Commencement Wrap

President Pelton answers questions about the graduating class of 2002, his plans for the next school year and his vision of Willamette University.

Q1: What are your top accomplishments at Willamette this 2001-02 school year?
Progress was made on implementing the five goals of the Long Range Plan which ask us to: strengthen academic excellence; improve student life; promote diversity; enhance technology integration; and increase visibility. We enrolled an outstanding freshmen class with the highest academic profile in the history of the University. We completed the Facilities Master Plan which suggests a facilities planning framework for the next 10 to 15 years, including the replacement or renovation of aging facilities and infrastructure, parking, housing and academic needs. We completed construction of the Montag Center in September and expanded the writing center. Willamette hired Dr. Tori Haring-Smith to head the College of Liberal Arts. The University made progress in its desire to increase our partnerships with the Salem Community We will raise close to $15 million this year, which is a record. Last year we raised $13.5 million, the most that we ever raised in a campaign year. We recently invested $1.7 million in technology infrastructure upgrades and hardware replacements. We received a $2 million gift as part of a two-to-one match that will allow us to put an additional $6 million in technology during the life of the campaign.

Q2: What are your top goals for the University for 2002-03?
Continue to attract the very best students to Willamette. Continue with our strategic objectives. Hire a new dean for the Atkinson Graduate School of Management and continue to partner with the Salem community.

Q3 & 4: Where do you see Willamette in five years?
In 2007, Willamette University will be a small private university of national distinction. We will be a place of intellectual vibrancy and academic innovation. Student life will be a meaningful and life changing learning experience. Our campus community will reflect the world and be richer for the diversity it engenders. Our technology innovation and leadership will be recognized, applauded and mimicked. A central theme that will distinguish Willamette will be the institution's commitment to service through the academic and co-curricular program in the College of Liberal Arts and the professional schools.

Q5: How would you describe this graduating class of 2002? How is it similar or different from past classes?

I don't believe there are any dramatic differences to report. This year, about 17 percent are people of color, which is about normal for Willamette compared to a low of 12 percent in 1999. The number of women graduates, about 57 percent, is similar to past years. The number of CLA graduates who came to us from Oregon high schools increased from 42 to 45 percent. The preferred majors show some shifts-there's an increase in chemistry, rhetoric, psychology and political science, and fewer graduates in biology and economics.

Q6: What advice would you give to this year's graduating class?
I would remind them that they are not at the end of their intellectual journey, but rather at its beginning. I would advise to never lose hope. Hope is the bright light that permits us to see that which we believe. I would ask these graduates to be open to the powerful lessons of human history and to use those lessons to become enlightened managers trained to shape and give order to human experience, teachers ready and equipped to educate our nation's youth and legal minds prepared to carry out those wise restraints that make us a free and just society. I would advise these young people to find meaningful work and to find meaning in their commitment to others.

Q7: Describe the challenges that graduates will encounter outside the Willamette bubble. How are they similar or different from those faced by past classes?
The word "bubble" doesn't really fit the Willamette student experience. Our students come to us with impressive track records in community service and continue giving large amounts of time and energy to area organizations throughout their years at the University. Our undergraduates alone contribute between 15,000 and 20,000 volunteer hours per year. All graduates face very individual challenges once they leave our campus. And those challenges are relative. What we hope is true for all graduates throughout the decades is that they leave Willamette prepared to thrive in a world that is never static.

Q8: Not since the Vietnam War and Civil Rights Movement has a graduating class been tested so much. The 2001-02 class has experienced a recession, an emerging multi-cultural society confirmed by Census results and a world changed by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. How did they respond?
Students are young, strong and resilient. With today's technology, they deal hourly with information that comes to them with blinding speed from around the globe. They sift through it, digest it and decide what they want to take on and what they choose to leave for others. I think that capacity is a healthy response. I don't believe today's recession and acts of terrorism are their greatest tests. Questions relating to moral leadership, ethics, and compassion for vulnerable populations are the long-term issues that will fully challenge these young people. I'm confident they are up to the task.

Q9: What kind of community involvement has Willamette participated in during the past school year?
Let's start with the proposed downtown hotel and convention center. If this important project comes to pass, Willamette will be a significant partner just as we have been a significant supporter. Willamette will bring a steady stream of special lecturers, guests, and visiting professors, as well as a wide variety of academic conferences to the center.

Willamette sponsors significant cultural events that are open to Salem citizens. Recent shared experiences include Danny Glover and the Fisk Jubilee Singers, Amy Tan, the Dance Theatre of Harlem, Wynton Marsalis, the Hallie Ford Art Museum and Willamette Academy, a new community outreach program that will partner with the Salem-Keizer school district and other community organizations.

