President's Breakfast Speech

Delivered Monday, August 22, 2016

We have grit. We have what it takes to roll up our sleeves and be successful. I have seen much in my 35 years at Westminster and it is this "Griffin Grit" that has made all the difference.

Good morning!

It's so nice to see all of you bright and early on this Monday morning as we begin our new academic year.

This is always a wonderful time at Westminster as we welcome a new group of students to campus and begin a new semester. We have been doing it for 141 years. This past weekend, the campus was full of new first-year students and their parents checking into the residence halls and participating in orientation. Many of us even helped them move in on Friday.

We held Convocation on Saturday afternoon and the familiar sound of bagpipes led our procession through the campus to the Behnken Field House where the new students marched through an avenue of applauding faculty, senior leaders, and members of the alumni board while their parents cheered in the bleachers. I love to see the expressions on their faces as they experience all of this, and it has become one of my favorite traditions at Westminster.

So many hands are involved in making orientation weekend come together, too many to mention, but I do want to thank everyone who was involved in making our new students and their families feel special. Of course, we're not done. Our returning students and graduate students will be arriving over the next few days and I think all of us look forward to the start of school on Wednesday.

You know, people who don't work in the academic world often assume that summer is our down time. But in reality, everyone here has been working hard all summer.

Over the last few months you've helped hundreds of new students register for classes and finalize their financial aid and payment plans for the coming year. You've completed financial audits, employee performance reviews, and fundraising plans. You've prepared course materials, taught summer classes, recruited new faculty and staff, participated in workgroups, and cleaned and made repairs to the residence halls and classrooms.

So much has been accomplished this summer and I want to thank all of you for getting us ready for another year.

Let me tell you a little bit about our incoming class. We have 450 new first-year students and 142 new transfer students joining us this year. These students come from 33 states and 23 countries, including China, Germany, Nepal, Austria, Afghanistan, and Mongolia.

Once the class profile is finalized, you will find that the Class of 2020 is really a special group of students. All of us are involved in some capacity in the recruitment and retention of our students, so thank you to everyone who helped bring in this talented class.

And speaking of retention, early indicators suggest that we retained over 80% of last year's class, so it looks like our retention efforts are really paying off.

In addition to our new students, we have a lot of new faculty and staff who have joined us recently and I'd like to welcome them. We are grateful that you're here and delighted to have you as part of the Westminster community.

I am proud of what we have accomplished this past year and look forward to some great things unfolding in the year ahead.

On Wednesday, we officially launch our new WCore.

For those of you that are new, the WCore is our new liberal education program that we have been working on for several years. We think it will be transformational for the college. A big

thank you to all of those who have been involved in this.

We had an outstanding year in fundraising, raising over $8.6M last year. The comprehensive campaign is picking up momentum and some exciting new prospects are unfolding over the next few months.

And we're on our way to completing our AACSB Accreditation for the Gore School of Business, something we have been working on for some time.

These are just three of many things we accomplished last year, but it was also a challenging year for most of us as we began to tackle some difficult issues like campus culture, diversity and inclusion, and enrollment.

I know there's been a lot of talk about our challenges and what the future looks like for Westminster.

This same conversation is being held at colleges across the country where, just like us, they're struggling with declining enrollment and diminishing resources.

These are turbulent times for most liberal arts and small comprehensive institutions. We read about them weekly in the newspaper. And we certainly haven't been immune to some of the same difficulties.

We've faced some enrollment challenges and I know, at times, you've been frustrated.

You've tracked the decline in our enrollment and wondered what we're doing to fix it. You've worked through disruptive personnel changes and declining budgets and have questioned whether things will ever get back to normal. Your workloads have increased and you've worried about how to get everything done well and on time.

You've raised important questions and concerns, and I want to address some of those here today. But in order to talk about overcoming our challenges, we have to know what we're working towards.

My number one priority is to create stability and long-term sustainability for Westminster.

Now, how do we accomplish this?

To start with, we have a very solid road map in our Strategic Plan.

This plan, which so many of us worked on and now is beginning its third year of implementation, describes what success looks like for Westminster when it is fully implemented.

It predicts success outcomes like achieving a truly student-centered community of life-long learners; providing programs, opportunities, and pathways that meet the needs of a broad range of learners; having a campus community that demonstrates equity, diversity, and global consciousness; having a transparent process of continuous improvement in all functional areas; and making sure we have cultivated a clear perception of our value proposition along with diversifying our revenues sources.

I encourage you all to get on the college's website and review the goals we've outlined in the strategic plan.

We've made a lot of headway on the strategic plan over the last two years, but we still have three years left and a lot of work to do in that time.

The Senior Team and Extended Council have identified three major institutional priorities from the strategic plan that we will focus on for the 2016-17 academic year.

