State of the University Address - Founders’ Day 2005
President Al Goldfarb - September 23, 2005
It is hard for me to believe that I am beginning my fourth year as President at Western Illinois University. If I were a Western student, I would be preparing for graduation. But I guess I am going to be a student who takes a bit longer to graduate because I look forward to the work that needs to be done as we try to implement our strategic plan, “Higher Values in Higher Education.”
As President, I am excited about the accomplishments we have made in the past year, but I am also aware that there is much work to be done and many challenges ahead. Like the entire campus community, I am frustrated at the difficult budgetary times and the lack of progress on some of our projects; but at the same time, I am pleased that we remain a warm and caring campus community that has worked diligently to provide a supportive environment for our students, faculty, and staff.
While I cannot cover all of our accomplishments of the past year – and there were many across the entire university community – let me just cite a few that are in keeping with our strategic plan.
First, we continue to focus on becoming the leading public master’s-granting, comprehensive university in the nation. We do so while at the same time trying to remain a university that provides opportunity at affordable costs. We continue to be selected as one of the best Midwestern Universities by the Princeton Review; and we remain ranked high among our Midwestern peers in U.S. News and World Report’s, even though its criteria penalize us for our 300 special admit students – who remain extremely successful based on review of their retention and graduation rates – and for the large number of transfer students who do not count in our graduation rate. (On the other hand, U.S. News and World Report’s also note that we are in the top 100 of U.S. universities enrolling transfer students, which is an extremely important part of our mission.)
We continue to work on establishing optimal enrollments in Macomb and the Quad Cities. And while our university-wide headcount was down slightly, our headcount in Macomb continues to rise as our strategic plan recommends. I believe that once we have the facilities and operational support available in the Quad Cities, we will see rapid growth there as well. Still, to focus on enrollment issues, I have asked Assistant to the President Joe Rives to establish a Presidential Recruitment and Retention Task Force to implement ways of achieving the goals set out for admissions, retention, and graduation in Higher Values in Higher Education.
As mentioned earlier, we continue to focus on our core value of opportunity. Our affordability ranking in national surveys is enviable. As our recent press release noted, “Western ranks ninth for public Midwest regional universities for lowest student debt load ($13,900) and is 19th for public Midwest regional universities for lowest percentage of graduates with debt (66 percent).” We continue to be the only university in the state to provide a full cost guarantee to undergraduate and graduate students. And while we will strive to be the leading public comprehensive in the nation, we will not do so at the cost of continuing to provide opportunity and affordable higher education. (I might add that we remain diligent stewards of public funds and tuition revenue. Our instructional and administrative costs remain among the lowest in the state of Illinois.)
We continue to strive to diversify our campus community. We developed innovative recruitment programs, such as our dual career recruitment and domestic partner benefits programs. Again, we have had successes in recruiting underrepresented faculty, students, and staff. But we must commit to strategies for retention. Our retention rates for minority freshmen are up this year, as are our minority enrollments. We must, however, work even harder to retain the students, faculty, and staff we recruit.
We are committed to academic excellence and our students’ personal growth so we have revised our orientation and first-year experiences. It is my hope that our new freshmen programs will also help with the retention issues mentioned earlier. The transformations of our orientation process and our freshmen year experience are amazing accomplishments for a university our size. We implemented a required summer orientation program and staffed more than 100 small class sections for incoming freshmen. These classes also have outstanding upperclass students assigned as peer mentors. We continue, even in difficult budgetary times, to reallocate resources to our instructional mission. At a time when increased class sizes are becoming more normative across the nation, we are moving in the opposite direction.
In the Quad Cities, we developed a fuller orientation program for students; and we are working on a students-in-transition program that will help our transfers as they enter our university. We also developed an Honors program that builds on the unique qualities of our Quad Cities students and programs. In addition, the new Executive Studies Center, as well as continued and innovative academic programming responsive to the Quad Cities regional needs (for example, our minor in fire administration), are noteworthy accomplishments. Still, we must continue to focus on our QC students’ unique demands. I am charging Jeanne Clerc, Joe Rives, and the Deans to revise scheduling processes and to review all offerings in light of recent needs assessments and student surveys.
Our commitment to academic excellence has led to many accomplishments and transformations. Possibly the most noteworthy was the approval of our first doctoral program: the Ed.D. in Educational Leadership. Western has been requesting such a program for decades. This January, we will admit the first cohort of doctoral candidates. Our hope is to offer this program in Macomb and the Quad Cities.
And while we have been frustrated by the lack of funding for the Quad Cities campus and the Performing Arts Center, we are thankful for the community-wide support we have received for both projects this past year. Governor Blagojevich continues to state that the Quad Cities campus is a top priority for his administration. I was also pleased that the funds for the Performing Arts Center were reappropriated. I ask that all of us join the regional community in lobbying for this facility.
