President Ransdell's Convocation Speech
Welcome to beautiful Van Meter Hall and our 2014 Faculty and Staff Opening Convocation. And welcome to those of you on our regional campuses in Elizabethtown, Glasgow, and Owensboro who are joining us via video streaming.
What an exciting time to be at WKU as we begin the academic year and welcome new and returning students for the adventure of a lifetime—indeed, an experience to prepare our students for a lifetime of learning, responsible behavior, and success.
As we get started this morning, I want to thank everyone who was here this summer for taking the numerous traffic adjustments in stride. Between the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and our own summer projects, we have had lots of detours and street disruptions. Thanks for handling them well.
Next month, I will complete my 17th year as WKU President. Even with our continuing budget reductions, enrollment challenges, and greater federal scrutiny, I remain convinced that our best days are ahead as a university, and I am inspired by the growing academic quality and greater value we are bringing to our students.
During the last 17 years, Julie and I have put two sons through WKU, welcomed two wonderful daughters-in-law, welcomed a couple of grandchildren (WKU classes of 2029 and 2033), raised five dogs and two cats, and presided over 59 commencement ceremonies.
With all of our challenges, I have never been more motivated or inspired to begin a new academic year than I am today. I look forward to getting this year under way and will work every day to ensure that we have a place where students dream big and where we help make those dreams come true.
WKU has lived the three words on our University seal, “Life More Life,” for 108 years. We have reinvented ourselves several times over. We have changed and adapted, and we will continue to do so.
The current generation of WKU students has witnessed a transformation, which the Board of Regents challenged me to lead in 1997, and to which we have all been dedicated.
We have become a complex institution with constantly changing parts and people, but our traditions have remained constant, our ideals have remained strong, and our commitment to students continues to drive us.
Perhaps our biggest challenge is making sure we continue to meet our students’ needs day in and day out. Meeting those needs means a caring attitude on our part; a strong commitment to student service and learning; awareness of their fears, apprehensions, and challenges; and a diligence in maintaining our four campuses. And certainly, we must make sure we have the financial capacity to deliver on the promise of a WKU education.
Before getting into my remarks this morning, I want to acknowledge the new faculty and staff among us. This year we have 40 new faculty and 50 new staff joining the WKU family. Would all new faculty and staff—those beginning your WKU career—please stand and allow us to welcome you to the Hill. Welcome!
This past academic year brought us unprecedented success and progress in many areas. It was filled with classic examples of ways in which we are achieving our bold vision of becoming "A Leading American University with International Reach”—and we are, indeed, achieving that vision!
Perhaps the greatest measure is the success of our students who were awarded a broad range of nationally competitive scholarships.
Not only are WKU students competing with the best American universities in such scholarly recognition, they are also expanding WKU’s international reach as most of their scholarship awards involve global learning.
Our students certainly raised the bar this past year as a record 42 earned recognition in national scholarship competitions with over 50 awards, valued in excess of $1 million. We, in fact, met our 2017-2018 Action Plan goal, which was 42 awards. This was a 44.8 percent increase over the prior year when 29 national or international scholarships were earned.
These awards will allow students to travel to 19 different countries, conduct research, and complete graduate degrees in the U.S. and abroad.
As you can see on the screen, our students earned 15 Gilman scholarships; 6 Critical Language Scholarships with one alternate; five Fulbright’s with two alternates; three National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships with two honorable mentions; three Goldwater Scholarships with one honorable mention—the maximum allowed by any university in America; two National Security Language Initiative for Youth Scholarships; one National Institute of Health Oxford Cambridge Scholarship; and a National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship.
We also had our first Rhodes, Marshall, Gates Cambridge, Truman, and Princeton in Africa finalists, and our first Mitchell semifinalist.
This success tells me—and anyone who understands the competitive nature of such awards—that we are recruiting and nurturing superior students and opening their eyes to such opportunities, and that you, our faculty and staff, are personally engaged with students capable of achieving such honors.
You will also see on the screen the 18 countries where one or more of these 42 students will be pursuing their scholarships and earning their prestigious awards. Indeed, international reach at a high level! Congratulations to Dr. Audra Jennings and our Office of Scholar Development staff and to all the faculty who helped guide our students to these recognitions, which all American universities strive to achieve. Thank you and keep up the good work!
And speaking of achievement, congratulations to Eric Kondratieff, an assistant professor of history, for his Lobe Classical Foundation Library Fellowship, an international competition which provides a $35,000 salary enhancement for the academic year in support of his scholarly research. Eric also won a second Consecutive National Endowment for the Humanities summer stipend this year. Well done, Eric! This is but one example of the scores of fellowships and grants that our faculty have received to support their personal scholarly activity.
Last year was also a good year for our programs that are well acquainted with national recognition.
For the sixth consecutive year, the Carol Martin Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science in Kentucky is once again named to the Washington Post list of top performing schools with elite students.