  1. We want to continue to build a strong community of learners by strengthening campus culture and focusing more effort and energy on diversity and inclusion initiatives.
  2. We want to continue to find innovative ways to encourage student success by implementing core curricular changes, strategically developing new programs, and refining our approaches to assessment of student learning.
  3. And we want to assure affordability and sustainability by implementing a strategic enrollment plan, developing a sustainable financial model for the college, concentrating on process improvements, and focusing our efforts to those areas that are most important to our mission.

We've already started working on all of these goals, and I want to update you on what we've done so far.

Culture and Community

To achieve our first institutional priority—building a community of learners—we have to first come to an agreement on what community looks like here at Westminster. We have to strengthen our campus culture and refine our understanding of who we are as an institution.

We have two projects working to tackle this.

Branding

I'm excited to announce the college's branding work is on track for a public launch in January. This has been over a year of hard work and collaboration with our branding firm Struck, the board of trustees, alumni, students, faculty and staff.

You received an email this summer with the brand messaging. Our brand positioning states:

Westminster's devoted faculty, purpose-driven academic programs, and distinctive location foster inclusive engagement, student-centered learning and opportunities to explore. So no matter where you come from, when you begin learning at Westminster, you're launching a meaningful life.

As you read this, it's important that you understand that our brand is more than just a logo, tagline, or positioning statement—it is, fundamentally, who we are. This identity will guide us as we move forward, giving us the tools and language to tell our story in a way that is compelling to future students and the outside community.

Each of us will play a part in implementing the brand, and as we prepare for the public launch in January there are a few things you can do to help. First, identify what materials and messaging needs to be updated in your areas. The Office of Marketing and Communications will reach out to you over the course of the Fall semester to assist you in the transition.

You're also all invited to attend the internal unveiling event on October 5 where we'll be giving faculty and staff the very first look at the brand. And there will be brand training events throughout the Fall semester to help you get familiar with the brand.

Finally, remember that each one of us is the brand.

For the brand to have a powerful impact, we need to embrace it and live it. We all come from different perspectives but we were all drawn to work at Westminster. I am proud of the work you do and want you to feel pride in being part of Westminster College.

We are all Westminster.
Great Colleges to Work for Survey

The second project aimed at strengthening our campus culture is the use of the Great Colleges to Work for Survey, which many of you participated in last April. Over the summer, nearly 50 of our faculty and staff participated in discussion groups to identify priority areas from the survey results.

Three main categories emerged.

  • Leadership and Focus
  • Policies and Practices
  • Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Regarding leadership and focus, our discussion groups found that senior leaders need to communicate more with the campus community, making our strategic vision clear and providing updates as we make progress.

The senior team and I are committed to improving the way we communicate with campus.

One thing we're looking into this year is hosting several internal webinars to share more detailed information about things like enrollment and the budget. And we'll continue to look for more ways to keep the campus community informed.

Regarding policies and practices, a number of processes were identified as areas for improvement, including our ability to address issues of performance, review processes, compensation, staff leave time, recognition and appreciation, training, and orientation for new employees.

Staff Council, Human Resources, and faculty leaders will be evaluating these practices and we will keep you updated as the process moves forward.

Regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion, we have a lot of work to do. The Diversity Council will work to create a multi-year diversity and inclusion plan. In addition, our new Associate Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion will start on October 1 and will work closely with the Diversity Council to help guide them through the planning and implementation process.

My hope is that the brand and campus culture workgroups will help us define what a healthy campus culture looks like at Westminster and work towards making it a reality. In the long run, making the college a better place to work will help us to provide the best possible environment for our students.

Innovation and Investments

To accomplish our second institutional priority—innovating to support student success—we need to make sure our programs and facilities are evolving to support the goals and changing demands of our students.

New Programs

Last year, we identified eight academic programs that we believe have enrollment potential and fit with the mission and vision of Westminster.

We are currently evaluating the enrollment potential of these seven programs:

  • Data science graduate program
  • Outdoor education leadership major
  • Sports administration major
  • Joint MBA/MPH graduate program
  • Montessori infant/toddler certification
  • Joint CBE business-communication major
  • Conversion of our FNP and MSNA graduate programs into DNP programs

In addition, we are exploring ways to support increased enrollment in our current computer science program to meet the demanding workforce needs for computer software engineers and data science managers.

Strategic Investments

We are also making a number of strategic investments that we believe will help increase enrollment.

We're expanding the Jewett Center for the Performing Arts and I'm hopeful that we'll be ready to break ground sometime in 2017. The Florence J. Gillmor School of Music will be a magnificent addition to our campus.

Our athletic programs are also expected to see enrollment gains from our move from NAIA to NCAA Division II. We have made it through the first year of the three-year provisional process and look forward to full eligibility by 2018. Our athletic plan also calls for the addition of several new club sports.

We want to increase enrollment in our project-based or CBE programs and are investing Dumke Opportunity Funds to make that happen. Last month we received the results from a marketing study done by the Cicero Group that outlines clear strategies on how we might increase demand for these programs.

And we will continue to roll out several recruitment strategies associated with our new Veterans Center, which had a successful first year.

