2014 Spring Convocation | Webster University

2014 Spring Convocation

Good afternoon. Welcome to Spring Convocation 2014. Once again, we are streaming live to our campus locations around the globe – and this time we are coming to you live from the Community Music School here on the Webster Groves campus.

The Community Music School is one of Webster’s distinctions. It is a member of the National Guild for Community Arts Education, which includes more than 450 schools across the country. To be a member of the Guild, we must meet stringent criteria, such as offering financial assistance and talent-based merit scholarships, and setting high standards for our faculty. In addition, our Community Music School is one of only 12 non-degree-granting community music schools in the country to have earned accreditation from the National Association of Schools of Music.

Like Webster University, the Community Music School has a long and storied past. First established in 1925, it became part of Webster University’s Leigh Gerdine College of Fine Arts in 2001, and in 2006 it moved into this fabulous facility, where it serves more than 2,000 students each year. In the past five years, The Community Music School has obtained $1.7 million in grants and donor funding, with FY12-13 its highest fundraising year to date. Clearly, audiences are engaged with the mission and work of the Community Music School. So it is especially fitting to hold Convocation here this year as we collectively Strive to Thrive in 2014.

We will hear more about strategic planning later in our presentation, and I would like to set the context by looking at the dynamics of a thriving private institution. As you know, we have recently engaged CREDO, a North Carolina-based higher education consulting firm, to provide assistance and expertise in developing Webster’s next strategic plan. It is their research-based approach to strategic planning that first interested us in working with them.

I would like to share some of CREDOs insight about the characteristics that provide a solid foundation and ensure success of thriving institutions, based on their research with more than 200 private universities over the past 17 years:

  1. Vision – thriving institutions have a clearly defined vision - one that is inspiring, motivating, succinct and memorable.
  2. Institutional Self-Esteem – thriving institutions are proud of the work that they do.
  3. Institutional Story - thriving institutions know their unique stories and they are able to tell it well both internally and externally.
  4. Courageous and Collaborative Leadership – thriving institutions rely on bold leaders.
  5. Focus on Student Learning and Success – thriving institutions ensure their students stay in school, have high graduation rates, find fulfilling employment and give back to their communities and beyond.
  6. Net Revenue & Strategic Finance - thriving institutions recognize the execution of their mission and vision is dependent on the financial health of the institution.
  7. Transformational Environment - Thriving institutions adopt short and long-term goals related to the physical environment that reinforce engagement, mission and vision.
  8. Habit of Reflection & Intentionality - Thriving private institutions habitually ask themselves if what they are doing is working and change it if it is not.
  9. Culture of Planning & Innovation - Thriving private institutions plan boldly for the future and financial resources are allocated to enable the plans to be executed.

Think about those dimensions. A thriving university never declares victory in any of these dimensions.  A thriving university continually improves and evolves.  Ideas at a thriving institution are inspired and advanced by a new generation of students and a constantly changing economic and world landscape.  As we seek to thrive, we can ill afford to stop looking ahead; instead we must identify the steps that will help us flourish tomorrow and build a sustainable future for our students, faculty, staff and alumni. 

When I first arrived at Webster in July 2009 as the University’s 11th president what did I find? I found a university community eager to build a strong future based on excellence in academics and operations.  Together we sought to define and achieve what we all at that point vaguely referred to as “the next level.”

I knew that to focus the energies of a nearly 100-year-old institution, we would need a process that built on the 2008 strategic plan.  For that purpose we implemented the Strategic Prism as a way to systematically move forward that earlier plan, Vision 2020.  We created Stretch Goals to give us some tangible targets, and together we mobilized to create needed foundation elements to accomplish our vision and mission.  And together we have made great strides….

