LLU convocation features Chancellor Hart
Richard H. Hart, MD, DrPH
Editor’s note: Following is the text of the convocation talk, “Where To Now?” presented by Loma Linda University Chancellor Richard H. Hart, MD, DrPH, during chapel services held on Wednesday, October 19, 2005.
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Loma Linda is now halfway through a year long birthday celebration. We have recalled many events of our first 100 years, noting both our high and low points. That we are here at all is no small accomplishment.
But here we are, with increasing evidence of middle age accomplishments and stability.
So why did we not only survive, but actually thrive? And where do we go from here? Is it time to protect our gains, secure our assets, and enjoy the fruits of our labors? Or are our greatest opportunities yet ahead of us? A time for dreaming, stretching, and boldly moving into the future?
If we pause to look at the world around, we must clearly conclude that it is still in need of our peculiar offering of hope and healing, spiritual motivation and balance, and quality education and health care. It is increasingly difficult to tell the difference between “natural” and “man-made” disasters, but whatever the cause, they are occurring at an ever increasing pace.
Whether we are looking at New Orleans, Pakistan, HIV/ AIDS, international conflict, or poverty itself, the global demand for compassion, integrity, and commitment has never been greater.
So what should our future hold? What would be John Burden’s risky purchase of tomorrow? What would Ellen White see in vision as our mandate for the next 100 years? What would be Percy Magan’s challenges and achievements for the next decade?
When planning any move, it is always important to first count our current assets. What is the base we are building on? Who are our friends and supporters? What resources can we command?
We have a solid financial base in our collective operations of more than $1 billion annually. Our buildings are a healthy combination of old and new, with plans for growth and expansion. Our alumni are generally loyal and supportive. More and more students make their way to our doors. By most measures we have accomplished much and credit needs to be given to those who have gone before and made many sacrifices to bring us to this level.
I would like to suggest, however, that our greatest asset cannot be measured by physical attributes, but rather is a softer measure—our reputation and credibility. It is difficult to travel anywhere in the world today and not find someone who speaks of Loma Linda with reverence and awe.
We have truly become a beacon of hope and an example for many. So the question is how do we correctly protect, and simultaneously invest, this reputation for the future? You cannot bank a reputation, somehow secure it forever. It is alive and must either grow or die.
This morning I would like to try and look into the future with you. To try and peer over our new horizons. To anticipate the challenges of tomorrow and position ourselves to meet them with vigor and courage.
To do this, let me utilize the three themes that are guiding our centennial campaign—growth, innovation, and globalization, all wrapped up in the overarching concept of transforming lives.
First, our growth. How big should we become? We are now well over 4,000 students and around 1,000 primary faculty. Is that too many? The right ones? If we look at our mix of students today, most come here for what has come to be called the “Loma Linda experience.”
From both our Adventist tradition as well as many other Christian and even non-Christian traditions, they have made their way to Loma Linda to gain quality education in the context of a wholesome and Christ-centered environment. We are more overt than ever about the centrality of Christ on our campus, about His part in transforming lives.
No longer hesitant about this uniqueness, we have made chapel more central, feature spiritual values more directly, and have created an environment like the Children of Israel of old where others come to learn and wonder at the results of God’s leadership on our campus.
But what a risk this open invitation for God’s presence poses for us. It is like being the proverbial preacher’s kid all the time. If you claim to be this, why do you act like that?
Claiming a link with the Divine is a huge responsibility, one that needs to be carried with grave solemnity and respect. We will certainly have failures, and they will be exposed. As with Israel, the contrast between our successes and failures are amplified, and history may wonder why we didn’t see issues more clearly.
But this concern about making mistakes cannot hold us back from claiming our heritage and publicly stating our commitment to our Creator as our ultimate Leader and Guide. So like a well balanced life featuring good nutrition, regular exercise, and solid relationships, let us grow to a size that feels natural and appropriate.
Not seeking to expand or to limit, but rather to accept our responsibility for sharing our unique package of the Good News as opportunity presents itself.
In addition to growing the number of students and faculty, we also need to grow in our research and service. Our research enterprise has done extremely well in the past decade, the direct result of good faculty recruitment and a supportive environment.
To maintain this momentum will require increasing sophistication in our management processes and ever more creative minds and talents among our faculty and students.
While we traditionally have seen research as complementary to our primary goal of education, surely the pursuit of truth and new knowledge is a central part of both education and service.
As such, it deserves equal energy from this institution if we are truly fulfilling our heavenly mandate.
And this research needs to diversify more strongly into health services and reflect our full strength and scope by asking behavioral and health delivery questions as well as to continue efforts from our “bench” researchers.