Most of these strategic investments are funded by outside donors and we are hopeful that they will provide enrollment lift for these particular programs.

Affordability and Sustainability

Finally, we need to find ways to ensure affordability and sustainability while providing a reliable and accessible education for our students. To do this, we need to evaluate our current programs to make sure that we're focusing our effort and energy in areas that provide the best possible experience for our students.

Comprehensive Campaign

We are currently in the feasibility and silent phase of our comprehensive campaign. Three key funding opportunities have emerged in the early development of the campaign.

The first opportunity is to provide funds for additional scholarships to recruit and retain our students. I'm thrilled that we received a $1M commitment this past year from the Meldrum Foundation to provide scholarships for first generation college students. And we want to carry that momentum forward to encourage others to give to scholarships to help as many students as we can.

The second opportunity is the creation of an Honors College. The Honors program has seen a record numbers of applications in the last few years and is currently at maximum capacity. Expanding to an Honors College would increase the number of Honors students we are able to accept.

And the third opportunity is to provide funds to support place-based learning, including finding dedicated facilities, student scholarships, and funds for undergraduate research, a field station, a possible geology field camp, and an endowment for the new Institute for Mountain Research and the Great Salt Lake Institute.

These opportunities have been chosen for the comprehensive campaign for their potential to make life-changing experiential learning opportunities accessible to our students.

But we all know that, ultimately, we're a tuition-dependent institution and a solid enrollment plan is crucial to our success.

Enrollment Plan

We are working on a viable enrollment plan. As I mentioned in the last Presidential Post, the Cicero Group has been on campus over the last month, reviewing and assessing our current recruiting, admissions, and enrollment functions.

In addition, we've started the search for our new vice president of enrollment management. We have hired a search firm to do a national search and expect to bring candidates to campus by late October.

At the end of this process, we are confident that we will have an enrollment leader capable of leading us through the changes that need to occur.

Financial Plan

While we hope our enrollment plan will strengthen student demand and provide additional resources, we also have to find strategic ways to cope with the reality of our current situation.

Our 2016–17 budget was initially based on higher enrollment numbers than we were able to achieve.

Earlier this summer I announced that we've identified $2M in potential savings from our $65M budget to offset any shortfall we may have. While final enrollment numbers and net tuition won't be settled until the end of September, we still want to be cautious with the budget.

The initial areas we identified for potential cost-saving are revenues identified since the budget was balanced, reductions in debt service, savings in health and dental insurance, and one-time offsets from restricted accounts.

We will continue to evaluate other areas for potential budget savings. The last few years of low enrollment have left us with limited resources and we have to be looking at how to most effectively use the resources that we have.

Focus

That leads me to my final point. I want to talk about focus.

As it stands now, everyone on campus is spread too thin. We're going in too many different directions.

We need to focus on the areas that contribute the most value to our mission. And that means we're going to have to stop doing some things.

To help us do this work, we've created the Planning and Priorities Committee.

The committee is made up of faculty and staff representatives, and together, they will work to provide input into campus planning, transparency, and link the budget process with the strategic planning process.

They will help us focus. They will help us decide what things not to do.

The committee will be meeting twice a month starting in September.

Now, I want to prepare all of you. Over the next year, we're going to have some difficult conversations. We're going to have to be really honest about where our time, money, and energy are best spent.

This process is crucial to the future of Westminster and it's going to take commitment from everyone on campus.

So, what can you do?

You can take time to evaluate your own departments' priorities. Have the hard conversations. Figure out where you should be focusing your time and energy, look for areas to cut back, and share your ideas with the members of the Planning and Priorities Committee.

Conclusion

I know not everything I've talked about today has been positive. We've had a difficult couple of years and I understand how frustrating that can be. But I am an unabashed optimist and I love this college. And one of the qualities I love about our campus community is our tenacity and determination to succeed through challenging times.

We have grit. We have what it takes to roll up our sleeves and be successful. I have seen much in my 35 years at Westminster and it is this "Griffin Grit" that has made all the difference.

This year, I'm asking you to commit more fully to our core values. To remember the noble mission of Westminster and the work we do to truly change lives. I invite you to get involved in one of the key priorities by talking with your dean or department leader about what you can do to help. I challenge each of us to listen more, and criticize less. Be quick to forgive one another.

That is my hope for this year as we strive to make Westminster the very best it can be. If we work together, I know we can do it.

Thank You!

Convocation Address

Delivered Saturday, August 20, 2016

I challenge you to take this moment and make a promise to yourself that you will forget the follies and silliness of high school and the pressures to fit in. Discover your real potential. Stretch yourself and get outside of your comfort zone. Invest yourself in this experience and I guarantee you won't regret it.

Welcome Class of 2020!

I know I'm the final speaker of the day, so I promise I'll try to keep my remarks brief.

I want to acknowledge your parents and family that are here with you today. I also want to recognize our distinguished faculty and staff who are here to celebrate this important occasion for the Class of 2020. And I want to thank the trustees who are here, along with our alumni board.

