Speeches and Writings
"The Thirty-Fourth Name"
STATE OF UNIVERSITY/CONVOCATION 2002
Friday, October 25, 2002
2:30 p.m. - Beall Concert Hall
Dave Frohnmayer, President
University of Oregon
Thank you ... Chancellor Jarvis ... Board members ... others ...
"Convocation" is defined by Webster's New World Collegiate Dictionary as "a group of people called together by summons; especially an ecclesiastical or academic assembly."
I want to thank you all for answering the summons ...
Truly, it is good that we come together, reminding ourselves by our presence and our vestments of the meaning and tradition of a university. It is our annual — though I sincerely hope not only — time for personal and institutional reflection.
The novelist Saul Bellow wrote: "The quest is one and the same ... we are all drawn toward the same craters of the spirit — to know what we are, and what we are here for, to know our purpose ... "
A few weeks ago I attended my 40th Harvard reunion. In the midst of the usual reacquaintances, assurances of "looking as good as ever," and questions about work and family, we attended a chapel service for the members of our class who had died.
It was a classic New England setting in that spacious, white, unadorned Congregational church that marks the east boundary of Tercentennary Theatre in Harvard Yard ... an 11 a.m. service in straight-back pews. We were there in dark and dignified colors ... paying respects ... each in his or her own way quite seriously remembering our classmates and pondering the hugeness and the reality of lives concluded — work unfinished — mortality.
Each of us there held a program of sorts, and on this paper were listed, in three rows the names of those gone roughly 10 percent of us... three rows two rows of 34 names each ... and one row of only 33 space for one more name.
There was no thunder and lightening no beam of sunshine or voice from above ... but it struck me profoundly that that space on the third column could have been filled with my name.
When my heart stopped three years and three days ago not that I'm counting - it could easily have stayed stopped, and the printer of that Harvard College memorial program for the Class of 62 would have added that 34th name to the third column.
Let me tell you about that 34th name.
I am a father and husband a son and friend a student and teacher a citizen and at least by formal title a leader.
I was educated at Harvard, Oxford and Berkeley but also at my parent's home in Medford - in my own home now by my loved ones - and here with you by each new challenge and opportunity we confront together.
Though I have traveled many parts of the world I am an Oregonian. And though my credentials hold the names of universities from afar I am a Duck I am proud to be President of the University of Oregon
I am proud to be working with each of you to strengthen our university a proud exemplar of one of this civilization's last surviving medieval institutions and, when it rises to its calling, truly our most revolutionary modern one.
I am determined, then, to carry on my part of the mission that this university has delivered for the past now - 126 years.
THIS SAME HOPE
Here in this convocation, you are men and women who also carry this same hope, this same ideal that lives in the classrooms and hallways, laboratories and auditoriums of this university.
We are surrounded today by the faces of faculty and staff who have been with us for many years. But this is our annual occasion also to greet and welcome new faces into our ranks.
We are blessed by teachers who truly understand the ideal that higher education makes real the transformation of lives through knowledge.
Our classrooms today, creaking to their limits because of record enrollment, are filled with those who teach and those who learn. And an excitement cracks from those classrooms even more noticeably than the cracks on the plaster walls.
Cranes and fences debris and dust are everywhere but they are the transient signs of something solid and long-lasting being built.
In these buildings, veteran faculty join with new - rich in numbers and unbelievably talented in skills and scope. The learning here truly does represent a universe of knowledge an excitedly growing universe of knowledge.
It is visible over in business and at the Museum of Art, at the new fMRI facility that explores and explains the mysterious unity of brain with mind, and the Green Chemistry lab that speaks of our commitment to a livable planet. I see it in Communications and Education, in languages, the arts, music and drama, architecture and law and history it is visible all across this campus.
Together, through the amazing creativity of our individual minds, and the strengthening power of our community together we are meeting the many challenges that face us.
We come together in the midst of an eerie lull in global affairs a time of anticipation and hopes and fears on many fronts. It is a time when a spectrum of voices speak for and against a wide range of ideas and ideals.
Earlier this week at a meeting of AAU presidents at Emory University, the demands and the actions of some of these voices was the topic of discussion deep and concerned discussion that spoke of pressures to sign, to commit, to come down on one side or the other - or the other.
