Inaugural Address

Following is the transcript of President Richard R. Rush's Inaugural Address, April 19, 2002.

Thank you, Chancellor Reed. Thank you, members of the Board of Trustees. I am honored and privileged to accept this responsibility. I do so with the acknowledgement that we are heirs to a rich history in this place with a special character. It is the homeland of the Chumash people, extending back, possibly, 15,000 years. It remains sacred to them to this day. It is also a place steeped in Portuguese, Spanish, and Mexican influence, beginning in 1542 when the explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo sailed into Point Mugu lagoon. It is a place settled by Californios with ranchos that established the significance of cattle and agriculture to this region. It is, in particular, for us, our campus, formerly a State Hospital that offered care and treatment for so many who were unable to provide for themselves, and now, a pristine setting with exquisite, mission-style architecture, the home of California State University Channel Islands, surrounded by natural beauty. As Pablo Neruda wrote, "I have seen from my window / the fiesta of sunset in the distant mountain tops." It is, in sum, a place of meaning and importance to many people.

With that in mind:

  • I accept this responsibility in the name of the people of Ventura County, those who, for over 30 years, sought a four-year, public university to serve this area.
  • I accept this responsibility in the name of those in this community who continue to support us in an unparalleled way in order to expand higher education access throughout this entire region.
  • I accept this responsibility acknowledging those who prepared the way for this opening. California State University Northridge opened its programs in Ventura County and Joyce Kennedy contributed years of service in developing a tradition of access through the Cal State Northridge off-campus center. My predecessor, Handel Evans, brought Cal State Channel Islands into being, providing the leadership and ingenuity which translated the region's dream into substance and established the foundation of California State University Channel Islands.
  • I accept this responsibility in the name of my outstanding faculty colleagues — pioneers who have come from different parts of the country and the world to create the intellectual vitality and quality which will characterize this University.
  • I accept this responsibility in the name of an excellent administration and staff who take pride in facilitating the academic enterprise and in developing services to support students, the reason why we will exist.
  • Finally, I accept this responsibility, especially, in the name of generations of students who will benefit from the creation of this University.

Honorable Trustees, Chancellor Reed, Esteemed Platform Guests, my Respected Faculty Colleagues, Honored Presidents of our sister institutions from the California State University and representatives from campuses from throughout the country, Dear Friends who have traveled great distances to be here today, Most Welcome Guests. Today is not the celebration of a President. Today marks the beginning of the celebration of a dream come true. Though this ceremony inaugurates a President, it is, truly, the celebration of this community's vision and commitment. This is a day when we acknowledge the achievements of those who have persisted for decades in seeking a four-year public university. This is their day, as the crescendo builds toward August 16 when the University formally opens its doors to students. The focus today should be on this community, on their accomplishments, on their continuing, unqualified support for this University. Those of us who are honored to hold it in trust for them say: "Thank you for your foresight and efforts on behalf of legions of students and the aspirations of generations." There is a saying that "[we should not] be afraid of the space between…dreams and reality. If you can dream it, you can make it so." Today, through this ritual, we recognize, formally, dreams achieved.

As I pulled together my thoughts for today's Inauguration, I was reminded of the caution of my Irish forbears about occasions such as this. "Think of yourself as the dearly departed at an Irish wake. They need you in order to have the event, but nobody expects you to say very much!" With that in mind, I will offer just a few reflections for your consideration.

A University is a symbol of hope. The establishment of a new University is a clear commitment to the future, a belief that the future can be better than the present, through education. The creation of this University testifies to the affirmation of the people of this region that education provides the means for a better quality of life, a fuller understanding of self - or, to take liberties with Socrates, a reflected life worth living--and that the creation and free exchange of ideas will benefit the region and the State enormously in cultural and economic development. Today, as we witness force of arms proffered as the solution to profound differences, when we observe in many parts of the world simplistic explanations advanced as explications for complexity, the need for education has never been higher. As Bartlett Giamnati said, when still President of Yale: "As I think back and look forward, I see how nothing is unambiguous, nothing is without risk. Salvation does not come through simplicities." The establishment of this University affirms the community's commitment to the values of personal and social growth and sophistication; of understanding the world in which we live; and of the economic vitality provided by a university such as ours.

