Last July I drafted this letter to you in my head. I will read it to you now.
Congratulations on your appointment to the presidency of Ithaca College. It is an honor to serve as president of this very special place. I know you will come to understand this soon, as you find your place in this new home.
One often associates the three Rs with education at all levels. You, as an educator, probably like to use the letter R to highlight anything of significance. So did I until I became a W when I married.
But today I want to talk about the three Ps--not because of my first name but because I believe they aptly describe three important elements of Ithaca College. They are: purpose; place; and people.
Institutions of higher education share a common purpose--that is, to educate those who will be tomorrow’s leaders, and to do so while enabling them to develop a love and appreciation for lifelong learning. Our role is to prepare students for what lies beyond Commencement--be it entry into professional work or advanced study in graduate school.
Though we share this common purpose, institutions choose to carry it out in different ways. The beauty of American higher education is the diversity of mission and strategy that institutions practice. The Ithaca College mission, although it has been modified over the years, has these features that endure:
>Commitment to undergraduate education with emphasis on the development of intellect, creativity and character
>Undergraduate education in a residential setting We foster an active and engaged community of students who learn and live together, with extraordinary opportunities to learn outside the classroom and to apply classroom-based learning in co-curricular venues.
>The integration of theory and practice Our founding as a music conservatory embodied this core principle and it is alive today for all students in all majors--liberal arts or professional disciplines. Taking many forms, the integration of theory and practice enriches student learning, and prepares graduates to be effective in whatever follows their Ithaca College experience.
>Service to others has long been integral to an Ithaca College education. Ultimately the purpose of learning at this level is to make a difference in the world, no matter one’s chosen path in life. This is the quid pro quo for the privilege of earning a college degree. It is our collective duty as educators to communicate this expectation to students and to provide them avenues to develop and practice this sense of responsibility.
These features of the Ithaca College mission have been constants over time, although the manner in which they have been evident has changed--and will continue to change in response to the world and its demands for future leaders, as well as in response to new developments about effective teaching and learning.
My favorite phrase from the mission statement says it all:
"The Ithaca College community thrives on the principles that knowledge is acquired through discipline, competence is established when knowledge is tempered by experience, and character is developed when competence is exercised for the benefit of others."
I hope these enduring features of an Ithaca College education will serve as your "anchor to windward," as you chart the course most appropriate for new times--responding to new challenges and opportunities.
Intrinsic to an Ithaca College education is the place in which it occurs, both a physical place and a place of ideas.
You will find the physical place--the campus, the community and the region--to be awe-inspiring, from the breath-taking panorama which unfolds from Butterfield Stadium to the deep contemplation which the chapel view impresses upon all visitors, to the early morning stillness of Cayuga Lake, to the roaring cataract of Taughannock Falls. These examples of place provide inspiration, opportunity, challenge and comfort to all members of the IC community.
Beyond the physical place, you will find an intellectual and cultural place that is deep and rich resulting from the synergy of the institutions of higher learning, the community's vibrant cultural diversity, and its intellectual and political liveliness.
This aspect of place will provide you with a different and more rewarding sense of place than the merely material.
You will see bumper stickers that proclaim "10 Square Miles Surrounded by Reality" and you will hear some refer to Ithaca as "centrally isolated." You will laugh at first and then--I am sure--quickly realize that our 10 square miles are more real and our isolation is sublime. Ours is a place as pristine as a very, very cold winter's day in Manitoba--ripe for contemplation and reflection.
When discussing "people" and Ithaca College, it is tempting to focus exclusively on students, faculty, and staff, and indeed these are the people with whom you will share the closest orbits. As you know, there are other people in other orbits who directly and indirectly affect the ethos of Ithaca College. These include members of the board of trustees, friends of Ithaca College, alumni, involved community members and the bright and influential of the world who inspire all at Ithaca College to do their best work.
At the confluence where all the people of whom I have just spoken come together, something very special happens. And Margaret Wheatley, in her book A Simpler Way describes it beautifully:
"If we look at any successful human activity, we see that what led to success was the newly discovered capacity of people. They came together and invented new ways of doing something. They explored new realms of ingenuity. They made it happen by responding in the moment and by changing as they went along. (page 74) …At the heart of every organization is a self reaching out to new possibilities." (page 56)
This will be your experience at Ithaca College.
Ultimately, this fine institution is about people pursuing an important purpose, and doing so in a very special place.
Actually, as I come to the end of this letter, I have a fourth P.
Those who know me well would be surprised were I to close without some reference to the fourth P--play. May you find opportunities for play. May you seize them and may you enjoy them. And so, Tom, I enclose some things for you to find, to seize and to enjoy.
All the best to you as you begin this wonderful journey. Please call on me if I can assist you in any way.
Peggy R. Williams