WMU News

Bailey defines her values in inaugural address

Sept. 4, 2003

KALAMAZOO -- Dr. Judith I. Bailey was officially inaugurated as the seventh president of Western Michigan University in a ceremony held Sept. 3 in Miller Auditorium.

Complete text of President Bailey's inaugural address

Birgit M. Klohs and Vernice D. Anthony, chair and vice chair, respectively, of the WMU Board of Trustees, performed the formal installation. During the inaugural ceremony, remarks were offered by Klohs and by Diether H. Haenicke, fifth president of the university.

The inaugural ceremony was followed by a gala launching this fall's celebration of the 100th anniversary of WMU's founding. Drs. Ed and Ruth Heinig, professors emeriti and co-chairs of the centennial celebration served as hosts for the gala.

During the gala, Elson S. Floyd, sixth president of WMU, who now serves as president of the University of Missouri system, offered remarks, and three video presentations charted the history of the university with music and still and motion pictures.

Musical selections were offered by the Western Brass Ensemble under the direction of Steve Wolfinbarger; the University Chorale under the direction of Joe Miller; SLAB, a male student a cappella ensemble sponsored by the WMU Alumni Association; and the Velvelettes, a Motown group which got its start at WMU in the 1960s.

The Centennial Gala concluded with a medley of songs by the Velvelettes and a massed ensemble singing of "I've Got A Gal In Kalamazoo" as Bailey and her husband, Bren, were escorted to the stage by Sylvester Bush and Eric Zehnpfennig, president and vice president of the Western Student Association.

Inaugural Address of Judith I. Bailey
Seventh President of Western Michigan University
September 3, 2003

Thank you Trustee Klohs and my thanks to all of our trustees, each of you, for selecting me to be the seventh president of this distinguished institution.

It is an honor and a privilege to serve Western Michigan University, this community and the state of Michigan. Being installed as only the seventh president of this prestigious university would be a marquee life event at any time. But having the opportunity to formally begin my presidency at the same time Western begins its centennial celebration and launches its second century of service is an experience that fills me with pride and humbles me with a sense of responsibility.

Before I begin my remarks, please allow me to take a moment to acknowledge that I would not be here today, without the support, encouragement and love of my family and friends, and especially my best friend and partner in life, my husband of 35 years, Bren Bailey. Bren, would you please stand. Thank you, Bren, for your unwavering support throughout our many years together.

Tonight, as a university community, we both celebrate our past and embrace our future. Such celebrations customarily include a fond look backward followed by speculation about the possibilities ahead.

But I have been struck in recent weeks by just how much that past and future are intertwined. Many of you here this evening might expect me to say that, as your new president, I bring a new and unique set of values to guide this university in a dramatic future direction. Perhaps at one point in my early days on campus, I was convinced that I would do precisely that during this very ceremony.

But I've been getting to know Western Michigan University and its history over the past 12 weeks. In an almost eerie way, I am struck by the fact that the values that have driven me for my entire professional life--the ones on which I intend to base my presidency--are already embedded in our university culture. They are:

A commitment to student access and student success;

A belief in collegiality that allows the campus community to share governance and responsibility;

The need for community engagement; and above all,

An absolute conviction that education has the power to transform lives.

These are values Dwight B. Waldo, the university's first president, brought with him when he came here from what was then Northern State Normal School and is now Northern Michigan University--the same school from which I came and the one that offered me my first opportunity to serve as a university president.

Western has embraced these values since the first days of Waldo's presidency. They have waxed and waned in their importance at different times during this institution's history, but they have always been in the mix. And now, as we begin our second century, we need to pull out, dust off and fiercely promote these values if we are to effectively steward the legacy created by our predecessors.

In late June, just a few weeks after my arrival, I was asked to pose for a series of formal photographs in front of beautiful old East Hall. There I stood, looking out over the city of Kalamazoo from the very spot where Dwight Waldo once envisioned how his new institution would transform not only the community that lay before him, but also the lives of the students and the well-being of the state itself. Later, I took a few moments to stroll by the cornerstone on the building that holds Waldo's ashes and was touched by the fact that he had such a passion for this school, that even in death, there was no place he would rather be.

Since then, I've gone to the history books and truly "found" Waldo. The more I learn of him, the more I find myself believing that he had a vision so clear, so focused and so complete that much of it serves us well today. And, I've been pleased to discover that he and I share some common ground, rooted, I believe in those shared values.

To put a spotlight on those values and just what they can help us accomplish, let me point out some parallels I've recently discovered.

Shortly after Dwight Waldo arrived in Kalamazoo, he struck a deal with the state that would have long-term benefits for the faculty and students of Western Normal School and that would put Kalamazoo's rural surroundings and location to work to fill a great need in Michigan. The result of Waldo's efforts was the creation of a rural school department that became the first of its kind in the nation and the only one that focused exclusively on the preparation of teachers for the country's rural schools.