In a simpler time, perhaps, the poet John Masefield characterized a university in a way that is particularly poignant for the times in which we live:

There are few earthly things more beautiful
Than a University.
It is a place where those who hate ignorance may strive
To know, where those who perceive truth may
Strive to make others see; where seekers and learners
Alike, banded together in the search for knowledge,
Will honor thought in all its finer ways,
Will welcome thinkers in distress or in exile,
Will uphold ever the dignity of thought and learning and
Will exact standards in these things.

There are few earthly things more splendid
Than a University.
In these days of broken frontiers and collapsing values, When the dams are down and the floods are making
Misery, when every future looks somewhat grim
And every ancient foothold
Has become something of a quagmire,
Wherever a University stands, it stands and shines;
Wherever it exists,
The free minds of men,
Urged on to full and fair inquiry
May still bring wisdom into human affairs.

Universities are paradoxes. Poised in the present, at once respecting and preserving the past while leading the way to the future, they are our society's special treasures, the matrix in which ideas may be freely expressed while being subjected to the most critical analysis. Universities embody promise, for they offer access to the future through the medium of the present.

The specific character of higher education at a particular point in time is a perennial issue of debate. From the explorations of the Greeks, from Plato and the words of Socrates, to Aristotle, through the peripatetic Peter Abelard in Medieval times, through Cardinal Newman's explication of the Idea of a University, down to contemporary commentators on the university's nature, such as Arthur Levine, President of Teachers College at Columbia, who challenges us to reflect constantly upon our core identity, higher education's context and relevance continue to remain a contemporary debate, thus emphasizing its perennial vitality in society.

To translate this discussion to our particular circumstance, I want to state most clearly that this University will focus on students and their success. We will engage students' minds and foster their aspirations. We will prepare graduates with dimensions who can compete with anyone in the workforce through their exposure to innovative, relevant programs and challenging faculty mentors. We will expose them to the arts, and to science, and to the disciplines which will enable them to think critically and creatively, and to different ways of learning and seeing.

Graduates of Cal State Channel Islands will possess skills in technology which enable them to communicate effectively in a 21st Century world. They will have learned that a democratic society demands educated leaders — a clear obligation of a public university — and they will be prepared to take on their responsibilities in the common weal. They will also have a sense of commitment to something larger than self and know how to participate in communities.

CSUCI will also be integral to the economic development of this region. Beyond the significant contribution of workforce development, CSUCI will offer as a resource the applied research of our outstanding faculty and the mentoring which they will provide to students. We will engage fully in the marketplace of ideas and applications.

At this time and in this place I can say of us who have come here at this community's invitation that we have not traversed from other places to aspire to mediocrity. We have come to create an excellent, future-oriented University for the 21st Century characterized by those intellectual and human qualities, those economic and cultural achievements, which give value to your dreams and substance to our risk, for in beginning a university there is, indeed, implicit risk in charting a course and navigating uncertain waters. Yet, "a ship in port is safe, but that is not what ships are for." Our promise to this community, then, is that we will create programs for the 21st Century and risk a definition of the future which will be pertinent to life as it will be lived, yet imbued with fundamental, enduring values which give it meaning.

We promise, likewise, to extend the hand of partnership and to seek actively opportunities for working together with business, industry and the community at large. As we are already working closely with school districts to develop outstanding teacher preparation programs and with community colleges to facilitate program partnerships and transfer opportunities for students, so, we will also forge relationships with the numerous and dynamic biotech and high tech industries which surround us to create reciprocal advantages for us all. And, moreover, we will address actively the vexing issues which confront this region and participate with you in seeking resolutions. Together, we will create the future, not merely inherit it.

Finally, I take the liberty of speaking for all of my colleagues here when I make a singular commitment to this community which has embraced us and to the Board of Trustees and the Chancellor who have entrusted us with the realization of the region's dreams. In the days of the Athenian democracy, each new citizen - at that time defined as a young man - was required to pronounce an oath upon reaching age 17. I have always found it to be a persuasive statement of values for an institution. By changing only the word "city" to "University," I offer it as our commitment to you.

We will never bring disgrace to this our [University]
By any act of dishonesty or cowardice
Nor ever desert our suffering comrades in the ranks;
We will fight for the ideals and the sacred things of the [University]
Both alone and with many;
We will revere and obey the [University's] laws and
Do our best to incite to a like respect and reverence
Those who are prone to annul or set them at naught;
We will strive unceasingly to quicken
The public sense of public duty;
That thus, in all these ways, we will transmit this [University]
Not only not less, but greater, better and more beautiful
Than it was transmitted to us.

So, let us look forward to August 16 and progress toward the opening of the doors of this University — and the minds of the future.

Thank you.