The Inaugural Address of Becker College President Nancy P. Crimmin, Ed.D.
April 5, 2019
“Leading Through Authenticity, Commitment, and Vision”
Before I begin, it is my distinct pleasure to thank:
- Christine Cassidy, Chair of the College’s Board of Trustees, and members of the Board of Trustees;
- Today’s guest speakers;
Thank you for your presence here today. Your remarks and support of the College is a source of pride for the institution.
- State and local government officials and members of law enforcement—notably, the Leicester Police Department, and Worcester Police Department;
- Presidents and representatives of institutions of higher education in Worcester and in the Commonwealth;
- Our Master of Ceremonies, Dr. David Ellis —thank you for staying on script;
- The entire Inauguration Committee, co-chaired by Amy Dean and Sara Swillo-Muckian, who handled all the logistics and planning of this event;
- Student affairs colleagues from around the country who travelled here. I am most grateful for your presence, your mentorship, and your collegiality over the many years of my careers;
- To all our Alumni present—welcome home!
- And, finally, to members of my family, thank you for being here today. Your support means the world to me.
My mother is here—she is the strongest person I know, and I wouldn’t be here without her and the influence my dad had on my life.
And, finally, to my sons, Patrick and Jonathan, who are my heart…and to the best Presidential spouse in the whole wide world. Bill, having you with me makes this all possible.
Thank you all, for making this day memorable!
One of the most common questions I have been asked over the past months of planning my Inauguration is: Why now? Why hold an Inauguration now—a year and a half into your presidency?
Honestly, my mother said I needed to have one!
However important that reason may be, the reality is…this ceremony is not actually about me, but is, rather, about the institution and community of Becker College. This symbolic ceremony marks the passage of time in our history, and moves us towards the future and our vision. It serves to showcase the importance of our institution to the community, and provide us with an opportunity to gather and join together in celebration.
Just as Commencement marks a rite of passage for our students, an inauguration marks the rite of passage for our College.
My assistant, Pattie Kalinowski, who has served seven presidents at Becker, has equated the process of planning the inauguration to planning a wedding—although she’s told me repeatedly over the past few months that I should have eloped!
If we follow that comparison a bit further: Your presence here today signifies your pledge of support for the marriage of this president and this institution.
Two of our nieces (Amy and Erin) asked about my “coronation.” As much as I love the idea of a tiara (and those who know me well, know I would never hesitate to don a sparkly crown!), this medal representing the Office of the President affirms my profound passion for and commitment to the College I have grown to love and respect, and is a meaningful symbol of the faculty, staff, and students who amaze me every day with their passion, grit, and determination.
Our history is truly a tale of two colleges—each with its own legacy and stature. Today we stand in the town of Leicester, in the area of the original Leicester Academy, founded in 1784, with a charter signed by American Revolutionaries John Hancock and Samuel Adams.
In June of 1784, three young men, two from Sturbridge and one from Leicester, arrived as members of the first class of the Academy. The youngest of the three was just six years old. All three later attended and graduated from Harvard College.
In 1887, Becker’s Business College was founded on Main Street in Worcester, with one student on opening day. By the end of that first week, 30 students were in attendance.
History tells us that there was a long-standing cooperation and an intense athletic rivalry between the two institutions in Leicester and Worcester, but in 1974 the move towards unification of the schools began in earnest. The purpose was to expand educational offerings and provide broader social and recreational opportunities for their students.
As a result of their close collaboration, the two were formally consolidated in 1977 as the Worcester and Leicester campuses of Becker Junior College.
Our tale of two colleges that unified with a sense of purpose in 1977 morphed into the Becker College of today—a small, exceptional College that continues to distinguish itself in today’s higher education marketplace.
Our value is measured by:
- Our strong emphasis on the academic enterprise;
- Elevated standards for admission, which have raised our academic profile;
- Incredible recognition for academic excellence;
- Increased collaboration with industry partners and local, community-based businesses;
- A first-class student experience focused on leadership, entrepreneurship, and our core values;
- And our signature initiative—The Agile Mindset—which is infused into our curriculum and prepares our students to be innovative, entrepreneurial change-makers in a world that is in constant flux.
All of these achievements—and so much more—have led to an eight percent rise in retention and a 16 percent rise in graduation rates since 2012, proving our students are succeeding on campus.
As others have mentioned, I came to Becker in 2012 as Vice President of Student Affairs. I was fortunate to eventually work in both academic and student affairs before my appointment to the office of the President.
So the traditional listening tour and “get-to-know you” lunches and meetings my presidential colleagues in the room may have done, I completed four years before I was appointed to the Office of President. Given that our accreditors were coming four months after I assumed the role of President—there was a lot of work to do!
However, the most critical advantage to being an internal hire for President is that I had time to learn the nuances and realities that shape what we are as an institution and who we are as a community before ever sitting in the chair on the first floor of 61 William Street.
