Tag: President Mark Burstein

A conversation with Mark Burstein as he brings his Lawrence presidency to a close

President Mark Burstein arrived at Lawrence in July 2013. He departs at the end of June, closing a successful eight-year run.

Story by Kelly Landis / Communications

From the spirit of human connection that infuses Lawrence to his love of the Viking Room, to the three words he’d use to describe Lawrentians, Lawrence Magazine spent some time with President Mark Burstein as he reflected on his time at Lawrence, what makes it so special, and what the future might hold for him.

Burstein, the 16th president in Lawrence’s 174-year history, announced in the fall that he would step down from his position at the close of the 2020-21 academic year. Laurie Carter is set to become the 17th president on July 1.

Hey, Lawrentians: Share a message to Mark Burstein on the Kudoboard here.

Here is our conversation with Burstein as he prepares for his final Commencement and his departure from Lawrence.

What do you remember about your first day at Lawrence?

My announcement day felt like the day I joined the Lawrence community. I was on campus in December for my announcement as president. And first I remember the weather—there were snow flurries—but I also remember the warmth of the community, the outreach to me through that day. Not only the Lawrence community, but also Appleton. It was the first time I met Tim Hanna, at that time mayor of Appleton. It was just a whirlwind of a day, but I remember the individual outreach and connection.

Did that first day give you any sense of the scope or scale or a look into what was to come for you?

I’d had the privilege of working for college presidents for 20 years before I became one, but it is different being one. That day underlined the intensity of that and the careful observance of every word and action to look for clues.

Inauguration day in 2013.

You mentioned having worked for other college presidents—you obviously came from an East Coast higher education tradition, some pretty elite names on your resume. What drew you to the Midwest and what drew you to Lawrence?

I was extraordinarily fortunate that I had a lot of options when I decided that being a liberal arts college president was probably my next step. There was just something that felt like a fit through all of my conversations at Lawrence. The sense of community, the focus on a rigorous academic education for a broader student body—I really wanted to move away from an institution that focused exclusively on academically perfect students.

Another thing that appealed to me through all the conversations was this sense of aspiring to be a better version of Lawrence rather than wanting to be another institution. Many institutions where I interviewed would say, “We are X, but we want to be Y,” and Y would be another liberal arts college. And I thought, “Hmm, that doesn’t sound like a lot of fun. Why don’t you want to be a better X when you already have some real strengths? Why don’t you want to be a better version of that?” And at Lawrence, those aspirations were central in every conversation that I had; it was just so appealing to me.

What do you think makes Lawrence Lawrence?

I think this theme around human connection, that we are a community where people make time for investing in and carefully stewarding human connection. It’s not always perfect. It is not always offered or received in the right way, but it is still a value of who we are and who we want to be, what we want to improve.

What is your favorite Lawrence memory?

This is clear in my mind: Commencement. Every Commencement is just … It is not only the culmination of the academic year, it is the culmination of students’ progress through Lawrence and the celebration of real accomplishment by faculty. So it’s just a moment where everything comes together, and each Commencement is clear in my mind and an event that I really cherish.

In addition to Commencement, what is your favorite Lawrence tradition and why?

I love both Cabaret and Cultural Expressions. Both of those events allow our students to fully express unique aspects of themselves in performance. It feels like such a privilege to experience them.

Personally greeting every first-year student became a tradition during Mark Burstein’s tenure.

What do you think it says about the Lawrence culture that so many traditions are events or rooted in events?

When I was thinking about my favorite spot on campus, I was torn between two places, and one of them is the Chapel, because it is a place of performance. It has all the history of Lawrence in the stained glass windows, in the representation of the classes when we welcome the first-year class. But it’s also in the decades of convocations spoken in the space, where we come together as a community to see performances happen. And I think it’s back to this theme around human connection—we gather as a community and listen to each other, experience one another’s performative work. Whether that’s music or spoken word or dance or theater, or athletics. That’s just such a central part of who we are as an institution.

What is that other favorite spot?

