Convocation speech, Aug. 23, 2004
I am delighted and honored to be here with you as East Carolina begins its 96th year of operations.
I believe in recognizing our past, so I would like to begin today by saying that I am fortunate that three of my predecessors are still close by. Drs. John Howell, Dick Eakin and Bill Shelton all brought great dedication, talent and energy to the chancellor's office. We all have benefited from their accomplishments.
I have recently returned from a week at the Academy for New Presidents, presented by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. This academy is consistent with my belief that we must all ask ourselves how we can improve. On a personal note, I found the seminar on hiring Athletic Directors especially valuable. As Winston Churchill said, "I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught."
I know that most of you have had a busy, productive summer. . . I keep reading about you in newspapers and magazines. The New York Times reported on the efforts by Alice Anderson and Barry DuVall to use wireless technology to track disease-carrying mosquitoes. The Times also wrote about Tim Runyan's work on a shipwreck off the coast of Alaska. The News & Observer carried a question-and-answer piece with Derek Alderman on the naming of public buildings and quoted Vivian Covington on the preparation of teachers. The Delaware News Journal quoted Rick Kearney and Newsday cited the work of Ranny Chitwood. Coastwatch magazine carried a lengthy profile on Stan Riggs. All in all, pretty impressive for just two months in the summer.
Impressive but not unexpected. This productivity fits right in with my message today, which is that we have a bright future and that we can design that future. We already have outstanding people, an excellent infrastructure and untold opportunities. You have already done much. If we work together, much more is possible. I want us to focus on our POSSIBILITIES and what we can create together.
THE FIRST 90 DAYS
My initial focus at ECU has been internal and I expect this internal focus to continue at least through the fall semester. I will pay particular attention to our vision, values, and leadership. We must get the right people on the bus and then make sure those people are working togetherÉ.with each other, with the faculty, and with our community and constituents.
This summer I spent a lot of time . . . listening, learning, and understanding the history and evolution of East Carolina University. Let me tell you a few of my initial impressions.
I am fortunate to be working with you and I make this commitment to you. I will do everything in my power to both honor our traditions and to build a great future. They are directly connected. Our foundations are solid. You deserve leadership that will promote our possibilities and realize our destiny as a great university.
- Most importantly, we have great Spirit and Pride here. We believe in ourselves and in our future. Our aspirations are high because we know we can succeed. If any one doubts the spirit of ECU, I invite him or her to spend just one hour with former Coach Keith LeClair, who embodies our character, integrity, and the best of the human spirit.
- We are committed to our students and to learning. We have a very complex institution, with many missions and responsibilities, but the one that is most central to our enterprise is the quality of our learning environment and the value we add to the learning experience. We have a long and proud tradition of bringing our best to the classroom and adding value to student experiences.
- Third, our Values are strong. We believe in openness, honesty and integrity. We respect one another. I have visited a number of academic offices, programs, and departments over the summer and many experiences have stayed with me. In the College of Health and Human Performance, a faculty member explained some fascinating research to me. When I asked him when he expected to be promoted to full professor, he said that he had not yet accomplished enough and that he would let his dean know when he thought he had done something really important.
A SHORT INTRODUCTION
I am frequently asked why I came here. The answer is simple: this is exactly the right institution for me. I've devoted my career to addressing the question of how the public university can best contribute to our society. I have joined an institution that believes it can make a difference.
Let me explain a little more about myself. I've been in higher education for more than 30 years and I've worked in six public universities. They have included flagship universities and regional institutions, and they've been in small towns such as Orono, Maine, and metropolitan areas such as Kansas City. I was an active faculty member for my first 22 years in the academy. I've been fortunate to have had great mentors and I have been privileged to know a few truly exceptional leaders, such as Senator Margaret Chase Smith of Maine. I've also learned a few things from people whom I would not want to work with again.
Throughout my career, four themes have stood out to me: COMMUNITY, PEOPLE, QUALITY, AND ASPIRATIONS.
OUR VISION FOR ECU
- Community. We all have individual dreams, goals and achievements -- but what really makes a difference to organizational performance is how we work together. Basketball teams with five great players who play selfishly usually underachieve. Teams with five players who work together often succeed beyond their imaginations. The ECU baseball team demonstrated the importance of team this past yearÉ their success had everything to do with the community culture that Coach Mazey and before him Coach LeClair created. In forums across the campus over the last three months, I've heard hundreds of comments. Do you know something that really impresses me about ECU? I've not heard one comment that alluded to the "Administration versus the Faculty." Now, I know it is early and perhaps the honeymoon isn't quite over. I know there will be occasions when we disagree. But I also feel, sense, and see an opportunity at ECU to build a great community.
