It is my great pleasure to represent all former presidents at this special ceremony inaugurating Eric Jensen as the 19th President of Illinois Wesleyan University. As I review the history of people who have served in this key role, I find many examples of presidents who made a profound difference in the trajectory of the University, from the Reverend Oliver Spencer Munsell, who rescued the University from financial collapse in 1856, and Theodore Kemp who worked with the distinguished local architect, Arthur Pillsbury, to develop a plan used to site Stevenson Hall, Memorial Gym, and Buck Library, to Robert Eckley, who used his considerable business skills to establish a firm financial foundation for the University, and Minor Myers, whose irrepressible enthusiasm and vision moved the University into the top-tier liberal arts colleges in the country.
Based on the former presidents I have known and those for whom there is a written record of their work, I have concluded the Board of Trustees has an enviable record of selecting someone to serve as chief executive of this institution who is uniquely qualified to address the challenges of the day and make lasting contributions. I have had several opportunities over the last six months to interact with President Jensen and believe the Board of Trustees has hit another home run in terms of selecting someone to serve as president whose values, experience, instincts, and interpersonal skills match well with what is needed for the years ahead.
I need not tell this audience nor this president that these are challenging times for higher education, especially private colleges and universities. There are almost daily reports calling attention to the struggles of colleges and universities in the private sector. However, we all can take comfort in the fact that Illinois Wesleyan can draw on a considerable reservoir of strengths in facing its future.
The niche that we occupy is defined by our commitment to the liberal arts and to professional and pre-professional programs grounded in that tradition. The challenge for President Jensen and for the faculty is to continue to refine and focus that mission in ways that prepare students for successful careers and meaningful lives. I have no doubt that this will require creative thought about the curriculum and involve some disruption in traditional modes of teaching and learning. I am confident that President Jensen has the background and skills to lead this effort.
The inscription on the Founders Gate on the west side of campus contains the admonishment that “we stand in a position of incalculable responsibility.” No one feels that responsibility more than a college president. However, I can tell President Jensen that he also will find that his work places him in a position of incalculable opportunity and will provide enormous personal satisfaction.
We hope that you will draw strength from the work of your predecessors during these challenging times. I can assure you that our collective experience suggests that whatever challenges you face will be more than offset by the pleasures you will enjoy working with a talented faculty, dedicated staff, loyal alumni and friends and inspiring students.
Best wishes from the eighteen presidents past!