When a “B” Stands for Excellence

Here at Methodist, we talk a great deal about our culture of excellence. In fact, this is articulated as Goal #1 in the 2010-2015 Strategic Plan. Throughout the past year, I have promoted this “culture of excellence” theme by talking about the three elements that define excellence at an institution: (1) signature people; (2) signature programs; and (3) signature facilities.

Does this mean Methodist can assess its success in implementing the Strategic Plan by receiving an “A” on key initiatives that are designed to improve the quality of education and overall campus life? The most immediate response should be “yes,” as goals and subsequent implementation plans need to have measureable outcomes, and what could be more relevant at an institution than to have a grading scale where an “A” represents the best performance possible? 

I have recently been reminded that there are indeed exceptions to rules, and the recent investment grade BBB bond rating the University received from both Fitch and Standard & Poors represents high marks from these two agencies that have helped us move forward with our $16,875,000 bond offering. In fact, when the bonds were offered for sale this week, over $88,000,000 in purchase requests were received. Now that represents in very important financial terms that potential investors are “bullish” on Methodist University.  And this wouldn’t have been possible without the hard work of our trustees and University staff who gave an “A” performance over multiple years that set the stage for this hugely successful bond offering. 

At Methodist, we are excited about the future and all the plans we have to take the University to the next level. The bond issue, along with accumulated cash reserves and contributions from so many donors, has set the stage for us to move forward with the implementation of Phase I of the Master Plan. In fact, visitors to the campus will soon see evidence of these improvements, as we will be creating a new streetscape along Ramsey Street, providing necessary enhancements and the next generation of trees on Lowdermilk Drive and Joe Stout View Drive, extend the north entrance to the Trustees Building, and totally renovate the Library.  And to think that this was made possible, in part, with a “B” grade!

Needless to say, I am delighted that MU is receiving high marks in pursuit of excellence.  As we begin the fall semester, there are so many things to celebrate about our University, and I look forward to bringing news to you in the coming weeks, featuring other programs that are receiving high marks. In the story of the investment grade BBB bond rating, signature people sought validation from signature organizations in order to build signature facilities. In my book, that is an “AAA rating” in support of Methodist University. It’s a great time to be a Monarch!

Marathon Training Update

My “long run” this week was 12 miles (7 weeks to the Chicago Marathon).  With so much happening this week with the opening of the semester, I had to find time to squeeze this distance in on the treadmill. Have you ever worked out that long on a treadmill? My only salvation was that Debbie and I watched three episodes of Downton Abbey back to back in the process. Would you call that multi-tasking or “multi-treading?” So what will I do this coming week when it is up to 14 miles? Stay tuned for my next blog, as I hope to hold the inaugural “Weekly Walk with the President” in support of our campus-wide wellness initiative. I won’t ask participants to stay with me for 14 miles, but I have paced off a nice one-mile loop that should provide a good workout.

Ben Hancock

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Good Neighbors Make Better Fences

In his famous poem, The Mending Wall, Robert Frost coins the phrase “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors.” This phrase is often used to suggest that the best relationship between neighbors is a fence that clearly defines their shared border.

It has also been suggested more than once that a university should put up a fence around its perimeter—on the one hand, to keep the students and their “mischief” in, and on the other, to keep the locals out. But in today’s environment, we need each other more than ever, and we need to learn from one another as we bring talents that make us both better communities, and in the end, lead to there being only one community.

Tuesday evening, Debbie and I hosted a garden supper for our neighbors in Kinwood, directly to the north of the campus. Methodist has experienced growth on its north side, first with residence halls and athletic facilities “down back” that border some of the neighborhood and most recently with the construction of the new sophomore residence hall, North Hall, along Kinlaw Road on the northwest corner of the campus. You might first think those who accepted our invitation would come with complaints or major concerns regarding the increased activity. Certainly there would be questions about traffic, parking, and noise. But what we received was a warm welcome to the neighborhood as the president and first lady, and a “thank you” for the invitation and the opportunity to hear about the plans for the University. In fact, these neighbors were proud of the growth of Methodist and what it means to the community. And what we also realized was that many of these neighbors were already involved in the University in some way or another, either as alumni or business people who benefit from the campus, or in some cases, current or retired employees of Methodist. In essence, they reminded us that the border between the University and the community is seamless, if it exists at all. As it should be.

