Dr. Stein’s First Address to the MBU Community as President-Elect

Jeffrey Stein
President-elect, Mary Baldwin University

April 14, 2023

Thank you, Gabby, for that generous introduction. Good afternoon, Mary
Baldwin, community! I am honored and humbled to be here.

I offer my gratitude to Board Chair Gabby McCree, to trustees Helen Forster &
Harvey Westbrook co-chairs of the Search Committee, to the full Board, as well
as to the faculty and staff on the search committee – all who made it clear to
Chrissy and me that MBU is the place for us.

I want to thank President Fox, for her visionary leadership and her tireless work
on behalf of this university. Dr. Fox, my thanks to you & Dan for all that you have
given this community and your gracious welcome to Chrissy and me.

I also offer my appreciation to the students who I met during my campus
interview and who generously shared their stories:

● Lakeje Bekuretsion
● Gerardo Escalera Cardoso
● Jonathan Delgado
● Hayley Gummer
● Asia Patterson
● Tralani Simpson
● Keith Taylor

While Chrissy’s family and my family could not be here today, neither of us
would be here without their love and support. Depending on which of our five
sisters are in charge of technology back in Colorado today, I want to
acknowledge the Steins and Watsons on the live feed. If my phone rings in the
next few minutes, it’s just one of those sisters providing constructive criticism
on my remarks.

And, of course, I’d like to thank my wife and partner, Chrissy, who has her own
distinguished career as a faculty member and is a fierce advocate for
students, and who always makes me better.

As a slightly nerdy Jewish kid growing up in Denver, I spent a lot of time in two
places: On the basketball court imagining my career as a professional
basketball player, or in the library where everything was possible.

The first time I visited Grafton Library, I was taken by the image of the torch in
the stained-glass window overlooking Staunton.

I was reminded of the story by the mystical scholar Isaac Luria. At the
beginning of our world, divine light was stored in sacred clay vessels. At some
point, those vessels ruptured, scattering light and the shards from the vessels
throughout the world.

While interpretations differ, I have always preferred the reading that those
shards entered into each of us, that we embody those shards imbued with
celestial light. And it is our job – throughout our lives – to repair the world by
reconnecting those shards—through kindness, acts of social justice – and
bringing light back together in the world.

This story is a way of understanding our purpose — how each of us contributes
to repairing this world — literally, bringing together the broken shards of the
vessels and their divine light, as well as understanding the importance of
providing grace — understanding how the fractured and divine co-exist in
each of us. Inherent in this notion is the idea that the differences that make us
unique are enhanced when we come together, that our community is stronger
and brighter because of our differences.

I’m drawn to Mary Baldwin because this institution has always been – as
Mabel Leftwich Pelletier of the Class of 1903 wrote – a “luminous torch” –
carried by students and alumni and starting with namesake Mary Julia
Baldwin, an orphan who attended this institution upon its opening in 1842 and
returned to lead the institution a dozen years later despite the war raging at the doorstep.

Mary Baldwin has always been a beacon of light on the hill, always rising,
always improving lives, showing courage to endeavor for what is right and
equitable, to raise people up, to educate, to fight for women, to fight for the
underrepresented, and providing access to education that transforms lives.

Education has been that same lantern of opportunity for my family. In the first
half of the 20th century, my grandparents slipped out of Europe, one side of the
family escaping the Russian pogroms, the other fleeing the Holocaust, in the
hope that their future children, my parents, would not only survive but would
enjoy the freedoms of education and democracy. In just two generations, my
family went from refugees to first-generation college students to this incredible

My own family’s history, fuels my commitment to:

  1. Higher education as our most powerful launch pad, transforming the
    trajectories of entire generations of families
  2. And to broad access to education afforded to all.

Each of us has been touched by this flame of education and opportunity,
which is more important than ever in this country. In this way, we each serve
as the torch bearers, protecting Mary Baldwin’s flame and working to ensure
MBU is always rising.

My work for the past 21 years . . . in and out of the classroom has readied me
for this moment. Today, I am inspired to join Mary Baldwin, on its own trajectory
of success, a community that for 181 years has made brave and bold decisions
to bring light – the fastest moving force in the universe – that empowers the
broadest array of students to build lives of meaning and purpose in
communities around the globe.

New college and university presidents are often asked: “What are you going to
do first?”, “What are you going to change?” My answer is that I will begin by
listening and learning from you. I understand that is both a bold and optimistic
statement because as I speak every college & university in the country is experiencing disruption and change.

But I have spent my adult life studying literature, creative writing, and higher
education, investing time & energy in building liberal arts communities &
institutions. At the heart of that work are people and their stories. My own study
of writing & literature has been driven by a desire to propel students . . . and
those on the borders, to develop voice, and to write themselves into existence.

Already, I have been deeply impressed by the students, faculty, staff, alumni,
local community leaders, and Trustees who I’ve met—and deeply inspired by
their passion, creativity, expertise, and dedication to making the best learning
community for students.

Your stories and aspirations are the reason I am here today. And this is the
commitment I make, no matter the changes ahead:

● To listen to and learn from you, to hear your thoughts and stories about
what you love about MBU, and where you see opportunities for growth
● To strive to engage the entire MBU community in developing our
strategic initiatives moving forward.
● To always put students first.
● To keep Mary Baldwin deeply connected to Staunton and Virginia.
● To honor the legacy of MBU
● AND to ensure that students and families looking for a better future can
always turn to Mary Baldwin.

We have no choice but to continue to evolve and grow as we prepare
students for a world we cannot yet imagine, as concerns grow about
outcomes and rising costs, as demands increase for a diverse, resilient, and
agile workforce, and as institutions across the country face existential threats.

How we do that work will be important. Like you, I am eager to more deeply
understand the complexities of this moment at Mary Baldwin and the
competitive landscape we face; and I will do my best to take your thoughts
and ideas into account moving forward.

In the years ahead we will work to:

● Increase retention and graduation rates
● Deepen engaged learning, intercultural competence, internships, and
essential skills,
● Enhance pipelines and partnerships BOTH at MBU, as well as externally to
spur internships and jobs, and
● Further support student, faculty, and staff well-being.

Along the way, we will need to:

● Modernize, balance budgets, fuel innovation,
● And further increase friend-raising and fundraising . . .

But we already have robust assets at our hands:

● Talented and dedicated staff, faculty, and alumni who mentor MBU
students every day
● A deep focus on students, student learning, and leadership
● Strong curriculum and expertise in a broad array of fields
● and across undergraduate, graduate, and adult and online programs
● Connections and partnerships across the region and industries
● Gold College, Palmer College, Murphy Deming College
● And so much more.

I started my comments thanking students who participated in my interviews.
Lakeje, Gerardo, Jonathan, Hayley, Asia, Tralani, and Keith, would you please
stand and remain standing? If there was ever a question about the purpose,
importance, or power of higher education – these students are the answer.

I believe Mary Baldwin’s brightest days are ahead, and that together, we will
ensure the torch of knowledge and opportunity will continue to guide us into
this new chapter. I’m here because I am awed by Mary Baldwin’s unflagging
commitment to social mobility and determination to empower students to
create lives of purpose and professional success in our changing world.

No matter the challenges ahead, I believe in these students, and I believe in
this community, this torch, and its ability to build the future. This is the power
and light of higher education and the legacy of Mary Baldwin that I hope to continue.

Thank you, students, for being here today! And thank you to all who are here
and online, for your commitment to Mary Baldwin!

I look forward to our work together, I offer good wishes for the end of the
semester, and Chrissy and I are eager to meet each of you in the moments
and months ahead!

Thank you!