President Ransdell's Convocation Speech
Welcome everyone to our 2011 Faculty and Staff Opening Convocation. It is great to see all of you here this morning bright, rested, and ready to start a new academic year! This is a most exciting and inspiring time of year on any university campus. New faculty have arrived. Returning faculty are wrapping up summer teaching, research, and professional development activities. Staff and administrators are fully engaged in wrapping up campus projects pursued over the summer and focusing on campus priorities for the coming academic year. Most importantly, new students arrived yesterday, and returning students converge on our campuses later this week. I know all of you are ready and well prepared to begin a new academic year at WKU!
As we begin this morning, I would like our Vice Presidents and Deans to stand and be recognized for their leadership and dedication to WKU. Will the Administrative Council and Deans Council please stand.
In an address like this, one should be cautious about singling out specific individuals when so many across our campus are doing important work and are deserving of individual recognition. At the outset, however, I want to acknowledge two people. The first is Mr. Freddie Higdon, the new Chair of our Board of Regents. Freddie is an attorney and CPA from Lebanon, Kentucky. Freddie, will you and our Board of Regents please stand and let us thank each of you for your leadership. The second is Mike Nichols, a prominent member of our Art faculty. My compliments to Mike for his work and the work of his students in preparing the fresco that can be viewed on the second floor overlooking the lobby of this building. Frescoes were a prominent form of art in the early civilization of Europe, but they are rare in the relative youth of this nation. Frescoes have particular importance in Mike’s teaching, and he has contributed his substantial talents deep into the plaster of this building. Check it out this morning or on a future visit to Van Meter Hall. Thank you, Mike, for bringing artistic value to our campus.
WKU AND THE BROADER ECONOMIC ENVIRONMENT
As most of you know, we have approached the last couple of years with some caution as we assessed state and national economic conditions. Two years ago, we scaled back our Strategic Plan and focused on a smaller set of core institutional values and priorities. This past year, we weaned ourselves from Federal stimulus dollars and absorbed what I hope will be a last round of budget cuts for a long while. As we enter the second year of the state’s biennial budget, we can begin turning our attention to a renewed focus on planning for the future. This year we will resume a more aggressive pursuit of our bold vision to be A Leading American University with International Reach.
REFLECTIONS ON THE PAST YEAR
In the past academic year, as in every year that I have been President, we achieved a balanced budget, lived within our means, and made progress on institutional priorities. For the fourteenth straight year, we achieved a level of enrollment growth that allowed us to sustain a stable financial profile, and we continued to increase our degree productivity—which will be a key measure for us in the coming years. We kept our tuition increase for this fall at a modest 5 percent. This allowed us to address our fixed-cost increases and other campus obligations.
We did undertake a number of non-financial initiatives this past year led by Provost Emslie and the University Senate. We have put into place a broad range of institutional and academic policies which will guide many of our campus actions in the future. And, while policies and operating principles are important in any complex organization, we will continue to be entrepreneurial and opportunistic when progressive actions are in our best interest. We will find a proper balance between sound operating principles and critical spontaneity, responsiveness, and nimbleness in light of changing campus and off-campus dynamics. It was pleasing to see leadership in Academic Affairs and leadership in the University Senate work well together and exhibit a refreshing spirit of cohesion and collaboration in the refinement, and in some cases, crafting of new policies—all of which can be found on the University’s website. Let’s acknowledge Provost Emslie and Senate President Kelly Madole for their leadership!
Over the course of the last year, many of you have been engaged with the upgrade and conversion of the University’s website. Our website has become our most pervasive communications medium with millions of hits each year. It is the primary means through which the public and prospective students access WKU. It is also a primary point of communication and interaction with our own faculty, staff, students, and alumni—and with prospective employees. My compliments to our staffs in Public Affairs and Information Technology for leading this effort, and to all of you who played a role in bringing new energy to our website. The graphic impact is much improved. It is easier to navigate. Its links have relevant information with substance. We are bringing consistency and continuity to our branding and to our visual and written messages. More than 400 sites have already been launched with 100 more coming in September. This will be an ongoing effort as we must continually adjust to new methods and ways to build the WKU brand.
