2009 Faculty and Staff Spring Convocation

Streaming Video of 2009 Spring Convocation

Address by President Earl H. Potter III

Before I begin, let me remind us all that we live in community.  Much has happened in the last few months in our community that calls us to pause, to be thankful, to hope and to mourn.  I would like to take just a moment to acknowledge and call to mind a special friend and fine example, Br. Dietrich Reinhart, the 11th president of St. John’s University.  As I think of the impact of his life and of his impact on me, I am further reminded of all the significant events that have taken place in all of our lives since we last spoke.  So, I would like us to pause for a moment of silence in honor of Br. Dietrich but also to stand with those among us who have experienced loss or who face difficult challenges ahead.   Thank You.

Much has changed since I last stood on this stage for a convocation address.  We have celebrated our own achievements, worked hard on plans for our future and marveled at the results of an historic national election.  We have also witnessed a downward spiral in our global economy and wondered what the consequences would be for our institution.  The emotional rollercoaster of the last six months has been both exhilarating and frightening.  We now face the next step in our common life with the dual challenges of meeting the needs of thousands of students every day and charting our way through difficult times.

It is undeniable that our university and our state face a tough financial picture.  State revenue projections are down resulting in a projected $426M shortfall in the current year.  After the announcement last month of an anticipated $5.2 billion state revenue shortfall through the next biennium, the governor asked MnSCU to prepare a 10 percent budget reduction plan for this period.  At the same time the MnSCU Board of Trustees took a firm stand on keeping tuition increases to a minimum.  What does this mean for SCSU?  Simply put, uncertainty remains.  We know that we will be cutting $1.6 million from the base budget this year while we continue discussions of how we will prioritize to meet aggressive budget targets for the next biennium.

We have every indication that the coming months will be a time of sacrifice.  Even so, we must continue to provide opportunity for our students and continue to make a difference.  It is likely that we will enroll a number of out-of-work, nontraditional students seeking new careers and better futures.  Moreover, we will be asked to prepare all of our graduates to join the workforce charged with reviving our economy and taking it in new directions.  It is not an exaggeration to say that we have a great responsibility to educate students at a time when creativity, flexibility and innovation are going to be essential for the wellbeing of Minnesota and of America.

At times like these ( I don’t know about you) but I need to be reminded of two things.  The first of these is, “Why I am doing this work?” and the second is, “What is the evidence that I can handle this challenge?”  I think that we have ample evidence of both.

In September, we celebrated an inauguration with the theme, “A Common Goal.”  At that time we focused on the contributions that our faculty, staff and students make on campus, in the community and beyond.  We came together to shed light on the value of those contributions and the tremendous impact they have on so many in their jobs and in their personal lives. That record and the resulting impact continue.

In fact, we have had much to celebrate in the last six months: an unqualified audit, praise for our financial management, successful accreditations and significant honors and achievements among our students, faculty and staff and alumni.

I’d like to share some of those accomplishments with you….albeit with mixed feelings.  There is so much that has been done and so much deserves praise.  These are just a few examples….

The Herberger College of Business:

  • Sponsored presentations by its outstanding alumni including:
    1. Brian Myres, head of sales for the nation’s largest online bank, ING, gave a presentation at the college’s first Fall Executive Leadership Speaker Series .
    2. 2000 graduate and Fortune 500 company executive Corey Tollefson, vice president at Oracle Software.
  • A group of Mark Schmidt’s BCIS majors gave more than 150 hours to design software for the Tri County Humane Society. Reports that used to take several hours a month by pencil and paper now take less than half an hour. This just one example of dozens of projects complete by CoB students and a fraction of the more than 1M volunteer hours given by our students, faculty and staff to the region each year.
  • As part of a college-wide assessment of student learning outcomes, the Educational Testing Service test of knowledge in the Business Core was given.  Students in the College of Business scored in the top 10 percent of those taking the exam that included over 83,000 students from 500 colleges and universities.
  • The College launched its branding campaign focusing around the theme of “Get Ready to Work,” stressing the preparation students receive in the Herberger College of Business and the stellar track record of helping students obtain excellent careers after graduation.