Convocation is a tradition that goes back decades at Westminster. It marks the beginning of your college journey and its almost hard to believe that just four years from now you'll be at a similar event celebrating your graduation.

I have attended 35 Convocations and Graduations at Westminster and I can tell you that these are important moments in your lives. They mark the end of one chapter of your lives, and the beginning of another exciting adventure. And while it's tempting to look back to the past or forward to the future, it's important to take time to enjoy these days—you'll remember them for the rest of your lives.

So I don't forget today, I'd like a little memento. [Steps away from podium, turns to audience and takes a photo]

Not that many years ago, I dropped my oldest daughter off at this very college. I remember moving her into Hogle Hall on a day similar to this one. She brought so much stuff that I had to haul up to her room and I couldn't imagine how she was going to get it all to fit in such a small space. Her roommate was very different than she was, so I worried how they would get along. As my wife, Sandy, and I sat with her after dinner later that night, much like you will do in a few hours, I found it hard to hold back the tears. She was my little girl. And yet, here she was, all grown up and on her own for the first time.

We raised her hoping she would one day have the skills she needed to be independent. We knew, one day, she would leave home. And there were even times when we thought that day couldn't come soon enough! But the truth is, we never really thought it would happen. Our time with our little girl seemed like it would never end.

I tell you this because I want you to know that you are not alone. Everyone here today is experiencing so many mixed emotions, and rightfully so.

The good news is, you've chosen a great college to help you achieve your goals and aspirations, one with 140 years of tradition and is nationally ranked and well thought of throughout the country. You should be proud to be a student here.

At Westminster, you will discover the kind of person you want to be. You will meet life-long friends and learn from the very best faculty. You will be challenged here, you will have disappointments and failures, but you will also experience great accomplishments and the joy of discovery. You'll learn to think critically, develop your creative and reflective capacities, enhance your writing and communication skills, and increase your understanding of the world we live in. And you will have an opportunity to develop leadership and teamwork skills that will be invaluable to those who employ you.

But this isn't all about you. You are part of a community here at Westminster, and with that comes a lot of responsibility.

Everyone comes here today with different lived experiences. Those differences are what make our community so rich and interesting. We expect you to respect one another. Listen, keep an open mind, and you will learn so much from each other. Hopefully, you will leave Westminster understanding that there can be different answers to complex questions and that we have an obligation to learn about views and beliefs with which we might disagree.

Lastly, I challenge you to take this moment and make a promise to yourself that you will forget the follies and silliness of high school and the pressures to fit in. Discover your real potential. Stretch yourself and get outside of your comfort zone. Invest yourself in this experience and I guarantee you won't regret it.

Now I want to talk to the parents in the room. In many ways, you have the hardest job here this weekend because your role is changing very suddenly. Your job is not to handle the day-to-day aspects of your child's life anymore, but to be there as a constant source of love and support while they learn to navigate the world as adults.

Of course, we want you to stay involved—our campus is open to you and we hope you take advantage of all the opportunities here. Come visit, go to an art show, lecture, or play, or stop by for a family dinner on campus or somewhere nearby in Sugar House. But do your best to take a step back and watch your kids discover what they're capable of. I promise it will amaze you.

And I can also promise that we will be there to help them along the way. They have an amazing support system here. Our faculty and staff work hard every day to provide the best possible learning environment for your children. They take the time to get to know their students and genuinely care about their success.

By learning to be self-sufficient, to persevere when failure feels inevitable, to go after what they want with everything they have—they will leave Westminster confident and capable and ready to take on the world.

Now, one last piece of advice. As you're getting ready to say goodbye later today, there is going to be an uncomfortable moment. Your parents might say something embarrassing in front of your new roommates. They might insist on taking another photo even though you've taken hundreds already. They might even cry.

Don't get upset. Instead, honor these moments. Even cherish them, if you can. This is a difficult day for your family. I know you're all excited, of course you are! But it's okay to be excited, and nervous, and even a little sad. Go back for another hug. Let them take another photo. Listen to their advice and above all, remember to thank them.

I can't wait to see what you will all accomplish.

Here's to the class of 2020!

President Steve Morgan Chats With Joe Davis on the Mountain Morning Show

Aired March 18, 2016

Inauguration Speech

Delivered Saturday, September 26, 2015

What an amazing sight to look out and see so many friends and family, colleagues and supporters, here to share in this wonderful occasion. Celebrating this moment in front of our historic Converse Hall, where thousands of students have passed by for more than a century, makes the moment even more special.

I am truly humbled by all of the recognition and grateful for the many hands that have helped make this day possible. I must admit, I am slightly embarrassed by all of the fanfare, but I recognize that these kinds of occasions are important and symbolic, marking a new chapter in the history of this great institution.

