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Michael Benson Investiture Ceremony

Michael Benson Investiture Ceremony

Snow College
7 November 2002
115 Years of Excellence: Continuing the Tradition

Today is about Snow College - it is a celebration of its remarkable past, together with an exploration of its future and the possibilities that lie ahead. Snow College is what it is today because of its people. That is why I requested that both the faculty and staff sit together at today's proceedings. Presidents come and president go but these are the individuals who will help ensure Snow's academic and financial success in the years to come. I also recognize the only reason any of us are here this afternoon - our students. I'm delighted to see so many with us and salute them as the primary purpose for why Snow College was founded in 1888. Please join me in acknowledging our outstanding student body.

And lastly, a sincere thanks to all who have helped put this event together, in particular Marci Larsen and her band of very capable student assistants, and Jay Lott and his crew who never cease to amaze me with what they can do to make this space as presentable as they do. Thanks to Bob Oliver and the entire physical plant staff who have scrubbed, swept, mowed, and cleaned campus in anticipation of today's events.

In the few minutes I have this afternoon, I would like to explore a bit of Snow's past, while focusing the bulk of our time on what I see as the future of this institution - and along the way I will make what I hope will be some fairly exciting announcements. During a recent visit to the campus of Columbia University in New York City, I read these words etched in marble above the Main Library in the heart of campus. Founded in the 18th century by British loyalists, Columbia was "maintained and cherished from generation to generation for the advancement of the public good and the glory of Almighty God." These same words could be chiseled above the entrance to the Noyes Building here at Snow. They say much about our purpose as an institution, while paying tribute to those intrepid Mormon pioneers who - upon coming to this valley in the 1850s - first built the magnificent Manti Temple, and then, just a short while later in 1888, founded an institution of higher education, the Sanpete Stake Academy that later became Snow College in 1923.

My academic training is in the field of history. I love history - not only because, as Winston Churchill once said, history is nothing more than the biographies of great men and women - but because of what we can take from the past and how these lessons can better equip us to tackle the challenges of the present. If the words on the facade of the National Archives in Washington, D.C., are to be believed - the past is indeed prologue. But prologue to what? In the case of Snow College, a reflection of this institution's past suggests a truly bright and magnificent future. Please allow me two historical examples that will help form the framework for my remarks today.

The first has to do with the kind and quality of people who have established and nurtured Snow College. Newton Noyes is one of those individuals, having served as principal of the Sanpete Academy for 29 years. During the early years of the academy, Principal Noyes recruited a young graduate student by the name of William Barton in 1898. Barton agreed to teach for one or two years but, having committed to the future of the Academy, stayed for 36 years. Here Professor Barton is pictured in what I believe to be the very first lab at the College. During his tenure, he completed his master's degree at Columbia in 1918 and taught English, education, chemistry, history, political science, mathematics, and physics, in addition to other subjects. An active member of the community, he resided in Ephraim until his death in 1966, shortly after his 90th birthday.

It is the uncommon commitment of common people like William Barton from whom we can learn and come to appreciate the special feeling that permeates Snow College and this community. Professor Barton's service to Snow, however, is not unique. I could give countless examples of that continued commitment today because I have witnessed it on a daily basis. This commitment is evidenced by the actions of many: it is our athletic director, Bob Trythall, helping Jay Lott and others put down chalk on the football field the day before a home game. It is Katie Jean Larsen and Sue Dalley, working literally night and day to ensure our recent accreditation visit came off smoothly. It is Dennis Patterson and his grounds crew, working with very little resources to make this campus as attractive and beautiful as it is. It is Diane Martin, working through the illness and death of a loved one with dogged determination to represent her staff colleagues and their interests. It is Jamie Wheelwright who, during our recent budget shortfalls and salary reductions, volunteered more of her paycheck to help with our mandated cut. It is the following faculty members with their years of service: Ralph Brenchley, 35 years; Bart Nelson, 37 years; Dan Witt, 39 years; and, Jani Anderson, 24 years. These are just a sampling of the dedicated personnel at Snow that make this institution so unique and I would invite all faculty and staff to stand and be recognized.