As you know, Newsweek magazine named the Gatton Academy the number one high school in America in both 2012 and 2013—no rankings have been released for 2014.
The School of Journalism and Broadcasting finished first in two of the four categories in which the William Randolph Hearst Foundation analyzes academic performance of journalism and broadcasting students, and they tied for second overall in what is known as the "Pulitzers of College Journalism."
The top ten ranked schools of journalism and broadcasting do, indeed, represent good company for our journalism and broadcasting students to share!
And just a few weeks ago, College Magazine ranked WKU No. 4 among America’s Schools of Journalism and Broadcasting. This is a separate ranking from Hearst.
Our Forensics team returned to the top by recapturing the American Forensics Association National Championship in April in Tempe, Arizona, where WKU senior Nick Gilyard was named the overall best Forensics student in the nation. This was WKU’s eighth AFA championship. And by the way, the WKU Forensics team also again won the National Forensics Association Championship and the International Forensics Association Championship last year—a uniquely WKU trifecta!
Also in April, our civil engineers placed first overall in the Ohio Valley Student Conference Competition at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburg. The regional competition includes the best engineering schools throughout the midwestern states, including the other two engineering programs in Kentucky.
Several WKU students and Public Radio staff were honored by the 2014 Kentucky Associated Press Broadcasters Awards with first place awards in the college division, including: best news cast, best feature story, best news story for television, and best sports coverage for television.
WKU Public Radio’s Staff Awards included honors in the categories of: best long newscast; best long light news feature; best sports feature; and best website. These awards were accompanied by a host of honorable mentions throughout the television and radio public broadcasting spectrum.
And the WKU PBS team was just recently recognized with its 17th regional Emmy award, this one for “The Symphony: Chorale Finalé” which aired on WKU PBS July 4, 2013. Congratulations to David Brinkley, Jessica Gibbs, Jordan Basham from WKU PBS, and to Jeff Smith from campus and community events, for this year's Emmy!
Speaking of WKU traditions, the 2013 WKU Talisman won the Gold Crown Award from Columbia University at the College Media Association 2014 Spring Workshop. This is the Talisman’s sixth Gold Crown. The Talisman was one of only four yearbooks to be awarded the Gold Crown, joining three other powerhouse university yearbooks for last year’s honors.
Just last month we celebrated the National Safety Council Site Review Team’s announcement that WKU is now the 25th designated Safe Community in the U.S. We are only the fourth university to receive the honor. What a great confidence boost to parents and a compliment to all of you who made this campus one of the safest in America!
And how about WKU track and field star Jessica Ramsey, who excelled in the NCAA Track and Field Championships in the shot put, discus, and the hammer throw and earned all American honors in all three events! Not to be outdone, our men’s 4x100 and 4x400 relay teams finished fourth and fifth respectively in the NCAA Championships, leading to an 18th place overall finish for our Men’s Track and Field team.
Then there’s Big Red, who finished third in the nation at the prestigious National Cheerleaders Association/National Dance Alliance Championships in Florida in April. Go Big Red!
Finally, while not in the category of a national award, WKU faculty and students certainly found themselves in the national spotlight when a cave ceiling collapsed at the National Corvette Museum last February, swallowing eight rare Corvettes. The expertise of our Engineering and Geography and Geology faculty were called upon immediately, and they, along with their students, have worked diligently with officials throughout the year to determine the cause, to remediate, and to stabilize the area. For their efforts, WKU received considerable media acclaim on nearly every network, newscast, and media publication in this country and abroad.
What a unique and amazing opportunity to gain hands-on experience for those students!
INTERNATIONALIZATION AT A HIGH LEVEL
Over the course of the last year, we took international reach to a new level at WKU as a growing number of our students engaged in transformative global experiences. In fact, our study abroad participation has grown by 50 percent since 2010, as a record 642 students studied in another country last year. We also welcomed more than 1,100 students from other countries to study on the WKU campus, thereby increasing the likelihood of international reach for our domestic students who do not pursue a study abroad opportunity.
Our international students are wonderful learning resources for all of us. We need to embrace them, serve them, understand their anxieties and apprehensions, and ensure that they complete the degrees that they are here to pursue.
We all need to make new friends from other lands and engage our domestic students with them whenever possible.
When our students go abroad, help them learn what it means to become immersed in a different culture. In this regard, 45 percent of our study abroad students were engaged in a semester or more of study. These students see, experience, and taste things on a human level rather than through a classroom experience.
The data is clear that overseas study in college helps young alumni in the global marketplace. This truism is becoming more and more apparent in the countries where students choose to study, countries where America does business in the economic marketplace.
It is cliché, but students tell me frequently that their experience abroad was, indeed, life changing. National studies are confirming that more and more students are claiming the most significant aspect of their undergraduate years was studying in another country, often ranking higher than college friendships and traditional courses.
