2010 Faculty and Staff Spring Convocation

Streaming Video of 2010 Spring Convocation

Address by President Earl H. Potter III

Welcome to spring semester and the year 2010 – a fresh new decade already imprinted with both the challenge of economic uncertainty and the hope of renewed prosperity. 

As I thought about what topic would be uppermost in your mind as we gathered this morning, the obvious answer was budget.  What do the unfolding realities of our state’s financial picture mean to your work life and the future of the services and programs you care about?  I realize the priorities we set and the decisions we make are of great significance to you.  This is personal.

It’s also personal to our students. And they are the priority that trumps all others.  In good times and in difficult times, we will continue to offer each of our students the opportunity for an education that supports a unique set of hopes and dreams.

As we work through options for balancing the budget, we do it under the cloud of a projected $1.2 billion state budget shortfall for the current two-year budget cycle.  We don’t have solid figures.  We do have questions that don’t yet have answers.   Please do join Vice President Ludwig and me in the convocation session devoted to sharing the information that we do have and our best take on the details of the challenge ahead.

What I can tell you now is that no decisions will be made without your input.  We will prepare to meet this challenge with deliberate, aggressive and transparent planning.  We’ve already been doing the work that allows us to make hard choices.  That includes strategic program appraisals – ranking programs by their financial strength and evaluating options that range from doing nothing to investing more to shutting them down. And yes, we have informed bargaining units we will consider layoffs. Nevertheless, we will continue to move forward with optimism and a bold vision. 

We do face real challenges but despite these real challenges, we will continue to work together to achieve our overarching goal – making St. Cloud State the finest university of its kind in the Midwest.  A St. Cloud State education will be relevant to the needs of the community, the region, the state and the world and will therefore prepare our graduates to live and work in this world.

A significant element of our strategy to realize our vision has been to alter the way the community perceives our University and its impact on them.  To help our neighbors recognize that we are a cultural, economic and educational force in and for Central Minnesota.  To build support for this university because it offers value to the community and the lives of its people.  The evidence in the local press and what we are hearing about SCSU from others around the state suggests that we are “moving the needle” that reflects where we stand in the public mind.

But this is not just about image.  There is real substance behind the changing reputation of the University.  By strengthening our community partnerships, there has been an unmistakable philosophical and physical new day in the relationship between campus and community.  We’ve developed an unprecedented spirit of pride and unity among campus, city and neighborhood constituencies – and it shows.  Black city and university banners (they look “sharp” according the Times) now alternately flank Division Street from the new Granite City Crossing Bridge to Seventh Avenue adding to the impact of the red banners that adorn University Drive.

A block south of Division on Fifth Avenue the elegant Fifth Avenue Live complex is rising out of the ground and is taking shape to hold retail shops, a St. Cloud State Welcome Center and spacious and secure new furnished apartments for our students.  We will open a model apartment this month and it is now possible to reserve space in the housing units for fall 2010.

We also are well into the detailed design work for the National Event and Hockey Center, as well as the beginnings of the quiet phase of fundraising for that project. 

We’ve been celebrating our community partnerships this week through interactive meetings with community leaders and a keynote panel discussion on how community engagement can strengthen our teaching and research as we live into our responsibility to serve and strengthen communities in Central Minnesota.  The value of these discussions is immeasurable, and I thank all of you who took part.

We have dealt with financial challenges and we will face others, but I am very proud of our campus community for the degree to which we have all kept our eyes on our mission even as we deal with institutional challenges.  Let me point out some of the other bright spots in our campus life that warrant celebration: 

  • Enrollment is up in virtually every demographic category, with a 13 percent increase in the number of new students of color and 17 percent overall growth in enrollment of students of color.  That means we’ve made great progress in both recruiting and retention.  Since fall 2002, enrollment of students of color at St. Cloud State has nearly doubled to 1,560.
  • Another cause for celebration is the success of our Twin Cities Graduate Center in Maple Grove.  This new facility surpassed all our expectations during its first semester.  Taking graduate-level classes to the major population center and the region where the largest percentage of our graduates live and work has been a spot-on initiative.  This fall more than 150 students completed classes in a master in business administration cohort, a master in Regulatory Affairs and Services cohort or in College of Education programs leading to graduate degrees in Higher Education Administration, Educational Leadership/School Administration, College Counseling and Student Development, Community Counseling, or School Counseling.
  • We’re proud also to be part of an unprecedented Bush Foundation initiative that will help us improve the way we prepare teachers.  As one of 14 colleges and universities in the Dakotas and Minnesota to share in this $40 million grant, we will be part of a unique commitment to guarantee teacher effectiveness. Together we will address America’s promise of opportunity by closing achievement gaps in K through 12 education and by attracting the best and brightest to the field of education. We always have done a good job of preparing teachers at St. Cloud State, but with $4.5 million in Bush funds to help us absorb the cost of change, we will add new strategies like after-graduation mentoring and support and the measurement of the success of students taught by our graduates as input to our support system. New strategies will enable us to increase the effectiveness of our graduates as we work in new ways with the districts that employ them.
  • This fall G.I. Jobs magazine also brought honor to our university by designating St. Cloud State a “military friendly school.” The publication’s Military Friendly List honors the top 15 percent of colleges, universities and trade schools which are doing the most to embrace U.S. veterans as students.
  • Also this fall we had our first-ever farmer’s market.  This collaboration of regional vendors and campus and community growers was the brainchild of our Atwood staff, and I commend their initiative and their commitment to sustainability and growing community spirit.
  • As we enter the Legislature’s bonding session, we are hopeful lawmakers will approve the $42 million bonding funds we need for the Integrated Science and Engineering Laboratory Facility – or ISELF.  This is the capstone project for our set of campus science initiatives that began with the Wick Science Annex and continued with the renovation of Brown Hall, which is now open for business.  Bringing ISELF from the planning stages to reality is absolutely essential to the future of our university and for the economy of our state.  This will be a resource that will make us a statewide leader in science education.
  • While the Wick, Brown and ISELF projects target our students, another innovative project is giving elementary, middle and high school students in Central Minnesota access to a state-of-the art science laboratory.  Our successful launch of the Science Express – an 18-wheel truck that houses lab equipment – is enhancing learning for K-through-12 students throughout Central Minnesota. This fall the mobile lab brought hands-on learning in science and technology to students in Sauk Rapids-Rice, Big Lake, Elk River and Granite Falls.  Both the ISELF and Science Express projects are powerful examples of the benefits of external partnerships.   

