Webster Groves Rotary | Webster University

Webster Groves Rotary

February 11, 2011

Thank you, Jack.  Good afternoon everyone.  It is great to be here to meet with so many of our Webster neighbors. It was just one year and a month ago that I had the opportunity to speak to the Downtown Rotary Club.  

And in December I spoke to the Kirkwood Rotary and here I am on the third leg of what appears to be Rotary Club Tour 2010-2011!

I enjoy these opportunities to speak to the Rotary Clubs and meet local business and civic leaders. I am especially happy to be here on home turf with all of you to talk about Webster University.  

We have all heard the saying that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Well I brought a few with me to share with you today.  Let’s take a look. 

Let’s see, that was approximately 300,000 words, which are still not enough to tell the whole story of Webster University.  But it gives you an idea of the energy and excitement that can be felt on our campuses around the world - an energy and excitement that I want to share with you and Rotary Clubs across the globe. 

Rotary International’s theme for 2010/2011, when I began my tour, was Building Communities/Bridging Continents. That only happens when you get out and not only tell your story, but hear everyone else’s story as well. By doing so, we can discover ways we can build strategic partnerships in order to nurture and grow our living, working and learning communities. 

Imagine how we, as neighbors, can explore opportunities to share our leadership and our resources and bring about creative collaborations between our spirited entrepreneurial communities and our rich academic communities for the greater good of our entire community.

Through this exploration, I am confident we will discover many similarities between the Rotary and Webster University.

Your membership has grown steadily over the years into a diverse group of business professionals with common goals to grow personally and professionally, develop leadership skills, and provide service to the community.  

Likewise, Webster has experienced significant growth in the size and scope of our student body, academic programs, worldwide campuses, and alumni, as well as our partnerships, collaborations, and commitment to community. 

You embody the entrepreneurial spirit and display a willingness to explore possibilities and make them a reality.  Webster’s heart beats with the same fervor.

Along with your dedication to lifelong learning, we share other core values of the ideal of service to the community; a respect for and recognition of the diversity of people and occupations; and a commitment to responsible global citizenship and a deeper understanding of our global neighbors.

One unique characteristic of both the Webster Rotary International District #6060 and Webster University is our extensive global reach. Rotary International includes 1.2 million members with 29,000 clubs in 161 countries and provides significant monetary support to student exchange programs around the world.  

Webster University has 137,000 alumni worldwide, over 21,000 students enrolled at 108 campuses and through online programs worldwide. 40% of our students have a study abroad experience, well above the national average of 9.6% for higher education institutions.

Let’s consider Webster’s global connections as a basis for future partnerships and collaborations. 

Last year I visited our Geneva campus, our oldest international campus, where I met with the Board of Trustees of Fondation Webster.  While there, I had the opportunity to meet some of the extraordinarily diverse group of faculty, staff and students on our campus. 

I was struck by the myriad of backgrounds, degrees, work experiences, and nationalities they represented and the value those differences bring to the classroom and learning experience.  Part of that group included our Global Master of Arts in International Relations students who had just arrived from Leiden on their multi-campus, 11-month program of international study. 

The second leg of my trip took me to Oman to attend the International Orchestra of Geneva concert, hosted by our Geneva campus, in honor of the Sultan’s 40th year of reign.  While in Oman, I hosted meetings with alumni from our Geneva campus who travelled from as far as Mumbai, and were joined by many who had studied in London and Webster Groves.

A special note about that trip was my meeting with a former doctoral student of mine, Dr. Sana Sabeel Sulaiman Al-Balushi, from the Ministry of Education, who connected us with the Amideast Director in Oman who encourages Omani students to study abroad.  Dr. Sana also invited us to return to Oman to meet with the ministry of higher education.

The concert was magnificent.  The final number moved me when the International Orchestra of Geneva was joined by the Royal Omani Orchestra for a rousing rendition of Pomp and Circumstance, a traditional piece familiar to many Americans.  This was a fitting example of how music is a bridge across boundaries and cultures, although, for an academic to sit still through Pomp and Circumstance is certainly challenging.

Every May, at the Muny in Forest Park, Pomp and Circumstance signals the arrival of a new class of Webster University global citizens, ready to go out and change the world.  We are confident they are ready because Webster has been their gateway to the world.

The opening of our Geneva campus in 1978 was the first step in the creation of Webster’s network of international campuses, partners and partnership exchanges in 10 countries.

Along with our Geneva campus, Webster has campuses in…

Vienna, Austria where we are the only American university offering full Bachelor, Master and M.B.A. programs.