The College of Education:

  • Celebrated its first $1 million gift, from graduate and longtime benefactor Vera Russell. 
  • NCATE accreditation was reaffirmed, with reviewers indicating that “SCSU will serve as a national model for other institutions seeking accreditation”.
  • Celebrated a successful site visit for reaffirmation of accreditation of the college’s Applied Behavior Analysis online program.
  • Began work to bring area superintendants together to explore opportunities for collaboration and improvement.

The College of Fine Arts and Humanities:

  • Faculty authors received significant recognitions: English Professor Bill Meissner’s well received first novel, “Spirits in the Grass,” was published by the University of Notre Dame Press; English Professor Steve Klepetar received his fourth nomination for a Pushcart Prize for his poem, “Running on Sand”; Five poems by Professor Stephen Crow appeared in the French-language anthology, “Anthologie de la Poesie Amerindienne.”
  • The Minnesota Council on the Teaching of Languages and Cultures honored Professor Phyllis Van Buren and Professor Emerita Elaine Carter for excellence, service and support in the teaching of foreign languages.
  • Music Professor Scott Miller’s composition “Nebe Na Zemi” or “Heaven on Earth” was premiered at the University of Palacky in the Czech Republic.
  • Music graduate student Mark Potvin was honored as the Outstanding Young Choral Director of the Year.
  • My own favorite accomplishment in the performing arts was the magnificent “Celebration of Light” concert in December.  This concert carried forward some of the lessons we learned as a community in the development and performance of “To be Certain of the Dawn” in the holiday season, transforming this concert into a multicultural experience that celebrated all of the rich traditions that find something special in this season.

The College of Social Science:

  • Political Science Professor Linda Butenhoff was awarded a Fulbright Scholar grant to lecture at the Diplomatic Academy in Vienna, Austria.
  • Sociology Professor Abbas Mehdi testified before Congress regarding corruption, waste and fraud regarding aid the United States had given to Iraq.
  • Christopher Lehman, an associate professor in our Ethnic Studies Department, had his third book, “The Colored Cartoon,” named an outstanding academic title by Choice, a publication of the Association of College and Research Libraries.
  • The college’s 2006 sociology graduate Robert Animikii (Ah-Nee-Mee-Key) Horton of Rainy River First Nations received one of 14 “Heroes of Our Time” scholarships by the Assembly of First Nations in Ontario, Canada.

The College of Science and Engineering:

  • Celebrated graduate student Meghan McGee’s national attention for her research on how trace amounts of antidepressant medication are affecting freshwater fish. She’s a research assistant in the Aquatic Toxicology Laboratory, working with Associate Professor Heiko Shoenfuss.
  • Provided hundreds of hours to service projects, including the Central Minnesota Habitat for Humanity, bald eagle conservation projects, and the Sauk River cleanup.
  • But of all the many accomplishments that I might mention, I have to tell you that the integration of 3-D printing technology with electron microscope technology just blew me away.  The implications for teaching and research are enormous….and that work was done by our students and our faculty on this campus for the first time in the US.

In these accomplishments I see evidence of a wonderful faculty supported by deans and an institution that values scholarship.  I see that we create opportunities for students to make a difference while they build skills for the future and evidence that amidst many competing objectives, without the resources to do everything that we feel we should, we still know how to keep our eyes on what’s important.  That’s worth celebrating!

