August 29, 2007
2007 Fall Convocation and Investiture Ceremony

Barbara R. Snyder Comes Home and is Formally Invested as President at Fall Convocation

Barbara Snyder

Thank you Frank [Linsalata], members of the Board of Trustees and our distinguished platform party, including my friends Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones, Chancellor Eric Fingerhut, Dr. Greg Eastwood, Dr. Karen Holbrook, and my wonderful colleagues here at the university, our deans, and administrators. 

I am particularly pleased to welcome delegates and friends from other academic institutions, honored guests, alumni, and of course our faculty, staff and students, and those joining us via webcast.

I especially want to greet our new students. We celebrate convocation as the day you officially join the Case Western Reserve University community, one that will help shape you and will help support you throughout your lives. 

You and I begin this journey together because convocation marks the official opening of my presidency. For me, though, it is a return to the place where I got my academic start as a faculty member a number of years ago-in fact, well before the members of the class of 2011 were born. Back then, CDs were the new thing, and cell phones weighed pounds, rather than ounces. Much has changed in the years I was gone, so it is fair to say that more about the university is new to me than is familiar.

I learn more about this wonderful community of scholars, teachers, students, staff, alumni, and friends every day. Our history is replete with people whose work has, literally, changed the world. We count among our alumni

  • two U.S. Surgeons General,
  • the Director of the Centers for Disease Control,
  • current and former members of Congress,
  • the president of the American Nursing Association,
  • a legendary civil rights lawyer who represented Martin Luther King,
  • the founder of the Dow Chemical Company,
  • and CEOs of companies across the world. 

Among our faculty are:

  • six members of the Institute of Medicine,
  • eight members of the National Academy of Engineering,
  • four members of the National Academy of Sciences,
  • 17  fellows of the American Academy of Nursing,
  • eight members of the American Law Institute,
  • and two members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

And fifteen of our former students and faculty have won the Nobel Prize. [As Greg Eastwood said: More to come.]
We also attract outstanding staff members whose dedication to our university can be seen every day, in every corner of our campus. I enjoyed meeting recently with the members of the Staff Advisory Council. I am grateful for all of our employees' continuing contributions to our university, and I look forward to celebrating our day of service in September.

The students who choose Case Western Reserve University are among the best anywhere—they are bright, talented, motivated and generous with their time.

They, along with our faculty and staff, contribute collectively over 160,000 volunteer hours to more than 500 organizations in Northeast Ohio. I'm proud to tell you that our Number One partner is the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, where we have over 70 signature programs that touch 145,000 Kindergarten through 12th-grade students in our community. 

What better way to learn about our university than getting to know some of our faculty, staff, students and alumni? I've met many in a series of meetings in the first weeks of my arrival on campus; others I've gotten to know by reading about your achievements in Case Daily and elsewhere.

  • Professor Eric Bettinger, from the Department of Economics, is at the forefront of the national debate on whether financial incentives boost student test results, and is a special adviser to Chancellor Fingerhut regarding Ohio higher education.
  • Team CASE, led by Professor Wyatt Newman from the Case School of Engineering, has created DEXTER, the smartest car you'll ever see. DEXTER recently advanced to the semifinal round of the DARPA challenge, a multimillion-dollar competition sponsored by the Department of Defense.  The goal is to create a vehicle that "thinks" without a driver, for use in battlefield situations. We will be cheering the team when it competes in California in late October.
  • Ted Gup, Professor of English and an award-winning reporter for the Washington Post, published a new book, Nation of Secrets:  The Threat to Democracy and the American Way of Life, which arrived this summer to widespread acclaim.
  • At an alumni event in Washington DC this spring, I met Dr. Stan Gerson, director of the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center and professor of medicine at Case Western Reserve University.  We celebrated a few weeks ago when Stan and his colleagues at the Cancer Center were awarded a $25.5 million grant by the National Cancer Institute in recognition of their outstanding work in research and patient care.
  • Professor Stephen Post from the School of Medicine co-authored a powerful new book, Why Good Things Happen to Good People:  The Exciting New Research that Proves the Link Between Doing Good and Living a Longer, Healthier, Happier Life.
  • The Functional Electrical Stimulation Center, led by Professor Hunter Peckham, this summer won a $6.5 million dollar grant, along with Brown University and a private company, to continue to explore ways to bring movement to limbs stilled by injury or disease.  The Center is a collaboration among Case Western Reserve University, MetroHealth Medical Center, and the Louis Stokes Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center. At Research Showcase this spring, I had the privilege of seeing a demonstration of the center's amazing work.
  • When I think of Congressman Louis Stokes, I think of the impact one individual can have on a community.  I had the privilege of meeting him on our campus, and I'm proud to say that he is both a distinguished alumnus and faculty member at the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences.  Congressman, thank you for your continued support of the University and our community.
  • Last week, with Professor David Matthiesen and Dean Norman Tien of the Case School of Engineering, we celebrated a partnership with the Cuyahoga County Commissioners to develop the Great Lakes Wind Energy Research Center, which would be the first fresh water off shore wind energy project in the world.
  • From water and wind to the high altitudes of Tibet, Professor Cynthia Beall is a member of the National Academy of Science, reknown for her research focusing on human adaptation to the high altitudes and genetics of adaptive traits and evidence for natural selection.
  • Just after my arrival in July, I enjoyed a tour of the campus from this year's and last year's student body presidents, Adam Rupe and Neil Ursic.  They are wonderful examples of the combination of leadership and academic achievement that is characteristic of our students, and I'm proud to report that they both spent the summer engaged in research with our faculty.

These are just a few examples, drawn from the weeks that I have been here, that illustrate the intellectual energy that permeates our campus and, in turn, carries the potential to change lives here and around the world. 

Yes, our university is filled with potential, the potential to be among a small number of truly great urban research universities.

Beginning now, we have the opportunity, indeed, the responsibility, to create its future, to ensure that our university lives up to its enormous promise.

How will we do this?  First, we must create a strategic plan together that will serve as our road map for the next several years. 

We have already begun the process through conversations with groups of faculty, staff and students at the university as well as alumni and friends in our community. These gatherings have been valuable, but are just a start. Our stakeholders will be involved throughout the development of this plan.

Interim Provost Jerry Goldberg will lead the effort to develop, by the end of the academic year, a strategic plan with ambitious but realistic goals, action steps, and timelines. It will identify people accountable for each part of the plan and benchmarks to measure our progress. It will set forth both short- and long-term priorities. We will commit to reporting publicly on our progress each year. Execution of the plan will require focus, determination, and engagement from all of us.

Second, we must ensure the long-term financial health of the university. This requires more than simply balancing our annual operating budget. We must achieve and maintain adequate reserves. At the same time, we need to generate additional resources for investment in priorities. This will require difficult choices and fierce resolve. 

The strength of this great university rests squarely on the capacity and commitment of its people. By that measure, Case Western Reserve University will build on the firmest of foundations.

As you know, this year's convocation is also my investiture. We adopted as its theme a line from the American poet T.S. Eliot: Home is where one starts from. That quotation comes from a masterpiece called The Four Quartets. Let me leave you with another stanza from that work:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

In many ways, I am getting to know this place, the Case Western Reserve University of the 21st century, for the first time. But even as I begin, I already have no doubt that it is home.

My family and I thank you for the warm welcome. I am grateful for the trust that has been placed in me and our outstanding team of academic leaders, and we will work every day to live up to that trust. We appreciate your continued support in the work that lies ahead. Thank you.