I would like to especially thank our Board chair Jeanne Ambruster and the Westminster Board of Trustees for this opportunity to lead Westminster. I am honored that our dear friend and former board chair Ginger Giovale and former president Michael Bassis are here today to be part of this ceremony. I want to recognize our distinguished faculty and dedicated staff and talented students who are with us, as well as our loyal alumni and generous supporters. Many of our emeritus trustees and former faculty and staff came today, some of whom have traveled long distances to be here. I am honored to have state and city leaders and higher education colleagues from throughout our state with us, and I want to thank Preston Chiaro and the members of the Inauguration Committee for making this day something very memorable. I also want to acknowledge my extended family and friends that have come to support me.

And finally, I want to thank my very dear Sandy, who willingly signed on for this new role of my mine as our new First Lady, and each of my children. Would they stand and be recognized?

I am proud that my wife and three children are all Westminster College graduates, and I have seven grandchildren who are also future Griffins.

I am especially sorry that my parents, Larry and Bobbie, who taught me the values that got me here, are not alive to see this day. My mother would have said, "Steve, a college president? Of course!"

My father, on the other hand, would have said, "Are they sure they know what they're doing?"

Truly, I am honored to serve as the 18th president of Westminster College.

Since my appointment was announced several months ago, some of you may have been asking yourselves, as I have, how did a local kid that grew up just a few blocks from here, who became a cheerleader with his future wife at Highland High School, the son of a local grocery store manager, a return LDS missionary, and a first generation college accounting graduate from the University of Utah, become the president of this college?

Westminster was founded 140 years ago in 1875 as a Presbyterian prep school. Today it is a nationally recognized, comprehensive institution with a distinguished faculty and staff serving more than 2,800 undergraduate and graduate students from throughout the country and around the world.

So how did I end up here? Perhaps the answer is what English Parliamentarian Thomas Buxton once said: "With ordinary talent and extraordinary perseverance, all things are attainable."

Indeed, I have had thirty-four extraordinary years of on-the-job training, taught by courageous and visionary presidents and trustees, and supported by many wonderful colleagues. I learned by experience and mistakes how to manage, how to lead, and when to get out of the way, and it has been my good fortune to have played a small part in three decades of this wonderful institution's history.

I have also learned what, for me, was perhaps the most difficult lesson of all, one that will hopefully serve me well: Presidents must persistently advocate for change, not just because our world is always changing, but because our human instinct is to protect that which is known and familiar, while the job of higher education is to seek out the unknown and the unfamiliar.

So, as I join the ranks of seventeen former presidents, I am committed to continuing the conversation and journey that is Westminster College, so that we can add to the legacy of those who have served before us and ensure that this college will stand strong for years to come.

In my time at Westminster, I've been involved in the discussion, planning, and execution of most of the major goals and plans that the College has chosen. That experience has given me a unique perspective about what it takes for graduates to be informed, responsible citizens.

One thing I've learned for sure: Being open-minded toward change is the most important asset that a leader can have. In this world of higher education, the landscape changes every day. There are always new problems and challenges to navigate, and while there are solutions to every problem, the solutions from ten years ago, five years ago, or even last year will probably not be the best solutions today. Just as we help our students develop the habits of mind that will enable them to continue to learn, Westminster and its leadership must also continue to commit to be lifelong learners. When we courageously embrace change, we become a strong voice of authenticity, efficiency, and innovation in the ongoing conversation that is Westminster.

I have been through many, many changes at the College.

In the early 1980s, I was here for the bold and dramatic college-wide reorganization that helped saved the college from closure, and I was also here ten years later when our regional accrediting agency praised Westminster as model of higher education learning and assessment in the region.

I was here when we eliminated intercollegiate athletics in the early 80s because of budget pressures, when we reintroduced them in the 90s, and most recently when we were proudly accepted into the NCAA.

I was here when we expanded our institutional mission to include adult and professional students, and as we extended our recruiting reach nationally, so that now we recruit almost half of our undergraduate students nationally and internationally.

In the 80s, I was asked to develop a plan to eliminate all on-campus student housing, and yet since 2000, I've worked on quadrupling on-campus student housing and facilities.

When we added mentoring programs, coaching positions, online learning, and new types of learning assessments, I too, was part of each process.

For years, I was responsible for planning and building facilities within our small, 27-acre campus, but now I am part of the team working to embrace Sugar House, the City of South Salt Lake, the greater Salt Lake area, and even the Wasatch Mountains as our expanded campus.

These and dozens of other milestones, experiences, and decisions have prepared me to lead Westminster. The college will continue to evolve and change in many ways that we choose and also in ways we cannot fully predict, but through every transition—no matter how daunting—what we can always control are our core values and beliefs. These are the keys to our identity, our strength, and our enduring success.

Our core values and beliefs are fundamental to everything we do here at Westminster, from whom we hire, to how we spend our money, to the vision we hope for our students. Above all, at every level of operation, we prioritize students and their learning first. We value mentoring, teamwork, and impassioned teaching. We strive to understand and respect differences, to engage with the wider community and to hold ourselves to high academic and ethical standards.