My other favorite spot is the Viking Room (VR). It’s a student owned space—the bartenders are students, it is filled with students. It also has that great view out to the river, so there’s an indoor-outdoor experience. It’s not the space that is best maintained or perfectly lit or perfectly cleaned, but it’s got a feeling of Lawrence in it that I think is really special.

And because it is a student-owned space, the VR has really kept up with the change of Lawrence. It has that grounding in 50 years of history, but it’s also contemporary Lawrence at the same time, which is a really nice thing.

What surprised you most about Lawrence or about Appleton or both?

I think that what surprised me most about Lawrence was how strong the welcome was for David and me, how much of an embrace we have felt from the community. I expected it to be something that was present for us, but it has far exceeded our expectations in so many different ways. And about Appleton, I think what’s really surprised us most is the food, the cosmopolitan nature of our food offerings. Both from the variety of the different food cultures and, as someone who is gluten-free, the amount of gluten-free options in the Valley is extraordinary, far beyond any other environment that I’ve ever lived in. And that’s a surprise.

Every Commencement is a treasured experience, Burstein said.

If you had to describe Lawrence in three words, what would those words be?

That is so hard. I think I would go with creative, community, and future.

Would you apply those same words to Lawrentians or would you have different three words?

For Lawrentians, I would go certainly with “passion.” The word “change,” those wanting to change the world, and maybe the word “connection.”

What has been your biggest challenge as president of Lawrence?

My biggest challenge, and I would argue the largest challenge facing Lawrence right now, is to make the transition from a predominantly white institution to one that is anti-racist and creates a learning environment in which every student, as well as every faculty and staff member, can thrive. It is a national, international, issue and it is certainly one that is a challenge alive and present on our campus every day. I’ve learned so much from the community and from my experience trying to make this change. And I have a lot more to learn, as I would argue many of us on campus do.

What will you look back on with the most pride or the greatest sense of accomplishment?

There are two places that really resonate for me. One is the effort to become full need and the progress we’ve made to support students and families financially to the level that our methodology says we should. That is work I did very closely with development colleagues. The other place is work with faculty renewing the curriculum. The various different curricular offerings that we have now that we didn’t before and how they really build off of strengths that already existed in our faculty and in their research.

What will you miss most and what will you miss the least?

What I will miss most are the people.

What I will miss least is the public nature of the role. Many people who are presidents receive energy from the public side of the role, but it is not personally a place where I get energy. The thing with the public piece is that I love the community experiences, and I love speaking to the community. I just don’t like every time I’m out, I am known and seen and stared at, and people always interact with me as president of Lawrence, even at the grocery store. Walking around Woodman’s and having folks come up to me and talk to me about issues on campus, and sometimes I think, “I know I’ve been spending a lot of time in the egg aisle, but I’m just trying to figure out if extra large is what I really need.”

And yet, at the same time, I think that one of the beautiful things about Lawrence is this relationship with Appleton. Sarah Appleton Lawrence, Amos Lawrence, this marriage between our college and municipality and the city. But because of the size of Appleton, it just means that is heightened in a way that I experienced in Princeton, New Jersey, but I certainly never experienced at Columbia in the City of New York.

If you could give one piece of advice to students, what would that piece of advice be?

Always know that we believe in you.

Any words of wisdom or tips for Laurie Carter as she prepares to take the helm?

Laurie is so talented and already a sitting president, so I think she knows the lay of the land. And I think she knows this already, but I just want to reinforce that there is so much talent here and that people are genuinely interested in supporting her.

President Mark Burstein, joined by his husband, David Calle, and their dog, Homer, walks across campus with students and others in mid-May as part of Mark’s Last Lap, an event organized by the Lawrence University Community Council. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Any insight on what’s next or what the future holds for you?

I have just started to think about what is next for me. It’s been a very demanding year, and I’ve wanted to make sure that I have been fully present for my responsibilities here. So that has meant thinking about next steps has been, well, a tertiary priority.

