Bulldog Bites

News and Views from the University of Redlands

A letter about visions and revival

Ralph and Nancy Kuncl, shown here shortly after their arrival for the 11th presidency of the University of Redlands, plan to retire from higher education at the end of the academic year. (Photo by William Vasta)

President Ralph W. Kuncl and his spouse, Nancy Kuncl, sent the following letter to the University community on November 9, 2020.

It is with a range of conflicting emotions — which the University community might well understand in 2020 — that Nancy and I announce the resignation from our roles in the presidency, our retirement from higher education, and the launch of a new phase in our lives.  We will depart on June 30th of 2021 and work to facilitate a smooth leadership transition in the best interests of the future for this beloved institution. 

Back on June 2, 2012, the day the Board of Trustees first affirmed us, we announced the beginning of a comprehensive campaign.  That campaign, Forever Yours, is nearly complete and is on track to finish up by the end of this academic year.  So the bookend symmetry of the cycle of a presidency is at hand.

During the University’s presidential search, Nancy and I responded that we would be “partners in all things.”  For both us and the University, we now enter a season of change. 

Visions of the future are misty things. They can inspire, emerge, and either senesce or bloom vigorously over time.  At the University’s 11th presidential inauguration on February 20, 2013, there was much fanfare.  In fact, our resident composer and professor, Tony Suter, wrote a brass fanfare called simply, Eleven.  It was a time of great mutual affection and anticipation.  Yet, the words foretold a truth about all callings in service of others:   

“Let us dream together things that never were . . . and continue to ask, ‘Why not?’ [after Robert F. Kennedy].  To all of you gathered here . . . it won’t always be pomp and circumstance like today.  We will almost certainly face a tough time or two together . . . and from time to time may even dislike one another, hard as that is to imagine right now.  But the essential point is this: that we are all in this together, acting in good faith and good conscience. . . .  Today is a new day – and may we simply set out right now to make it work . . . for the love of the University of Redlands.” 

We will never forget that day’s lyrical admonition by Professor Art Svenson (please, do view his unforgettable performance) to “Take care of ‘Our House’!”  We did.  Promises made in response that day were that we would:

Internationalize.  The charge was this: 

“We owe it to our current students to provide the peer group that will give them a global perspective and help turn them into citizens of the world.”

Together, the University community did just that and multiplied many fold the number of international students in the College and in what are now three graduate and professional schools. 

A new set of liberal arts of the future was foretold.  It was claimed, 

“It won’t be your father’s liberal arts.  We will ask students to acquire 21st Century skills.”  

And it is so.  Faculty and academic leaders have launched many new multidisciplinary programs and pathways under North Star 2020 that didn’t exist nine years ago. 

And there were promises about higher education affordability, spatial design, and idealism that we mostly kept.  But the curious prediction was the one that an emphasis on digital and hybrid modes of learning was inevitable.  Who knew in 2013, when we were just recovering from the Great Recession, that a pandemic would motivate us as we are now?!  The speech claimed . . .

“ . . . ‘Faster, cheaper’ . . . is not what we’re about.  ‘Online’ only matters to me if we can show it enhances actual learning. . . . The future lies in hybrid approaches to online learning that combine the best of place and the best of distance. . . .  Humans yearn for meaningful places, like cathedrals, modern libraries, walkable neighborhoods, and places like this gem of a University in Redlands.  And that doesn’t even begin to conceive of football and track, theatre and orchestras, the Salzburg campus experience, and, even more than that, the viral learning among peers who experience the simultaneity of this place.”

And it was foretold that we would see the arrival of the decades-long-awaited train system.  The Arrow Line is being constructed right now on our south campus in Redlands.  And the vision of a University Village grown up around the train is going to be realized — the Request for Qualifications has launched, and a master developer will engage the capital and partners in a private-public-private partnership — if the university community has the foresight to actualize it all. 

A dream that could not even be imagined in 2013 was the eventuality of a merger/acquisition as big as the births of Salzburg campus or Johnston.  But we now have a magnificently beautiful campus in Marin that offers a future for every one of our schools, if the University only realizes that dream. 

So much to do.  It never ends.  Visions are like that, emerging layer upon layer. 

For all of us, it is a time of empathy for our common problems, yet also a time to evoke faith.  Right now, during a third wave of an historic pandemic, many people feel great vulnerability.  We regret that so many of our colleagues may feel so at risk, even though higher education is one of the most resilient parts of our culture.  We know many are suffering.  Yet, we have faith, even now, that all of us will revive and thrive. 

At the end of the inauguration, Cornell West was quoted about faith and revival: “. . . We’ve forgotten that a rich life consists fundamentally of serving others, trying to leave the world a little better than you found it . . . . In many instances we will be stepping out on nothing and just hoping to land on something.”  Our lives go on, Nancy and me.  As we step out into our own next professional passions in life, we can anticipate that the openings we leave for you may help inspire the revival of spirit the University so desires for 2021. 

To the future,

Ralph and Nancy