THE CHALLENGE TO DO INTERESTING AND VALUABLE WORK DSU Opening Convocation • State of the University Message • August 14, 2008 John M. Hilpert, President
Welcome to the 83rd academic year of Delta State University. Several years ago, I attended a dinner at the University of Southern Mississippi where the president asked Dr. Aubrey Lucas to say grace. For those who may not recognize the name, Dr. Lucas is President Emeritus of USM; he was also the fourth president of Delta State. In his always-eloquent fashion, Dr. Lucas offered thanks for the company and the food and then said, “We are particularly grateful for the challenge to do interesting and valuable work.” That line returned to me as I considered a theme for this address. In this higher education profession we all share there are regular challenges to do interesting and valuable work, but this particular moment may present us with somewhat more opportunity than we would normally welcome.
We’re coming together at a time that can best be described as uncertain. All of us and our fellow citizens are deciding on a leadership change for our nation. International issues unsettle us. We don’t know what to make of daily lurches in the economy from devastating
2 consumer price increases to tumbling real estate values. Add to it the news of budget cutbacks that ended our last academic year, and “uncertain” begins to seem almost understated for what we are experiencing. The sense of living in a whirlwind and searching for handholds is real.
If we are feeling unsettled or uncertain, it is fair to assume that the students who will sit in our classrooms this year are similarly affected by their experiences and observations. They hear news reports and watch confrontational political advertising on television. They listen carefully at home and understand the negative economic realities besetting so many families. We are experiencing firsthand a result of these issues. Delta State’s number of applications from prospective enrollees – freshmen, transfers, and graduate students – has been and remains on par with last year, but registrations have slowed because the financial stress on families is so problematic in our region. Parents are either unable to spend or wary of using scarce resources for tuition and other college expenses.
Yes, we’ll fill seats in your classes and students will occupy the available rooms in our residence halls, but our admissions staff has encountered situation after situation where uncertainty will keep some potential enrollees at home. Financial aid could help in nearly every case, but family uneasiness prevails. I bring this to your attention because many who will attend are also vexed by uncertainty. Your challenge to do interesting and valuable work this year includes the need to address students at a deeper level, noting clues that reveal fears about family solvency. Be sensitive to the concerns. Steer the shaky to the financial aid office or to staff who can help at the Counseling Center.
3 Challenges to do interesting and valuable work will likewise call us to address our own concerns and those of our colleagues as we plan to absorb the next five years of budget cuts our governing board adopted this past April. We live with the hope, of course, that the Mississippi Legislature will provide more generous appropriations so the boardâ€™s distribution formula can be fully funded and the cuts thus averted. There is a new plan developed by board staff, and I will say more about that shortly. However we cannot allow several months or the legislative session to pass before we develop our plan. The time is too short and the pending cuts are too steep to delay. A blueprint for the planning process is complete. Our University Budget Committee â€“ with expanded membership â€“ will take the lead beginning in the next few days. The process design invites broad participation as we determine how to address this challenge. It will be interesting and valuable work indeed.
Let me step around those thoughts to share briefly with you the efforts at the system level to negotiate a better appropriations picture with the state legislature. At a committee meeting in July, board staff presented a four-part, five-year plan that seeks to create efficiencies on the campuses and control tuition increases while asking two things of the legislature. These are: (1) that state financial aid dollars increase and be directed exclusively toward students at public institutions; and (2) that appropriations to the universities grow by $181 million over the five year period. It is an ambitious plan and the details are being refined. The board will likely adopt a final (or near final) version next week. We support a strong effort to attract additional resources because it could blunt cutbacks dictated by the formula. Be hopeful. Support in whatever ways are possible. Yet, recognize that state revenues are also uncertain in difficult economic times.
Just for the record, we’re not alone in our budget struggles. Many of you know I serve on the Executive Council of the SACS Commission on Colleges. Among the state reports at our summer meeting were several grim numbers. Alabama’s legislators cut universities 11 percent for this new fiscal year. Florida cut universities by more than $415 million for FY09, and most institutions are eliminating positions, majors, and programs. Georgia’s universities are living with a hiring freeze, and they reduced budgets by 3.5 percent. In Kentucky, the governor proposed a 12 percent cut for higher education, but the legislature eventually voted a 6 percent reduction. The cutback for universities in Tennessee was nearly 6 percent as well. While the economists argue whether our nation is officially in a recession, universities across the southeast are dealing with the results.
Enough of the gloom! Let’s talk about some good news. Your University Budget Committee, Academic Council, and President’s Cabinet worked together to make Delta State one of only three universities in the system that managed salary increases for all employees – the others were Ole Miss and Mississippi State. We overcame the first of the annual cuts, pushed here, and prodded there to identify a pool of funds, and then we used market comparisons for distribution. The Division of Finance and Administration led an energy savings campaign that generated several hundred thousand dollars and made a significant difference in budgeting.