The article on Adventists’ longevity in the November National Geographic showcases our research value and global impact.
Innovation is our second pillar for the future. While we usually associate innovation with technology, it can also apply to academic programs and linkages, to community relationships, to learning techniques and strategies, and even to educational goals and objectives.
Our rapidly expanding information technology infrastructure provides many opportunities for innovation. Our connections to the world can enable and empower new approaches and initiatives.
It was Mark Twain that captured an essence of the human experience when he commented that “if your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” We have many more tools now and need to creatively think of new ways to implement the learning paradigm.
There is another aspect of innovation about which I would like to comment.
Our own University provides an ideal laboratory for experimentation in this. Our campus is now home to nearly 100 nationalities, more than 60 faith traditions, and many life experiences and perspectives. How do we creatively develop balanced professionals in this milieu?
How do we grow a Catholic’s commitment to the poor alongside a Baptist’s sense of mission?
How do we nurture a Muslim’s disciplined lifestyle alongside a Hindu’s sense of social responsibility?
How does the fasting of Ramadan look alongside a vegetarian cuisine?
Or an Adventist’s concept of a creator God relate to the Buddhist’s tradition of reincarnation?
And how do we share a Jew’s sanctity for the Sabbath with our own value of that special day?
If the United States is truly the tossed salad of the world’s cultures, and California is the national trendsetter for this country, then Loma Linda University must pursue its own destiny by actively utilizing this unique laboratory of God’s children to create new understandings and relationships.
With our traditional anchor in conservative Christianity, where is the balance between understanding and influencing those who walk among us for a brief period of time? How do we winsomely share our unique concepts of the whole person, the security of salvation, the balance of a healthy lifestyle, or the value of quality social relationships?
We must look for the foundational values that apply to all individuals and cultures, share them without embarrassment or hangups, and point the way to an abundant personal and professional life. The centrality of this chapel experience is one step toward this innovation.
But there must be many others, on both a large and small scale, where every one of us, student, staff, and faculty, become a support group of one, sensing need, daring to intervene, and reflecting God’s love and compassion for all. This is where the goal of transforming lives really meets the realities of today.
Our final centennial theme has been globalization.
This is an area of traditional pride for Loma Linda, but I am not sure we truly deserve all of the acclaim we are given. While early alumni spawned many institutions in the majority world, where two-thirds of the world’s 6.5 billion people still live in relative poverty, there is so much more that we can and must do.
Sociologists have noted an interesting characteristic of the human mind. The socioeconomic level we most despise is the one we just moved out of ourselves.
Instead of being sympathetic and supportive to those struggling to advance from below us, we are often disdainful, thinking that if I can make it, you should be able to also.
Many of the 100 colleges and universities and 175 hospitals of the Adventist Church are in the majority world, struggling against great odds to advance. Their challenges are not different from what we ourselves have been recalling from Loma Linda’s own early years. Yet, displaying something between academic elitism and socioeconomic insecurity, we are often hesitant to engage with them.
The common excuse is they don’t appreciate or can’t afford quality, or they may damage the reputation of the Church and shouldn’t be trying such bold and costly initiatives as new medical schools or modern health care technologies.
While careful planning is essential, let’s not be like the many critics, including John Harvey Kellogg himself, who commented so negatively on Loma Linda’s own humble beginnings and lack of potential.
Our current students and recent alumni sense the timing is right to re-engage with the majority world.
These young people are more sophisticated and culturally sensitive than ever before. Their idealism wants to take risks and develop new methodologies.
This institution must use its credibility to generate political support, access resources, and partner in cost effective ways to truly create a global network. With the world becoming a global village, and our Church linkages waiting for us, we must provide leadership or we will become redundant.
In each convocation of my five years as chancellor, I have recognized a few of those who have been so influential to our past and present.
Our pioneers and leaders, our researchers, our pastors, and others have deserved this recognition.
This morning I would like you to acknowledge our greatest asset for the future, our students. Sitting with us today in this church are the beloved professors, the innovative researchers, the caring clinicians, the effective administrators, and even the astute politicians of tomorrow.
They represent our greatest offering to the world’s challenges. Students, will you please stand and accept our recognition of your potential and promise.
So, Loma Linda’s new century is upon us. Are we prepared to be God’s example to the world? As daunting as it may feel, our history suggests that He has prepared us for that noble destiny. This is not a reason for pride or boasting, but a time for solemn rededication to our Divine mandate.
Transforming lives has never been more timely or appropriate. Let us recommit to that heaven- set goal today.