This text is excerpted from President Michael G. Scales’ Inaugural Address.
At Nyack, we seek to exalt Jesus Christ by being Academically Excellent.
Excellence. There may not be a more subjective word in all of the English language. We reveal a great deal about ourselves by the things that we consider excellent. This is true whether we are speaking as individuals or as institutions.
In higher education, there is much debate over what constitutes academic excellence. This debate has existed for a long time, and it is certain to continue for a long time to come. The questions, “What is excellence?” and “How is excellence measured?” do not have universally agreed upon answers.
In some circles of higher education, excellence is determined by an accounting of resources. Buildings, endowments, public visibility, even the previous achievement of incoming students, are all considered and quantified, and a determination of excellence is made. But while this is perhaps the oldest means of determining excellence, many in higher education realize that the existence of resources alone does not insure excellence. Accordingly, if we are to measure excellence in academics, we must look beyond the presence of resources alone. We must look at what is done with those resources. Buildings and endowments don’t teach — people teach.
I suggest another means by which to determine excellence. I suggest we consider student outcomes as the measure of academic excellence. We must adopt a “value added” measure of excellence.
In his landmark 1999 article, “Rethinking Academic Excellence,” Alexander Astin asserts that such a change is overdue in higher education. Dr. Astin, former director of the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, argues that more resources should be invested in improving the learning systems at colleges. Rather than measuring the quality of incoming freshmen, the focus should be on the value-added experience of the college and the degree to which the institution is a “talent developer” for its students.
For me it comes down to two fundamental assumptions. First, we exist to serve our students… our students do not exist to serve our institution. Second, I am more concerned with who a student is when he or she graduates than I am with who that student is when he or she arrives on campus.
The product of Nyack is its graduates. The excellence of Nyack is the difference we have made… the value we have added to their lives. Along these lines, I suggest that this kind of academic excellence is a strength of Nyack and I am happy to say that I am not alone in drawing this conclusion.
The academic excellence of Nyack has been recognized by the Middle States Commission on Accreditation, The New York State Department of Education, The Association of Theological Schools, The Council for Social Work Education, The prestigious National Council for the Accreditation of Teachers Education, The National Association of Schools of Music, The Maryland Higher Education Commission, The Educational Licensure Commission of the District of Columbia, The Board of Regents of the State of Ohio, and the Puerto Rico Council of Higher Education.
This excellence, in the form of adding value to the academic lives of its students, is not something to which Nyack aspires. It is something that Nyack demonstrates and today celebrates.