Photo by Beth Wade
Edward Burger, Southwestern University presidentEdward Burger (left) is presented with the Southwestern University mace during his presidential inauguration March 25.
Southwestern University president
Edward Burger completed his first full year as president of Southwestern University on July 1. Prior to coming to Southwestern, Burger served as a faculty member at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts.
How was your first year in office?
It’s been really stimulating, extremely educational and very uplifting. The Southwestern community, and the broader Georgetown–Central Texas community, is just an amazing place where you have incredible people coming together and doing incredible things.
What was the biggest surprise ?
I had to spend a good part of my first year ... trying to understand and then correct the financial situation in which we found ourselves. We were operating with a ... deficit.
We have a plan now in place that over the next few years, we will actually, through either revenue generating or cost reductions, provide a net decrease in the amount we spend by over $4 million. That number needs to be a little bit larger still.
On the positive side, I knew the human capital here was great, but I didn’t realize how great it was. … The faculty and staff really surprised me in their willingness to engage in some of these less-than-happy conversations, [as well as] in their sensitivity, wisdom and creativity in coming up with some alternatives to suggesting a new normal and then embracing change.
What are you hoping to do with academics?
What do we, as educators, do with the reality that most of the fact-based, theoretical-based, algorithmic-based information that we are sharing with our students, they are going to let go? The answer is it’s a way of thinking. … I refer to it as effective thinking.
Call it whatever you want—whether you call it creativity, [wisdom], innovation, smarts, intuition—it’s a habit; it’s a way of processing. That should be the first and foremost thing we teach.
The greatest surprise and the greatest gift was how open and willing [the faculty and staff] are to try things. I’ve never seen an educational community that has been so open to try, experiment, grow and learn and play than Southwestern University.
What are the innovative things happening in the classroom?
One of the many things that makes Southwestern stand out besides our commitment to civic engagement … is our Paideia program. ... [Students] take a suite of courses that are interconnected and have been designed by faculty from across the different disciplines. Starting this coming year every student will engage in a new Paideia program.
I would like to see what I have named Paideia moments, which are not choreographed by faculty but are fostered by faculty. ... The student is invited to take the thinking processes of what they are learning in that class—suppose it’s an art history, painting, psychology, sociology or math class—and on your own as a student apply those modes of thought to something else. If it’s in math, then take the math thinking skills and apply it to analyzing a poem and find the structure that you wouldn’t have seen otherwise.