The one thing I have done that I’m super excited about is that in the past, my board commitments have always been connected to my responsibilities at my institutions, but now I’ve been freed up to follow my passions a little bit more. I just joined the African Wildlife Foundation Board. It focuses on environmental issues, which is a personal passion, and in a part of the world that I care deeply about. And it also has an almost entirely African programmatic staff and leadership based in Africa. So also following my values which is, “Yes, we Westerners can raise money for this and maybe give some advice, but let the leadership of the continent lead and think about what change would look like for them.” I’m really, really excited about it.

Any final thoughts or reflections on your Lawrence experience?

We say that we’re a learning community, and I have learned so much over my eight years here. And I just feel so grateful for that experience.

Kelly Landis is editor of Lawrence, the alumni magazine that publishes twice a year.

Burstein: Nurture a campus home that “spans geography, race, and all identities”

President Mark Burstein delivers his Matriculation Convocation address virtually from the Memorial Chapel stage.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

President Mark Burstein spoke of the need for Lawrence University to feel like home to all Lawrentians as he headlined a virtual edition of the 2020-21 Matriculation Convocation on Thursday morning.

Striving for that sense of belonging comes with additional challenges this year as the University adapts to life in a pandemic and the country continues to grapple with ongoing issues of racism and racial injustice and political divisions that grow deeper and more caustic by the day.

It’s critical, Burstein said, to make sure all members of the University feel they belong here. He called on students, faculty, staff, and alumni to be part of the conversation to help make sure that becomes reality—and is sustained.

“I look forward to hearing your ideas, reactions, and disagreements as we make Lawrence the ‘home’ we all need it to be—one that spans geography, race, and all identities,” he said. “One that helps us all to become ourselves.”

Under normal circumstances, Burstein’s address, Finding Home: Belonging During a Pandemic, would have been delivered to a full house at Memorial Chapel, per tradition. But with strict social distancing protocols in place to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and a portion of the campus community teaching and studying from afar, the convocation was streamed online.

Besides Burstein’s talk, the convocation included a beautiful and creative introduction of Burstein by Allison Fleshman, associate professor of chemistry and chair of the Public Events Commitee, and a musical prelude by Conservatory faculty Estelí Gomez, Esther Oh Zabrowski, Stephen M. Sieck, Steven Paul Spears, and Phillip A. Swan (Show Us How to Love, Mark A. Miller). The virtual choir was individually recorded, then manually assembled for the composite performance.

Linda Morgan-Clement, the Julie Esch Hurvis Dean of Spiritual and Religious Life, provided closing words, encouraging Lawrentians to rise to the challenges before us. “Together we have the ability to love each imperfect self,” she said. A postlude on piano was then delivered by Hung Phi Nguyen ’21.

The Matriculation Convocation, delivered each September to mark the launch of another academic year, will be one of three convocations to be held this year.

This marked Burstein’s final Matriculation Convocation. He announced recently that he will step away from his presidential post at the end of the 2020-21 academic year, a decision informed by the need for him and his husband, David Calle, to be closer to family on the East Coast.

“I began to think about the theme of belonging and home for this Matriculation Convocation last spring in response to the societal convulsion created by both the pandemic and the deepening recognition of systemic racism in our culture,” Burstein said. “At that moment, I had no idea how personal this topic would become for me. This summer has been a time for me to reassess my priorities and decide to prioritize family, specifically my mother and my in-laws, over a position I love.”

Burstein said he, like others, is feeling the strain of the political tenor that has gripped the country in recent years. It’s been particularly raw here in Wisconsin, a state he quickly adopted when he was named Lawrence’s 16th president in 2013.

“I expect many of you feel, as I do, the pain, the conflict, and the dislocation in our society,” he said. “The new presidential election cycle has unleashed overwhelming forces to divide us. Our country’s attempt to reckon with systemic racism brings both hope and conflicting views of an aspirational future. Environmental degradation continues to march on around the globe. And, the pandemic has curtailed ways to process all of this stress, has upended family life, and has created severe economic burdens on many of us and the institutions we serve.”

All the more reason, he said, for Lawrence to double down on its efforts to make sure inclusion and equity are part of daily life here. He cited the words of an array of writers who have addressed themes of home and belonging, among them Nira Yuval-Davis (The Politics of Belonging), Brene Brown (The Gifts of Imperfection), Natasha Trethewey (he quotes from Theories of Time and Space), Kwame Anthony Appiah (In My Father’s House:  Africa in the Philosophy of Culture), Kath Weston (Families We Choose:  Lesbians, Gays, Kinship), and Toni Morrison (Home).

