• Prose and Purpose

    After 25 years on the job, a former provost examines the world on campus and in higher ed.


Welcome Week 2013 Speech

Since in my last blog I talked about what I was going to say to our new first year undergraduates, my blog for this week will be my actual Welcome Week 2013 speech.

September 15, 2013

Since in my last blog I talked about what I was going to say to our new first year undergraduate students, my blog for this week will be my actual Welcome Week 2013 speech to the Class of 2017.

Good morning.  I am Herman Berliner, Hofstra’s Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, and I am pleased to add my welcome to Hofstra.  For the last few weeks, I have been thinking about what my message should be when today happens and I have the opportunity to talk with you about your Hofstra experience and your future.  But before we talk about your experience and your future, let’s move quickly into the future and go to year 2154.  What is so special about that year -- other than all of us will be more than 154 years old?

If you have seen Elysium, you will know that the movie takes place at that time.  In fact, it starts by noting that in the year 2154, two classes of people exist, the very wealthy who live on a pristine man-made space station called Elysium where all disease has been eliminated and people live happily, healthily and affluently ever after; and the rest of the population, who live on an overpopulated, ruined Earth.  Any effort to move from earth to Elysium is thwarted; illegal immigrants to Elysium are simply killed.

Neill Blomkamp, the writer and producer of Elysium, has not only made a science fiction film; he also actually believes in this scenario.  In an interview with The Guardian,  Blomkamp, who comes from South Africa, stated, “The issues raised by Elysium have been in existence as long as homo sapiens.  You’d literally have to change the human genome to stop wealth discrepancy.”  Neill continues by noting:

We have biological systems built into us that were very advantageous for us, up until we became a functioning civilization 10,000 years ago.  We are literally coded to preserve life, procreate and get food—and that’s not gonna change.  The question is whether you can somehow overpower certain parts of the mammalian DNA and try to… take…away wealth and pour it out for the rest of the planet.

I don’t believe the future will really be this gloomy and I’m not here to convince you to see the movie but I do want you to think about the future—both your future and the future of our planet and humanity itself.

Let’s start by talking about being at a University, either as a student or as a faculty member, staff member, or administrator.  Universities are great places to be and Hofstra is a particularly great University.  I’m an economist by training; quoting a friend of mine, “an economist is someone who would have been an accountant but didn’t have the personality.”  Please think about that.  Meanwhile, in addition to being an economist, I’m also interested in politics, education, the environment, a little bit of basketball, cars and theater.  I have been to almost every Broadway musical so I know from first-hand experience that when our students put on a production of Gypsy this fall it will certainly be professional quality.  Please go to see it.  Overall, no matter what your interests are, the range and quality of what we offer on campus translates into outstanding experiences.  You can major in pre-med; you can major in economics; you can major in education; or in history or almost 140 other choices, but you can actually do so much more.  Think about taking a course in another area outside your major, take a minor, pursue a dual major—go to events on campus or volunteer through our Center for Civic Engagement.  Attend a lecture from our Kalikow Center for the Study of the American Presidency.  Listen to a Pulitzer Prize winner as part of our Great Writers Great Readings series.  Participate in our fall festival.  In the past, we have had Jimmy Fallon headline the fall festival comedy show and had performances by Cobra Starship, Taking Back Sunday, Big Sean and Snoop Dogg as well as Rick Ross.  I don’t know who these groups or performers are (other than Jimmy Fallon) but I may be the only provost who’s taken his younger daughter to a One Direction concert and his older daughter to the Jonas Brothers.  In both cases my hearing did come back within 48 hours.  Getting back to what we offer:  Make use of our fitness center, attend an athletic event, swim in our pool.  I’m a regular in the pool but I claim no resemblance to Michael Phelps.  Actually, in sports I’m more like Mike Wazowski from Monsters University. We have so many things happening that no one is able to go to everything that happens on a 24/7 University campus. Don’t overdo it, but do take advantage of what we offer.  Many of my interests developed when I was a college student.  Take a chance.  Try something new even if it isn’t in your comfort zone.  Open your mind.  You won’t regret it and it can help you secure a successful future.

Let’s go back to Elysium for a moment. If I were alive in 2154, I doubt that I would be part of the wealthy or privileged few who live in this outer space paradise.  More likely I would be living on earth.  Most of you might be in the same situation.  There is still time to avoid such an Elysium scenario but the responsibility will rest with you and your contemporaries to confront the issues that my generation has not and is not fully confronting.  Issues that must be confronted if the earth is to become a better place to live rather than a more “overpopulated” and “ruined planet.”  We can clearly do so much better than a world with a few haves and too many have nots.

Your Hofstra education will help you deal with those problems and confront the issues that must be resolved. 

One more immediate issue that all universities are dealing with is how to best promote, protect and uphold academic integrity.  To that end, we have implemented an Honor Code which all of us are being asked to sign.  I am steadfast in my commitment to the Honor Code.  Let me be very clear.

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.

One of my favorite stories regarding academic dishonesty features two students in a history course who emailed a faculty member a few hours after an exam was given in class indicating they had a flat tire on the way to campus, and therefore could not take the exam at that time.  The faculty member asked them both to come in to take a make-up, placed each of them in a separate room, and gave them their make-up exams.  First question on each of their multiple choice exams was “The location of the tire that went flat was a) driver’s side front, b) driver’s side rear, c) passenger side front; d) passenger side rear.”  The results of the exam and the rest of this story really are history: each student came up with a different answer to that question.

As diverse as we are, we must all unite in stating it is simply unacceptable to cheat.  Respect for integrity is inextricably interwoven and essential to your success as a Hofstra student.  So is respect for diversity.  We are a diverse population at Hofstra but we are also a microcosm of the planet. 

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 representations.

Join with us in embracing diversity.

Above all, view your education as an opportunity, as a way of enhancing and fast- forwarding your future success and as a time to enjoy.

Give it your best shot.  We will be your partners. 

I look forward to seeing you on campus.  And please stay in touch.  Welcome again to Hofstra University, Class of 2017. Thanks and continued success.


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