Don’t think of the salary increases as gifts by any means. Every dollar was earned by productivity on the part of individuals and units. Arts and Sciences faculty produced more than 60 publications and presentations and won five of six faculty prizes. The past year saw the
5 completion of renovations in Kethley and the Delta Music Institute. The College of Business grew its level of private funding by ten percent and introduced an iMBA program that enrolled 33 students. The Baioni Conference Center in Broom Hall was completed. Faculty in the College of Education pushed the NCATE re-accreditation process to a successful conclusion and expanded distance offerings, including an online Master of Education degree. The School of Nursing became the Delta Area Health Education Center, offered a successful workshop for nurse educator certification to 70 participants, and saw the completion of newly constructed classroom space. Graduate and Continuing Studies opened nearly three dozen additional courses and advanced funding from the Workforce Investment Act past $1 million. External grant funds to the university increased by 24 percent and exceeded $10 million in one year for the first time. The Delta Health Alliance has grown to nearly $30 million in annual grant funding, and projects now address a wide range of gaps in the health services of the region.
Once again, the Roberts-LaForge Library was judged by students as the most frequently used and highest quality service on campus and staff conducted 150 outreach programs. Faculty Senate worked through several issues and pushed an agenda emphasizing academic quality. I want to recognize Dr. Phyllis Bunn for outstanding service leading the Senate. The Delta Center managed the successful Year of Delta Heritage with events and publications that highlighted the uniqueness of our region and underscored the role played by the university. They also offered a well-received grant training workshop for faculty. The Diversity Committee developed an ambitious agenda of recommendations that Academic Council and Presidentâ€™s Cabinet are processing and incorporating as opportunities arise and funding allows.
6 The Division of Student Affairs managed more than $30 million in financial aid for our students, launched a text messaging alert system for emergencies, and worked with the Division of Finance and Administration to complete a Housing Master Plan. That planning effort led us to close two student housing facilities, Bond-Carpenter and Whittington-Williams. We will demolish those structures on the south edge of the campus, even as we initiate the process for building a new 400-bed student residence. The plan also laid the groundwork for family residences that could ease the transition to the community for new faculty and staff. We are researching funding options. Finance and Administration also addressed issues of campus appearance, introduced several technology applications to assist students, and hosted a review of facility management operations by a team from the Association of Physical Plant Administrators. University Relations completed all preparations for the new marketing effort and attracted more than $4 million in state and federal funding for capital projects. The old post office space in the H. L. Nowell Union was renovated to become the new Postal & Copy Center Services Department.
The Statesmen won three Gulf South Conference championships – football, women’s basketball, and baseball – and women’s basketball made it to the final four in the national tournament. One of our stars was the first Gillom Trophy winner. It goes to the college athlete judged to be Mississippi’s best female basketball player. The Delta State University Foundation and Alumni Association received national attention for an innovative use of bar coding technology that saved hundreds of hours of staff time. Over the past six years, the foundation has annually raised an average of $3.2 million for the university.
7 This recital of significant achievements barely lifts the highlights from the entire list of accomplishments in Academic Year 2007/08. Obviously a lot of people took seriously the challenge to do interesting and valuable work.
But . . . you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet. The opportunities for interesting and valuable work in Academic Year 2008/09 are greater still . . . and aren’t we grateful? This will be a year that challenges and engages each and every one of us.
Our first opportunity for interesting and valuable work comes with the new marketing campaign. It is ready and will launch in a matter of days under the thematic banner, “Join In. Stand Out.” This strong message catches the attention of prospective students by addressing the Generation Y twin priorities to be part of a community while retaining individuality. It both welcomes and challenges. It sorts the market and invites the interest of those who want to achieve. “Join In. Stand Out.”
For those of us on campus, it pushes us toward excellence and involvement with students in a busy process of learning. Our Quality Enhancement Plan has sought greater engagement, and this new thematic statement becomes the public expression of that intention. It is active, not passive. It promotes the expectation that all of us will join in the campaign to enhance quality. Individually, we will commit to stand out in our disciplines and in our service to students.
Our second cluster of opportunities for interesting and valuable work involves assessing student performance outcomes and introducing innovations that enhance results. Last year IHL
8 Commissioner Tom Meredith brought Dr. Carol Twigg to Mississippi for a presentation on the Program in Course Redesign. Shortly thereafter came an announcement from his office that financial support would allow system institutions to begin developing this approach on each campus. It is a strategy that has demonstrated success with tens of thousands of students on several dozen campuses nationwide. Penn State, the University of Massachusetts, Carnegie Mellon, and the University of Wisconsin are examples of institutions that have used this program in a variety of courses for several years. We are working to launch the program in mathematics later this year. Dr. David Hebert is leading the effort to introduce the concepts of whole course redesign, active learning, computer-based resources, mastery, and on-demand help. Expect more information as the program develops.