We have also prepared a Communications and Branding Manual. It will be posted on the Convocation web page today, which you can access from the WKU home page. As our public face becomes more complex and our interactions with constituents occur with instant speed, we must use consistent standards to market the University’s identity and engage all of our departments and units consistently in the distribution of images and content.
A third dimension of our recent efforts to communicate effectively in a rapidly changing technological environment is through the pervasive use of social media. Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and other messaging platforms are quickly becoming the principal means through which our students are communicating with each other and with the University. We are aggressively using social media to ensure that we communicate effectively and facilitate ways for those in our University Family to communicate with each other. Our new Class of 2015 has been using our Facebook pages to connect over the last several months. They already feel a part of the WKU Family. Yes, I have a Facebook page, although Big Red has more Facebook friends with 23,000 and counting!
CAMPUS CONSTRUCTION LAST YEAR
From a campus improvements standpoint, we were able to open last year a beautiful new building for our College of Education and Behavioral Sciences. It has a clever name on it, and my family and I are grateful to the Board of Regents for taking that action. We also opened a new building early in the year in Owensboro, and we began construction on a new music rehearsal hall for large musical groups in the Potter College of Arts and Letters. As many of you are painfully aware, we also devoted much of this summer to replacement of deteriorated in-ground steam lines, and we repaired numerous streets and sidewalks. My compliments to the staff in Planning, Design & Construction and to all of our Physical Plant employees for your outstanding and sustained efforts to ensure that our campus is a pleasant, comfortable, safe, and inspiring place to live and work.
LAST YEAR’S ACHIEVEMENTS
On the national scene, many of you were active in presenting research and creative works to peers, and students fared well in national competitions from engineering to business and journalism. Once again—and I love the expectation that we intend to be the best—our Photojournalism program again ranked first in American Higher Education as judged by the William Randolph Hearst Foundation, and our School of Journalism and Broadcasting finished third among such schools across this nation. We continue to salute the faculty and students who demonstrate our ability to compete and be recognized at a national level.
A special salute goes out to our Gatton Academy for Mathematics and Science, which was rated last spring by Newsweek magazine as the fifth-ranked public elite high school in America and was rated sixth best in a survey conducted by The Washington Post. What a huge achievement after only five years of operation for this tremendous intellectual asset in our academic community. I continue to be impressed by the intellectual strength which these students bring to our classrooms, to our undergraduate research initiatives, and to the national and international awareness of our emerging academic quality.
And, speaking of sustained national performance, we once again raise a toast to our national champion Forensics team who continue to dominate intercollegiate debate in this nation. Congratulations on another American Forensics Association and National Forensics Association championship. WKU continues to be without peer in this important academic competition.
Last year was also highlighted by the opening of our Chinese Learning Center in the Helm Library, the emergence of our Confucius Institute, and the creation of an interdisciplinary Asian cluster in Potter College.
Important data collected in recent months reflects our progress and impact. Our students go on to achieve doctoral degrees at an impressive rate. WKU ranks 28th in baccalaureate graduates among masters-level institutions in the number of graduates who complete doctoral degrees and 22nd among masters degree holders. What a great tribute to the quality of your teaching and the strength of our faculty who are inspiring our students to complete doctoral degrees at some of America’s best universities.
In the years ahead, we will be facilitating these numbers with our own doctoral degrees. This past may, we achieved an important milestone by graduating the first five recipients of our independent Doctor of Education degree. With 131 students in this degree program, we will soon be graduating 35 Ed.D.s a year. As you know, we are also in the process of beginning a Doctor of Nursing Practice program and a Doctor of Physical Therapy program. Both will have a profound impact on our delivery of quality health care across our region. These three new doctoral programs are all practice-based doctorates which will facilitate the evolution of our curriculum at the graduate level. As we graduate 100 or more doctoral students a year, we add further evidence to the transformation of WKU.