When we view the changes at Westminster over the years through the lens of these values and beliefs, we find that Westminster has not changed much at all. Perhaps that is why so many people on and off campus, from many generations and backgrounds, care so deeply about this College's wellbeing. As one of our most beloved former trustees, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and former Secretary of Education Sterling McMurrin, once said: "If Westminster College did not exist, someone should have invented it."

I begin my presidency aware of my own limitations but thankful for the gifted, talented, and dedicated individuals on this campus with whom I have the pleasure to work. The people at Westminster are truly special, and I mean that with all my heart.

I am also so thankful for the many donors and supporters in our community, many of whom are here today. We are grateful that you have shared your resources of time and treasure to help this college achieve excellence.

Since my appointment was announced, I have received hundreds of expressions of support from people I kno, and many I don't, much advice, and more than a few special requests. Throughout much of it, there is one recurring sentiment, and that is:

"We feel safe with you at the helm."

This gives me confidence, and I am happy to hear that, and I hope all of you here today feel that way as well. But, as president, I must tell you that feeling safe is not a plan for the future. Feeling comfortable is not enough to guarantee Westminster's success. Together, we have more to do.

Some of you may not be aware of this, but this college has been through many difficult seasons, and when I came to Westminster in 1981, it was in the middle of perhaps the worst season of all. In fact, it was in real jeopardy of failing, and the future was uncertain.

But then, as I spent time as a young business manager working with the staff, faculty, and trustees, I was overwhelmed by their dedication, their willingness to roll up their sleeves and look for solutions—their sheer, unyielding stubbornness in believing that Westminster was worth saving. Times were tough, but instead of walking away and letting the college fail, this amazing community of Westminster stepped forward and committed themselves to saving this college. There were people in my office every day, pitching ideas and proposing bold plans, some solid and some over-the-moon crazy, but the passion and resolve were incredibly inspiring. The experiences of these early years still run deep within me and provide me strength to get through any difficulties that may unfold in our future.

Today, there are new challenges and decisions ahead of us, but I am here to tell you that we are ready.

We are a strong community, we are doing amazing things on this campus every day, we are learning, and as long as we remember who we are, we are prepared to face the future together. This is a school with an unbreakable spirit. Together, we have much to do, but I firmly believe that, right here today, we have everything we need—the vision, the skills, the dedication, and the heart—to help Westminster achieve its full potential.

I would like to share with you now some of the specific challenges that I feel deserve our attention as a campus community. Several Westminster presidents began their terms of office with agendas of their own, others inherited a strategic plan already approved by the college community, and all of them had to respond to several immediate needs.

The agenda before us now is made of all three.

First, we need to continue the work of strengthening our college with additional financial resources. I am pleased that our retention and graduation rates are improving, but we need to do more to create stronger enrollment demand, which is necessary for long-term sustainability. I also commit that Westminster's extraordinary record of balanced budgets for over three decades will continue during my presidency. Equally important, though, is that the planning and decisions around institutional priorities will be participatory and transparent.

A second immediate need is that we must reaffirm and recommit to Westminster's unique campus culture. We are a community where students, staff, administrators, faculty and trustees need to be involved—predictably, appropriately and efficiently—in the important decisions we make.

There is no legislature or governor to ask or to blame, no funding agency to tell us what to do. As a college we look to no higher authority for direction or inspiration. We decide the issues—whether it is determining which undergraduate and graduate programs to offer, or describing our place in a technology-driven world, or defining the relationship between liberal arts and professional education.

As we look for solutions to these critically important issues, we need inclusive but efficient ways to have these and other conversations. Each small bit of shared understanding will point us in the best direction for helping students achieve their educational goals, while continuing conversations about Westminster and its relevance in the higher education landscape.

To help develop this kind of campus culture, we need to declutter the daily schedule for many of our faculty so they can devote more of their time and energy to student learning and to their own professional development. Our academic reputation depends on this as much as it depends on the accomplishments of our graduates. We also need to invest more in the development of our dedicated staff because their work and their relationships with students are also critically important to our success.

And, for our community to work well, we must expect our students to pay close attention to their own education. A caring, personalized learning environment does not mean that students are relieved of their responsibilities to complete assignments, to know their own progress toward graduation, to prepare for life after Westminster and for the personal choices they make. To be an engaged community, we all need to be respected, responsible individual members of that community.

The final immediate need is that we must strengthen our instructional and co-curricular efforts to enhance learning outcomes and student retention, increase graduation rates, accelerate the time to graduation, and find new high-impact learning experiences. This, I believe, is best accomplished through actively supporting our faculty and staff, filling resource gaps, and making both the academic calendar and the campus more efficient and productive.

At Westminster, our strategic plan helps guide the future of our school. We have three ambitious goals: 1) building a community of learners, 2) innovating to support student success, and 3) assuring affordability and sustainability.

