Office of the President

 

Holloway Hall

State of the University Remarks

(Delivered before the University Forum, September 5, 2000)

Good afternoon. It is such a pleasure to be with you today. Though my family and I arrived in Salisbury a couple of months ago, this represents the first opportunity for me to come before faculty, staff and students with the purpose of discussing our future as members of the Salisbury University community.

It is a bit daunting to deliver a "State of the University" speech at this point in my presidency: I am too new to pretend to be an expert on our current status and I certainly don’t have all the answers as we look towards the future. However, I bring to you today some first impressions, and ideas as to what our priorities and commitments will likely be in the coming years. Further, I bring to you a newcomer’s perspective on the challenges, issues, and concerns facing Salisbury University. I have no definitive solutions to offer today, only topics for continued discussion, as together we will build the vision for SU in the new century.

Let me begin by sharing with you a quote from former Super Bowl MVP Roger Staubach: "The new security lies in a willingness to change; the new insecurity results from an unwillingness to change." And another phrase spoken by Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen: "To steer the boat you’ve got to move faster than the current." In addition to these quotations, I ask that you consider my remarks today in the context of several mega-trends that are driving changes in higher education: demographics, technology, globalization, and the financing of higher education.

Last week ended with good news for Salisbury University: For the fourth consecutive year, SU was ranked among the top ten public regional universities in the North region by U.S. News & World Report. As you know, that ranking is based upon the institution’s reputation, SAT scores, retention rates, and a myriad of other factors. Former presidents Bellavance and Merwin often spoke about the importance of the University’s achieving national eminence. Now that Salisbury University has been recognized in U.S. News, the Princeton Review, and Kiplinger’s Magazine, perhaps it is time to declare victory in the effort to achieve national recognition. After all, our mission and vision should not be driven by the desire to do well in the ratings game, though national recognition will ensue from our achieving our institutional goals, doing our jobs well, and graduating students who become successful, productive citizens.

One of our priorities in the coming year will be to reassess our enrollment management strategy. We should begin a discussion about whether to de-emphasize SAT scores as the primary criterion for admission. Consider the following: The University System of Maryland has just approved a new, ten-year strategic plan. The underlying premise of the plan is that "growth is good." Not only is enrollment growth good, it is seen as necessary given the demographics of the state of Maryland and the needs of the workplace. New state resources will, in the coming years, go to the campuses that are able to grow in accordance with these needs. Further, the demographic growth largely will be in the non-white population, a population that is disadvantaged by an admission process that relies heavily on SAT scores. In short, I am suggesting to you today that we should develop an institutional strategy whereby we balance the need for high standards in admissions policies with a commitment to student access and diversity. Make no mistake: To de-emphasize SAT scores does not equate to lowering standards; it simply means we look at class standing and other factors in determining whether a student is admitted to SU.

Members of the University community have talked about the importance of achieving diversity for a number of years. Yet the African-American student population has remained steady at 8%. We simply must do more to ensure that our campus is representative of diverse populations, consistent with our state’s demographics. Salisbury University risks losing key accreditations if we cannot bring more African American and Hispanic students here. The students and new dollars will flow to the campuses that grow and that can accommodate the growing minority population. College enrollment nationwide will swell by some two million students over the next fifteen years, with Hispanic, African American, and Asian American students accounting for 80 percent of the growth. The demographics of our state is the most important factor impacting traditional enrollments. Further, this particular mega-trend will in part determine the political climate within which our institution must operate.

Currently, 25% of Maryland residents have a baccalaureate degree, the second highest rate in the nation. Yet we are being asked to increase that to 40%. Off-site enrollments and outreach will be very important in achieving that goal. The University System of Maryland is also asking that we more aggressively seek out-of-state enrollments, in order to meet the workforce needs of our state. In particular, we are being directed to make special efforts in areas of critical shortages: Teacher preparation, information technology, health careers, science and math.

In meeting statewide needs, we should continue to build upon our reputation for excellence. SU can be seen as a selective university that also cares about access and serving the needs of the state and region. To continue to make progress as an institution we should focus on how to enhance both our undergraduate and graduate programs. If our undergraduate enrollments rise, we can expect to increase graduate enrollments as well; in turn, our graduate programs enhance the quality of the undergraduate programs.