It is the place of a university to throw open the gates of speech and discussion, of opposing ideas and vigorous debate. That is a part of our heritage.
It is the place of a university to stand on principles of open exploration of the best knowledge and thought the most challenging concepts and ideas and the often disturbing process that exploration entails. We do this confident that out of such efforts chaos may evolve into the more livable semi-chaos that is the lifeblood both of democracy and of intellectual inquiry. This is our role.
It is not the place of a university this university to be advertently or inadvertently captured by any of those voices against another.
Our challenges here are real underfunding; increasing enrollment; an economy not conducive to educating for the needs of the 21st century; the challenge, in the midst of this, not to relax standards, but to raise them to the world-class standards befitting our advertisements. These challenges are real. They affect our work today and tomorrow - and they affect how we affect the things that matter to us.
Students, colleagues and parents, alumni and friends of this university, know that these challenges affect your classrooms and research know that they also affect the ability we have to teach the old and create the new knowledge capable of transforming lives and enabling us to keep our promise.
They affect who we can attract as faculty members, and how we can compensate so as to keep the excellence that we attract.
Some of these challenges come in our university relations with the external community, as so sadly exemplified in the mindless, nihilistic riots that were joined by some university students.
We are not an island we are not a special people separate from the laws and expectations of our broader community.
If anything, we are the ones who go beyond upholding the law to uplifting the law so that it better serves all people in that community.
If anything, we are the ones who raise those expectations to higher levels, through the inspiration of literature, the lessons of history and the knowledge of humanity.
If anything we find and we will find ways to assure that our community meets its responsibilities to the community at large.
We are doing things that can make a difference, that can transform lives.
After years of disinvestment in higher education coupled with a recession that reaches all regions of our nation and further impoverishes our state, we find ourselves again facing the challenge of doing more with less or so the options have seemed.
We are not alone in these problems, as many, if not most, other public institutions across the nation are feeling the same impact of cuts and recession.
But there is a change here. Starting earlier this year with our own recommendations for a New Compact With Oregon, and now with what is being called "The Deal," Chancellor Jarvis and the State Board of Higher Education are making bold proposals to turn this disinvestment around.
By whatever name it ultimately is known, it should combine all the sister institutions in a redefinition of the powerful role we play in shaping the current and future welfare of our state.
It is a "deal" that overtly asks the state to rewrite the rules of engagement and commitment so public universities can better do the public's business.
It is the premise of this proposal to the people, the legislature of Oregon and the governor that our destiny is in our own hands. This proposal this "Deal," will redefine the relationship with the state and the public so that we might effectively embrace a 21st Century vision, with essential control both of our revenue and our expenses.
We have a responsibility to our state to maintain the quality education that will prepare this generation and future ones for the ever-shifting economic, political, international, technological, scientific and moral challenges that inevitably lie ahead. We did not sign on to be party to mediocrity and we will not succumb to it.
We can be leaders in a pioneering effort. As the rest of nation struggles for solutions, we can supply them. Instead of suffering the dubious horror simply of experiencing adversity and slogging numbly onward, we can shape ourselves into a new example of creativity and partnership a new example of transforming ourselves so we can better transform the lives of others.
As an institution as a source and lifeforce of knowledge, we can keep this university from becoming that 34th name.
To do this we also must address the great challenge of accessibility. If Oregon students cannot afford to attend the University of Oregon, it has, in one sense, ceased to be the University of Oregon. We cannot allow that to happen either.
With this recognition, however, I cannot promise there will be no increases in tuition. I can, however, promise that the quality of the education will increase, as will the availability of classes, making possible not only an education of higher quality, but also one that can be achieved in a shorter and thus less expensive time span.
I can promise, as we have done with our "hour of day discounts" that we will search for creative ways to keep costs under control, as well as means to aid qualified students in attending the University of Oregon.
And I can promise that I will lead the most ambitious effort in the history of the state to secure new and significant scholarship endowments for students.
We want you here.
One means of assuring the quality of our programs, as well as accessibility for Oregon students is through our Comprehensive Campaign
This campaign will be without question the most ambitious in the history of Oregon.