During the same period in which many efforts came to fruition, we also continued planning for our future:

  • We worked in China and Laos to take important partnerships to the next step.  We hosted partners from China, Chile, India, and South Africa on our campus as we realized the benefits of international partnerships and planned for the future.
  • We have begun new conversations about how best to incorporate technology into our curriculum and programs, both through online courses and enhancing teaching through the use of creative use of technology in the classroom.  Yesterday’s TechDay ’09, hosted by the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, was an important element of this effort.  It was a wonderful event that brought students and faculty together to showcase what were are doing, open doors for sharing, and stimulate thinking about what we might be doing in the future.  The day began with a keynote address by Dr. Charles Dziuban from the University of Central Florida who is a national leader in thinking about the role of technology in Higher Education.  Having seen his work in Florida, I want you to know that we should all be proud of our students.  Ten of our students presented parlor sessions to faculty and staff.  The sessions, arranged by Casey Wagner, followed a model used at Central Florida but Chuck Dziuban noted that the sessions presented by our students were much stronger than theirs.
  • Our management team has worked closely with the Strategic Planning Committee to develop a number of themes that emerged from our action planning work next year.

This morning, I have asked some of the individuals who are most involved in these important efforts to talk about their plans and their progress:

  • Diversity Task Force – Women’s Center Director Jane Olsen, who co-chairs the task force with Shahzad Ahmad
  • Sustainability Task Force – Mitch Bender, Associate Professor of Environmental and Technological Studies; and Ed Bouffard, Associate Director, Operations, for Atwood Center.  Mitch leads the academic side of the task force, and Ed co-chairs the operations committee with Kurt Helgeson, associate professor of Environmental and Technological Studies.
  • Budget and Strategic Planning – Chemistry Professor Dan Gregory, who is co-chair for both the Budget Advisory Group and the Strategic Planning Committee.
  • Enrollment – Admissions Director Richard Shearer
  • Foundations of Excellence – David Warne, assistant professor, Communication Studies, who is project co-liaison for the Foundations of Excellence Steering Committee.
  • Facilities Planning – Steve Ludwig, vice president for Administrative Affairs 

Thank you, and thanks to all of the hundreds of faculty and staff who have committed their energy and expertise to work on these important initiatives.  These projects and your willingness to dig in and make them successful are examples of the true strength of our university community.

So, what’s ahead this spring?  With your involvement, we will continue to make great strides in our partnerships with the city and with our neighbors.  We’ve made major differences already by creating educational events and establishing a presence in the neighborhoods that have changed both the perception and the reality of what it means for SCSU to be an institutional member of this community.  For the first time in many years, the people who live near our campus have reason to believe this university cares what it feels like to be living in the university neighborhood.  In fact, we can see the evidence of this change everywhere.  We recently completed a feasibility study for the National Hockey Center fundraising campaign.  The results overall were excellent but one thing that struck me was the perception of our donors and stakeholders that the reputation of the university is improving and doing so rapidly.  I am grateful for all of the work that all of you have done to achieve this objective.  We have a long way to go but the evidence suggests that we are well on the way.

We anticipate creating a broad-based coalition of all stakeholders – including the city, law enforcement, bar owners, landlords and students – to join us in dealing with alcohol issues.  More and more people recognize that alcohol abuse is a national issue for college students and that this issue is a community issue not just a university problem.   

Of course, we will continue to shape a vision for our future even as we work to trim budgets.  It will be important that there be a close link between our planning and budgeting work.  In order to achieve the aggressive targets that have been set we will have to change some things about the way we work.  We will consider and craft these changes together with our eyes set on our mission and the needs of our students.

In his first inaugural address Franklin D. Roosevelt said those famous words: “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” … He went on to say: “Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment.  It was 1933 and the country was in the depths of a depression to which many are comparing our current circumstances.  He recognized that fear can have a paralyzing effect, and that it also can have a mobilizing effect.  In that same famous speech Roosevelt expressed his conviction that a spirit of support among Americans – as they faced their common difficulties together – would help the country prevail.  

In the coming months we will need that same spirit of mutual support on our campus as well as in our communities.  We will ask for your input as we make budget decisions and ask for your patience as we make the best decisions we can for all concerned.

I know you all have questions, and I will now address some of the concerns that I’ve heard faculty and staff express in recent weeks.  I want to invite you to continue to share your concerns as we deal with the challenges ahead:

Thank you all for coming, and have a great spring semester.