Aug. 22, 2017
William Craft, President
I. Welcome and Recognition of Achievements
Good morning! Welcome to our retired faculty and staff. Welcome back to those who have been away for work and recreation; welcome to those who have been here all along, renewing the campus for fall, and hosting our more than 8000 guests this summer. Welcome to the 126th year of Concordia College, where we stand on the firm foundation of faith in a liberating God and in the liberating power of the liberal arts. My thanks to all who have made this morning possible, especially to our colleagues in Facilities and Dining Services, and to Amy Kelly, our College Communications and Media Relations Director.
My theme for this morning, and for this year, is a call to claim our heritage and expand our world. I’m going to bookend that theme with the voices of three beloved members of this community, each of whom spoke to us at commencement this May: at the beginning, 1968 graduate Jim Parke and Professor Olin Storvick, who received honorary doctorates, and at the close, 2006 graduate and commencement speaker, Miquette Denie McMahon. Let’s listen now to Jim and Olin.
Jim and Olin have spent their lives in different work—Jim as CFO of GE Capital Services and Olin as Professor of Classics here—but I am struck by the harmony of their convictions:
Jim joined GE’s Financial Management Program not knowing a debit from a credit, but, he tells us,“I had a BA in history, political science, and economics from Concordia College. I knew how to learn, . . . how to ask the not so stupid questions, because I had a liberal arts education.” And he learned, he affirms, that “winning the right way was the only way.”
Olin speaks of the very education Jim experienced as one “of learning, of asking questions” and of encountering the fine arts, which Jim did in the concert band. Olin closes by affirming such an education as a work in accord with “the purposes and mission” of the church.
With you, this day, I want to claim that heritage; and at the same moment, I want to follow Olin’s concluding counsel: to reflect not only on the past, but to “look to the future, a Concordia yet to be,” a Concordia to be established by our faculty and staff, our graduates, our regents and councils—by all who love this place.
In the second half of this talk, I’m going to invite you to frame that future. Now, I want to celebrate the work of those who have sustained us from the close of the last academic year through this summer, and then we’ll join in honoring this year’s Ole and Lucy Flaat Award recipients.
[President Craft presented a series of pictures highlighting end-of-year and summer work accomplished:
- renovating Old Main
- restoring our elm trees
- hosting more than 8000 camp and conference visitors, recruiting a larger class of new students (with thousands of contacts by faculty, athletics staff, and our Enrollment professionals)
- breaking the fundraising record with more than $21 million received in cash gifts
- enrolling a high summer number at the Concordia Language Villages
- receiving through the Villages the distinction of becoming one of only nine National Language Training Centers for the United States military
- launching the first Executive Education program at the Offutt School of Business (well reviewed by participants from 24 different companies)
- applying faculty-guided student learning to major local and global challenges (including the Narrative 4 project featured by the BBC this summer and the first Urban Policy Fellowship with the City of Fargo)
- publishing Reformation and Resilience (essays on planetary citizenship by Concordia faculty at the 500th anniversary of the Reformation)
- shouldering the monumental work to prepare the Integrated Science Center in time for the opening of fall classes—at $45 million, by far the largest capital project in Concordia’s first 126 years.
To see the pictures, please follow this link.
We turn now to the Flaat Awards, to be presented by Dean of the College, Dr. Eric Eliason. [Dean Eliason presented the Flaat Awards this year to the following Concordia colleagues:
- Craig Soliah, Audio Visual Technician, 13 years of service. Craig’s colleagues say, “With a calm and helpful demeanor, Craig ensures that each Concordia event goes smoothly.” Craig Soliah was presented with the Ole and Lucy Flaat Distinguished Service Award.
- Jill Walker, Head Teacher for Toddlers at Cobber Kids, 26 years of service. Jill’s colleagues tell us, “Parents have found a genuine partner in their parenting, looking to Jill for her advice, examples, and reassurance.” Jill Walker was presented with the Ole and Lucy Flaat Distinguished Service Award.
- Aileen Buslig, Professor of Communication Studies and Theatre Art, 17 years of service. Aileen’s colleagues say, “Dr. Buslig’s scholarship has taken up topics such as the nature of apologies, privacy, terrorism and ethno-centrism, and romantic conflict on television. She has collaborated in scholarship both with students and with faculty.” Dr. Buslig was presented with the Ole and Lucy Flaat Distinguished Scholarship Award.
- Joy Lintelman, History Department Chair, 28 years of service. Joy’s colleagues tell us, “Dr. Lintelman has been a leader in Concordia’s turn to the digital humanities, and is co-creator of Cordopedia, the digital archive on the history of the college. She teaches students not only to study history but to do history.” Dr. Lintelman was presented with the Ole and Lucy Flaat Distinguished Teaching Award.]
II. The Year Before Us and The Years to Come
It’s not been the norm to read lectionary lessons at this address, but today I have asked the administrative leadership of our Diversity Initiative, Amena Chaudhry and Edward Antonio, to read the Hebrew Bible and Gospel lessons for this past Sunday from Isaiah and Matthew, together with a passage from the Qur’an.