Speaking of impact, my compliments to the faculty in our Department of Economics for the release of a report showing the economic impact of WKU in our local community. This scholarly study documented that WKU is responsible for $674 million in expenditures in our local community, 14 percent of our local jobs, and 10 percent of the earnings in Warren County. So, we are not only driving our regional economy with the teaching and research which occurs in our classrooms and laboratories, but we are also driving the local economy with the volume of our own budget and employee activity, the creation of jobs, and the earnings accrued throughout our community. Studies like this and others emanating from our center for applied economics continue to illustrate the important role we must play in the quality of life for those within our reach.
Finally, last year saw numerous students and faculty engaged in many forms of service to those in need—from tornado relief in Joplin, Missouri, to medical attention in the villages of East Africa, to $100 solutions across the globe. How wonderful it is that you and our students rush to the aid of others! Keep it up Hilltoppers!
There are many important and necessary reasons why our state and national leaders are focused on significantly increasing the number of students entering and completing higher education. Income levels rise when more students have college degrees. Jobs are created and filled largely by those with college degrees.
We cannot, however, allow the focus on college enrollment, retention, and graduation to short-circuit the core issue of educational quality. That principle is every bit as important as any goal related to attainment. Employers need to fill jobs, but they need to fill them with graduates who can write, reason, solve complex problems, make ethical decisions, engage in intercultural competencies, and apply their learning to the identification in solving of real-world problems. Access and completion is insufficient in the absence of rigor and relevancy in our academic content.
We must work together with our public schools and ensure better preparation of the students we receive. We must prepare our students to lead and perform in yet-to-be conceived jobs of the future. We must focus on a meaningful general education with a strong liberal arts base. The quality of our students’ learning experience is our most important resource. Therefore, a measure of quality must be what drives us in our commitment to college completion. When compounded across colleges and universities throughout this nation, that combination will be what solves our economic challenges and sustains our American democracy.
With that in mind, I, therefore, want to focus the most salient points of my remarks this morning on two ends of the WKU quality spectrum. Students at both ends, and the majority in the middle, must know that what we do at each end of the quality spectrum will largely impact those in the middle. I want to specifically focus on the high achievers and those who could be high achievers, but need our help to persist and succeed.
I have already mentioned the Gatton Academy, but let me describe once more the value of the Gatton Academy in strengthening academic quality on our campus. First of all, the average ACT score for Gatton Academy students is 31.2 out of a total possible score of 36. These students are not only high school juniors and seniors taking courses in your classrooms, but they are also simultaneously WKU freshmen and sophomores, and their academic measures are included in the overall WKU academic profile. While these students go on to complete bachelor’s degrees at many of the best universities in America, several do stay here to complete their baccalaureate studies, and most, history has shown in other states, will return to Kentucky after graduate school to apply their many talents in the Kentucky workplace.
Students from the Gatton Academy who stay at WKU are attracted to do so because of the WKU Honors College. The Honors College is also the magnet that allows us to attract many of the best students from across Kentucky and beyond. In fact, as of today, the Honors College is enrolling more than 300 new students this fall, with an average ACT score of 29.11 and an average high school GPA of 3.85—earned at 143 of the highest performing high schools in Kentucky and across the nation. Within the next year or two, we should achieve our goals of 1,200 students in the Honors College, pervasive undergraduate research throughout this distinguished population of WKU students, and extensive study abroad experience for most Honors College students.
The Honors College brings value to every academic department, to every member of our faculty or staff, and every member of our student body whether you are engaged in the teaching and learning which occurs through the Honors College or not. The national reputation of our University is strengthened by the presence of an independent Honors College. Our value in the job placement market is strengthened by the quality of graduates from the Honors College. Our commitment to an independent Honors College sets us apart from the other public universities in Kentucky. The fastest and most meaningful way to become A Leading American University is to continue to attract the caliber of students who are enrolling in our Honors College and to continue to attract faculty who are inspired to teach students of this caliber. Academic departments, especially those departments fundamental to a strong core curriculum—Math, the sciences, English, History, to name a few—must embrace honors sections and place our best faculty in front of our Honors College and Gatton Academy students. We will continue to build an Honors College of national consequence, and I encourage everyone to support these outstanding students.
