Just four months after he was introduced as Mary Baldwin University’s 10th president, Dr. Jeff Stein returned to James D. Francis Auditorium on Aug. 22 to address faculty and staff and officially open the university’s 182nd year.
Stein’s Opening of the School address kicked off a daylong slate of programming designed to inform, engage, develop, inspire, and reunite colleagues.
“Today is a beginning: A celebration of a new year for me, a new year for each of us individually and collectively, and a new year for Mary Baldwin,” Stein told the crowd. “No matter the reason, we are all focused on this moment and this year — a year that will bring challenges as well as opportunities to build and celebrate our campus community and faculty-staff community, and a year that will impact us institutionally, professionally, and personally. Because this time, this work, our careers, our work with students is personal. We are in the business of human transformation. We — each of us — comprise a community of nearly 450 educators, who shape a powerful learning community and launchpad for students.”
Stein recapped some of the challenges facing higher education today, including the impending enrollment cliff, campus and program closures, political rhetoric, shrinking budgets, and shifting public views about higher education.
We must be clear on our purpose, Stein urged.
“It’s not that students and families simply want a business transaction. It’s not that they want only a rubber stamp pathway to a high-paying job. It’s not either/or. Instead, it’s both/and. Students and families want it all,” he said. “They want a high-powered, experiential, transformative education that helps students be their best selves and to get a great job. More than ever, they are conscious of the cost of higher education, student loan debt, and tangible outcomes related to jobs, salaries, student loan alumni networks, lifelong career support, and even quality of life on campus. They want their time and their money to matter.”
The university will approach the work ahead from four starting points: well-being and development, operations, connections and partnerships, and community. Within these areas, Stein highlighted that the path forward requires:
- A laser focus on students and student learning
- Closing and reconceptualizing some academic programs
- Modernizing many aspects of the campus to meet current student demand
- Investing in areas that can produce greater revenue to build resources for future development
- Making strategic choices to be distinctive, partner with external organizations, and better support students’ career and graduate school goals, and
- Further developing internal and external connections and partnerships.
“Each of these efforts will be grounded in our most important work: student success, increasing student engagement, student retention, student graduation rates, and student outcomes after graduation,” Stein said.
The new president announced several initiatives related to this work, including the launch of a 24/7 resource that gives all students access to therapy in addition to our existing counseling services, and the formation of two committees that will build trust and morale — one focused on the employee experience and another that will build on the work of the Racial and Social Justice Coalition.
Stein spoke about the development of institutional priorities, his plans to launch a strategic planning process this spring, and a desire to bring the MBU community together, beginning with a gathering of faculty and staff for a meal each month in the dining hall.
“In the years ahead, we will get organized. We will engage in multiple Herculean tasks,” Stein said. “At the same time: We will engage in downsizing and modernizing our general studies and curriculum. We will endeavor to increase student success, retention, completion, and job and graduate school attainment. At the same time we will work to build relationships and community across campus. And also start up exciting engaged learning programs.”
Christopher “Kit” Schultz, a Class of 2021 alumnus and MBU admissions counselor, will soon join his colleagues in recruiting students for next fall. He said Stein’s address was “hopeful, informative, and efficient.”
“It is clear that Dr. Stein understands the importance of cultivating relationships and fostering a campus culture that embraces all students,” said Stephanie Hutchinson, director of the university’s academic resource center and accessibility services.
Political Science Professor Laura van Assendelft said she is excited about MBU’s future under Stein’s leadership, and is “definitely looking forward to stopping him on the sidewalk for conversation as he has invited us to do.”.
Following the address, faculty and staff enjoyed a reception on Page Terrace, then a review of student engagement survey results, led by Professor of Economics Amy Diduch. Dining hall staff prepared a lunch for all faculty, staff, and students (including a birthday cake for President Stein), and then faculty gathered once more for a session about artificial intelligence in the classroom led by Derek Bruff, a nationally recognized expert on teaching, learning, and faculty development.