From Isaiah 56: Thus says the Lord, maintain justice, and do what is right. . . . My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.
From the Qur’an, Surah 4: O you who are faithful:
Take a firm stand for justice,
bearing witness for God.
From Matthew 15: (In response to the Pharisees’ charge that Jesus’ disciples violate God’s commands because they haven’t washed their hands before eating,) Jesus called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles. . . . What comes out of the mouth comes from the heart, and this is what defiles.”
We gather this morning in high hopes for the year ahead, and we gather also keenly aware of events in Charlottesville, Virginia, another American university town, a town where hatred in speech and action led to violence and death. At Concordia, we reject such speech and action: We are called to practice reason, not ignorance; love of neighbor, not hatred. And we know that speaking up isn’t enough: we must, as Isaiah says, do what is right, and we must embrace the work of reconciliation in our community, country, and world.
1. Numbers Update
I will focus now on the year ahead and the five years to follow. Before I invite you to think with me about that longer range, I want to give a concise update on numbers since our April budget meeting here in the Centrum:
- Enrollment this fall: Since the low point for new first-years in Fall 2015, we have gained 5% a year for two years in a row: from 520 to 545 to 573. Last year, most of the gain was in the number of new international students; this year, that gain held, and all our gain is in more S. students. The total number of students at Concordia this year will be lower due to the graduation of a larger class this past May.
- Future enrollment targets: Given recent past and current enrollment of new first-year students, we will set the target for new first-years for Fall of 2018 at 575 rather than 600. If we hit that 575 target annually, we’ll have about 2170 students in five years rather than the 2290 projected at 600 new a year.
- Future budgets: That projected number—together with commitments that we have made and plan to make in diversity, in student learning and faculty/staff development, in compensation, in Athletics’ role in enrollment and fundraising success, and in the use of our contingency—will shape budgeting for next year budget and the years to follow.
- Endowment: Valued at $118.8m, Concordia’s endowment stands at its highest point ever, up from $84m in 2011—thanks to devoted donors, to skilled Advancement leadership, and to wise investment of our funds. Though pleased with that growth, we are far from satisfied.
- After a thorough vetting process, we’ve now engaged a new investment consultant to seek still stronger returns.
- On September 29, we’ll launch the public phase of our fundraising campaign, which will call all who love this college to RiSE together to influence the affairs of the world.
2. Goals for This Year
- Open the Integrated Science Center on August 31, the first day of classes
- Launch the PEAK requirement (Pivotal Experience in Applied Knowledge) for the Class of 2021
- Advance the Diversity Initiative—with new leadership and with the whole Concordia community
- Formulate Concordia’s Integrated Climate Commitment, signed this past April
- Advance the New Ventures and related projects now underway:
- To promote that advancement, I am pleased to announce that Rebecca Amundsen will become the Executive Director for Continuing Studies and Outreach, overseeing both individual project leaders for non-degree new ventures and the closely related work of Conferences and Events. Thank you, Rebecca! Professor Cindy Carver will continue her role in promoting development of credit bearing new ventures.
- Inaugurate the division of Student Development and Campus Life
- Launch the public campaign calling us to RiSE to Influence the Affairs of the World
In May of 2018, I will place before the Board of Regents a renewed plan for Concordia over the five years to follow. It must be both
- Faithful to the work of our 2012-17 plan: Whole Self, Life, World
- And a map for change as we position Concordia to flourish in mission.
The plan for 2018-2023 will call on us to claim our heritage and to expand our world. By claiming our heritage, I mean affirming those convictions and actions that have given life to Concordia in its first 125 years:
- Our heritage of faith in the love of God that turns us outward in wonder and humility and love of neighbor
- Our heritage of faith in liberating learning, championed by Jim Parke and Olin Storvick last May. There has never in our history been more need for the liberal arts than there is now: our commitment to seek and say and live what is true in our lives students, citizens, professionals, people of faith.
- We need as well to claim our heritage of struggle: Look at this picture from the 1976 yearbook.
I’m struck by the demands voiced in the 1976 strike by Concordia’s African American students and their supporters: “Concordia must recognize its Black students,” one sign says; “we are part of the student body!” I know we will be one in support for the diversity initiative begun last year: board, cabinet, faculty, staff, students.
- We must claim as well our heritage of enterprise in the face of challenge and change. When the Depression struck in the 1930s, the Norwegian Lutheran Church threatened to close Concordia down or reduce it to a junior college. We weren’t closed, but the church cut its funds to us by 30%. Yet a combination of aggressive recruiting and fundraising, together with some sharp economies on campus, saw us through.[i] During World War II, our enrollment dropped 33%, with a higher percentage of women enrolled helping to save us, and with our adaptation to offer “specialized training programs” that contributed to the war effort and our bottom line.[ii] We are at a moment when enterprise is once again demanded.