Perhaps the best way to reinforce the value of the Honors College is to give you a couple of examples of what an honors college makes possible, but which are highly unlikely in the absence of an honors college. First, let me introduce Ms. Sarah Schrader. Sarah graduated from the Gatton Academy this past May with a 4.0 GPA. She has perfect ACT and SAT test scores; she enrolled in our Chinese Flagship Program while a student in our Gatton Academy; and, she will continue to pursue her Chinese Flagship studies while majoring in Biology and Chemistry at WKU. She has received a Presidential Scholarship, the highest scholarship possible in our Honors College, and a Barry Goldwater Scholarship to study in China. Sarah attended Greenwood High School, enrolled in the Gatton Academy, and would likely have moved on to Princeton or MIT this year, were it not for the Honors College and the Chinese Flagship Program. In fact, I called her father this past spring to discuss why Sarah should remain at WKU rather than accepting impressive scholarship offers from both Princeton and MIT which were two of her three choices. I described why the Honors College would serve her well, and I was proud to claim that neither Princeton nor MIT had been selected as Chinese Flagship campuses. She chose the Honors College at WKU. Sarah represents academic quality at WKU. Meet Sarah Schrader.
The other student whom I wish to introduce to you is Aric Johnson. Aric is a senior who graduated from Bowling Green High School and is majoring in Biology and Chemistry. He has a perfect 4.0, and he will be leaving in a few days for Scotland to study at the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Neuroregeneration on a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship. Aric attributes the faculty, the rigor, the peer group, and the intimacy of the Honors College experience as being critical to his scholarly achievements. In fact, I was inspired to hear Aric state those things to incoming Honors College students in the Class of 2015 and their parents last spring. Aric will use his Honors credentials to embark on a most promising career in medicine. Please say hello to Aric Johnson.
One of the themes woven throughout the experience of these two students and so many others throughout our student body is the value of international experiences. Like Sarah and Aric, Rachel Reetzke graduated from a local high school, Franklin-Simpson, and will be leaving on a Fulbright scholarship in China this fall after spending last year at Cambridge University in England. These examples and many more like them are what is different about WKU these days. We are creating opportunities for hundreds of WKU students in England at Harlaxton College. A group of students from the Gatton Academy have just returned from Harlaxton and some 70 WKU students will study at Harlaxton this year. Four more members of our faculty, Niko Endres, Andrew McMichael, Fred Siewers, and Jeanie Adams-Smith, will be joining the Harlaxton faculty for interim appointments over the next few semesters.
Our long-term strategy for internationalization, whether it be China, India, England, South America, Africa, or other international destinations, is rooted in three basic objectives. First, our students simply must understand and then embrace global responsibilities. They should reach a level of confidence with other histories, cultures, religions, and politics. They must understand global interconnectedness of economic realities. Second, our faculty and staff have enormous opportunities for teaching and research across the globe. Our on-campus teaching, research, and service are strengthened when as many faculty and staff as possible understand and embrace an international context in your interaction with our students. Third, we want to be as visible as possible in emerging nations, so that WKU becomes a destination of choice for bright international students who choose WKU for their undergraduate and graduate studies. These students bring great richness to our campus diversity and learning environment.
Just this summer, I had the opportunity to visit Harlaxton and help celebrate with our colleagues at the University of Evansville the 40th Anniversary of this classic English manor house as a place of higher learning. We continue to strengthen this relationship and open doors for study by our students and faculty in the United Kingdom, which also allows them easy access to much of Europe.
I also had the chance to meet up with 38 faculty and staff and 7 students who were part of a WKU Confucius Institute three-week experience in Beijing this summer. I am confident that this Chinese experience will add value to the roles these colleagues play across our campus.
And, next summer—May 30 to June 11—you are invited to join several of our students for a Semester at Sea voyage in Central America. The Semester at Sea program—a partnership with the University of Virginia—is changing how we are perceived among peers at other great universities. Semester at Sea places our students side by side with the best students from the best universities in America. These WKU students are changing the scholarly reputation of WKU!
