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Inaugural Address

USF President Rev. Dr. Eric Albert Zimmer delivered a heartfelt message during his Presidential Inauguration address on September 26, 2020. Here is an excerpt of his talk about USF’s future:

“The mission of an institution does not just happen. It is worked on each and every day. If we do not work on the mission each and every day, if one day we decide ‘I’m tired, and I can no longer row this boat,’ we know what happens. The wind and waves buffet that boat. Perhaps it veers toward a rocky shore and founders, or perhaps it capsizes and sinks to the bottom. But even if those things do not happen, it is going to drift where the waves and wind push it, when the rowing stops. That is what happens to institutions. We see that all around us.

The University of Saint Francis is in its 130 th year, and our focus has changed somewhat. From a normal school, a school for teachers, to something much grander than that, much larger, to a different campus and different campuses. And now we have many programs and offer degrees in the liberal arts, in healthcare, in business, and in creative arts.

In all these things we are a much different place than we were in 1944 or 1956 or 1993, and we have continued to change so wonderfully in many ways. But at the same time, we have to ask ourselves, where do we want to be in another 130 years?

I want us to be distinctive. I want us to be a place where faith and reason are complementary. I want us to be a place, as I heard in the faculty forum, where a faculty member could talk openly of his faith and how it informs his teaching and his concern for his students.

I want to be a place where students feel comfortable about what drives them in their faith lives, whether in the dining halls or in the residence halls or in the classroom. I want the University of Saint Francis to be a place where it is possible and exalted to be a person of faith, and that this is a sign of character and integrity, not a scarlet letter.

This is the university of the future. All the other models will go where they go, buffeted by the waves, blown by the wind. But each day, we will focus on our mission and what that looks like and how we, as a community of scholars and people of faith, are able to bridge faith and reason.

Then the students who come to our university won’t be buying a widget, a diploma interchangeable with some other institution’s, but will come here because they are Christ-centered. They are sustained in their faith, and perhaps they struggle with that, but once at the university, they are affirmed in that faith. And so the day that they leave they are a much better exemplar of Christian virtue. Graduates of USF will be committed to their faith in Christ, focused on proclaiming the Gospels in their lives, concerned about those who are not as advantaged as they are, determined to welcome the stranger and to assist those who have no one else to help them. Not because it is convenient or the flavor of the month, but because of who they are as God’s children, because Christ is their light. This is the University that I want to lead.

There are many universities that have gone belly up in recent years. Before the recent crisis, an average of seven higher education institutions closed per year—a certain number of those have been Catholic institutions. That will not be the University of Saint Francis. We will go from success to success by being, at our core, truly a Catholic institution. A place where parents can send their sons and daughters and be confident that their faith will be affirmed, and they will be supported in their development as children of God.

So, when we think about that 130-year mark, we will be what we are, only much more. We will reach out to those who need help completing college. We will reach out to those who are less represented in college. We will reach out to those who need affirmation in the faith. We will be Christ to one another. That will be our success. And then we will be a great university.”