Webster University is the only American university in Central Europe to offer MBA programs in Slovakia and Hungary in partnership with local universities and our Vienna campus.

Leiden and Amsterdam, the Netherlands where we are the first and only American university with full programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

London, England, where we are the largest provider of American masters’ degrees.

And Bangkok and Cha’am, Thailand where we are the only university granting U.S.- and Thai-accredited degrees.

Webster University’s innovative dual degree program with Kansai University in Osaka Japan allows students to qualify simultaneously for two undergraduate degrees through a single four-year program.

Webster University’s exchange program with the Autonomous University in Guadalajara, Mexico, enables students to enroll in Spanish language and culture courses for a semester or academic year.

And you will find us in Shanghai, Shenzen, Chengdu, and Beijing, China.

Along with bringing Webster to the world through the opening of campuses and the establishment of partnerships, we have developed programs to give our students the opportunity to participate in an international learning experience…

Through the variety of international study programs like study abroad mentioned earlier

Through the Global MBA and MA in International Relations that provide students with the opportunity to learn and interact in five countries on five Webster campuses overseas within one 11-month academic program.

Through the International Business Exchange Program, a partnership with the State of Missouri Department of Economic Development that has served almost 1,000 U.S. and international students during the past 25 years.

Through Webster University’s innovative World Traveler Program that offers a round-trip airfare for students to obtain a study abroad experience. As I mentioned earlier, 40% of our students study abroad and, each year we welcome 75-100 students from other countries to our home campus here in Webster Groves.

And on a side note, just last week, Open Doors, the Institute of International Education, released their latest report covering the 2008-2009 exchange programs.  Webster University was ranked among the best in study abroad in several categories.  

For example, among the Midwest institutions we were ranked first in the mid-length duration of study category and third in the estimated percentage of undergraduate student participation in study abroad.  

We are proud of our program and look forward to increasing those numbers and continuing to open the doors to the world to our students.

Webster also brings the world to the U.S. For example:

- With a diverse faculty, fifty percent of whom have taught or studied abroad.

- With classrooms that are infused with the perspectives and experiences of students from cultures across the globe.  120 countries are represented in our classrooms.

- With the opening of the Confucius Institute at Webster University, providing Chinese language and culture programs to schools, businesses and local government.  Currently we are providing translation support to the Midwest China Hub Commission, and consultation support on Chinese etiquette and cultural protocol. 

- And, as you may have read in the Webster-Kirkwood Times last week, we provide teacher training workshops, summer programs for teenagers and we are currently in several Webster Groves schools including Avery Elementary, Steger Computer School, and Hixson Middle School, offering programs in Chinese language and culture.

- The Robert Professorship in French and Francophone Studies, a gift from an alumna and her husband to help students appreciate other cultures and societies, further enhancing our International Studies program.

-With co-sponsorship of the World Affairs Council of the Ambassador Forum.  Last November we welcomed the Ambassador of Indonesia, Dr. Dino Patti Djalal to St. Louis.  The Ambassador brought greetings from the President of Indonesia, a Webster alum.

These are just a few examples of how Webster connects the global community with our students and the Webster Groves community.  While our primary focus is on a steady exchange of cultures, ideas, and experiences to ensure our students will be transformed for responsible global citizenry and personal excellence, we know the immeasurable value these exchanges have on the transformation of our community.

But those far-flung campuses and students all share one thing in common.  They all look to St. Louis for leadership and direction.  It is, to a great extent, because of the excellence of education provided here on the main campus that degrees earned in Jacksonville, Florida, Colorado Springs, Colorado and Fort Bliss, Texas; in Vienna, Austria and London, England; in Shanghai, China and Bangkok, Thailand have value.  

Thus, it is critical to the growth of Webster University worldwide that Webster University in St. Louis continuously improve, just as we have done for almost 100 years.

In that regard, I want to touch briefly on an upcoming project that is of vital importance both to our University and our greater community. 

We have for many years worked as partners with our across-Lockwood-Avenue neighbor, Eden Theological Seminary.  Webster’s Religious Studies Department is housed, very appropriately, on the Eden campus.  

For forty years we have shared library facilities, we share some classroom facilities and we share parking.  When you are the President of an institution like Webster University, you quickly learn that no academic issue is more important than parking!

Now, we are ready to take that partnership to the next level.  Eden and Webster have concluded an agreement for Webster to acquire 5.5 acres of the Eden campus, including the Luhr Library and two smaller buildings.  Our vision is a new science building in a modestly expanded Luhr Building and a university residence for the president at The Wehrli Center. 

