David L. Archer’s Presidential Inauguration Speech, delivered on November 19, 2022 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

Your excellency, Bishop Talley and Bishop Steib, priests and religious of the Diocese of Memphis Christian Brothers and affiliates, Board of Trustee members, fellow university presidents and delegates, members of the Lasallian and CBU family, esteemed faculty and staff, to my loving family and friends, and the reason we exist our students, welcome.

I am honored and humbled to stand before you as the 24th president of Christian Brothers University. 

This ceremony today marks the beginning of my fourth career, my fourth vocation, and each of them has come about through hearing a call and answering it. I never planned on being a professor, and I certainly never planned on being a university president. I suspect that my students are tired of hearing it, but I believe that God has made us all for something specific, for a specific vocation, and our job is to figure out what it is, to discern it, and to have to courage to follow god’s plan. That being said, we are not here today to celebrate David Archer; we are here to celebrate the Lasallian tradition that god has led me to follow.

Yesterday, Christian Brothers University observed the anniversary of its founding 151 years ago, ending a year-long sesquicentennial celebration, but the mission of our university is much older and much larger than our small but historic footprint here in Memphis. Over 300 years ago, St. John Baptist de La Salle and the original Brothers of the Christian Schools literally defined the practice of education as we know it today. 

Every day, in order to enter the president’s office at CBU, I pass beneath a stained-glass window above the front door of Barry Hall. That stained glass depicts the Signum Fidei, the sign of faith, which is the five-pointed Lasallian star. It represents the Wise Men following the star of Bethlehem to Jesus and to the truth, but its five points also represent the five foundational principles of the Lasallian mission: faith in the presence of god, respect for all people, inclusive community, concern for the poor and social justice, and quality education. 

We are here today to celebrate those principles, to deliver that mission to a world that is struggling, that is in need. As educators, we strive to be guided by the pursuit of truth and knowledge. We need to stay focused on our mission, to celebrate the opportunity we have to educate the future in a noble and truth-seeking way. To celebrate the fact that our graduates will be part of the solution to the struggles facing our world.

In the Lasallian tradition, the core of quality education is innovation. The reason the first Lasallian schools were known for quality education is that they were innovative. They found new ways to teach, to make knowledge accessible. Our dedicated faculty at CBU continues that tradition, working diligently to help their students to succeed, through mentoring, scholarly research, practical and personal counseling and advising. The university, as a whole, needs to continue that tradition as well, and I can assure you that we will continue to innovate, to look at new academic majors and new degree programs, new ways to better deliver educational content, and new pedagogical practices in order to meet students where they are and to respond not only to our students, but also to local industry and to our greater community.

As we continue to provide quality education and to find innovative new ways to do so, another lasallian core principle that defines Christian Brothers University is our concern for the poor. CBU has a long and meaningful history of transforming the lives of students who have grown up in difficult economic situations, and therefore we must continue to provide generous financial assistance and to make a CBU education as affordable as possible. Just as we find ways to innovate in our educational practices, we will also be open to new efforts in fundraising and institutional advancement. We will be concentrating on doubling our annual giving in order to further assist our students with financial aid and to make sure that our graduates leave without the burden of unmanageable debt.

Speaking of our graduates, they are the proof that a Lasallian education changes lives and can help us change our struggling world. “Enter to Learn. Leave to Serve.” It says that on the doors to every classroom building on the CBU campus, and it becomes a fundamental principle in the lives of our students. During the past year, we have spotlighted our alumni as part of the University’s Sesquicentennial, and it is obvious that our graduates leave CBU as ethical, pragmatic, and committed leaders of our community — whether that leadership is evidenced in their career, their faith, their service to those in need, or simply in their character. I look forward to meeting and working with our alumni in my new position, to learn from them and to support them as they support their Alma Mater, to thank them and encourage them as they make our university, our city, and our world a better place.

This past week, I was privileged to attend the Ialu Encuentro, the triannual meeting of the leaders of the 65 Lasallian universities spread throughout the world. we saw and learned many things, not the least of which was the innovation occurring at our universities in France and Catalan, but what struck me most were two sessions. The first was a panel of the leaders of the Lasallian, the Marist, and the Jesuit Associations of universities. There was much sharing of how each association was working in concert with its universities, but what struck me – and I regret to tell you that this came from the president of the Jesuit Association – was the challenge to remember that we are about creating the kingdom of God. Leave it to the Jesuits.

The second was a panel of the leaders of our African colleges and universities. In listening to the leaders of our African colleges and universities, I was struck by a parallel need. They discussed the fact that Africa does not struggle economically due to a lack of resources. Resources are abundant. What they struggle with most is the imposition of solutions developed outside Africa and with corruption and its impact on society — in particular, their economies. They seek in our universities to educate good Christian leaders who will not accept the status quo of corruption with more and more graduates acting as leaven in society.

This brought me back to something I said at our recent gala: if ever there was a time that memphis needed CBU and the brothers, it is now. Why do we need CBU? Because CBU faithfully embodies the vision of Saint John Baptist De La Salle. Because of this, we are very good at transforming lives, raising students and families out of poverty, and providing a high value education. Is that enough? Is that all that memphis needs?

Throughout our history, we have been about finding new and innovative ways to educate the whole person. As I said before, this is a hallmark of catholic and Lasallian education. What does this mean? As I did at the gala, I will borrow from Saint John Paul II:

“We teach the priority of the ethical over the technical; primacy of the person over things; and the superiority of the sprit over matter… we preserve the transcendence of the human person over the world and of god over the human person.”

By educating the whole person in this manner and being true to our Founder’s vision, we can change the world – change Memphis – and be about building the Kingdom of God. 

On behalf of Christian Brothers University, I sincerely thank you for marking this milestone with your presense. May God continue to bless our wonderful community.