- Finally, we must claim what one graduate calls “the leadership proposition of Concordia College.” Our record in sending forth students with the quickness of mind and generosity of soul to take on the challenges of citizenship and professional life is remarkable. I will limit myself to one example—another yearbook photo from 70s.
At the center of this one are Randy Boushek, now CFO of Thrivent and Chair of our board, and Earl Lewis, one of the leaders of the ’76 strike, and now president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Vice Chair of our board. We need to sustain our leadership proposition, and turn it to larger vision of whom we serve.
By expanding our world, I mean what I am confident Carl Bailey, author of our mission statement, would say if he were here with us this morning: We have to ask the pressing question of what world(s) we—who call ourselves a global college—seek to influence.
- Whom will we teach?
- What will we teach, in our formal curriculum and by example in college operations?
- Who will do that teaching as members of our faculty and staff?
- Who will guide and challenge us in our governing councils and administration?
- And most fundamentally, who will “we” be?
3. Fundamental Principles for our 2018-2023 Plan:
Because the plan will be rooted in mission and responsive to the world we serve, it must be
- Focused, first and last, on the good we seek in influencing the affairs of the world
- Growing out of, not away from, the 2012-17 Whole Self, Life, & World plan, which advanced learning that is integrative, inclusive, and innovative
- Naming our challenges: financial, market, and identity in our region and nation
- Engaging the whole Concordia community.
4. Five Branches of Our Plan for 2018-23
Rooted in these principles, the plan we fashion and present to the regents next May will include these five branches, each of them subject to revision throughout this year:
- Fulfilling the undergraduate BREW Initiatives of Self, Life, & World: PEAK, in its local and global dimensions; new and re-newed majors; the Career Initiative; the now unified work of student development; and our commitments to faith in learning and faith in action
- Implementing New Ventures to extend mission and revenue: From its founding, Concordia has offered an interwoven set of programs that we would now identify as devoted to the liberal arts, to teacher preparation, and to business education. Take a look at our very first advertisement from October of 1891:
With New Ventures, we have three key opportunities:
- Opportunity to influence the affairs of our region, within and beyond undergraduate learning
- Opportunity to enhance the diversity of those we serve
- Opportunity to grow and deepen our relationships with non- and for-profit partners with whom we have common cause.
- Pursuing a diversity initiative that will pervasively shape enrollment, employment, curriculum, culture, and community collaboration for our college—not at the edge but at the heart of any planning we do.
- Marketing a Concordia powerfully able to influence the affairs of the world by
- Claiming our highly distinctive identity—there is no other American college like us—and trumpeting its strengths
- Recruiting undergraduate, graduate, and non-degree learners who can share our mission aspiration.
- Securing our financial strength through fundraising, investment, and clear articulation of revenue required across college programs and operations.
In the coming days, everyone in this room, and those grads and friends and councils and regents not with us this morning, will be invited to frame and to hammer out the plan for Concordia’s future.
Now, let’s take a closer look at New Ventures for this coming year. In May of 2017, with my full support, The Board of Regents passed this resolution:
The Board of Regents directs the president, working with campus leadership to propose at its May 2018 meeting, a new, hybrid model of educational programming for a wider and diverse mix of students. This model should extend Concordia’s long lasting liberal arts mission of faith and learning, aim to increase institutional enrollment to 2600 by 2022, achieve financial strength, and underwrite the core enterprise of baccalaureate education.
This summer, in response, the college cabinet, together with several Concordia faculty and regents, visited Carroll University in Wisconsin to learn from their experience in graduate health science education. The advantages we saw in their experience were these:
- Increased tuition revenue
- The draw of such graduate programs for undergraduates considering their college choice
- The importance of careful but time-limited feasibility studies
- The promise of underwriting traditional undergraduate studies
This fall, we will undertake feasibility studies for select new programs, attending both to the Board’s resolution and to the governance processes of our faculty.
I bring us to our conclusion now with the words of one whose world was expanded by Concordia, and who has in return expanded her influence on the affairs of that world:
2006 graduate Miquette Denie McMahon. Watch and listen to this portion of her May 2017 commencement address.
Last week, Anne and I were fortunate to attend the opening of the new Fargo exhibit devoted to the Jewish Immigrant Experience in North Dakota. After Charlottesville, it was a deep affirmation of the blessing our country can be to new Americans and old. Speaking at the event, Rabbi Yonnah Grossman told us that that immigration and our coming together from across the diversity of our community to honor it were a mitzvah: a good thing that could make the world a more godly place. Miquette’s education here and her work now to influence the affairs of the world are a mitzvah, and so must all our endeavors be as we claim our heritage and expand our world.
Blessings on you this year, and on the work we do together. Soli deo gloria.
[i] See Carroll Engelhardt, On Firm Foundation Grounded: The First Century of Concordia College, 1891-1991 (Moorhead, MN: Concordia College, 1991), pp. 106-112.
[ii] Engelhardt, p. 153.