Who are you? | Webster University

Who are you?

Fall Convocation 2010
August 19, 2010

Good morning everyone.  And yes I REALLY WANT TO KNOW, who are you?  This has been my quest for the last year!

• Last year, in my first year, I began the getting acquainted and learning process.

• At Fall Convocation, I shared my story and particularly my Webster story.

• We launched the My Webster Story website to invite photos, videos, narratives of Webster stories from faculty, students, staff, alumni, neighbors and friends.

• Result:  Over 250 stories from 25 locations

As we begin our second year together, I’ll take this opportunity to share a few examples of what I have learned about Webster, in other words, who WE are:

• As shown in this photo at the Loretto Hilton construction site, we are a university with a distinguished history. A history that we will celebrate in 5 short years during our centennial.

• We were formed by community. The founding Sisters of Loretto were a remarkable group of pioneering women.

• We are a community. We like to have a voice, and we like to feel heard. The Webster Staff Alliance is just one example of the places to be heard.

• We lead where others follow. Back in 1978, it was virtually unheard of to expand internationally. Today it is more commonplace.

• We are leaders. Just one example of our successful alumni leaders, Lt. General Lloyd Austin was recently named Commander of the U.S. Forces in Iraq.

• We have goals. Through the MyStory web site, we learned Ted Hoef’s story of visualizing his goal of working at Webster University. Well, today he has been here 17+ years, living the dream.

• We make a difference and serve our communities. This photo is another My Story submission from Carina Engstroem at the Webster Vienna campus.  As a part of Webster Works Worldwide, the Vienna campusorganized an Autumn Kinder Festival.   I hope you are looking forward to October 6th, for Webster Works Worldwide Number 16.

• We are committed to excellence in our students’ learning and to our own. I am proud that David Clewell, Missouri’s Poet Laureate calls Webster home. The faculty and staff here and across the world at every Webster campus foster excellence inside and outside the classroom.

• We celebrate experience and honor tradition. As you know, each spring we celebrate the service anniversaries of our staff and faculty. The 25-year chair in this photo is quite an accomplishment. I thank all of you for your dedication to this university.

• We thrive in partnership. Be it the Diversity Awareness Partnership or the Holocaust Museum, our partners are important and essential. It is our intention that the number and strength of our partnerships continue to grow.

• Our connections are strong. We connect in person, via the Web, on Twitter and facebook. It is amazing how much I’ve learned this past year through all of these means.

• We are innovators. Through places like the Faculty Development Center, we are embracing and encouraging innovation every day.

• We have garnered many accomplishments this past year. From our top tier ranking in the Midwest Region in U.S. News and World Report’s Best Colleges, to our being named one of Forbes Top 500 schools, we find affirmation of our value and signs that our reputation is growing.

• We are richly diverse. Whether in our student body or our programs and locations, our diversity is a distinction.

• We are determined. Patrick Stack submitted a fine example of determination through the My Story web site. He shared the story of Cathy Hutcherson, a student who began her degree in 1988, only to graduate this past May at our Muny ceremony.

• We celebrate. We celebrate our accomplishments and our day-to-day relationships.

• We also laugh.  In this photo, Gina Jensen shows us what to wear. Yes, it’s easy to laugh and enjoy our jobs when we are surrounded by the best.

• We are Gorloks.

Who are we?  We are all that and more. . .

If you recall, I am a fan of figures of speech and especially the metaphor as a tool to facilitate a greater understanding of a new or novel concept.  In this past year of learning, I found myself returning to one specific metaphor that I believe captures the complexity and the novelty of Webster and that is my favorite cooking show on the Food Network Channel called, Chopped.

As I began to experience more of what we just saw of Webster in images and words—the conglomeration of seemingly contradictory ingredients that comprise the bountiful banquet Webster provides—I found the Chopped show’s premise an apt comparison.  On Chopped, chefs compete to assemble a dish from a given set of disparate ingredients in their baskets, with the results judged for presentation,   taste, and    creativity. 

