Inauguration Address

Rev. Mark L. Poorman, C.S.C., was inaugurated at the University of Portland's 20th president on September 26, 2014. The following is his inaugural address.

I am so grateful for your presence here, your support for the University, your personal kindnesses to me, and for all the ways that these days of celebration show the depths and the treasures of the UP community. What a gift we’ve been given, and what a deep privilege and a high calling to be the stewards of this blessed University.

One evening a few weeks ago, shortly after school started, I walked across the campus from my office in Waldschmidt to my home. It was a warm evening and people were everywhere, sitting together on the benches under the Bell Tower and in front of the Clark Library, gathering near Buckley Center Auditorium for a lecture, moving to and from the Bauccio Commons, headed off to evening classes in Shiley and Franz Halls. The lights were ablaze in Swindells, where faculty were no doubt checking on labors of love in the labs. There were Ultimate Frisbee players on the practice pitch and a constant stream of runners keeping our UP 24-hour-a-day vigil of jogging along Willamette Boulevard. The heavy machinery was silent where the Beauchamp Center is now rising out of the ground, but an older couple from the neighborhood was peering through the construction fence to take its measure. A crowd of students had gathered around the volleyball court in front of Fields and Schoenfeldt Halls.

Everywhere I walked, the campus was alive and was harboring and nurturing and animating people. I felt a tremendous sense of sacred time and place, and I couldn’t help but think to myself: This is what we are all about, now and in the future – an intentional gathering of talent and potential and excitement and hope and community -- a City on a hill, if you will -- all in the name of a mission that lifts up education as intensely personal, unabashedly holistic, proudly rigorous, charged with faith, and committed to service.

There is something that happens when people are joined and shaped by a shared purpose. Our ideals are only abstractions until we come together, until we accomplish things with one another, until we can be and become what is beyond our reach when we are alone. And here at the University of Portland we believe that when we are together the Spirit is with us, right here, in this very moment, informing our engagements and interactions and inquiries, breathing life into our mission.

And that is why we come together today: To celebrate the great lyrical passage through time of this Spirit-filled place of learning that is now given to our hands and our care. Today is another milestone on that passage, a brief pause that gives us reason to celebrate the endurance and transcendence of this institution devoted to learning and formation.

I am humbled and honored that the Board of Regents has called me to leadership here. Humility must always be the greater portion of anyone who is asked to care for and lead an institution that has been put in place by the sacrifices of so many others. And so it is with me. I am grateful for the trust that you have in me, by your belief that I can contribute something to the work that has been done here for more than a century.

Each of us here surely must feel humbled when we think of our own contributions among those of our colleagues. It is that deep understanding of our own place in the world that allows us to embrace humility as a real virtue and to fully share in the joy of a communal achievement. And yet, that humility must not prevent us from seeing the ways in which our individual gifts work in concert with one another to meet remarkable goals.

As I consider the treasured people of this University, I’m inspired by their personal virtues and their stunning collective achievements. I am grateful for our students – men and women of intelligence, honor, hard work, humor and faith –and who remain ever humble despite amazing personal distinction. They are living witnesses to the transformative power of a Holy Cross education. Recall with me a recent graduate, Massis Isikbay. Massis was valedictorian of the Class of 2012, a young man who worked on his family’s sheep farm before he came to UP, deepened his love of the natural world throughout his undergraduate career in Tara McGinnis’ “Crab Lab,” caught fire intellectually, did several post-graduate stints as research assistant at OHSU and then University of Chicago, published impressive articles about biochemistry which I can only hope to understand one day, and a month ago began studies at Harvard Medical School. Like most people of true accomplishment and character, Massis doesn’t think the path of his life is that notable. Instead, he likes to talk about the people who have sacrificed for him and influenced him along the way. Massis is not an anomaly. We have hundreds of students like him who come here every year in search of their own personal excellence. And we should be forever proud of them and the part we have played -- and are playing -- in the formation of their lives, their professional ambitions, and their characters.

