system.

GSU is a thriving modern urban research university because those who came before us imagined possibilities, and made them reality.

In the late 1950s, three women – Barbara Hunt, Annette Lucille Hall and Marybelle Reynolds Warner – worked tirelessly to desegregate Georgia State. They endured public ridicule – even death threats — but eventually their hard work paid off.

Today, Georgia State is among the most diverse university campuses in the nation.

Through the years, as the times and needs of Atlanta, and of Georgia, and the nation changed, my predecessors saw new possibilities.They saw how a university in downtown Atlanta could rise to meet the challenges of the day and provide for a brighter future.

For example, the one comment on our past that I have heard more than any other in my first months here at GSU is this one: Two things saved downtown Atlanta: the 1996 Olympics and Carl Patton’s vision for GSU’s urban campus.

Carl imagined a thriving research university with the feel of a traditional campus – amid the tall buildings and even taller dreams, of downtown Atlanta.

Focus on the future

The current global economic recession has most thought and political leaders questioning whether or not this recession is a temporary detour from normal, or whether it is indeed a reset in the world economy that is an inflection point for significant, long-enduring changes in the world order.

Consider the tale of the blind men and the elephant, in which each man touched a different part of the animal and came away with widely divergent impressions of what it was that they were touching.

In other words, we do not yet know the true nature of the beast that we are encountering. We can, however, act to shape the future. Now, as in times in our past, is the time to recommit ourselves to being a university that makes a major difference.

I believe the way you make a difference in the future, is by focusing both on the fundamentals and the big drivers in the present. I learned this at an early age.

During my childhood in Maryland I watched Earl Weaver’s Baltimore Orioles amass five 100-win seasons, a slew of titles and awards and a World Series Championship – a record very similar to Atlanta’s
Bobby Cox, but over a shorter span of time.

Weaver’s approach to the game was simple, and I quote, The key to winning baseball games is pitching, fundamentals, and three run homers.

Pitching, fundamentals, and three run homers; It is as simple as that. What are the pitching, fundamentals, and three run homers — the three prongs of a successful modern research university?

Recognized excellence in education and research

Education and research are the heart of what we do at Georgia State. Nothing else matters if we do not get this right. Education and research are where we hit the three run homers.

Our goal at all times must be to be recognized for providing the highest quality education. Likewise, our goal at all times must to be to be a leader in conducting and disseminating important research.

Success will be recognized both through metrics and in reputation.

The good news is that GSU, as young as it is in the universe of research universities, has built a solid foundation for excellence.

It is gratifying to see a number of our programs ranked in the top 10 nationally. And I enjoy hearing from Atlantans who graduated from institutions like Duke and Princeton, and took classes at GSU while home in the summers, that their GSU courses were equal in rigor and quality to what they experienced at the elite institutions from which they graduated.

It also is gratifying to see that GSU has a long and highly successful history of graduating students who go on to become entrepreneurs, leaders in the community, leaders in business, leaders in society.

Still, there are challenges and opportunities before us.

For example, how are we going to prepare our students to thrive in a multi-cultural society, locally and globally?

As one of our deans is fond of saying, “Culture trumps strategy every time.” My own experience negotiating academic partnerships and exchanges in Asia has proven this point true.

But you don’t have to travel abroad to encounter the importance of culture. Across this state and the nation health care and education professionals are challenged to address the needs of a population that is increasingly diverse in nationalities, ethnicities and cultures.

What are the implications of this for undergraduate education?

For starters, the value of a liberal arts education has never been greater.Culture is at the heart of the arts and the humanities.

We must identify what we can do to ensure that our graduates are multi-culturally competent.

Through our scholarship in the arts and the humanities, we must inform government and business leaders as they grapple with the challenges of a more global society.

In an increasingly multi-cultural, fast-paced world, many people find their comfort zones challenged. A university education has long been an important pathway helping individuals expand both their minds,
and their comfort zones.

Is the old paradigm adequate, or do we need to consider new experiences for our students?

Are there other steps we should be taking, beyond educating students in the classroom?

