Thank you very much, Dr. Taggart. I welcome the opportunity to address the faculty and to talk about our university. We should all look forward to the coming year as we begin our second century. It is not true however that I personally have begun my second century.
One reason that I have so much anticipation for the coming year is that James M. McPherson, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Battle Cry of Freedom, will be on campus in November. I had already read that great book on the Civil War, but in preparation for his visit my summer reading included two other works, Crossroads of Freedom… on the battle of Antietam… and McPherson’s recent book of essays on the war. When I told Dr. Taggart about this, he inquired about the name of the book and I told him it is called, This Mighty Scourge. He said, “That would be a fitting label for your administration.”
Today I want to review the State of the University. One reason for doing so is to share my great pride in the legacy and contributions of ECU. I also want to say this: like all public institutions, we will face tensions related to the allocation of resources, where to take inevitable budget cuts, and how to share the responsibilities associated with success and leadership. But those tensions must never overshadow or reduce our commitment to the great contributions we make to North Carolina.
First, the good news. It has been a great year for East Carolina University. Every division, every unit, and virtually every department has helped to move the university forward.
Four areas of distinction capture the spirit of ECU. Let me briefly explain.
1. Recognition for Leadership
Across the state, ECU was recognized over the last year for being a truly national quality university, for its leadership in statewide initiatives, and for the impact we have on our state and region. In visits to our campus, the General Assembly, the Board of Governors, and the UNC Tomorrow Commission all saw, felt, and acknowledged that ECU is the university on the move in North Carolina. Ed Broadwell, an outgoing member of the Board of Governors, summed it up this way: He said, “ECU has experienced a phenomenal explosion over the past 5 years that makes the whole state proud.” We lead the state in producing teachers and nurses, our graduates stay in North Carolina and make a difference, and the Educational Trust labeled ECU as one of the very best universities in the nation with respect to the success of its minority students. In two of President Bowles’ most important priorities this year, teacher preparation and efficiency, ECU led the UNC system.
2. Strength of the Health Sciences
When the Brody School of Medicine was approved by the General Assembly in 1974, few observers would have imagined what now exists. Today we have three great colleges in our health sciences division, and approval to build a fourth.. the School of Dentistry. Every academic and service element of these schools has been true to its original mission… serving the primary health care needs of the state, addressing critical shortages in the highest need areas, providing jobs for North Carolinians, and making a difference for underserved populations.
Speaking of commitments, I occasionally get a question about the need for a dental school. The dental school, which we are now building, is vital to our future. Remember 3 things. First, our dental school will serve people in areas of the state where oral health care is virtually non-existent. There is no question that ECU is better prepared to do that than any other university. Second, legislative funding of the dental school completes our commitment to build a true academic health sciences center. Third, the dental school ensures the right profile of ECU as a national university, a great university, a university essential for North Carolina.
3. Faculty Success
All great universities are built on a great faculty. We should be proud of our growth of students and total number of faculty… which will soon reach 1800, a 50% increase since 2000. We have well-over 25,000 students this year … more than the University of Oklahoma, where I spent 13 years. Each year I try to mention at least one relatively new program that captures the spirit of ECU. My choice this year is the STEPP Program in the College of Education. ECU does so many things to help the underserved and the STEPP program is a great example. Many students have learning disabilities, yet they are still capable of succeeding in College and their dreams depend on College. STEPP’s carefully coordinated support services are literally unique in the nation and I believe ECU will soon be seen to be the national model of serving this population. Dr. Sarah Williams, I thank you for your passion and your commitment. By the way, STEPP stands for Supporting Transition and Education through Planning and Partnerships. The program is great. The acronym may need some work.
We also make a difference in the most daunting problems of our times. For example, researchers in our Metabolic Center have made tremendous discoveries in the field of diabetes and that dread disease has changed from the “incurable” status to “the next cured disease” in large part because of contributions of Joe Houmard, Linus Dohm, Walter Pories and many other faculty. We have a truly significant capacity for health disparities research, as evidenced by Ron Cortright’s recent NIH grant to study metabolic disparities among African American women. This is an RO 1 grant, among the most competitive and prestigious grants available.
Other examples of your great work over the last year are plentiful. A few days ago the Carnegie Institute funded ECU’s model for leadership development in the public schools… recognizing our national quality. Last fall, in the College of Human Ecology, Linda Robinson and others received a $3.1 million grant from the Department of Health and Human Services to implement a community-based education program for National Guard and other military reserve components. George Bissinger in the Physics Department was in the New York Times for his work measuring the sound of old, expensive violins.
The faculty in the visual and performing arts continue to make major contributions to the quality of our lives. John Shearin is working with the Turnage theater in Little Washington for a great fall opening of that old vaudeville theater. Ara Gregorian’s Four Seasons Chamber Music Festival enjoys international stature. And, even better, the Ballards continue to enjoy the works of Paul Hartley, Bob Ebendorf, Jan Ru-Wan, and countless other faculty and graduate students in the living room and sun room of our home.
4. Confront the Reality
On those rare occasions when we find problems, we fix them. I can’t tell you the work, the sacrifice, and the results that have been achieved by the faculty of the Brody School of Medicine in addressing the severe financial difficulties facing all community-based academic medical centers. We didn’t create these problems… nearly all of them emanate from the federal balanced budget amendment of 1998, from the fact that we don’t own our own hospital, and from the great service we provide the region by providing 150 million dollars in uncompensated health care. In one sense, we were going broke doing our job.