I could go on at great length about each of these goals—how they affect the practical decisions we make every day and how we use them to plan for the future of Westminster in the grandest sense. I could tell you about how each of these goals evolved from past accomplishments that have led us into entirely new kinds of discussions and challenges. I could give you data about enrollment, tuition, and program development; however, I really don't want to fill up our time today with the many important details of our plan.

If you want those things, you are all invited to attend the next All College Meeting.

Instead, I want to take this unique opportunity to remind you of the real, human reasons we spend so much time planning and thinking about these important issues—why these goals of ours really matter.

Our goals matter because they directly affect the lives and the learning of our students.

We set financial goals so that the student studying for a big exam at 3 in the morning can focus on what they're studying, rather than worrying about how to pay this semester's tuition. We set goals about our campus culture so that students coming from all over the world, from all backgrounds and beliefs, ethnicities, sexualities, and ages feel safe, supported, respected, and heard.

We set goals about incorporating technology and authentic forms of online learning into our classrooms so that our students who are also working parents, exhausted graduate students, and undergraduate students working to support themselves, have greater flexibility while still benefitting from a true Westminster education.

We set curricular and professional development goals so that our staff and faculty are best prepared to help students make smart choices about their future.

We pride ourselves on accomplishing our strategic goals because in doing so, we empower our students to achieve their own goals. That, above all else, is what Westminster College is about, and everything about our mission, our vision, and our plans for the future come down to what we believe will be best for our students.

With that being said, let me briefly highlight several areas that I will focus on as president and that offer a glimpse of where we, as a college and as a community, are headed.

We need to increase the college's financial resources, especially in the area of growing our endowment for scholarships and program support. This will help keep Westminster affordable, while we simultaneously work on managing costs. When I came to the college in 1980, the endowment was under 1 million dollars. Today it is approximately 73 million. As a critical part of our upcoming comprehensive campaign, my goal is to have the endowment reach 100 million. An adequate endowment is what makes an institution sustainable, regardless of what happens in the economy or marketplace.

Second, I believe that Westminster has a bigger role to play in the higher education conversation in the state of Utah. Westminster has worked hard to become a nationally recognized leader among small, comprehensive colleges, especially through our participation in the Association of New American Colleges, but there are many opportunities for growth in our city and state.

In consultation with higher education, civic, and government leaders, I will be exploring how Westminster can better serve some of the state's most deserving potential students—including women, students from diverse backgrounds, and many adult learners who want to complete their degrees—who are currently underserved. We already make an important impact in the state—for example, while 50% of our 2,200 undergraduates come from outside of Utah, 85% of them remain in Utah after graduation. Moreover, more than 90% of our graduate students are from Utah.

I am so pleased to have government and higher education leaders with us today, and I invite you to explore with us new ways of collaborating.

To also extend Westminster's reach and impact in our community, I am also committed to creating additional high-profile partnerships with small businesses and larger corporations, as well as various cultural, social service, and civic organizations. This will expand the opportunities we can make available to our students.

Going to a small college that has adopted a vibrant, growing city as its campus is, literally, the best of both worlds, and we want to make the most of the opportunities that surround us, not only in the city but throughout the state, taking advantage of the amazing outdoor opportunities that are just a few hours away.

Third, we need to prioritize the needs, ideas, and development of our faculty and staff. Our professors and administrators work hard to unlock the talent and potential in our students, and as president, I want to play that same role for the faculty and staff. I want to help energize their talents so that they can be free to innovate and accomplish the things they see as possible.

This presidency will not be about me.

I've been here long enough to know that the best legacies are left by those who spend their time empowering others to be the best they can be, and I look forward to many years of celebrating the achievements of our many talented people.

On a final personal note, I want to talk about what I've learned from something I love to do—and that's running. This may come as a surprise to many of you who are looking at me and thinking, He doesn't look like much of an athlete, but I have actually completed twenty-six marathons, with another one coming up in a few weeks, if I can get the last practice run in. Completing the first one taught me that I could learn and accomplish that which was previously unfamiliar to me. Completing twenty-six taught me...well, it taught me that I kind of like pain. So perhaps, this is the perfect job for me after all.

Marathons taught me that I love the process of preparation almost as much as I enjoy the end results; that I am competitive and thrive on challenges; and, most importantly, that I don't give up.

Westminster is not a marathon, but it is a relay—a relay that has been going on for 140 years. Students, faculty, staff, and trustees who came before us have handed the baton to us for this leg of the race. I can promise you my full determination and effort as Westminster's 18th president, and with your expertise, good will, and support, we will set Westminster's path to confront and conquer the challenges we already know and respond thoughtfully to those that arise unexpectedly.

Today, I am asking you, whether you are new to our community or have been here for a while, to join me in this race, to commit yourselves energetically to Westminster College's present and future, and to hold our core educational values and beliefs close to your hearts. With pride in the knowledge that we have upheld and built upon the important legacies of this College, we too will be able to pass the baton to those who will succeed us.

Thank you.

