Reflections on 15 Years Leading Ohio Wesleyan
Fifteen years ago, when I joined Ohio Wesleyan, I posed two questions as I met with dozens of groups of faculty, staff, students, trustees, alumni, and community members.
What do you value most about Ohio Wesleyan?
What are your highest aspirations for Ohio Wesleyan?
Answers were remarkably consistent across the OWU family.
Faculty and staff talked about how much they valued students and how they embrace all that OWU offers; students and alumni talked about how much they valued their professors and others who shaped their time at OWU.
Aspirations often echoed the words of Professor Joe Musser when I first posed these questions to the presidential search committee in my initial interview: “We want Ohio Wesleyan to be the place of choice for the best students and the best faculty.”
Those conversations oriented me to Ohio Wesleyan and helped shape the strategic plan we adopted in 2009. They helped form a vision for an institution that educates the next generation of moral leaders for a global society. They helped bring to life the OWU Connection as a signature experience in which students connect theory to practice, and classroom learning with real world experience in a global context. They helped shape conversations with passionate alumni whose generous support would make possible a renewal of the historic academic campus and a transformation of the residential campus.
Now, with 15 years of experience at OWU, perhaps it is time for me to offer my own answers to those questions.
What do I value most about Ohio Wesleyan?
The answer is simple. It is the people.
It starts with the students. I have been privileged to watch students embrace every opportunity on this campus and to see lives transformed, year after year. Last spring, when I stood in front of the class of 2012 at their 10-year reunion, I recalled that we were freshmen together in the fall of 2008. Then I marveled at all they have accomplished in a decade of life beyond OWU.
It is the faculty and staff, who devote their professional lives to the mission of residential, undergraduate education. It is the alumni, who have such deep passion for their alma mater and give back by supporting our student recruiting efforts, mentoring students, establishing internships, and generously supporting the university with their philanthropy. It is the trustees, who lead with vision and have provided such wise counsel. It is the parents, who become part of the OWU family when their children enroll.
It is the people. And it is the mission.
We live in an increasingly polarized world where more time is focused on things that divide us than on things that can bring us together. We live in a world that is starving for thoughtful leaders who have the intellectual capacity to explore complex problems from the perspective of multiple disciplines in search of lasting solutions.
We need leaders with the empathetic capacity to engage those with different life experiences and build bridges of understanding. We need leaders who can communicate persuasively. We need leaders with imagination to create better ways for us to live and work together. We need leaders who have historical perspective, who see the beauty in artistic expression, who are not afraid of change, and who have true moral ballast. We need leaders who are shaped by the virtues and values of a residential, liberal arts education. We need a new generation of moral leaders for a global society. We need more graduates of places like Ohio Wesleyan.
What are my highest aspirations for Ohio Wesleyan?
Like Professor Musser, I want Ohio Wesleyan to be a place of choice for the best students and the best faculty, because those are the ingredients for a community of scholars that produces the outcomes I just described.
Ohio Wesleyan must continue to innovate and reimagine the way it fulfills a mission that was established more than 18 decades ago. New majors, new co-curricular offerings, new pedagogies, new commitments to serving an increasingly diverse population, and new understandings of what it means to create educated citizens whose leadership can transform our society will make OWU a place of choice.
In my inaugural address, I reflected that we are stewards of a treasure.
For 15 years, Melissa and I have been privileged to work alongside thousands of students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends who have shared in the stewardship of this treasure we call Ohio Wesleyan University. Our lives have been enriched beyond measure by the relationships we have formed, the work we have shared, and the students we have watched grow and thrive.
Now, it is a time for a new season in life. I am thrilled to pass the baton of leadership to Matt vandenBerg. Matt is an accomplished, innovative, creative leader with a deep commitment to the values of residential, liberal arts education.
While I had not known Matt prior to December, we have spent much time together in these months. Every time I am with Matt, I am inspired by his passion, encouraged by his thoughtful questions, and renewed in my confidence in the future of this great university. Our Board has chosen well, and the future of OWU is in the best of hands.
Values and aspirations align around people and mission. I am grateful beyond words for the opportunities that have come my way through association with the people and mission of Ohio Wesleyan. I look forward to all that is ahead.
Thank you for your friendship, for your passion, and for your abiding and profoundly generous support. Thank you for making every day of the past 15 years a great day to be a Bishop!
President, Ohio Wesleyan University