What We Love and What We Do
Good evening, dear colleagues and friends of Concordia. Anne and I rejoice to see you again, as we open the 124th year of faith and learning at this global liberal arts college of the church. I offer my particular thanks to everyone who makes the opening rituals of the year possible: our colleagues in Academic and Student Affairs, in Facilities and Dining Services, in Information Technology, and in Campus Ministry.
Tonight I want to talk with you about what we love and what we do at Concordia.
Here, we count in fours: four years of education, four years to graduation (not five or six, as at some of our competitors). As I look back over my first four years with you, and as I begin anew with you this year, I have been thinking about the more than dozen conversations we had at the president’s house in the fall and spring of 2011-12. I’ve reviewed the notes from those days, when you spoke of what had drawn you to Concordia, of what keeps you here, and of your hopes for the college.
You spoke of our bright and curious students, of the chance to help them grow their gifts, of beauty (on the campus and in the arts), of respect across the lines of faculty and staff in our community, of vibrant expressions of faith, of intellectual wholeness offered in the liberal arts, and of our global commitments. One of you said—I remember this well—that while other colleges market only to self-interest, Concordia emphasizes connection to others: BREW—Becoming Responsibly Engaged in the World!
You spoke as well of your longing for time and space to pursue the examined life; for the opportunity to enable students to take the risks necessary for genuine learning that would equip them for the unscripted challenges they will face; and for connection across disciplines and across different cultural and faith experiences. The whole self, whole life, whole world architecture of the strategic plan for Concordia arose directly from those expressions of hope.
Throughout those conversations, I began to see and hear something I never forget: your relationship with the college is not casual, nor simply instrumental; it is missional. You are here because you love something: you love the work and life of Concordia, and you love it enough to long for its highest expression and fulfillment.
After four years, I imagine that what I love here is self-evident, but just in case, I love
- the visual beauty of this place, a daily work of art that is itself an invitation to reflection and community
- the care that the staff in our offices, dining services, custodial services, and solution center show for the quality and dependability of campus experience
- the camaraderie of inquiry and discovery among students and faculty in the sciences, the humanities, and professional programs
- the way that fine arts and athletics at Concordia gather us into community
- the epiphanies, large and small, that arise through student residential life
- the unfolding riches of our faith and interfaith life
- the courage and determination and decency you have shown as we have sought to meet our own particular version of the challenges of 21st-century higher education
- and most of all, for me the best, our mission commitment both to transact and to transform: to set our students on the path to professional success, and to cultivate in them a devotion to local, national, and global well-being.
With you, I am proud of the transactional success of Concordia College. I speak of it on campus and on the road: Students who come to Concordia and stay have a more than 90% chance of finishing in four years; those who apply to med school are accepted at the double the national average; law school applicants have a 90% chance of admission; we rank among the top schools (of any size) in grads who go on to get doctorates; 98% of grads have a job, a grad school placement, or volunteer work for groups like Young Adults in Global Mission within six months of commencement. We can stand with any college, and answer the question, “What do your students get for their tuition—what’s the return on investment in their professional lives?”
With you, I love the transformational work of Concordia. I love the fact that our faculty adopted BREW as our curricular theme—even before they realized it would be a cool acronym. I take a deep joy in the fact that our students, before and after commencement, really believe that they are called to “influence the affairs” of the world through the love and service to neighbor that Luther tells us defines the Christian life. Now I know their names: Miquette Denie of TeachHaiti; Sara Meslow of Camp Odayin; Max Smith, who started InSports; Mike Rose, who started No Food for Thought; the students in interfaith service through Better Together; scores and scores of teachers, artists, pastors, community-dedicated business leaders, physicians, nurses, social workers and relief workers, choral and theater directors, in a throng from 1891 to this very day. Even in our “militant modesty,” as President Pamela Jolicoeur so cleverly called it, we are forced to admit that Concordia College is a beautiful work and an institution of real consequence.
A college president ought always to cheer: to cheer colleagues on in their good work, to offer good cheer in the midst of struggle. A president ought also to challenge: to challenge himself and the community to sustain and renew an education that will enable students and college together to flourish. In that spirit, I ask this evening a question: Can we do what we love? Can we afford to do what we love?