And so it is with Webster—we are a comprehensive university composed of liberal arts and professional programs, at undergraduate and graduate levels, in 109 locations domestically and internationally, with growing online offerings that meet the wide-ranging needs of an increasingly diverse population.  We exemplify Chopped ingredients at their best.

For those of who you have not seen the Chopped show, the premise is this:   four contestants, all from the culinary world, receive a basket with three to four mystery ingredients that present a unique challenge to combine into one dish. They open their baskets and must use all of the mystery ingredients to prepare, in successive timed rounds, an appetizer, an entrée or a dessert.

The chefs prepare their dishes, adding ingredients they select from the pantry and refrigerator to those that are required elements. After each round, one chef is “chopped” and the remaining competitors move on to the next until there is a single Chopped champion who wins a $10,000 prize.

The challenge is to combine the three or four ingredients into a tasty and creative presentation, as judged by the experts.  At least one of the ingredients is usually a challenge to pair with the others.  

For example, on a recent episode, the entree basket held a Mediterranean fish, jicama, roasted piquillo peppers and - chocolate sandwich cookies.  Challenging combination. 

Now that I understand the challenges that we of Webster face in a fiercely and increasingly competitive higher education environment, I am compelled to make comparisons with another aspect of the Chopped show, and that is the intensity of the competition. 

To show you what I mean, let’s watch a short clip edited from a recent rematch of chefs who lost in previous episodes.

When I watch an episode of Chopped, I am intrigued by the chefs’ competitive strategies.  So, let’s compare observations.  I’m asking this question and would like to hear from you:

On Chopped, what is required to win?

To get us started, I’m going to call on Faith Maddy to give us an answer—in one short phrase:

Okay—that’s the idea.  We have mikes and can get your answer that way—or just shout it out.

Answers we can anticipate:


Short time for decisions

Everyone has exactly the same ingredients/same parameters

Can add things from the pantry (have a back-up pantry)

Experience counts

Preparation/practice helpful

Definitive goal/definitive time frame

Each contestant brings resources—background, style, skills

There is a real audience

Reward at the end—for “the best” (not necessarily “the perfect”)

Competition is close by, making you do your best, sensing your competition

Once you make a choice, have to go with it

Competitors display adaptability

Have to seize the moment – practical proposal that will win the day

Story behind each creation – why did you make it that way?

Best practices – distinguishing you from others

Revealing of personality & professional

Wide open and totally transparent for everyone to see

**Winner – How you did at that moment at that time under those circumstances

Now, you may be asking yourself, why are the rules of the game and the strategies for success in a Food Network competition the focus of this Fall 2010 convocation?

Because, I hope to impress upon all of us the need to see Webster’s future as dependent upon our ability to compete at levels that call upon our very best. 

And unlike the metaphors that are commonly used for such calls to action and rallies to the community such as sports or war, I have chosen what I admire as a model  of tapping a reservoir of skill, talent, and point  of view while focusing on the most creative and delightful result as a way to win. 

And it is my intention that Webster, in all the ways we know we can, will lead and will win—on behalf of our students, on behalf of ourselves, and on behalf of those we serve.  They deserve no less than our very best.  And without our best, they and we will lose.

I only need to look at a few salient circumstances in our environment to convince me of the stakes at hand: (click)

• By the 2014-15 academic year the number of high school seniors in Missouri will decline by 8% and will continue to decline until at least 2021-22. (click)

• Access Missouri grant funding has declined from $95 to $60 million in three years. The maximum award for a Webster student has been reduced from $4600 to $1900. At the same time, more Missouri students now report financial need.  (click)

• In 2009, 11.9% reductions in private donations to American colleges meant the steepest documented reduction in 50 years. Private liberal arts institutions showed a reduction of 18.8% from the previous year.

