, Aug. 21, 2006
What a great turnout to begin the 100th year since our founding.
I would especially like to recognize Dr. Taggart as Chair of the Faculty and to say that I know that we will be able to work together to address the pressing issues facing this campus. I hope that statement doesn’t ruin his credibility with you.
I would like to provide a brief report on ECU, with special emphasis on the long-term. In particular, I want to address these three topics:
- The current status of ECU;
- Three of our most immediate challenges; and
- How to design our future and to ensure we are the kind of university we want to be in the year 2015.
Before I address these 3 points, allow me a few personal reflections. I am well into my third year at ECU. I’ve had a few people from my previous institutions express shock that I have lasted this long…..
I told Provost Smith that the first two years here have taught me humility and he responded that he thought that would have come naturally…..
Nancy and I believe that East Carolina is a perfect fit for us; it is just the right kind of institution with the right values. The core characteristic of ECU is authenticity: we know who we are and we don’t try to be somebody else. We make a difference for thousands of people and we expect to be successful at what we set out to do. It was very inspiring to me during the endless discussions in the legislature this year about the possibility of a dental school that not once was the question raised “Could ECU be successful in improving rural oral health crisis in North Carolina?” I think the whole state knows what the answer to that question is. Countless side games are being played over this issue, but the Board of Governors, the legislature, and the state know that ECU can deliver and that the state will get the right “bang for its buck” in this matter.
That is among the best compliments that any public university can receive.
THE STATUS OF ECU IN 2006
As we begin the academic year and look forward to the celebration of our Centennial, we should all look to the future with great optimism, with pride at who we are, and with great aspirations for what we can become. No university in this state is better poised to make a difference… locally, regionally, and nationally. I spent my entire faculty career, about 22 years, thinking about the responsibility of the public university to its state and society; little did I know that ECU had already answered this question so well. I am pleased to be a part of that.
Let me start by recognizing something that is no longer debatable … our stature as a major public university. While status, size, and reputation are of limited value to me personally, and subject to wild exaggerations across the country… I do want to reinforce the point that ECU is, without question, a national university and we should never, ever allow anyone to categorize us as anything less. For example:
· The Board of Governors has accepted our new peer group and for the first time we are among universities of similar complexity and quality. Our peers include such schools as Ohio University, Texas Tech, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Virginia Commonwealth, Louisville, and the University of South Carolina.
· This fall we will enroll over 24,000 students. We are the 3rd largest University in the UNC system and over the past 4 years the fastest growing. We have 19 Division I sports programs and a true academic health center. We are about the same size and complexity of the University of Oklahoma, where I spent 13 years. With the possible exception of our football program, we have many similarities and comparable strengths with that institution. In Conference USA, only Houston and Central Florida have more students than ECU.
· We lead the state in Distance Education and we have captured the imagination of President Bowles and the Board of Governors with the quality and integrity of our approach to the way we are reaching students who are miles away, states away, and continents away. This program is important to us in many ways, but it is most important because it provides access to 5,000 students who cannot be residents on our campus or at any campus; our program is a demonstrated success in providing these 5,000 students with the skills to be successful and to find good jobs. This is among our biggest contributions to the economy of our region;
· Research productivity is up by 15% this year and we could easily be at $50 Million in funded research by 2008-09. Congratulations to the faculty for making this happen and to the leadership of Dr. Mageean. We have great potential to continue this growth pattern and to achieve the same quality of research as we have in teaching and in service.
All of these accomplishments reflect on the quality of our institution. But let me pause and recognize that our success is directly attributable to the quality of our faculty, our ability to apply our knowledge to social problems, and our excellent capacity for interdisciplinary activity.
I want to recognize just a few of the hundreds of examples of excellence from our faculty and academic programs;
- The ECU/Loessin Summer Theatre under the leadership of John Shearin, provides both high quality theatre and an excellent training ground for our students. Mr. Shearin, thank you for the quality and joy of these productions. All 3 productions this year were first rate and The Fantastics was a special hit. I will tell you that my office may never forgive Mr. Shearin because I am still singing “Plant a Radish, Get a Radish, not a brussel sprout….” around Spilman Hall. If you knew my voice quality you would understand the problem….
- Our faculty are known for both the quality and impact of their work. Dr. Rebecca Torres has been a member of the Geography Department for only 5 years, but look what she has done. Based on a grant from the Golden Leaf Foundation, she and her colleagues designed a new graduate concentration in rural economic development, established a dual-language immersion education program, and most recently she was awarded a prestigious NSF Early Career Development Award.
- ECU faculty make a significant contribution to our community. I hope everyone is aware of commitment and success of Professor Janette Fishell and her colleagues to bring a $1.5 million pipe organ to our community. This effort is an exemplary model of town-gown partnerships, and the organ has already, in its first year, received international notice.
