University News

State of the University Address - Founders’ Day 2010
President Al Goldfarb - September 23, 2010

Good afternoon and welcome. Thank you for being here today. Before I continue with what is my final Founders' Day address, I must also recognize an individual for whom this is also her final Founders' Day appearance.

For more than 40 years, Jackie Thompson – who will retire next July – has provided exceptional service to this University. Her commitment and dedication to her alma mater is noteworthy, and her accomplishments during her tenure as Vice President for Administrative Services are many.

While her job has not always been glamorous, she has made decisions that were for the betterment of this institution. I could spend hours on Jackie’s contributions; however, I've probably already embarrassed her enough. Thank you Jackie for all you have done for Western Illinois University. You will be missed. Please join me in giving her a round of applause.

This is truly a bittersweet Founders’ Day for me as it is my final one. And, as I start my ninth and final year at Western, I am appreciative of all of the support from our university community during these unprecedented budgetary times. This past year may have been the most difficult and unparalleled budgetary year higher education has ever experienced in the state of Illinois.

But just as I noted last year, Western has again made remarkable progress. We have done so because we remain anchored to the core values of our strategic plan, Higher Values in Higher Education: academic excellence, educational opportunity, personal growth, and social responsibility.

In a few months we will have our accreditation visit from the North Central Association and we will have an outstanding story to tell because we can clearly point to meeting many of the goals of our plan.

We recognize that our commitment to academic excellence requires long-term contractual stability with our outstanding faculty. I am very appreciative that we were able to reach a five-year agreement with UPI. UPI’s commitment to our students and university was reflected in the membership’s willingness to forego the already agreed upon 3.5% pay raise for this year. I want to express the thanks of the entire university community for this selfless act. I want to thank all of our employees for understanding that we could not afford to provide raises.

Our new academic programs in Engineering and Nursing are attracting outstanding students. As the provost pointed out in his state of academic affairs, we continue to work on reviewing all of our academic programs to further enhance quality.

The quality of all our academic programs continues to receive national recognition from U.S. News and World Report and The Princeton Review, now for six years in a row. In U.S. News and World Report, this year we are second among Illinois’ regional public universities and we are now ranked as the 11th highest public regional university in the Midwest.

Our graduation and retention rates have brought us national recognition. The Southern Regional Education Board highlighted Western as one of 15 universities in the United States that shows outstanding commitment to the retention and graduation of its students, particularly those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. The Education Trust listed us as the only public university in the midwest to have closed the gap between the graduation rates of Latino and Caucasian students.

We continue to have success in diversifying our faculty, staff, and student body in order to assure academic diversity and excellence. Our enrollment of underrepresented freshmen increased from fifteen percent in 2005 to thirty percent this fall.

We are now seeing the release of capital funds that will enhance our academic mission. The new riverfront campus in Moline is now becoming a reality. The construction of the first building is ahead of schedule and we have already received the planning funds for the second building.

We are hopeful that there will be a groundbreaking for our new Performing Arts Center in Macomb some time in the near future.

We will also finally complete the renovation of Memorial Hall this Spring. While there have been many delays, the building will now serve academic and student support units in a more appropriate environment.

Due to the generosity of Ken and Betty Wright, the home that they donated was dedicated as a Veterans Resource Center this past year. With the large number of returning veterans, and Western’s historic commitment to serving that population, the Wright House is an outstanding addition to our campus. (And we were also proud to be chosen for the second consecutive year by GI Jobs Magazine as a military friendly campus.)

And we cannot forget that $1 million was finally released by the state for deferred maintenance. Those funds are desperately needed to keep our university’s academic and support facilities functioning.

While there have been many accomplishments we do still face some considerable challenges, not all related to the state budget. We must, as I noted last year, continue to focus on increased freshmen recruitment and retention. I am extremely pleased that we had significant increases in summer enrollment and over 100 more freshmen this Fall than last year. Still, we must continue to implement the strategies to be recommended by our consultants from Noel-Levitz and remain vigilant in our outreach to new students: freshman, transfers, and graduate students.