Corporate giving fell 5.7%, foundation giving fell 9.5%, and total giving for capital purposes was down 25% from 2008-09.  (click)

• Federal oversight of higher education includes new reporting requirements regarding financial aid, textbook availability and pricing, and various institutional policies for consumer protection, and federal student loan funds now come directly from the federal government rather than private lenders.

Increased scrutiny of for profit institutions’ recruiting practices signals new federal rules regarding students’ ability to repay student loans following degree programs at a time that employment challenges and students’ financial need increase.

• Our regional accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission, has come under scrutiny from the federal government and may be required to adhere to federal mandates regarding definition of a credit hour, impacting online programs. HLC has already enacted new regulations regarding changes in academic program offerings, new locations, and contractual arrangements. (click)

• The number of our competitors grows.  As of September 2009, 162 international branch campuses of higher education institutions exist, with 78 of them representing U.S. colleges.

The Council of College and Military Educators lists 92 higher education institutions that offer degree programs (UG or G) to the military.

Many institutions serve adults through extended campuses.  In St. Louis alone, Fontbonne, Lindenwood, and Maryville have 19 campuses in addition to their home campuses. 

• While we have been proud of our study abroad participation (27% of graduates this year), 62 institutions ranked by U. S. News in 2011 have rates at 50% or higher. No longer is our study abroad ranked in the top 2% of U.S. colleges and universities in the 2011 report.

While this scan of our competition is sobering, I have every confidence that we, like the Chopped chefs, can compete successfully with the right strategy.  This strategy will require focus, preparation, talent, perseverance, adaptability, creativity, and performance at a very high level.

Most of all, we will need to draw on the ingenuity of the people of Webster.  As I have listened to many of you individually and collectively, I have heard you express a hunger for taking Webster to the next level, for using ideas from across our community, and for making decisions that help Webster continue to make a difference.  We can do this, and we must do this.

This strategy will require an investment of resources—time, money, and people—but most of all our ingenuity and teamwork.  And we must feel a sense of urgency—the time to compete, to lead, to win is now.

At Webster we pride ourselves on innovative, student-centered approaches—meeting unmet needs in novel ways and places. In many instances, we have been the first.

We have been pioneers from the beginning—offering baccalaureate degrees for young women west of the Mississippi, going co-ed, transferring ownership to a lay board, serving the military, starting international campuses, tailoring programs to needs of working adults, offering online degrees,  global cohorts, and the list goes on and on.

What is clear to me, however, is the fleeting nature of being first.  In life, we prize the first, but we always anticipate the second, the third, the fourth, and so on.   Firsts are valuable because they lead to the next—think of a baby’s first step, first word, or a first kiss, or a first date, or a first car.  Don’t we expect that our firsts will be exceeded and bettered?

And so it is with Webster’s accomplishments.  Our firsts will only gain us the impact, the reach, the regard that is imagined in our vision and mission statements if they can be “the only” (highly improbable) or if Higher Ed were a race and everyone who comes after us is slower or inferior in some way (not the case) OR if we think differently of the concept of first.  

In all of the examples I can give of Webster “firsts,” first means earliest or first in sequence.  Even when we say we place students first, I find that many of us mean that we place students in front of everyone and everything else—including faculty, staff, and community members—Not a bad concept, but what if we instead meant that we intend to place our students first among students?  That we teach, develop, and prepare our students to be of absolute first level quality in their knowledge, skills, talents; in their careers; in their pursuit of advanced study; in their service to others; in their leadership; and certainly, in their citizenship of the globe.  

I ask us to consider an orientation that yes, places students first, and places all of us first because we place Webster first. 

In this case, what I mean by Webster first is not earliest or soonest but rather Webster at its best, a Webster of first choice and first tier quality to use other common phrases. 

While our motivation and reward—intrinsic and extrinsic—are not those of Chopped Chefs, we need to focus on a strategy that succeeds in balancing our knowledge and preparation with an adaptability that is valued and valuable for those we serve—students, donors, employers, colleagues, members of a global community.  

