2010 President's Forum

Dr. James M. Harder

Founder's Hall
September 14, 2010

Extending Our Reach

Thank you for your presence this morning at the 2010 President's Forum. It's still very early in a new academic year, yet it seems like so much has already happened. Orientation and move-in day already feel like distant memories. Already two weeks of classes are behind us. We've met our new friend and Bluffton mascot, J. Denny Beaver and it seems like he is EVERYWHERE. Our athletics teams have seen action and have all tasted early success. And the annual faculty and staff follies even included a most memorable dramatic tribute by Marbeck Center director Mark Bourassa to Lady Gaga. I m sorry if you missed it!

But most importantly, I am heartened by the many positive comments I've heard from students, faculty and staff alike about the sense of energy on campus this year, both in the classroom and in the many other activities that make the Bluffton experience so meaningful and enjoyable. That is music to a president's ears but the credit goes to all of you. Bluffton is truly a special place a community of learners where exceptional things happen on a daily basis. I m excited by what lies ahead during the coming year the school year 2010-2011.

Often, I've used this annual opportunity to present some of my thoughts focused around a particular topic or theme and, of course, always with a good dose of Bluffton's history and tradition woven in I can t help that, since one of my own undergraduate majors was history.

This morning, most of what I have to say about Bluffton is very deliberately future looking, about the many ways in which Bluffton is moving forward and seeking to extend its reach. I will talk about many of the new things that are underway at Bluffton, or that are just around the corner. I have no doubt that throughout Bluffton's 111-year history, each fall has brought a sense of newness and renewal on campus. Yet, at least in my own five years as Bluffton's president, this year stands out in my own mind for all that is happening. And as an indicator of that, I am pleased that again this fall in the U.S. News and World Report rankings of America's colleges and universities, Bluffton was judged to be a top-tier university in the Midwest region recognizing our educational quality and outcomes.  And for the first time Bluffton was included in the top ten of the Great Schools, Great Prices category. We can all feel good about that achievement.

Context for the 2010-11 academic year

But before I focus more on Bluffton, I want to reference the context in which we are living in the fall of 2010. This is the wider reality in which this educational community searches for truth as we seek to learn and to prepare ourselves for life and vocation, for service to all peoples, and ultimately for the purposes of God's universal kingdom. 

We are certainly not immune from feeling the impact of the many forces of change around us. We sense that we are living in an unusually unsettled and uncertain time globally, within our nation, and closer to home. The structure of the economy seems to be changing, perhaps permanently, and we wonder what that might mean for our future job and income prospects. Wherever we turn, government seems to be short of money, if not already deeply in debt. Funding for basic things such as education, healthcare and retirement security is often inadequate and the consequences dire. We seem to be stuck in a political space in this country where finding compromise and middle ground is increasingly difficult; where general agreement and broadly-shared social satisfaction seem out of reach. The exact causes can be debated, but our natural climate is quite definitely changing as well, with potentially ominous consequences for humans and for many other forms of life on the planet. The summer's BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico provided a shocking reminder of the limits and dangers of the technological system that we have come to depend upon. And in too many places, we watch the world expending precious lives and resources on tremendously costly wars and conflict, struggling to know how best to deal with the forces of terrorism, some with nuclear ambitions.

While every generation that has come of age has had its own challenges to face, I think it fair to say that the challenges of this particular time are significant. They are noteworthy, I believe, because of their long-term nature and potential consequence. None of them offer much hope for a quick solution. Dealing with them will require all of the wisdom and ingenuity that can be mustered.

To be sure, there will still be much that is good and satisfying in our future. We should not give up our optimism.   But neither should we underestimate the challenges we face challenges that, increasingly, defy one-country solutions and instead will require more global cooperation.

As a community of higher education, Bluffton has an obligation to play a role in helping to prepare for that future. I firmly believe that Bluffton is doing that as well as anyone, living out our faith convictions within a liberal arts model of education a 21st Century education committed to excellence, but also one in which faith and learning can be brought together in holistic and beneficial ways. A Bluffton education is of necessity increasingly global. It works to provide big-picture perspectives and communication skills that problem solvers of the future will need. In the best liberal arts tradition, a Bluffton education biases toward training critical thinkers who have an appreciation for the human condition, for our past, present and future. A Bluffton education biases toward preparing graduates to engage in continuous learning throughout their lifetime giving them the security of knowing they have the tools needed to be able to adapt to whatever unknown circumstances or opportunities their future might bring. In short, I believe you are in a very good place of preparation for these times.