Now for a slightly longer answer, looking first to market and then to mission. I read an interview with John Mackey, founder of Whole Foods, entitled “Sell Something Your Customers Want to Buy.” I admire Mackey, not uncritically, but I am impressed by his business focus and also by the Whole Cities Foundation, which seeks to make healthy foods accessible in the food deserts of urban America. The theme of the interview is Mackey’s realization that his enterprise, if he wanted customers, could not be “Holier Than Thou Foods.” Food education could happen only if people can into the store. We have never been holier than thou college, and so we will listen to the factors that drive student and parent interest at the time of college application: major academic strengths, affordability, and preparation for post-college success. In other words, we need to be skilled in translating the abiding value of liberal learning for those who don’t enjoy our view inside the store.
If we look to mission, my answer to whether we can do what we love is also yes—and a challenge we have taken on enthusiastically. Long ago, Oxford scholar and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis wrote that the one who loves, sees. Every scientist, every humanities scholar, every artist, gardener, pastor, teacher, and caring politician knows this: love inspires true attention. I suggest to you this evening that our deep love of Concordia’s faith and liberal learning mission gives us sight—and insight. It can lead us to see that what we do at our very best—leading students into lives of discovery, of disciplined attention to the problems before them, and of faithful application to the good of the neighbor far and near—must define the experience of every student here. Such an education transcends any credit counting and the bounds of any classroom or studio.
Kevin Carey, author of The End of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere, said in a recent interview that his title is not about colleges going out of business, but rather about a pressing need for adaptive learning practices and organizational structures in higher education (see IHE 3.23.15). In our faculty’s integrative learning efforts, and in the Concordia Career Initiative, we have—if we are bold to press our advantage—the jump on that rapidly developing expectation. We can lead our region, and we can be a national exemplar, and in taking what we love best and making it universal, we can offer the very best to our students—and we can win in the fiercest enrollment market in our lifetime.
Yes, we can do what we love, and we can flourish in doing it. Before I conclude this talk with an agenda for the year ahead, let me note that we do do things at Concordia College. It is a commonplace for critics of academe to say that we talk about stuff but don’t act. Maybe sometimes, but the state of Concordia College is not static. Let me cite actions from last year alone:
- New majors, such as Finance in the Offutt School of Business, and Heritage and Museum Studies (an outgrowth of our recent Mellon Foundation grant).
- Thanks to the hard work of our faculty, Higher Learning Commission approval this summer of the new master’s in nutrition.
- The launching of the Concordia Career Initiative last spring under the leadership of Carly Nelson.
- The commitment to incorporate integrative learning into Concordia’s first-year Inquiry Seminars, which will become the foundation of a definitive four-year experience leading all students to apply the discoveries of liberal learning to the unscripted challenges of life in community.
- National recognition of Concordia as a leader in interfaith learning and a new grant from the Kemper Foundation through the Interfaith Youth Core to connect that enterprise with businesses in our community.
- The achievement of the highest endowment level in the history of the college, $110 million, and the achievement of the highest cash fundraising total in our history as well, $19.9 million in a single year.
- Cash and pledges for Concordia’s science renovation, moving from $8.2 million last year at this time to over $26.5 million today.
- The top 25 national ranking for Concordia’s Dining Services
- Facilities enhancements everywhere, including the new roof on Grose and Bishop Whipple, the rain garden along 8th Street, and the elegant new bike shelter for the COBBikes, designed by Brenda Jarolimek, fabricated by Ron Sauvageau, and installed by the Facilities team
- Heroic work in the Great Science Migration across campus by Dawn Current and Steven Schlaht, and the ongoing leadership of Ellen Aho
- Faculty honors far too many to mention, but including Susan Larson’s appointment as President-Elect of the Council on Undergraduate Research, Bill Snyder’s winning of the Claire Keyes Poetry Prize, Greg Carlson’s honors in the International Documentary [Film] Challenge, Dawn Duncan’s selection for the Scholar Spotlight by the Council for Irish Studies, Jennifer DeJong and Jack Rydell’s honors at the Sanford Health Nursing Symposium—on and on!
- Changes in retention strategy and organization: The Director of Student Success and Retention Services will report to Associate Dean Sethre-Hofstad, and a new Retention Advisory Committee, chaired by Jasi O’Connor, will be leading our efforts to make sure that our practices and policies are optimized.
