We Are All Webster: Building community from many identities, owning our biases, infusing diversity with inclusion | Webster University

2019 Spring Convocation


Welcome, everyone! Happy New Year!

We thought we’d begin this convocation with these thoughts from colleagues, to continue the theme from Fall 2018 Convocation about putting each individual student first. In August, we heard from students about what that means to them. For today’s program, we asked members of our community to reflect on how meeting each student’s need motivates them and how they do that. So we thank those faculty and staff who shared thoughts with us. You’ve heard a bit from them and you will hear a little more from them later in today’s program.

We know 2018 was a challenging year and a year that demanded we respond to rapidly changing circumstances.  In difficult times, it helps to reflect on and recall what brings us joy.  What drives us? What fuels our commitment to Webster’s mission?

A year ago at this time, we talked about how we, like all of higher education, are challenged to transcend business as usual. To rewire our understanding of ourselves, of our current and future students, and of the world that Webster inhabits. To gain new insights and show courage and confidence as we face the year ahead.

Much has been asked of this community, and this community has done what needed to be done.  I think about how many faculty and staff supported the steering committee that was formed last year by joining implementation teams or helping inform their work through surveys and discussion forums.  Your engagement was and is essential to the success of the changes we must make.

As we wrote in our end-of-2018 message to the community in December, it is important for you to know that your hard work is producing results. The changes and self-examination underway over the last year have required energy, sacrifice, and creative thinking – and they are already making a difference in our academic and financial position.

These challenges we are facing are not unique to Webster. Look all around us in higher education, and we will notice this is a conversation taking place at institutions throughout the United States. I have just returned from the annual meeting for private college presidents hosted by the Council of Independent Colleges, whose board I serve on. My colleagues and I led and attended sessions about the dramatic shifts in student demographics, enrollment patterns, cost structures, family finances, and public perceptions of the value of higher education.

With these challenges and more come the need and opportunity for our leadership, for a vision of evolving to meet unmet needs just as Webster has through over 100 years of our truly dynamic history.  Education is still the most promising way to answer so many of our world’s problems, and as one of our keynote speakers at the Institute quipped, “There is nothing wrong with higher education that cannot be fixed by what is right with higher education.”

Our students’ lives and careers are being shaped by emerging trends in technology, big data, and artificial intelligence. At the same time, humanity’s most pressing issues -- hunger, poverty, security, inequality, health, and education—make preparing students as global citizens an urgent issue and measures to increase greater understandings of one’s self and others worldwide a priority.

These issues demand innovations in academic programs, operations, partnerships, and methods of instruction that assure both access and success for increasingly diverse student populations. The need for ongoing, life-long learning is increasing at the same time that economic conditions have challenged students and their families, making affordability and value important considerations for them and for us.

These are needs Webster is poised to address. Doing just that is in Webster’s DNA. That is why so much of Webster’s strategic work has focused on:

  1. Learning credentials in certificate or non-degree formats in addition to traditional degrees
  2. Online and technology-supported hybrid options to reach students more effectively
  3. Expanding partnerships with community colleges, businesses, and community partners to build predictable education pathways
  4. Supporting students’ education with funds that enlarge opportunities for students who are under-served 
  5. Expanding forms of study abroad and international campuses/partnerships to meet the need for globally educated students here and internationally.

I thank all of you for the work being done in these areas. The last year has shown the strength and resilience of this community – that we can reshape Webster during challenging times. And as we have said again and again, we can do this while never taking our eyes off that core mission of putting students first.

At last fall’s convocation we heard students sharing their testimonials about the difference that individual faculty and staff members make for them. In the opening video today we heard from colleagues about why they put students first.Will you please join me in thanking each of you for meeting the needs of the student before you, student by student.

A colleague of mine on the Mercy Hospital Board offered this insight in a recent strategic planning retreat: “People do not fear change; they fear loss.” If that is true for us, may we face the fears we have about losing the ways of Webster to which we have been accustomed by making the changes that will preserve what is at our core—meeting the very real and present needs of each one of our students.

We see the results of doing that in the faces of our graduates and their proud families and friends each May. Speaking of which, we have an exciting 2019 ahead! We have much to look forward to this spring.

If you haven’t already, please mark your calendars for the fourth annual Diversity and Inclusion conference, Feb. 26-28 here in Webster Groves. We have expanded the format this year, and the planning committee has created three days of engaging programming with new topics, new presenters, and greater involvement of students, faculty, and staff.

And this May will be a significant milestone in Webster’s history and our ongoing story: The 100th commencement ceremony at The Muny in Forest Park. I want to thank the planning committee for the 100th Commencement – in the coming months you’ll learn of different ways we are going to make this 100th commencement a special one.

And it is a special event for our partners at The Muny as well: They are celebrating their new century with an entirely new performance and production space, including a redesigned stage featuring striking visual elements and new high-tech lighting and sound. We at Webster will be the first to use The Muny’s new stage when we award degrees to our 100th class, including our 200,000th graduate. Just as The Muny completes its first century and opens the curtains on a brand new stage, our graduates will take their rightful place on the world stage.