In keeping with this international theme, I want to compliment Dr. Carlton Jackson for a column he wrote earlier this summer pointing out the value of Fulbright scholarships. It made me wonder just how many of our faculty have been the beneficiary of a Fulbright grant. I learned that some 40 members of our faculty have earned Fulbrights to study on nearly every continent; and in a couple of cases, individuals currently on our faculty used the Fulbright to travel from their native land to the U.S. before landing at WKU. I have asked those faculty to gather this morning and they are seated right up front. I would like to ask them to stand and be recognized for the academic quality and the inspiration they bring to our students. Will the WKU Fulbrighters on our faculty please stand and if for some reason you have received a Fulbright that we didn’t know about, would you please stand up as well.
Now why is that important? It is important because I would like to see as many students as possible have the opportunity to compete for Fulbrights or other national or international prestigious scholarships, including Smart Scholarships, Critical Language Scholarships, Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarships, Goldwaters, Gilmans, Udalls, Marshalls, NSF grants, and others. This is where all of you come in. We have many students across this campus who are capable of competing for and winning these scholarships. They deserve the opportunity to experience the kinds of things that the faculty we have just recognized have experienced in their lifetime. The problem is, many of these students do not know about such scholarships and, therefore, do not pursue them. Our students need encouragement from faculty, from departments, and from colleges. Help us motivate them to go for it. The number of students achieving these scholarships represents an enormous opportunity for us to serve these students well, and strengthen the academic reputation of WKU. You must serve as talent scouts. An institution of this size and quality should have dozens of applications every year for Fulbrights and these other awards. The academic strength of your department is enhanced by these scholarship winners. Getting students into graduate school with a teaching assistantship is good, but our students can achieve much more. You can help students launch a career with an NSF grant or Fulbright or Marshall or soon, I hope, our first Rhodes or Gates Cambridge Scholarship. This is what good universities do, and it is what we can and should be doing in greater frequency. I encourage you to “discover” these students in the fall semester so that they can work with the staff in our Office of Scholar Development to prepare their applications and credentials. If we have 25 or 30 Fulbright candidates, we are going to be successful with 10–15 of them. Even those who apply and are not selected find great value in the process. Just competing often leads to graduate study and study abroad opportunities. Students who win these scholarships are not just selected; they are groomed by the faculties of the campuses from which they hail. If you need help, contact Dr. Audra Jennings, Director of the Office of Scholar Development. Help your best students compete in this important measure of academic quality.
RETENTION AND GRADUATION
Another important measure of academic quality is the number of students who persist and graduate. As a public university, we have a responsibility to increase the number of college graduates in Kentucky. We also have a responsibility to strengthen our own financial capacity. More importantly, however, we have to do all we can to help students who we accept to actually graduate.
Elected officials in Frankfort and in Washington expect a growing return on their investment in higher education. Even though our state and federal revenue streams are in decline, they still amount to significant amounts of money that we could not possibly otherwise replace. Graduation rates and the number of degrees awarded will be key measures in the higher education funding formula in Kentucky going forward. Failure to perform in this regard will reduce our stake in the Kentucky higher education budget.
Our challenge, therefore, is to improve our persistence and retention, while at the same time demonstrating the value of a WKU degree and why it is worth the cost. It will be increasingly important to call upon faculty, staff, and administration to all be involved in the retention of the students we accept. This new era in higher education in Kentucky and beyond is placing greater emphasis on “public” in public education. This accountability will not go away even when the economy improves.
To put this in perspective, let me touch on some key numbers. Of the students entering WKU in 2005, 23 percent graduated in four years, 43 percent graduated in five years and 49 percent graduated in six years. Likewise, over the last 14 years, we have consistently failed to retain approximately 30 percent of each incoming class of new students. As our enrollment has grown over that period, we are nearing the point where we are losing over 1,000 students out of each freshman class; students who fail to return for their sophomore year. This is tough to accept, but even these numbers are relatively good when compared with other public universities in Kentucky and elsewhere.
Our focus, however, has to be on how we, at WKU, respond. I have said many times over the years that we must control our own destiny. We must focus on our own well-being. We must address our own weaknesses and meet the needs of our own University Family.
Not only is addressing this problem the right thing to do, it is also in our financial best interest. The cost of attrition, that is the amount of money spent to educate first year undergraduates who do not begin a second year, is significant. At WKU that cost last year was $8.5 million. At WKU alone, federal government grants to students who fail to return for their sophomore year totaled over $1.1 million. This is a national problem. The amount of federal money spent on students who fail to finish is in the billions of dollars. We spend $2 million a year out of our own budget for students who spend only one year with us.