- People. Communities don't work if we don't believe in ourselves, respect one another, and build our relationships. People do make the difference. Our future depends on our success in building our community and ensuring that our employees are valued. I am happy that we were able to make some progress this year in compensation for our employees. We have much more work to do in this area and we must ensure that all our employees are better paid and have opportunities for development and advancement. No message was made clearer to me throughout the summer forums than we must support the career aspirations of our employees and advance their educational needs. In this regard, I am very pleased to announce today that we will continue the ECU Leadership Academy this year as a model for commitment to our employees and to leadership development.
- Quality. Many things can help us achieve our future, but none more than the quality of our products and services. Good ideas and good relationships will sell. We will soon have a new Cardiovascular Institute in large part because the quality of our doctors in the Brody School of Medicine is unquestioned. No university in the state does a better job of teacher preparation and developing partnerships for teacher preparation than we do.
- Aspirations. Who we are depends in part on who we want to be. Or, as Will Rogers said, "If you don't care where you're going, you'll end up where you're at." I believe that the people of ECU care deeply about where we're going. We have strong values, we have a good workplace and we want to leave a positive legacy.
Let's take aspirations a step further and talk about our vision for ECU. Great institutions have great and bold visions. Almost no one believed that ECU could create a School of Medicine. However, Leo Jenkins believed we could. Visions help us establish our self-identity and they communicate to our friends what we stand for. They are a statement of what we value and our dreams for the future. They can provide the compass for our decisions and guide us in the most difficult of our choices.
Let us begin to articulate that vision today. I have a few thoughts on how we get started.
First, our vision is about us and our role in our state and the nation. We need not define ourselves by the definition of others. Indeed, we should feel free, if not challenged, to create our own model. Our aspirations cannot depend on the US News and World Report rankings or the Carnegie Foundation classifications. I firmly believe that we must understand the world around us; we must understand how our competitors are doing, what our peers say about us, how our performance measures up. We will always touch base with reality and confront the hard, cold facts. But, I have no desire to chase the next rung on the ladder. I do have a strong desire, a commitment, and a passion to be excellent in what we choose to be.
Second, our vision must be bold. To use a concept from one of my favorite books, BUILT TO LAST by Jerry Porras and Jim Collins, we should pursue "É bold, hairy, audacious goals." We must define our gold-star future, not our achievable future. We must ask ourselves: "What can we create for ourselves?" We must be known for our aspirations, not our fears.
You have already established the foundations for our vision, and I see its characteristics at every turn. I see a pathbreaking public university that improves the lives of its constituents and ignites their spirits. I see a public university that is engaged throughout society and an effective partner with its community, its region, and its state. I see a university that is not only the most important institution east of I-95, but is recognized among all universities for its commitment to its society. We will be the catalyst for growth, economic development and a better quality of life in eastern North Carolina. I see a university that is the hub of its region, a vibrant community, known for its ideas, resourcefulness and creativity. I see a campus that people seek out to visit because of its spirit and because it is welcoming and friendly. I see a university that is a mandatory stop on any tour of institutions that know who they are, what they value and where they are headed.
Let me take a moment to explain why this future is in front of us.
First, our students and learning. We are the fastest-growing university in North Carolina for a reason: the word is out that students receive a great education here. Our students are taught by skilled, caring full-time faculty members. As we grow in numbers, we continue to attract better studentsÉ. Our SAT scores are 20 points above national averages. When our students get here, they find excellence in their classrooms and opportunity outside the classroom. More than 8,000 ECU students are engaged in volunteer activity; this is well over one-third of our student body. This is a significant foundation and it helps define our aspirations. When it comes to student success, we can be the best public university in North Carolina and one of the best in the nation.
Second, our Constituents and our Service to them. We make a difference for the people who depend on us because of the quality of our programs and because we are engaged with constituents. Our health education, health sciences, bio-medical research, and world-class cardiovascular capabilities serve a critical need in North Carolina. As both houses of the General Assembly passed our Cardiovascular Center by extraordinary margins, I heard not one question about our capability to deliver this service. At the time the legislative process was unfolding, delegations from Korea and China were visiting our campus to investigate the transfer of our technology to their country.
