We all have a few treasured days in our lives that we remember forever. Today will be one of those days for me—the day I formally, and with great joy, become an official member of the Illinois College community as IC’s 14th President. I want to acknowledge and welcome not only all the trustees, delegates, students, faculty, staff, civic leaders, alumni, and other special guests, but also many of my dearest friends and beloved family who have traveled long distances to join us today. I am grateful that my parents, Allan and Beverley Edwards, my brother, Mark, my sister, Diana Rouse, her husband, Jeff, and their oldest daughter Ainsley Kathryn are in the audience, for my family has always been an essential pillar in my life.
I believe the act of inspiring achievement in others, our theme for this inauguration, requires searching reflection from each of us about what has inspired our own accomplishments. Certainly my experiences since 1985 as a professor and academic dean have shaped who I am and influence how I will think about my work as a college president. But on the matter of inspiration, and the source of my courage to stand here today, I want to acknowledge someone who is with us only in spirit—my late husband Jack Farley. Any description of his loving encouragement and support for my career is so inadequate; he was a kind and gentle powerhouse, a force for always moving forward—always. My heart is full knowing what this day would have meant to him. I am delighted that his granddaughter, Sarah Carey, and her family have come to Jacksonville to be with us today.
I came as an applicant to this presidency without any previous connection to Illinois College, but convinced of the remarkable value of small, independent colleges like IC—convinced by my own experience of teaching and leadership at five of them, most recently under President Paul Pribbenow at Augsburg College. Thank you Paul, for your generous introduction today, for all you taught me
during our years of working together at Augsburg, and for your confidence and guidance as I began the path that led me to Illinois College.
In preparing for my interview with the IC search committee, I wrote out interview notes that began with the sentence… the world needs colleges like Illinois College now more than ever. Above anything else in my interview, I wanted to convey my belief in the special, critical role of institutions like Illinois College in developing in students the qualities of mind and character needed in the 21st Century. An article by Dr. Richard Ekman, just published, was in my briefcase on the flight to Springfield. His essay, a response to the concept of “disruptive innovation” in higher education, was being circulated widely among college leaders for whom it had struck a particular chord. Dr. Ekman’s words were a persuasive reminder of how colleges like IC are simply, remarkably effective for student learning. It is an incredible honor to have you here today, Rich. Thank you for your extraordinary service to higher education.
The search committee’s decision came on a cold Minnesota morning in mid-November, and it seemed like only a few thrilling moments later, on the final Friday morning of May, that I pointed my car south and followed the Mississippi river valley from Minneapolis, along the dramatic bluffs of southern Minnesota and Wisconsin, and across the lovely, rolling prairie of Illinois. It was the beginning of an invigorating and fulfilling summer, spent getting to know the depth of this place through stories told by so many ambassadors of Illinois College—Jacksonville leaders, IC faculty, staff, students and Trustees from across the country—and from my own first-hand experiences in settling in to campus and the IC organization. I want to thank each and every one of you who reached out to welcome me this summer.
Those of you who have followed my new Facebook page, and I hope all of you will, have seen in pictures and posts the amazing summer I had. I wanted to get to know as much of IC as possible. By the time students arrived in August, I had held over 300 meetings, met with 29 members of the Board of Trustees, visited 11 cities, greeted over 450 incoming students and their families at summer orientation, and met hundreds of alumni. As IC’s semester began, I helped at Move-In Day for first-year students, witnessed the volleyball team’s first victory of the season as their honorary coach, inducted the new officers of Student Forum, hosted my first student event at Barnes House, and was part of the Class of 2017’s all-class photo. One student who is following me on Facebook stopped me at Common Grounds to suggest launching a Where’s-Waldo-like page. Where’s President Farley? I wondered myself sometimes!