One of the more impressive growth dynamics in our campus internationalization is the fact that now over 30 percent of our student teachers are student teaching abroad. Superintendents and principals, like corporate CEOs, are more likely than not to zero in on a global learning experience in a job interview.
It is important that we remain diligent in making sure that our study abroad experiences are, indeed, academic in nature. Study abroad is not tourism. It is immersion-based learning, no matter in what language or on what continent.
In order to facilitate global learning, I am pleased to announce that we have received official notice that we are authorized to open an on-campus Passport Office. Our Campus Post Office in the new Downing Student Union is now taking applications for U.S. passports.
Good work, Marshall Gray—one more step in our parade of international services!
One of the best examples of our growing international reach is our Confucius Institute. Founded just four years ago, we are now receiving some $450,000 in annual funding from the Chinese Education Ministry.
We have 38 teachers through our Confucius Institute teaching Chinese language to students in area school districts, including some of your own sons and daughters.
We have eight Confucius classrooms across our region devoted to a specific Chinese cultural theme. Such classrooms exist in Logan, Hardin, Daviess, Breckenridge, and Warren counties.
One of the more unique features of our Confucius Institute is the mobile Chinese Learning Center, which travels throughout Kentucky, bringing a bit of Chinese history and culture to students who might not otherwise have such exposure.
And of course, most of our students walk through China to enter the Helm Library! The Chinese Learning Center in Helm Library is a reminder to students that we live in a multicultural world where language and trade will certainly play a role in the futures of all of our students.
Nothing demonstrates international reach at WKU quite like the horrifying ordeal experienced by John All, Geography and Geology professor, who was rescued after falling into a 70 foot crevasse in the Himalayan Mountains in May. Social media sent the story of John’s near-death experience across the globe. Amazingly, John survived and is already planning future climate change research projects in Antarctica and elsewhere!
Most of you likely saw John's video or one of his many media interviews. But, there is another aspect of John's story you may not know.
Professor All, following his rescue, was taken to a hospital in Kathmandu. At that very moment, Aaron Brzowski, who had just graduated from the Gatton Academy and was engaged in a WKU teaching program in Nepal, was contacted by Clinton Lewis, our university photographer, who was closely following John's situation on Facebook. Here is Aaron’s message back to Clinton immediately after John was checked into a hospital in Kathmandu, Nepal:
“Clinton! I just now checked on John at the hospital. He seems to be doing quite well. He looks like hell, honestly. His face is banged up, a dislocated shoulder, and rib injuries, but he said he should be out within the next few days. The injuries were bad, but he is going to make it and be just fine. His spirits are incredibly high as well; he seemed excited and very surprised to see a WKU student checking on him here in Nepal.”
Now that is WKU international reach in action—from both a faculty and a student perspective!
Another important dynamic in our Campus Action Plan is sustainability. Our campus-wide sustainability strategies are defined certainly by our conservation efforts and our drive to save money and natural resources through our campus behavior. But, my eyes were further opened this summer when I travelled on a ship in the Baltic and North Seas near the Arctic Circle for 18 days with five faculty, a scholar in residence, and four Student Life staff studying climate change.
Forty-five students were divided into groups focused on the science of climate change, its economics, the challenge of communication, and understanding how global warming will affect current and future generations.
We saw firsthand how climate change is being addressed in Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, and northern Scotland.
What was driven home to me is that we have great faculty and great students doing incredibly immersive and applied learning, not just in the four disciplines I observed, but these examples are replicated across our six colleges in numerous academic departments and graduate programs.
What I learned and observed on this trip challenged me to be personally engaged in academic exercises whenever and wherever I can, and it is further evidence that we as a campus can, indeed, have a global impact.
Specifically on this trip, we reached a climate change research agreement with the University of Akureyri, an impressive university at the Arctic Circle in northern Iceland. They will partner with us and the Caribbean Community Climate Change Center to create a three-way research partnership, which will engage our faculty and students in the pursuit of solutions to global warming and rising sea levels. Our students will be returning to Iceland and to Belize often in the future!
I want to also acknowledge Professor Rezaul Mahmood, the Associate Director for the Kentucky Climate Center and the WKU Mesonet, for his work on the 1,100-page National Climate Assessment, which was unveiled at the White House in May and presented to both houses of Congress.
This third National Climate Assessment Report is an important document for our nation, as it will drive policymaking in the future.
Rezaul was one of 60 contributors who oversaw the report’s development over the last three years and helped author the report that includes analysis of impacts on seven sectors—human health, water, energy, transportation, agriculture, forest, and ecosystems—and the interactions among these sectors at the national level. It assesses all U.S. regions and particularly focuses on Kentucky. Well done, Rezaul!
An emerging campus-wide focus on the environment and sustainability will help us search for solutions to sustain a vibrant economy and ensure a high quality of life while finding ways to preserve natural resources and protect the environment. I think we can all agree that future generations should live in a world that we have enjoyed and hopefully will not be further diminished.