Might it be beneficial to require every student to obtain a passport in the freshmen year
and to study abroad for at least one Maymeseter before graduating?

How about service learning?

Or, what about experience in the real world – required internships or cooperative employment?

Would requiring at least one of these learning beyond the classroom experiences at least be a step in the right direction?

Do we need to go further than that?

New technologies can afford organizations and even nations the opportunity to leapfrog the competition.

What will be the technology needs of our university?

How do we support the scholarship and research of the future, and what experiences with technology will our students need to prepare them for lives as innovators and leaders?

What does the library of the future look like, and do?

The information technology and biological technology revolutions are having profound impacts on the nature and future directions of research and scholarship.

What are, what will be the new and emerging areas?

It is clear that knowledge in and the demand for the health sciences and the health professions are exploding.

How do we, as a university, respond?

The quality of a Georgia State education is unquestioned, and our research portfolio and impact have been growing steadily since achieving research university status in 1995.

The question now is: Where do we go from here?

Remember: fundamentals, pitching, and three run homers.

Recognized excellence in education and research was first.

Constructive partnerships

These are the win-win relationships between the university and the community that get us into the extra innings; relief pitching so to speak.

Our partners can be local governments, businesses, not-for-profits and other educational institutions, to name a few.

Not one of us has all the resources individually needed to do all that we want and need to do.

GSU already has a large number of such partnerships locally, and globally, and the potential for more is enormous.

How do we build on our established foundations to greatly multiply the effect?

What are the innovative programs and partnerships of the future?

How does Georgia State lead in global conversations addressing building and sustaining great cities?

Fundamentals, pitching, and three-run homers. Recognized excellence in education and research were first. Constructive partnerships came second.

Local-global balance

Georgia State has a local commitment to Atlanta and Georgia that will never be abandoned. We will continue to develop our downtown campus, and we will continue to deliver programs beyond downtown to serve the State.

As demand in Georgia for undergraduate and professional education has grown, so has GSU. This university has mattered to Atlanta and Georgia since its founding, and we endeavor to make good on our local commitment each and every day.

But focusing only on Atlanta and Georgia is not sufficient. Our students are graduating into a globally competitive environment.

Our faculty members both compete in and collaborate on research globally.

GSU must be globally oriented, to achieve the highest levels of education and research and to serve Atlanta and Georgia.

Communication is instantaneous, and with a passport and a small piece of plastic that you know as the credit card you can go out to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and get to just about any city in the world in less than 24 hours.

Competition and opportunities for jobs, resources, products, and talents are global in ways never seen before.

What resources and constructive partnerships are required to support our faculty and students in a globally competitive environment?

Recently, I was privileged to have breakfast with our freshmen Presidential Scholars. They are an amazing group of young people ready to tackle the world. I asked each of them if they planned to study abroad. Each one indicated yes. So I asked where they planned to study. The two English majors very appropriately focused on England and Scotland, while others focused on Italy and Spain.

Such experiences in Western nations rich in history and culture will be life changing for these students.

I hope too, that our students envision study beyond these Western societies towards nations equally historic yet pointing to the future. How about Brazil, or India, or China;

How about these countries and others that are literally reshaping
the world we live in?

Dreaming big

More than 30 years ago, a young Georgia State astronomy professor named Hal McAlister was dreaming big.

Hal dreamed of a facility that would be used to study stars at a resolution never before possible.

That was 1977.

Through hard work and perseverance Hal made that dream a reality. Today he oversees Georgia State’s CHARA array – one of the most powerful facilities of its kind in the world.

Hal imagined the possibilities, and now he is recognized around the world for his achievements.

The late President John F. Kennedy once said: Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.

And it was Albert Einstein who said: Imagination is more important than knowledge.

Collectively, Kennedy and Einstein are challenging us to look creatively at our future and to imagine what we can become.

Over the course of our history our university has managed to adapt to changing conditions and environments, and I am certain that we will continue to do so in our second century.

In my first State of the University Address in April, I reflected on how far we have come as a research university; from creeping to crawling, and I said that now is the time to run.