The second historical example I wish to use has to do with the indomitable spirit of adventure embodied by a man whose exploits took place nearly a century ago. The BBC recently commissioned a nationwide poll asking the British population to name the 100 greatest Britons of all time. The top ten are currently being voted upon in terms of final rankings, but include names you will all recognize: Oliver Cromwell, William Shakespeare, Lord Nelson, Sir Issac Newton, Elizabeth the 1st, and Winston Churchill. Just missing the top 10, however, at number 11 on the list is Sir Ernest Shackelton - the explorer who attempted to make the first crossing of the Antarctic continent - from sea to sea. This adventure entailed traversing 2000 miles over a blizzard-swept terrain of ice and snow into a region previously unchartered and about which very little was known. Shackelton named his ship the Endurance - appropriately designated after his family's motto - "Fortitudine vincimus" - by endurance we conquer. Shortly after the Endurance was crushed and sunk in the pack ice of the Weddell Sea, Shackelton and his band of 27 men set off in 3 small cutters.

After landing on Elephant Island and establishing a base camp from which the rest of the party would eventually be rescued, Shackelton and five companions then set off on a harrowing journey of 800 miles across the polar water of the South Scotia Sea in an open boat. Here is a photo of that 23-foot boat. Arriving on the southern most shore of South Georgia Island, Shackelton and two colleagues - Thomas Crean and Frank Worsley - then crossed the previously unexplored island interior on foot to the island's whaling station, a journey they completed in 36 hours straight. Amazingly, as Shackelton had promised, not one of his party perished during the entire ordeal. On August 30, 1916, Sir Ernest himself landed on Elephant Island to rescue his men, over two years after the Endurance had departed London down the River Thames. As he wrote to his wife: "Not a life lost and we have been through hell." Six years later, Shackelton launched another expedition to Antarctica, but suffered a heart attack as his boat landed on South Georgia. According to his wishes, he was buried in the cemetery at the whaling station.

But allow me to back up for just a moment in recounting the story of the Endurance. Shortly after their ship was crushed by shifting ice, Shackelton and his intrepid party set off on foot, pulling 3 boats across the rugged terrain hoping to somehow reach water in between the floes and glaciers where the cutters could be utilized. The night before they embarked on this backbreaking endeavor, Shackelton gave the express order that each man was to limit himself to two pounds of personal effects. Anything more would be considered excess and must be discarded in order to survive. The following scene is from the movie, Shackelton, starring Kenneth Branagh. As was his practice, Sir Ernest quotes his favorite poet, Robert Browning, in an attempt to inspire his men. (2nd disc: 25:40 to 27:02)

"For sudden, the worst turns the best to the brave. . ."

Now I don't want to appear overly dramatic or maudlin. I realize my primary responsibility is NOT to keep all of you alive in Sanpete County, although our winters in Ephraim may seem to rival those of Antarctica. I have, however, been charged with the future of this college. So what then can we learn and apply from the amazing life and adventures of Ernest Shackelton? Just as it was for Sir Ernest, the future and its possibilities represent both enormous challenges but also tremendous opportunity. Some maintain that higher education in Utah faces a severe crisis in terms of shrinking resources, reduced budgets, and increasing enrollments. I would remind all of you that the Chinese word for crisis is made up of two characters: one for danger, the other for opportunity. While Shackelton faced the great unknown of Antarctica with fortitude, vision, and sheer determination, we too stand at a crossroads as Snow College charts the path toward its future.

Many questions loom: Where does Snow fit within the entire system of Higher Education in Utah? What do demographic trends within the State portend for our enrollment and growth? What do we do best and how can we do better? Can Snow pursue dual missions of becoming the best transfer institution in the United States while developing opportunities for four-year programs?

These - and many other questions - have recently been raised and must be answered in the months ahead.

May I suggest we follow the example set by Shackelton in this regard? Just as he broke the journey toward survival for his men into five-mile segments - "Robertson Island! Five Miles a Day!" - Snow College must tackle larger global questions by focusing on five local ones. A few weeks ago at Utah State University, President Kermit Hall gave a wonderful State of the Campus address, during which he spelled out 10 goals for USU. Given that Snow is a two-year institution, I thought it appropriate to keep my list to half that amount. Please allow me to outline areas of primary concern while making some accompanying announcements relative to each category. These five areas can be summarized into this acronym - FFPASS. For football enthusiasts, let's refer to them as "Forward Pass": Faculty, Facilities, Programs, Athletics, and Student Success.