There has never been a great university without a great community, and I would hope that the community believes that it is “greater” by virtue of having a university and its many resources available. One of the reasons we have launched the Methodist University Journey with its Center for Community Engagement is to give our students an opportunity to be involved in the community—to take on (and help solve) some of the community’s problems and use these opportunities as a learning experience that will help them prepare for graduate schools or their chosen professions as they hone their problem-solving skills.  It also helps students understand the importance of civic engagement and perpetuates one of the most fundamental principles of democracy—one that sets America apart from other countries, and why this nation, and the community of Fayetteville, offers a wonderful place to live, work, and learn.

Yes, good neighbors make for better fences, and in the end, remove the need for fences at all.

Marathon Training Update

This week my “long run” was up to 10 miles. (Only eight weeks to the Chicago Marathon.)  For me with my “15 minute mile,” this represents a great deal of time to think about neighbors—and students. The course for my training is not as quiet these days, as the early arrivals for football, band practice, and other activities cause me to stop and chat and get to know the newest members of our community.  Not good for my training, but highly motivating!

Ben Hancock

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An Olympic Moment

One of the Hancock family traditions is to attend the Olympics every two years. So, faithful to that tradition, we were in London earlier this week. Our family has expanded since the first trip to Barcelona in 1992, but one thing has been constant when traveling around the world for these ten events over twenty years: our sense of pride and patriotism as Americans and a sense of wonder about this fascinating world in which we live.

I have been asked often about our best memories or favorite Olympics. Another question has to do with whether or not it is worth it, and can you see a great deal when you go. My response is always the same. If you want to “see” the Olympics, stay home, as the network coverage will ensure that you don’t miss a thing. But if you want to “experience” the Olympics, there is no substitute for being there, even if you are in the last row of the stadium (which has happened to us). What’s more, you have an amazing opportunity to not only celebrate being an American but also to meet individuals from around the globe who have come together for the same purpose. And on any given Thanksgiving dinner or other family reunion, we will play the “remember when” game and the memories come fast and furious. Interestingly enough, those recollections very seldom focus on seeing Lewis, Hughes, Phelps, or Ohno.  Rather, they have to do with an experience while traveling or an impression of a country or custom.

Did such experiences have a lasting effect on our children? They certainly returned with a better sense of the world and global issues than what they could glean from a television broadcast, and all five of our children later studied abroad and made subsequent international trips on their own.

So that’s why we go to the Olympics, and why we will continue the tradition as long as Hancock family members continue to get the biennial urge to explore.

At Methodist University, we are attempting to give our students the equivalent of an “Olympic moment.” The recently established Center for Global Education is designed to provide students with the opportunity to experience their own “aha moments” as they study abroad, meet people, and create impressions of countries and their customs. Such experiences will enrich their lives and better prepare them for their chosen careers – all which will be affected by global issues. I have yet to talk with a student returning from a study abroad experience who wasn’t profoundly influenced by what she or he witnessed or learned during the time spent beyond our borders.

So that’s why we encourage our students to study abroad, or to meet the more than 100 international students on our campus. We literally have our own “Olympic Village” at Methodist, making it possible for all of our students to have similar experiences and cultural exchanges much closer to home. When we have a formal celebration on campus like Commencement, and all the international flags are on display, we have our own version of the Opening and Closing ceremonies and feel a great deal of pride in our university environment and in all that we offer our students.

We will continue these traditions, along with creating new international experiences and memories for members of the Methodist University family. So later in their lives and during campus reunions with classmates and faculty, they can play the “remember when” game.

Marathon Training Update

Today the distance for my “long run” is up to 8 miles. Wish me luck! Only 9 weeks to race day. However, I assure you October 7 will NOT be one of those Olympic moments!