Overall, we will be looking for initiatives that are both internally and externally compelling, and that reflect objectives within the strategic directions we have outlined.
More specifically, the criteria that will be used to evaluate the proposed campaign priorities fall into three major categories:
- Importance: The effect the initiative has on the institution.
- Impact: The effect the initiative has on society
- Feasibility: The realistic ability to achieve outcomes within our given time frame
Much of its success depends on you on faculty members participating in the call for proposals as to how money raised can best be invested. Each of you has the opportunity between now and January to help determine the direction this university takes in the coming decades. Now is your chance to be a key part of this and to enable us to provide a focused investment in the future.
Bursts of energy ideas and the passion to grind them into reality generally do not come from outside. They are kindled and forged out of determination and steely resolve, as well as joy and the sense of creation the existential ability to do something that matters in this moment.
I believe building anew does matter. I also believe that you believe it matters.
I believe it is right to ask what will be said of our resolve? Our focus?
Will our petty quarrels be seen as markers for lost opportunities? After all, by abandonment of resolve, by loss of energy, one can become the 34th name without a cardiac arrest or its equivalent.
Or will, instead, our vision and determination be seen as a turning point a revival in its most literal sense.
We have a deep responsibility to the future not only to rise above petty disputes and daily distractions but also, at times to rise above even our most firmly-held convictions because they themselves can, without reflection and vigorous re-examination, become traps of stereotype and self-deception.
We have something more important to do than preach the call of our own cherished beliefs our own sense of righteousness regardless of how we envision that regardless of how vital those beliefs may seem.
We do have the duty to educate to open the doors, and even on judiciously chosen occasions, to breakout the windows, blast off the roofs and walls so that the questions and the ideas and answers may fly freely where they may. This is what we do, and we do it best.
Today, October 25, is the anniversary of two famous battles fought by the English.
I'm not particularly a student of war or battles, not one of those people who know the date and placement of every army that ever set foot on a battlefield from Thermopylae to Verdun.
But the fame or infamy - and lessons of those battles that took place on this day in history struck me as relevant to our discussion.
One was the 15th century Battle of Agincourt, fought and won by Henry V against overwhelming odds, and made even more famous by Shakespeare's version of Henry's speech to his troops that "band of brothers," those "happy few" who stand "o'tip toe when this day is named."
The other battle was the disastrous at least for the British - 19th century "Charge of the Light Brigade," also made famous by a writer, Tennyson, in his poem of the same name.
I will not attempt to rise to the great rhetoric of Shakespeare nor to the poetic waxings of Tennyson. Their words, not mine, have passed the test of time.
I will, however, note that the challenge we face and the opportunities we can create - offer to us the choice of overcoming what might seem to be overwhelming odds or the option of disastrously, passively blundering into a defeat that could set this university and this state back for decades to come.
Our battle, our struggle and mission here at the University of Oregon here at the start of the 21st century is not a struggle between armies over land or nations over pride.
It probably will not inspire writers to great verse or dramatic scenes.
But it is a struggle just as important and in many ways more so and one in which we can win or lose.
I could have been that 34th man, my name at the bottom of that third column.
But instead, I am here with you.
We are here together in a place where we need to ask ourselves:
Will this class be the best I can teach?
Will my mind be engaged so that it engages the minds of others?
Will I open myself to the questions that promise no ready answers, just for the joy of meeting them?
Will I finish the book, pursue the definitive experiment, push the limits of my imagination to rival the world's best?
The answers to these and other questions of their like will determine our success or failure.
It is difficult at times to know, to understand fully the importance of what we do. I think each of us, caught up in the day-to-day struggle to keep up, often do not see fully the extent of our capacity to affect dramatically the lives of others.
In just the last week an evening of tribute was held on this campus for one of our long-time educators and scholars and person after person rose and spoke at this gathering of how this woman changed his or her life how she made a vital difference how she directed them with her life into a greater richness for their own.
This is not a small accomplishment. In fact, when coupled with the knowledge that is created and communicated , it is a great accomplishment an accomplishment worthy of a lifetime.
It always comes down to each of us and how we turn our precious moments into meaning.
So long as our name is not on that third column, now is our time now is our moment- our moment "to know what we are, and what we are here for, to know our purpose ..."