“Many theorists who have explored the concept of belonging find that one of its central aspects is the need to feel that your whole identity is recognized and affirmed,” Burstein said. “This recognition is seen as an invitation to create a deep connection. If this is true, how can belonging be created in a society in which racism and bias against minority identities continue to exist?”

That’s a challenge going forward, Burstein said, to make sure that sense of belonging is woven into this learning environment. And all of us need to play a role.

“Research has found that the smallest social belonging interventions can yield lasting positive effects on individuals,” he said.

Burstein said he will be locked into that work for the remainder of this academic year. And he pledged to remain connected to the Lawrence community and the work it’s doing after he departs in June, all the while maintaining his own sense of home and belonging here.

“Serving as your president has been the central privilege and pleasure of my professional career,” he said. “David and I want to thank all of you who have allowed us to join, to belong, and to call this university and Appleton our home. Lawrence will always be in our hearts and we will always be proud to call Appleton our home no matter where we reside.”

A replay of the Matriculation Convocation can be accessed here.

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

Burstein calls for thoughtful, impactful leadership on global climate crisis

President Mark Burstein speaks at the podium from the stage of Memorial Chapel during Thursday's Matriculation Convocation.
Lawrence University President Mark Burstein speaks during Thursday’s Matriculation Convocation in Memorial Chapel.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Lawrence University President Mark Burstein, speaking Thursday at the Matriculation Convocation to launch the school’s 2019-20 academic year, encouraged members of the Lawrence community to provide constructive leadership on the growing global climate crisis, and to bridge political differences along the way.

Burstein called the climate crisis “the central challenge facing society today,” and said it is the university’s responsibility to teach climate science to its students, to raise awareness of the issues and challenges and to converse respectfully with people who dismiss the science.

“It is crucial that we engage with those who dismiss the findings of 97% of climate scientists who now confirm that a climate crisis has begun, and that human activity is a root cause,” Burstein said as he addressed faculty, students and staff in Memorial Chapel on the fourth day of the fall term. “We need to continue to broaden the learning opportunities we offer and to avoid partisan framing of the climate crisis if we aim to reach all of our students, faculty, and staff. Thanks to the interdisciplinary nature of the Environmental Studies program, we offer a wide array of learning opportunities for students to consider how human activity impacts the natural world.”

The convocation, the first of three to be held during the academic year, included the traditional march of faculty, adorned in their academic dress, and music from students of the entering class. But it was Burstein’s call for climate crisis leadership that took center stage.

Faculty members, adorned in their academic dress, proceed from the Music-Drama Center to Memorial Chapel on Thursday.
Lawrence University faculty move their procession toward Memorial Chapel for Thursday morning’s annual Matriculation Convocation.

He encouraged those in attendance to draw on their own experiences with nature, to consider deeply how human activity is affecting resources we interact with close to home and on our travels.

“Experiences can sensitize us to the deep and far-reaching effect that the climate crisis will have,” Burstein said. “My year as a farmer during a break between high school and college changed my views and established conservation as central to my personal values. Living directly in the cycle of a dairy farm significantly influenced the way I thought about the natural world.

“I’m sure you have your own connections to nature. Could we find ways to encourage all of us to explore the rich natural resources of northeastern Wisconsin and Door County? Could this be a way to reach students who might otherwise avoid enrolling in an Environmental Studies course or joining an environmental organization? Are there ways we can more closely tie the prodigious natural world that surrounds us into our curriculum?”

Burstein highlighted the fires that are threatening the Amazon, the extreme conditions affecting areas from Alaska and the Arctic to the Canary Islands and California, and the increasingly extreme weather patterns being experienced here in the Midwest.

He noted statistics from the World Bank that show an average of 24 million people per year since 2008 being displaced by weather events, and projections that those numbers will rise dramatically.