We know that there are many institutions competing side by side with us here in St. Louis and everywhere we are in the U.S., Europe, and Asia.   And to continue to chase firsts, where we naturally may have an early advantage because of the lack of competition, will ultimately disappoint us because that kind of first is not sustainable and finally is defined by what others do.  What we must do instead is to aim for distinctive quality, first rate service, global academic excellence that we can uniquely provide, to achieve the goals we set for ourselves and to assure that Webster will continue to thrive in a time that is so challenging for so many. 

We must mean it when we say place students first—that we position them for their own firsts, in a range of goals they have for their lives and that we support.

Since January’s spring convocation, I am proud to say that this world of Webster has been at work on a number of initiatives that are clearly designed to take us to the next level, in service of the Vision 2020 vision and mission.  These initiatives, many of them ongoing, should encourage us for the days ahead.

Recall the pyramid of next level strategies and decisions?

Here it is again—I’m glad to share with you a few updates:

Level One: Invest in infrastructure: optimize assets in buildings, property, technology, and campaign success

New South Patio/North Courtyard:  You see this project underway today.  This will not only provide an aesthetically pleasing door to the campus from Big Bend, but will also provide a pleasant dining area for our community while linking our south campus to our newly-acquired north campus. 

New Academic Building and home of the George Herbert Walker School of Business & Technology

Preparations are now underway for our new academic building and the home of the George Herbert Walker School of Business & Technology.  This is our first academic classroom building since the construction of the Sverdrup Building in 1986.  Students will have their first classes in this building in January 2012.

Expanded wireless access

The Student Government Delegates asked for campus wide wireless, and we are pleased to announce this expanded access. 

Over the summer, we expanded wireless service to East Hall, West Hall, Garden Park Plaza, The Community Music School and Thompson House.  In addition to these new areas we have expanded the existing wireless in Webster Hall, Loretto Hall, University Center, Emerson Library, Sverdrup and the Loretto Hilton Center in order to have full wireless coverage in each of these buildings as well.  

Campaign Launch

As you know, we will make a public announcement of our campaign on September 8 at 4:30 in the Quad. At that time, we will celebrate our fundraising success to date and recognize leadership support of the campaign.   I hope you can join us for that event.

Level Two: Invest in Human Resources: Make strategic hires…..

Dr. Paul Carney—the first of three individuals  I will highlight who have institution-wide responsibilities

While I am sure many of you think Paul has been with us for years because he has become so involved in our campus community, he only joined us last September 8 as our Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs. 

Dr. Julian Schuster

Here we really have a new member to our community.  Julian Schuster joined us on July 14 as our Provost and Senior Vice President.  Julian came to us from Hamline University where he served as the founding dean of the School of Business.  Julian serves as chief academic officer and the president’s chief advisor.  He has direct involvement in the strategic and day-to-day leadership of the institution.

Dr. Julie Weissman

Julie joined us in July as our first Director of Institutional Effectiveness.  Julie came to us after serving in similar capacities at St. Louis University and Harris Stowe University.  Julie, seen here with her staff, Donna Biolchini and Chris Kemmerer, has responsibility for institutional research and assessment functions to increase our capacity to use data for decision-making.  Dr. Weissman’s office reports to the provost’s office. 

Salary Benchmarking

We have begun a salary benchmarking study using Mercer as our consultant.  Mercer will work on three distinct studies: one for executive compensation, one for faculty compensation and one for staff compensation.    We will use the results of these studies to work toward our goal as laid out in the strategic plan: to invest in human resources to achieve competitive compensation benchmarked to meet or exceed national standards for recruitment and retention (Goal 6a).

Leadership Academy—Very soon the work we began last year to develop a Webster leadership academy will take the next step with formation of a curriculum development team and advisory committee.  Dean Akande leads the development of this initiative.

