Fall Convocation Focus: Resilience and Education for Next Century as Webster Kicks Off 2014-15

| August 22, 2014

The Webster University 2014-15 academic year formally kicked off with fall convocation, held Thursday in the Loretto-Hilton Center on the home campus in Webster Groves and streamed live for extended campuses throughout the world.

President Beth Stroble and Provost Julian Schuster welcomed faculty and staff with remarks oriented around the centennial anniversary, the role of education in today’s society and the forthcoming strategic plan that will map how Webster University sets and measures progress toward goals that serve its mission as a worldwide institution ensuring high quality learning experiences that transform students for global citizenship and individual excellence.

Stroble at Fall Convocation 2014

Stroble quoted Maggie Buggie: “Remember that all is invented. Someone, somewhere, at some point in time has decided what you think is the status quo. So why not take a risk and make a better reality that is more resonant and compelling to a greater number of people?”

As a warmup, the audience saw a preview of centennial promotion to come, with an opening video “100 Years in 100 Seconds” tracing visuals of Webster’s history from its founding in 1915 through different milestones over the years. (Watch the video above, or at this direct link.)

With Webster campuses a flurry of activity at this busy time of year, Stroble thanked the many people who organize convocation and the meals, new student orientations, move-ins and welcomes for returning students and faculty as each academic year begins.

“This time of year is always exhilarating, energizing, and in some ways exhausting,” she said, so its success depends on a team effort.

Facing Adversity with Resilience Inspired by History

Nodding to Webster’s history and the remarkable history of the Sisters of Loretto who founded the institution, President Stroble framed her remarks around the stories of “brilliant resilience” Webster University has shown in the face of different periods of adversity and turbulent times during its first 100 years.

Drawing inspiration from that history, Stroble said, “Did those who came before us face challenges? Yes. Did they run from issues of war, conflict, racial and gender inequality, economic depression, competition for faculty and students? No.”

Stroble continued:

“What they did was assess and accept risks, live with deep uncertainty, pioneer new approaches, and steel themselves to question the status quo and create new institutions and structures that were more responsive to the increasingly diverse communities they were called to serve.

“And so must we.”

The 11th president in Webster history cited the state of higher education and recent headlines as a sign of how “universities will need to be clear about why they exist and act in ways that have integrity and resonance with their missions and their understanding of themselves.”

Provost at Convocation

“Is the generally educated man or woman still necessary in modern society? Clearly, yes.”

“I believe, and I want you to believe, that at Webster University we have it within us to thrive in the most challenging of circumstances,” Stroble said.

“We will do that by defining this moment in our time — this 100-year mark — with the creation of a new strategic plan that assures our global impact in the next century. We will do that by focusing on the aim of education now and in the future, founding anew the Webster that will achieve those aims, and embracing Webster University as a concept and not only a place.”

The Continuing, Essential Role of Education in Society

Among the turbulent conditions in the industry are questions about the role and value of an accredited, broadly based education. Using a metaphor about the health of the whole human body rather than one part or system, Schuster discussed the continuing necessity for universities to educate students across the disciplines rather than resorting solely to specialization.

The concept of an educated person has changed over time — with universities accessory to this change — to the point that it has simplified to mean a person acquiring a higher degree, Schuster said.

“It is exactly us who must debunk this oversimplification” of what it means to be educated, he said. “Specialization has reached a level where it disfigures the human being.”

“Is the generally educated man and woman still necessary in modern society?” he asked. “Clearly, yes.”

The goal of education, he said, should be “to harmoniously develop all the abilities of a human being to the optimal level.” This does not eliminate the need for specialization, but a specialized person is lost without a grounding base in other disciplines.

Strategic Plan: ‘Living, Breathing Organism’ Serving Students in Commitment to Mission
Preview of the strategic plan conceptualized under the four themes announced in the spring

(Click to enlarge) Preview of the strategic plan conceptualized under the four themes announced in the spring

As provost, senior vice president and chief operating officer, Schuster said the strategic plan will map how Webster seeks to provide this for students.

“We have the real ability to make a global impact,” he said. But a university can only make that impact when its members “reach out to their colleagues across schools, colleges and departments” in support of the agreed upon themes and emphases in the plan.

The four themes, announced at the strategic plan update forum in the spring, are:

  • Global Innovation through Inclusive Leadership
  • Global, Student-Centered Experience
  • Network of Academic and Operational Excellence
  • Strategic and Sustainable Development

Under those themes, the plan will map “the goals we want to achieve, the metrics by which we will measure progress, and the initiatives which will ensure success.”

While some think of a strategic plan as a “blueprint” for a foundation set in stone, Schuster said for it to be effective and relevant Webster must see the plan “as a living organism,” which breathes, strengthens and adapts as needs warrant.

Further, as educators we must recognize that education must be broadly accessible to every human being, across demographics, locations and ages. “There is no timetable on learning. It does not stop at age 22. Education is from the cradle to the grave.”

Referencing the diversity of Webster’s student body, campus locations and communities served around the world, Schuster asked, “Can we be everything to everyone? Of course not. But we can be everything to more than one type of student. It is in our mission to offer broad access and life-long learning to multiple constituents.”

Webster’s Next Century Dawns: Eyes on the Horizon

Stroble closed the event with a look to the milestone year ahead: “Let us in this centennial year face our challenges with clear eyes and focus on the horizon, knowing who we are and who we intend to be in the future.”

An archived video of the event and text of full remarks will be made available soon and publicized via Webster Today.

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Category: Employee News, Faculty, Presidential Messages, Webster News

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