Bluffton moving forward with program innovation

As I survey the state of Bluffton University in the fall of 2010, I m struck by the manydifferent ways in which the university is responding to rapid change in the world around us and in the world of higher education through innovation and change of our own.

One of the concerns of nearly everyone, particularly during these challenging economic times, is that colleges, both public and private, find ways to slow the rising cost of higher education. Bluffton has been slower than many to raise tuition rates, and has also increased financial aid. We will continue to work to find ways to keep the out-of-pocket costs of a Bluffton education within reach.

Bluffton is also innovating in our academic program in order to better meet society's needs and the career interests of our students. For example, during the coming year we will explore the possibility of offering a three-year intensive undergraduate degree program option for academically qualified students who are focused on a faster-track into graduate school and other post-college activities.

Another objective is to expand our curricular offerings to all students in the broadly-defined area of healthcare. Recent decisions by Bluffton's faculty and administration mean a new academic major will soon be available at Bluffton.  In addition to what we already offer in pre-medicine, dietetics, the natural sciences and health, physical education and recreation, I am pleased to announce that in the fall of 2011 Bluffton will begin offering a new undergraduate degree program in public health. The expanding field of public health interdisciplinary in nature and a good fit for Bluffton will provide many additional health-related career and professional opportunities to our graduates. Potential concentrations within the major include options in pre-epidemiology, public health advocacy and public health education. Bluffton will become one of a limited but growing number of colleges and universities in the country offering a program at the undergraduate level in public health and one of only two in Ohio.

Two other academic programs at Bluffton are new this fall, with students already enrolled in coursework. Bluffton has been offering its graduate programs in business for more than 10 years and now has more than 250 master's degree graduates enriching the workforce and communities of northwest Ohio and beyond. The latest expansion within the MBA program is a newly-available concentration in health care administration. The program was developed in close consultation with leaders of regional healthcare facilities to ensure that it meets the most current needs of the workplace.

A second new academic program this fall offers Bluffton's recognized undergraduate social work curriculum to working adults during evening classes, meeting one night a week. Bluffton's day-time social work enrollment has nearly doubled in recent years and this innovative program makes it possible for students who are already in the workforce to complete the requirements for a social work degree.

One additional program with a strong tie to the wellness and healthcare industry is under longer-term development at Bluffton, and upon certification could enroll students as early as 2012. For more than 30 years, Bluffton has offered a food and nutrition major that is recognized for its superior preparation of undergraduates. Within that major, a concentration in dietetics is available. Bluffton's dietetics graduates have earned placement in competitive internships, required for professional certification, at a rate nearly double the national average. Responding to the national shortage of internship opportunities for professional dietetics certification, faculty in the department are working to develop a year-long post-baccalaureate dietetic internship program at Bluffton, in partnership with regional health and elder care facilities. This program has the potential to benefit not only our students, but also to enhance the dietetics workforce at facilities throughout the region.

Bluffton is also constantly working to assess and enhance our many other existing programs for all of our students. We are committed to providing an education relevant to the challenges that will be faced by today's students, an education that truly prepares for life, vocation and for service.

Annual civic engagement themes and community responses

As part of our commitment to prepare our graduates in these ways, each year the faculty selects a special year-long civic engagement theme used to focus the first-year seminar and special events on a topic of particular relevance. This year's civic engagement theme, Living with Enough: Responding to Global Poverty is timely. A number of years ago, when I taught courses on global economic development, a popular saying was that When the rich countries of the world sneeze, the rest of the world catches a bad cold.  It is still true today, particularly for the world's poorest countries. In this time of great global economic stress, we do well to consider how the global economy functions today and to identify the linkages that impact economic outcomes in various parts of the world. Those linkages shape both the face of wealth and poverty in the world. And we no longer need to look far away to see evidence of the increased gap in living standards in every country. As one key piece of such evidence, according to the Ohio Department of Education's most recent report, 42% of public school students in the state of Ohio now qualify for free or reduced price lunches through the federal school lunch program. How should society view this troubling trend? What is an appropriate response?

