Principled Leadership and The Citadel of Tomorrow
21 April 2006
McAlister Field House
Lt. Gen. John W. Rosa
19th President, The Citadel
Thank you, General Smith.
Colonel Jenkinson, members of the Board of Visitors, distinguished members of the platform party, faculty, staff, cadets and CGPS students who are here today, alumni and friends of The Citadel, colleagues from the academic community, our neighbors in Charleston and the Lowcountry, my family, classmates and friends, thank you for sharing this day with me and Donna. I particularly want to acknowledge my distinguished predecessors—General Grimsley, General Watts, General Grinalds and two-time interim president General Poole—whose guidance and wisdom have helped me greatly during this transition period. To all my family who are here, my extended family with the Class of 1973, my mom, dad, sisters, my two sons, daughter-in-law, grandson, and Donna’s family, it’s great to have you here. Finally, to my wife, Donna, I am forever grateful for your love and encouragement that has taken us through a wonderful life and brought us back to the place where we met and to our Citadel family.
Today is a very special day, an opportunity for us all to come together to celebrate the college we so dearly love, to remind ourselves of who we are and how far we have come, and to observe this new beginning. This inaugural ceremony marks my official transition as the 19th president of The Citadel— an institution with a long and distinguished history and deep traditions—an institution that has meant much to me, to our thousands of alumni, to the state of South Carolina and to America.
It was here that I received an excellent education and training that, together, provided the basis for a fulfilling career in the Air Force. When I graduated in 1973 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant, I qualified for pilot training. Just prior to pilot training graduation, I learned I was to be a fighter pilot. And, of all the things I have done in my 32-year career with the Air Force, that identity—a fighter pilot—has stuck with me wherever I have landed.
There is an interesting mystique about fighter pilots, I’ve discovered. People don’t talk to me much about it. But whenever I am introduced or someone writes something about me, they always include the phrase “He was a fighter pilot.” I’ve had commands at major Air Force bases, been the voice for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and served as superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy. But the attribute I can absolutely count on is “Rosa was a fighter pilot.”
If I tell my senior staff, “Don’t give me pages of data, give me charts,” they whisper, “Guess he can’t read numbers. You know, he was a fighter pilot.”
If I react a little too quickly to some misdeed by a cadet, they Instant-Message their friends, “Rosa doesn’t fool around. But, you know, he was a fighter pilot.”
If, when given three or four choices, I quickly decide what course of action to take, those who agree with my decision will say, “That Rosa is a quick study.” Those who disagree will exchange furtive glances as if to acknowledge, “What else could you expect? He was a fighter pilot.”
Now, Air Force cadets, I don’t want you to be discouraged. Everyone, regardless of his or her career path, contributes to the Air Force mission—it’s a team. But if you get one of those coveted pilot slots, take it and enjoy the ride. Just know that you’ll get that fighter-pilot label, and that identity will stick with you for the rest of your life.
Identities, once established, have a tenacious power to add layers of expectations, good or bad. If we inherit an identity, we either validate or refute those expectations in everything we do. The same is true of institutions—most especially is it true here at The Citadel.
Many of you undoubtedly attended yesterday’s symposium “Marching Through Time” and heard a fascinating discussion of The Citadel’s history from 1842 to the present. In his discussion of The Citadel’s early years, Clemson Professor Rod Andrews spoke of the principles that led to the founding of military colleges. He pointed out that they had a distinctive, egalitarian mission based on the premise that experience and achievement, not social class, should determine rank. This important precept upholds the very best of democratic ideals, and it is the model that has persisted at The Citadel ever since the first cadets reported in 1843.
Since its founding, a Citadel education has been based on academic rigor, military discipline, physical training and character development—four elements that we have come to describe as the four pillars of The Citadel experience.
Generations of cadets—the Long Gray Line—have been shaped by these four pillars . . . pillars that have been our anchor, secured us to our roots, bound us to our traditions and represent the key to our future. Our traditions remain, and will always remain, strong. That is not to say that nothing changes at The Citadel. As we learned at yesterday’s symposium, The Citadel has changed as our society has changed. But what has not changed is our commitment to the highest standards and to our four pillars.