  • As of Oct. 31, Webster’s endowment has more than doubled and now stands at the all-time high of $117.2 million.
  • Just this fall, we enrolled the largest freshman class in 14 years.
  • Our retention of first-year freshmen has increased to 81%, from 79% in 2009.
  • Campus master planning advances with concrete plans for the new Interdisciplinary Sciences Building, expansion of the parking garage, and Sverdrup renovations.
  • The Vienna campus will move to its new home in August 2014.
  • We have entered the global south with Webster’s new campus in Ghana, fully accredited with classes starting in March.
  • We rank in the top tier of the Midwest region of the U.S. News and World Report college rankings, moving up for the second consecutive year to 21 in the 2014 edition.
  • Among us the Working Groups have helped us tackle how we will develop new market responsive programs and recruit and retain globally diverse and inclusive talent.
  • And with the Deans’ Global Initiative building upon the success of the Global Citizenship Program and the ACE Internationalization Laboratory, all academic programs will reflect global content and/or experiences.

We have made remarkable progress in preparing Webster University for its second century. I feel incredible pride in the accomplishments of this community, and pride is one of the necessary building blocks of a thriving institution. Why should we feel proud?  Because we have been busy doing the right things building a foundation for a university to thrive in its second century. 

I know that sometimes we are so busy that we find it challenging to see how various initiatives connect — our purpose today is to make the connections much more visible.  And it is our hope that in tracing the paths to this new strategic plan and our centennial celebration, our pride and our commitment to Webster University’s future will swell and soar.


  • Leadership transition (July 2009)
  • And as a reminder, we introduced the Strategic Framework “Prism” as a way to communicate from a systems perspective the challenges and opportunities for Webster University


  • George Herbert Walker School of Business & Technology becomes the second named school or college at Webster
  • $1 million gift creates University’s first endowed professorship
  • We welcomed a new Provost, Senior Vice President, and COO
  • We reached an agreement with Eden theological seminary to benefit both institutions by sharing facilities, programs, and resources to serve our students.
  • Launched strategic initiatives with stakeholders to define a standard for global education and first choice for military

The pace picked up in 2011:

  • Academic Program Review & Prioritization
  • Administrative & Site Review
  • The Mercer Compensation Study completed, adjusted budget and planning accordingly in multi-year process
  • And the Budget at that point included 30 new positions, including 14 new full-time faculty positions
  • Second bond rating increase since 2009 in both Moody’s and Fitch, enabling sound financial footing and future growth
  • We completed the East Academic Building
  • Global Marketing & Communications created, unifying PR and communications functions across University
  • Global Leadership Academy launched


  • “Webster Works” comprehensive campaign closed, surpassing the goal to reach $56.5 million
  • We completed the Webster Groves Campus Master Plan
  • We received a $1.9 Million DOE grant for the School of Education to help teachers and students in Kansas City
  • We launched a new University website, aligning IT, Global Marketing & Communications and recruitment in a mobile-optimized web environment

We built on the 2011 momentum in 2012 and it continued in 2013.

  • We opened campus in Ghana, on Webster’s fourth continent
  • We opened a new metro campus in San Antonio, and relocated the Charleston and Columbia Metro campus locations in a new way of doing business at metro campuses
  • The Daniel Webster Society membership reached an all-time high
  • The endowment reached all-time high
  • EAB certified LEED Gold, exceeding targets
  • Webster University completed ACE Internationalization Laboratory cohort
  • Global WAN was launched to streamline worldwide communication
  • Working Groups completed their work which has been integrated into on-going planning

So where are we now? The Strategic Prism framework has served us well to this point and will continue to be an important element in how we think about creating a systematic approach to moving initiatives forward.

As a community, we can look at the work we have already done as a foundation for the next stage in our growth:  we can look at the great accomplishments of the Working Groups, the Global Citizenship Initiative, Site Review, the Dean’s Global Initiative, the ACE Internationalization Laboratory, Comprehensive Master Planning, Academic Program and Prioritization, all prepare us for what’s next.

As we think about where we have been and what we have accomplished, it is time to look to that future.  The Vision 2020 priorities and 2015 Stretch Goals are largely accomplished. It is time to identify and create what is next. That is why we have enlisted CREDO’s expertise to help Webster University develop and implement a plan that sets out ambitious but achievable goals and, importantly, provides metrics and methods for tracking our progress and marking our milestones toward those goals.