Likewise, I am inspired by the steadfast commitment of our faculty. It is on their considerable talent, which they generously share with our community, that our reputation is built and our students depend. We can all be proud of faculty members like chemistry professor Sr. Angela Hoffman – Benedictine sister, internationally recognized researcher of the cancer fighting substance taxol, holder of six patents, author of a host of journal articles, beloved teacher and mentor to our students. And Angela is not a solitary intellectual beacon on the Bluff. She is just one example of the excellence of our professoriate. We have scores of faculty like her. They have a wide variety of personal and professional interests, but they all share a passion for the development of young men and women as distinguished ethical leaders in business, engineering, education, health care, and the arts and sciences. Through their research, teaching, and advising, the faculty provide our students with a superb education, they model responsible stewardship of the University’s resources, and they provide exemplary service to the people beyond our campus borders. They give us reason to be proud every day.

So, too, I am ever thankful for the boundless generosity and dedication of our staff. In countless ways, these individuals sustain our quality of life here with great humility and without thought of garnering praise. Every day, men and women of administrative talent, skilled labor, and dedicated service make it all come together on The Bluff. We can all be proud of staff members like Dave Doe, the brilliant, accomplished master carpenter whose magnificent creations have exalted every corner of our campus, including this podium from which I speak. But Dave is not the lone artisan among our staff. We have hundreds of people like him who give tangible meaning to excellence in their work every day. And we will be forever proud of them and the gifts they bring to our life as a community.

And alumni. So much these days asks us in higher education to size up what exactly we are providing to our students – to assess, to count, to supply quantitative outcomes, to back up everything we do with the numbers. Frankly, we do quite well on those scores. But our deepest measure of educational success and faithfulness to our mission is the quality of the lives and the livelihoods of our alumni – so well represented at our celebration today. These are alumni like Fedele Bauccio of the distinguished Class of ‘64, founder of one of the most successful food services in the world, a respected and articulate spokesperson for sustainability, a celebrated leader of profound creativity and entrepreneurship, a philanthropist who steps away from the limelight; and a man who got his start right here at UP as dishwasher, cook, shift manager, and student manager. The rest, as they say, is history: Food service in 500 cafes in 32 states -- 210 colleges and universities, including his beloved UP, Google, Disney, The Art Institute of Chicago, San Francisco’s AT&T Park, to mention a few. Fedele is only one of our 34,000 alumni – 34,000 individual measures of the soaring success of our educational mission.

And as I begin the joy-filled task of leading this remarkable community, I am sustained by the prayers and fellowship of my brothers in Holy Cross. It is their inspiration and strength that planted this University; it is their love and devotion and steadfast pursuit of excellence on the faculty, among the staff, in administration, on the Board of Regents, that have helped bring it to this day, and their companionship and community that surround all of us and lift us up even now. We can all be proud of Holy Cross’s unbroken line of service and care and leadership of the University of Portland.

For more than 100 years, people like this – students, faculty, staff, alumni, Regents, Holy Cross -- have, with profound humility, dedicated the greater part of their lives and their ambitions to this University. The people devoted to UP have always been our greatest asset. And so today – at this new beginning -- we celebrate with enormous collective pride what together they have accomplished, and we renew our devotion to their legacy.

For 113 years, people like all of you with tenacious grit carried the University through any number of challenges to remarkable heights. The founders faced intimidating odds to establish a Catholic university in a region that was just emerging from the wilderness. But, with the support of a dozen benefactors and the commitment of 52 young students they planted our roots deeply. Through two world wars and a half dozen other conflicts, through a devastating Depression and, more recently, a crippling recession, people joined in common cause and they leaned in hard against history. When a university can say “Since 1901,” you can trust that it is a resilient community that inspires devotion among its members. And today, we take their cause in trust and we lean in with them.