In academics—the first pillar—we remain firmly committed to the values of an undergraduate education with a rigorous core curriculum of real depth in English, history, mathematics, science, social science and foreign languages. In our College of Graduate and Professional Studies, we offer a range of excellent scholarly, research and professional programs that serve the needs of the Lowcountry citizens.
Although the learning environment of today is quite different from that of General Summerall’s or General Clark’s or General Grimsley’s day, I know our alumni will agree with me that, regardless of when they graduated, no group at The Citadel has had a greater impact on them than the faculty: Machine Gun Hill, Flash Mahoney, Gus Wilson, Coach Infinger, Judge Lucas, Points Off Marjenhoff.
Two other pillars—physical training and military discipline—remain solid elements of The Citadel experience. While the nature of military training evolves with each generation, we remain committed to graduating officers who meet the highest standards both mentally and physically—young men and women who will accept their duty as Citadel cadets have throughout our history—the duty to serve our nation with courage, honor and distinction.
The fourth pillar—character development—has always been the centerpiece of a Citadel education. It was further defined in 1955 when General Mark Clark became president and the Corps of Cadets adopted the venerable honor code. That code—a cadet does not lie, cheat or steal, nor tolerate those who do—still inspires and raises the bar for the behavior we expect of Citadel cadets. It remains the most revered tradition among cadets and alumni alike.
Of our four pillars, character development is the overarching one. For if you perform at your best academically, physically and militarily, but you lack character, you have achieved nothing.
Today marks a new beginning. And change is inevitable, even in an institution as steeped in tradition as The Citadel. As you know, The Citadel has, at times, struggled with change, and some of those struggles have been dramatically displayed in the media. So, when I think about change at our alma mater, I like to recall the expression “the hottest fire forges the strongest steel.” Change has, and will, make us stronger. And that brings me to where we are on this very special day.
The Citadel today stands tall and proud. Our academic and military programs are robust, our standards and expectations are high, applications for admissions are close to record levels and our capital campaign has great momentum. And The Citadel continues to respond to our nation’s call to duty. Today, hundreds of alumni are deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and throughout the world, fighting the War on Terror. Eleven alumni have died fighting the war on terror, and we never will forget them.
Of course, every new beginning begs the question, “Where do we go from here?”
In 2002, this college laid a significant foundation for our future when the Board of Visitors adopted a set of strategic initiatives and The Citadel community embraced the vision of “excellence in the education of principled leaders.” Let me repeat that vision: “excellence in the education of principled leaders.”
I want everyone here today to know how grateful I am to the past leadership which has brought The Citadel to such a strong, nationally respected position, but make no mistake, The Citadel of tomorrow depends on our actions today. For us to move forward, we must not only celebrate how far we’ve come and where we stand, we must also remove our rose-colored glasses and look in the mirror and ask ourselves some hard questions. Because, as Jim Collins points out in his book Good to Great—a classic study of how corporations have made the transition to greatness—if you don’t honestly confront your problems, you will never build the momentum you need to become truly exceptional.
Since I arrived, many people have asked, “What are you going to change?” That’s not the right question, I believe. The right question is, “What must we do to make a Citadel education relevant in the 21st century?” But the answer will elude us unless we are willing to ask some other hard questions—questions which will require us to examine our weaknesses as well as our strengths.
The first relates to principled leadership. We say that we develop principled leaders, and there is no doubt that we can look around at our graduates and see leaders of principle in every profession—leaders who make us very proud, but what is the process we use to ensure that every cadet receives the training and experience he or she needs to develop into a principled leader?
The simple answer is that it happens, but we’re not sure how. We know a principled leader when we see one, but we really have no definition of what a principled leader is. One of the problems I see is that within our leadership laboratory—the barracks—while many cadets develop into leaders through the chain of command or in other ways, too many slide through, remaining on the periphery and missing out on the experiences and training that give Citadel graduates an unmistakable advantage when they enter the real world. To accomplish our mission, we must build on the Krause Initiative in Leadership and Ethics and develop a systematic four-year process that exposes every single cadet to experiences that prepare him or her to take action when necessary, to choose the hard right over the easy wrong and to be a positive role model. Principled leadership must be a quality that every graduating cadet possesses.
