Dear Students, Staff and Faculty,
Today marks the first day of my appointment as interim president of Case Western Reserve University through the end of the 2020-21 academic year. I am honored to serve a university with CWRU’s distinguished record of learning, research and community engagement.
Before I give you a little background about myself, I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to President Snyder, her leadership team, the faculty and the staff who have been working tirelessly since the spring to prepare for the fall semester and ensure the health and safety of the entire campus community. None of us signed up for this new reality, and you all have done yeoman's work to help the university adjust and continue to be an excellent place of higher learning under very different and challenging circumstances. I realize that many of you juggled other responsibilities at home and had to cope with the effects of the pandemic on your own life and well-being while doing your job. Thank you for your adaptability, perseverance, and all your hard work. I also want to thank our students for their resilience, adherence and patience in following our health and safety guidelines.
As I prepared for my new responsibilities over the past weeks, I encountered a fair share of disbelief and skepticism regarding my decision to step into the interim president role. People kept asking me: “Why on earth do you want to be a university president again during these times?” To put it bluntly, people wondered whether I had lost my mind. While I must admit that assuming a leadership position in higher education during a pandemic does elicit a range of emotions, some of which are less pleasant than others, I can assure you that I am of sound mind.
During these demanding and uncertain times for higher education, here is why I agreed to lead Case Western Reserve University while the search for a permanent new president is underway:
- Case Western Reserve and I have a long history, and the university has a very special place in my heart. I met my late wife here, a CWRU alumna, and also learned the ropes of academic leadership at the university. In 1976, I joined the Weatherhead School of Management as an assistant professor and eventually became the school’s dean, a position I held for 14 years until I relocated to New Orleans to become president of Tulane University in 1998.
- After I stepped down from the Tulane presidency in 2014, I joined the Case Western Reserve University Board of Trustees and it has been a gratifying experience to re-strengthen my ties to Case Western Reserve, learn about the university’s current vision, and build on my old and new relationships with members of the CWRU and Cleveland communities.
- Lastly, through my experience living in Cleveland during difficult times decades ago and then serving as Tulane’s president for 16 years, including the tragedies of Hurricane Katrina and the Great Recession of 2008, I became a strong believer that in a time of need in our communities we should be ready to serve. The interim presidency is a call to duty for me.
As I’m looking ahead to my time as a fellow Spartan, I have three main goals in mind: keep everyone safe, well, and engaged; pave the way for a new president; and continue to advance the university in all ways.
I can’t help but feel optimistic and grateful, even with all the uncertainty we face as a university and country. I have been extremely encouraged by the individual and collective efforts the members of the CWRU community have made to ensure a smooth and safe semester for all. I sincerely want to thank each and every one of you for adhering to the Community Commitment. By taking responsibility for your own health and actively helping stop the spread of COVID-19, you have played a critical part in keeping our positivity rate below 1%. I’m proud of the CWRU community for doing what’s necessary and right. This communal spirit and willingness to make sacrifices for the sake of oneself and others is one of the reasons why I’m excited to become a part of Case Western Reserve again on a daily basis.
I realize that many of us are still grappling with challenges and uncertainties that come with living and learning in the time of COVID-19. Based on my experience with Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which nearly destroyed the entire city of New Orleans and forced Tulane University to shut down for an entire semester, I can assure you that every crisis has its silver linings. Chances are that not only Case Western Reserve but also each of us as individuals will emerge stronger, wiser, and better equipped for whatever the future may hold. I’m planning to share my personal thoughts and stories on various topics related to the future in a biweekly email to the CWRU community starting later this month.
I hope to get to know many of you over the course of the next several weeks as I attend meetings with faculty and staff at the college and schools and with numerous student organizations. I am confident that together we will continue to persevere during this unprecedented time, and I am grateful for your continued collaboration and dedication. As President Snyder did, I will continue to join Provost Vinson in providing you with updates on our response to the pandemic. I believe wholeheartedly that we can be a both safe and stimulating campus.
I am truly appreciative of this opportunity to serve CWRU. Most of all, I’m looking forward to learning and living in this new brave world together with all of you.
With appreciation and respect,