Level Three:  Serve Students

Welcome Center :  We have completed our renovation of the first floor of Webster Hall to better serve our prospective students and their families.  This is the first time we will have all admissions functions and staff housed together—international, transfer and undergraduate.  And, the Welcome Center brings together two other major offices important to prospective students:  financial aid and the Bursar’s office.  

New Programs

Last academic year, we added 6 new certificate programs; 2 new on-line programs –one undergraduate and one graduate; 4 new undergraduate programs and 2 graduate programs.    This academic year, plans are underway to add 3 new certificate programs and 4 new online programs, 2 undergraduate and 2 graduate.

Global Citizenship Task Force

Global Citizenship is a strong part of our mission, our vision and our core values.  As you know, we have a task force focusing on the curricular dimensions of global citizenship.  They have been quite busy this summer.  Listing their accomplishments would take too long. What we can look forward to is Faculty Assembly’s opportunity this fall to consider the Task Force's new and revised proposal. We are excited to move forward with a "best-practices" program to help prepare students for  responsible global citizenship and individual excellence.

Level 4: Partnerships

Eden partnership:  After years of discussions, we signed the papers to close the deal on not only the property acquisition with Eden, but as important, the new collaborative spirit and partnership we have with the Seminary.  Soon discussions will begin to explore ways we can partner to the benefit of the students, faculty and staff of both institutions.  Here you see the Eden president, David Greenhaw, and me as we signed the myriad of documents associated with the collaboration.

We continue to explore partnership opportunities in parts of the world previously unavailable to Webster students.

Level 6: Reputation Enhancement

EMG Reputation Enhancement

As you know, early this year we began a project with Educational Marketing Group (EMG) to address Goal 5 of our strategic plan:  Enhance our Reputation.  EMG has been on campus several times since February meeting with a wide variety of members of our university community as well as civic leaders. 

They have held focus groups with faculty, alumni, staff and students on the Webster Groves campus as well as those on the extended and international campuses.  They will return in September to meet with the Extended Campus directors and with faculty and staff on this campus.  Much has happened in the last several months and we expect to have formal announcements ready to share at our spring convocation.

Internal Communications

For some time now we have known that our internal communications processes have not only been fragmented but have negatively impacted the capabilities of our servers. A task force met over the summer and soon will initiate new internal communications vehicles.  While this will require some change in the way we have communicated, I am confident you will soon see the benefits derived from the new system.

Wide-spread Media Coverage

Since July 2009, the University has had more than 250 media placements at the local, national and international level, and in all forms of media, including newspapers, radio, television and the new media of blogs and .com websites.

Jack Dorsey’s “Tweetup” appearance here received widespread local, regional, and national media coverage .  In addition, Dorsey’s appearance at Webster was a Twitter “trending topic” during his presentation.

George Herbert Walker School of Business and Technology:  In April, we named our School of Business and Technology after our benefactor, Bert Walker.  Bill Donaldson, pictured here on the far left, joined us for the event and spoke at a lunch honoring Bert.  Bill is the former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission and a close friend of Ambassador Walker.  Also pictured next to Mr. Donaldson is Mark Burkhart, the chair of our Board of Trustees, and Trustee Ron Kruszewski, the Chair and CEO of Stifel Nicolaus & Company. 

Award Winning

Our faculty and students have won many awards this year. While the list is very long, I want to point out a few:

• The Ampersand , with their editors pictured here, won the Magazine Pacemaker Award from the Associated Collegiate Press.  The Journal won an unprecedented 37 awards from the Missouri College Media Association.

• Van McElwee, professor in the School of Communications, was named a 2010 Guggenheim Fellow.   Van was selected from among the 3,500 to 4,000 applications received every year. 

• Webster's forensics program has been recognized as one of the top comprehensive programs in the United States.  The Debate team is pictured here with just some of its awards won at the February Missouri State Forensics Association Championships. 

As I mentioned earlier, we have made a significant investment in human resources.    This year we welcome 70 new employees--54 staff, 13 full-time faculty, and 3 graduate assistants.   Let’s welcome the new members of our team.  I invite our Provost, Vice Presidents and Deans  to come to the stage and introduce those new members of our community who have informed us they are present. 

