The beginning of the fall, 2011 semester not only brought new and returning students back to the Daemen campus, it also marked the start of the first semester under a new President. Dr. Edwin Clausen, the fifth President of Daemen College, accepted the Presidential Chain of Office midway through Inaugural ceremonies on September 8 in Wick Center on the Daemen campus. The events of the afternoon were kicked off in a stunning fashion with a traditional Chinese Lion Dance by Canada’s first and oldest Traditional Chinese Martial Arts Club, the Hong Luck Kung Fu Club of Toronto. The Lion Dance was performed to recognize Dr. Clausen’s extensive scholarship and his leadership in establishing cultural ties with educational institutions in China. The Inaugural ceremonies took place before approximately 800 Daemen students, faculty, administrators, Trustees, and invited guests, who all enjoyed a reception upon the conclusion of the events.
Seeing What’s Coming
It is mid-morning, and Daemen’s fifth president, Dr. Edwin Clausen, has just come from a meeting with a delegation from Saudi Arabia. Participants wrapped up details of an agreement involving a partnership between Daemen College and The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Cultural Mission to the U.S.; Dr. Clausen now looks forward to escorting his guests to Niagara Falls. Informal socializing with the visitors will help lay the foundation for trust and understanding in future joint ventures, he says, and “the tone of that comes from the president’s office.”
After 11 years as vice president for academic affairs and dean of the College, Dr. Clausen officially assumed responsibilities as Daemen’s president on June 3 of this year.
“I now have to take a broader view of the institution,” he says. “Part of doing that is helping the vice presidents make sure their operations are running smoothly and serving the mission of the College.”
A night owl, Dr. Clausen has found that the responsibilities that go along with being president fit very well into an “elongated day,” so it helps that he usually does not go to bed till the wee hours. Beginning to relax around 11 p.m., sitting outside in the stillness, he can sort through the events of the day and anticipate what’s ahead. “One ability that has served me well is seeing what’s coming before it gets here – and then going to work on it,” he says.
Helping to ensure the College’s financial strength is a good example, he says. “That is a charge that has become more and more the function of the president at colleges and universities across the country.
“It involves working much closer with the board of trustees, with alumni, cultivating donors, and working extensively with local, state, and federal agencies and representatives, so they do not just know about the College but are willing and able to help us meet our goals and objectives,” he explains. He is grateful that his predecessor, Dr. Martin Anisman, drew him into Daemen’s legislative affairs early on; he is already acquainted with Western New York’s legislators and the issues affecting higher education. “The president can do a fair amount to make sure the institution gets on the national map.”
Though he says “national map,” it is, in fact, a world map he has in mind. Daemen is a small liberal-arts college, but its programs in the arts and health sciences, he points out, are in many respects world-class – and that is the key to the College’s future, especially amid “the shifting nature of education.” Daemen has a history of engaging in unique international exchange programs and already enrolls students from as far away as Azerbaijian and Sudan. Now, he says, it is time to extend that reach.
Promoting innovative international programs will have important implications for both the College’s fiscal stability and the education it provides, he explains. “It fits very well into the College’s quest to have students really understand and be comfortable with the world in which we live. Trying to distill down what is important is one of the great tasks of higher education, and you have to have association with different people.”
“In a climate of increasing competition for students, colleges and universities can save on facilities, salaries and a whole host of other things through institutional partnering.” – Dr. Edwin Clausen
That philosophy is deeply ingrained in his personal experience. As a young man, he traveled to Taiwan to teach English as a second language. His immersion in Taiwanese culture lit the intellectual fire that led him to earn his doctoral degree in modern Chinese history from the University of California at Santa Barbara. Fluent in Mandarin Chinese, he has traveled extensively throughout Asia, often while teaching or doing research.
Dr. Clausen returns frequently to that part of the world. On the tail end of a recent business trip to China with some of his Daemen College colleagues, they ventured into Mongolia to set the stage for a new partnership with the Health Sciences University of Mongolia (HSUM). The program will bring medical technicians from Mongolia to Daemen for training with specialized medical diagnostic equipment. In another dimension of the agreement, students and faculty in Daemen’s new International Center for Excellence in Animation will assist in launching a multimedia technology system at HSUM and creating animated health-education videos for use in Mongolia.
