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Presidential Inaugural Address by Dr. Steven Titus, President Emeritus Iowa Wesleyan University

Presidential Inaugural Address by Dr. Steven Titus, President Emeritus Iowa Wesleyan University
Embracing Change, Envisioning the Future

Good afternoon, welcome, and thank you for inviting me to address you on this important day in the life of American University of Nigeria.

My wife, Sara, and our daughters, Emma and Lily, arrived in your beautiful country just three days ago. This is my third visit to Africa and my first visit to Nigeria. We have been welcomed with extraordinary warmth, kindness, and hospitability. We have toured your modern and impressive campus, and we have met and visited with so many staff and students. It is our great privilege to be among you. You have humbled and inspired us, and we thank you very much. 

Acknowledgement of the Occasion:

So, it is good to be together this afternoon, gathered in community on this historic campus, on this historic occasion! Today we gather to celebrate. 

First, we celebrate the living and vibrant legacy of our dear founder nearly two decades ago, the founding of one of the greatest, boldest, and most consequential universities on the entire continent of Africa - the American University of Nigeria. (And we celebrate our dear founder’s birthday, too! A very happy birthday to you, Sir.).  

Second, we formally welcome Dr. DeWayne Preston Frazier, affectionately known at AUN as President DeWayne, and we celebrate his inauguration as the 6th president of the American University of Nigeria.

To all, your presence here is valued and appreciated.

When a new president arrives at a university modeled in the American tradition of a liberal arts university, such as AUN, it is customary to hold a community-wide celebration to inaugurate and integrate the new president into the university. An inauguration ceremony such as this marks the start of a new era for a university. It is a time-honored tradition going back centuries. 

The ritual of a presidential inauguration has powerful practical and symbolic implications. It acknowledges a significant change occurring in the life of the university. It invites the university community into a brief pause to reflect with gratitude on all that the university has accomplished since its founding. It invites the university to envision its future – a future that will not be a matter of circumstance, but a matter of choice. A choice that will serve to animate and advance the university’s mission and values in the years ahead. 

A presidential inauguration is unique and rare in America, and I suspect in Nigeria, as well. In America, inaugurations are typically reserved for U.S. presidents, state governors, and university presidents. These occasions offer a moment in the life of the university for it to reclaim and reenact its mission, and for the community to begin to engage one another collectively and collaboratively about the real future of the university.

Karl Rahner, a 20th Century German theologian said this about the real future: He wrote, 

“The real future is the one that comes in its own time and often leaves our predictions and plans in shreds. What is perhaps most difficult as a way of living in preparation for the real future is of letting go of something beautiful which we ourselves have helped to create. It must be relinquished, not because it has lost its beauty, but because the time has passed. Some other new beauty is being made.”

 

With the arrival of a new president, you are building on AUN’s strengths and its vibrant past to “make some other new beauty”. What new beauty might you create together for AUN and the students and communities it serves? What new beauty might you create to ensure a Nigeria of unity and peace?  

We know from our dear founder that “education is a game-changer”. Education is an existential imperative to preserving and advancing a free and enduring democracy. Thus, we are here today to anticipate with great hope the promise of new and collective leadership to expand the capacity and well-being of AUN for the benefit of all of Nigeria, West Africa, and far beyond. 

 

Recognition of the Founder – Atiku Abubakar:

Before I say a few words about President DeWayne, it is important to ask an important question: Why would a “Baturi” from the Commonwealth of Kentucky in the United States enthusiastically accept the invitation to travel halfway around the world to serve as president for Nigeria’s only American and developmental university? To understand, we must first appreciate the motivations and values of our dear founder that moved him to establish the university nearly 20 years ago. 

I trust that all of know of the Founder’s honorable and extensive background of service and leadership for Nigeria and his hometown of Yola. I trust you all know the Founder’s commitment to education, as evidenced in large measure, by the founding and ongoing work of this great university. The Founder is a man of peace and unity. He appreciates that a leader who understands is a leader who listens more than he talks; who inspires those around him; and who is empathetic and appreciates the dignity of every human being. Thus, a leader with these qualities and the skills and capacity to understand is a leader of peace, unity, and vision.

The Founder believes that Nigeria is a land of possibility, and that education is the fuel and inspiration for that possibility. He understands that leadership must be both credible and visionary, where everybody has an equal voice and is heard. The Founder was an eleven-year-old orphan who had barely enough to eat. Today, the Founder is a world citizen and tested leader of the largest and most complex country on the continent. It was the gift of education - the gift of opportunity and teachers who cared – AND the value of hard work that ensured his pathway to success and service at the highest levels. Through the Founder’s vision becoming reality, AUN is offering you, and those who came before you and those who will come after you, the gift of education and opportunity. The hard work is up to you. No matter who your parents are or how much talent you have, without hard work opportunities are most often wasted and rarely realized. 

For the Founder, education is a major area of his passion and investments. He stands out as a unique man who invests wisely to impact positively on his people through education. 