This past year, we continued to focus on our core value of personal growth. Our new multicultural center, the focus on renovating our residence halls, the initial success of Camp Leatherneck, which instills leadership values in our incoming freshmen, the outstanding undergraduate research day activities on our campus, are just a few of the many ways we exhibited our commitment to that core value.

We are also making significant inroads in improving the quality of our student services facilities. The main entrance of the Student Union is being renovated and we will have an elevator that will provide disability access to the top floor of that facility. We will begin the much-needed renovations of Corbin and Olson halls this Fall as well; these are residence halls that have not been significantly updated since their construction in the 1960s.

Our commitment to educational opportunity is reflected in many recent actions. We remain committed to the most expansive cost guarantee in the state of Illinois, even during these difficult budgetary times. Out of twelve public universities in Illinois, we also remain one of the lowest in cost.

We aggressively fundraise for scholarships and for faculty support and continue to have record-breaking fundraising years. We have now reached almost $40 million toward our comprehensive campaign goal. Our campaign will officially kick off next month, and we will clearly meet our goal of $60 million. Given that our initial consultants believed we would only reach $30 million, this is a remarkable accomplishment.

We are an institution that works diligently to instill the core value of social responsibility within our students. This year we were chosen for the second time to the President’s – and that is the President of the United States – Honor Roll for Community Service and Volunteerism. This reflects the selfless volunteer work our students do.

As I mentioned earlier, GI Jobs Magazine chose us as a military friendly university, a reflection of Western’s continued support for returning veterans.

Even though we remain committed to our core values, we clearly struggle to do so due to our difficult economic times. We should keep in mind, however, that higher education throughout the nation is dealing with significant budgetary shortfalls. In many states, there have been layoffs of employees, furloughs, elimination of programs, and other drastic reductions. We have been fortunate to avoid taking such drastic measures.

Still, we suffer through budgetary uncertainty. Until yesterday, we were owed $6 million for FY 10. I am pleased to announce that we now have been fully reimbursed for the past fiscal year. Still, we are now owed almost $12 million for the current fiscal year. Just as we needed to monitor cash flow throughout the past year in order to make sure we could make our payrolls each month, provide the instructional and service support to our students, and not furlough employees, we will need to do the same this year. These were—and remain—our primary commitments.

This will, I believe, continue to be an even more difficult budgetary year. The state reduced our FY11 budget by $3.7 million and, as I have noted, we continue to have cash flow issues.

I have already implemented controls on spending and we will continue to have to curtail expenditures in order to meet payrolls. We will also probably have to again ask for the authority to borrow for FY 11—which thankfully we did not have to do this past year—in order to be prepared should the shortage of state funds worsen. However, given the state’s final reimbursement for FY 10, we will release the remaining FY 11 budget minus our 3.5% reduction in the coming week. But we will continue to monitor and require approvals for expenditures, particularly equipment, travel, and purchases over $500, as we did last year.

Given these difficult budgetary times, please know how thankful we are for the support our administration has received. We continue to be a remarkably cohesive community. I especially appreciate those who disagree or suggest alternative decisions in a civil fashion.

As I have said throughout my career, universities should be institutions in which ideas and decisions are debated through our system of shared governance. As many social commentators have noted, in this age of instant communication through technology, we must, by example, teach our students how to disagree with civility and professionalism, not with personal attacks.

It is hard for me to believe that I have only nine months left before my retirement. I will have spent 34 years working in public higher education in the state of Illinois. I have been blessed to have a remarkable career, one that I would never have dreamed possible when, as a child of Holocaust survivors, I was the first person in my family to graduate from college. I completed a Ph.D. hoping to become a professor of theatre history and a researcher. I would have never expected to end my career serving as a university president. (And I have to admit, having been born, raised, and educated in New York City, I did not expect to spend my entire professional career in Illinois.)

I will be forever thankful that I had the opportunity to serve this great university. These have been the most rewarding nine years of my tenure in Illinois. Western, Macomb and the Quad Cities will always remain in Elaine and my hearts. Elaine, please stand, since without you I would never have been able to serve as president or in any of my administrative positions.

Thank you for allowing me to serve the Western Illinois University community. I look forward to working with all of you for the final nine months of my administrative career.