August 2, 2018 One-Month Reflections

I spoke last Wednesday evening to the 300 folks gathered at the University’s Falcon Center. I include it as a GBH Blog to provide a sense of what GBH can do with a deep dive into any entity… perhaps yours.

My Condensed Remarks

Such a pleasure for me to speak at the 64th Annual Dinner of the Marion County Chamber of Commerce! I am grateful for the opportunity to introduce myself and spell out my dream for this six-month interim presidency.

I’m a forester who just happens to be a university president. Since my 12 years in the paper and allied products manufacturing industry, this is my ninth university; my fourth as president. Coming here is my 13th interstate move. Those moves and the experiences along the way have shaped and sculpted who I am. Four words encapsulate deep lessons from my life’s journey — lessons that guide me today. Humility; Inspiration; Adversity; Adventure.

I vividly recall seeing Alaska’s Mount Denali, North America’s highest at 20,322 feet, for the first time. From my vantage point atop nearby Mount Quigley, Denali struck me like a thunderbolt. There before me stood the most magnificent sight of my life. Craning my head back, I strained to visually capture the overwhelming image of snow fields, glaciers, and vertical rock faces towering above me. In that single instant, I felt absolute humility (I was nothing; I had accomplished nothing). Simultaneously, a powerful sense of inspiration washed over me. I feel that same sense of humility leading FSU and an equal measure of inspiration.

Eight years later, as Judy and I enjoyed a daylight walk after dinner, the driver of a two-ton SUV ran a stop sign, plowed into us, ejecting us many feet. Ambulances transported us to the hospital, banged up, hurting, but nothing life threatening. The incident awakened us, brutally reminding us that life is fragile and fleeting. That each tomorrow is a gift… not a guarantee. The lead character in Bernard Malamud’s The Natural observed, “We have two lives to live; the one we learn with, and the life we live after that one.” This FSU interim presidency is an element of my second life. Adversity led me into deeper purpose.

Helen Keller noted during her sunset years, “Life is either a daring Adventure, or nothing.” Serving FSU is the next chapter of my own daring adventure. I am grateful for the sculpting life forces: Humility; Inspiration; Adversity; and Adventure.

A month into my six-month appointment, I have precious little time to effectively bridge the gap to my permanent successor. I am determined to pass the torch with my conscience clear… that I have done all I can to smooth the transition. Here are the highlights.

I will dissuade our FSU community of the fatalistic notion of our perceived total dependence on the fortunes (or mis-fortunes) emanating from Charleston (WV’s Capital). I will insist that we avoid being a victim of a woe-is-us attitude. Jettison our absolute despair because West Virginia high school demographics are declining. Forget the pitiful wailing that the state doesn’t give us enough money and that we are doomed forever to do more with less. No, I do not suggest that we abandon our West Virginia regional university status

Instead, we must rise above that self-fulfilling, doomsday prophesy! Clearly establish and express our brand, identity and image. Capitalize on the magic, beauty, awe and wonder of this special place. We are a collection of compelling stories – seek them; capture them; tell them! Attract increasing enrollment from out of state and internationally. Forge intimate, reciprocal partnerships with business, industry, organizations and communities. Strengthen and expand our online programs and degrees.

Enable the new president to rapidly accelerate, embed in this wonderful community, and rely upon the interdependence that will lift FSU into a bright future

I am blessed and privileged to serve FSU, Fairmont, Marion County, and our collective future.

Application to Great Blue Heron

As I have observed in previous Blogs, I view every enterprise through an ecosystems lens. I have concluded that this university is not exploiting the fertile ground it occupies. It has self-imposed attitudinal and aspirational constraints. The gap between potential and realization is one of Human Nature… not the bounds of Nature (i.e. virtual ecosystem attributes). This first month, a period of discovery, must now shift to five months of action. The team is behind me. The action is underway. Together, we are passion-fueled; purpose-driven; and results-oriented. I am having the time of my life!