Our stature as a national university, our accomplishments, and the quality of work by our faculty are noteworthy. In combination they create a culture at ECU that enables us to think big as we design our future … I’ll say more about that in just a minute.
But culture itself deserves a comment. “Cultural change” is among the biggest buzz words in corporate America… usually a code word for “how can I make you do what I want you to do and not what you want to do.” As the saying goes, “Change is good, let’s start with you.”
I have been at a university that experimented in revolutionary cultural change and, quite predictably, it was a disaster.
What I want to say about culture is directly related to my earlier point about authenticity. While cultures can always be enhanced … and I am big on continuous improvement … it is important to recognize that ECU is a university with a conscience. You have created a place known for its integrity and trustworthiness. Thank you. I recently read a disturbing book by the former Dean of Harvard College, Harry Lewis. It is called, Excellence Without a Soul, and I recommend it to all constituents of the public university. It describes what can happen when the endless pursuit of status overcomes fundamental mission. What strikes me about ECU is that we have a soul and we must never lose those qualities that created that soul. No amount of growth, new buildings, or increased recognition would be worth any diminution of the character of this institution.
That Character is reflected in the story of Howell Binkley, a North Carolina student in the 70’s who was admittedly less that successful in his first two years at ECU. But ECU faculty took an interest in Howell; they asked him, and kept asking him, what his passion was and what mattered the most to him. Howell found an answer to that question and today he is among the very best stage lighting designers in the world, having just won a tony for his work on Jersey Boys. Howell credits his education at ECU as the difference maker, and when he does this he speaks of his total education – the attention given to him inside and outside the classroom. CHALLENGES
I want to identify three of our challenges. We do not yet have all the answers that will allow us to solve these challenges. I figure if they are going to keep me up at night, you should at least be aware of them.
I point out these challenges because they will not be solved by me or by “the administration.” They are only fixable if we work together to address them and if we make a long-term commitment to their solution. Dr. Taggart, I welcome your full involvement and that of the faculty senate as we move forward on these challenges.
Our biggest challenge in my estimation is our current level of funding. This is not, in any manner, a criticism of the legislature, the Board of Governors, or the President. In fact, President Bowles has boldly stepped up to the inequities in the system and brought the data to the attention of all campuses. What I’m highlighting today is an historical artifact that evolved over the last century.
There are many ways to compare funding across the campuses; I won’t attempt a comprehensive analysis today. But, if we had to choose one indicator of funding equities, I think it should be state appropriations per student.
On this critical indicator, ECU, the third largest institution of the 16 campuses, is 13th in funding. By way of comparison, we receive about 70 cents for every dollar that Chapel Hill and State receive. Again, I am not interested in all the causes for this inequity.
But, I am deeply interested in some of the consequences of this funding inequity, and especially the impact it has on the ability of ECU to meet the financial needs of our students. Financial needs translate directly into access that prospective students have to ECU. We have the largest number of students with demonstrated financial needs in the system … over 9,000 students… and we are able to meet only about 60% of these needs. The funding inequity in the system prohibits us from providing the access to our campus that we desire and that is so desperately needed by the people of eastern North Carolina.
Of course, funding deficiencies cause many other problems, especially related to faculty support, which is a second significant challenge.
2. Faculty Welfare
I am dismayed that we rank third from last in our peer group in average faculty salaries…in other words we are 14th out of 16 peer institutions in our ability to compensate our faculty. There is nothing more important to our long term future than our ability to retain and reward our faculty.
There is some good news. Over a three year period that includes the coming year, we have been able to provide cumulative salary increases of 16%, and I believe that to be among the best in the country among public universities.
Secondly, I’m pleased that faculty welfare is among our top intuitional priorities for the coming year. We have designated all of the funds from Campus-Based tuition that can be used for faculty welfare to go directly towards reversing salary compression and other market inequities. This won’t solve all the problems but it is an important beginning.
Thirdly, we appreciate the constructive role that the Faculty Senate played last year and especially the data provided by Dr. Ken Wilson to help us understand the priorities of the faculty as we move forward. While the list is long, it is apparent that compensation is a “foundation” need that will help address many other issues related to faculty welfare.
But, our work has just begun. Among our goals, these four appear to be very important to the long-term quality of the institution:
- We must provide competitive starting salaries and start up packages for all new faculty; this will be doubly difficult because of the rapid growth of our faculty.
- We must get to the midpoint of our peer group in average faculty salaries and I suggest that we determine to achieve this within the next 5 years;
- Our infrastructure has not nearly kept pace with the size of the faculty; we must provide more support services to ensure that we remain competitive. Infrastructure needs include computing, information services, and a center for teaching and learning to support our faculty; and
- On the East campus, our physical infrastructure is the limiting factor in the growth of our programs. Among are biggest needs are a major academic building and a performing arts center.