Student response to prior civic engagement themes is a testament to the qualities of Bluffton students. Three years ago, the campus galvanized around the theme of environmental stewardship. We all became more conscious of what we can do to make a positive difference in preserving our natural world. The campus-wide recycling program we have today continues as a legacy of student efforts, and at Bluffton we continue to seek additional ways to go green.

Every bit helps. We've been working systematically for a number of years to upgrade energy systems and install insulated windows in many of our buildings. This past summer, Bluffton's maintenance staff has made additional green improvements on campus. You might have already noticed some of them. All four floors of the library have newly-installed high efficiency T-12 ceiling light fixtures 200 in all. Bluffton is doing this as a participant in American Electric Power's gridsmart program designed to significantly cut electricity use. A new high efficiency boiler system has also been installed in College Hall, potentially cutting in half the energy required for heating the building in the winter. In a number of places on campus, new lights will be further reducing our carbon footprint.

And although you have undoubtedly already noticed the food service enhancements we made over the summer to The Commons in Marbeck Center and I m glad to hear that you are enjoying them and giving them good reviews you might not be aware that you are also greener eaters whether you eat the salad and freshly prepared hot vegetables or not! The new food station serving approach saves significant amounts of water and energy since it is no longer necessary to wash more than a thousand trays a day. It also results in less food waste. At the same time, Bluffton dining services, in partnership with Sodexo, has increased its commitment to serving more regionally sourced foods for the benefit of local businesses and communities closer to home, and for the benefit of the environment as less fuel is required to ship food thousands of miles. We are now drinking only fair-trade coffee and tea, meaning producers in low-wage countries are being better compensated for their work. In addition, all used cooking oil and cardboard boxes are collected and recycled. And this year's Student Senate has already begun to form a sustainability committee of students, faculty and staff to work at identifying and helping to support additional ways for the campus to become even greener.  I applaud the many things that you, members of this campus community are doing for the benefit of the environment, which add up to quite a big difference during the course of the year.

Facilities enhancements for Bluffton's future

Bluffton is also taking a future orientation in our work with campus facilities development. Over the summer, two long-standing and essential building improvement goals have been achieved. Upon your return to campus this fall, you no doubt noticed the dramatic change to College Hall, and you might also have seen the continuing work beside Musselman Library, which should be completed by the end of this month. In both cases College Hall and Musselman Library two of Bluffton's earliest buildings with historic significance have been made more functional and attractive, and will continue to serve our campus community and our guests well for many more years. Both buildings now have new entrances with elevators, to better meet the needs of all in particular those with mobility limitations. College Hall also now has new accessible restrooms on each level of the building.

These are essential improvements. But, I also appreciate the aesthetic changes to both buildings that were also outcomes of the projects the new walkways and landscaping that enhance the connection between the Library and the beauty of its natural surroundings, and the bright hallways at College Hall with appealing outdoor views, and space on the walls that will create new opportunities to display the work of our students, alumni and faculty. And I particularly appreciate the ways in which the College Hall addition reflects and respects the architecture of our original building, now 111 years old.

Progress in Extending Our Reach The Campaign for Bluffton

Finally, I want to talk this morning about Bluffton's goals and progress in Extending Our Reach The Campaign for Bluffton. Since the inception of this multi-year campaign, we have been working mostly behind the scenes to achieve a variety of projects that, together, will support Bluffton's mission and will strengthen our ability to meet the needs of Bluffton's students today, tomorrow and for future generations. 

Today I am pleased to report that we have received more than $27 million in gifts and pledges of support to the goals of this comprehensive campaign the largest single fundraising effort in Bluffton's history. To date, alumni and friends have pledged more than $5.5 million to the Bluffton Fund that supports annual operations and significant parts of our student financial aid program. They have pledged more than $7 million to establish permanent endowments that will help fund programs in perpetuity. Already the campus community is benefitting from some of these new endowments. Students are benefitting from a number of new endowed student scholarships; there are now more than 340 endowed scholarships at Bluffton and many students in this audience are benefitting from the generosity of Bluffton's alumni and friends. Because of the campaign, Bluffton's faculty now has access to three named grants to support faculty research, and to the Schultz discovery funds to support student projects. And a new endowed faculty chair has been established through a campaign gift the Nord chair in theatre, which is held by Dr. Melissa Friesen.