The next hard question, probably the toughest one of all, relates to cultural change. How can we change the culture at The Citadel so that respect—respect for others and respect for self—is a trait that each and every cadet internalizes and personifies? We know that The Citadel is designed to be a meritocracy—everyone starts from a common base and, through effort and achievement, rises towards the top.
We have always done a good job of leveling socioeconomic differences. All cadets live together in the barracks, they all wear the same uniform, they all have essentially the same Spartan accommodations and follow the same schedules. To achieve a true meritocracy, however, we must become a truly diverse culture based on mutual respect regardless of ethnic or gender differences. The way to do that is by insisting that all cadets meet common standards and that all cadets respect themselves and others. It is true that our Fourth Class System is an adversarial system, but adversarial means challenging young people in a tough, but professional environment. It does not mean disrespectful or abusive.
We at The Citadel are not unique in confronting the issue of respect. I believe that many of the problems on college campuses today stem from a lack of respect for one’s self and for one another that manifest itself in destructive ways. Cadets, indeed all college students, who respect themselves and others, drink responsibly or not at all. Cadets, who respect themselves and others, have no part of extreme behavior. Cadets, who respect themselves and others, hold everyone accountable to the same standards. Male cadets, who respect themselves and others, treat females as they would their sisters. Most of our male cadets do that… most, but not all.
Which brings me to another point about respect: We are soon approaching the 10th anniversary of the date the Board of Visitors unanimously voted to admit women and to make The Citadel the best coeducational military college in the country. It is time now for the entire Citadel community to come together as a family and for all to truly welcome, support and respect women at The Citadel. Like many career officers, I can tell you first hand how well women perform today throughout our military. Many hold top leadership positions and have proven themselves in combat. We have 96 women that wear the ring. For The Citadel to go from good to great, we must all embrace diversity.
The third hard question: How are we going to develop the College of Graduate and Professional Studies—what we call CGPS—so that the contributions and interests of those students are recognized? The more than 1,000 CGPS students who attend classes in the late afternoon and evening receive an excellent education but not a real Citadel experience. We must do more to make them a part of our community. We need to determine if we are serving them in the best way possible. We need to provide them with facilities where they can gather, exchange ideas and network.
Some underestimate the importance of our CGPS programs, mistakenly thinking that if it is not about the Corps, it doesn’t count. But I can tell you that The Citadel is a far stronger academic institution because of CGPS. CGPS strengthens our faculty by attracting those who want to teach graduate as well as undergraduate students. CGPS strengthens our ties to South Carolina and the Lowcountry. And CGPS contributes financially to our overall health, allowing The Citadel to sustain its commitment being a teaching college with hands-on personal interaction between faculty and students, a model that is becoming more scarce in higher education today.
The fourth hard question relates to technology: How are we going to best prepare our cadets and CGPS students to use the advantages of technology in their careers? We need to make a major investment in new information systems and in the people who manage and keep those systems up and current. We have many legacy systems that cannot communicate with each other—a situation that inhibits our ability to share important information in a timely manner. We need to invest in our ability to quickly analyze data, making sense of what is happening in terms that relate to our strategic objectives… in hours, not days. At a time when people in the remotest areas across the globe can exchange data in a matter of seconds, we have a limited ability to share information from one end of Summerall Field to the other. We must do better.
The fifth hard question is one that many colleges are facing: How can we, as a public college, maintain academic excellence at a time of declining public funding? We cannot continue to do more with less without eroding the quality of a Citadel education. We are rightly very proud of our four-year graduation rate—it is the best in America for public colleges and universities in our peer group. But to maintain this top national standard means that:
• We must have the financial aid available so that deserving students can remain in school without being forced to drop out in order to work.
• We must keep a Citadel education accessible and affordable.
• We must provide our faculty with the resources and facilities that support excellence in teaching.
• And we must remain at heart a teaching college—no huge lecture classes and no graduate assistants in charge of our classrooms.
All of that takes money. And public funding will probably never reach the percentages we enjoyed in the past. So we must focus on fundraising and other ways to generate revenue. Solving that problem is absolutely vital to our future.
So there you have it—five hard questions I believe we must ask if we are going to go from the very good Citadel of today to the great Citadel of tomorrow—The Citadel of my vision—strong enough to endure, vital enough to inspire, powerful enough to make character count for tomorrow’s America.