I have heard it said again and again that Salisbury University does not have room to grow, that our physical limitations make growth difficult. A closer look reveals that we rather easily could expand our campus to include the area where the Allenwood Shopping Center currently sits, the other side of Rte. 13, and along Camden Avenue. Once we have a new state-of-the-art science building, we will need to renovate Devilbiss Hall as a multi-purpose classroom and faculty office building. We already need more faculty office space and more classroom space, so it is not too big a stretch to see the need for a new classroom building. The Maggs athletic facility is limited, and many Division III schools also have fieldhouses. While the recently completed Capital Plan proposes that our campus remain essentially its current size, we should take a hard look at that Master Plan and whether it will meet the needs of SU and the goals of the USM Strategic Plan in the year 2010 and beyond.

The USM campuses in their ten-year enrollment projections predict significant growth. Of all the Maryland public universities, SU projects by far the lowest rate of growth at about 8%. These estimates for SU look very conservative. A more realistic picture suggests that by 2010 we could be a campus of about 6500 FTE students, a number which we could achieve without changing the basic character of our campus. Quality teaching and student success are, and will continue to be, our passion. The interaction between faculty, staff and students will remain critically important to the SU experience. In my short time here, I have seen that most faculty are highly committed to student learning, whereas at many universities today a faculty member’s own research project can take precedence over teaching and learning.

This fall, without sacrificing our high admissions standards, our FTE count is up significantly. We had projected a fall FTE of 5159; as of today, we have 5574 FTEs. Our freshman class is the largest in the history of SU at 943. Jane Dane, Dean of Enrollment Management, likes to refer to this incoming group as the "Velcro class", they have stuck with us once admitted. In effect, we accepted a certain number of students expecting that a predicted number would decide to go elsewhere; in the end, when we accepted them, they accepted us. This is good news, but it does present challenges. I have heard some faculty remark that many of our classes seem over-crowded as compared to last fall. As one who has spent a career on college and university campuses, let me share a newcomer’s observation: We have so many classes of 30 and 35 students, that our classes feel "overcrowded." Paradoxically, though, if we had a few large, introductory classes, we would be in a better position to keep most classes smaller.

Every other university with which I have had experience has some larger classes which help subsidize the smaller ones; not so at Salisbury University. I know that there will be resistance to the notion of some larger sections, but it is something we should consider. There are pedagogically sound reasons for wanting to maintain small classes in some cases, but I urge you to be open to ways in which we might have more core faculty teaching lower division classes by combining small sections of the same course.

Another of the mega-trends I mentioned earlier is technology. When we in higher education first were told to embrace the new technologies, the view was that our institutions would become more efficient. Increasingly, the shift is away from making administrative processes more efficient towards designing new processes to add value to students’ lives. Many universities have combined the functions of the registrar, financial aid, and bursar, thus reducing the numbers of lines students have to stand in to get their needs met. Students are also increasingly able to access their records via the Web. One of our institutional goals should be to empower students by putting our administrative databases to their best use.

Information and telecommunication technologies, most notably the Internet, are altering our teaching, altering course delivery mechanisms. Today, 90% of SU faculty have a Web page, and many are incorporating the Internet into their courses. It is no longer just the University of Phoenix which is using the technology to make inroads in the higher education market; traditional colleges and universities are also responding. Do we at SU have any interest in pursuing the opportunities that distance learning offers? Can we afford not to? Can we ignore the emerging market for technology-based instruction? I was interested to learn just the other day that Mr. Fred Marino, who is director of WSCL, our Public Radio station, is also our campus’ director of distance learning. Should the leadership for distance learning and all instructional technology initiatives not come from Academic Affairs? We have approval for construction of a new Teaching and Learning Center, a facility that will greatly enhance our current library facilities. Is there an opportunity here to coordinate plans for the new Center, Web-based instruction, and distance learning efforts? If so, should we consider hiring an associate provost for information technology, a position that would be housed within Academic Affairs?

The notion of lifelong learning is becoming increasingly important with the accelerating obsolescence of knowledge and the changing needs of the labor market. Are we currently effective in addressing the public’s need for continuing education and lifelong learning? An academically-based IT division would promote ways for our campus to meet the needs of adults who prefer to complete some coursework at a distance, while providing support for those faculty wanting to incorporate Internet-based activities into the classroom.

To offer a number of SU courses at a distance, for example, as part of the Southern Regional Electronic Campus, would further promote the reputation of the University beyond our immediate region. We should build upon the current opportunities for distance education in collaboration with Chesapeake College, and explore new possible ventures with other institutions. Earlier I spoke of the possibility of revising our enrollment projections upward; if we are effective in promoting lifelong learning for adult students, some of our enrollment growth would take place off campus.

I have spoken at some length about distance learning, and would like to underscore the fact that most instruction at Salisbury University will continue to take place in more or less traditional classroom settings. Still, we should offer a few courses and programs at remote sites.