Beyond annual fund and endowment support, most comprehensive campaigns feature a significant building project, and Bluffton's is no exception. In 2000, upon the completion of Centennial Hall our state-of-the art academic center that is our hub for classrooms, faculty offices and instructional technology the Board of Trustees approved a new long-range Campus Master Plan that envisioned and prioritized Bluffton's future campus development and facilities needs. 

Bluffton's next major facility: Health and Fitness Education Center

That planning work identified a new Health and Fitness Education Center as the next campus building priority and led to its inclusion as the largest component of the Extending Our Reach campaign. This morning, I am very happy to announce that because of good progress to date, we are ready to enter the final public phase of fundraising for that much-needed Health and Fitness Education Center the last step before groundbreaking and construction can occur. And along with all of you in the audience, I m both hopeful and confident that the groundbreaking can occur soon.

Before I give more details of the proposed building, I want to take us all back about 95 years, so we can view this facility in the context of Bluffton's remarkable history. This picture from Bluffton's archives shows the building that housed our first indoor gymnasium, quite appropriately nick-named the Barn because of its design. As a few in our community can still remember, the Barn was located on the floodplain just south of today's Marbeck Center. The Barn was constructed about 1916, during the middle of a difficult time of tight resources and under the shadow of a world war. Yet in true Bluffton spirit, faculty and students worked together to raise $950 in the community and built from wood a steam-heated indoor athletic structure. Bluffton's history describes as many as 1,000 spectators packed inside the building for big events.   For the next 35 years, the Barn served as Bluffton's home for athletic events and larger gatherings. But as World War II ended, Bluffton's enrollment grew and more space was needed. 

The result was Bluffton's second generation indoor athletics facility, Founders Hall, completed in 1952 and in which we are gathered this morning. For nearly 60 years, Founders has been home to basketball and volleyball games, speakers, programs, conferences, music and drama events. At one time Bluffton's student union was also located beneath the risers in which you are sitting, and chapel was held in the space where science labs are now located. Founders has seen a remarkable history of commencements and inaugurations, memorial services and celebrations. And I am confident that Founders Hall and the A.C. Burcky addition, which was built in 1971, will continue to serve Bluffton well for many more years in significant ways.

Yet the need is clear and the time has come for Bluffton to achieve its third generation indoor athletics facility.  Founders was built at a time when 250 students attended Bluffton. To be sure, its single court space then readily met the needs of the day in fact, area high schools vied for the opportunity to hold their post-season tournaments in this fine facility. But over time, equality of opportunity for women's athletics was realized at the college level, and in recent years Bluffton's residential student population has approached 1,000. Both developments have placed additional scheduling pressure on Founders. Even with the Burcky addition, Bluffton today clearly lacks the indoor court and fitness training space we need for all of our competitive and recreational athletic activities, including our very popular intramurals program. Some of you who finish up intramurals games well after midnight know that all too well! This is particularly true during the winter months. 

The same pressures are felt by our growing academic programs within the Health, Fitness and Sport Science department, which must share this same court space for necessary classroom activities.

This slide depicts the Campus Master Plan's proposed solution to these space constraints. The new Health and Fitness Education Center is to be located close to Founders/Burcky, just north of the Marbeck student center.  This location, near the center of campus, will ensure that like Founders and the Barn before it, the HFEC will continue to be a building serving the needs of ALL Bluffton students as it extends the reach of our already strong residential life program. 

While the new building currently exists only on completed design documents and construction blueprints, two steps have already been taken in order to facilitate the construction of the HFEC itself. First, in 2008, the women's softball field was relocated and significantly enhanced in space adjacent to our other outdoor athletics fields. This was a necessary step, because when the HFEC is constructed, it will occupy much of the ground on which the old softball field was located. Similarly, this past summer the existing football/baseball locker complex beneath Burcky gym was expanded and renovated. An early design proposal for the HFEC had placed the football/baseball locker facilities within the new HFEC itself, but complete renovation of the existing locker space in Burcky proved to be a better option. The final design footprint for the HFEC can now be less costly. It was also good stewardship to recycle space in an existing building.

