For 50 years, Dr. Richard Green '61 has been a teacher and a leader in higher education.
This spring, he received an honorary degree from Concordia where he began his academic career in 1957 after a 33-hour train ride from his home and family in Louisville, Ky. Green is now interim president at Lincoln University, a historically black college in Pennsylvania. Concordia Magazine recently asked Green to respond to some questions about his experiences at Concordia and his thoughts on diversity.
Q: Why did you come to Concordia?
I had a counselor at Central High School in Louisville who encouraged me to be adventuresome.
My counselor had a special relationship with several colleges in the North. One of those colleges was Concordia, where the student government was sponsoring a scholarship for a student from the South.
It was a window of opportunity for me to learn about life in Minnesota. I had attended all my public school education without having a white classmate, instructor or principal. At Concordia, I was the first black student (from the U.S.). There were two African students: one from Ethiopia and one from Ghana.
But probably the biggest culture shock was the weather. I had not ventured far north from home before then.
Q: What is your favorite memory from your days as a student at Concordia?
One favorite memory is that I think I heard every sermon ever offered by former President Knutson. I ran the sound system for chapel and memorized a lot of his catch phrases. On memorable phrase was "Render unto Caesar things that are Caesar's, and unto God things that are God's."
Q: What were some of the challenges you faced as a first-generation college student?
I am the oldest of seven children. My father, who finished sixth grade, was from a farm in Tennessee. My mother was from a farm in Indiana. She finished high school.
Still, they encouraged all of us to attend college. They wanted me to stay close to home, but let me and my siblings choose our way. I'm amazed at the support they showed us.
Q: How did Concordia prepare you for your career?
I intended to study engineering and work in industry. But I was convinced to pursue chemistry and attend graduate school by my mentors – Dr. Daryl Ostercamp, Dr. Richard Werth and Dr. Gus Dinga.
They prepared me well.
I've enjoyed my time in education. I taught chemistry at Concordia for three years or so. That was a good experience that led me to administration. My first full-time administrative job was at SUNY at Buffalo. At 31, I served as the assistant to the president. That led to a full career serving in roles as college president, provost, deanship and more.
Q: You were the first director of the Office of Intercultural Affairs at Concordia. Why was the position important?
I was asked to develop a counseling program at Concordia supported by a grant from the Department of Education. As part of that, I helped develop an exchange program with Virginia Union University, a historically black college, and Colorado Fort Hayes College, which had a large Native American population.
This program was an adventurous learning experience in terms of cultural exchange. As a result of that, I put together a proposal for a structural approach to diversity, the Office of Intercultural Affairs.
In 1969, there were seven or eight students of color at Concordia. When I left, there were more than 60 from various parts of the U.S.
(Intercultural Affairs) provided an important home for the students – both on campus and off. My wife, Dr. Dorothy Green, and I lived across Eighth Street in a big house and we had room for all of these students to come for special dinners and celebrations.
A lot of good things have emanated from the program.
Q: What are you most proud of?
I'm proud of my Cobber background, which provided excellent foundation for my advanced education. I still remember some of the administrative practices at Concordia that I like to use in my work now. Also, the liberal arts education I received has helped inform my life and understanding of the importance of grace and service.
My wife, Dorothy, has been my partner in all I've done. We've been married 52 years. We have a son and a daughter and three grandchildren. I'm proud of them.
Q: What has been the biggest challenge for you?
Finding time to do all that we try to do and doing it well. We attempt to stay in contact with former students. My wife is quite active in civic organizations and national foundations that encourage women to participate fully in education and business. I've tried to find time to do the same and encourage students to take full advantage of education.
We do all this while trying to keep up with our grandchildren, which is really important to us. My wife says I haven't really retired.
Q: Why is diversity important on college campuses?
I'm at Lincoln University where about 5 percent of the 2,000 students are white. About 30 faculty and some administrators are white.
Diversity is important for us, as well.
The U.S. is positioned well because we have diversity. Once the country decided to make everyone full participants in the life, economics and education of the country, we became more productive, creative and better.
We become better people, better communities when we have cultural experiences that are different than our own, whether international or domestic. Integrating those experiences into the classroom and activities of the college makes the educational experience more vibrant.
We live in a diverse world. We can't insulate ourselves anymore. We need diverse input all the time, and we must remain vigilant and intentional as possible to reap the benefits of a diverse society.
Q: How should schools encourage diversity on campus?
It's something one must work whether you're at Concordia or Lincoln. We all need to become better at it.
One way is to be creative, just as we were many years ago. For example, partnerships – exchanges of faculty and students – lead to diversity that would be helpful to all institutions involved.