Like this great city whose name we share, like our state and our region, we are vital, vibrant, and we continue to gain traction in the imagination of people everywhere. Every year for the past dozen, the number of students who have applied to attend here has grown; last year alone more than 11,000 high school students applied for the seats in this year’s freshman class. Every year the size of our student body has increased, and the talents and skills of our students have grown apace. Every year, our faculty has brought greater honor and greater recognition to UP in the ranks of higher education. Every year, our staff has worked to support our students and faculty in their pursuit of academic excellence and personal growth. And every year, our alumni and friends have generously provided us with greater resources for our work, including our recently completed RISE fundraising campaign that secured $182 million so that we might continue to enhance the quality of the educational experience we provide.

Our growth has not been without its complications or needs. Over the last century, we have become an increasingly complex organization that on its surface might hardly be recognizable to our founders, Archbishop Alexander Christie and Holy Cross Father John Zahm. But they would recognize the essence with which they imbued it: A warm, supportive community where people care for one another, give strength when it is needed, inspire, encourage, and challenge one another to ever greater faithfulness, greater excellence.

We have always believed in our students – they are why we are here today -- and that belief is joined with the hope that they will grow in their own faith and self-knowledge here and go on to lead lives of purpose and fulfillment. There has always been a relentless effort to support their desires to receive an education and make a contribution to the Church and the world. There was a time, for example, in the days when a part of this campus was a farm -- long before ‘farm to fork’ became a rallying cry -- when students would milk cows on the farm under the watchful eye of Br. Wilfred as a way to pay their tuition. More than a half-century ago, another generation of students helped Brother Godfrey dig the basement of our engineering building as a way to support their education. Alums from the 50’s and 60’s tell stories of having been given “a break” by administrators through loans and deferred payments and discounts, even as the institution itself was experiencing lean and tough times. And more recently Isaac Achuil, one of the 26,000 “lost boys of the Sudan,” received the assistance he needed to build a whole new life here and graduated in 2011, thanks to the support of many of you, our modern-day benefactors. Our long-standing tradition has been to seek out and support the most worthy students, with the firm hope that their love for the place will remain forever in their hearts. And indeed, our acts of faith have been consistently met with loyalty, love, and a powerful culture of “paying it forward.”

Today our financial aid program is far more complex and costly than it was when we had a farm and a few cows up here on The Bluff. The number of students has increased and the cost of an education has grown, but we have adapted because our belief in our students has never wavered. We have always had faith in them. And we have always had a profound appreciation for the sacrifices that families make to send their children here, so scholarships have always been – and will continue to be – our number one fund-raising priority.

Like financial aid, educational methods and tools have become more complex and sophisticated. One hundred thirteen years ago, the most advanced technology that the University used to impart knowledge and wisdom was probably the pencil. Today our students use electron microscopes in our labs, they use Bloomberg terminals to track real-time market data, they train to be nurses in clinical simulation labs with computer-controlled mannequins, they use rapid prototyping with a state-of-the art 3D printer in Shiley, they rely course management programs to share work with their professors. Throughout our history as a University, every development in teaching has been viewed as an opportunity to provide ever more targeted and nimble expression of subject matter, as well as a source of potential cost savings. But with every advance, we have taken time to educate ourselves to determine how best we can deliver it, and to think strategically about how we might use technology to enhance and not diminish the sacred relationship between teacher and student. That is what makes a Holy Cross education so transformative – excellent, adaptive, personal and faith-filled. So it always was and so it always will be.

These changes that we experience constantly call us to respond in a manner that will honor our commitments to develop character and cultivate community. The University of Portland was founded at the end of the Gilded Age, a period of hyper-individualism in America. Yet we had then, and we continued to have throughout our history, a powerful emphasis on the role of a community in the formation of young men and women of character. The vocabulary of virtues and character has always been a part of our daily conversations with thousands of students, and that personal formation of our students informs everything we do here.