So, I challenge all of us to behave in ways that will conserve and sustain our campus resources, but also develop a curriculum which reflects the knowledge, skills, and values that our students will need to lead responsibly in the future, to remediate damage already done, and find solutions to a growing list of climate change challenges. A WKU education needs to ensure that our graduates, whether they be in the corporate, educational, or non-profit sectors, help guide the stewardship of the natural capital on which we all depend.
So my last acknowledgement of a 2013-14 achievement is a shout out for once again making the Princeton Review’s fifth annual edition of America’s Green Colleges.
It is also good to be on the U.S. Green Building Council’s list of 332 Green Colleges in America, and to once again be recognized as a Tree Campus USA!
As we look back on the past year, we all must acknowledge that it was a difficult budget year. Yet another state budget cut coupled with a drop in enrollment combined to leave us with about a $5 million budget hole to fill. While we have weathered what has been an ongoing storm since 2008 and have done our best to minimize the impact on campus jobs, both faculty and staff, that was unavoidable for this year.
We made the difficult decision to address nearly $1.1 million of the budget cut by eliminating the university subsidy to WKU Health Services. This helped relieve the budget reduction pressure for every academic and administrative department across campus, but resulted in the loss of several full-time positions.
I am pleased, however, that we have successfully negotiated an agreement for Graves-Gilbert Clinic to operate at WKU. They are here and ready to meet the healthcare needs of our students, faculty, and staff.
We welcome Graves-Gilbert and embrace their cadre of health care professionals and medical services.
The biggest budget variable for us last year, and for the current year, relates to enrollment and retention. While our freshman class numbers were down slightly last year, our admissions staff and many others across campus have worked hard to reload and recruit a first-time, full-time freshman class which is now back in a stable trend line with 3,583 new first-time, full-time students arriving this week.
While the numbers are important, the growing quality is most impressive. The average ACT, as of yesterday, of our first-time baccalaureate students has risen from 22.7 last year to 23.39 this year, which puts WKU’s entering class above the 71st percentile nationally, or in the top third of all test takers. Acceptance rates are up in every one of our five scholarship categories!
We should also be ever mindful that as our enrollment stabilizes, so too will our revenue profile. We are cautiously confident that the offset of fewer part-time students with more full-time students will strengthen our budget.
Perhaps our greatest challenge is to retain students and help them persist at a significantly higher rate than in the past. Serious dollars are at stake, and we suffered the consequences of an enrollment revenue decline due to students leaving us prematurely this past year.
Putting the financial dynamic aside, it is just wrong to allow so many students to fail to finish at WKU.
We are graduating just over 50 percent of our students in six years and we are still losing 25 percent of each freshman class within one year of their initial enrollment. So, for our students’ sake—if not for our own financial stability—please become part of the solution to keeping our students at WKU until they graduate!
When students fail to finish they hurt themselves and us economically. More importantly, valuable human capital is lost. Our core function is to take large numbers of first-generation college students and teach them how to study and learn, and give them the tools to succeed.
Good students often leave us as well because they fall behind and simply never learned to study, manage their time well, or get connected on campus.
This may be especially true for our regional campus students, who are more likely to be non-traditional. I, too, often hear about poor and sometimes inconsiderate service to our regional campus students by our main campus employees. A student on one of our three regional campuses is every bit as important as students in Bowling Green!
We need intrusive advising. Please, take your concerns to a student when you see the beginning signs of a struggle!
I am also concerned about the value of remedial courses. Are they really helping students succeed, or are we losing students when they go home after their first semester with only three or six hours of course credit? If you are a first generation student, mom and dad are likely to tell you to stay home if that is all you get for a semester’s tuition.
And let’s take our University Experience course into the high schools. Wouldn’t it have greater benefit if high school seniors took it for dual credit and arrived on campus as better-prepared college freshmen?
PUBLIC TRUST AND SERVICE
We are owners of a public trust at WKU. Parents trust us with their sons and daughters. The Commonwealth trusts us to educate as much of our population as possible and drive the state’s economy. The federal government trusts us to handle our affairs in a fair, equitable, and compliant manner. And, the public trusts us to ensure a safe, high quality of life for those within reach of all four of our campuses.
I want to hit a couple of themes this morning that relate to this public trust. The first is that we are still about creating productive citizens, and the second is that we must focus more intently on our service to our students.
Colleges and universities are in it for the long term. They have existed for centuries, and, yes, we have changed with the times, but a large measure of our core values, and in many cases our traditions, have been sustained for generations.
I saw an interesting quote recently in an article about Steve Jobs, and the point was that “Apple is a nice little enterprise, but Stanford will be thriving in 200 years, while Apple will be a historical footnote.” It’s a good analogy because WKU will be here in 200 years, too. How well we survive the next couple hundred years will actually be determined by how we thrive over the next decade.