• Provost and Senior Vice President, Dr. Julian Schuster

• Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs, Dr. Paul Carney

• Acting Vice-President for Finance and Administration, Vickie Fredrick

• Vice President for Alumni and Development, Faith Maddy

• Vice-President for Information Technology, Larry Haffner

I would like to welcome  Joan Matt, Department Associate.  [Applause]

Now, let’s meet the rest of the staff.

Welcome, new members of the Webster family!


What is it about Chopped that I most enjoy?  While it is true that I enjoy food, what is compelling to me is the uniquely competitive environment that is a blend of skill, talent, preparation, and creative strategy when presented with time-pressured unpredictable circumstances.  

And that is the competitive environment of higher education in which we find ourselves. Those competing chefs all want to be the Chopped Champion.  What factors will determine whether they achieve their goal?

- First of all, they “want” it, they have the ambition and drive

- Planning – once they see what is in their baskets, they plan their strategy

- Preparation – they take their ingredients and use their expertise and some added items from the pantry to prepare a tasty dish

- Competition – they are aware of their competition, yet remain focused on their recipe and the dish

- Surprise and opportunity – they are not afraid of the element of surprise and look at the disparate ingredients as a challenge and opportunity

- Technical merit – they know they have the technical expertise to compete

The end product-

o Presentation –they are keenly aware of the importance of the visual presentation of their dish

o Taste – ultimately, all of the above decisions and strategies will result in the taste of the combination of ingredients and whether it appeals to the judges

o Creativity—they tell the story of the dish in a way that expresses a unique point of view.

So, what about us here at Webster?  In as high-pressured and high stakes environment as the face-off among Chopped Chefs, how should we best prepare?  I think there are some important givens in our baskets, ingredients that we must use:

• Students [photo of students]

• Learning [book]

• Diversity [cover of Webster World]

• Global citizenship. [flag stand]

Fortunately, we do not need to work alone.   We can build community as the Webster team of competitors.  We are all chefs in the Webster kitchen. 

But we don’t have the luxury of preparing one dish or course at a time. We must work on all six levels of strategy simultaneously, and these are not small plates:

• Infrastructure

• Human Resources

• Students

• Partnerships

• Globalization

• Reputation Enhancement.

And we dare not forget the potatoes!

And in any given year, I believe we must focus on a point of view that is uniquely Webster’s, a point of view that can bring coherence to our work and build teamwork across our colleges, programs, sites, and administrative units.  So, from our Vision 2020 pantry this year I will be calling on us to enhance our strategies with two Webster flavors—one taken directly from our vision statement and the other from the demographic reality of 19% of our total enrollments.

As the provost and I work this year with the chancellor, the vice presidents and the deans and all of those in our world of Webster to develop competitive, leading, and winning strategies, we will give special focus to two topics:

• Setting the standard for global education in everything we do, and [globe]

• Meeting the unique needs of military men and women as a specific population at our valued extended campuses.

- T-shirt – Air Force

- Flag – Navy

- Round patch – Marines

- Beret - Army

In the coming weeks, we will focus on setting the standard for global education and meeting military personnel’s needs.  We will begin to develop plans and identify the most strategic way to lead in matters of infrastructure, human resources, serving students, partnership, globalization, and reputation enhancement .

And what is our goal?  —That we will fulfill our rightful place as the leaders we are—not for ourselves and not for our own individual egos or institutional bragging rights—but because the current world in which Webster lives and serves, demands that we compete and that we lead to win.

Minus the vision and drive to excel, we risk what can be a bright future for our students and for ourselves.  Rather than chasing firsts, we must define what is  “best” and achieve it.

It’s up to us—we have the right core values, a shared vision and mission, exceptional students, and our own diverse strengths and talents--all the makings to be champions.  Now is the time. (click)