Donald Hall, Dean of CAS introduction to Kenner Lecture, 1/30/2014

With permission from Dr. Donald Hall, Herbert and Ann Seigel Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Lehigh University, we post his introduction to the Kenner Lecture Series presentation of NPR Presents The Race Card Project with Michele Norris.

In this introduction, Dr. Hall shares insight about the Kenner Lecture series, its founder Jeff Kenner – class of 1965, Michele Norris’s background and addresses the concept of dialogue as a part of responsible leadership. Please read and take to heart.

Kenner Lecture Welcome
January 30, 2014

Welcome everyone…  I’m thrilled to see you all in beautiful Baker Hall in the Zoellner Arts Center and grateful for this opportunity to spend such a wonderful evening with you. To start, please join me in a welcoming round of applause for President Gast, Mr. Jeff Kenner, and, in particular, this evening’s esteemed guest, Michele Norris.

For those of you joining us for the first time, let me take a moment to share with you the level of importance the Kenner Lecture holds at Lehigh. The Kenner Lecture on Cultural Understanding and Tolerance was established by Jeffrey L. Kenner in 1997.  A member of the Class of 1965, Jeff majored in industrial engineering and earned a second degree in business in 1966. He began his career as a management consultant with Price Waterhouse and Company, later joining a Wall Street firm active in leveraged buyouts and venture capital. In 1986, he formed his own firm, Kenner & Company, Inc., which specializes in leveraged buyouts and recapitalization of closely-held companies.

Jeff’s support of Lehigh has been unwavering over the years. He was chairman of the Review and Prioritization Board of Lehigh’s Iaccoca Institute and served on the Board of Trustees from 1995 to 2002. While a trustee, Jeff served on the cultural affairs, development, and physical planning and plant committees.

In addition to his commitment of scholarship support for undergraduates, Jeff provided funding for a classroom in the Rauch Business Center and the Kenner Theatre in the Ulrich Student Center. He also provided funding for the entrance road to campus and initial program endowment for the Integrated Business and Engineering undergraduate program, for which he has been a frequent lecturer. He also has been a longtime member of Lehigh’s Asa Packer and Tower Societies.

The Kenner Lecture routinely brings to campus speakers that often jostle our commonly held views and challenge us to see things from a new perspective. Past speakers include author Salman Rushdie, Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, and last year, former secretary of state Madeleine Albright. Michele Norris continues that tradition.

Ms. Norris is one of the most respected voices in American journalism. As NPR host and special correspondent, she produces in-depth profiles, interviews and series, and guest hosts NPR News programs. Most recently, she was a host on NPR’s All Things Considered, where she informed, engaged and educated listeners with thoughtful interviews and in-depth reporting. She has interviewed world leaders, American presidents, military leaders, Nobel laureates, Oscar winners, and influential newsmakers.

The Race Card Project is an outgrowth of Ms. Norris’ popular family memoir, The Grace of Silence. As an award-winning journalist, Ms. Norris reports on issues that affect all of us and The Race Card Project promotes a discussion about race in America. Through The Race Card Project she asks people to distill their thoughts on race and identity into six-word stories, and tonight, through her stories, we will get a thought-provoking view of race in this country. She is joined onstage tonight by award-winning poet Sonia Sanchez, and I know we are in for an enlightening evening as we join her later in dialogue.

Let me take a moment to address the concept of dialogue. Lehigh talks a lot about what it means to lead, but I argue that any form of leadership begins with responsible dialogue. That skill is at the core of everything we do in the College of Arts and Sciences. Since last September the college has hosted several high-profile events, including those addressing how to advance women in the sciences and the current state of affairs in Syria, all of which fostered dialogue on some of the most vexing issues we face in the 21st century—both as academics and as citizens of the world.

Leadership, I assert, is about accepting there are other points of view, then finding ways to collaborate to find a solution.  The arts and sciences are more critical now than ever before and key to solving the multi-faceted problems we face in the 21st century—whether social, cultural, scientific, or religious. The College of Arts and Sciences has started a broad project called “Dialogue Toward Understanding” and has initiated a “Join the Dialogue” campaign, an initiative to invite our students into conversations showcasing disparate views on the major issues challenging us today. We encourage our students to speak up, to question, to find solutions that may lie outside the norm, knowing they can do so in a supportive and inclusive environment.

A hallmark of a Lehigh education is our students’ ability to anticipate and lead change, to view challenges as opportunities, to turn knowledge into action, and to make a difference in the world. We seek to make the most of student growth and development while placing the individual in the broader context of human culture and the natural world.  Events like tonight bring together faculty and students with distinguished leaders who are shaping their disciplines, our society, the nation, and the world. These moments help our students reflect, grow, find new meanings, and, hopefully, develop a sense of commitment and direction. We also hope it sparks a constructive dialogue that will continue long after tonight’s event.

The Kenner Lecture and other endowed lectures are critical to shaping this university’s character.  They bring to campus speakers who leave lasting impressions on our students, students who go on to make a difference. For that, I thank Jeff for his vision in endowing this lecture series.

And with that, I wish you an enjoyable evening and I know you, as I, look forward to tonight’s dialogue.  Friends, again, welcome and here is NPR Presents the Race Card Project.