BVU holds inauguration, draws crowd
STORM LAKE — To much pomp and circumstance, after nearly a year of service, Buena Vista University’s new president, Dr. Josh Merchant, was inaugurated in an official ceremony Friday afternoon. Merchant, the third president at BVU in 45 years, articulated his vision of diversity, inclusivity, investment and authenticity. Merchant’s vision of the future for Buena Vista University is one where the private institution is “an institutional destination, not a second choice.”
Merchant described the uncertainty of BVU as a private rural college, saying that BVU must remain rooted in its founding principles while being ambitious to fulfill its promise to students without arrogance or exclusivity.
“We cannot ignore the external threats that are real,” he cautioned. “BVU can be a case study of flexibility and strength, with resilience needed for the 21st century. We must be better.”
Merchant’s vision for BVU includes a repositioning of the university to be a “recognized destination of higher education.”
“I suggest we amplify our investment in our faculty,” the new president said, as a commitment to BVU’s students. “And reclaim our worth as a known commodity with profound outcomes. We must imagine a new era of prosperity.”
Merchant laid out a three-pronged vision for how to maintain BVU’s legacy in a changing world.
The first was BVU’s commitment to first generation college students. Merchant reaffirmed BVU’s commitment to reaching underserved populations in order to maintain the diversity of the school, both in appearance and in authentic culture.
“We need the authentic ability to connect with changing demographics and retain diverse students at a considerably higher rate,” Merchant said.
As part of this effort, BVU will be adding bilingual staff and faculty, printing materials in Spanish, and increasing subsistence to students from families with great financial need.
To this end, BVU will launch an “Office of Diversity and Inclusion” at the end of the year. It will be the first of its kind at BVU and will provide leadership and partnership for diversity programs on campus to help students of diverse backgrounds succeed in college.
Merchant also detailed the university’s need to adapt to a changing world.
“We must reaffirm our willingness to invest in academic enterprise to meet the needs of a changing economy,” he said. “The concept of academic excellence itself has evolved.”
To adapt to the commodification of higher education forcing change, Merchant detailed a new plan to stay true to BVU’s mission by meeting the needs of a changing economy. To do this, BVU will be launching academic programs aimed to meet the needs of Storm Lake. Institutes of agriculture, food and resource management will be built to meet the demands of the agriculture sector of northwestern Iowa and beyond, Merchant said.
Finally, Merchant said that the private university must engage the community with authenticity and tenacity.
“Buena Vista University lives its mission each and every day and does this through curricular programming,” he said. “A stronger Buena Vista University is a stronger Storm Lake. A stronger Storm Lake is a stronger Buena Vista University.”
His vision encompasses transformation by embracing an increasingly diverse student body that chooses BVU and champions the world we live in.
“I imagine a future where Buena Vista University embraces a shared vision for today, tomorrow and beyond,” he concluded to thunderous applause and an energetic standing ovation.