Inauguration of Dr. Harvey Kesselman
Presidential Inauguration Speech
Dr. Harvey Kesselman
Fifth President of Stockton University
Friday, September 23, 2016
Welcome. I am so honored and so pleased to see all of you here today. Thank you, Chairperson Deininger, for that warm and kind introduction. Mady and the Board of Trustees have my deepest gratitude for their outstanding leadership and unfailing support of Stockton. Our shared belief in an education that transforms, that engages, and that prepares students for an ever-changing, global society convinced me that by working with them I could help lead this university as its fifth President.
To members of the platform party: Senator Jim Whelan, our long time State Senator and dear friend; Senator Chris Connors, our esteemed State Senator and distinguished alum; and Dr. Michael Klein, a friend of all senior public colleges and universities, we thank you for your unwavering support and advocacy on behalf of Stockton. Dr. Brian Tyrrell, a dear colleague and friend and President of the Faculty Senate; Ms. Maryam Sarhan, former Student Trustee and now President of the Student Senate; and Mr. Rick Dovey, the Chair of our dedicated Foundation Board, and another outstanding alum and fellow Mayflower classmate. We thank the three of you for all that you do for Stockton. Dr. George Pruitt, President of Thomas Edison State University, my esteemed colleague and mentor, who, with integrity and humility, has set the standard for a successful, long-term presidency.
Thanks also to the other college and university presidents and their representatives from all over the country who took time out of their very busy schedules to be here today. I admire and respect you, and am grateful you have chosen to attend this inauguration. And, to the many local, regional, state, and national political leaders, all of us at Stockton thank you for all you do for the University.
Now, most folks would say that I must be foolhardy to ask someone of the stature of Jon Blair to be my keynote speaker, since following him is a most daunting task. Not only is his command of the language simply breathtaking, but his delivery is so eloquent. Thank you, Jon, I am truly thrilled to have you here with us. To the love of my life, Lynne, my wonderful children, relatives, and friends -- permit me to offer many, many thanks. And, finally, to my second family-the students, faculty, staff, and administration of Stockton -- it is such an honor to share this day with you.
Listening to today’s guest speakers, I thought how fortunate and how privileged I am to have been part of this amazing institution for the past 45 years. When Stockton opened its doors in 1971 at the Mayflower Hotel in Atlantic City, there was a real sense that we were embarking on something new, something different – offering the very best of a broad-based, liberal arts and sciences education to state-college students at state-college prices.
In effect, providing a top-tier education to those who most needed it, but to those who, like myself, could least afford it. That was what we called “The Stockton Idea.” I was part of that noble experiment, and what brought us here was intangible—the promise of what we could become, relationships formed in an environment that accepted us and an environment that transformed us. An environment where innovation, experimentation, and community were central to the Stockton mission. An environment where students could plant themselves and grow. I promise, to each and every student here today, to uphold and continue that tradition during my presidency.
This “Stockton Idea” was further enriched by engagement and our collective commitment to developing our mission in concert with the world around us. For example, in 1976, we opened our Performing Arts Center, bringing cultural events and enrichment through music, dance and theater to a region in which few opportunities previously existed.
Our long history of supporting the visual and performing arts continues, and has recently been enhanced through our affiliations with the Noyes Museum--now in Hammonton--the Arts Garage and Dante Hall in Atlantic City, and the Azeez Museum of Woodbine Heritage.
In 1990, we founded the Sara and Sam Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center which provided a vehicle for Stockton to offer the nation’s first Master’s in Holocaust and Genocide Studies. The success of this extraordinary Center, and the academic offerings which followed, has resulted in Yad Vashem – the World Holocaust Remembrance Center - indicating that Stockton now offers more undergraduate and graduate courses related to this field, than any other organization, college or university in the world.
And, throughout our entire history -- from our founding until today -- Stockton has been a friendly home to, literally, thousands of Veterans. In fact, just this past year, the website Military Times, which provides the most comprehensive assessment of veteran and military support services and rates of academic achievement, ranked Stockton #6 in the nation as a Best College for Vets – and we could not be more proud of this prestigious designation. On behalf of a grateful University, State, and Nation, will all Veterans and members of the Military here today, please rise and be recognized.
I mention these few examples to illustrate that during our 45-year history, Stockton has been engaged with those around us, our neighboring schools, local nonprofit and service organizations, and businesses, to provide the most relevant and dynamic external learning opportunities for our students. All of these relationships contribute to the vigor of a Stockton education and the needs of our students, as well as those of our supporters and neighbors in southern New Jersey and beyond.