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A President’s Commitment to Wellness

Today I am announcing my training for the October 7 Chicago Marathon. I do this not only to emphasize my commitment to wellness, but also to launch a University‑wide emphasis on wellness.

Why should this be important to me, and more importantly, to Methodist University? At my inauguration this spring, I announced the creation of the School of Health Sciences.  This School suggests that health sciences are of interest to prospective students and prospective employers. This means that if we are to increase our footprint in the health sciences, we should equally improve our emphasis and imprint on total wellness.  Indeed, if a university promotes a culture of excellence and notes the importance of signature people, shouldn’t it focus on their well being? We should also be looking at lifetime health skills for our graduates, not just lifetime skills to aid in employment, critical thinking, and citizenship.

So what does an emphasis on wellness mean? Over the next 11 weeks, as I train for the marathon and focus on my own wellness, I will share thoughts about wellness in my weekly blog entry. I will share what I consider to be the key elements of a campus‑wide wellness program. The University will also be utilizing other communications channels to unveil wellness programs, encourage the use of our wellness facilities, and to provide further education.

An emphasis on nutrition is one element of a comprehensive wellness program. Again, at my inauguration, I announced programs on the horizon that would be included in the new School of Health Sciences. One of these is nutrition, so what better way to enhance our wellness program than in tandem with the development of this emerging academic program.

I look forward to sharing further thoughts in the coming weeks, as well as my progress in training for the marathon. I invite you to join me in this commitment, including the development of your own personal wellness plan to coincide with our University program.

Best wishes,

Ben Hancock

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Service Above Self


One of my “guiding principles” that has served me well over the years is “there is no limit to what one can accomplish if he (or she) doesn’t care who gets the credit.” This is particularly true of MU’s Board of Trustees, who have devoted so much energy and resources to this institution over its more than five decades of existence. While the president of the University is the “public head” of the University, there are over thirty trustees behind the scenes who have given unselfishly to make us who we are today.

These “servant leaders” are most notably embodied by the Board chair, and for the past four years, we have benefitted from the wise and faithful service of Harvey Wright. He has led the way for trustee participation in the Strategic Plan, Campus Master Plan, Loyalty Day campaigns, and the search for a new president. As he steps down this week, we all owe him much gratitude for his service, and I am particularly grateful for his thoughtful and insightful advice as I stepped into the presidency at Methodist.

Now Methodist enters a new era of trustee leadership, as Dr. Mary Lynn Bryan becomes our new chair. Dr. Bryan brings so much experience into this position and a genuine love of our University—an amazing combination that will enable us to continue to take Methodist to the next level. In her role as vice chair, I have never seen someone devote so much time to her role due to her commitment to MU and because she has taken her anticipated role of chair so seriously. We welcome her as the new chair this week and pledge ourselves to ensuring her success.

Those who have heard me speak know I love to speak about “signature people,” and one might wonder if the word “signature” is sometimes overused. I don’t worry about this issue, as there are so many wonderful people associated with this University who are worthy of this designation. Simply put, there is no better word to describe their selfless service and commitment to our “culture of excellence.”

As we prepare to celebrate our nation’s founding this week and thus recognize all who have made this country what it is today, I hope we can also take a few moments to think of this University’s founders and present leadership that make Methodist what it is today.

It is no wonder that I have the best job in America, as I have the best trustees in America and live in the best nation in the world.

Have a wonderful 4th of July,

Ben Hancock

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An Evening Walk Around the Campus

As I was taking an evening walk recently with our golden retriever, Annie, it struck me how fortunate we are to have such a splendid campus with its well-kept facilities and natural beauty. We are so close to the center of the city, while at the same time, we have the benefits of being situated on 630 rolling acres along the Cape Fear River.

Tender loving care over the first half-century of our existence is evident everywhere, and the Master Plan for the University that was adopted this past winter will ensure that the same care is extended over the next twenty years and more.