Cutting into the 30 percent attrition of first-year students would boost our budget by millions of dollars each year. A one percent increase in retention is 40 students who, if they stay three more years and graduate, will generate over $1 million to our base budget. This is money we can devote to operating budgets and to compensation.
For the past 14 years, we have focused most of our enrollment growth energies on the recruitment of new, additional students. While we will certainly continue in this regard as we welcome Dr. Brian Meredith as our new Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management, I challenge you today to help achieve enrollment growth through the retention of more students who are already enrolled. Accept personal responsibility for our own institutional financial stability. To that end, student persistence, retention, and graduation will be key variables in our next strategic planning process and will be among the key measures of the institutional transformation that will drive us going forward.
Provost Emslie has appointed a Task Force to address how we will “rally for retention.” It makes for a clever button, but it is serious business. I would like for the Retention Task Force to stand and be recognized.
The Task Force has arrived at a series of goals and objectives designed to help retain and graduate more students. The Retention Task Force recommends that we apply data-driven decision-making principles to identify and strategically intervene with at-risk students, to expand our retention efforts and strategies beyond the first year, to identify and reduce barriers which prevent students in good standing from graduating within six years and engage the entire university in advancing a comprehensive emphasis on student persistence and graduation. To this end, they specifically focus on four general areas: getting students in, getting students through, keeping students around, and getting students out.
GETTING STUDENTS IN
Data gathered from our three most recent entering classes indicates that high school GPA is a better predictor of first-year retention than is the composite ACT score. Moreover, a formula of one part ACT and two parts GPA provides a stronger prediction of retention than does either measurement alone. We also have learned that students who enter with a GED succeed at a lesser rate than those who do not and typically have not been engaged in existing retention efforts. Therefore, the Task Force recommends that we establish admissions and enrollment criteria that reflect available data on retention and performance so as to maximize students’ best chances for success. This fall, we will have each student admitted in the directed or the conditionally admitted categories sign an enrollment contract that outlines the steps the student must follow to address college readiness needs. After this year, we will move to an admissions category system based on a formula that combines ACT and GPA scores and reflects empirical data on probabilities of retention of students with particular combinations of scores. We will also require students admitted with a GED to complete an ACT or SAT placement test to determine appropriate enrollment status.
GETTING STUDENTS THROUGH
We have to do a better job of placement and support of admitted students, particularly in the marginal admissions categories. Between fall of 2007 and spring of 2011—four academic years—nearly 5,000 students were unnecessarily placed in developmental math courses.
We have also learned that there is evidence of reduced first-term success among students who take three developmental courses in their first semester, including a developmental Math course that is not required.
Immediate action beginning this fall, therefore, includes placing students in developmental math tracks according to the declared major, and placing undeclared students with developmental math needs in appropriate sections of Math 109. I want to thank our faculty in the Math Department for accommodating this abrupt policy change just made in recent weeks.
Other actions include extending the pre-registration system through two semesters or until all college readiness needs are met. We will require students with college readiness needs to take at least one, but no more than two, developmental courses in their first semester, and we will enroll students with readiness needs in at least one appropriate college level general education course each of their first two semesters.
KEEPING STUDENTS AROUND
There are numerous non-academic dimensions of retention and persistence. Home sickness, financial issues, various aspects of “fit”, and seeking a major we didn’t offer are cited most frequently as reasons why some students leave WKU. While it is most difficult to implement precise strategies to affect these numbers, the Retention Task Force has goals to develop the capacity for early identification of at-risk students and implement targeted intervention strategies. To that end, beginning this fall we will adopt a retention support software package to provide data on at-risk students based on non-academic reasons, and we will promote the theme of the value of a college degree at our upcoming Freshman Assembly for members of the Class of 2015.