In my first weeks here, and with the help of some incredibly committed and gifted members of this community, we've forged our own alliance with the state. This new community engagement effort will result in the Western Michigan University Biosciences Research and Commercialization Center, which also will be the first of its kind in the nation and will tap the unique resources of this community and our region.

At a time when few other colleges even paid lip service to the concept of diversity and student access and success, Dwight Waldo resolved to ensure that every qualified student, regardless of race, gender or financial background, would have access to a college education and would be able to use that education as a full participant in society. Stories of Waldo's determined efforts to enroll and ultimately help place capable young students for whom skin color, gender or both were barriers, fill WMU's history.

Just such an educator, who is with us tonight, transformed my own life. A determined education professor at Virginia Tech, Dr. Houston Conley, years ago convinced me there were no barriers to what a woman could achieve in academic life. Because of that, I too feel a special obligation to ensure that the educational experience we offer results in the same feeling of empowerment.

Waldo set out to assemble a faculty with near fanatical attention to the quality of their scholarship and their ability to become engaged with the surrounding community. He selected top-notch staff members and entrusted them with great responsibility. His standards ensured a high level of scholarship in students and the development of a vigorous intellectual community; one that endured, making a lasting impact on students, the campus and the region.

He was a man after my own heart. I too am passionate about participating in an engaged and cohesive campus community that shares the work and joy of university life. The intellectual and social talent that each and every one of us contributes is really at the heart of this institution's present and its future. Each member of this faculty and staff plays a critical role in transforming student lives and in setting the tone of civility and exploration that will make us succeed as an institution.

And finally, Dwight Waldo was well known for strolling through the community with a talking parrot on his shoulder. I tell you this as a way of noting that these parallels only go so far. Do not expect to see that.

It's now 100 years since President Waldo brought his core beliefs to this institution. During that time, we've added the values of five exceptional leaders, each of whom helped refine the vision. And now I have an opportunity to make my own contributions.

Recently, we formally adopted a new mission that defines our role as a student-centered research university. And we have reaffirmed the importance of our role in community engagement. Our students must know that we embrace our sense of place in this community even as we embrace the notion that they are central to all that we do. And they must know that, increasingly, the community we serve is global in nature. While this institution began life with a fairly narrow "Western Michigan" designation, it was apparent from the start that the energy, vision and ideas driving it would one day propel it to national and even international prominence. Today, we enjoy a widespread reputation as a ''national student-centered research university." The sense of place we embrace is the same. The geographic boundaries have just been expanded.

That sense of place and our work within the community has the power to transform the welfare and future of the communities we serve as well as the lives of the students we bring into the task. Our students will learn the values of discovery, inquiry and engagement that characterize a university education. And they will learn the power that can be unleashed when those values are put to work as they take their place as citizens of the broader community.

Our faculty and staff must continue this university's long tradition of maintaining a vibrant intellectual community in which each member is valued for his or her contributions to the task of educating students and the responsibility of good citizenship in the broader community. Together, we will breathe life into the vision we've adopted. And together, we will assure that the pace of our accomplishments continues to accelerate as we take advantage of the momentum that is now carrying us forward.

Tonight we celebrate our past and embrace our future. This is, after all, a birthday party of sorts and we're delighted to have with us so many of the important members of the family. Many here tonight helped to nurture and guide this institution as it moved along the path from adolescence to young adulthood.

You may take a well-deserved bow for what's been done. Now it's time to watch with pride and awe as the object of your efforts reaches maturity and heads along the path of accomplishment at what, I assure you, will seem like astounding speed.

You'll notice I did not say, "Sit back and watch..." this happen. No, there is still too much to be done for any of us to rest on our laurels--or those of the generations who have gone before us. Rather, it is time to stop briefly, take stock of what has been accomplished, pause to help blow out the candles on the cake and then get back to work.

We can only hope that work will be easier as a result of the efforts of those whose contributions we build upon. We are both blessed and burdened with a set of solemn obligations--obligations to those who laid the foundation of this great university, to the community that imbues it with a sense of place, to our students who provide our focus and, finally, to ourselves.

For, deep inside, each one of us knows without question the transformational power of education. We know how our own lives have been transformed and we know that we must continue to offer such transformation to others.

As we celebrate tonight, we must pledge our commitment to harnessing and expanding that power. While we honor the traditions of the institution, we must remember that those traditions were created by people who were out to change the world with their innovation, creativity and focus. When the traditions they established cease to serve our mission, we must set them aside and establish new traditions, as they would have wanted us to. And when traditions and values still function well and can further our goals, we must advocate for and adhere to them fiercely. Our ability to impact the future depends on it.

In the words of the German poet Rainer Rilke, "The future enters into us, in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens."

Let us enjoy our celebration of the past this evening and embrace the future that is now transforming itself within us.

Thank you for being a part of the gala this evening, and thank each of you, each and every one of you, for playing a role in the life of Western Michigan University.

Thank you.

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Media contact: Matt Kurz, 269 387-8400, matt.kurz@wmich.edu

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