So when deciding on a theme for Inauguration Week and my address on this very special day, I concentrated on the messages we consistently communicate to faculty, staff, and students: authenticity, commitment, and vision.
Although I know authenticity, commitment, and vision are not exclusive to Becker College, they create the map which leads this institution into the future.
It is critical for leaders to be:
- Authentic—open, honest, and transparent;
- Committed to invoking change and strategies that ensure the sustainability of the institution now and for the future;
- And visionary—to be able to surmount current challenges as well as foresee and plan for the uncertainty—or, as we say at Becker: to be able to identify and solve unstructured problems before they actually exist.
However, before we can chart the course for the future of Becker College, we must understand the critical reality of higher education today. Our reality is that the basic foundation of colleges and universities is being challenged by a pervasive and growing cynicism of the value and the future of higher education—and, more specifically in New England, of the viability of small, private intuitions.
- Declining populations of traditional-age college students;
- Increasing dependence on steep discount rates to get students in the door;
- And a call for greater transparency and stronger and more deliberate oversight of operations and fiscal management;
All create a crisis of confidence in higher education—which cannot be ignored.
Like any crisis, it must be managed well so we can rise above it—and succeed.
Small colleges provide the environments a particular niche of students is looking for—that feeling of fit that is not easily explained—which is very important for their social and emotional success.
Those small colleges that can utilize their size to their advantage and be agile and innovative—all while exercising sound fiscal sense—will not simply survive.
They will thrive.
That is why the words authenticity, commitment, and vision are so important.
Author Brené Brown has said, and I quote: “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”
At Becker, our recruitment is based on conveying who we are as a community to prospective students and parents. We are fearless when we talk about our business model, when we address discount rates, and when we provide assurances that our focus is on maintaining fiscal responsibility in all that we do.
We are deeply committed to ensuring each student’s success. That requires a dedicated focus on retention initiatives so we keep the students we have and can sustain overall enrollment—even when new student recruitment may decline.
This includes—and many Becker staff and faculty could probably recite this word for word, as I have said this repeatedly—that we must continue to grow and develop student services so they attain a high level of excellence. These are areas which metaphorically fit in the middle—in between academic and student affairs—and cross all boundaries for academic and personal success, supporting students in their pursuit of excellence through mental health counseling, career and advising, academic support, and disability services.
We are committed to strengthening these areas—as well as enhancing our exceptional curricula, including integrating project-based learning across disciplines and launching new, cutting-edge programs that will empower students with the ability and agility to navigate the future of work.
We are committed not only to helping our students master the technical and practical skills of their chosen field of study—the critical foundation their experience—but to also to ensuring they have the ability to be agile across the continuum—personally, professionally, socially, and cognitively—and are adept at change management, so they are capable of considering social problems from many perspectives and navigating an increasingly complex, global, and technological world.
And, finally, there is vision. When Drew Faust was appointed as the 28th—and first woman—president of Harvard University, she said, and I quote, “I’m not the woman president of Harvard. I’m the president of Harvard.”
Much has been made of my appointment as the first woman president at Becker. Yes, it is wonderful that I have entered into a position which, according to an American Council on Education survey, only 30 percent of women occupy, as a college or university president.
Yes, it is terrific that my students who identify as female can see another glass ceiling shattered.
But I share in what Faust said 11 years after her appointment as president: that she did not think she should be considered a “special category.” In 2017, she said, and I quote, “I want to be as powerful, as effective, as respected, taken as seriously, as any man.”
My vision for the future of Becker, and for the future of education, is that there will be no boundaries or “special categories” for our young people—but, rather, a celebration of the intersectionality of all identities.
My wish for all young people is for them to set their sights on their futures and believe, deep in their hearts, that anything—and everything—is possible.
If I didn’t believe that, then this first generation college student who earned a 1.67 GPA her first semester and changed her major 5 times wouldn’t be here.
Education has been, and always will be, the key that unlocks the doors to success, that breaks down barriers, that creates a world of possibilities, that builds self-worth and confidence, that transforms dreams to reality, and that creates a better future for everyone.
Today, and in the days, weeks, months, and years to come, my wish is for Becker to continue be known as a place where you can be your authentic self—an institutional community that makes a commitment to be exceptional through a supportive and socially conscious environment, and with a profound vision to educate for the future.
We share a vision in our communities of Worcester and Leicester, to continue to be strong partners and allies, united in a common purpose of filling a pipeline of talented young people.
A wonderful article that was recently published talked about the value of college. The writer said, and I quote, “College is a feast…College shapes you. College takes the high school you and molds it into the grown-up you. But the key component is you. Your ideas. Your work. Your voice. You bring all these things to college, and college helps you figure out what to do with them.”
Becker College will continue to be steadfastly dedicated to authenticity, commitment, and vision—in all of its people, in the education it delivers, in the support it provides, and in ensuring that all of its students take that wonderful, celebratory walk across the Commencement stage—and go out into the world to make their lasting mark.