Today, Stockton has just under 9,000 students, over 2,000 full- and part-time employees and nearly 50,000 alumni, including more than 11,000 living here in Atlantic County. In addition to our main campus, we have instructional locations in four nearby towns. Visit any of these sites on any given day and you will find people from all backgrounds, ethnicities, nationalities, ages, incomes, religions, and life experiences coming together for the same purpose – to learn, to reflect, and to engage with local and global communities.
Despite our 45 years of continued expansion and growth, our early commitment to small class sizes and close-knit faculty-student relationships remains a core value, central to who we are and how we educate. The “Stockton Idea” of a liberal arts and sciences education shows in the way our professors know our students—they know their strengths, their challenges, their dreams.
Stockton faculty support student dreams while strengthening the dreamers to face and surmount challenges. Teaching, in other words, has primacy here. It is part of our institutional DNA.
We know the “Stockton Idea” works because 87% of our freshmen return for their second year. Even better, just under 60% finish their degree in four years; more than 70% in six. Nearly 90% of our graduates are employed or in graduate school within 6 months of commencement. These figures are among the highest in our state, and far above national averages.
Recognizing the long term and deep impact faculty members have on our students and on the community, I pledge to strengthen Stockton’s commitment to its faculty through further support.
This is particularly relevant as our University enhances the manner in which we conduct our outreach, recruitment, mentoring, and retention efforts of a diverse population of students, faculty, and staff. This is fundamental to the overall learning experience at Stockton. We must continue to view the diversity of our campus community as an irreplaceable educational resource, one that enriches all our lives. We must commit ourselves to providing the most comprehensive learning environment possible, one that will equip our students to lead and to contribute in a world of multiple perspectives, viewpoints, and values.
If we steadfastly intensify our efforts to support such inclusivity, then the tremendous promise of our academic institutions, and our nation, will fully actualize.
Describing and reflecting upon Stockton’s founding ideals and how we’ve strived to realize them over the last four-and-a-half decades is fulfilling.
However, the most critical question, central to any president’s inaugural address is, what will be the University’s core values and how will they influence its future?
As you drove by the construction zones on your way here today, or read about our plans in your local or regional newspaper, you know that we continue to expand. Here, on our pristine 2,000 acre Galloway campus, we’ll be opening two new academic buildings in the next two years, specifically designed to serve the needs of our burgeoning Natural Sciences and Health Sciences programs.
These facilities will house classrooms, research laboratories, simulation spaces, and faculty offices, all are crucial since Stockton graduates more than 20% of all math and science majors among the state colleges in New Jersey.
Our plans for Atlantic City are equally ambitious and have received significant local, regional, and state support. This project is a physical, intellectual, and financial demonstration of our long-term commitment to the vitality and prosperity of southern New Jersey. In many ways, it hearkens back to our roots. As you’ve heard many times, Stockton’s roots are in Atlantic City, and we remain an integral part of the city today. Expanded performing arts, a world-class hospitality and tourism program, summer programs for aspiring students in leadership and community engagement — all these ideas and many more are being discussed.
And, as we move forward, we’re listening to our friends and our partners in the region--residents, business and community leaders, government officials – many are here today. To reach its fullest potential, what we do will be — and must be — a collaboration.
Clearly, Stockton’s belief in supporting our region is resolute; it has always been an essential part of who we are. However, our commitment to the teaching-learning process must remain at the very core of everything that we do. Stockton can never lose sight of its primary responsibility to provide the experiences, instruction, and examples to support meaningful learning in each new generation of students.
The magnificent faculty that surrounds this platform, and all of the incredible staff and administrators with whom I work each and every day---we are all responsible for inspiring a passion for learning in our students, and teaching them a sense of commitment to the enhancement of our society. If we keep all of our actions focused on just these two outcomes, we will have done our job, and have done it well. As a living testament to these ideals, I ask all Stockton alumni, not just the delegates but all alumni, to please rise and be recognized.
This is an exciting time to be part of Stockton University. Then again, every chapter in Stockton’s history--the place that has been my professional home for as long as I’ve been a professional-- has been exciting. I have had a front-row seat as the institution first defined its mission, and I’ve watched it grow and develop and respond to changes in education, industry, our region, and society. I am deeply humbled and extraordinarily proud to be in a position to ensure that a Stockton degree becomes more valuable each and every day of my presidency.
The late Steve Jobs, Co-founder and former CEO of Apple, once said, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” Ladies and Gentlemen, I love what I do and I love Stockton, and together, we can ensure that what began as that little college in the pines, warms our memories of the past, fires our imaginations in the present, and lights our dreams in the future.