It seems that most of today’s headlines about higher education claim a disproportionate correlation between higher education and placing graduates in jobs. When so-called experts and journalists spend so much time talking about the inherent problems in providing higher education and the fortunes and misfortunes of job statistics, they almost certainly discourage some teenagers from going to college and some adults from going back to complete a degree. This may be particularly true on our regional campuses where a job is the primary goal.
The decision not to attend or finish college for fear that it is a “bad deal” is among the most economically irrational decisions anybody can make.
Yes, college is expensive. And yes, WKU has a significant cost, although it is not nearly as expensive as some other public higher education options in Kentucky and beyond. We are still a great value.
I am as focused as anybody on our role as an economic driver for our region, and I embrace the opportunity to partner with business and industry to develop talent. Job placement, however, should not be the sole reason for pursuing higher education.
An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about a recent study by the Lumina Foundation and the Gallup Organization attempted to link two important variables in higher education. First is what employers seek in our graduates, and second is what we need to be doing for our students while they are with us.
Interestingly enough, what employers want and what we provide at WKU are rather closely linked.
This suggests that a large majority of employers are looking for college graduates with broadly applicable skills like oral and written communication, the capacity to think critically, solve complex problems, take responsibility, and innovate, as well as people who demonstrate ethical judgment and integrity.
Specific experience in a given industry and often specific degrees rank lower on the scale of important employment traits to most hiring officials. This is good to know because higher education must first be about educating the student in ways that go beyond the classroom. I tell parents of incoming students every spring and summer that I am confident that their sons and daughters will get the skill sets necessary for their chosen discipline, but I am also equally confident that at WKU they will learn those behaviors that just might allow them to be hired in the first place.
Yes, those behaviors start with the WKU Spirit of confidence, energy, self-esteem, and heart. These qualities, which employers tell us they seek, are taught well here.
The ability to communicate, think, reason, and develop a sense of ethics, drive, and determination come not just from a single class, but from a thoughtful and purposeful education. In large measure, they are what our new Colonnade General Education curriculum is about. To the extent that these skills can be woven into experiential learning and creative problem solving in our courses, we will be preparing our graduates, not just for the employment interview or for their first job, but for a lifetime that will very likely involve multiple career changes.
Historian William Cronon has written that education should “aspire to nurture the growth of human talent in the service of human freedom.” He is right. Our responsibility is not just to teach students calculus and U.S. history, but to help them answer the question of what kind of life might be meaningful, productive, and rewarding. This is why we have service learning here at WKU. This is why our students study abroad, and this is why our WKU spirit serves not only our students, but also employers, communities across our region, and people across the globe.
George Kuh, who directed my dissertation at Indiana University 37 years ago, and who is a prolific researcher and noted author in how and why students learn, says that it starts with finding passionate, engaged professors—this is what is critically important in the first year of college. Fully engaged faculty is what leads to students’ success.
His findings suggest that two out of five freshmen say they have never discussed ideas from readings or classes with a faculty member outside of class. Three of five freshmen say they never worked with professors on activities other than coursework. The most engaged students on campus, Kuh says, “are those who take part in deep approaches to their learning”—meaning they are active participants in their intellectual pursuits rather than students who simply take notes in a class.
An important measure of active learning according to Kuh is “time on task.” Rigor often makes a difference, but only if the faculty are engaged with students. He also has determined that two of the other activities that help develop the skills of the future also require deep active learning: undergraduate research and study abroad. We have touched on one, and I will touch on the other in a moment.
Recently, I was in a discussion with Kim Tharpe-Barrie, a Vice President with Norton Healthcare in Louisville, an important partner in support of our Nursing program. She said that Norton is looking for nurses, of course, but more importantly, they are looking for smart, kind, nice people with high ethical and moral values. The theme that struck me—since she makes the employment decisions for Norton Healthcare—is, in her words, “because nice matters.”
I also have a small woodcarving given to me by one of our Regents, which coincidentally says “because nice matters”! Phillip Bale gave me that when he came onto our Board.
We nurture their intellect, but we also need to ensure that our graduates are kind and nice, and ethically and morally sound. If we are doing our jobs and they have some level of innate drive, then they will be driven to succeed with energy and confidence. In other words, we need to build this emotional intelligence in our students as well as their scholastic abilities. It is incumbent upon all of us to engage our students in ways that build such intangible skill sets.
One of the articles I read this year was in a publication called “Great Service Matters.” The article is about the role of caring in retention. A second similar article talked about academic hospitality as the key to great service and retention. Let me elaborate.
Studies have found that one of the top reasons why students leave a college or university is because they believe the school does not care about them as individuals. This is an emotional response to the way they feel they are treated on a college/university campus. If we are to increase our retention—and Lord knows we must—we need to discover what often drives students out the door.
