Viterbo University School of

The Inaugural Address of
Richard B. Artman
Eighth President of Viterbo University

“Hope and Help”

March 30, 2007
La Crosse, Wisconsin

(Acknowledgments omitted)

An inauguration is a special time, for both the university and for the president’s family. We thank you for coming.

With an intentional slip of the tongue, a few academic colleagues have extended best wishes on my coronation. If this is your first installation ceremony, be not afraid. No crown or ring today! 

The inaugural ceremony traces back centuries; the procession of delegates in academic regalia and the transfer of leadership represented by the presidential medallion are rich traditions in higher education. Heads of state and colleges and universities are expected to deliver an inaugural address by which they project their hopes and dreams, cognizant of challenges yet buttressed by new ideas.

We assemble today to acknowledge the past, to celebrate the present, and to imagine the future for Viterbo University.

Today is an invitation for each of us to walk into the promise of tomorrow.

The foundations of my Catholic faith are rooted in the promises of the resurrected Christ. The Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration came to La Crosse over 125 years ago, with dreams of building a vibrant religious community and serving the Church and children in this region. They made a special promise that continues to this day, perpetual prayer and devotion before the Blessed Sacrament. They brought with them and gave to us a great gift of hope. 

Hope—that indispensable virtue for organizations and for individuals.

Emily Dickinson called hope “the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words, and never stops at all.” The thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words, and never stops at all

Viterbo’s future, which WE now shape, will define the opportunities for those who follow. The past presidents of Viterbo prepared a hopeful path for their successors: Sr. Josina Roth, Sr. Francesca Zoeller, Sr. Theodine Sebold, Sr. Grace McDonald, Fr. Tom Finucan, Dr. Robert Gibbons, and Dr. Bill Medland.

Their visions, and the talents and treasures of many others, allow us to be seated in this magnificent auditorium; to boast of distinguished academic programs; to have balanced budgets, growing enrollments, and larger endowments; to enjoy beautiful facilities; and to advance an ethics institute poised for national distinction. 

Sr. Grace, Fr. Finucan and Dr. Medland, please stand and be recognized for your enormous contributions that helped shape this flourishing university.

We punctuate a presidential appointment with pomp and circumstance for a reason. It’s a time of demarcation and renewal—a purposeful pause to recalibrate hopes and dreams. The plans we make today must respond to a dynamic and competitive environment, while positioning Viterbo for the next generation of students. 

If we peer into the next 10 years, what might we see?  I think about my four  grandchildren—and many of you have grandchildren and children, nieces and nephews for whom we have hopes and dreams. I think about the university that awaits them. 

Zachary, soon to be 4— Zach attends school each weekday at Bristol Meyers Squibb daycare center, located at corporate headquarters in New Jersey where our son works as an industrial/organization psychologist. Zach’s classmates reflect a global community. His learning environment is a kaleidoscope of cultures, enriched by an active learning curriculum where Muslim, Christian, Jew, and Hindu learn, play, and nap together. Zachary will be very comfortable in a multi-cultural environment, and will expect his college to offer opportunities to experience the world, virtually and physically.  

Demographic shifts in the U.S. are well documented and projected.We are increasingly a diverse nation, connected globally by instantaneous networks, leading economist Thomas Friedman to proclaim the world is flat. The implications for curriculum, instruction, career preparation, and success are profound.

A knowledge based economy requires that our institutions of higher education be accessible, affordable, and adaptable.  It requires graduates to be proficient in science, technology, engineering, and math. The explosion of knowledge and new tools of technology require continuous retooling for every professional. The bachelor’s degree will be a minimum standard for advancement; language and cultural proficiencies will be prerequisites for many jobs; and seat time in a classroom, far too long the yardstick for learning, will yield to competency and accountability.

Jordan, 7—She called me a few months ago and said “Pap Pap, I Googled you and I’m on your Web site.” Jordan doesn’t yet have a home page on Myspace, as 100 million users now have, but, at just seven years old, she’s already engaged in two virtual online communities and is interacting with kids around the world. She’ll expect her secondary and post-secondary schools and social environments to have instant access to the Net; she’ll want 24/7 speed and bandwidth for her coursework, personal communications, and entertainment—probably simultaneously! 

Jordan will be an active participant in the knowledge commons. She will be excruciatingly bored with a traditional lecture, and she’ll proficiently utilize the next generational tools of Google and Wikis. She’s an advanced and avid reader now—I envision her engaged in a collaborative online writing activity with teens from around the globe as they co-create a story that can have infinite twists and turns, a mosaic of characters, and a plot that never ends.

