Inaugural Address

Exploring for the Global Good

President Wim Wiewel
October 5, 2018

Good afternoon. Let me echo our Board Chair in welcoming our distinguished speakers and all of you—our distinguished community and guests.

Thank you for being here, and for your kind words.

It’s a privilege to be with you today. It’s also humbling.

We are gathering for this official ceremony some 16 months after the Board voted to name me president. Sixteen months is a long time, and perhaps this ceremony feels a bit like having the wedding long after we’ve already been living together. 

But let me turn back in time to Meriwether Lewis and William Clark for some historical context.

Almost exactly 213 years ago, on October 7, 1805, their expedition pushed five new dugout canoes into the Clearwater River near what is now Orofino, Idaho.

This was about 16 months after they left St. Louis—and it was the first time since then that they went with, rather than against, a river’s current.

So, after 16 months, it’s all downstream, right?

Well, as you probably know, the Corps of Discovery would encounter even more difficult circumstances as they made their way to the Pacific.

Even knowing from experience that calm waters may quickly become turbulent, I will tell you that I am more eager and excited than ever to lead our college community.

Of course, I did not reach this point by myself, and I will not move forward by myself. So I will take a moment for some important thank you’s.

First of all, of course, Alice, who from the beginning encouraged me to pursue this opportunity, and agreed to postpone our sabbatical dreams.

Yes, there were some days in the dark and damp of February that those months we were planning to spend in Spain seemed very attractive!

But neither of us has any regrets, and Alice, and our daughter Kelly, who just started in our Student Affairs program at the Graduate School, have fully embraced being part of the Lewis & Clark family. 

I want to thank Trustee Jon Jaqua, who co-chaired the search committee and was a relentless champion.

Life Trustee John Bates, who was the first Lewis & Clark person I met, back in 2008; thanks, John for your continued friendship!

Board Chair Stephanie Fowler and the other Trustees, thank you. Whenever I mentioned it would be fun to come here Stephanie would point out it would be a lot of hard work. I told her that if it wasn’t fun, I wasn’t coming. Stephanie, I’m having fun, and I hope you are too!

And, of course, generations of faculty, students, parents, alumni, trustees, donors, and friends have brought us to this day.

So, too, have past presidents like Morgan Odell, Jack Howard, Jim Gardner, Mike Mooney, Tom Hochstettler, and Barry Glassner.

I am deeply touched that Presidents Gardner and Hochstettler are here, as well as Interim Presidents Paul Bragdon, Jane Atkinson, and David Ellis. Please join me in recognizing them.

Thank you, as well, to all who have participated in today’s events: the academic discussions, the music, and this installation ceremony.

Call this day the liberal arts in microcosm—we’ve brought together people of different backgrounds and disciplines to expand our common understanding through exploration.

Exploring for the Global Good—the theme of this inauguration and our new Strategic Plan—is a declaration of who we are and what we do at Lewis & Clark and as Lewis & Clark.

I started last year as the college was celebrating its sesquicentennial—150 years since its founding in Albany, Oregon, in 1867.

We formally closed the commemoration during Alumni Weekend in June, but today I will cite our history yet again.

When our college began, one of its founders, the Reverend Edward Geary predicted that it would “one day be a beacon light to the whole Northwest.” A beacon light.

And when the school wholly relocated to Portland in 1942, its new president, Morgan Odell, also envisioned what was possible.

The college, he said, “can be a citadel of light and learning, of faith and knowledge, for young people and the world they can serve.” A citadel of light. 

Perhaps, in these words of Geary and Odell, you hear echoes of Emma Lazarus, whose words are inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty.

“Give me your tired, your poor,

your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I first came to the United States as an 18-year old exchange student.

I wasn’t tired or very poor, but I vividly remember sailing past the Statue of Liberty’s signature torch welcoming me from Old Amsterdam to New Amsterdam. It was the start of an amazing year. 

I had to return to the Netherlands, but my time and education here were so transformative that I later came back to earn my doctorate and to make my life in this country.

I had been welcomed, and I had seen opportunities that existed nowhere else.  So I pursued the promises and possibilities inherent in that welcome.

And, if the pomp and circumstance of this day are any indication, I have done well by those opportunities, and I hope I have reciprocated.

I am also keenly aware that, half a century now after my first visit, we are living in a different time.

Immigration—a touchstone of the American experience and a foundation of the American character—has become one of many flashpoints in our politics and civic life. Because of strident rhetoric and public policy, so much progress in so many areas is under attack.

Kim Stafford has described this tectonic shift well. He is now in his fourth decade of teaching at Lewis & Clark and was recently named Oregon’s poet laureate. After the last presidential election, he wrote:

“Fog filled our national arena, and campaign divisions we had endured only deepened. …Ideals I had known as bedrock for our beloved country—the integrity of fact, a habit for truth, the honorable treatment of fellow citizens, and a growing affection for our fragile Earth—all went under threat.”