Design features of the Health and Fitness Education Center

Here is an artist's rendering of the front-side view of the Health and Fitness Education Center. As you can see it will be a beautiful building, in keeping with Bluffton's tradition of careful attention to campus architecture and landscaping. It was designed by architects from Sasaki and Associates of Cambridge, Massachusetts, the same firm that achieved the recognized design qualities of Centennial Hall.

When constructed, this 60,000 square foot center will be the largest building on campus; Founders Hall will fit inside the new building. The Health and Fitness Education Center will feature a new competitive arena for basketball and volleyball, big enough to be configured for two full-size practice courts. The arena will be in the portion of the building that you cannot see in this picture. This view is of the front entrance to the building. The front entry steps face Klassen Court and Marbeck Center. The long row of upper floor windows stretching the full length of the building to the right will provide natural light and outdoor views from within the weights and fitness training room designed for use by all students, and for intercollegiate athletes. In the lower level below are collegiate locker and team rooms and a sports medicine center. At left on the upper level are offices for coaches and faculty in Health, Fitness and Sport Science, and on the level below that is multi-purpose classroom space and the building's entry lobby.

This illustration shows the arena with seats configured for a performance event, viewed from an open balcony that is part of the building's entry feature. Fans and spectators will enter the building on the upper level and will walk down to their seats.   At the far end of the floor you can see a small portion of the indoor walking/jogging track that circles the arena 11 laps per mile.

Here is a view of the 5,000 square foot weights and fitness center, spacious and well lit, with a full selection of equipment for recreational users and varsity athletes alike. Treadmill users will have the incentive of great views of the natural landscapes of the Little Riley Creek.

I am confident that when constructed, Bluffton's new Health and Fitness Education Center will serve our needs well for many years into the future. It will contribute much to our residential and community atmosphere, will promote lifetime health and fitness, will serve as a teaching facility, and will meet the needs of our indoor athletics programs.   Its careful planning began more than five years ago and involved faculty, staff, coaches, students, administrators and Trustee members. Appropriately for the 21st Century, the HFEC is designed to be a state-of-the-art green building.  We are committed to a LEED-certified Silver or better building that will feature a variety of energy management and water conservation strategies, recycled and green building materials, and that will serve as a model for environmental sustainability in collegiate facilities.

Fundraising goals for the HFEC

I am sure that the biggest question on your minds right now is when can I lace up my sneakers and burn some calories?  The good news is we are definitely on the home stretch prior to construction. That is why today I have been sharing these detailed plans with you. Yet we will all need to remain patient for a bit longer yet. The construction and furnishing cost of the proposed HFEC is over $18 million double the cost of Centennial Hall. Yet I think it is a very well-designed and practical building without unnecessary costly extras. The fundraising goal for the HFEC is $16 million. 

To date, I am pleased to report that through the considerable generosity of Bluffton's alumni and friends, including many faculty and staff who have made their own contributions and pledges, we are more than 75 per cent of the way toward reaching the $16 million goal. We have passed $12 million in contributions and pledges to the Health and Fitness Education Center! Less than $3.8 million remains to be raised so that we can break ground and begin construction.  Now we are extending the campaign to the widest possible circle of alumni, friends and the general public so that we can reach that goal.

This is a particularly exciting time to be at Bluffton. As I've noted this morning, we are moving forward in many ways in our program development, and now with these building plans. Yet I can t misrepresent the challenge that remains to raise the remaining $3.8 million and to undertake a project of this scale. Still, we will get there, just as Bluffton once achieved the Barn and Founders Hall during earlier eras of our history. The Extending Our Reach campaign is my highest priority. Together, we will achieve our campaign goals.

As of today, when you visit Bluffton's website, you will find a link to our campaign story on the home page. I encourage you to go there and to learn more about the campaign, the HFEC project and design plans, and the opportunities for everyone to extend your reach and help achieve the campaign goals. This is for Bluffton students today, tomorrow, and for future generations.

Thank you for your presence this morning at the President's Forum. There is a special event still to come. Lunch will not be served today in the Commons. Instead, I invite everyone who is here students, faculty, staff and guests alike to enjoy a picnic lunch at the future site of the Health and Fitness Education Center to mark and to celebrate the beginning of this final public phase of our campaign. Enjoy!