Address to New Students
January 26, 2009
Herman A. Berliner, Ph.D.
I am pleased to greet you this morning.
You are part of the 39th incoming class to Hofstra that I have had the opportunity to teach and interact with. The reality is that I have been a faculty member at Hofstra almost double the time that many of you have been alive. This, of course, explains why my kids feel I am completely ancient. When asked, they freely state that their dad is 100 years old. I hope I don’t resemble that remark but the facts, of course, verify, that my kids are more than half right. Even having seen so many classes enter and so many students graduate, I still struggled to find the right message for you this morning. What could I say?
What helped me decide was reading “Twilight” by Stephanie Meyer (and also seeing the movie) at the same time as I was thinking about this talk.
The story takes place in the Olympic Peninsula of northwest Washington state in a small town named Forks. Isabella (“Bella”) Swan (age 17) moves back to Forks from Phoenix to live with her dad when her mom remarried. And the story revolves around Isabella’s relationship with Edward Cullen, son of Dr. Carlisle Cullen and his wife Esme. Dr. Cullen is a highly regarded doctor at the town hospital who has saved many a life.
Some of you may be yawning by now. At this point the book sounds dull; maybe something of interest to a provost type (who happens to have a daughter by the name of Isabel) but why would you want to read it and why am I talking about it? This is a story of two people falling in love. Maybe not two people falling in love - more like one person and one vampire falling in love.
As Bella herself says,
About three things I was absolutely positive.
First, Edward was a vampire.
Second, there was a part of him – and I didn’t know how dominant that part might be – that thirsted for my blood.
And third, I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him.
I don’t want to bite off more of this story than I can chew in a few minutes, but it is important to note that the Cullen’s are good vampires! They may be tempted by you and me but they don’t eat people. Now don’t get the wrong impression these are not vegetarian vampires biting into a hearty piece of tofu; they are teeth sinking, meat loving, animal hunting and eating vampires. However, the Cullen kids go to school, they are very attractive, wear nice clothes, play baseball, drive nice cars and live in a nice house. I should note that not all the vampires in the story have such refined taste and adhere to such limited menu choices.
But wait a minute. The vampires I grew up with (not literally, but figuratively) all dressed in black, came out only at night, slept in coffins, and attacked people. There were no good vampires.
What has changed? First, the world around you. In many ways the world has changed from the cold war black and white world of good or evil or right or wrong that I grew up in. And you have changed – you are different from my generation or your parents’ generation. As a group, you are millennials (born since 1982); your parents and I are Baby Boomers (1943-60) or Gen X types (1961-81). As groups we have very different characteristics (and at the same time there are substantial differences within each of the groups).
What you are, as defined in a recent conference on Generation Shockwaves and the Implications for Higher Education (TIAA-CREF), is a group that believes in 24 hour days, you are team oriented, immediate, overtly confident but with self doubts, fascinated by new technology, continuously integrating technology almost seamlessly into your academic and personal lives (text messaging), and you are very much a name and resent being just a number.
You also, according to the conference, like close family relationships.
You are academically better prepared.
You place a premium on job/financial security.
You want the college you attend to have the programs that help achieve job security.
You are, as this election demonstrated, a political powerhouse.
And you are a much more diverse group.
In the world that I grew up in and your parents grew up in – not that long ago – diversity was not always appreciated or encouraged. Within that somewhat black or white world, separation and segregation existed in significant parts of the country and even when the laws changed, attitudes took much longer to change. But as President Obama demonstrates, they did change.
Our University celebrates and encourages diversity. As indicated in our Diversity Mission Statement:
The University believes that institutions of learning have a responsibility to provide and sustain multiple cultures, to encourage scholarship and knowledge production incorporating multiple perspectives and to demonstrate commitment to fair and equal access to higher education.
Diversity includes the recognition and incorporation of a multiplicity of voices and perspectives in thought and action, in policy and practice, in all spheres of the academic enterprise. It involves recognizing the value of “difference” and the inclusion of members of groups that experience discrimination or under representation.
Join with us in embracing diversity (even though that embrace may not include all vampires).
As our statement says, we are all better off recognizing the value of differences and the value of inclusiveness. And we work hard to do this. But Hofstra is much more than diversity. Our campus life, the education we provide, everything we do is designed to be a best fit with, and meet the needs of you - our students. Our education recognizes and values your millennial identity and it is a different education than we provided to boomers and Gen X.
The Hofstra you are entering is the strongest in our history, and as a person who goes back further than half the buildings on campus and half the trees on campus, I know that first hand. As you know, the third presidential debate took take place on our campus on October 15th and this debate was one more very visible indication of our growing prominence; another is the establishment of the Hofstra Medical School which will accept its first class in 2011.
In terms of credentials and national reputations of faculty, in terms of national accreditations (which are third party expert verifications of how well we are doing ), in terms of facilities, in terms of student life, in terms of technology and most importantly in terms of teaching excellence, we have always been a good University but never better than now. You are more knowledgeable than previous generations and we, as a University, are also more knowledgeable, together this helps facilitate the best education possible. And in terms of the choices we provide you with, the 140 majors and many options within those majors, we have also never been better than today.
Stay with the 140 majors. Please remember that if the major you have selected turns out not to be a good fit with your interests and goals, you have the right to change your major. When I entered college, I first thought I would major in psychology or philosophy and though I enjoyed both subjects, I ultimately decided to major in economics. I have kiddingly used a line from a friend of mine saying I majored in economics because I didn’t have the personality to major in accounting. But the reality is I thoroughly enjoyed my economics coursework, I enjoyed the questions raised, and I couldn’t wait to learn more. Years later, the subject matter still excites me and economic issues continue to touch on and impact all of us. And it is clear that economics and the economic positions of the candidates were key factors in helping elect President Obama. I changed my mind as an undergraduate a number of times; if the fit isn’t right, or if your goals change, you can and you should change your major. Our outstanding faculty and our experts in the advisement office will work with you until you find that major that excites you as economics excites me.
Because you have chosen us, you have all the rights that are granted to a student at Hofstra and you also have all the responsibilities inherent in that designation. Those responsibilities include accepting the standards we operate under as a university. These standards impact you, they impact all our students, and they also protect you as they protect all our students.
In setting these standards, our premise was clear. You are adults, not kids; we are treating you that way and holding you fully accountable. You are accountable for your decisions and if there are consequences to those decisions, those consequences will be yours.
We recognize your success; we applaud your accomplishments; we grant credits to students when courses are successfully completed and a degree when all requirements are met. But, to truly applaud your accomplishments, they must be YOUR accomplishments. Plagiarism and other forms of cheating do not represent your quest for knowledge. Instead plagiarism is simply cheating and constitutes presenting someone else’s work as your own. As diverse as we are – and regardless of whether you are a millennial, a Gen X or a boomer – we must all unite in stating it is simply unacceptable to plagiarize and cheat. Let me make it very clear: respect for diversity and integrity are inextricably interwoven and both are essential prerequisites to your success as a Hofstra student and to the continued success of the United States as a county.
The bottom line is that Hofstra provides you (and we know “you” represents a diverse population) with a best fit education. But for the equation to work, you need to be fully involved, engaged, inclusive, and responsible. If anyone here is a good vampire, our education will serve your needs as well. All other vampires need not apply.
Welcome, again, to Hofstra. I look forward to seeing you on campus. And please stay in touch. You can reach me via e-mail and my office is on the second floor, west wing of the Library. Thanks and continued success.