At the annual faculty convocation held Aug. 24, East Carolina University Chancellor Steve Ballard shared his thoughts on the university’s challenges and accomplishments during the past year. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)
Following are excerpts from remarks made by Chancellor Steve Ballard at the annual faculty convocation, Aug. 24.
The state fiscal crisis has dominated our thinking for the last year and, unfortunately, there appears to be no end in sight. Hence, it is important that I update you on what is known and how we are preparing for the unknown.
For the last four months, the economic picture has changed virtually by the day. Obviously, this makes reporting on that picture a bit difficult; some would say these are perfect conditions for an administrator.
However, as of last week we finally have a final budget from the UNC System. This budget is both very good and very bad news. For example:
Protecting the Core
Last March, we made a commitment to protect the academic core to the maximum extent possible. We have defined core to focus on those activities that add the most value to the student experience: the quality of our faculty, the ability of students to gain not only a degree but more importantly 21st Century competencies, and to further their academic and professional interests.
To protect this core, almost everything else has been cut substantially. Our campus will not be as pretty as we would like it, the lines for some services will be longer, and certainly a few non-academic services such as parking will cost a bit more. But we are meeting our obligations to the state of North Carolina with virtually no reduction in the quality of education and no compromises to the safety of our campus.
Despite drastic cuts to state appropriations, only 2 percent of our cut comes from academic programs. The top three areas identified by our Board last spring…administrative costs, non-academic services, and cost savings … account for 73 percent of our reduction.
Most divisions and offices in the University have taken reductions ranging from 9 percent to 15 percent. That includes the Chancellor’s Office, which has taken a 15 percent reduction.
In contrast, the academic colleges average about a 6 percent reduction, and most of that comes from consolidations, reduced administrative costs, and reductions in operations.
We have consolidated numerous services and cut unnecessary duplication across campus. And, much more good news is still to come. The 10 business groups that we formed in the spring are beginning to report.
The first two groups, Cashiering and Environmental Health and Safety, will result in over $1 million in total savings, thanks to the work of Vice Chancellor Horns and Vice Chancellor Seitz.
I am particularly pleased with the report of the Parking, Transportation, and Transit Group, which recommended a consolidated organizational structure and a detailed plan to save $918,000 in recurring costs. An important percentage of this savings will go directly to students because it will allow us to reduce the transit fee that students pay.
These business groups will not only enhance our capacity to avoid reductions to the academic core, but they will also create a new “lean and mean” business culture here at ECU.
While many vacant positions will be lost and a few RIF’s will occur in offices that have been closed, such as the centennial office, or in functions that are no longer necessary, we will meet these budget reductions with a bare minimum of layoffs. Our vice chancellors are working on plans to minimize if not eliminate RIFs caused by the budget crisis.
Perhaps most importantly, we have authorized searches for many faculty positions across the colleges. These searches will be vital to our commitment to student success and to meet our obligations to the State of North Carolina. “Re-starting” faculty searches has been our first priority; no administrative hiring was allowed until we had an approved plan for faculty vacancies.
Let me hasten to add, as everyone knows, the crisis is not over. The Governor has mandated a 5 percent reversion already this year, so we will maintain severe restrictions on campus expenditures until such time that the fiscal uncertainties have been resolved. We are hoping that by mid-year, these restrictions will become much lighter.
The Good News
Let me now identify a few areas of growth, accomplishment and excitement.
1. First, Provost Sheerer, working with Professor Marsha Ironsmith from Psychology and an excellent review team, has developed a proposal for an Honors College at ECU. This college would expand an excellent Honors Program and help us achieve our goal of being both an “access institution” and an institution able to attract the best students from North Carolina high schools.
While this proposal is in the very early stages of development and review, I believe it addresses a core element of our enrollment and retention plan.
We are beginning the second year of our Engagement and Outreach Scholars Academy, a concept devoted to improving the scholarship of engagement and to serving our region to the maximum extent possible. Scholars were chosen from across all ECU colleges, based on their commitment to making a difference for our communities and our region. Seven of these scholars will have their work recognized this fall at the National Outreach Scholars Conference in Atlanta.
2. In addition to numerous faculty accomplishments across the campus, we are proud of our students’ contributions - through volunteer services, service learning in our communities, and research that makes a difference.
As just one example, I would like to recognize Nathan Lean. A Bachelor of Music degree and plenty of talent made Nathan Lean the featured guest pianist for the 2006 World Music Festival in Casablanca, Morocco. While there, the war between Lebanon and Israel broke out, giving Nathan a front row seat to the reactions and demonstrations in that country. That experience compelled him to research contemporary discourse on Islam and democracy in North Africa. His research includes the study of indigenous dialogues within early Muslim communities and the influences of colonialism on current trends in North African government.
Lean is hopeful that engaging this often-overlooked area of the world in meaningful dialogue may be crucial to realizing stability within the larger Middle East.
3. Third, I established several diversity goals three years ago and I am very happy to announce progress toward these goals. That progress includes:
4. And finally, in spite of the economic times, our Division of University Advancement has had remarkable success under the leadership of Mickey Dowdy and great teamwork from the Pirate Club, the ECU Foundation, and the Medical Foundation. This year:
Let me close with a brief comment on a very important mandate from our Board of Trustees. Almost two years ago in response to a report by the University Auditor, the Board asked for a policy manual that would establish the procedure and blueprint for ECU to have a “best practice” approach to clear and effective university policies.
We will report to the Board this fall on the substantial progress we are making in this regard.
The Board has now mandated an overhaul of the Faculty Manual. While there is much work to be done, the time is at hand. I am committed to doing so in the framework of shared governance.
Dr. Walker will announce a steering committee to oversee this process and I have committed to give the Board a report on progress at each of the four Board meetings during the academic year.