Lawrence has initiatives in place and established programs available to teach about environmental issues, be it from economic, policy, cultural, biological, chemical, or geoscience perspectives. Impressive gains in recent years have been guided by faculty members such as Jeff Clark, Marcia Bjornerud, and David Gerard, and sustainability coordinator Kelsey McCormick. But, Burstein said, there’s more work to be done all across campus to better inform and engage on the challenges we face now and those we’ll be handing off to future generations.

He pointed to the polarizing effect politics is having on the climate crisis debate, and implored those in the Lawrence community to stay attentive no matter how frustrating it might get.

“Even those who agree that a climate crisis is real approach the issue now with an incapacitating fatigue,” Burstein said.

“No amount of improved communication seems to weaken the feeling that this crisis is inevitable, that nothing we do can change the course of this unfolding natural disaster,” he added. “This attitude prevents important interventions.”

President Mark Burstein speaks during Thursday's convocation in Memorial Chapel.
Memorial Chapel drew faculty, students and staff on Thursday for the Matriculation Convocation. It was the first of three convocations that will be held this academic year.

Protecting the environment and prepping the Earth for future generations hasn’t always been embedded in a political chasm. When the leaders of 12 national environmental organizations were asked to rank the “greenest” U.S. presidents, they chose Teddy Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, and Barack Obama, in that order, Burstein said.

“Two Republicans and two Democrats,” he said. “Conservation was central to Teddy Roosevelt’s vision for America’s future. He preserved land and natural beauty at the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and hundreds of other locations across the country. Richard Nixon founded the Environmental Protection Agency, banned DDT, and created the regulatory infrastructure that continues to this day. But this public consensus is disappearing.”

It’s time to reclaim the conversation, Burstein said, challenging college campuses to lead the way, to infuse climate science across the curriculum and to foster intelligent and productive conversation, all the while prepping tomorrow’s leaders to be environmentally astute and informed no matter their political affiliations.

“For us, now, to engage our entire community, we must provide a learning environment in which we can all participate without criticism or rejection,” Burstein said.

“I hope you will commit yourselves, with me, to making sure that this generation of Lawrentians will graduate with the knowledge, the tools, and the energy to provide leadership on the most important challenge that faces all of us in this century.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

President Burstein talks liberal arts education on WPR ‘Morning Show’

Lawrence University President Mark Burstein joins host Kate Archer Kent Thursday morning on Wisconsin Public Radio's "The Morning Show."
Lawrence University President Mark Burstein joins host Kate Archer Kent Thursday morning on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “The Morning Show.”

Lawrence University President Mark Burstein appeared Thursday morning on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “The Morning Show” with Kate Archer Kent to talk about challenges facing higher education, the value of a liberal arts college and the need to assist students in navigating the costs of college.

Below are excerpts from what President Burstein had to say on the live show. To listen to the interview, click here.

On the type of connection a private institution such as Lawrence can have with the surrounding community:

“One of the things that really drew me to Lawrence and the Fox Cities was what I would consider a symbiotic relationship between the college and Appleton and the Fox Cities. Appleton is actually named for Amos Lawrence’s wife, her maiden name. And that relationship, that connection is so alive and well today. We collaborate on so many different things, Appleton and Lawrence, and we really both together create a more vibrant place for all of us to live.”

On the draw to a private liberal arts college?

“We do provide a different type of education. The faculty-student ratio at Lawrence is 8 to 1, which allows us to provide a more individualized, engaged learning experience for every student on campus. And that can be summer research opportunities in laboratories or it could be individualized study.”

On helping students navigate costs of college?

“At Lawrence, this has been a real focus for us. … Our stated price is about $57,000 a year. But 98 percent of our students get aid. And that aid on average is half the cost. So, it halves the costs every year.

“And we’re really trying to raise even more money to increase that grant aid to students and families. Right now, our average debt that a student graduates with is $31,000. That has decreased over the past six years. And we’re trying to get it down to about $25,000. So, for Lawrence, it is a sustainable proposition. We’re really trying to raise more money to support every student and family to ensure they can afford a Lawrence education.

