Geoffrey S. Mearns
Presidential Installation Address
Friday, September 8, 3 p.m.
Presentation of the Medallion (Chair Hall)
The University will continue to chart a course that is uniquely ours. And along the way, we will demonstrate our values through our actions – through the opportunities we provide, the communities we improve, and the lives that we change. In Geoff Mearns, Ball State has the right leader for that journey and to move us boldly into our next 100 years.
President Mearns, will you please join me at the podium?
President Mearns, it gives me great pleasure to affirm your welcome to Ball State University and declare officially that you are now the 17th president of Ball State University. Congratulations.
The Audacity to Dream Bold Dreams (President Mearns)
Ball State began as a public, state-assisted teachers college in 1918.
But as many of you know, this new college wasn’t the first attempt to bring higher education to Muncie. In fact, there were four prior efforts to start a college or university in Muncie...
All four of these initial attempts failed—very quickly.
But these unsuccessful efforts were not total failures. To the contrary, these unsuccessful efforts demonstrated some very important, positive attributes about our community.
Our predecessors had the audacity to dream bold dreams. And these initial failures did not deter them. There were temporary setbacks that would be overcome.
As we embark on a process to develop our next strategic plan, let’s internalize these lessons—let’s emulate our founders.
Let’s continue to be innovative and creative.
Let’s embrace change.
Let’s take some risks.
Let’s not fear failure.
Let’s be persistent and tenacious.
Let’s have the courage and the audacity to pursue an ambitious, long-term vision for our University.
Our Moral Obligation to the Community (President Mearns)
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for joining me this afternoon. It is a privilege to serve as the president of Ball State University...
As you know, the university has gone through a protracted transition. But the institution is strong. And it’s getting stronger—day by day, month by month, year by year. We have earned an excellent reputation for academic quality and innovation across a wide range of disciplines and programs. And that reputation for excellence and rigor continues to improve...
But as you know, Muncie is facing some challenges, primarily because of the adverse effects of external, economic forces. These changes in the economy have substantially reduced the number of manufacturing jobs, which has caused a decline in our local population. And the Muncie public schools have been hit particularly hard...
I believe the answer to this question is also clear: we all must do more for our schools and for our community. Because if Muncie continues to stagnate, that stagnation will impede our ability to secure a bright future for our University. In short, we here at Ball State, we have a self-interest to support our schools and to rejuvenate our community.
I also think that we have a moral obligation to enhance our commitment to Muncie. That obligation derives from a simple principle: because we cannot repay those who have nurtured and sustained our development, we should pay it forward—to our neighbors and to the next generation...
Moral Obligation Is Personal
For me, this moral obligation is also very personal.
At the announcement of my appointment in January, I spoke briefly about my parents. But I want to share a bit more about them, because it’s pertinent to my principal point.
I told you that my father was the first in our family to earn a college degree. I described how that opportunity transformed his life and change the trajectory of our whole family. And I told you that he committed his entire professional life to teaching as a law professor.
But his commitment to education extended far beyond the walls of his classrooms and far beyond the boundaries of any university campus.
In 1961, my father was appointed to serve as a consultant to the United States Civil Rights commission on Civil Rights. For two years, he travelled across the South to prepare a report on the status of school desegregation in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown vs. Board of Education. Fifteen years later, he was appointed by a federal judge in Cleveland to draft the remedial desegregation plan for that city’s public schools.
My father passionately believed that every child—every child—had a fundamental right to quality education.
In January, I also talked a bit about my mother. I told you that, after raising nine children, served 10 years on the City Council of Shaker Heights. And then she was elected as the first woman mayor of that city.
As an elected official, my mother wasn’t preoccupied with building shopping centers and office complexes. She understood that these projects where beneficial to local and regional economic development.
But my mother was much more interested in building community centers for senior citizens, and playgrounds for children, and playrooms for toddlers. And she wanted to build genuine human relationships with people.
My mother greeted everyone with a kind word and a warm smile. And, if she had met you just once, she would remember your name and the names of your children. That wasn’t a political tactic that she developed to secure votes. She remembered your name because she cared—she cared about you.
In their private lives, my parents taught all of us the meaning of true love. They showed us, through their actions, that “perfect love makes sacrifice a joy.”
In their professional and public lives, my parents showed us what servant leadership truly means. That the world “servant” always comes first. They demonstrated that the scope of our moral obligation to serve others was not limited to the four corners of a job description. Through their actions, they taught us that, each day, we are called to advance the common good...
At the beginning of my remarks, I renewed my commitment to work hard to advance the mission of our University. As an integral part of my commitment to that mission, and to honor the memory of my parents, I will encourage our faculty, staff, and students—I will try to mobilize this small army of talented men and women to partner with our friends and neighbors to secure a bright, vibrant future for Muncie.
Our history has shown us, and my parents have taught me, that we are all better together. We are better together.
Backing a Promise with Action (Chair Hall)
Today, we are pleased to announce President and Mrs. Mearns are establishing a scholarship at the heart of our Better Together theme — and personally donating $100,000 to support Muncie students.
President Mearns has spoken movingly about his father, who was the first in his family to earn a college degree. That education transformed the life of one man and the future of an entire family. Jennifer’s family equally valued the opportunities provided through education. Accordingly, President and Mrs. Mearns have named this scholarship in honor and memory of their parents, Edward A. Mearns Jr. and Patricia Simonson Mearns and James Duff Proud and Joan McGrath Proud. The new Mearns/Proud Family Scholarship will benefit Muncie Central graduates who are first-generation college students, providing the transformative opportunities for their families.
This is an amazing personal investment in the future of Muncie and its people. Let’s show them our deep gratitude.
Lavish inauguration ceremonies and the galas that go with them can cost well into the six figures. President Mearns believes there are better ways to use these resources. The Board completely agrees. In recognition of the Mearns’ gift, the Board is committing the savings from not having an extravagant installation. As a result, an additional $150,000 will be contributed to the scholarship fund.
Geoff and Jennifer, inspired by your generosity, every member of the Board of Trustees and every member of The Ball State University Foundation Board of Directors has made a personal contribution to the scholarship fund, generating over $30,000 in additional contributions. Collectively, we stand with you in your effort to make a meaningful difference in the lives of young men and women in this community.
Ladies and gentlemen, with this collaboration led by President Mearns, we now have more than $280,000 to provide scholarships for first-generation college students from Muncie Central, starting in the Fall of 2018.
Thank you President Mearns for your true leadership, vision, and commitment to Ball State and Muncie. Your and Jennifer’s actions are an inspiration for all of us.