Third, ourselves and our community. As I have said, people make all the difference. We are building a vibrant community. Throughout my visits with individuals and groups this summer, I have seen an unmistakable commitment to each other, built on respect and openness. We take great pride in our university. Our buildings and infrastructure are well-maintained. We will complete the construction or renovation of three major buildings this fall. We take pride in how we treat our visitorsÉin orientation sessions and leadership sessions this summer, I received dozens of compliments on the courtesy and helpfulness we offer to our visitors. We have excellent academic leaders. Vice Chancellor Smith has recently named two great leaders to join this team as deans. These leaders will help to recruit about 100 new faculty to our campus by next fallÉI wonder how many university, out of 635 in the nation, have this rate of growth this year. In short, our "human resources" are excellent and getting better by the day. Let us all make a commitment to hiring the very best candidate and to re-doing a search if that is not possible. We need never settle for second best.
THE FUTURE (TOMORROW) STARTS HERE
Let me conclude with a few words about our challenges and next steps. Tomorrow starts here.
We are gearing up for a centennial celebration in 2007 — one hundred years of service to the citizens of North Carolina. As we prepare for this once-in-a-lifetime event, we should pause and consider the amazing transformation of this institution. It has grown from a two-year teacher training school with 11 faculty members and 123 students to a complex university of 1,500 faculty and more than 22,000 students. Through the decades, the name changes, the tough times and the successes, the original motto of East Carolina, —Servire, to serve, —continues as our mantra and rightfully so.
As we consider the future, we have many challenges. The public university today is far more complex than it was a hundred years ago or even 20 years ago. The complexity originates from dozens of economic, political, and social drivers É. including pressures from reduced state funding, increased accountability, opportunities for economic partnerships, runaway regulation at the federal level, and increasing needs for our services. Few of our constituents, even our strongest supporters, understand this complexity. As Meg Wheatley says, "In this environment, if you're not confused, you're not thinking clearly."
What are our biggest challenges? Four stand outÉ money, accountability, diversity and growth.
- Money. Nationally, state financial support for higher education has declined noticeably over the last decade and most experts expect this trend to continue. Even with 32 million dollars of new enrollment revenues, our resource base at ECU has declined. Yet, even with that shrinking resource base, expectations, demand for services, and accountability have increased. The primary answers to this dilemma are two: we must aggressively increase our revenues from virtually every source, while at the same time we FOCUS our activities to ensure that we spend money on those things that matter most. This will take commitment from our entire community. We must all be involved.
- Accountability. ECU will be publicly accountable. We will be vigilant and self-correcting. This starts from a fundamental principle, Integrity. It is our responsibility to earn the public trust and to keep that trust. There is nothing more valuable to our long-term growth than to be known as an institution that can be trusted and that openly acknowledges and corrects its mistakes.
- Diversity. We must recognize the nature of our world and help our institution evolve accordingly. I am committed to enhancing the intellectual and demographic diversity of our university, and to providing students and staff the opportunities necessary for success in a diverse world and a global economy. As an initial step in that direction, I am pleased that a search for the Assistant to the Chancellor for Diversity has been initiated. I am grateful for the work of Vice Chancellors Moore and Smith in helping to define this position as well as in coordinating the search.
- Growth. We will continue to face the challenges of growth because we have an obligation to provide access to our programs and because eastern North Carolina depends on us. In large part, this challenge is a "good challenge" because it means that we are fulfilling a fundamental part of our mission and we have access to more state funds. Yet, we must grow wisely. We must never lose sight of the reason for our being — our students and our society.
While we recognize our challenges, we also know that they are exceeded by our opportunities. We are an important, vital university in a knowledge based economy. We have essential resourcesÉ that is, knowledge, skills, and competenciesÉ needed by the world. We are innovators and our technologies make a big difference. What could possibly be better? Eastern North Carolina depends on us for economic development and we have substantial strengthÉin our curriculum, in our faculty, and in our partnerships to be the economic engine for our region. Health care is increasingly the biggest problem facing our nation and ECU is a major player in health education, primary health care, allied health and other health related services. We have the opportunity to become a major player in bio-medical research. THIS IS A GREAT TIME TO BE PART OF EAST CAROLINA UNIVERSITY.
Together, we can both meet these challenges and realize the possibilities for our future. Tomorrow starts here, today and I ask for your commitment to make this a truly unique community, known for making a difference to its state and region and to the lives of our students.
I will close by sharing two special moments from the summer. I visited the Outer Banks, and I saw there a majestic monument to a Century of Flight. That monument was created by Hanna Jubran and Jodi Hollnagel from the art and design faculty. I went to a national education summit in Austin, where Marilyn Sheerer was one of only a dozen or so deans nationwide invited to address the critical questions of how to prepare teachers in a brand new, Darwinian World. Y'all certainly know how to make a good first impression.
Let me also say that this is important work that we do. It makes a difference, and there is nothing else that I would rather be doing. Thank you and have a great year.