- Rising first-to-second-year retention, today at 84%, and progress in our goal to enroll more U.S. students of color: 8% of the incoming class this fall, up from 7% last year.
- Enrollment at CLV this summer was up nearly 450 students from summer 2014.
- Successful searches for leadership in Enrollment and Marketing, and for the Offutt School of Business.
Can we do things? You bet. Can we do what we love? Yes, with attention to market and mission together. And yes, by making choices about what to do when with our resources of time and money. When the college cabinet and I met with Board officers and committee chairs last week, we set forth four major moves that must engage campus and board discussion, debate, and action this year. I end this talk by setting them before you now:
- Presentation of a comprehensive funding campaign for Board of Regent approval this September. As we celebrate our 125th anniversary, this all-college commitment will be devoted to raising the capital for the science renovation; to raising the endowment still higher to lift support for scholarships, academic and co-curricular programs, and faculty/staff development; and to increasing annual fund dollars that enable us to meet ongoing needs.
- Clearly establishing Concordia’s institutional and market position, its strategies for enrolling and retaining a talented and diverse undergraduate student body, and its model of price and aid. Fundamental changes in Enrollment organization and staffing took place this summer, and the search for a new chief marketing officer is already underway. This year we will build on successful strategies of the past with innovative approaches for the future, including the most effective and appealing union of price and aid to our students and their families.
- Review and approval of a five-year strategic budget plan. This summer the college cabinet set forth ten defining initiatives that draw together the major tasks of the strategic plan, programmatic and operational, initiatives that will set the course for collective action between now and 2020. Critical to the success of those initiatives will be the work to project costs needed to reach our goals for integrative learning and career readiness, compensation, enrollment and marketing, and other annual needs. These expenses will be matched by revenues from tuition, auxiliary services, endowment earnings, and annual fund. That budget will be the work of cabinet, of our established budget planning committee, and of the board.
- Establishing a framework for a dynamic model of education and revenue sources that unites the undergraduate core of Concordia with programming for nontraditional learners. This follows the thread from last summer’s New Students/New Programs initiative, chaired by Professor Cindy Carver. Board Chair Judge Tunheim and I, working with Dean Eliason and faculty leadership, will create a joint regent and faculty working group to fashion model that can extend the value of a Concordia education to nontraditional students and at the same time return revenue to enhance the core work of undergraduate learning. Formal approval of any academic program proposals will be the province of Faculty Senate. Regent support and enthusiasm for any extension of our mission into non-baccalaureate programming will be crucial.
I have waited until the end to offer one more thing I love about Concordia College: I love the wild, perhaps even crazy, faith and boldness of its founders, in their triumphs and even in their fierce debates. How improbable a thing a college is! As with a great play, a Bach mass, a grand humanitarian enterprise like the Lutheran World Relief, how easily it could have been left uncreated.
I have always envied the founders of colleges. I have loved their stories, how in the midst of uncertainty, of challenges human and financial, of conflicting goods, they pursued with faith and imagination what they dearly loved, for the sake of their community and of the world. If there is any better work, I cannot conceive of it. I say to you now that we are, at this very moment, in this very place, founders of Concordia College.
I can assure you that years from now, our successors—faculty, staff, students, and graduates—will look back and remember the names of all who embraced this moment. Names like Larry Papenfuss, Julie Rutherford, and George Connell, honored here tonight with the Flaat Awards in service, teaching, and scholarship. I know this because out on the road of my travels I already hear your names, mingling with those of great Concordia women and men from former days. I know this because I know you. Led by love, and diligent in our time to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves, you—we together—will be founding and re-forming our college, with what we love and what we do in deep accord.
Soli deo gloria. To God alone the glory.
 David Whitford, “Whole Foods' John Mackey: Sell Something Your Customers Want to Buy,” Inc., n.d. http://www.inc.com/magazine/201505/david-whitford/john-mackey-whole-foods-icons-of-entrepreneurship.html
 C.S. Lewis, Introduction to Phantastes and Lilith, by George MacDonald (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1964), p. 7. Lewis writes, “He who loves, sees.”
 Paul Fain, “The End of College,” Interview with Kevin Carey, Inside Higher Education, March 23, 2015. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/03/23/kevin-carey-talks-about-his-new-book-end-college