August 26, 2009
Dr. Swan, fellow faculty members and others in attendance, I thank you for the opportunity to extend my welcome for the 2009-2010 academic year.
I do want to take advantage of this opportunity to congratulate the faculty members who've earned special recognition this past year, and to acknowledge the outstanding accomplishments of all our faculty, staff and students.
I will not review in detail the many faculty who earned special recognition last year but I do want to extend special congratulations to Professor Harry Brod, Associate Professor Kim MacLin, Associate Professor Cherin Lee, and to Professor Martha Reineke (maybe twice for Martha).
Thank you for setting the standard of excellence for all of us.
The soul of the university is defined by its faculty. We are fortunate to have outstanding faculty who are dedicated to all three missions of this university: teaching, research or creative activity, and service.
I want to extend a special welcome to the new faculty, many of whom were introduced earlier. You are joining an exceptional group of scholars here at UNI.
I also want to highlight one of the new faculty members, Gloria Gibson, Executive Vice President and Provost.
I am very pleased that Dr. Gibson accepted our invitation to join us as our chief academic officer.
She already has been engaged with some difficult issues and has suggested some exciting opportunities for our faculty, students and university. We will all benefit from her insights, commitment to quality and her leadership skills.
The last academic year proved to be one of the most challenging years in the history of the University of Northern Iowa in terms of budget issues.
We did not predict the severity of the budget challenge although most of us knew the economic environment was suggesting some budget problems.
I noted in my faculty meeting address last year, and I quote "Given the impact of the floods and the encroachment of a weak national economy into Iowa, it will be a challenge to achieve the same level of state support for FY2010."
As it turned out, it proved to be impossible-we had a reduction in state funds of about 15 percent or about an 8 percent reduction in our overall budget.
We had to make some tough decisions last year across the university to meet this financial challenge.
Despite these challenges, we had many accomplishments to be proud of, including providing high quality education for nearly 13,000 students.
We begin this academic with a deeper appreciation of our budget challenges.
The good news is that we begin the year with the knowledge that our enrollment is around if not above 13,000-providing needed tuition revenues.
We begin with the good news that our share of federal stimulus funds has helped us maintain our academic programs this academic year.
The bad news is that the federal stimulus funds are one-time funds, and that the State of Iowa continues to face substantial budget problems heading into this year and FY11.
Because of these factors, we will have to work toward a FY11 budget that will be more challenging than the current year's budget.
I present next year's priorities with this budgetary backdrop.
With the fear that I might provoke spontaneous applause, I am announcing this year's remarks will be shorter.
One reason for this new found brevity is that on September 23rd, I will be giving a State of the University address at a newly created University Convocation.
Priorities/Issues for next year.
I will focus my comments on the coming academic year, which I believe will be a year with again substantial budget challenges but also with some exciting opportunities.
Again, next year's priorities will be based upon the longer-term priorities of the university and the goals of the Board of Regents.
The longer term goals I have been promoting the past two and half years are:
- To be the premier undergraduate program in the State of Iowa and among the best in the Midwest,
- To ensure that UNI is the leading academic institution in the state of Iowa for addressing Pre-K through 12 issues, and among the best in the nation.
- To increase our efforts to assist the state in all three areas of economic, cultural and social development
This past year we added diversity and sustainability as important areas. For this university to be successful in the long run, we must make a stronger commitment in both of these areas and develop more effective strategies.
The priorities of the Board of Regents of the Board of Regents have not been clearly articulated yet but it is clear, through actions and creation of task forces, that sustainability and affordability of /accessibility to the one of the Regents universities will be priorities.
The creation of two other task forces, one on interuniversity cooperation on academic and non-academic issues, and the other on benefits, suggests two additional priorities.
Given this background, what are the key priorities, goals, and issues for the coming academic year.
There are many but I will focus on the most important ones to the academic mission, either directly or indirectly, and only briefly.
I would be pleased to visit with you after this meeting during the reception, and, of course, Gloria and I will be having open forums with all of the colleges and other academic units early this fall.
Issue no. 1: Developing a new strategic plan.
Among the most important priorities next year is to establish a strategic direction for the university. Yes, it is time to develop a new five-year plan.
The Board of Regents will finalize its plan sometime this academic year-I do not want to wait any longer to establish our plan.
People disagree about the value of developing plans-at times I have doubts.
But I do believe the process of developing a plan has value, and a good plan does provide everyone on campus a mechanism to help make difficult choices-as a faculty member, as a department head, as a provost or as a president.
I also believe if everyone likes the plan, it is probably not going to be a useful plan.
I have asked Provost Gibson to lead this effort.
My only guidelines to her are that the plan should be short, substantive and strategic and that the process needs to be inclusive. She has already sketched out a road map on how to develop our new plan.
I am asking that this plan be finalized during the mid part of the spring semester.
Issue no. 2: Need to be more efficient, more effective, more innovative and more entrepreneurial.
Given the limited resources that we have, and are likely to have, and the increased pressure with respect to affordability of higher education, we will need to be more efficient and effective in how we use the resources, and we will need to be more entrepreneurial in accessing additional resources.
Last year, I created and chaired two task forces-one on Cost-Containment, one on Revenue Enhancement. The year before, I created the Information Technology Task Force task force, which was lead by Eugene Wallingford.
All three task forces produced meaningful and useful recommendations.
I have assigned each of these recommendations from the cost containment and revenue enhancements task forces to a vice president (and I took ownership of several) to review and implement the recommendations if merited. Many can be implemented this year, others next year.
The recommendations from Information Technology task forces came in this fall and are under review-some very significant recommendations.
The team working on the student information system, which I mentioned last year, has made substantial progress on its implementation.
My final observation on this issue is that increased efficiency and effectiveness is critically important while we try to maintain the excellence of our academic programs while at the same time addressing the increased pressures with respect to affordability and accessibility.
We also need to be more innovative and entrepreneurial-leveraging our resources via partnerships and technology.
Doing the same things using the same processes but more efficiently will not be the answer.
We will need to do things differently in the future. We will also have to be more focused on how we allocate our resources.
Issue No. 3: Making sure we are accountable.
Accountability is important for a number of reasons, including maintaining the public trust in what we do at UNI and how we do it.
With respect to academic affairs, the critical questions pertain to the quality and relevance of our academic programs, and the cost of those programs.
And, are our students learning what we say they should be learning.
The on-going Higher Learning Commission reaccreditation process is a key part of this accountability issue, as is the academic assessment program initiated by Provost Lubker last year.
I applaud the effort by both Associate Provost Bev Kopper and the steering committee on the reaccreditation process, which includes a freshmen experience focus, and by the Academic Assessment task forces, headed by Professor Jerry Smith and Professor Phyllis Baker.
The processes will continue this year but with different phases. Our academic programs will benefit from both.
We also have to examine our systems and programs to make sure we meet the standards of accountability.
We have had several recent cases, two in the academic area and one outside the academic area, that highlighted that we have some work to do to make sure we are accountable all of the time.
These cases reduce the public trust in our institution and increase the challenges of getting state and donor support.
We simply have to do better.
In closing I will paraphrase Charles Dickens, "We live in the best of times, and the worst of times".
Higher education would seem to be in more demand now than ever because of the requirements of people working in a knowledge economy.
But we also live in a time with increasing demands put on legislators for other important social needs, more competition from competitors that operate with a different set of assumptions than we do, and individuals who want more education but not necessarily on campus, when we want to teach it, and not necessarily from one institution of higher education.
We will undergo substantial change over the next five years-either intentionally or it will be imposed upon us.
I prefer the former.
Our values should not change; the way we do things will need to change.