Following are excerpts from the remarks given by East Carolina University Chancellor Steve Ballard at the 2006 faculty convocation, held Aug. 21 in Wright Auditorium.
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.
During the Aug. 21 faculty convocation, ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard remarked on ECU’s challenges, commitments and future directions. (Photo by Marc J. Kawanishi)
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.
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 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.
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 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 percent 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 percent, 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 institutional 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.
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.
• On the East campus, our physical infrastructure is the limiting factor in the growth of our programs. Among our 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 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.
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.
Let me close with a brief word about strategic planning.
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.
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.
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.