These are exciting times on our campus and in our community.  We’re coming out of major construction projects on the Granite Crossing Bridge, Ninth Avenue and Fifth Avenue.  We are seeing sweeping physical changes for the better, changes that offer clear evidence the St. Cloud State-St. Cloud Community partnership is growing stronger.

Even through difficult times, our campus and community are demonstrating a resilience and capacity for change that are important examples for our students.  One of the best examples of this resilience is how we have worked together to support our students.  We have had clear evidence this fall that growing numbers in our community are feeling anxious or overwhelmed.  The number of students visiting our Counseling Center, Health Services and other resources has grown significantly.

My own stress went up this fall when I lost my voice for more than three weeks, although some of you might put under the heading of “Cause for Celebration.”  It was a circumstance that I was powerless to change, and it reminded me how frustrating it can be to have no control over something so important to daily life.  During this time our campus experienced the loss of two of our students who took their own lives – a highly unusual occurrence in our campus community.  While I couldn't speak, I could get a message to students through e-mail, encouraging them to take care of themselves and to reach out to others who may be showing signs they are having trouble coping.

The response to this message was an unexpected reminder of our capacity to make a difference through simple gestures of care and concern – through human connections.  Many students wrote back.  Some expressed appreciation for the message of support.  Others had questions about our resources for helping students who are troubled or overwhelmed.  Still others wrote to share their experiences and ask for help.  So we followed with another message about the many resources available for those who need such help.

Those resources include the campus Behavioral Intervention Team, which reviews issues involving students of concern and intervenes in attempts to help them succeed. Last year issues involving 114 students were brought to the attention of the BIT, a team that has the ability to fashion tailored support for students whose needs require a complicated blend of services.  I want to thank the faculty, staff and students who have reached out to refer students, take students to the services that can offer them counseling, health care or other services.  As we do the work of the Behavioral Intervention Team, we are discovering gaps and holes in procedures and policies and working to strengthen our ability to respond to needs.  We are adapting, changing and meeting growing demands which has required an extraordinary effort on the part of those who provide these services.  Thank you.  I am proud of you all.

Our students and all of us are feeling challenged and anxious about the uncertainties surrounding the economy, health issues and other threats to our well being and our ability to conduct “business as usual.”  The responses I received reflect these concerns.  So do the realities that our campus has a pandemic planning committee working on preventing and dealing with H1N1, a safety committee completing a lockdown procedures plan, and of course the budget committee continuing to prioritize and plan for an unknown economic future.

But through it all, we have had committees working hard on the vital work of moving our university forward with academic planning, strategic planning, sustainability initiatives, a diversity plan and many other hard-working groups that demonstrate that we care about the future of our students, our colleagues, our communities and our university.  I want to thank all of you who go above and beyond the demands of your work and personal activities to serve on these important committees, task forces and initiatives that are ensuring that we will continue to progress toward our goals.  I know you are making great progress, and by fall convocation many of you will have important outcomes and recommendations to report.

Our vision includes improving and expanding our academic and service programs for students, building on our common goals to enhance our university’s unique identity.

The most important beneficiaries of all these plans and projects are, of course, our students. They give life to our vision and inspire us to be collaborative and creative as we continue cultivating a campus that is expert in building community and teaching by example the value of making a difference.

I’d like to share some of the success stories of students and student organizations involved in community engagement:

  • Changes in our Student Government Association have led to greater engagement in the life of the campus.
  • Students participated in Outdoor Endeavors’ Mississippi River Clean-up and the annual homecoming neighborhood cleanup, to name just a couple of the many outreach projects our students get involved in.
  • At the end of January our campus will host a statewide leadership conference for MnSCU students of color, faculty, staff and advisers who want to enhance their leadership skills in a multicultural environment.
  • We have students who tutor children at the La Cruz Community Center and work with diverse groups of local high school students coping with intercultural challenges.
  • Student volunteers were involved in the LGBT Film Festival and the LGBT Leadership Conference.
  • International students showcased their cultural heritage through the popular cultural nights.
  • Mass communication students took top honors in broadcast endeavors at the Midwest Regional Emmy Awards in September and the Global Media Awards in November.

These stories are in part a reflection of the good examples many of our faculty and staff set for our students.  You are so much more than individuals who teach, mentor or provide other services for students.  You are important role models.  Our students are watching and learning.

As we begin a new semester, I commend you for your resilience and your amazing capacity to make a difference – and to find the balance between the big issues and the small.  Let us never forget to appreciate the things that happen every day to keep our university running smoothly and our environment safe and clean.  And let us ever be grateful for each other and for the students whose lives we influence in so many ways.

Thank you for coming today.  Have a great semester, and may the wind be always at your back.