The first site on my walk that caught my eye was the Sophomore Residence Hall presently under construction that rests on the north end of Sink Field. It is so quiet now, but I can imagine all the activity once the fall semester begins and this emerging residential quad being the home for 225 students.

As I turned the corner onto Lowdermilk Drive and headed south, I thought about the plans for the “streetscaping” of this drive, along with Stout View Drive, thus providing for much-needed sidewalks for pedestrians and the next generation of trees. We are committed to keeping Methodist not only safe for our community, but also “green.” The first impression of the campus as one enters is to marvel at the landscaping, so we will make sure that this is a feature that remains constant in future development.

When I turned south on Stout View Drive, I immediately thought of things to come, when in less than three months, we will be holding our first home football game and welcoming visitors to campus. To my right is the new Nursing Building, due to open its doors this summer to a record number of nursing students. This state-of-the-art facility, complete with a virtual hospital, offers so much to our students and is a symbol of excellence that we have come to expect here at Methodist.

There was little activity this evening in the area between the Berns Center and the Riddle Center. At times, this can be the busiest area of campus, with students heading in and out of the Green and Gold Café and playing basketball on the courts, not to mention an athletic contest in Riddle. The parking lot/street/pedestrian way is usually congested, and a reminder of more improvements to come when this area will be transformed into a green space bordered by the expanded Student Center, football field, and a new residence hall.  These enhancements will add so much to the vitality of campus life.

Rounding out the rest of the campus on my walk and heading “down back,” there were no tennis matches, late afternoon baseball or softball games, or Professional Golf Management students at the Player Center. They are off to their summer jobs, internships, and travels. But this will soon change as we gear up for the fall semester that begins in August with what may well be another record enrollment – another sign of Methodist’s increasing popularity.

As I head up the hill, through the rest of the residence halls and make my way to what has become our home, I wonder if I am the only college president in America who feels the way I do about my campus. If not, I know there is no president who is prouder of an institution, its founding principles, and its continued commitment to excellence in everything we do.

I invite everyone to take a walk around the campus and celebrate the many blessings we have received as an institution and the shared vision for taking Methodist to the next level. This includes being good stewards of our surroundings so that this and future generations can enjoy the best University campus in America.

Best wishes,
Ben Hancock

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Lessons from Commencement

Perhaps the single most significant event on a university campus is Commencement.  After all, for the university, it symbolizes all that we stand for, and for the students, it symbolizes all that they strive for and all that they achieve. It is an ending, but it is also a beginning, as it marks the “crossing over” from one of life’s journeys to another.

Commencement also provides an opportunity to reflect on the academic year that comes to a conclusion. I shared the following highlights with those assembled:

  • Progress on the Strategic Plan
  • Unveiling of a new Master Plan
  • Construction of a new Sophomore Residence Hall and Nursing Building
  • The creation of the Center for Student Success
  • The development of the Methodist University Journey and the creation of Centers in Leadership, Global Education, Community Engagement, and Undergraduate Research and Creativity
  • The inaugural Undergraduate Research Symposium
  • The new School of Health Sciences
  • Athletic conference championships and All-American and All-Conference honors for some of our athletes
  • Impressive speakers on campus, including General Frank Helmick, Retired UPS Chairman/CEO Oz Nelson, and First Citizens Bank Chairman/CEO Frank B. Holding, Jr.

But nothing has been as exciting or as important as the accomplishments of our graduates. They have achieved great success through their academic pursuits, and now continue on to professional positions or graduate schools, while living lives of meaning and purpose.

As I greeted each of the 160 graduates with their sponsors and handed them their diplomas, I was moved by how much a degree from Methodist meant to them and their families. For some, they were the first in their family to graduate from college. For others, major sacrifices were made in order to pursue an education. Others expressed their gratitude for being given this life-changing opportunity to attend Methodist, and for the relationships they developed with faculty, staff, and fellow classmates.

What I learned at Commencement is a reminder of what I have encountered numerous times since arriving at Methodist some fifteen months ago. This is a special place that transforms lives.  Methodist is thriving and continuing to prosper and move forward. Methodist gets it right where it matters the most – putting the success of our students first.