GETTING STUDENTS OUT
As I described earlier, our efforts to reduce the time to degree and to improve our graduation rates are critical to future funding in the higher education budget in Kentucky. Therefore, the Task Force recommends that we focus on the students who entered WKU in the fall of 2008. Students entering in the fall of 2008 will be a key performance measure in calculating each university’s share of the 2012–2014 state biennial budget. We will immediately implement procedures to allow departments, advisors, and other appropriate individuals and groups to track the progress of our students. We will also broaden the role of the WKU Finish program and provide support to students who are not on pace to graduate within six years. There are some things that you as members of our faculty and staff who interact frequently with students can do. We encourage you to actively track the progress of students in your classes and students in your academic disciplines. Think strategically about ways to ensure that students can complete their degrees within six years. The goal is to reduce by half the percentage of the fall 2008 entering cohort not on track to graduate within six years. This equates to graduating an additional 60 or so students per year for the next three years through these interventions. The financial implications of achieving this goal are significant. Consider what you can do to provide an alternate path to timely graduation for students who drop out of your majors. See if you can identify a logical fallback position or alternative degree program for these students for which a good portion of the credits may have already been earned.
I am fully aware of the increasing demands on our faculty. Our core value of undergraduate teaching is most important. Our emerging emphasis on engaged research and creative activity is a growing opportunity for most of you. Your work in public service, civic engagement, and internationalization is a growing value for many of our faculty. This emphasis on retention and graduation rate, however, is fundamentally important to our future credibility and financial stability. I urge you to take these challenges seriously.
NEW CENTURY OF SPIRIT CAPITAL CAMPAIGN
At the Convocation in 2008, we publicly kicked off a $200 million “New Century of Spirit” Capital Campaign and a detailed Strategic Plan. Since then, the Strategic Plan has been pared back, and we have paused in many ways to work through this recessionary environment. Private fundraising, however, has continued to march on. We have passed the $186 million mark in this Capital Campaign with ten months to go before the Campaign comes to a close at the June 30 end of this fiscal year. We will pass our $200 million goal this year. Although, I must tell you that raising major gifts in this economic environment has been a challenge! A major focus of this Convocation next year will be a celebration of the successful conclusion of our Capital Campaign.
In that regard, I must compliment many of you on your own participation in the University’s private gift programs. In the year just ended, 928 faculty and staff gave a total of $708,397 to WKU in support of 206 different areas of the University. Our faculty and staff volunteers will be leading a “I am WKU” faculty and staff campaign this coming year. I thank you in advance for your participation and remind all of you that you may restrict your own philanthropic gifts to your own department, academic program, or area of particular personal interest within the university.
CAMPUS MASTER PLAN
Among the accomplishments of the past year was the completion of a Campus Master Plan which will guide the further development of our physical campus for the next ten years. I want to publicly thank those faculty and staff who serve on our Campus Master Planning committee for their ongoing stewardship of our campus. We have great faculty and staff in key disciplines who understand community planning, construction, architecture, GPS tracking, and mapping. The Master Plan Committee accepted my challenge to produce this Master Plan and went to work. The result is most impressive. It would have cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars for a consultant to do what we did with our own talent. This is a superb Campus Master Plan that can be found online, and I encourage all of you to check it out. Will our Master Planning Committee please stand.
When the state resumes funding for major renovations and new construction, our priority for state-funded capital projects starts with the renovation of Thompson Complex Center Wing and the Planetarium. This will wrap-up our decade-long effort to improve our science facilities. We will say goodbye to the Thompson Complex North Wing once the Center Wing has been renovated and expanded. The next priority for state funding will be to build a new College of Business building followed by the renovation of Grise Hall. When the College of Business building is built and Grise Hall is renovated, we will vacate Tate Page Hall and finally say goodbye to that curious round building! In the meantime, we will make progress as best we can on replacing our in-ground electrical systems and steam lines. We will also begin the renovation of the Downing University Center next summer. That project is funded by student fees, and the architectural design work is well under way. The architects will have architectural plans to share with the campus for that project midway through this fall semester.
If we are able to follow our new Campus Master Plan over the next ten years, we will have completely rebuilt the WKU campus. I love this photo because it shows how many roofs we have been able to repair or replace in recent years! We have come a long way—and we still have much to do to make sure our campus is ready to embrace a higher level of academic quality, and be ready to meet the needs of an ever-changing and ever-demanding population of students.
