Eric Spina called for the University of Dayton to serve as “a university for the common good” – in academics and research, in making its community a better place, and in developing students into servant leaders – as UD celebrated his ceremonial installation as president Tuesday.
The speech emanated from a nine-month strategic visioning process that has involved more than 3,000 people since Spina took over in July. He talked Tuesday about building “a more just future” for the Class of 2037, who are toddlers today in a world struggling with racism, poverty, economic stagnation and war.
“We can no longer afford to have these societal issues as background for our education, research, and engagement,” Spina said. “Rather, we need to place them in the foreground, such that they are a compelling motivation for our strategic direction, investments, partnerships, teaching, learning, and research.”
Spina said better UD community involvement will benefit the whole region as well as UD students.
“(That’s true) whether it’s research that we do together to create jobs locally, or making certain that when our students graduate, they want to stay here because there are exciting things happening and they have a lot to give,” he said.
Spina, UD’s 19th president, is a mechanical and aerospace engineer who served as vice chancellor and provost at Syracuse University in New York. He was commissioned as president by the Marianist religious order and received the president’s medallion from his two predecessors, Daniel Curran (14 years) and Brother Ray Fitz (23 years).
Nancy Cantor, a current Rutgers University chancellor who worked with Spina for years at Syracuse, introduced Spina as a great listener and leader without an arrogant bone in his body.
“He is that rare person who can lead and yet be the consummate team player at the same time,” Cantor said. “He does that transition without any fuss or fanfare … moving us all toward the goal.”
Credit: Lisa Powell
Credit: Lisa Powell
The ceremony included a “This is our UD” segment when more than 20 students and UD grads, including mayor Nan Whaley and artist Bing Davis, briefly shared their UD stories. They talked about everything from forming lifelong friendships, to taking risks and standing for what’s right, to pursuing their life’s passions.
Ohio Secretary of State and UD grad Jon Husted, echoed one of Spina’s themes, saying that change is necessary, and UD has done a great job of changing and growing with the times.
“The challenge that every new president at a place like UD has, with great tradition, is how do you keep in place the things that people love about UD and at the same time embrace the necessary change that it will take to make the institution a leader for the future?” Husted said. “If you do it right, they think of you fondly, and if you don’t, then the alumni will become restless.”
Conor Kutner, a graduate student in communications, liked Spina’s focus on community engagement.
“I felt he did have an investment in our school … and I think he has good vision for our future,” Kutner said. “We are in good hands.”
Affordability: "As a private University in a hypercompetitive environment, it would be easy for us to become a university only for the wealthy, but that would not be true to the spirit of the Marianists or our legions of alumni from humble means. This is an existential challenge for which there is no panacea. We must contain rising costs, generate new revenue, and secure greater philanthropic support to ensure that a UD diploma remains within reach of middle- and low-income students."
Community involvement: "We commit to adding 'community geographers' — faculty and staff who will analyze neighborhood-based data and trends to help identify and prioritize the greatest issues for our common mission."
Innovation: "We should strive to become the first university in the country in which every student will take at least one course on innovation, humanity-centered applied creativity, and entrepreneurial thinking."
Research: "We must leverage our greatest strengths and pursue a well-defined research agenda that fulfills societal needs and represents great opportunity. We also must be prepared to make investments in faculty, staff, graduate students, and facilities in three focus areas: sustainability and human rights; autonomous systems; and health and bio-sciences."
Spina talked about the need for sustainability in energy and environmental research, called for UD to develop the nation’s first interdisciplinary master’s program in autonomous systems, and cited “an unparalleled opportunity” in the health science area.
Focus: "We're going to choose where we're going to be great, and we're going to invest in those areas. But we're not going to choose a million (areas). We're going to partner with Wright State and Sinclair and (the Air Force Research Laboratory) … and work with faculty to make sure we're investing in the right places."
Diversity: "We must also create a more diverse, welcoming, and interculturally inclusive campus. By definition, excellence requires greater diversity, as it enriches our learning environment and expands our institutional intelligence and creativity."
Mission: "Universities have always had a special obligation to society, but in this age of institutions turning inward or abrogating their responsibilities to the greater good, that obligation is heightened and creates a special opportunity for the University of Dayton. We view serving the community and our world as a fundamental part of our Catholic, Marianist mission, our raison d'etre, and we find that we are called to be — indeed, we must be— 'The University for the Common Good.' "