I look forward to being the first Webster University president in 40 years to be a resident of Webster Groves. Eden’s library collections have been moved to Webster’s Emerson Library, and our two schools now share that facility. 

As part of this agreement, Webster also has signed a 7-year lease on the playing fields at the corner of Lockwood and Bompart.  Those fields will remain available to the Eden community and the Webster Groves community-at-large, as they always have been.

This is a “win-win-win” proposal for Eden, for Webster University and for Webster Groves.  We are sensitive to the concerns of our neighbors who are uneasy about expansion of the campus.  That is precisely why we are taking this approach. As part of this process and in response to a request by the city of Webster Groves, we are going to update our campus master plan over the course of the next six to eight months.

Once again, because of our partnership with Eden Seminary we will be able to make these improvements to our physical facilities without acquiring as much as a foot of off-campus revenue-producing property. 

This kind of growth is important if we are to continue to be a University in which the St. Louis community can take pride.  And, it is the only way we can grow, as we must while remaining completely respectful of our neighbors’ concerns over campus sprawl.  

Furthermore, it is the best way to assure that Eden Theological Seminary – an institution we all want to see endure far into the future – will have the resources it needs to continue its mission.  As I said a moment ago:  A “win-win-win.”  I hope you all agree. 

Webster University is proud of its place in the history of Webster Groves and we are excited about our shared future.  We look forward to working with all of you as we face the challenges and opportunities of building an even stronger “town and gown” partnership. 

So, my travels begin and end here, in this community where Webster University is based and continues to be a vital and contributing member of the Webster Groves community. 

Our contributions can be found in all areas of the community:

- To the arts through our many programs including student art and photography exhibits, Conservatory performances, guest speakers, and the film series

- Webster University is the home of Missouri’s Poet Laureate, David Clewell

- And the Community Music School, an excellent source of music education

- And we are proud of our longstanding partnerships with the Repertory Theatre and Opera Theatre St. Louis

We contribute to the economy:

-We are the largest employer in Webster Groves, where 165 of our staff members and 1,300 alumni live

-Our 5,413 students and 1,298 employees contribute more than $118 million dollars to the economy every year patronizing local vendors for food, coffee, records, coffee, clothing, books, coffee, entertainment and other shopping needs and services

We contribute to the needs of the community:

-Through our annual community service day, Webster Works Worldwide.

-Through the Webster Groves City Employee Scholarship Fund providing over $330,000 in tuition to city employees since 1999.

-Through our Emerson Library, a resource for books, periodicals, videos, and quiet places to read and reflect

-Through the support of local events like Art & Air, the Old Webster Jazz & Blues Festival, and the Farmer’s Market.

-Through the Webster University Symphony Orchestra presenting concerts around town.  Just last week they were in Kirkwood and will play at the Webster Hills United Methodist Church this month.

-Through our new contract with the city of Webster Groves and our Athletic Department to manage the Webster Groves Tennis Center. Management will include overseeing staffing, scheduling, and programming for the courts.

Webster University, like the Webster Rotary, is planted here in this beautiful community.  Our campus occupies less than 1.5% of the city’s total acreage, but as you can see, we, like the Rotary, exert influences far beyond the boundaries of Webster Groves.

We are neighbors who share the same ideals and commitment to global understanding. I hope my travelogues and brief update of our activities on campus have given you a deeper understanding of Webster’s role as the gateway to the world for our students. 

Let us summon the spirit of last year’s Rotary International theme of Building Communities/Bridging Continents, our mutual philosophies of the promotion of education and service to our communities, and explore the possibilities and potential for collaborations between the Webster Rotary and Webster University to bridge communities, cultures, and continents.  

In that spirit, I suggest that an event that took place at our Geneva campus may serve as a springboard for exploration.  Just last week the International Relations Department in Geneva held its 16th International Humanitarian Conference.  

This year’s theme was humanitarian space - an environment where humanitarian agencies can do their work independent of any external political agendas. 

In an ironic twist and a timely sign of our partnership potential, Rotary’s 2011/2012 theme is, Reach Within to Embrace Humanity. 

Let’s embrace your theme and follow your president-elect, Kalyan Banerjee’s advice to, “Discover yourself, develop the strengths within you, and then unhesitatingly, unflinchingly, go forth and encircle the world, to embrace humanity.”

I believe the time is right and the signs all indicate that our philosophies and missions dovetail with one another. I look forward to the opportunity to discover how the Webster Groves Rotary and Webster University can nurture and grow our living, working and learning community here and around the globe. Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today.