From where I stand, the threat has become a clear and present danger. For recourse, I turn to higher education.

I believe that higher education in this country still offers the greatest opportunities for people to break through the fog and realize their dreams.

It still provides the best and most rigorous methods for separating facts from fiction.

It is still the place where a habit for truth and the honorable treatment of all are our daily discipline. 

As I see it, higher education, especially a liberal arts education, has three core purposes: to encourage lifelong exploration of the self and one’s own values; to develop the skills needed to embark on meaningful careers; and to prepare for full—and these days I add “civil”—to prepare for full and civil participation in public life.

So “Exploring for the Global Good” describes what we do here, how we do it, and why.

Exploring hearkens back, of course, to our namesakes. But more, it speaks to the heart of the liberal arts: the ideas of discovery, thinking critically, questioning received truths, being open to new understanding, to learning that the old things aren’t always the way you thought they were. You might say this is “how” we do education, the method. 

Global speaks to our need to understand and appreciate the differences and the commonalities that exist across cultures, races, ethnicities, gender, and histories.

To recognize borders even as we embrace the borderless. This ultimately involves knowing and understanding science and mathematics, the humanities, the arts, and the social sciences; it is the “what” of education, the content.

And the Good, which is the ultimate “why” of education: our commitment to improving life, our communities, and the world.

The need to work with others to solve challenges. The recognition that dedication to lives of purpose and the common good can lead to both public benefit and personal well-being.

You may say, “Fine, but how do you make all this real?” Our answer: by recommitting to the power and relevance of the liberal arts and sciences and serious professional studies based on them.

I realize that we make this commitment at a time when many people are questioning the value of higher education in general and the liberal arts in particular. But we choose to double down. Actually, with our three schools, we are tripling down.

Each of our three schools is distinct, but all share a common purpose: to empower our graduates to make a positive impact on the world.

We gain a distinct advantage when we harness the collective thinking and experience of all three schools.

For example, just a year ago, our community sponsored a symposium on free speech at Lewis & Clark. Faculty, students and staff from all three schools made presentations and led discussions. I had officially been in office for 11 days, and I came away thinking, “If this is what I’ve gotten myself into, give me more!”

We must continue to infuse our curriculum and pedagogy with an ever more expansive worldview—a recognition that the dominant narratives are incomplete. They do not capture or convey the wholeness and complexity of history and human experience.

That complexity also informs our own history. For example, the same Edward Geary who was one of our founders also served as secretary to the superintendent of Indian Affairs in the early 1850s.

In that capacity, he played a role in removing the Native peoples of the Willamette Valley to the Grand Ronde reservation.

And even as we honor our namesakes for their exploration and discovery, we acknowledge their expedition was one of many factors that ultimately drove the tribes of the Oregon Country from their lands.

Truth, even when it hits hard and close to home, must be acknowledged.

All of what we do takes place in the world as it is, and as it is becoming. 

So, we must also be innovative in our pedagogy. Not everyone learns at the same pace or in the same way.

Our Graduate School of Education and Counseling addresses this reality every day in preparing tomorrow’s teachers, counselors, and leaders in education.

And in our undergraduate college, a grant from the Andrew Mellon Foundation supports the Teaching Excellence Program that brings faculty together across disciplines to strengthen their skills and to develop techniques that are even more engaging, inclusive, and innovative.

And the world is not confined to our campuses. During the last academic year, law school students made nine trips to two immigration detention centers in Texas, putting in 10 to 12 hours of pro bono work each day.

Last December, they prepared more than 100 women for political asylum interviews, and conducted some 300 Know-Your-Rights trainings for mothers.

And like very year, hundreds of our students studied abroad in faculty-led trips to deepen their understanding of the world.

The world demands adaptability and reinvention. Our John and Susan Bates Center for Entrepreneurship and Leadership brings faculty, students, expertise, and resources from all three of our schools together to think and develop creative actions that address social challenges, market failures, and economic opportunities.

All of these are examples of what Exploring for the Global Good looks like.

While this College has grown up in Portland, we are now a national and international community.

This growth was wonderfully expressed, by the way, by the late and beloved professor emeritus of history Nas Rassekh.

Some years ago, Nas recalled a day in 1961when he was having coffee with a group of students in Templeton.

He asked where they came from. “Most were from Portland or the suburbs. One, however, declared, ‘I come from back east.’ Intuitively Nas asked, ‘Boston?’ ‘No,’ the student said. ‘Bend!’

Today our undergraduates come from Bend, Boston, and Beijing, from 47 states and 54 different countries.

Still, we embrace our location on this beautiful campus in a dynamic city that is ever-changing. Over the years, Lewis & Clark has served and partnered with Portland and its people in many ways.

Our undergraduate college, for example, provides a variety of student-learning opportunities with organizations throughout Portland, including those that serve Latino and Native American communities, the homeless and the hungry, and elementary school students working to improve literacy skills.