First, Faculty

As I have said many times, I believe in the axiom that a college is only as good as its faculty and ours is getting better and better. Every single one of our 78 full-time faculty has at least a master's degree with almost 1/3 holding doctorates. They are committed to excellence in teaching and to ensuring each student's success. Getting in front of a class of college students, trying to make a connection and, in turn, make a difference - day in and day out - is a truly laudable profession. To teach is to change lives and that is the core of education.

There is a particular group of faculty who have endured much over the past 5 or 6 decades on our campus. Their facilities have been substandard - the building in which they are currently housed has been condemned - and they have accomplished a great amount with very little resources. Directly across the street to the north is the fruition of many years of hard work and planning and commitment on the part of scores of people. And when the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts comes on line next August, we will finally have a facility to match our faculty and students. I wish to thank the Regents for their support of this project, Joe Jenkins and DFCM for their assistance, Senator Leonard Blackham and his legislative colleagues for their advocacy, and GouldEvans and Layton Construction and their respective teams for their on-going efforts with this facility.

Today, I am happy to announce that through the generous support of the Seth and Maurine Horne family, an initial gift of $250,000 has been received by the College to endow in perpetuity the Horne School of Music. This corpus will be augmented through a unitrust currently paying the College nearly $50,000 each year for the next 15 years. This gift signifies the Hornes' commitment to the financial future of the School of Music. Over this period, through interest earnings, we anticipate the endowment will be completely funded with nearly $1 million. And when fully funded, this money will provide an additional $50,000 per year - forever - to the School of Music to be spent on faculty development, student scholarships, and for instrument procurement.

Additionally, I am very pleased to announce that we are ½ way to our $500,000 commitment to purchase all Steinway pianos for our Eccles Center when it opens next year. The most beautiful performing arts in all of central Utah will now be fully equipped with the finest pianos in the world: Steinway. Those faculty members with teaching studios will now have a Steinway piano for student instruction.

With regard to the faculty, I would like to recognize Rick White and his 16 years of service as the Chief Academic Officer on this campus. Rick did a tremendous amount during that time in helping push forward the academic focus of Snow College. He has accepted the challenge of leading our campus in Richfield as the Executive Vice President and I thank him for his willingness to take on this new responsibility. Rick's replacement as the Vice President for Academic Affairs, I believe, will be the most important hire I will make during my tenure at Snow. We hope to have the best-qualified individual on board as soon as possible.

Second, Facilities

The College's first priority in terms of buildings is a new classroom and laboratory building for our Science and Social Science Faculty. While Snow finds itself toward the end of the State-ranked list for this project, I am hopeful that we can continue to raise private money to improve our overall standing.

As the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts nears completion next summer, five buildings will be razed on campus so that the Operation and Maintenance funds can be transferred to our new facility. The average age of these razed buildings is 60 years. Several faculty will, of necessity, be displaced next summer as these buildings come down and we are currently in discussions as to how and when exactly these moves will be made. This is why our number one priority is a classroom and lab building. Our second priority is a new library and I am currently in the process of developing both a fund-raising campaign and a comprehensive program for a new facility. As Snow College is first and foremost an academic institution, we are in need of a new library facility that coincides with this focus. Just as James Canfield, Columbia University's Librarian, stated in 1910: "The library is the very heart of university life. It is simply and always the scholar's laboratory. No matter what his work may be, the scholar turns to the library daily and hourly for counsel, assistance, inspiration, and newness of life."

The building in which we currently sit will celebrate its 25th anniversary next year. It is in dire need of improvements, expansion, and renovations. I have proposed to our student body officers that a $15 per semester student fee be implemented to fund these improvements to the Activity Center. These monies will help construct new classrooms, a new fitness center, a dance and aerobics studio, while allowing us to make much-needed improvements to the shower and locker areas, the gymnasium, and the Life Times Sports Area. I commend our student body officers for the thorough way in which they are taking this proposed fee increase to our student body for their consideration. Pending approval by our students, this proposed fee will then be considered by our Trustees and then the Regents. We hope to begin the renovations next Spring.