The strategic planning process will be inclusive of our University community with a new strategic plan completed this fall, led by individuals on the Strategic Planning Steering Committee. We have asked Nancy Hellerud, Associate Provost, to chair that steering committee.  Here are the names of the individuals who are on the steering committee.   Let us take this opportunity to thank these individuals for their work during this year. 

So as we begin this New Year…as we strive to thrive…we are doing so with purpose and with intention. Now please welcome my colleague and partner in leadership, Dr. Julian Schuster.

Thank you, Beth. A thriving institution does two things extremely well. It is committed to academic and operational excellence in everything that it does, and it is 100 percent committed to student success. At Webster, we do these things well. We have proven that together, as a community, we can achieve great things. We have proven that we are an engaged community of faculty, staff and students. We are diverse and celebrate our differences, and we are inclusive. The proof is in the results:

  • Global Citizenship Program
  • Working Groups
  • ACE Internationalization Laboratory
  • Comprehensive Master Planning
  • Academic Program Review & Prioritization
  • Site Review

Several hundred faculty, staff and students participated in these initiatives, developing recommendations to take Webster to the next level of excellence – many of these recommendations are already being implemented.  Others – many of which are larger, broader, far-reaching initiatives – will be considered in the strategic planning process. Yes, we are an engaged university.

We are on the path to continuous improvement and have put in place some of the Infrastructure to enable a commitment to quality improvement. Such as:

  • Academic Program Review and Prioritization
  • Administrative Review
  • Extended Campus Site Review

We are becoming more adept at collecting and analyzing data – data which is provided externally, raising our visibility and providing evidence of the quality of a Webster degree, and data which is used internally to track and measure our operations. 

These improvement initiatives are not sitting on shelves, waiting for strategic planning to put them into play – they are already strengthening our operations and academics.  In Academic Program Review, the committee endorsed recommendations by deans and faculty – new academic programs are before the curriculum committees, faculty have reviewed and changed curriculum in many existing programs, new faculty lines have been added to growing programs – and programs which have run their course are being removed from our offerings.  Based on site review, resources were shifted to address priority regions and to improve facilities, operations, and academics at locations identified as critical to our success based on their size and on data regarding the promise of growth and sustainability. 

We are also becoming more cognizant of the higher education climate and the needs of our communities, becoming more externally focused. Clearly, collectively we are doing many things well. As an institution we should be proud of these achievements and of the engagement of our community in reaching them.

As we move forward in 2014 with the Strategic Plan, the question is not…will we seize the opportunities before us?  A thriving community has to seize emerging opportunities.   Thus, the real question is HOW are we going to do that?  What is and will be OUR way of transforming these opportunities into reality?—a way which guarantees we continue to thrive on many fronts, with serving our students at the forefront?

Furthermore, the question is not Will we make the brave moves and the big decisions that will strengthen Webster’s foundation and create a sustainable future for us all?  Rather, the question is: WHAT specific moves will we make, when, and in what order? 

It is also essential that WE determine what we will NOT do: We will not remain in the confines of narrowly defined disciplines, departments, schools, colleges, sites and locations.  Though we  strive to think locally while acting globally, we will not be caught in “thinking small.”  We will not accumulate resources at the expense of investing in our people, technology, and infrastructure.  We will not accept mediocrity in anything we choose to do.  We will not settle for consolation prizes, we will not reminisce on what we could have done, we will not kick the can down the road….

We will answer questions such as: What does Global Innovation really mean to Webster University? We know that we have carved out our niche as a global university. We know we have the structures in place to enable global success. We know that global innovation means that we will continue to establish international campuses where it strategically makes sense and where we can fill an unmet need…such as in Accra, Ghana.

We know it means that we will continue to develop and nurture strategic partners – locally, nationally and internationally. And in our international partnerships, we will focus on what really makes the partnership unique, such as:

  • Harbin University for the 2+2
  • Cuba for faculty exchange and site for Global MA International Relations

But what else should Global Innovation really mean to us? Create new programs? Our real opportunities lie in not just creating new programs – but creating the right programs to help our communities thrive and to help our student succeed. How will we know that we are creating the right programs? And how can we improve the speed in developing programs from the conceived opportunity to the marketplace? This is a question to answer with the Strategic Plan.

