Lehigh should strive “to educate students for lives of creative leadership,” Gregory Farrington, Lehigh president, told faculty and staff in his State of the University speech at Zoellner Arts Center’s Baker Hall Tuesday.
Farrington shared a candid assessment of Lehigh’s current successes and challenges, and offered his vision for how the university can continue to improve and build upon its reputation for academic excellence.
“I believe that Lehigh occupies a truly distinctive niche in higher education – and has the potential to be even more intellectually powerful than it already is,” Farrington said.
In a move designed to help the university meet its goals, Farrington announced that the major responsibilities of the Office of the Provost are being separated. Ron Yoshida, the current provost, will assume the new position of senior vice president for external relations and campus life. Yoshida will have responsibility for student life, including the ongoing Greek life initiative; admissions and financial aid; and institutional research. In addition, he will work closely with Lehigh’s advancement staff, serving as a major external spokesman as the upcoming capital campaign progresses.
“Ron is a natural with students and alumni – and obviously he has a broad understanding of Lehigh’s academic and campus life,” Farrington said. “The success Ron enjoyed as provost, leading the implementation of the 2020 initiative, restoring our finances, hiring dozens of outstanding faculty, and in countless interactions with students and alumni make him ideal for his new portfolio and I am very pleased that he will be leading it.”
The need for continued leadership in academic affairs and the upcoming capital campaign makes an extended national search for a new provost “not practicable,” Farrington said. So over the next two weeks, Farrington will accept letters and e-mail messages from faculty and staff members regarding their suggestions and thoughts about choosing a new provost from within Lehigh.
After meeting with the Faculty Personnel Committee, Yoshida, the Council of Deans, and members of the Board of Trustees, Farrington said he will make the final selection of a candidate for provost and recommend that person to the Board of Trustees for appointment.
Competing for the best students and faculty
The administrative change is just part of the vision Farrington outlined to “redouble our commitment to be the best.”
The Class of 2008, which arrived on campus last month, is the most competitive in the school’s history, and reflects Lehigh’s commitment in recent years to compete for the very best students. The average SAT score for incoming students is over 1300, and in some of the more competitive programs, it tops 1400. In addition, nearly two-thirds of this fall’s entering class graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school class.
Lehigh is not only competing for the best students, it is also competing for the best faculty. “In the past six years, over one-third of our faculty members are new,” Farrington said. “Only the best of the best have been invited to become part of the Lehigh family.”
Farrington said the 2020 initiative launched four years ago “has truly been transformational.” The $75 million “academic venture capital” program provides start-up money for innovative ideas.
Thanks to prudent investment strategies and growing income in areas such as graduate tuition and indirect cost recovery, Lehigh remains on firm financial footing, Farrington told the university community.
Farrington also cited recent improvements to facilities including renovations of Coppee Hall, Coxe Hall, and Wilbur Powerhouse, as evidence that Lehigh is on the right course.
Vision for the future
And looking to the future, Farrington outlined six areas that he identified as crucial to the university’s success. They are:
• Working to make Lehigh a place that is “strongly supportive of successful careers” and committed to achieving greater diversity.
• Charting a distinctive path for liberal arts at Lehigh. “We should integrate even more effectively liberal arts education into all professional undergraduate majors,” Farrington said. “Similarly, our liberal arts programs should take advantage of the strength of technology and business on this campus.” Farrington added that an increased emphasis on liberal arts in no way diminishes “the long and distinguished history of engineering, science and business at Lehigh. They should always be among Lehigh’s special strengths. But the reality is that Lehigh will be far stronger, far livelier academically, and far more competitive as an institution if we deliberately and aggressively develop our programs in the liberal arts, creative arts, and education.”
• Strengthening campus life. Farrington proposed undertaking “a comprehensive competitive analysis of all of student life – to learn what we do well and what others do better.” Implementing proposals contained in the Greek Life Task Force plan will help create a strong and healthy Greek community, but a majority of students aren’t part of the Greek system. So Farrington called on the university to look at the broader issues of student life.
• Getting out the word about Lehigh. Farrington said a project is in the works to further increase the university’s visibility. “I believe that we’re a lot more creative, intellectually engaging and dedicated to superb education than people know,” he said. “Well, take the bushel off the light!”
• Investing in the campus. From the planned renovations of Linderman Library and Lamberton Hall, to the construction of the Financial Services Laboratory in the Rauch Business Center, Lehigh will continue to improve its facilities.
• Launching the $500 million, Shine Forever - The Campaign for Lehigh. The campaign’s primary goal is to increase the endowment for faculty chairs and undergraduate scholarships.
“My vision is for Lehigh to be synonymous with distinctive, creative, innovative, and bold,” Farrington said. “The only thing good enough for Lehigh is the best.”