A serious misunderstanding that exists on most campuses, including our own, is that service to students and treating students with hospitality are somehow unsavory. Colleges and universities provide some level of service and hospitality every day in classrooms and offices across campus, and even through physical facilities on the campus.
It must, however, be woven into our fabric if it is to affect how students react—particularly students in that fragile first year. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds or low family incomes have such a thin margin for persistence. The first failed class, missed billing, or the first discouraging word, often will send them packing. We can prevent the reasons why many of our students leave early in their first year and fail to persist.
We must make sure that whatever we do, we do well and that we approach our jobs with a strong service attitude, because when we do not, we know they leave.
Excellence is reflected in small but meaningful ways. It is important that we keep the campus neat, attractive, comfortable, clean and functioning. And, when a student comes by the office looking for help, we need to stop what we are doing and help solve the problem. Be the last one out of your classroom so that you can be there to answer a question about the day's lesson.
We know college is stressful—let's do all we can to help every student navigate through to graduation. Make sure we keep consistent office hours. Make sure we engage students. Ask them questions and take a personal interest. When a student misses a class, follow up and ask why.
We are all responsible for providing services to our students—after all, they do indeed pay our bills! It should not be lost on any of us that a one percent improvement in our retention rate would mean a couple million dollars in budget growth.
What about that word hospitality? Of making a student feel he or she is welcome? In a campus restaurant, in a residence hall, in a classroom, or anywhere else across the university, hospitality is the way we make certain that our students feel appreciated and valued.
I encourage you to be out and about. Make it your business to know our campus and frequent it as often as possible. Interact with students as you encounter them. Our students must know that we care about them, that they are important to us. Tell them so!
We provide a multitude of student services, and we should strive to make them as excellent as possible. Students have many higher education options these days. I want WKU to be the campus of choice and the place where students transfer to rather than transfer from!
Back to that survey about why students leave a college or university. Far and away the reason students leave a school—and where a school loses a major source of revenue—is that they felt the school did not care about them.
Students in this particular survey expressed clearly that they felt that the college worked hard to recruit and enroll them, but once they were there, the college just assumed they would stay and did little to show that they cared about them being there.
A full 25 percent felt the school let them down and did not care about them or their personal success. Poor service accounted for 23 percent of the reasons why they left.
These two categories—lack of individual attention and poor service—account for 48 percent of their responses. These are both academic service and hospitality issues.
Note how finances, schedule, personal grades, and educational quality are much lower on the scale of why students leave than other factors that are within our control.
And while we are focused on service and hospitality, let’s ensure that WKU is a campus that embraces all students, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.
I have reached out to our City Commission and formally requested that they adopt a “fairness ordinance” for the City of Bowling Green that recognizes equal treatment for all who live here.
We often use the word “family” to describe the WKU experience, and if that is to ring true, equal treatment must be held as a personal responsibility by everyone within our family.
Higher education is under attack on multiple fronts these days. The federal government is weighing in with college rankings based on employability of graduates, but there is now a major focus on Title IX compliance, specifically how we deal with sexual assault, and particularly among students.
A few weeks ago, I sent an email to you regarding the proper handling of sexual assault, including reporting, investigation, and disciplinary action. New policies have gone into effect over the summer.
Huda Melky is currently serving as our Title IX Coordinator and several individuals representing various units across campus are serving as Deputy Coordinators. Their names and departments are listed on the screen. These individuals are accountable and may be called upon to assist in investigations. So they are devoting serious time commitments to this new portion of their job duties.
We must all make ourselves aware of such matters and ensure our campus is compliant with the expectations of the Federal Office of Civil Rights. If anyone becomes aware of any mental or physical misconduct, it must be reported, regardless of position or title. There are mandatory reporting guidelines now in effect.
I cannot say in any stronger terms that we must not let unfortunate things occur and fail to properly address them. If you know about something, you must report it regardless of relationships. Failure to report is a serious matter that can put our federal funding in jeopardy.
Students may be reluctant, but employees, faculty, and staff, cannot be reluctant to report any incident involving sexual assault, misconduct, or any other mental or physical mistreatment about which you might become aware.
Contact Huda or any of the other Deputy Coordinators. Incident report forms are online. Any incident must be reported within 24 hours of your learning about it. We must all assume responsibility and get involved if we become aware of an incident.
It is the right thing to do, but now the failure to do so has federal implications, both legal and financial. Failure to comply could lead to loss of up to 1 percent of a university’s budget.
I want to also say something about depression. College should be challenging, but not overwhelming. Students are experiencing a lot of change at this time in their lives. Depression is an illness and leads to a loss of motivation, energy, and passion for learning. When the depression is severe, it can lead to thoughts of suicide. Unfortunately, we have experienced more than our share of suicides in recent years.