 

Introducing Dr. DeWayne Preston Frazier:

As I learned more about our dear founder and read several of his public speeches, I understood why President DeWayne enthusiastically accepted the opportunity to serve as your president and to move halfway around the world in a vastly different culture. Like the Founder, DeWayne grew up very, very poor and at times barely had enough to eat. DeWayne, too, was presented with education as an opportunity to emerge from poverty and begin a pathway to success and service. He, too, understands the value of hard work. Consequently, he shares a deep passion for education and the growth of students to fully realize their potential and to develop their God-given talent. As I prepared to speak to you today, I was moved by Atiku’s passion for and commitment to education and to a better Nigeria, and I know that President DeWayne shares that passion and the values that fuel that passion.

Ten years ago, I was the president of Iowa Wesleyan University, and I was in search of a new provost to help me lead and implement a very ambitious agenda. I and the university needed a high-energy, bold, creative, and entrepreneurial academic leader. Out of some 75 applicants, there was one applicant who stood above the rest. Can you guess who that one applicant was?

After a national search, I invited DeWayne to join the University as our new provost, and thankfully he accepted. DeWayne brought and continues to bring a wealth of experience and a visionary approach to leadership and higher education. His distinguished career in academia and his commitment to fostering an inclusive and innovative educational environment make him uniquely well-suited to serve as the 6th president of the American University of Nigeria. 

DeWayne’s passion for education as a tool for empowerment and his dedication to cross-cultural understanding align beautifully with the values and mission of American University of Nigeria. I have known DeWayne for nearly a decade, and we worked together very closely in very challenging circumstances for over five years. In my experience, there are three qualities I admire most about DeWayne that I believe set his leadership apart:

  1. He is kind and authentic: DeWayne has a generous heart, and he cares deeply for people. In the U.S. we often say, “what you see is what you get.” What we mean by this expression is that the person is genuine. You can trust that person to be who they say they are. This is a special and unique quality and essential in establishing trust in leadership. Some may mistake his kindness for weakness. I am here to tell you that this is one of his extraordinary strengths, and I admire his ability to make difficult decisions with kindness, compassion, and with confidence. His kindness does not get in the way of his leadership, it strengthens his leadership.
  2. DeWayne is perhaps the most creative, entrepreneurial, and strategic leader with whom I have ever worked. DeWayne is a serious student of higher education. He voraciously reads and keeps up with trends and issues facing higher education. His energy is tireless – sometimes it would tire me – but not him. DeWayne sees connections and opportunities that most do not see. Few people network like DeWayne. He understands and appreciates better than most people the power of authentic relationships, and he nurtures those relationships. He understands the power of partnership and collaboration, and he understands the power and necessity of trusting relationships to move things forward in service of the university. 
  3. The third quality I admire most about DeWayne is that he is a leader of faith. DeWayne is a seasoned, accomplished, and effective leader, and he is one of the humblest leaders I know. DeWayne’s heart and passion for service and improving the lives of others is tireless. DeWayne lives and leads with a generous heart because he knows that the gifts he has been given are gifts from God. Like our dear founder, as a boy DeWayne had very little. With hard work and God’s grace, he became a first-generation college graduate, holds four degrees, including the Ph.D., became a university provost at the tender age of 38, and now serves as your president. DeWayne has endured great hardships in his life, and his leadership is grounded in and guided by his deep faith.   



Vision for the Future:

With President DeWayne’s leadership, AUN may look forward to strengthening its academic programs, expanding its research agenda, enhancing its global partnerships, and deepening its commitment to community engagement in order to transform the university into one of the finest and most respected American universities in the world.

We recognize that the path ahead will have its challenges, including navigating a rapidly changing global educational landscape and addressing local and international issues. However, with challenges come opportunities – to innovate, to lead, and to make a lasting impact on students and the broader community.

President DeWayne keenly understands that the modern 21st century university must:

  • Both stabilize and increase its finance base. 
  • Commit to an agenda of academic entrepreneurship and innovation. 
  • Invest in its human resources. The capacity of a university can grow only to the capacity of its people. Investing in people is necessarily investing the vision and future of the university.
  • Continually plan and budget for capital and infrastructure improvements and enhancements. 
  • Honor AUN’s standing as a developmental university by continuing its deep commitment to community engagement, development, and heightened brand awareness. AUN must tell its story boldly, strategically, and often. AUN’s story, your story, is a powerful and compelling story. And never forget that your students are your best story tellers and your best advocates!

 

Call to Action and Support:

Thank you for your time and attention today, and for this great honor and privilege to celebrate with you today.

As you embark on this new era, I call upon each member of the American University of Nigeria community to lend their support, ideas, enthusiasm, and leadership to President DeWayne.

To the AUN students, Nigeria needs and deserves educated students who are wise, just, and reasoned decision makers. Nigeria needs educated and thoughtful leaders who care about the interests of Nigeria above personal interests. Nigeria needs you to work hard and to be at your best. Look around at what is happening in the world today and you realize that the stakes could not be higher.  

Together, you can achieve remarkable things and continue to position AUN as a beacon of excellence in higher education throughout the entire continent of Africa and throughout the world.

 

Closing:

Congratulations, dear friend, on your inauguration. We are proud of you, and we are excited and optimistic about the future of AUN with your leadership. Let us move forward together with vision, boldness, and integrity to “make some other new beauty” that is The American University of Nigeria.