Yet another effort arriving this year – just as ambitious and involving considerably more departments across the campus – is the well-known program, Foundations of Excellence. This is defined by those who designed it as “a comprehensive, externally guided self-study and improvement process for the first year that enhances an institution’s ability to realize its goals for student learning, success, and persistence.” You may know the name John Gardner. He and his colleagues are the staff of North Carolina’s Policy Center on the First Year of College. They have spent 30 years researching and building the model that is at the heart of Foundations of Excellence. Philanthropic organizations with international reach recognize the potential of this program and provide support to the Gardner team – the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Lumina Foundation for Education, and several others. It is used on more than 300 campuses. We have already sent a team led by our Provost, Dr. Ann Lotven, to learn the basics of this meaty process
9 for measuring our efforts and integrating curricular and co-curricular services into a unified and strategic approach to the first-year experience. Again, expect that you will soon hear more.
What else is rolling toward us in the next few months? •
This will be the Year of Partnerships, the fourth in our series of “Year of” themes. There were several suggestions for the theme, and Academic Council and President’s Cabinet made the choice at the summer retreat. We will recognize how closely tied we are to partners within and outside the Delta, and we will celebrate the accomplishments resulting from those linkages. We’ll also seek to identify what new partnerships might be helpful to us in the future. This year-long emphasis will be coordinated by Dr. Luther Brown and the Delta Center for Culture and Learning. They did a wonderful job with the Year of Delta Heritage.
The Madison Center and the Student Government Association are cooperating in a program for the fall, DSU Votes 2008. This moment in history will provide a backdrop for informing students on issues and involving them in the responsibilities of citizenship.
Each year we have searched for ways to enhance communications among the constituencies on campus – breakfasts, lunches, receptions, Q&A sessions, on-site meetings in several campus locations, and so forth. This year I have asked Provost Ann Lotven to begin the process with sessions designed to elicit comments and ideas on the general topic of faculty development. As we make budget plans this year, we cannot overlook this critical aspect of our institutional life, and I want to know more about the needs. Also, we are at work on our next capital campaign through the foundation, and support for faculty development must surely be high on the agenda.
From September 28 through 30 expect 200 or so colleagues on our campus representing all public and private, four-year and two-year colleges in the State of Mississippi. I have served this past year as President of the Mississippi Association of Colleges, and the annual conference is generally hosted by the president’s home campus. The theme is “Working Together To Educate Mississippi.” It is thus our first big event of the Year of Partnerships. Most conference sessions will happen in the H. L. Nowell Union or in Jobe Hall. There will be a Sunday evening picnic at Statesmen Park and a Monday reception at Kent Wyatt Hall. The BPAC performance of the Capitol Steps on Monday evening will also be on the agenda. The program will bring together several who are leading various sectors of Mississippi’s education system. There will be variety in the presentations and discussions. Registration fees pay the cost of this conference. If you are interested in more details, please call my office for information.
Several facilities projects will occupy our attention this year: new roofs for the BPAC and the Nowell Union; a start on renovating the Caylor/White/Walters Science and Math building; work on the heating/ventilating/air conditioning infrastructure. These projects are supported by state bond funds. We are expecting the completion of the classroom building at the Coahoma Higher Education Center. This facility was built with a mix of state, local, and private funds. The further development of Statesmen Park, including the construction of a boulevard into the facility, is on the agenda, as is another expansion of the School of Nursing building. These projects are supported by federal funds. We also hope to create a Margaret Wade Memorial Plaza in the green space across from the Walter Sillers Coliseum. It will be privately funded, as will the installation of new
11 scoreboards for several athletic venues along with a new sign and electronic message board on Sunflower Road. •
Expect the Division of Finance and Administration to extend the campaign for energy conservation and to promote more aggressive green campus strategies.
Each academic unit will seek to expand offerings, increase outreach, and/or address issues of quality. The College of Education, for example, is opening a graduate degree opportunity this fall in Tishomingo County supported by a generous grant from an alumni couple. More than 30 new graduate students have registered.
Last on my list of highlights are two announcements: (1) at the request and with the assistance of the Faculty Senate, we will create a faculty lounge in Room 202 of the H. L. Nowell Union. It will be available at some point in this fall semester. And (2) to make cultural and entertainment programming available to more faculty and staff, there will be 100 tickets distributed free-of-charge as singles or pairs to employees in the 72 hours prior to each main stage performance at the Bologna Performing Arts Center. Distribution will be first-come-first-served. Please take advantage of this opportunity offered by the Division of University Relations and sponsored by the DSU Foundation.
We and our predecessors have been busy at Delta State for 82 academic years, and as you now recognize, we won’t lack for interesting and valuable work in this 83rd year. One man who understood and wrote about work from the inside out was Eric Hoffer whose profession is often listed in reference books as “author, longshoreman.” Though he wrote significant social commentary through much of his life, he found true satisfaction in hard, daily labor. He said in
12 his early 70s, “Our greatest weariness comes from work not done.” It is an observation we would do well to heed.
From the Program in Course Redesign to the Foundations of Excellence . . . from the new marketing campaign to the Year of Partnerships . . . from DSU Votes 2008 to the Mississippi Association of Colleges conference . . . and from the heavy lifting on budget planning to the facilities projects and new program initiatives – this will be a year for all of us to give our best. “Join In. Stand Out.” Before us is indeed the challenge to do interesting and valuable work.