But, conditions change and once the magnitude of the challenge was known, our faculty went to work. Working with Vice Chancellors Horns and Seitz and Board member David Brody, the School turned a projected 18 million dollar deficit this year into an 800,000 dollar surplus. We all know that much remains to be done. Tough conditions still exist and some will worsen. But I believe this is the single biggest one-year turnaround that has ever occurred in a community-based academic medical center. Just as important, it was it done without the “slash and burn” approach, and we maintained our commitments. In fact, the School brought in almost 20 million dollars in research funding in the last fiscal year. That was the best year ever in the school’s history and a 14% increase over the previous year.
So congratulations to you all for an impressive year. Of course, with achievement and recognition come a new set of opportunities, which are known in some circles as challenges.
We live in a time of increased scrutiny by legislatures, demands for accountability, a negative public image of nearly all large institutions, and continuing resource challenges. One wonders what genetic malfunction would lead someone to want to be a chancellor.
I see four specific challenges to our immediate future.
The first, the biggest, and the most daunting is diversity on this campus. We are not unique; many of our peer institutions are in the same situation. I have expressed my commitment to diversity many times over the past 3 years and, as they do with my kids, my words have fallen on deaf ears. I want to publicly congratulate Virginia Hardy, who has overseen our first-ever climate survey, regenerated the Chancellor’s Community Advisory Committee, and brought real leadership to the Office of Institutional Diversity. I don’t know if I will be able to forgive Vice Chancellor Horns for stealing her away.
Despite Virginia’s success, we have much work to do. I am strongly committed to achieving these goals in next few years:
2. Student Access and Cost
We have done an excellent job of providing access to students who need our resources, especially through our distance education programs. In the UNC system, we are the only rural university that is growing significantly. However, with 80,000 new students projected to enter the system in the next 10 years, we must do more.
The single biggest challenge is cost. ECU has more students with a demonstrated financial need than any other North Carolina university. Yet, since 2000, we have doubled the total cost of tuition and fees for students to attend ECU. Our increase is twice the national average. Those days are over. We must find other means to provide resources for the future. As I have previously stated, I will not support, and, indeed, I will vigorously oppose the level of campus-based tuition increases for the coming year that we have experienced over the last 5 years.
ECU has had significant legislative success over the last 3 years – totaling more than $120 million dollars in new capital appropriations. We should be very thankful to President Bowles, to our Pitt county delegation, and to Senator Basnight… who continues to stand as the most significant champion of higher education in the legislature.
However, much work remains. We are one of the most under-funded universities in the system, receiving only 70 cents on the dollar compared to a couple of other universities.
4. Growing Pains
We have grown faster than any university in the state over the past 5 years, our growth continues this year, and we will be asked to grow more in the future. It is inevitable that this growth causes some tension. We have inadequate space for our faculty. One college is spread across 6 buildings from downtown to the east side of campus. More to the point, our growth puts at risk the quality of what we do… especially our small campus feel, our commitment to the education and transformation of the whole student, and the value we add to the educational experience. In this light, I will soon appoint a strategic enrollment management task force, led by Dr. Judi Bailey, our Interim director of Enrollment Management. The task force will include faculty and it will find answers to such questions as how to “right size” ECU and how to expand access to the neediest residents of North Carolina.
I think the first goal of the coming year should be to maintain our soul. It has different definitions and interpretations, but to me it is our commitment to service, to making a difference for people, and to adding value as we transform our students into being tomorrow’s leaders. Let’s ensure that we keep our eye on the ball and remember what we do best.
1. External Mandates
An important priority for this year will be to respond to a number of significant mandates from our Board of Trustees, the General Administration, and President Bowles. I won’t describe them all, but I will say that we have challenging work to do to make sure that we are operating more efficiently, that we are ready to achieve tough goals related to student retention and graduation, that we continue to lead the system in teacher preparation, and that measurable progress is being made to enhance the diversity of our administration and faculty.
2. Strategic Plan
I believe we have created an excellent product in the first phase of our strategic planning, called “ECU TOMORROW: A VISION FOR LEADERSHIP AND SERVICE.” Two aspects really stand out in this plan. First, I think it captures our 100-year legacy and the spirit of the institution. Second, it establishes bold goals. If we take them seriously, these goals will lift all colleges and departments. The next step is to commit the resources to achieving our strategic goals and to establish the benchmarks to ensure rapid progress.
3. The Next Century Campaign
We are well into the silent phase of our capital campaign, which we are calling “The Next Century Campaign.” We have great leadership in the Division of University Advancement in Mickey Dowdy, who has led the acquisition of major gifts for our gerontology center, the Leadership Center, and heart research. This is just the beginning. Primary commitments in this campaign will be to develop endowed professorships that will advance our academic programs and to rapidly increase “access scholarships” and other approaches to financial aid for our students. You will be hearing much more about the campaign in the coming weeks.
4. Physical Infrastructure
Our single biggest need and challenge is space for our faculty, for laboratories and for the family medicine practice. The UNC General Administration has approved three capital projects: an Academic Building for Education and Business; a science building to replace the out-dated and over-worked Howell Science Building, and a new Performing Arts Center. These projects will dominate the budget processes and our legislative work as the new year unfolds.
In conclusion, I will just say thank you. You are the heart of this university. It is you that our students will remember. It is your work of research and discovery and creativity that will make the future different and brighter. It is you who will make the opportunity for this region to have a better tomorrow. And, in case you haven’t heard, we have a record number of transfer students and first-time freshmen waiting for you out there, so get out there and get to work.
Have a great year.