by NICK BUCHANAN
Although the Heminger Center was checkered with plenty of empty seats on the morning of Nov. 11 as Dr. Lillian Schumacher was initiated as the sixth president of Tiffin University, the members of the student body, faculty, staff, and community who did attend filled the venue with welcoming messages of hope for the future of TU.
Sitting beside her father, who opened the ceremony with a prayer, and her husband, Schumacher shared the stage with over 30 close colleagues, peers, community members, and collegiate representatives – many of whom spoke in her support during the two-hour event.
“It is today that we begin the tomorrows of this institution,” said Melissa Weininger, the dean of student support and the registrar at the university.
TIFFIN UNIVERSITY UNDER PRESIDENT SCHUMACHER
In such few words, her sentiment summarized the tone that fellow university representatives and political figures shared. In addition to spokespeople from the offices of Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Sherrod Brown, Rep. Bill Reineke, Seneca County Commissioners President Holly Stacy, and Mayor Aaron Montz were in attendance.
“Let me tell you: you’ve got a good one,” Montz said at the ceremony. “You’ve got a good one in her. Treat her well, and I know she will treat you well.”
The event came just one year after the installment of the fifth president, Dr. Curtis Charles, who took office on July 1, 2015 and was inaugurated on Oct. 16, 2015 in a series of campus events. He resigned after just six months in office, citing a vague “difference in views on strategic vision” as his rationale in a press release.
However, this event was similar only in formalities, not in attitudes. Treating her as an old friend rather than a new leader, many of those who took the stage before the president, from the dozen greetings from representatives to the two keynote speakers, referred to her not as Dr. Schumacher, but instead as Lil. Unlike Charles, who was hired externally, Schumacher is a familiar face. She held multiple titles at Tiffin University in the past six years, including the dean of the school of business and vice president of academic affairs.
Dr. Thomas Debbink, a professor of management at TU and the representative of faculty at the ceremony, vaguely referenced the previous president in his greeting, saying that Schumacher acted as vital asset to the faculty as tensions rose under Charles’ leadership and defended their interests, even risking her job to do so.
“We know Lil,” Debbink said, claiming the announcement of her presidency was met with nearly universal approval from faculty. “Lil has demonstrated her ability to lead with the best intentions at heart.”
Her leadership style was a touchstone of remarks from Dr. James Kennedy, the former president and chief executive officer of Ohio Mutual Insurance Group. The first of two guests to offer closing remarks prior to Schumacher’s investiture, he emphasized Schumacher’s dedication to her vision and to a global mindset.
“I don’t care what facet of life you look at: Our world is crying out for leadership. We all seek to be around people who want to make a difference; who are not afraid to take an unpopular position (but it happens to be the right one); who do not back down from making the tough decisions; who understand that our world would be more safe, stable, and successful if we all held awareness of the need for tolerance and understanding,” Kennedy said. “By now, you know who I’m talking about. I’m describing Lillian Schumacher.”
Punctuating the list of speakers, Dr. Mansour Javidan reaffirmed Kennedy’s highlight of her leadership. A professor and the director of the global mindset institute at Arizona State University who held a mandatory diversity awareness workshop on TU’s campus just two days prior to the president’s inauguration, Javidan discussed the importance of Schumacher’s touted diversity initiative as an essential element of current and future Tiffin University educational standards.
“The conversations I’ve had with [Schumacher] since she became president of Tiffin – they’ve all hovered around, ‘What should a graduate of Tiffin look like? What is it that we at Tiffin do?’” Javidan said. “In other words, it’s not just about what disciplines, what expertise, […] what theories we provide to students; they’re all important, but they’re not the whole thing. The question is, ‘What kind of individual do we deliver to society? What kind of mindset? What kind of approach to life? What kind of approach to human beings? And how can we do a better job of developing graduates who can contribute in a bigger way to a globally connected environment?’”
Claire Johansen and Michael Klepper of the Tiffin University board of trustees invested Schumacher with a medallion that matched those of former presidents George Kidd, Jr. and Paul Marion, who sat just behind her, before she gave her inaugural address.
The 20-minute address opened with the importance on the cultivation of a close, family-like environment that Schumacher – or, once again, Lil – was welcomed with during the ceremony.
“This institution and so many of the people here are not ones that I feel I am joining; they are actually part of my family that have been with me as I’ve grown up through the years. In fact, many of us here at Tiffin University talk about this family environment, and we talk about the fact that at Tiffin University, it just gets in your blood. It’s actually true,” said Schumacher. “And this is my first point: I want to focus on our place. Our place, Tiffin University – because it gets in your blood, and it creates Dragons for life.”
Both the success and diversity of the Tiffin University family were equally stressed as she continued. She heavily referenced her own diversity initiative, which aims at “becoming better at embracing our uniqueness and celebrating it” – the overreaching staple of her platform – but she begged for patience from the student body to see its results.
The request echoes one Schumacher made before she could even settle into her position last January. Within days of claiming the interim presidency, she was met with controversy spearheaded by upset members of the Black Student Union, who wrote a letter of concern and held two open forums with her seeking an explanation of Charles’ sudden departure and immediate action to address alleged racial discrimination on campus.
“This initiative is extremely difficult, but we’re going to be purposeful, proactive, and intentional in this effort because it is that important,” Schumacher said. “We have to have patience, with the tenacity and endurance to stick to our guns, because all good things that make a true difference in one’s life take a lot of effort and dedication, and [are] never easily obtained.”
In closing, she once again reiterated the three key words that are fundamental to fulfilling her strategic vision – purposeful, proactive, and intentional – and called for students to help her change campus in brighter days to come under her leadership.
“Our place is a premier institution for challenging students to enhance their global competencies and 21st century skills for success in a diverse world,” she said, recapping her goals for the future of TU. “And finally, our place is one that looks and feels purposeful, proactive, and intentional in all that it does, and like Mahatma Gandhi often said and did so himself, because so many Tiffin University individuals emulate the change that they want to see in this world.”