Students in our Graduate School of Education and Counseling spend nearly 200,000 hours each year in schools and mental health agencies.

Our Law School’s clinics, centers, and institutes provide essential legal services to a broad spectrum of organizations and individuals, with a particular focus on emerging and underserved populations. 

We take pride in our many deep connections to the life of the city. But we can and will do even more.

While working in public research universities in Chicago, Baltimore, and Portland, I’ve focused on how institutions of higher education can make cities economically strong, culturally vibrant, and socially just.

In fact, elements of this construct mirror our vision as stated in the new Strategic Plan: “Lewis & Clark will be a national leader in higher education that prepares students for meaningful careers, civic engagement, and lifelong discovery. Together we seek a just and sustainable society here in Portland and around the world.”

But a vision without a plan of action is a daydream. And action without a vision is a nightmare.

I’m not a big fan of either afternoon reveries or sleepless nights. So, over the last year, our community has been developing a strategic plan that will put our vision, purpose, and values into action.

What do we need and what will it take to get there? Our Strategic Plan lays out six key goals.

First, we have to make sure we offer academic programs that meet the needs of our students and the world. It means developing new programs that build on our strengths related to sustainability, entrepreneurship and leadership, and, very importantly, the sciences.

I’ve been very impressed with our faculty’s collaboration with students in the sciences, and I want to see us enhance that further.

We need to expand our overseas and off-campus study programs. From my own history, I am absolutely clear on the transformational effect that study abroad has. Right now, about 60 percent of our students do that. I want it to be as close to 100 percent as we can get it.

And I’ve already mentioned that we should increase the opportunities for our students to learn from and contribute to the Portland area, as well as bring more people from the community to the campus for classes, lectures, performances and games. 

Second, we need to continue attracting, enrolling, and graduating students who will succeed here. Strategic enrollment management does not sound like an inspiring clarion call, but it is essential to success in a very competitive higher education market. 

This also includes drawing more international students.  We can do more in recruiting abroad  Those 54 different countries I mentioned a moment ago? That’s down from 72 last year.

Yes, the nationalistic rhetoric coming out of Washington is working against us, but it moves us to be even more resolute to succeed.

At the same time, we need to attract even more great students from diverse backgrounds domestically, including those very bright students who cannot afford to come here without financial assistance.

To keep and graduate our students we also need to have a stronger student life program. Students come to us now with more challenges than ever before, and we have to support them academically, emotionally, socially, and in the many dimensions of personal growth.

That includes a strong role for athletics. I grew up in a country where athletics was not at all relevant to college life. Here, it is, and we need to build on that and take advantage of that.

Third, we need to have a campus infrastructure that is fully worthy of our great faculty, students, and staff.  This means buildings—some new, some enhanced. It includes student housing, STEM facilities, a renovated student center, and making the Corbett Mansion useful for more than furniture storage, as well as addressing problems in our spaces for music, theatre, and athletics.

Fourth, we will strengthen our diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. The overarching goal is to create an institutional culture of belonging, where all community members can fully participate.

Fifth, we need to reward and keep the high-quality faculty and staff we already have, expand our diversity in recruiting new faculty and staff, and give all of them the opportunities and resources to continue growing as leaders in their fields. 

Last, but at the root of everything, is to conduct a comprehensive campaign. We must succeed—will succeed—for our students, faculty, and community now and for generations to come.

We launched the leadership phase of this seven-year campaign last fall and raised more than $22 million in the first fiscal year. 

I’m happy to announce today that we just received, in a charitable trust, $8.4 million dollars for scholarships! That puts the total over $34 million; we are on our way!

Exploring for the Global Good makes me remember my own journey to America. What would it take to extend—to those who journey here now, to everyone trying to succeed in America—the welcome embrace that I received? What would it take, especially, for those who are not white, not of European descent, not privileged?

What will it take? Empathy for people we do not know but whose dire circumstances we cannot ignore.

It will take a deep knowledge of history and cultures and social dynamics and political imperatives—the many forces that are converging to create the present moment.

It will take expertise in the sciences, the arts and humanities, the law, and in the professions that inspire people to teach and to help others to work toward wholeness and healing. 

What will it take? All of us, working together.

The values that power us at Lewis & Clark are not about winning for the sake of winning.

They are about being collaborative. About pursuing innovation even while respecting our deep sense of place and purpose.

About crossing borders, breaking through walls, and building understanding. Our values are about people collectively believing that things can be better and then working together to create progress, to make the “better” happen.

Beacon light. Citadel of light and learning. The lamp beside the golden door. These are more than metaphors, more even than voices from the past. They are calls to present action.

Now, it is our turn to make aspirations real. We are keepers of the light. Together we will amplify the power of that light and extend its reach.

This is how we explore for the global good.

Thank you—now let’s get to work!