Back in the Saddle
When I returned to Los Angeles in the summer of 2009, someone told me that being president of Occidental is like riding a bucking bronco. Five years later, I feel lucky to still be in the saddle.
And what a ride it has been, thanks to a community of students, parents, faculty, staff, trustees, and alumni whose collective effort has made all of Oxy's recent success possible. This summer, with the full support of the Board of Trustees, I signed on for another term as president. When I was first interviewing for the job, I remember being struck by the level of love and dedication that Oxy inspired in all the people I spoke to. Now I am one of them. I am humbled by the opportunity to continue to serve as Oxy's president. I am proud of what we have accomplished over the last five years—and I am excited about what the future holds.
When I arrived at Oxy, it was obvious that our first task was to reestablish institutional confidence and momentum—simply put, to show that we could get stuff done. As soon as we reached a consensus that was embodied in a new strategic plan, we did just that. The list of "stuff" includes the long-in-coming renovation and expansion of Swan Hall; creation of the Rose Hills Student Activities Center and the Green Bean Coffee lounge in the Johnson Student Center; construction of the Samuelson Alumni Center; and our latest project, the re-landscaping of the main entrance to campus.
All of this much-needed activity culminated in the transformation of Johnson Hall into the McKinnon Center for Global Affairs. The McKinnon Center is a model for Oxy's future—a compelling synthesis of technology, architecture, design, teaching, and curriculum that makes our commitment to world affairs visible. With the visionary support of Cathie Selleck '55 and the John Parke Young estate gift, combined with the endowment of the College's United Nations program by Elizabeth and Bill Kahane '70, it's fair to say that Occidental now ranks with Carleton and Middlebury as one of the very best liberal arts colleges in this field.
To sustain our mission, we will need to dedicate the efforts and imagination of our community to fundraising for the endowment; the transformation of the library into a technologically sophisticated academic commons; and most imperatively, scholarships to maintain our commitment to access for our most talented students, regardless of their background or ability to pay. As the cost of higher education soars, tuition is now largely out of reach for even our middle-class families. Unless we take action, the College's future is at risk.
We will also need to make thoughtful decisions about the implementation of the next phase of our strategic plan, with a particular focus on enhancing our profile in urban affairs—the other centerpiece of the strategic plan, and a natural source of strength for a college in one of the world's great cities. While we have many pieces already in place here, including the nationally known programs of the Urban and Environmental Policy Institute, the challenge is to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts.
With all that we have accomplished, there is still much more to be done. We must do more to address the scourge of sexual misconduct on campus. We will continue to devote more resources to this issue and strive to be agents of cultural change to prevent assaults from happening in the first place. Oxy's beautiful campus itself poses a major challenge, with a recent study showing that we have $120 million in deferred maintenance that we must address.
Our students face a world of considerable complexity. More than ever, I believe a liberal arts education—specifically, an Oxy education—can help our students navigate that complexity through meaningful careers, active citizenship, and rich, introspective lives. In an era when higher education is under fire and the value of the liberal arts is being loudly questioned, the best demonstration of the worth of an Oxy education is the success of our graduates.
Having managed to stay in the saddle, there is much cause for optimism as we look ahead to the future. Not only is Occidental worth our time and energy, it's a fun ride. So please join us at the rodeo.
Jonathan Veitch, President