In Africa, the College is exploring programs “of real potential” with the University of Botswana, Dr. Clausen notes. One program under consideration would enable students to earn a bachelor’s degree in Global and Local Sustainability – a new offering at Daemen – plus, in just one additional year of study, a master’s degree in Development Practice from the University of Botswana. The initiative could pave the way for similar joint-degree programs between Daemen and partner institutions both in the U.S. and abroad. Such programs would be “immensely cost-effective,” says Dr. Clausen. In a climate of increasing competition for students, “colleges and universities must do this. It saves on facilities, it saves on salaries and a whole host of other things.”
Pursuing such initiatives is a matter of urgency, he stresses. As the cost of a College education continues to rise, he predicts that in the next decade, “more and more American students are going to go overseas to get their education, because it’s going to be a lot cheaper, and they are going to get a top-flight education. I can tell you right now: a degree in engineering from Beijing University is going to carry great respect. It is going to happen. What are we going to do about that? How are we going to deal with that?
“Well, you had better have some serious joint programs. We are going to have to visualize now how this will work, and do it. Otherwise, it is not just that we are going to hurt financially; we are going to hurt in terms of the kind of education we deliver. This involves everything: facilities, curriculum – all aspects of the institution are going to be affected by these developments.
“We can wring our hands and say, ‘Woe is me!’ Or we can see this as an opportunity – and I think it is a great opportunity.”
Exchange programs are important in another way, he says, because travel connects students to the broader world and fosters “thinking in integrated ways. You can not think in solitude today. If you are a physical therapist [for example], you had better be well versed in cultural understanding, problem-solving, and creative thinking. And if you are a historian, you had better understand that if you are looking at the complex Middle East today, you need to look at it from a religious perspective; from the viewpoint of political science, not just history; and you need to look at complex [health-related] issues they may have.”
The Changing Curriculum
The value of interdisciplinary thinking is reflected in the College’s revised core curriculum, which Dr. Clausen helped craft after he first came to Daemen 11 years ago. The new core—which affects every student—comprises courses that stress “seven key skills and competencies that we think every student should have,” he explains. “Strong writing and research skills are among those competencies.”
Dr. Clausen is also a strong advocate of academic programs that incorporate career-related skills and experiences that will give students an edge in the job market after graduation. He says an excellent example is Daemen’s B.F.A. program in animation, offered for the first time in the fall of 2011. He championed creation of the new major and worked closely on its development with Dr. Laura Sommer, director of visual and performing arts and associate professor of art history, and Ben Porcari, president of IBC Digital in Buffalo.
“Our program is different in key ways: first, because it is art-based – the first two years focus on artistic skills, figure drawing – and second, we are partnered with one of the best animation companies in this area.” He believes the classroom/industry link will make the major “a highly visible, nationally recognized program.”
The Service Legacy
Dr. Clausen is also a staunch proponent of the College’s emphasis on “service learning,” through which students gain academic credit for taking part in community service projects throughout Western New York. All students are now required to engage in service learning in order to graduate, because service “is absolutely essential, and Daemen has a rich history of it. The Sisters of St. Francis founded this College, and that was part of their ethos. It is a continuing legacy, something they have left for us to embrace. That is a Daemen hallmark.”
Putting his belief into action, Dr. Clausen put the wheels in motion for the creation of the Western New York Service Learning Coalition, which unites not-for-profit organizations, government agencies, and 12 colleges and universities around the region, all “working together to improve Western New York.”
“Daemen’s Academic Festival gives our students an opportunity to showcase their academic work. It is a day of genuine celebration of their accomplishments. It is wonderful what they can do.” – Dr. Edwin Clausen
Teaching and Learning
Dr. Clausen takes great pride in the fact that Daemen emphasizes excellence in teaching and learning. His own years in the classroom have engendered a strong respect for the faculty and an appreciation of what they and their students are capable of achieving together. He looks forward every year to the College’s Academic Festival, an event at which students give poster presentations, exhibits, and performances that showcase their academic work. “It is a day of genuine celebration of the accomplishments of our students,” says Dr. Clausen. “It’s wonderful what they can do.” Looking back on his academic career, he says that is what brings him the greatest satisfaction.
“Becoming Daemen’s fifth president is truly an honor, but it is just the icing on the cake,” he says. “Daemen College has the potential to become one of the country’s best small-liberal arts institutions with professional programs. To have been part of that rebirth, that reaffirmation – it doesn’t get any better than that.”