At least once a year, more than two-thirds of all Willamette undergraduates choose to do some significant form of uncompensated, purely voluntary, and often quite demanding public service work in Salem, Keizer, and other local communities. A large number of our professional school students at the Atkinson Graduate School of Management and College of Law do at least as much. The Law School operates the innovative Center for Dispute Resolution, which is at the forefront of research and writing on conflict theory and problem solving. The Center works with the Oregon Department of Justice, the Marion County Family Court, local school districts and other agencies. Their work has impacted both local and national law.

The Atkinson Graduate School of Management facilitates the PaCE program where first-year students form enterprises with a community partner who is the recipient of the profits and volunteer labor of the students as they learn how to produce both financial and social capital. This year's partners, the YMCA, Habitat for Humanity, Salem Outreach Shelter and MedASSIST, will realize thousands of dollars and over a thousand hours of student projects.

More than 100 Willamette University Masters in Teaching (MAT) graduates are currently placed as teachers in the Salem-Keizer School District; and there are currently 84 MAT students student teaching at 14 elementary schools, four middle schools and five high schools in the Salem-Keizer School District.

The University is in the top ten of the area's largest private employers. We have about 570 permanent employees, about 80% of whom live in Salem or surrounding communities. These are talented people who contribute in many ways to the life of our community. Many spend their earnings and pay their taxes right here in Salem. Willamette's annual budget of nearly $40 million in salaries and compensation provides a substantial boost to the local economy.

The University receives about $35 million annually in tuition to fund its operations, 60 percent of which comes from households outside of the State of Oregon. In other words, we import significant capital in the form of tuition, grants, annual gifts, and student fees, among other things. And that money is spent here in Salem.

Q10& 11: Tuition is going up next fall at Willamette. Why is this necessary and why this amount of a rate hike?
Willamette University increased tuition for students in the College of Liberal Arts by 3.9 percent or $900 effective fall 2002. For those who are familiar with rates at comparable schools across the nation, the increase is considered modest.

For the last four budget cycles, Willamette has held tuition increases under 4 percent-well below many of our competitors. At the same time, the University has offered generous discounts on tuition. The discount for last fall's entering freshmen averaged $13,050 or 54 percent. Willamette is more economically diverse than most of its regional competitors. Less than 10 percent of students at this University pay full tuition. Like most colleges and universities across the country, Willamette faced a diminished yield in its endowment while experiencing increases in energy costs and faculty compensation.

Q12: How is Willamette doing with its fundraising efforts?

This year's goal was $14 million and we have exceeded that amount. During the last 18 months, Willamette received five gifts of $2 million or more. This is unprecedented. We are now in the planning stages of an ambitious $125 million comprehensive campaign with a primary focus on growing the endowment for the University. Willamette is blessed with alumni and friends who are eager to support the institution and who understand the role philanthropy plays in the mission and future of the University.

Q13: What were the big surprises, both good and bad, in the past year?
September 11th. Our campus community, our nation, and our world continue to struggle to understand the terrible attacks of September 11. In the days following the attacks, I said that while these events may have changed us, the days ahead would define us as a nation and as individuals. We responded to this New World of fear and apprehension by reaffirming our role as a community of teaching and of learning. I am proud of the fundamental context of those responses.

Q14 & 15: Tell us about your efforts in recruiting minority staff and students here? How successful have that work been?
Because reporting ethnicity on application forms is voluntary, firm numbers on staff ethnicity is always difficult to capture. But for those individuals who did share that information with us, we know that in 1998 people of color represented 6.8 percent of the campus workforce and in 2000-01 that number was 9.5 percent. Numbers for 2001-02 are not yet available. The proportion of students of color in the College of Liberal Arts has grown from 11.5 percent in 1998 to 16.5 percent for this year. The Atkinson Graduate School of Management is the most diverse program at the University with international students representing 32 percent of the student body. Historically, minority student enrollment at the College of Law has always hovered between 10 and 12 percent, which is in line with Oregon's population of people of color.

Q16: What is the makeup of this graduating class and how does that differ from past classes?
(See question 5)

Q17: What are you doing to increase the profile and visibility of the University?
Last fall we hired a public relations director and already we have seen this appointment bear fruit in terms of media coverage, both locally and regionally. This person is also responsible for developing and combining public relations and marketing efforts that will assist us with student recruitment and fund raising. Having one person on board who helps us coordinate these efforts is very advantageous.

Q18: How has Willamette improved or changed under your leadership?
I'll leave this question for the students, faculty and staff and the citizens of Salem to answer once I have moved on.