Lexi, soon to be 8—Our dancer. Last evening she displayed the beauty and grace of her mother who danced at inaugural events 12 years ago and who now teaches dance in Lincoln, Nebraska. Music and dance have a home in Lexi’s heart, and the arts lift her soul, as they have touched the human spirit over the centuries. Think of the advantages Lexi will have. She’ll have on-demand access to last evening’s performance at the Met; and she’ll be able to call up on her cell phone great works of art from the Hermitage and the Louvre.

Our communal challenge will be to preserve the arts in our elementary and secondary schools. And if our public schools continue to be squeezed for course time and resources, the post-secondary sector may be the last defense in protecting and promoting the visual and performing arts. Our stages, galleries, and concert halls must be replenished and continue to pulsate with new talent and changing rhythms.

Braxton, soon to be 10—He’s smart, athletic, and competitive. He’ll choose his college according to many criteria: brand, location, scholarships (both academic and athletic), and hopefully, some guidance from his grandfather! The campus visit will remain a deciding factor, but he’ll have narrowed his choices without leaving home by taking a virtual tour, viewing podcasts, reading blogs, and analyzing various learning outcomes made public by federal regulation and accrediting associations.

A gamer in every sense, on the field and on the computer, he’ll need a learning environment that provides high level stimulation and interaction, as would any PlayStation alumnus. I believe gaming technology holds some of the most exciting opportunities for active learning in all disciplines. In such games, the learner interacts with the content, receives immediate feedback on progress, and ascends to increasing levels of complexity and problem solving—all at the learner’s own pace. Synchronous and asynchronous competition and collaboration with learners and gamers around the world will be commonplace, and Braxton will thrive in such an environment. 

I’m truly not prescient enough to foresee exactly the educational environment that our grandchildren will face when they go to college (and not everyone will GO to college in a physical sense). But, it’s clear to me, this Net generation is growing up in a digital economy that has profound yet exciting implications for higher education and so many other enterprises.

With Google digitizing the holdings of our finest university libraries and with MIT open sourcing its entire curricula, does anyone think it will be business as usual in 2017?

Technology will change pedagogy and speed service, but it cannot teach the difference between information and wisdom, nor can it guide ethical decision making. Certainly we need to equip our campuses with the tools that enhance learning, but most importantly, we need to equip our students with the knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes that are essential to lead, to serve and to contribute.

More so than in the past, employers in all sectors will place a premium on critical thinking, problem solving, communicating and adapting to ambiguity and rapid change. The tools of technology will not substitute for the tutelage of inspiring teachers and encouraging mentors.

A shrinking, technocratic world is the perfect setting for understanding better the values and virtues that have shaped Western civilization and those of other cultures and traditions. As cultures collide in this global economy, we are well positioned to assert our Catholic and Franciscan identity that fosters living Gospel values.

More than ever before, we’ll want to respond to a generation longing for spirituality and to explain the teachings of the Church in regard to social justice, peace, and human dignity. This Net generation will find the world is not morally neutral. We see goodness in abundance, but we need leaders who send evil in retreat.

We straddle a difficult divide—poised to sprint forward to keep pace with technology, yet committed to instill values and build relationships that take precious time and resources. This is not an “either/or” proposition, rather it is “and/both.” The treasures of the liberal arts are an enduring counterbalance to the temptations of a market driven, digital world.

My grandchildren come from resource rich learning and home environments; this will not be the case for thousands, whose parents, perhaps as yours and mine, did not have the opportunity to go to college. Continued waves of first generation college students will look to us with faces hopeful for a brighter future. They and their parents will be counting on us to help prepare them for a flat world.

The challenge will be to determine how we will best accommodate a diversity of learners—those of traditional and non-traditional age, those well prepared and familiar with a digital world, those with academic ability and potential but less prepared because of economic disadvantages, those working adults seeking a degree, and those seeking advanced degrees and certificates for purposes of promotion and improving performance.

How will we respond to “the thing with feathers” that perches in their souls?  I believe all God’s people must have hope, hope for this world and the hereafter. This week’s “Conversations on Hope,” led by Tom Thibodeau and Rick Kyte, have emphasized the theological nature of hope. Our identity and mission as a Catholic university in the Franciscan tradition carry a special obligation to instill hope. We do so not by a mission statement or by course descriptions, but by personal relationships

Just months ago, Viterbo was blessed by the presence of holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. We sat in this packed auditorium, keenly devouring every word. He reminded us “just as despair can come to one only from other human beings, hope, too, can be given to one only by other human beings.”