Convocation Address

Delivered Saturday, August 15, 2015

At Westminster you will discover the kind of person you want to be....You will be challenged here, you will have disappointments and failures, but you will experience great accomplishments and the joy of discovery.

President Steve Morgan at Convocation 2015Welcome Class of 2019! I am the final speaker of the day and the last to offer you advice before dinner, so I know you will want my remarks to be brief.

I want to acknowledge your parents and family that are here with you today. I would like to also recognize our distinguished faculty and staff that are present to celebrate this important occasion for the class of 2019. I also appreciate a number of our trustees being present along with our alumni board.

Convocation is a tradition that goes back decades at Westminster and marks the beginning of your collegiate academic years. In four years we hope all of you will be present when we celebrate your graduation. I urge all of you to make the Four-Year Graduation Pledge that Vice President Baworowsky mentioned in his remarks.

I have attended 34 Convocations and 33 Graduation Ceremonies at Westminster—this being my first Convocation as president. These are important celebratory moments in your lives that you won't forget. I hope you have already posted pictures of today's ceremony on Facebook and Instagram. Just so I don't forget, may I take a moment and do one for me?

I am excited to see what the Class of 2019 will achieve at Westminster. May I brag for just a minute about the Class of 2014 that graduated a year ago?

  • 92% of them left Westminster employed or on their way to graduate school
  • 82% of them remained in Utah for work or education
  • 96% of them would recommend Westminster to someone else
  • 42% of our 2014 graduates—both undergraduates and graduates—reported earnings of $50,000 or more after graduation

We expect the recently graduated Class of 2015 to have similar results.

You are the brightest, most gifted class we have admitted in our history, so the bar is set high for you.

You have chosen a great college to help you achieve your goals and aspirations, one with 140 years of tradition that is nationally ranked and well thought of throughout our country. You will be proud to be a student and one day graduate, joining 18,000 other proud alumni that call Westminster their alma mater.

At Westminster you will discover the kind of person you want to be. You will meet life-long friends, be taught and mentored by the very best faculty, and supported by an amazing group of dedicated staff. There are over 400 of us that are committed to your success—each one of you. You will be challenged here, you will have disappointments and failures, but you will experience great accomplishments and the joy of discovery. Your attitudes and beliefs will be explored and new ones will be added. You will learn to think critically, develop your creative and reflective capacities, enhance your writing and communication skills, and increase your understanding of the world we live in and how to make it better. You will learn to appreciate other points of view and how to respectfully disagree when you have a different opinion. You will have an opportunity to develop leadership and teamwork skills that will be invaluable to those who employ you.

Your parents and family deserve a huge hug and thank-you for helping to get you here today. They want you to succeed. They also want you to grow and develop and become independent and even move out of the house. Right parents?

I have two sons and a daughter who graduated from Westminster, so parents, I have sat where you are and experienced some of the same feelings. I know you're nervous about letting go and trusting in this institution that we will take good care of your son and daughter. I felt the same worries.

My daughter Amanda is my oldest, and I remember moving her into Hogle Hall on a day similar to this one. She brought so much stuff that I had to haul up to her room, and I couldn't imagine how she was going to get it to all fit in such a small dorm room. Her roommate was very different than she was, so I worried how they would get along. As my wife, Sandy, and I sat with her later that night, much like you will do after dinner tonight, I found it hard to hold back the tears. She was my little girl that now was all grown up and on her own for the first time. She sensed our worries and said, "Mom and Dad, you have brought me up well and taught me good values. I will be just fine." Then she said, "Please don't call me or check up on me. I will call you."

My daughter did call us—occasionally—and when the first year was over, she didn't come home as we had planned, but instead, went off for a summer adventure with the classmates she had met at Westminster College. In fact, she never did come home again. When she graduated from Westminster four years later, she went on to graduate school in Philadelphia that also took her to England for a year of studies. Then she was recruited to an exciting career in Washington, DC recruiting international students for George Mason University.

So parents, I'm not saying your son or daughter won't come home again, although some of you may cheer that, I'm just saying let your sons and daughters find their independence. We will help them through that process along with your help.

Westminster College is a special place. We value ourselves as a community of learners. Students of the Class of 2019, you are joining a community. Find yourself. There are hundreds of opportunities for you to explore. From athletics to civic engagement, trying out for a play, taking advantage of our outdoor leadership opportunities, or doing undergraduate research. If you only attend class, you will miss out.

I challenge you to take this moment, and make a promise to yourself, that you will forget the follies and silliness of high school and the pressures to fit in. Discover the real potential within you. Stretch yourself and get outside of your comfort zone. Invest in your lives, and like I mentioned before, put your energy in something here: a club, or a team, or one of our many volunteer projects. Try student government or become a writer for the student newspaper, try out for a play or one of the many choral groups, get a job on campus, or do an internship. We call it engaged learning, and it will change your life.

Make the investment in yourself, and you will find Westminster and all of us here today, including your parents, will invest in you.

I have high aspirations for this class and know you will make us proud.

Welcome to Westminster College. Go Griffins!