Students may not know where to get help when they are depressed. We have a Counseling Center staffed with licensed professional counselors and psychologists, and those services are confidential. But, they are only rendered when students come forward or an employee communicates with those who are in a position to help. Please be on the lookout for signs of depression in our students and lead them to get the help they need.
CAMPUS HEALTH AND WELLNESS
Many of you may have attended the recent campus forum—led by the Department of Human Resources—and you will have the opportunity to attend additional forums in the weeks and months ahead as we introduce major changes to our self-funded employee health plan.
I want to extend my compliments to our Benefits Committee for its hard work in continuing to make sure our health insurance and wellness programs are both valued by our employees and are as affordable as possible. Under our self-funded model, the University essentially functions as the insurance company with university and employee premium contributions making up the sole funding.
In this regard, we are renewing our commitment to being a healthy campus that engages the mind, body, and the WKU Spirit. Each one of us must focus more on preventive behavior, and I support the proposed idea for creating incentives that reward healthy behavior, which, over time, will help to keep our costs in check.
We also are working to run our self-funded insurance program as efficiently as possible with features and partnerships that are consistent with best practices. Our objective is to maintain an employee health plan that contains provisions and benefits that are appropriate, cost effective and market competitive. Some of the changes being proposed for 2015 will also help mitigate the impact of an excise tax under the Affordable Care Act looming in 2018.
I encourage you to become engaged in our healthy campus initiative and look for additional details as information is provided by Human Resources in the future. The University invested over $1 million in added employer funding in the current year, and we are likely to do so again next year. We are working very hard to minimize additional costs to employees. One sure-fire way to do that is to make it as easy as possible for us to live a healthier life.
We can do a few simple things: learn where you stand with your health, take steps to eat right and get more physically active, and ask about costs when you go to the doctor or pharmacy. Each action, no matter how small, will make a difference—for you and the University.
OTHER IMPORTANT MATTERS THIS YEAR
One very important matter that will run its course this year is our SACS/COC reaccreditation process. The on-site team will be here in April. Much work has been performed to ensure that our reaffirmation is clean and is without concern. Thank you to the team in academic affairs working hard to get ready—Provost Emslie, Richard Miller, Sylvia Gaiko, Doug McElroy, Beth Laves, and a host of others.
Thanks also for bringing our new Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) into action between now and then. Each of you received a handout as you entered today, and we will build awareness and understanding of the new QEP starting this fall.
Another significant change—indeed improvement—relates to our July 1 transition into Conference USA. All of our men's and women’s teams will compete with a rich combination of peer institutions, and Conference USA will help further enhance our WKU national brand.
Equally important are C-USA’s CBS and FOX television contracts, which will enhance our visibility and generate more revenue for the Athletics Department—which is challenged every day to be relevant, competitive, and successful, both in the classroom and in athletic competition.
Conference USA also provides the opportunity to compete for five different bowl contracts and a couple of back-up agreements should the conference have more than five bowl-eligible teams in a given season.
This is only our third athletic conference over the last 65 years, so we make the change with every intention of being as successful in our new athletic home as we were in the Ohio Valley Conference and Sun Belt Conference.
Once again, and it is a recurring theme this morning: change, adapt, remain relevant, and put our students in the best possible position to be successful.
Athletics, like all of higher education, are dealing with considerable change these days. It is mostly about money, but I and my colleagues in Conference USA and beyond are fighting to sustain the intercollegiate model of amateurism and the importance of keeping the “student” in the “student-athlete” equation.
Looking to the future, I see a number of matters that will require our focused attention. We must build our budget capacity with growth and retention, better campus business practices, more philanthropy and research support, and hopefully from improved state appropriations, although recent history is not a good harbinger of that. Tuition increases will remain modest.
We must enhance faculty and staff salaries. I am fully aware of this being of the utmost importance. The best, most likely way to address salaries is with an improved state higher education funding model that rewards performance. Such a model would serve WKU well.
We must continue to grow our enrollment and graduation numbers. Retaining students will be the best, most effective, most controllable way to do that, but we must also increase our new student populations in traditional ways with Kentucky residents, domestic out-of-state students, international students, transfer students, and online students.
All of these strategies are in play, and we must dedicate ourselves to resuming an enrollment growth profile for WKU. At the same time, we have to improve our graduation rate through better retention.
Over the next few years, it will be incumbent upon us to focus on institutional strengths. We have tried in recent years to grow our research profile with some success. I am convinced, however, that our best niche is undergraduate research. Our undergraduate students gain great value from engagement with faculty in meaningful research both here and abroad. And, this is what sets us apart from our competitor institutions.
We will also, over the next few years, continue our focus on the establishment of relevant terminal degrees across our colleges. Kentucky needs more employees with advanced degrees in practice-based disciplines, and we intend to provide those where we have institutional strengths and the capacity to do so.
Finally, I want to call your attention to a number of campus projects, both completed and currently under way.