A third major challenge for the year is to continue our progress in institutional diversity. We have several challenges in this regard and I regret to report that last year at the administrative level, we failed miserably at the two critical stages of the hiring process… we did not succeed in building a diverse set of semi-finalists nor did we achieve diversity in the actual selections we made. I promise that this level of failure will not happen in the future.
That said, our biggest challenge … and one that is certainly true at the national level… is at the faculty level. Our diversity ratio… the comparison of the percentage of minority faculty to the percentage of minority students, is next to last in the UNC system. We simply cannot allow this to continue.
There has been some progress. This includes:
· A great commitment and participation by the Faculty Senate, including excellent ideas suggested to me by Dr. Taggart and members of the Faculty Governance Committee who met with me last May;
· I am very fortunate to have enticed Dr. Virginia Hardy to be the interim Diversity Officer and she is doing an excellent job. Our challenge here is that she is doing two or three full-time jobs, and I’m not sure how long I can keep her doing this;
· I am pleased that we have established under the leadership of Provost Smith the Diversity Council and that group, composed primarily of faculty, is already making a difference; and
· Progress has been made in faculty hiring over the past two years. Our diversity ratio has improved slightly and in some colleges, most notably Business, great progress has been made. Dr. Niswander’s leadership here is a model for us all.
We must continue our partnership in the coming year with the faculty senate to ensure that progress continues and becomes more rapid. In addition, my commitment includes these aspects:
- Diversity will be a core value at East Carolina University.
- We will provide more funds, through the Provost’s office, to ensure that ECU is competitive in all searches;
- The hiring process can be improved at all levels and I have asked the Provost’s office to ensure that all searches have included aggressive outreach and that all pools have the appropriate level of diversity.
THE FUTURE (Strategic Planning)
Let me close with a brief word about strategic planning.
As I have said several times, I am well aware of the skepticism associated with the concept of strategic planning. I’m part of the problem; in fact I used to assign an article from the Harvard Business Review, entitled something like “Why Strategic Planning Always Fails.” I have participated in numerous strategic plans and their impact has been somewhere between “slim” and “none.” So, I understand the skepticism.
But strategic planning does not have to be a wasted effort. I am committed to developing a Plan for ECU that does make a difference and I’m confident that we can make a difference if you help. We must identify the directions we want to go; we must develop an approach for answering the vital questions about our future, and we must communicate with those who care about us what we want to become and how we will get there. Yogi Berra said something to the effect, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up there.” Whatever that means, it doesn’t sound good.
Our strategic plan has two basic elements. One is to define the strategic directions of the university … those functions that we think most clearly identify us and differentiate us from comparable institutions.
The second element is to ask each division, each College, and each department to define its own future. “All politics is local” according to Tip O’Neill and so it is with strategic planning. Unless each department has the opportunity to identify what it does best, how it best contributes to the broad goals of the university, and what changes it needs to make for the future, then the planning process will have failed.
So, I ask you to participate in both of these processes. Give us feedback on the strategic directions of the university, let us know what we’ve missed, and help us articulate how we can achieve these directions. More importantly, take seriously the opportunity to define the future of your own area. For most of us, clarity can be provided, priorities should be identified, and a commitment to excellence in selected fields should be made. Those are the kinds of contributions that each unit can make to the process.
Let me close with one example of a strategic direction that I think ties in directly with my initial comments about the authenticity of East Carolina University. I hope that one of our strategic directions will be related to the essential function that we serve to Prepare Leaders for Tomorrow. On the one hand, this “Direction” reflects and recognizes a distinguished history of ECU … it builds on what we already have. But it also makes a commitment to each ECU student to ensure that he/she has the opportunity to not just graduate, but to be ready to be a leader. This is what student success is really about … turning young people from jittery 18-year olds into adults … responsible for their lives, aware of their global environment and ready to make a difference. What a daunting task this is in the year 2006. Yet, if we don’t make a commitment to this objective, what are we about? Said differently, there is no better way to ensure that we are a “university with soul” than to ensure that we are fully committed to the full development of our students. East Carolina University takes a stand to provide every student multiple opportunities to become leaders and, indeed, we expect our students to be tomorrow’s leaders.
Francis Hasselbein said that “Leadership is about how to be, not how to do.” I think ECU is the perfect institution to prepare students “how to be leaders.”
Thirty years ago, a few faculty members here at ECU made that commitment to Howell Binkley and look what happened to Howell and to thousands of similar students.
East Carolina, during this academic year, will begin its second century. Robert Wright would be amazed at how far we’ve come, but, no doubt, pleased that the founding principle – “to serve” – has remained so constant.
It is up to us, as we plan our immediate and longer term future, to lay the foundation that will enable our third century to have as good a beginning.
It is truly an honor to be a part of the ECU community. I thank you for your hard work and your accomplishments, and I look forward to the coming year.