Lawrence University has an opportunity to build on past successes, but it’ll need to do so at a time of significant challenges in higher education, President Laurie A. Carter said Friday in her first Matriculation Convocation address.
Carter, who began her tenure as Lawrence’s 17th president on July 1, said Lawrence isn’t immune to the growing turbulence across higher education—financial pressures heightened by the pandemic, political strife, attacks on the liberal arts, bloated student debt, declining retention and graduation rates, and a coming steep decline in the number of college-age students. But its community of faculty, staff, students, and alumni are ready to rise to the challenge and place Lawrence among the leaders in a new higher education environment.
“Creating a sense of urgency is the first step in the process,” Carter told the Lawrence community in a presidential address that annually serves as a kick-off of a new academic year.
Speaking at Memorial Chapel and via a livestream, Carter reiterated how honored she is to lead Lawrence. She celebrated the university’s 174-year history and its recent successes and invited all Lawrentians to sign up for the hard work to come, even if it means working outside of their comfort zones.
“I am excited for this work, and I feel uniquely positioned for the challenges ahead,” she said. “As an African American woman and leader, discomfort has always been a part of my journey.”
Following Carter’s speech, a video was presented featuring students speaking about why they love Lawrence:
Lawrence University students talk about their favorite memories, experiences, and why they love Lawrence.
There is much to build on at Lawrence—the success of the recently concluded Be the Light! Campaign, the commitment of dedicated alumni, the size and strength of the newest class, the recent launch of five key academic programs, the addition of several endowed professorships that have strengthened existing programs, and the unity in purpose that has been so evident over the past year and a half.
“The manner in which the community came together to support one another during the pandemic is why we are brighter together,” Carter said.
Let’s celebrate those successes, she said. Embrace the great traditions of Lawrence. But don’t lose sight of the challenges ahead for higher education; they will be significant.
“Through our collective efforts, we must transform Lawrence into a university that is poised to lead in this new environment,” Carter said. “And as the environment evolves, we must be nimble enough to evolve with it.”
Carter laid out five priorities that will be key pieces of a to-be-built strategic plan — strategic equitable student success; Lawrence brand enhancement; diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism; an enhanced integrated university experience; and strategic financial stewardship.
“While these five priorities touch nearly every aspect of our university, from recruitment and retention to the curricular and co-curricular programs, they all are in the service of our students,” Carter said. “And our ability to collectively engage in dialogue and problem-solving around these areas will determine our course for the future.”
Lawrence’s current strategic plan expires in 2022.
Carter also introduced the formation of five guiding coalitions, each with a mix of faculty, staff, students, trustees, and alumni, to address particular areas that need expedited attention. These coalitions will be tasked with creating a path to meaningful progress in the assigned areas, with timelines focused on the current academic year. The work of the coalitions will help inform the strategic plan.
The guiding coalitions include: Visioning of Our Five Priorities; Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Anti-racism; Full Speed to Full Need; Amplifying Athletics; and 175th Anniversary. Each will have at least two co-leads, one from faculty and one from staff. Members of the Lawrence community are being invited to join the coalitions.
“Our volunteer army will consist of members of the community who are passionate about these issues and are willing to lock arms with others to create meaningful change around them,” Carter said. “You—faculty, staff, students alike—have the opportunity to participate, step up and act like never before.”
The Convocation, the first of three to be held during the 2021-22 academic year, featured a performance of Mark A. Miller’s Creation of Peace by the Welcome Week Choir, directed by music professors Phillip A. Swan and Stephen M. Sieck. Other elements of the program, including the size of the audience in Memorial Chapel, were adjusted to accommodate pandemic protocols.
Allison Fleshman, associate professor of chemistry and chair of the Public Events Committee, announced that Austin Segrest, assistant professor of English, has been chosen as the Honors Convocation speaker in the spring. Multidisciplinary artist Alexandra Bell will deliver the Winter Term convocation.
As the pandemic continues with no clear end in sight, Carter encouraged all Lawrentians to lean into the truth Lawrence has long embraced — “light, more light.”
“When the sun was shining brightly, meaning before the public discourse on higher education turned negative and the pandemic disrupted the world, our light shone brighter than ever,” Carter said. “But now that darkness has threatened us, we must use the light within us to demonstrate to the world who we are.”