And here’s what I have learned: Illinois College is strikingly cohesive in its dedication to mission, giving our students the best possible opportunities to develop their minds, enrich their spirits, and nurture their unique gifts and talents. Alumni describe exactly the kind of transformative experiences that I know can only happen at places like Illinois College. We are preparing young people for productive, satisfying, and meaningful lives in our global society. Over many years, you have made Illinois College the phenomenal place it is. Your love for IC has inspired me.
Today I pledge to join you as faithful stewards of Illinois College’s shining legacy of leadership and service that dates to our founding in 1829. We will need each other, and every good idea, as we address the reality of higher education’s current complexities—increasing college costs, mounting student debt, increasing expectations of accountability, and rising competition from for-profit and other not-for-profit institutions.
In my first three months, I have found both the Trustees and the senior leadership team to be wide awake to these challenges, and to the need for new levels of effectiveness. We’ll build on initiatives you have undertaken, such as the Yates Fellowship Program, assisting first-generation students in their transition to college, and we’ll explore ways to expand student achievement, such as investment in faculty-student research projects that prepare students for graduate school.
When I’m asked, as are so many college presidents, how we will radically re-make this college for the coming era, it’s never by a trustee or alum, and it’s never by someone who knows much about Illinois College. From outstanding faculty and staff, to our state-of-the-art science building and athletics center, to our new curriculum fostering 21st Century skills, to the faith in our future so evident in our new Alumni House…we have what it takes to thrive in this competitive market. We need to embrace our strengths and move forward boldly.
In service to the promise of inspiring achievement, my leadership of Illinois College will be built on the theme of quality at the core of everything we do —in academic programs, in service to Jacksonville, in athletics and other co-curricular experiences, and in our international partnerships. This means an education that is excellent, recognized and affordable—one that changes lives by teaching essential skills in writing, critical thinking, speaking, problem-solving, and working with teams of diverse people.
I will put achievement first—achievement of our students, faculty, staff, administration, and alumni—and I will tell your story, to remind us what an exceptional place IC is, and to inspire others to join us in our commitment to students. Illinois College graduates are going places and doing impressive work in the world. I am meeting people every day whose lives were changed by IC. We can’t hope for more.
Now that we’re official, I want to begin my most important work as President, here and now—the work of invitation. Because just as the world needs Illinois College now more than ever, Illinois College needs you.
To the faculty: You are the heart of the institution—the stewards of this vibrant learning community—and your dedication to innovative teaching, distinguished scholarship, and exemplary service will drive everything else that happens here. IC needs you to inspire the achievement of our students.
To the staff: You know better than anyone the rapid pace of change in our field—new technology, changing economics and market pressures, new regulations and accountabilities. IC needs your creativity and collaboration to embrace these challenges while keeping quality at the core of everything we do.
To the trustees: Your distinguished lives of leadership have brought you to the highest role of service to Illinois College. IC needs your wisdom, your eye on the road ahead, and your gifts, as we open doors for our students and graduates.
To our neighbors, and civic, education, and business leaders in Jacksonville: Illinois College is enriched by this community. IC needs your pride of place as we welcome students, scholars and visitors from the region and around the world to Jacksonville. We are partners in a shared future where education, business, and the arts will thrive.
To the delegates and my colleagues in higher education: Your presence here today symbolizes the rich academic tradition of fellowship among colleges and universities. IC needs your expertise and determination—your research, your best practices and your advocacy—to navigate the complex landscape ahead for higher education.
To the Alumni of Illinois College: Alumni, your alma mater needs you, and I hope you’ll accept my invitation to give back—your wisdom, your presence, your work, your gifts. Future generations of IC students are relying on you to step up for them, to make IC a place that can inspire achievement for years and years to come. You are seated throughout this auditorium—as faculty, staff, trustees, delegates, and neighbors.
And to IC Students: Our mission lives in you, in your achievement, and in the inspiring lives you will lead as graduates. IC needs you to engage fully in your education, to work hard, to open yourselves to new experiences, and to be ambassadors for Illinois College wherever you go.
You are the case we are making to the world. Make it with passion and pride, and make it undeniable. I’m counting on you.