The new adult student apartments on Kentucky Street are a great addition to our residential life portfolio.
And next week, we will officially dedicate and cut the ribbon on the new Downing Student Union, which is the heartbeat for student life at WKU. What a magnificent building transformation!
The Honors College/International Center is well under way, and we are beginning the process of design work and construction of a new science building and an improved Thompson Complex Center Wing. We will also begin work in the coming year to use private gifts to expand the Gatton Academy.
And while not a WKU project, next spring we will welcome the opening of the new Hyatt Place Hotel adjacent to the Augenstein Alumni Center.
We have worked closely with the developers to make this long awaited project a reality, and we are grateful for the serious investment they have made at both ends of our campus with the Staybridge Suites and now the Hyatt Place. We look forward to the Hyatt Place opening in April, and I encourage all who use university funds to accommodate overnight guests to utilize these two properties to the extent possible.
I challenge you to determine what you are doing to help WKU achieve its vision to be "A Leading American University with International Reach.” We will do our best as a campus to support you. We will strive to ensure an environment that is inspiring and conducive to academic success, to create proper intellectual and student life space, to give our students a high quality of life, and to work to generate the resources necessary for you to do what you do best.
One of my themes this morning is to challenge us to approach academic and student life with a service mentality. There is no room for complacency here at WKU. Teaching and learning requires action and energy. The delivery of services, the addressing of students’ intellectual, personal, psychological, and financial needs requires action on our part.
No prospective or current student should ever find us inattentive or uninterested in him or her as an individual. We may not be able to accommodate every student need or request, but we should always be responsive and thoughtful, and, whenever possible, provide solutions.
Recently, I learned about Robby Boarman, a civil engineering student from Owensboro, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer almost two years ago. Doctors told him he had only six to eighteen months to live and suggested he spend that time with his family. But he opted instead to continue his classes at WKU. Through chemotherapy and radiation, Robby persisted. He was within one course of completing his degree when the cancer got to a point that he was unable to continue. Engineering Department Head, Julie Ellis, contacted me and we quickly reached out to others across campus to help make Robby’s dream of earning his degree a reality. Within 24 hours, we approved his graduation and printed a WKU diploma, which was presented to Robby in a ceremony at hospice in Owensboro two weeks ago today.
This is from Matt Dettman: “His family was incredibly appreciative and Robby was so happy and proud. He can’t speak or move much, but he managed to say that this was the biggest accomplishment of his life.”
Thanks Matt, Julie, and all of you who took a personal interest. This is the WKU Spirit. This is why we are in the dream business.
For seventeen years, I have preached that we are not concerned about what may be occurring on other campuses around us. Rather, we must be obsessed with us—with this WKU enterprise—and be diligent in pursuit of what we are capable of becoming.
Let's focus every day on graduating our students. We must be the producers of talent, ideas, and innovation, and we should take pride in what our students achieve and how our campus and our community are enhanced by what we do. Prospective employers seek a community with an educated, skilled, productive work force and a high quality of life. That is the difference we make for Bowling Green and Warren County, and also for Owensboro, Glasgow and Elizabethtown.
My message this morning has been about change and adaption. Let’s seek new ways of organizing and structuring and learning. Continuous innovation means that we are constantly changing, evolving, and growing. Let’s make WKU into the greatest possible asset we can be for our students, our region, our alumni, and ourselves.
In closing, our institutional transformation remains a work in progress. While we have achieved many measures that validate changes and improvements to our campus in recent years, they only set the stage for the future, which starts when classes begin on Monday.
Each and every one of you is a valued member of the WKU family, and each of our students is equally important. Let’s all dedicate ourselves to doing everything we can to ensure that students persist and graduate in a reasonable period of time.
Thank you in advance for everything you will do to handle the expected and unexpected this year.
There is a Chinese proverb that says, “A student’s life is like a piece of paper on which every teacher leaves its mark.” I challenge each member of our faculty and staff to leave your personal mark on every student with whom you interact.
Thank you for the progress we will make this year. Let’s have a great one! Thank you!
WKU President Gary A. Ransdell
Downloadable Documents (PDF)
Evidence and Argument
Quality Enhancement Plan for WKU
Challenging the Spirit
Action Plan 2012-2018
Awards announced during Convocation:
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President's Award for Diversity
Faculty/Staff - Ms. Ometha Doss
Student - Mr. Andrew Salman
Community - Mr. Jim Johnson
President's Award for Sustainability
Faculty/Staff - Dr. Kevin Schmaltz
Student - Ms. Elizabeth McGrew
Spirit of WKU Award - Dr. Bruce Kessler
Teaching - Dr. Summer Bateiha
Research/Creativity - Dr. Rezaul Mahmood
Public Services - Dr. Bryan Reaka
Student Advisement - Dr. Grace Lartey
University Distinguished Professor
Dr. Beverly Siegrist
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