Our future is bright. As you heard me say last year, our aspirations will be bold and will be fueled by our strengths and opportunities. The next step for the entire campus is to identify our most significant opportunities and use them to define our future. I am fully aware that this will require that most dreaded of all activities foisted upon the campus by the central administration. Exactly, the dreaded ,PŠ word is emerging. PLANNING , the most boring, most easily forgotten aspect of our work.
However, integrated planning has been identified by our Board of Trustees as one of two top priorities. More importantly, a real strategic plan is in our self-interest. It is vital to our efforts to ensure the resources are found to fuel our future.
A useful strategic plan begins with three elements: a bold vision, strategic challenges, and strategic directions.
First, we must articulate our vision. ECU has a great future. I see it every day, but I cannot articulate this vision alone. Together we can.
I don‰t have the precise words, but I do have an idea. I know we are a significant national university focused on the quality of life in North Carolina. We make a difference, we add great value to the education of our students, we help transform the economy of our region, we enhance the health of our people, we generate the ideas and innovations that will define our future, and we are the cultural and intellectual capital of Eastern North Carolina. We are ready to be the university FOR North Carolina.
Second, a useful strategic plan should address our strategic challenges. I see five strategic challenges that confront us immediately:
1. Growth and Quality
Challenge Number One is to imagine our future without losing our core. At the heart of this university is our great commitment to our students. It is a commitment to give them the time they need, to engage them, to educate them inside and outside the classroom. It may be necessary to limit our growth in order to maintain this commitment. At the same time we have a moral obligation to provide affordable access to higher education. We can undoubtedly grow to 30,000 or 35,000 students by the year 2015. The question is, should we? Resolving,or perhaps getting comfortable with,this tension between quality and growth will determine many other strategic decisions we make.
2. Faculty Success
The second challenge is to balance our huge opportunities for faculty growth with the need to build the infrastructure to ensure the success of our new faculty. Over a three year period, from last year through next year, we will have approximately 400 new faculty positions. On one hand, this growth is virtually unique among public doctoral universities. The concern, however, is that large numbers of new faculty without the physical, technological, and personnel infrastructure to help them be successful would be a long-term mistake.
Our third challenge is be true to ourselves and establish the right values for who we are. Some want us to be the third largest public university in the state...actually we already are and gaining rapidly on number two. Some want to be in a stronger football conference. Some want to be better recognized in the U.S. News and World Report rankings. None of these are bad ideas, per se. However, my fear is they miss the mark of our vision. We want to be known for doing the right thing, for positively affecting the people whom we serve. If we ask the right questions, status will take care of itself.
4. Student Access
Challenge Number Four is the economic plight of our students. We have more than 9,000 students with a demonstrated financial need. That is the largest number of any university in North Carolina. We currently meet only 62 percent of the financial needs of our students. The per capita income of residents of eastern North Carolina is nearly $10,000 per year less than the comparable figure in Raleigh, Greensboro, or Charlotte. This stress has direct implications for budget planning, because the state is unlikely to be able to help us with this dilemma.
The fifth major strategic challenge is to define our goals for research productivity. Excellence in research and excellence in teaching are not incompatible. This is not a zero sum game. Our opportunities are significant. We have 400 new faculty positions, a school of medicine and very strong allied health and nursing programs, strong basic sciences, pockets of unique strength such as maritime history, and a culture that facilitates interdisciplinary programs. These are significant building blocks for quality research.
Our challenges, while real and formidable, pale in comparison to our opportunities. Developing and investing in our most significant strategic opportunities cannot be an exercise or an attempt to reward some programs while others are neglected. Rather, real strategic planning will:
, Define our place in the system
, Inspire us to greater accomplishments; and
, Create new opportunities throughout campus, for growth, funding and collaboration. A rising tide lifts all boats.
I see five opportunities as being especially significant:
1. At ECU, students come first.
Nothing is more important for higher education than to prepare tomorrow‰s skilled workforce, prepare tomorrow‰s leaders, and then keep our graduates in North Carolina. We are committed to great undergraduate education at ECU, in which our students receive excellent training in the classroom, practical experiences in our community and region, and the opportunity to develop leadership skills. ECU will be known as the leadership university where graduates are ready for success. They will have multiple competencies, strong communication skills, and understand technological systems.
2. ECU provides educators for the 21st century.
All lists of critical national and state needs include references to the crisis in public education. ECU has a significant role to play in this problem and will be a national leader in providing the teachers for 21st century classrooms. We ARE the state leader in teacher training and among the top 12 universities nationwide in innovative approaches to teacher preparation.
3. ECU leads culturally and artistically.
The quality of life in our region also depends on intellectual diversity, strong connections with our communities, and excellence in the arts.
Between Washington and Atlanta, Greenville, North Carolina, can be and should be the major cultural center in the visual and performing arts. Our foundations include excellence in dance, chamber music, theatre, metallurgy, painting, jazz, ceramics and sculpture. Our vision for the future is a new, comprehensive Performing Arts Center for us and for our region.
4. ECU will transform the economy of our region.
For North Carolina to prosper, eastern North Carolina must prosper. And, for eastern North Carolina to prosper, ECU must prosper. This will not occur unless we can radically improve health, education and medical services to our entire region. Our population is deeply troubled with cardiovascular illness, poor dental health, and significant barriers to access to primary health care providers.
Our contributions will include health education that focuses on wellness and nutritional medicine. ECU will make a difference in keeping our students in eastern North Carolina and in productive jobs, partnering with others in such projects as the ECU downtown project, and continuing to build small businesses, entrepreneurism, and technology transfer throughout the region. Our strengths, partnered with the vitality and resources of our city and region, can help make Greenville the next major city in the state of North Carolina, comparable to the Triangle, the Triad and Charlotte.
5. Medical Innovation
Leo Jenkins brought a medical school to ECU and now our challenge is to use these great resources, in close coordination with strong allied health, nursing and basic sciences, to build a world-class health sciences center that could well include a dental school.
Building on our highly successful technology transfer program and our successful effort to have a regional bio-technology center, ECU will be known as the center for medical innovation in such areas as non-invasive surgery, shock and trauma treatments such as hemocellular therapeutics, innovations related to speech impediments, nutritional treatments, and numerous other areas.
My message today is simple, our future is incredibly bright and compelling. The foundation is here and the opportunities abound. It will require a strategic approach, ownership throughout the campus, and aggressiveness. As in every endeavor of a great university, the faculty will be at the center of what we do. This will be a tremendously exciting year. I am very happy to be a part of it.