But in the face of budgetary difficulties, we also made progress on many other facilities initiatives. Our students approved a Life Safety and Facilities Enhancement Fee which will allow us to build a new cultural center within, we hope, the next two years; rebuild the student side of our football stadium; and begin to install sprinklers into our residence halls this summer. And our Quad Cities students also approved such a fee in anticipation of needs at our future riverfront campus.
We purchased and opened our new International House, a clear reflection of our commitment to further internationalization of our campus. We continue to do major annual renovations of our residence halls and to work on the plans for the rehabilitation of Memorial Hall. This year, Athletics will complete our new baseball facility, again with significant funding coming from donations. We again remodeled offices for new faculty in the Quad Cities.
Our strategic plan stresses the core value of social responsibility, and we continue to work with our local communities on key projects. In Macomb, we helped to establish CUPP, the Community University Partnership Program, as a venue to bring community concerns to a neutral table and to develop shared activities. CUPP’s membership includes community members, student leaders, university administrators, and law enforcement officials. Our block party on the Sherman lawn brought together the community in a highly praised event.
We were pleased to work with the City of Macomb on recruiting the Pella Corporation, and we were honored to be mentioned as a reason they chose our community. We are working with Renew Moline to attract funds to the business development and technical center site they are developing next door to our planned riverfront campus. Our Entrepreneurship Center in Macomb, our new Survey Research and Environmental Studies Centers, and our Executive Studies Center in the Quad Cities are just a few examples of our commitment to public service. Other examples of our commitment to our campus’s environment and to sustainability are our new buses, new garbage and recycling bins as well as our new Student Litter Patrol.
And we continue to ask our students to be socially responsible. Our theme series underscores our strategic plan’s goal of creating an intellectually engaging environment that focuses on civic engagement. This year we will discuss Global Challenges and Personal Responsibility; and we are very excited to bring the author of “Fast Food Nation” – the summer reading for our freshmen – to our Macomb campus later this fall. And our students are engaged in a remarkable number of service and volunteer activities. As just one example, more than 50 of our students serve as Big Brothers and Big Sisters in Macomb. And the University’s response to Hurricane Katrina, from welcoming displaced students to raising funds for those left homeless, reflects our sense of civic engagement.
Still, we need to continue to ask all of our students to be responsible and active citizens. We know, for instance, that some of our students abuse alcohol. We are not alone in dealing with this national epidemic. I was very proud of those students who organized the Amethyst Project last spring; students were asking other students to use alcohol responsibly. We need to continue to reinforce that message, while also letting the very small number of disruptive students know that we will not tolerate inappropriate behavior.
But we have many challenges that still confront us as a campus community and many goals for the coming year. So let me address some of those.
We must continue to focus on implementing our strategic plan. This summer, Joe Rives, our new Assistant to the President for Budget and Planning, reviewed all of the implementation team recommendations. He has assessed those that are already in progress and those that require review by our governance groups. During the coming year, Joe will be working with the University community to move us forward on many of the recommended implementation strategies.
We must continue to work on improving our salary positions among our peer institutions. I am asking that we continue to work with UPI on our faculty salary issues, which have seen some improvements in our upper ranks; while at the same time undertaking a salary review for our non-negotiated civil service and administrative/professional employees. We must find a way of making certain that our employees are not falling behind their statewide colleagues at similar institutions. I am committed – as is our strategic plan – to work on improving all of our employees’ salary positions. I ask that Human Resources and Institutional Research work with the appropriate governance groups to develop a plan to address these salary discrepancies. I pledge that we will find the funds to address such inequities in the coming two years.
We must continue to assess our First Year Experience and the new required summer freshmen orientation and make appropriate modifications. This should be done in the context of the entire general education review being undertaken by the Faculty Senate.
We must develop specific strategies to improve our minority students’ retention rate. We need to assess whether any of the changes in our First Year Experience impact retention rates, and we must develop other programs that will assist.
We must continue to lobby aggressively for the release of funds – and/or for an innovative financing strategy – for our Quad Cities campus, both for construction and operation. We need to offer our Quad Cities students more of the basic amenities of an urban commuter campus such as study areas, laboratories, full academic programs and, of course, additional conveniently located parking. Furthermore, we cannot develop new lab intensive programs in health-related and technology fields without appropriate facilities. We have received the largest donation in the history of this university, and we must ask the state to help us make the riverfront campus a reality as soon as possible.
And we must continue to make the case for the Performing Arts Center in Macomb. We must continue to energize community and regional support. This project will impact west central Illinois culturally as well as economically.
And, in these difficult budgetary times, we must find new resources. So we will continue to plan for our next comprehensive campaign. We are currently working with a consultant to assess the feasibility of such a fundraising endeavor. Under the leadership of our new Vice President for Advancement and Public Services, Dan Hendricks, I know that we will successfully raise funds to support many of the initiatives found in our strategic plan.
As I joked at the beginning, while I am entering my fourth year at WIU, I am postponing my graduation – or maybe just undertaking postgraduate work – in order to participate in the exciting initiatives on our campus. I look forward to a successful year as we continue to make progress on “Higher Values in Higher Education.” Thank you for being here and for all that you do for our great university.