By their nature, all colleges and universities provide opportunities. But what is opportunity without hope? And without help—we’re just another entrée in the cafeteria of higher education, designed for a society on the run. Grab and go is not a diet that enriches the mind and nourishes the soul.  BUT, personal relationships that magnify hope and manifest help, now that’s a meal that fortifies life.

Our special niche at Viterbo and our sacred privilege is our capacity and our will—OUR CAPACITY AND OUR WILL, to join the two—hope and help.

In the leadership literature there’s the story of a man who walks by a construction site and observes the crew at work.  He asks one worker, “What are you doing?”—“Laying bricks,” the man replies, barely lifting his head from his trowel. He asks another laborer, “What are you doing?”—“Making $12 an hour,” he says, with an attitude that the days are too long and the wage too small. To a third he asks, “What are you doing?”—“I’m building a cathedral,” says the bricklayer with great pride and purpose. “I’m building a cathedral.”

Can you remember the times with your loved ones when you talked about your hopes and dreams?—how your spirit swelled with a vision for a better tomorrow? Can you recall moments of reflection about your future and how faith and hope, and the help of others, carried you on a new course of action?

HOPE - “the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words, and never stops at all.”

I hear the tunes in our students’ souls…and I know Viterbo can help:

I hear the tunes of

A registered nurse wishing to complete her BSN;

Viterbo can help.

I hear the tunes of

A teenager, brimming with musical talent, who envisions a professional singing career;

Viterbo can help.

I hear the tunes of

A school teacher in central Wisconsin poised to become a principal;

Viterbo can help.

I hear the tunes of

A talented, altruistic young person yearning to become a counselor;

Viterbo can help.

I hear the tunes of

Competent, ethical individuals seeking to make their mark in business and industry;

Viterbo can help.

…And I hear the tunes of

Hard working parents agonizing over the cost of college;

Viterbo can help.

The well of hope lies deep in each of us. It’s a powerful urging from the depths of our soul that can only be drawn to the surface by others—by us.  Hope…and Help. 

The verse inside the cover of today’s program is one of my favorites—the Jewish Proverb—What you are is God’s gift to you; what you make of yourself, is your gift to God.

WE have the awesome privilege of helping our students make themselves. WE help make accountants and actors, dieticians and doctors, educators and executives, police officers and poets, marketers and missionaries…women and men on a journey to fulfill their hopes and dreams. They come to Viterbo—a mecca for hope, a reservoir of help.

In the months ahead, with the help of the faculty, administration, staff, trustees, and our benefactors, we will outline in more formal ways the strategic plan that sets the direction for the university over the next five years. These plans, OUR plans, will shape and position the university for the subsequent decade. 

Trustee Quentin Hietpas passed along to me the words of Daniel Burnham, architect of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Burnham wrote:  “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood.” Quent reminded me to dream no small dreams; I won’t. We won’t. We’ll make no small plans.

  • We’ll make no small plans to grow full time undergraduate enrollment from 1400 to 2000.
  • We’ll make no small plans to grow our endowment from $20 million to $50 million.
  • We’ll make no small plans for a magnificent new building for our School of Nursing.
  • We’ll make no small plans to add selected doctoral programs and more master degrees to our academic portfolio.

We’ll make no small plans

  • to attract honors students and prepare them for graduate and professional schools.
  • to support faculty development at envious levels.
  • and to remain the epicenter for the Fine Arts in the Seven Rivers Region.


  • We’ll make no small plans for a nationally renowned Ethics Institute.
  • We’ll make no small plans to create Hope Scholarships for the families in this region to afford higher education .
  • We’ll make no small plans to expand our influence and increase our impact on our students and our community—
  • And, my friends, let’s make no small plans to ensure that Viterbo University, the University of Opportunity, is a mecca for hope, and a reservoir of help.

Signs of renewal are around us—the resurrection at Easter, the longer hours of daylight, and new life, poking from the softened ground. When you leave the auditorium this afternoon, you’ll be handed a bookmark. It contains not only my favorite proverb, but flower seeds pressed into the paper.  It’s a recessional invitation to plant your seeds of hope. 

They will blossom with your nourishment, with your help. As will our students, as will Viterbo University.

Hope and Help—a powerful combination that transforms lives, enriches communities, and makes this a better world.

Hope—that thing with feathers. With help, it will take flight. 

Thank you.


End Notes
Emily Dickinson:  (Complete Poems, Part One:  Life XXXII)
Thomas Friedman, The World is Flat
Erik Larson, The Devil in the White City