And finally, many of you know of the challenges we have faced in meeting the demands for higher education offerings at our branch campus in Richfield. While we have made significant progress in the past few months - thanks to the active roles played by Commissioner Foxley and UCAT President Greg Fitch and others - we still have much work to do in Sevier County. One of Snow College's commitments to the citizens of Central Utah has to do with a $2.5 million Community Impact Board Revenue Bond to help with the construction of the Multi-Events Center in Richfield. This commitment represents a significant financial obligation for our campus, but also underscores our desire to expand higher education opportunities to the citizens of the central region. I am delighted to announce a gift of $1.25 million from Mr. James Sorenson of Salt Lake City toward this project. This pledge, payable over the next five quarters, will enable Snow to pay down ½ of its obligation on this bond by the end of next year. We are extremely grateful to Mr. Sorenson for his commitment to this project and to Snow College.

Third, Programs

I'm very sorry my dear friend, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, was unable to be here today because of an unavoidable conflict that came up yesterday. He has been a wonderful support to me and has made 5 trips to Utah since February, lecturing on campus twice and assisting the College in other areas. Shmuley once reminded me that if I somehow succeeded in my efforts to convert him to my Mormon faith, he would be out of job as a rabbi, which would seriously jeopardize his ability to support a family of 7 children. I immediately stopped trying. This did not, however, curb my respect for or interest in the Jewish people, their history, culture, and beliefs.

I would like to acknowledge the presence of Jim Courter, former congressman from New Jersey and CEO and Vice Chair of the Board of IDT Corporation in Newark, New Jersey. Jim is joined by Mr. Ed Miller, senior vice president for business development for IDT. These two gentlemen - together with Rabbi Boteach and IDT Chairman Howard Jonas - have been most supportive of our desires to establish something wholly unique here at Snow College and I would ask them to stand and be recognized.

IDT's support of a Jewish Studies Program at Snow, the first of its kind in Utah, has been substantial and I thank them for their commitment to the College. I anticipate their donation to be our "lead gift" and we intend to grow the endowment in order to expand the program over time. The endowment earnings will enable us to hire one full-time faculty who will be a member of our history department and will assist with general education history course offerings. He or she will also instruct specialized courses in Jewish history and culture - including the History of the Holocaust and the Emergence of the State of Israel, Middle Eastern politics, and Biblical Hebrew. Given the post 9/11 world in which we all live, I have witnessed a enormous surge in interest on the part of many students with regard to the Middle East, its history, and the impact of that region on the entire globe. I see this as a tremendously unique opportunity to expand the perspectives of our students. We also intend to offer conferences, exhibitions, and lectures which will highlight this program and attract state and national attention.

In that regard, I am pleased to announce that Snow College is in the final stages of arranging the first lecture to be given under the auspices of this new program next fall semester. Elie Wiesel, the Andrew Mellon Professor of Humanities at Boston University, and I are meeting in New York in two weeks to finalize a public lecture in our new concert hall within the Eccles Center. To my knowledge, Professor Wiesel's visit to Ephraim would represent the first time ever a Nobel Laureate has spoken in Sanpete County and promises to be a most memorable event for the entire community. Professor Wiesel has led a truly remarkable life: At age 15, he was taken with his family to Auschwitz where his mother, father, and younger sister were murdered by the Nazis. His life, his writings, and his work have had a profound impact on millions. Professor Wiesel received the Congressional Medal of Freedom in 1985 from President Ronald Reagan and the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1986. Again, our thanks to IDT for their support of this program and for the opportunities it will provide our students and community.

Fourth, Athletics

I am a firm believer in our student-athletes being students first and athletes second. In what may very well be a first on this campus, I am happy to report that the top two students in my American Government class are both football players: Nate Miekle and Christian Francom. I commend our coaches and administrators for their emphasis on excellence - both in the classroom and on the field of competition - and pledge to do all I can to raise additional resources in order for our student-athletes to be more successful.

Additional announcements concerning athletics will be forthcoming, but I will say that the focus of my administration will be on improving our facilities, raising additional scholarship money, and continuing to recruit outstanding young men and women of character and ability.

Athletics at Snow College not only represent a significant opportunity for our student-athletes to receive a first-rate education, but also present a chance to expand our cultural, racial, religious, and ethnic diversity as an institution. I see expanded opportunities for students to associate with diverse counterparts as essential to a well-rounded and complete educational experience. And I restate my unequivocal support of all of our athletic teams and vow to do all I can to assist in making our sports programs better.