A NEW ACADEMIC YEAR
Much of the coming academic year will be focused on resuming our campus planning process, preparing for the 2012 legislative session, focusing on the state higher education budget with its funding measures, and trying to position WKU to address our capital project needs. Doug McElroy will guide the campus through the preparation of a detailed and specific planning process which will engage all aspects of the campus in the months ahead. My intention is to reaffirm existing campus priorities, incorporate new and emerging opportunities, identify funding strategies, and target specific measurable outcomes that we hope to achieve between 2012 and 2017. We will have a new campus action plan ready for distribution at this Convocation next year. Note the words “Action” Plan. This will not be a “Strategic” Plan or a “Business” Plan—both popular adjectives in labeling such efforts. Ours will be an action plan. It will mean nothing if it fails to guide our actions as a campus. You will be hearing much more about this process in the coming months.
CLOSING—FOCUS ON RESULTS
In closing, let’s focus on results. We have talked a lot this morning about efforts to achieve better results for our university community. We need to act with resolve and commitment to delivering on results that matter—just like we expect our students to do for us. Effort and attitude are everything. It is kind of like boiling water. At 211°, water is just hot. At 212°, it boils. There is a big difference between hot water and boiling water, but all it takes is one degree more to make all the difference. We can take responsibility for our own results and make a profound difference in the lives of a few more students. It is about being positive and having a sense of urgency, but it is also about working with each other to improve our professional world. If we want to matter, to achieve happiness, more flexibility, more responsibility, or more money, we need to give more to those that we are supposed to be serving.
One of my favorite pieces of wisdom comes from that great American humorist, Will Rodgers, who said, “Even if you are on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there.” We cannot sit still. George Kuh, a nationally respected scholar in higher education research, and the Director of my dissertation committee in 1977, made some profound observations in a recent higher education publication. I agree with him when he says, “We are long past the notion that the brain is independent of the heart. Learning is not done best independently and in isolation. Most people need affirmation. They need support. They need people around them to motivate and inspire them.”
Leadership starts with us. The Spirit we expect our students to embrace starts with us. Some leaders are born, but most are made. They are made here, but not by accident. Students need feedback, and they need it in real time. Students will succeed when we are fully engaged with them. The research is clear. Let’s re-dedicate ourselves to building this campus community, to helping our students succeed, and to ensuring a high level of quality in that pursuit. If we do those things, we will improve our own standing as an institution, and our own financial strength. We will also achieve a broad range of documented measures which validate our vision to be A Leading American University with International Reach.
We have endured a global recession. We have weathered over $10 million in state budget cuts over the last four years, but we have continued to grow. Our Alumni, friends, and corporate community continue to support us. Students continue to select us in record numbers. Our quality measures are growing. The international community is taking notice. We have so many things on which to build as we chart our course for the next several years. We have established a strong foundation in recent years, and I am most optimistic that the action plans we create this coming year will provide significant dividends when implemented. This year we will take important steps in the pursuit of a full and lasting transformation.
Thank you for all of your individual and collective efforts to serve our students and to serve each other. There are few universities which have achieved more, which have changed more, and which have greater potential than this University. Let’s continue to pursue a bold destiny for WKU. I cannot wait to see what is possible and what together we choose to pursue. Our students appreciate each and every one of you, as do our alumni. Let’s continue to make both of those groups proud of their University. Thank you.
WKU President Gary A. Ransdell
Downloadable Documents (PDF)
(click the image to download)
Awards announced during Convocation:
President's Award for Diversity
Faculty/Staff - Ann Mead
Student - Trenton Dunn
Community - Michael Delaney
President's Award for Service
Faculty/Staff - Dr. Bryan Reaka
Student - Alexandria Kimura
President's Award for Sustainability
Faculty/Staff - Dr. Brian Sullivan
Student - Nick Asher
Spirit of WKU Award - Freida Eggleton
Teaching - Fabian Alvarez
Research - Dr. Ferhan Atici
Service - Dr. Donna Blackburn
Advising - Deanna Hanson
University Distinguished Professors