Thursday, September 6, 2007

Thank you for inviting me today.

The UI campus has been buzzing with the anticipation of new beginnings for a few weeks now. It’s been wonderful for me to start my presidency at the beginning of an academic year. The energy and excitement of new possibilities are palpable here in early September. And I feel that energy in this room this morning. The kickoff of a new United Way campaign is always a cause for celebration. And it is a time for thinking about making our community stronger in the coming year.

I know my husband, Ken, has already felt the excitement of the United Way kickoff. You probably already know that, along with the classroom, the golf course is one of his favorite places. So the recent golf outing to benefit the United Way and the Community Foundation of Johnson County was the perfect introduction to the community for him. And if you were there with him, you know that helping the community is just as important to Ken as hitting the links.

Another person who places helping the community high on the priority list is Mike Hogan. I know that Mike has been a crucial part of the United Way of Johnson County. We are all going to miss him greatly as he leaves his position as Executive Vice President and Provost of The University of Iowa. The opportunity for him as President of The University of Connecticut is tremendous and well-deserved. Mike has made The University of Iowa a much stronger academic institution. But he has also made it a much more engaged institution. Through his vision and hard work, the UI commitment to civic engagement has become both more authentic and more robust. Mike’s contributions to the United Way indicate his generous nature and his devotion to the community. As he and his wife Virginia leave Iowa, they deserve our great thanks.

Recently, Connie Benton-Wolfe and others shared with me a list of the ways in which the University and the United Way of Johnson County have partnered in recent years. The list is incredible! I could tick off that list, but we’d be here until lunchtime. You’re probably all aware of most of these partnerships. But I think it’s safe to say that the University and the United Way are intertwined across the entire campus—from health care to student volunteerism to the School of Music. And we are grateful that UWJC provides many services to our own faculty, staff, and students. When we’re talking about “engagement” at the UI, the United Way is there for us. And I will make sure we remain there for the United Way.

In the past decade or so, there has been an explosion of interest in “engagement”—in how higher education can become more engaged with our local communities and the public good. I have been committed to advancing this idea of “engagement” for a long time, and I remain so here at Iowa.

University engagement is a “bottom-up” phenomenon. Service learning is all the rage in education. But much of that impetus is coming from the desire of students to give back to their communities. It is not just coming from a top-down curricular fad. In the university setting, more and more of my colleagues are driven not only by their research and scholarship for its own sake, but by finding ways to translate that work to advance the public good. These changing desires and perspectives of the faculty—not the administration or the think tanks—are leading to a reformulation of our very mission. Traditionally, we have said the university is about teaching, research, and service. More and more we’re seeing how those “missions” are singular, not plural. They are part of an intertwined mission of learning, discovery, and engagement. This evolution of thought is leading to a revolution in how we relate to the community. As President of The University of Iowa, I intend to share my passion for learning, discovery, and civic engagement with our faculty, staff, students, and community partners. That is the obligation of leadership, and the great privilege of being a public servant.

Today I am grateful to be connecting with you, to share my passion for engagement with you. As Connie has told us, the United Way theme this year is “we are connected.” Yesterday, I spoke at the UI’s Energy Expo. There, I shared some words of wisdom from that great environmentalist, Iowa native Aldo Leopold. He said, “When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” That’s what service and engagement are all about—love and respect. And that happens only in community, whether it be the natural community of Leopold or the social community. The essence of community engagement is connection—interconnection. If we think about Leopold’s thoughts again, “ecology” is about interconnection. There’s an “ecology” to building community, and the UI and the United Way are integral to the human ecology of our broader community.

From a broad perspective, our connections are simple. Robert Coles derived the title of his book The Call of Service from Dorothy Day, who said, “There is a call to us, a call of service—that we join with others to try to make things better in this world.” A simple, yet profound, observation. But Coles rightly points out that this call of service “has been heard by so many of us—but with different messages, at different pitches and frequencies, and with different outcomes.” The call of service is also multifaceted and complex.

The United Way shows us both aspects of the call of service. What could be more simple, or important, or wonderful, than the mission of “helping our friends, family members, and neighbors who are in need”? Yet look at the United Way’s myriad pathways to that goal: helping to fund the University’s Rape Victim Advocacy Program and Dental Services for Kids, student practicums, Student Board Bank Training, Healthy Kids School-Based Clinics, the “Why Music Matters” early childhood development program...and so many others. These are just a few of the interconnections between the United Way and the University.

We at The University of Iowa are proud to be partnered with the United Way of Johnson County. I am more than enthusiastic about helping us deepen and strengthen that partnership. I offer you my thanks, my congratulations, and my best wishes for the most successful United Way campaign ever.