Another question: How do we strategically manage enrollment at our extended campus locations? We know it means evolving the model for successful Metro and Military locations. It means making sure the house is in order… that we are located in the right place, that we have the right leadership, that the physical structure is polished, professional and competitive for the adult learner. We know that it means increasing our outreach locally.

  • San Antonio
  • Charleston, Columbia
  • And we are currently looking to relocate our Metro campus in Kansas City

But what else does strategically managing extended campus enrollment mean?

  • Developing non-degree programs?
  • Focus on undergraduate degree completion?
  • More fully utilizing our blended capabilities of teaching both online and in class?

…Just another of the questions the Strategic Plan will help to answer.

Let’s be clear that we do not need Credo to tell us what we need to do to become a thriving institution – we have an abundance of ideas and ways to make that happen.  But we can benefit greatly from assistance in sifting through ideas, finding synergy and connection, articulating the major themes of our work and – most importantly – developing measurable, data-driven metrics with which to mark our progress toward our mutually-decided-upon goals.  Having “living scorecards” will keep us accountable, keep us on track, and provide us the opportunity to adjust and change as circumstances require. Together we will commit to being a thriving institution. Thank you.

Thank you, Julian. As you can see, the groundwork has been laid for strategic development and growth that will allow us to be more responsive to meet the needs of our students and our communities. We live in a defining time at Webster University.

We have done many things very well. We have sought to meet a global need for education that makes a difference in the lives of individuals, families, communities, nations—and there is still important work to do.

Questions remain: How do we capitalize on these opportunities that we have created? How do we create an environment in which we can flourish? How can we assure excellence in all that we do? How will we connect our individual campus locations around the world using enhanced technology, excellent programs, teaching, learning opportunities that will really help us to thrive as a global institution? How do we strengthen this incredible network of energy and knowledge and success-minded, caring faculty, staff, students and alumni who are so committed to their communities and to the world? We will strive to thrive in 2014 and into the future.

With our eyes on the future, we approach our Centennial year. Long-time friend of the University and Webster Class of 1965 Alumnae, Elizabeth Robb is the Centennial Planning Chair and Barbara O’Malley, chief communications officer, is the Working Chair. Let us say thank you to the planning committee chairs, co-chairs and subcommittee members that you see named here.

The Centennial provides a unique opportunity to recognize those aspects of our culture that have kept us strong for 100 years – to acknowledge our successes and to look to the future with a renewed energy and focus. The Centennial celebration will kick-off in fall 2014 with a full-year of Centennial events, culminating in Fall 2015.

Over the New Year holiday, we posted a question to those who engage with Webster via social media: We asked individuals what they will do to thrive in 2014. Here is a sampling of what they told us on Facebook and Twitter:

  • cheprin10:12am via Twitter: @websteru be open to accepting help!
  • Billy Dotson Jr. Stay focused! #thriveatWU
  • Khalid Mabrouk via Facebook: Constant practice and revision!
  • Christopher Jefferson Csm-ret. Via Facebook: Graduate!!
  • Rhapsodynbloom: My first major milestone of the New Year will be finishing my undergrad strong, graduating in May! #thriveatWU Then to find a job...

I think we can all agree with these resolutions – and we can work together to help ourselves and our students achieve goals to thrive in 2014 and beyond.

As we close, we would like to leave you with these thoughts:

  1. Together, we have come far. We have made great progress – and we have an incredible opportunity to build a new strategic plan that assures a thriving Webster. One that launches Webster into its second Century.
  2. Julian: We have the opportunity to answer the challenging questions…
  3. And we ask for your talent and expertise to participate in strategic planning. Continue to give Webster your best thinking.  Engage in the process of defining our future. Because our future – is actually the future of the next generation of students.  And together we will continue to transform them for individual excellence and global citizenship.

Have a wonderful spring semester.