Purdue University

05/12/2024 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 05/12/2024 15:20

Purdue President Chiang to grads: As you weigh your life decisions, consider the hard way — the Boilermaker way — reflective of core principles consistent with your values

As we celebrate your graduation, it is customary at our university for the president to say a few words with some specific theme. To the Boilermakers who have gone through SARS2 COVID-19 during your undergraduate or graduate studies, a special congratulations is warranted. You have persevered, and you are here today!

For many among the graduating class, four years ago was the time you arrived at Purdue. In person. Purdue announced in April 2020, one month after the nationwide shutdown, that we would reopen campus in the fall semester.

Some thought that was crazy. A few claimed that thousands of deaths would be on Purdue's hands. Yet this university turned out to be among the safest places during the pandemic.

There were several factors behind this memorable success:

First, the university leadership was determined to provide clarity. We did not intend to give up the institutional duty of residential learning and research before even giving it a try through ample testing, quarantine space and indoor masking.

Second, faculty and staff worked doubly hard so that you, the students and parents, could have a choice: in person, online or hybrid.

Third, all university community members, including tens of thousands of Purdue students, behaved, well, like adults. You were mature and responsible in living out the Protect Purdue Pledge.

Purdue weighed the trade-off between the pros and cons of each option. We chose to give reopening a try early enough to have time to prepare for it. We followed the scientific evidence in safe reopening protocols. We prepared a backup plan of completely remote learning if reopening were to be shown as nonviable. And we kept doing the right thing even when we were accused of the opposite, at the time by many and by the media.

In your career, there will often be an easier way to get to a desired destination. And then there will be a harder way.

In this case, safety and health was the desired destination. The easier way to get there was to keep the campus shut down: charge students the same tuition, follow the vast majority of peers and claim the moral high ground. It's the safe way for administrators not to lose their jobs, but never mind the dereliction of duty to you, the students. The harder way was to try to reopen through meticulous preparation.

The easier way tends to be the natural way for individuals and for organizations. But perhaps you might want to pick the harder way: what makes it harder also makes it worthwhile.

You are also among the generation of students who did not see a tuition increase at Purdue. President Daniels and the Board of Trustees announced in 2013 an experiment of freezing tuition for a year. That experiment continues today, with an announced tuition freeze for the 13th year in a row.

It's more than a financial statement. It's a statement about our institutional values as a public land-grant university providing the uplifting power of education with excellence at scale.

We don't take frozen tuition for granted. Each year we carefully evaluate our financial strength and the macroeconomic condition. And we can't guarantee it will always keep going, even though we will try. Well, to the graduates today: You don't have to worry about tuition increases any more.

And we have been freezing tuition while providing salary increases competitive across the Big Ten and investing in physical facilities for our places, programs and people. Among the 23 construction and renovation projects that completed or started last year, 1.3 billion dollars were invested. Some from philanthropy, some from the state, and much from our accumulated savings. Savings? Yes, we insist on operating on a surplus budget.

How is it possible? Cost efficiency and economy of scale helps but has a limit. The answer is simple. Look at the income column: Undergraduate tuition is only 38% of our operating budget. Instead of raising tuition at or above inflation - like almost everywhere else for the past half a century - how about we work harder to increase the other 62%, the bigger slice of the pie?

Running a healthy budget is the goal here, but there are two ways to achieve it. The easier way is to increase the 38%. Demand is so inelastic: What can the students and parents do if we were to increase tuition by 5% each year? Most of you would have no choice but to pay up, however much we charge you. It's an easy way to be lazy, to mask inefficiency and to keep the "good times" going. The harder way was to increase the 62%: We need to be innovative and diligent.

Picking the harder way is not just about working harder, though. It's also a reflection of deeper thinking about principles, priorities and trade-offs. Choices are made by each of you at every juncture in life. Perhaps choose the harder way. That's the Boilermaker way.

Boilermakers: How could I forget the madness of this March? You participated in Purdue's first men's basketball national championship game since 1969, our centennial year when Neil Armstrong took his small steps on the moon. 2023-24 became the winningest season in program history, culminating in the first five wins at a national tournament. It's a journey for all Boilermakers past and present, and for all the fans with your thundering yet classy support at every game.

Yes, we are proud of Athletic Director Bobinski, Coach Painter, their staff and the student-athletes: not only their hard-fought victories as a team, but also how they overcome doubt, persist through tough times, and get to work even when being overlooked. Most of all, we are proud of the character reflected in Purdue student-athletes' conduct, both on and off the court.

It also reflects how this university pursues intercollegiate athletics, even when - or especially when - that world is going through tremendous turbulence from every angle. These days, many feel that the word "college" is being taken out of college athletics, and some universities look like minor sports leagues that happen to also give diplomas.

In contrast, Purdue Athletics remains a financially self-supporting entity. Our coaches still uphold values like integrity, sportsmanship and academics. All of our student-athletes are indeed students, achieving a cumulative 3.14 GPA that is hardly distinguishable from the campus as a whole - you know we don't do grade inflation here - and attaining a 90% graduation rate. Last year and again this year, 100% of the graduating student-athletes were placed into their preferred careers.

In today's environment of Division I sports, it's harder to be competitive at the highest level while holding on to these principles. With these guardrails, we have chosen to recruit and coach harder than we would need to otherwise. It's not the easier path lined with dollars and disillusionment, but your university remains steadfast to Purdue's long-standing values.

As you weigh your life decisions, or when you lead an organization large or small, consider the harder way: not because it's harder, but because it's more reflective of the core principles consistent with your values, even at the cost of deeper diligence, higher risks and longer patience.

May there always be that Boilermaker spirit of choosing the harder way in you. Boiler Up!