To form young women and men in that way requires that a community be organized and structured in a certain way. Here at our University, that means building an academic and residential environment in which those virtues can be modeled and taught and practiced every day. When we were founded in 1901, it was possible to do that in one building. After all, there were only 52 students. As the student body grew over the years, and as the community became more complex, new facilities were added. Today that one-building university has given way to this beautiful campus of 32 buildings, where 4,000 students cultivate not only the intellectual life, but also habits that nurture the virtues that our community values and our faith informs.

As we grow, the structural needs of the University are also growing. Like every generation before us, we face the need for additional academic and residential space worthy of the importance we place on the pursuits of our students. And so we will build new spaces to meet those needs. We’ll invest additional resources in the best technology so we can meet our strategic goal of being a premier place for teaching, research and service. We will continue to prepare our students for personal and professional life in a global context. And of course we will engage the challenge of fulfilling the promise of our River Campus, a space that has fired the imaginations of everyone here on campus and thousands of others.

The particular challenges that lie ahead for us reflect some of the broader challenges of higher education in the 21st century, and the list is long: the affordability of higher education; the evolving demographics of college-bound adults; the digital futures of teaching, learning and research; the ongoing challenge of outcome-based education; the scrutiny of the value of the humanities and the core curriculum; the increasing emphasis on facilities, amenities and comprehensive student services. All these challenges will require our best energies and our constant efforts.

While so much about higher education has become complicated, challenging and vexing -- and indeed, our own University has had its share of flux and change through the years -- one thing that has remained steadfast from our founding and that will continue in our future is our full embrace of Catholicism. From its beginning, this University community has proudly lived a faith that is true to the heart of Jesus Christ – a love of God that honors the dignity of all people, that practices solidarity with the poor and the most vulnerable, that cares for creation, that provides a voice for those who have none, that is inclusive and open, that welcomes those from other faith traditions and engages those with no faith traditions, and that finds its best and most complete expression in collaboration and community. Ours is a long and deep religious tradition that is built of intellectual curiosity; of moral development and engaging common life; of wise mentoring; of a lively, creative relationship between faith and reason; and of the rich heritage of the Church’s social teachings. Our Catholic faith here is not simply a heritage or a relic from a bygone era. It’s a vital influence that shapes our relationships with each other, and it’s a genuine foundation for the education we offer.

And so here we are today, gathered once again in shared purpose, called upon to renew our vows to this place, to reassert our commitment to those ideals and virtues and aspirations that have been this community’s lifeblood since its beginning…gathered once again to cherish what we have done, honor what we are doing, and together move purposefully and eagerly into our future.

There is so much that awaits us. There are timeless things to learn, deep mysteries of humanity that must be explored, exciting new opportunities and challenges to be engaged. The question so often asked of the University of Portland over the years is the question today being asked of scores of colleges and universities – and the question that we must ask ourselves once again: Can a university like ours continue to rise to its many challenges?

For generations, devoted men and women on The Bluff have asked themselves that question and have answered with a clear, resounding “Yes!” Those stalwarts did not act simply for their moment in time; they acted for students they would never see or know. And so shall we.

My pledge to you today is that I will tirelessly devote myself to our common mission. I will work hard every day. I will listen intently. And I will be ever aware of the treasured work each of you is doing to advance the University and how well we are doing it together.

Today it is for us to celebrate our achievements, to dedicate ourselves to our unfinished labors, and to declare once more that we will continue to privilege the very things that have brought us to this moment in our history.

Tomorrow, we will again answer the call from God, from our communities, from our students. As we begin our passage, let’s dream big and let’s proceed with the hope and confidence that come to those who trust in God’s faithfulness and providence.

Again, I am profoundly grateful that all of you are here to celebrate this wonderful day in the life of the University of Portland. May God make us instruments of peace and co-creators of divine love as we embark on what will surely be a blessed and inspired journey. Thank you so much, God bless all of you, and Go Pilots!

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