One of the mega-trends I mentioned is the financing of higher education. In the spirit of shared governance, throughout my presidency I will promote a consultative budget process. So that we might begin to grasp the challenges before us, let me briefly mention several areas needing our attention. First, we must resolve the issue of the status of contingent employees. We must devise a plan to ensure that all Contingent II employees who have worked at SU for two or more years have medical benefits. I have put a moratorium on the hiring of new Contingent IIs until a plan is in place. Next fiscal year we will convert another seventy Contingent IIs, and within three years there should be no Continent II employees that do not have benefits.

Another major item that will impact our budgets will be the changes to our Optional Retirement Plan; specifically, I expect that the proposal to increase state and employee contributions will be phased in over a two year period. Further, we must continue to make progress towards increasing faculty and staff salaries.

This legislative session we hope to gain approval for a change in our institution’s name. In the national arena for universities with our history, the word "state" still connotes a focus only on the education of teachers. While we have an outstanding School of Education, we also have three other flourishing Schools. We also believe that the name change will enhance our prospects for both increased public and private support. Yes, I, too, am already tired of the "Salisbury steak" jokes! We have already budgeted a campus signage project for next year; ideally we could implement the name change at the same time.

As you may know, SU is required to submit a Performance Accountability Report to the University System of Maryland and the Maryland Higher Education Commission. What you may not know is that, for all our much-touted success in the U.S. News rankings, our institution has been cited as having fallen short in several critical areas: the number of off-campus credit enrollments; the percentage of African-American full-time students; the percentage of faculty and staff from underrepresented groups; our insufficient progress in outcomes assessment; and the percentage of lower division credit hours generated by core faculty. As mentioned earlier, we are beginning the process of 5-year review by the Middle States Association. The MSA visiting team will be looking at our campus efforts in these same areas: Diversity, outreach, and assessment of student outcomes. Understanding that not all of the four Schools have made equal progress, there is a need for the faculty to assume the leadership, design and implementation of an institutional student outcomes assessment plan. The assessment effort must be led by the faculty and supported fully by the administration. I will work with the Provost and the Faculty Senate to form an assessment committee, which will be chaired by a member of the faculty. The Office of Institutional Assessment, Research and Accountability will provide appropriate support to the committee and the institution in fulfilling our outcomes assessment goals.

I mentioned globalization as one mega-trend affecting higher education. On the occasion of the most recent campus planning day last April, international programming was identified as one of a number of major campus priorities. A coherent and coordinated international education strategy is needed if we are to prepare our students for the global environment in which they will spend the rest of their lives. Global change demands new knowledge, better ways of working with individuals from cultures different from our own, and an international outlook. How can we ensure that our graduates are prepared for the new globalism? The Office of International Education needs greater visibility, and our current study abroad opportunities need better coordination. I would encourage the faculty to continue the discussion of an international requirement as part of general education.

In facing the many challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, as your president I must have a role that is increasingly external. The search will soon be underway for a new provost, and other key searches, such as the dean of the Perdue School of Business, will soon commence. We will either search for a new dean of libraries or, perhaps, take the opportunity to reconfigure the position as an associate vice presidency for information technology. I hope to have the now-vacant assistant to the president position filled in October. My energies are needed in Annapolis and Adelphi, time is needed with legislators and also with the many friends of the University throughout the state. We will continue to make progress with our fund-raising efforts in support of the Capital Campaign. Salisbury University must be more successful in increasing the number and amount of scholarships for students if a college education is to be affordable. Additionally, increased funding is needed for faculty development. Although a robust state economy has produced budget increases for us in recent years, the margin of excellence in our academic programs will largely depend on our ability to increase funds that come from grants, corporations, and individuals.

Too often, colleges and universities are seen as being inward-looking, and in the past have often been criticized for their "ivory tower" culture. At Salisbury University, our growing reputation is based on the strong academic preparation of our graduates, and also what experiences students have gained outside of the classroom. With the advent of the new Scarborough Student Leadership Center, SU students will have increased opportunities to develop leadership skills. Through the Institute for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement, students can become involved in civic projects at the local and state levels. During their time at the University, our students will have opportunities to engage in service learning and volunteer projects. SU graduates have a solid academic preparation, and are also good citizens. Our faculty, too, are involved in partnerships with business and civic organizations.

As a new academic year begins, and a new president begins her tenure, it is a time to celebrate new beginnings, new hopes and dreams. Let us leave today with a sense of satisfaction that our outstanding institution has again been acknowledged by a national publication. But more importantly, let us together look forward to building an even stronger University, one that cares deeply about quality, and that stands ready to meet the needs of our changing society.

Thank you.