And finally, Student Success

This last category underpins everything we do at Snow College: we are in the business of helping students succeed - to succeed academically, professionally, personally, emotionally, physically, and intellectually.

In order to realize this somewhat broad and fairly ambitious goal, I would like to focus on two areas directly linked to student success: first, student scholarships; and second, ease of transfer by means of dual admission agreements with four-year institutions in the State.

First, scholarships. As all campuses have had to endure recent budget cuts, I will not dwell on how these reductions have seriously impacted Snow College. I will say, however, that our scholarship budget was cut dramatically and this money MUST be replaced. In that regard, I am happy to announce two commitments earmarked specifically for student scholarships totaling $100,000 over the next four years. The first is from a donor who wishes to remain anonymous, but stipulated that $15,000 per year be given to those students who otherwise would not have the good fortune to pursue an education. This benefactor recognizes the absolute life-transforming opportunities that education offers and is committed to expanding these chances for more students.

The second commitment is from Zions Bank for $10,000 a year and I would like to thank the Bank's President, Scott Anderson, in particular, for his support of our students.

These gifts represent just the start of what I foresee as a major scholarship campaign for the College. While I've discussed some bricks and mortar initiatives this afternoon, new facilities amount to little without capable, energetic, and ambitious students to utilize them and qualified faculty to teach them. We will and we must do more to raise additional scholarship dollars. (Inside pamphlet shot) As you exit the AC today, I would encourage each of you to take a small pamphlet that highlights just a sampling of Snow graduates who have benefitted from their time on our campus. More scholarships translate into increased opportunities for young people much like the ones described in this publication.

With regard to ease of transfer, I am very pleased to announce that this afternoon, Snow College reached agreements on dual admission/intent to transfer policies with Utah State University and Southern Utah University. Thanks to my colleagues, Kermit Hall and Steve Bennion, for their assistance in allowing us to codify these agreements. These arrangements will smooth the way for our transfer students and strengthen the already close ties we have with these universities. Students who chose this option will benefit from increased communication and early contact with the universities, so that the transition from Snow to either institution is seamless. We certainly hope similar agreements can be reached with the University of Utah and Weber State University and I pledge to work toward this goal.

Finally, just as the theme for today's events states, next year Snow College will observe yet another significant milestone. 115 years of excellence is a long-time for a small college in rural Utah to thrive and to grow and to impact the lives of thousands of students, faculty, and staff, as well as the larger Ephraim community. To celebrate this landmark achievement, Dr. Darol Rasmussen, a graduate of the class of 1941, has generously donated $150,000 to renovate the Bell Tower and surrounding area into a gathering spot for campus, complete with a re-designed brick base and adjoining amphitheater. I envision this expanded plaza to represent the new heart of campus - directly outside our student union and library and immediately adjacent to the new Center for the Performing Arts and our humanities building. Next May, we intend to begin a new campus tradition of all faculty and students passing under the tower on their way to Commencement exercises. We are deeply grateful to Dr. Rasmussen, who - along with his late wife, Thora - donated the funds to build the original centennial bell tower 15 years ago.

To conclude, please allow me to return to the example of Sir Ernest Shackelton. While lecturing in Germany shortly after his failed attempt to reach the South Pole in 1909 - he was a mere 97 miles from his goal - Shackelton responded to a critic who accused him of accomplishing nothing - of only failing. Shackelton replied: "Sir, you are correct - we did fail to reach the pole. I chose life over death for my men and for myself. Others have followed in our footsteps and if they should fail, then I will try again, because I believe it is in our nature to explore - to reach into the unknown. The only true failure would be not to explore at all."

And so it is for Snow College on November 7, 2002. Failure for this institution would be NOT to expand our reach, NOT to extend our vision, and NOT to expect more from our students and from ourselves. I invite all who care deeply about this college to join me as we step out into the great unknown called the future with the assurance that, yes, temporary setbacks may occur, but successes will undoubtedly be realized. I hope the areas of focus discussed today will put us squarely on the path toward greater success. Thank you for the trust you have placed in me to lead in this undertaking, and thank you very much for your consideration this afternoon.