Misericordia University inaugurated Thomas J. Botzman, Ph.D., during a formal installation service on Friday, Nov. 15 before more than 1,000 faculty, students, staff and honored guests in Lemmond Theater in Walsh Hall, in classrooms on campus via simulcast and by streaming on the World Wide Web.
Dr. Botzman’s inaugural address was a celebration of the principles on which Misericordia was founded in 1924, what it has become, and what it can become. He provided a glimpse of his vision for the not-too-distant future and somewhere down the road for alumni, students, faculty, staff and neighbors. In his remarks, he recognized Catherine McAuley, the foundress of the Religious Sisters of Mercy, and the countless sisters who have continued her mission “to serve people who suffer from poverty, sickness and lack of education.”
His address reflected upon his undergraduate years and, how a lesson learned long ago, can be applied to his first presidency. The ill-chosen words, “learning is suffering,’’ still resonate with President Botzman to this day. He took that statement and turned it into a theme for moving forward with the Misericordia mission.
“Perhaps we can learn a little from thinking about learning and suffering,’’ he said at the inauguration. “In just a few months, I’ve observed students teaching children, providing food to those in need, sharing concern for the rights of immigrants, visiting the elderly, supporting returning veterans, and demonstrating the charisms in a number of ways.
“They see the challenges and often witness suffering. So, perhaps, the clearer view is that Suffering is Learning. It is my hope that we can learn to live the charisms at Misericordia University and then take our good works into the world to address the suffering of others,’’ he added.
President Botzman also outlined goals for each of his initiatives — expanding opportunities to provide service abroad and to those most in need, advancing scholarship support, and imagining the future of higher education.
“This is a safe place,’’ he said about Misericordia’s rural campus. “However, our history and mission call us to take risks, to walk away from our safe place in the service of others. It is a joyous day for me when I get to hear from our students about their adventures beyond the borders of campus, some in nearby Noxen or Plymouth, and some far away in Guyana or Jamaica. My hope is that we can continue to strengthen our work outside the campus borders, in service and in learning.’’
To accomplish those goals, it will require the University to reinforce its core programs through the study of foreign languages and to provide more opportunities for international and off-campus study, he said.
The second part of his vision relates to opportunities in higher education. He wants every academically qualified student to be able to reap the rewards of earning a college degree – no matter their financial circumstances in life. In order to realize that dream, Misericordia must continue to build its endowment so it can provide additional institutional aid to students in need.
“If we want Misericordia University to continue to be the place where all are welcome we will need to build an endowment that provides the long-term base for scholarship support,’’ President Botzman said. “Our work is to join together to ensure that the success continues far into the future. That success is, in part, financial and facilities.’’
His third vision is more pragmatic and vague, but no less important. He asked the Misericordia community to look ahead, to use their imagination to dream a little, and ask themselves, “What should higher education become?”
“Misericordia University is, by many measures, wildly successful at what we do,’’ he acknowledged. “Our students graduate at levels beyond those of many other higher education institutions. The students log countless hours of service to others. Our faculty colleagues publish and teach and mentor and do anything and everything in support of our students. I note that many of those things that we do, and do well, were not even envisioned when College Misericordia was founded.’’
Therefore, he stated the Misericordia community needs to challenge itself “to build capacity for the future that exceeds our present levels of success.’’ How does he propose to accomplish that? He wants Misericordia to provide the best possible facilities in support of scholarship; dare to explore new fields of inquiry, and to seek truth in ways that are new and unclear at present, he said.
“That’s a very roundabout way of thinking of what higher education is and what it should become, a space where we can think about things that we have not thought about yet,’’ President Botzman said. “Our imagination of the future, guided by our storied past, is both exciting and enticing.’’
President Botzman assumed office July 1, the beginning of the academic year. In those few short months, he has made a lasting impression on alumni, students, faculty and staff. “We have already developed a very close working relationship,’’ said state Rep. Karen Boback, who earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees from Misericordia University. “As many of you know, the University is the site of many of my events as a state legislator. Dr. Botzman has been integral in the organization of those events.’’
“You have already proven yourself as an advocate for the students,’’ added Catie Becker ’14, president of the Student Government Association. “You want to hear us, to know our names and our concerns, and help in any way you can.’’
“We have seen Dr. Botzman as a decisive leader yet fair, as a values driven leader who shares and lives the values of our institution and the values of our founders,’’ stated Corina Slaff, Ph.D., chair of the Faculty Senate. “(You are) approachable and open to input from any of us; a leader who cares, yet is not afraid to implement needed changes.’’
In attendance at the ceremony were delegates from more than 54 educational institutions and associations, including representatives from the regional colleges and universities, as well as from around the country, and the University of the Americas in Mexico City, Mexico. Sixty-nine other colleges and universities sent greetings of congratulations to President Botzman and the Misericordia community.
“As someone whose work resulted in a dozen patents, you obviously have a keen eye for a product without precedent,’’ said state Sen. Lisa Baker of the 20th Senatorial District. “That is what we have at Misericordia, a one-of-a-kind institution born from the charitable spirit and impulses of the Sisters of Mercy. The University was founded on faith, has run on faith, and has received and justified many times over the faith of the larger community of northeastern Pennsylvania.
“There is no need for reinvention. Rather, extending the educational mission, building on the tradition and philosophy of service, and reaching farther into the surrounding region for partnerships and problem-solving, these are measures that will enhance the value of the University,’’ she added.
Mr. Metz presented the Presidential Chain of Office to Dr. Botzman. The ceremony also included greetings from dignitaries and special guests, including Moya K. Ditmeyer, Ph.D., executive director, Conference for Mercy Higher Education; Sister Patricia McDermott, RSM, president, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas; Kelly Spencer McAndrew ’79, president, Alumni Board, and representatives of the students, faculty and staff.
“I know that I speak on behalf of my colleagues on the Board of Trustees that we have confidence in the skills and abilities of Dr. Botzman to lead this University into the future, to protect its mission and its values, respect the Sisters of Mercy, and to create a place where caring, motivated students find the opportunities they need to succeed and the attention they deserve,’’ added Mr. Metz. “Welcome Dr. Botzman. Good luck and best wishes on a successful tenure as president.’’
Dr. Botzman was selected during a national search and confirmed by the Board of Trustees and the Conference of Mercy Higher Education. He assumed the Misericordia University presidency on July 1, 2013.