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The Power of Philanthropy

Every university president’s job description includes fund raising, as private resources are critical to meeting the needs of the institution. This is certainly true at Methodist, and as we launch our bold vision for the future, it is clear that we will need the generous support of those who have given before, as well as support from new friends who are excited about our plans and want to assist us in providing the very best educational experience for our students.

A bold vision requires bold demonstrations of support, so I was particularly pleased and honored that Harvey and Mary Fermanides Wright allowed me to announce their $5 million commitment for scholarships at my Inauguration on March 23. Their “transformational gift” will do more than help future generations of outstanding students attend and be engaged at Methodist. It is also an “inspirational gift” that will challenge other alumni and friends to do their part in moving the University forward.

The true power of philanthropy is its ability to enable individuals to invest in institutions they are passionate about and to allow them to leave a mark that will forever be present.  Often such gifts are made quietly and without any fanfare. Such is the case with Harvey and Mary Wright, who consented to having their gift announced, but sought no recognition or publicity. Their commitment was based solely on the benefits they have already received from a lifetime of involvement and caring about Methodist University and their desire to pass on their passion to future generations who will learn of their love of the University.

We are so grateful to Harvey and Mary Wright for their generosity and visionary gift.  They inspire us to do all that we can to make Methodist the very best university it can be, knowing that our legacy will live on through the experiences of students, made possible through the support of those who light the pathway to a Methodist education. As it should be. This is the power and joy of philanthropy, and how it transforms the lives of students and donors . . .

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It’s All About Methodist

As I reflect on the all the work that went into the Inauguration festivities last Friday, and then the showcasing of the University over the course of the day, it is worth repeating that the event was not about me, but about Methodist. How fortunate I am to have the opportunity to be in this place at this time, with so many “signature people” among us who care so deeply about this University.

I want to thank everyone for making my family and other guests who visited our campus feel so welcome. I heard so many comments about the hospitality exhibited by our community. And the campus never looked better, thanks to the hard work by everyone.

Special thanks are in order for the Inauguration Steering Committee, chaired by Robin Davenport, for all of their efforts above and beyond the call of duty. What an amazing group of people!

We have such a wonderful university community, and Friday, March 23 indeed provided an opportunity to showcase Methodist. There were so many highlights to the day, including the Leadership Breakfast, “Inaugural Showcase” (featuring the first Undergraduate Research and Creativity Symposium), Inauguration and Reception – all done first class and all presenting our students, faculty, and staff at their best.

Again, I have the best job in America at the best University in America, and it is no longer a secret!

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A Passion for Excellence

On Monday, February 27, the Methodist University campus and guests from the community were fortunate to hear Lieutenant General Frank Helmick, Commanding General at Ft. Bragg, talk about leadership and his insights about Iraq.

General Helmick, whose service in the Army spans 37 years, talked about his passion for his work that remains to this day, and how important this is to being successful. He quoted a study that indicated that 50% of Americans are not happy with what they are doing, and challenged the students in attendance to “do what you really love to do.”

He went on to talk about the importance of relationships – with your classmates, your professors, and eventually your peers and colleagues. These all will help create and maintain a culture of excellence, something we talk about a great deal here at Methodist.  General Helmick and I agree that the key to successful organizations, ranging from education to military, is to invest in people. “Signature people” define us and help lead us in making the best decisions for our organizations that serve students and soldiers alike.

Partnerships are very important to a university as well as to individuals. Methodist University is blessed to have an outstanding relationship with Ft. Bragg and the military, and as General Helmick stated during his talk, we are presently investigating additional ways we can work together to benefit soldiers and students alike. I look forward to sharing new developments in this relationship as they unfold.

And yes, General Frank Helmick is one of those “signature people,” a great patriot and leader, who comes along so rarely, sharing his perspective and inspiring us to do our best, have a passion for what we do, and to be committed to a culture of excellence.


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