But to run without a destination can waste valuable energy, and can get you hopelessly lost.

Now, let’s talk about where we should be heading. There is no better time than now, as the university works to adopt its next five year strategic plan.

What is my vision for Georgia State University in its second century?

GSU will be recognized as one of the world’s preeminent urban research universities.

GSU will be known for the quality and impact of its graduates.

Our graduates will rise to the highest levels of leadership in their communities and organizations.

We will recruit a student body that reflects the demographic profile of our state and nation, and we will be the national model for retention and graduation of a diverse student body.

GSU will be a destination of choice for students choosing to study at a globally engaged urban university.

GSU will be known for the quality and impact of its scholarship and research.

Our faculty members will be recognized nationally and internationally as leaders in their fields.

Atlanta will be recognized around the world as a major cultural center, and our programs in the arts will be integral to that achievement.

We will be known as a university where faculty tackle important questions of the day, including the challenges unique to urban environments, and produce scholarly works that have a significant impact in addressing those questions.

The purpose of a vision is to set a destination. Jim Collins, the noted author of the bestseller Good to Great, refers in his work to the “Big, Hairy Audacious Goal as a core component of the vision.

What is our big, hairy, audacious goall?

It is the day in the future when GSU will be synonymous with UCLA and NYU as urban research university models of excellence.

Imagining the possibilities

I am standing here today because 40 years ago, a young couple raising three boys in suburban Baltimore had an average child getting C’s in school, and yet imagined the possibilities for a brighter future.

They never once spoke to me about what might not be possible, instead, never lowering expectations. They asked what could be, and they settled for nothing less than my very best efforts. All things were possible.

And, on a much larger scale, we are all here today because of people like George Sparks, and Noah Langdale, who guided our university through its early and sometimes challenging years; and William Suttles and John Palms and Sherm Day, who oversaw GSU’s growth and expansion in the 80s and 90s; and Carl Patton, who was at the helm when Georgia State became a research university in the
mid-1990s.

Carl imagined the possibility of a major research university, complete with on-campus housing, dining halls – the complete college experience – that is a reality today.

We are here because these university leaders dared to imagine the potential for this university.

We are a more accomplished university today because Hal McAlister pushed back the frontiers of modern astronomy.

We are a better university today because Barbara Hunt, Annette Lucille Hall and Marybelle Reynolds Warner risked their lives imagining a university that provided a quality education for everyone, regardless of the color of their skin.

These pioneers imagined the possibilities.

Now is our time.

We must shape the future for those who will come after us.

We can, and we will.

I ask you today to imagine these possibilities:

The GSU Law School recognized as rivaling the very best in the nation, mentioned with the likes of Harvard and Yale.

Imagine – our college of education leading the way in ending the nation’s education crisis.

Imagine – our college of business and our school of policy studies as conveners of world leaders to work out the most pressing economic and policy issues of the day.

Imagine – the day when Georgia State’s Fine Arts programs rival the best in the world;

Imagine – A day when Georgia State scientists discover a cure for Alzheimer’s disease or cancer, or when a GSU faculty member is awarded a MacArthur Genius award or Nobel Prize for literature, chemistry, medicine, or physics;

Imagine – GSU students routinely competing in and winning Rhodes, Mitchell, MacArthur and Truman Scholars competitions.

All of these, and much, much more are possible.

Our past tells us that at the very core we are a university that matters because of our ability to adapt to change and meet the needs of society.

Now is not the time to be complacent, now is the time to imagine the possibilities, and to act.

Let us be judged in the distant future not for our inaction, or for setting our sights too low,
but for our actions and the boldness of our dreams.

Our city, our state, our nation, and the world need us to strive for even greater levels of accomplishment and impact.

There is vibrancy on campus that tells me that this university is poised to push to new and greater heights, to shape the future in new and exciting ways.

In its second century GSU will be recognized as one of the world’s preeminent urban universities.

Let us work together to make that vision a reality, sooner rather than later.

Thank you.