“On the other hand, not every private institution has the kind of resources Lawrence has. We have an endowment that’s over $300 million. We have an extraordinarily generous community that surrounds us. It’s really something that students and families have to think about. What is the debt you would have to take out for a four-year college education, and is that sustainable for you?”

On how the Full Speed to Full Need campaign came about at Lawrence?

“Full need means the institution, the college or university, has enough resources to support every family to the level that federal methodology says that we should. What surprised me … is that there are only 70 full-need institutions in the country. And there are over 3,000 institutions that teach undergraduates.

“One student came in … said he was working 38 hours a week, he already took out $20,000 in debt, he was a first-term sophomore and he needed to take out more to complete that year. … His parents were divorced, his dad had just been evicted from his home for not paying his rent, his mom worked in a bookstore, and he loved it at Lawrence and wanted to stay there. And I started by saying, maybe you should think about transferring to your local state institution, where maybe the finances would be different for you. He said, ‘Mark, you didn’t hear one part of what I just said, which is I love it here.’ …

“So that started me on this odyssey of what it means to be full need. Thanks to the extraordinary generosity of the Lawrence community we’ve now raised $79 million in scholarship aid, which goes into the endowment and supports students and families absolutely every year, including that student, who did graduate from Lawrence with more aid.”

On the battle to keep enrollment numbers up?

“In general, we are seeing declining enrollment in colleges across the board, both in public and private institutions. We see that in the UW System as well. That’s a demographic change, which is we have fewer high school seniors graduating in the United States. …

“Lawrence is very fortunate in that we have a student body of 1,500, and strong demand for the education we offer. About 25 percent of our students come from the state of Wisconsin, but 75 percent come from elsewhere. We have 47 states represented on campus and actually over 70 countries around the globe. That kind of demand is essential for both the future of Lawrence but also for the learning experience; interacting with this diverse population is part of the learning we offer.”

Matriculation Convocation Officially Opens Lawrence’s 166th Academic Year

President Mark Burstein officially opens Lawrence University’s 166th academic year as well as the 2014-15 convocation series Thursday, Sept. 18 with the matriculation address “Sustaining Dialogue: Educating for a Diverse Society.”

The event, at 11:10 a.m. in the Lawrence Memorial Chapel, is free and open to the public. The convocation also will be available via a live webcast.

President Mark Burstein

In his address, Burstein will discuss the importance of dialogue across different viewpoints and the role universities must play to foster this engaged exchange. As our society becomes more segregated by socioeconomic class, race, and political view, universities, as training grounds for citizenry, are obligated to create campus communities where a diversity of viewpoints are explored.  Last spring’s rash of cancelled commencement speakers calls into question whether universities are fulfilling this role.

Lawrence’s 16th president, Burstein began his tenure in July 2013 after nine years as executive vice president at Princeton University. Prior to that, he spent 10 years at Columbia University as a vice president working in human resources, student services and facilities management.

A native of Cedar Grove, N.J., Burstein earned a bachelor’s degree in history and independent studies from Vassar College and a master of business administration degree from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

Lawrence’s 2014-15 convocation series also includes:

David-Gerard_newsblog2014 copy_edited-1
David Gerard

Kwame Appiah

Sian Beilock

Nov. 4, University of Chicago psychologist Sian Beilock, “Leveraging Mind And Body To Perform Your Best Under Stress.” Beilock is an expert on the brain science behind “choking under pressure” and the many factors that influence different types of performance, from test-taking to your golf swing.

• Feb. 17, 2015, Author and New York University Professor Kwame Anthony Appiah, “A Decent Respect: Honor and Citizenship at Home and Abroad.” Known as a postmodern Socrates, Appiah asks probing questions about identity, ethnicity, honor and religion while challenging people to celebrate our common humanity.

May 14, 2015, Honors Convocation, Lawrence University economist David Gerard, “Is it Warm in Here?: The Intractable Challenges of Climate Change.” Gerard will examine the economic, social and technological obstacles confronting the issue of global climate change.

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the Fiske Guide to Colleges 2015 and the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.” Individualized learning, the development of multiple interests and community engagement are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries.