State of the University, Spring 2007

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Chancellor Bardo delivers the Spring 2007 State of the University address.

Chancellor Bardo delivers the Spring 2007 State of the University address.

Welcome and thank you for being here today.  This is only the second time in nearly twelve years that I have given a “State of the University” address; normally I give a policy address at the beginning of the academic year.  However, so much is going on and there are so many major activities that I felt that it was imperative to bring the campus community together to summarize the most important items on our agenda.

You will notice on the screen that this address bears the state motto as its name:  “Esse Quam Videri,” which means “to be, rather than to seem.”  That is very much what we are about at Western and we are working hard to assure that all of our students have the capacity “to be” not just “to seem.”  We can see this direction in many of the University’s initiatives, but most clearly in our proposed Quality Enhancement Plan and in our Millennium Campus.  This motto does not just apply to our students, it also applies to our efforts to become a much more seriously “engaged university” that works with our region and the state to improve the quality of life for the people we serve—the people of North Carolina.

Today, I will focus this State of the University address on only one issue:  How do we take the next steps in improving the quality of our University?  My definition of quality is based in the research of former UNC-A Chancellor David Brown.  David defines quality as a mission-related construct.  An institution’s quality is assessed by the outcomes of its efforts to achieve its core mission.  This is a critical definition and I want to spend a few minutes talking with you about it.

First, there is no one mission for institutions in higher education.  Some of us look to major research universities to define some abstract notion of quality.  It is clear, however, that there are many different types of institutions, all of which can be excellent.  Traditionally, strong undergraduate liberal arts colleges were seen as being different from research universities, but they could be defined as very high quality.  That did not seem to create confusion in the academic community.

Confusion regarding mission seems to be most acute in the type of university Bruce Henderson discusses in his new book, Teaching at the People’s University: An Introduction to the State Comprehensive University.  Bruce does an excellent job of describing the state comprehensive university, and I strongly commend his book to you.  I really appreciate a senior and highly respected member of Western’s faculty taking on such an important topic.  Bruce notes that the majority of public four-year university students enroll in institutions much like Western, and that makes them a particularly important segment of the higher education community.  In fact, I take the argument further than Bruce.  I believe that the future prosperity of the United States, our national ability to compete globally, and our ability to preserve both the American quality of life and the core nature of our Jeffersonian Democracy are closely tied to this country developing a clear understanding of the nature of state comprehensive universities.  Unfortunately, very few people are thinking about these issues.  Bruce’s recent work is nearly the first major effort to understand this type of institution that has been published in the last decade.

Now, this is not a philosophical discussion, so I need to turn to the basic nature of Western.  In preparing this document I read a number of committee reports and studies regarding Western’s direction and focus.  I want to share with you a quote from one of those studies that I thought captured reasonably clearly the issues that we are facing.  To quote:

Higher education in America is in the midst of revolutionary changes.  It seems quite unnecessary to say this…except to explain that otherwise this Committee would probably not have been called upon to make a report.  It may also be said that Committee members, as a result of their study, have discovered some dimensions and depths of this revolution of which they were before unaware.  The unprecedented growth and development of the past fifteen years is apparently only a prelude to that which is due in the next fifteen (p.4).

Surely, Western Carolina…is in a strategic position to exercise leadership.  In order to fulfill its responsibilities it must be ready and willing to expand its services, to experiment with new programs, to learn as well as to teach.  It must provide the best it can of traditional college programs but it must also develop together with its own unique geographical area and it must be unafraid to initiate untried and unique programs to keep step with the changing times (p. 5).

Among other programs and services the College is called upon to perform, those relating to helping Western North Carolina counties may be expected to increase at an accelerating pace. The College should confine its activities of this nature to those for which it will be uniquely qualified to offer service and which will be so interwoven with its curricular development that they contribute not only to desirable service but also strength, vitality and improvement to the curricular program itself (p. 35).

This committee did an excellent job of describing what we are facing today, and I want to take this opportunity to applaud their work.  Unfortunately, none of the members of that committee could be here today since they have all left university employment.  In fact, this committee report was completed before I finished high school.  It was commissioned by President Reid in 1966, and there are several buildings on this campus named for the committee’s members.

What is most clear from this committee report as well as Bruce’s book is that the basic nature of Western has not changed over the last forty years.  In fact, when one reads the writings of our founder, Robert Lee Madison, or any of the other early leaders of this institution, there is a clear line of thinking that is at the core of the University and its mission.  Western is, and always has been, The People’s University.  We have always been focused on the needs of the people for education, for research, and for support in the form of public service.  Western has been an engaged university, drawing our life and character from the region and serving the needs of the people for first-class education, for applied and basic research, and for professional service.  It is who we were; it is who we are; and it is who we must be.

Quality, therefore, has to be defined in regard to meeting the needs of the people as those needs change.  We need to preserve yesterday, but we can’t live in the past.  The people need us more today than they ever have and they are asking for our help.  We must, therefore, focus our efforts on achieving our core mission as an engaged university.  At the end of the day, that is the only way that we can act ethically and responsibly.  This is our core responsibility and it is how our quality will be judged.  So, what does this mean?

  • We must teach well and in such a way that our students can apply what they know to a variety of contexts.
  • We must conduct research and scholarly activity that is relevant to the people of the region and their needs.  Increasingly this means that we must act in a way that supports what is known in the literature as “regional competence.”  The term “regional competence” refers to the competitive quality of all key elements of a region’s life from the economy, to political leadership, health care, education, cultural activities, and the environment.
  • We need to focus increasingly on engaging with the people of the region so that we can work with them to solve their problems and to support their future.

Our quality depends on the degree to which we can truly be The People’s University: Esse Quam Videri.  And, we can achieve our core mission only if we have very high quality, committed faculty and staff; if we can attract and keep the best minds in the region to provide leadership for the future; and if we have the capabilities required to address regional needs.

Additionally, over the last year it has become increasingly clear that we are entering a new chapter in the University’s development because of the critical changes that are happening in the region around us—and most importantly in this particular county.  This new chapter is part of the unfolding manuscript that is the University’s history—and truly it represents a new chapter, not a new book.  The themes that have defined Western since its inception will continue to define us in this next chapter.  However, the context and situation within which we find ourselves is very different.

Two years ago, my opening address dealt with core questions of globalization and regionalization:  the twin processes that will define the future of America in general and this region in particular.

I will not repeat that discussion here because it is available on the Web.  I do want to show again four slides that document the sheer magnitude of the changes that are surrounding us.  First on the screen is the census-defined urban areas for 1990 in the area surrounding Cullowhee.  Next is the same census-defined urbanized areas for 2003 when they included metropolitan and micropolitan areas.  That is an amazing change.  Now, look at the change in housing prices for that same time period.  In 1990, housing in most of the area around the University cost less than the national average.  By 2000, this was no longer the case.  And, from what I am being told by new employees and realtors, this trend has not only continued, it has accelerated.

Now, let’s turn to Jackson County.  The situation here has changed dramatically and will continue to do so even if the county enacts land-use planning.  The trend is established and there is no reason to believe that it will change.

On the screen is a multiple choice question.  With reference to townships in Jackson County, which has the largest population: a) Sylva Township; b) Cullowhee Township; c) Tuckasegee Township; or d) none of the above?  How many of you selected Tuckasegee?  How many selected Sylva?  Did anyone select “none of the above?”  Well, the correct answer is “b,” Cullowhee Township.  The Cullowhee Township numbers do not include campus student residents.  Sylva Township has about 500 fewer residents than Cullowhee Township.  And, if both townships were fully incorporated, between them one might have a “micropolitan area.”

Now, I want to show you a series of maps of Jackson County that were prepared by our own Joe Harley of the Institute for the Economy and the Future.  The first map is simply Jackson County.  Cherokee is at the top of the map and Cashiers is at the bottom.  Western is roughly in the middle.  Now you will see a series of slides that show the location of land transactions in the county for 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006.  Notice that as we went through the slides, the number and size of the transactions generally increased and, on average, the transactions moved toward the south and central parts of the county.  The next slide shows all of the transactions during the four-year period on the same map.  As you can see by the preponderance of color in the south and central parts of the county, the “center of gravity” for the transactions was just south of Cullowhee.

The next slide shows the officially platted subdivisions in the county.  Again, you can see that the “center of gravity” is in the south of the county.  Now, when you combine the subdivision map with the land transfer map and add in the national forest, you get a very interesting picture.  In terms of total land in private hands, the vast majority of property in Jackson County is either in platted subdivisions or it has changed hands in the last four years.  In fact, I am told by knowledgeable people that Jackson County may be one of the hottest real estate markets in the state, but there is no question that the situation in Jackson County is different from what it was five years ago, and that has very significant implications for what is possible at Western.  And it will be important for the University Strategic Planning Committee to pay close attention to these changes.

Traditionally, Jackson County has been a center for second and retirement homes.  However, there also are indications that many of these new developments are being marketed to a much more age- and lifestyle-diverse population.  According to some realtors with whom I have spoken, they are seeing an increase in the number of year-round residents and in the number of younger residents with children.  This pattern reflects trends in retirement, trends in the shifting location of employment, completion of the four-lane to Atlanta, the growth of Atlanta northward, and the broad-based distribution of high-speed internet access.

To summarize, some of the development in this county has to do with the University; most does not.  This region—and this county specifically—are in the middle of a major development boom that by some accounts is expected to continue for at least the next fifteen years.  And, given our role as a public university, we must be concerned about the impact of all of this change on the people of the region.  Our regional responsibilities have never been more important than they are today.

Because of the importance of our role in working with the people of the region to assure their future, I will be working at the federal level on primarily three issues: 1) continued development of our applied engineering capacities to promote high-paying job development; 2) assisting the school districts in the far western counties in finding funds to complete their high-speed fiber networks; and 3) assisting in securing federal funds to support sewer and water development in the county.  I will work closely with Congressman Shuler to identify funding for these priorities.

I want to focus just a minute on the sewer and water issue.  It is important to understand that high-income developments can and will continue to grow without improvements in the county’s sewer and water systems.  These developments can dig community wells, and the lots are large enough to support septic systems.  It is the working person who is most hurt by the lack of basic utilities since, as the county develops, we can expect average lot size to decline.  Sewer and water supplies therefore will become increasingly important if the people of the region are to be able to continue living in the region.

Looking to the future, it is clear that we have not yet seen the impact of the changing structure of the national economy as it emerges into super-regions.  There are changes in road patterns that are both planned and under construction that can be expected to have huge impact.  Likewise, high-speed fiber networks are just now being deployed in many parts of the west, and we have not yet felt the potential impact of a new breed of commercial jet that has been developed by Honda.  If I understand this plane’s characteristics correctly, it may be able to bring commercial air service to locations such as Macon County; that would mark another major change in the competitiveness of this region.

So, that is the situation locally.  The other great change in the situation of the University is the new leadership at the system level.  Erskine Bowles and the Board of Governors are focusing increasingly on effectiveness, efficiency, and outcomes assessment—especially in key areas such as the quality of education we give and in retention and graduation rates.  These are major initiatives of the president and the single key term that best describes Erskine’s approach is accountability.  Therefore, we must find ways to hold down costs and to increase the quality of outcomes.  Most immediately, we will focus on the effectiveness and efficiency of retention-related services, but you also can expect reviews of other areas. Over the next couple of years, we will look carefully at all areas where our costs exceeded those of the UNC system averages.  Likewise, Kyle Carter and Chuck Wooten will continue to lead our efforts to address core inefficiency issues that were identified by members of our own campus.

Second, the UNC system is engaged in a very significant effort to answer the question:  “What do the people of North Carolina need from their universities over the next twenty years?”  This is the most important initiative that has been undertaken by the system during my 12 years in North Carolina, and it will be the basis for establishing the future direction of each institution in the system.  I would anticipate that the UNC system will be much more directly focused on the needs of the people of the state in the 21st century and that there will be a much more differentiated system of institutions that do not unnecessarily duplicate other institution’s roles—this analysis will have a fundamental impact on the nature of the system.

Now I want to focus on the core issue of quality.  We have a great deal of which to be proud.  Think for a minute about the fine faculty members, staff and students we have at Western.  Nationally, and internationally, people are recognizing the work we do here.  Consider, for example, that Debra Burke received the Distinguished Proceedings Award at the recent Academy of Legal Studies in Business meeting; or that  Ron Rash’s writings continue to receive recognition—the latest of which is the 2007 Alex Award.  Or, how about David Shapiro’s Award of Distinction for Outstanding Clinician (International Fluency Association, Dublin, Ireland) in recognition of career achievement in speech pathology; or Rob Young’s emerging national presence in the critical environmental area of coastal development.  I also should mention that because of the work of so many faculty members who are supporting undergraduate research, Western had more students presenting this year at the National Council for Undergraduate Research meetings than any other UNC campus, and we were eighth overall nationally among more than 300 universities that were represented.

In addition, I want to highlight the work of some of our students in the Honors College. There is great work going on there because of the quality of these students and the commitment of faculty.  For example, five first-semester Honors College Scholars wrote and edited the first edition of Imagine, WCU’s undergraduate research magazine, which won a CASE Special Merit Award this year.  And, an Honors College Scholar, Brenda Sallee, a senior professional writing major, is working with Lance Tanaka, founder and CEO of a company that works with American corporations to help them compete in Asian markets.  They are working on a new book.  Because of her contributions she has been invited to spend her spring break in Beijing.  Just think—she is an undergraduate who came to us from Hickory, North Carolina!  Don’t these people just make you proud to be from Cullowhee!!

I want to return to the core theme of this talk:  It is time for us to focus on increasing our level of excellence.  For us to achieve excellence, we must have additional resources.  The people of North Carolina have been very good to their universities, but excellence requires focused resources that address specific quality questions.  Therefore, today I am announcing the “public phase” of the first comprehensive fundraising campaign in the history of Western.  We are calling this campaign “Creating Extraordinary Opportunities.”  It is focusing on three critical issues that will continue to improve the quality of this University:

1. Merit-based scholarships.  We need to actively recruit the very best students available if Western is to improve its overall academic quality.
2. Program support.  Existing faculty members and academic programs and student services need additional funding if they are to continue to push for excellence.  Likewise, our athletics programs need funding beyond traditional sources if they are to attract the best student-athletes who can compete both in the classroom and on the playing field.
3. Endowed professorships.  No university is better than its faculty.  Endowed professorships give us the ability to attract seasoned, accomplished scholars who can push us to be even better than we are.

These three items, then, are the focus of the comprehensive campaign: endowed merit-based scholarships; program support funding; and endowed professorships.

I have not yet mentioned a goal.  Initially, the formal fund-raising study said that Western would have to stretch to raise $20 million.  As we progressed through the two-year “silent phase” of the campaign, we came to believe that we could do better.  Therefore, we are announcing today a campaign goal of $40 million.  A campaign generally lasts five years; therefore, we anticipate completing the campaign during the 2009-2010 academic year.

There is one element in the campaign that I would ask you to consider personally—please consider participating.  The “family” portion of the campaign is very important in that your participation—at any level—helps our alumni and friends understand how important this fundraising effort is for the future of the University.  The higher the participation rate by faculty members and other members of the University community, the more viable the campaign.

I also want to thank particularly the faculty members in the Department of Music and the emergency medicine program, and the Staff Forum, SGA, and the Board of Trustees for their concerted effort to develop and fund scholarship programs.  You also should know that Deborah and I have begun our campaign contributions to the Deborah Bardo Scholarship Fund for the children of Western’s SPA and EPA employees.  The issue is participation, whether you can donate five dollars or $25,000.  We have a great story, and your efforts have given us a strong base from which to work.

You also should know that every dollar you donate will go to the purpose you designate.  We need scholarship endowments, so that is the purpose to which many people are designating their funds, but you also can designate funds for program support or other valuable purposes.  It is most important that you participate.  Thank you!

I want to take a minute to introduce the volunteers who are leading the campaign.  The campaign chairman is Phil Walker.  Other campaign leaders include Joan MacNeill (Board of Trustees Liaison), Jim Moore (Foundation Board Chair), Gurney Chambers (Faculty and Staff Chair), Betty Farmer (Faculty Co-Chair), and Tom Frazier (Staff Co-Chair).

Focus on Quality

Now that I’ve laid the groundwork, how do we truly achieve our mission rather than just talk about it?  Esse Quam Videri.

Returning to Bruce Henderson’s book, there is a clear summary of what it means to fully implement our mission with quality:

  • Build a true community of learning
  • Support and recognize the scholarship of teaching and learning
  • Focus on engagement through continuing education, applied research, and consultation
  • Emphasize innovation

These are the right elements for Western, and most are embodied in our current mission statement.  We must engage; we must teach well and develop our ability to teach even better; and we must innovate and experiment with new ways of educating and serving our constituencies.  Following this logic, I want to begin with an update on our thinking regarding the Millennium Campus.  As you will recall, last May the Board of Governors approved the Millennium Campus plan for the University.   That plan is available on the Web, and I encourage you to read it since it is beginning to be implemented.

President Bowles recently expressed to me his strong support for our allied health and aging building.  This $46 million dollar 140-thousand-square-foot facility will be the cornerstone of the first neighborhood that we will build on the new part of the campus.  We also are seeking private business partners to create a clinical facility for urgent care, doctors’ offices, clinics, and other health-related activities.  Mark Leonard from Westcare and I have agreed to put together a joint planning committee to examine the potential for extensive partnerships between two of the largest organizations in Jackson County.  I have asked Scott Higgins to be our liaison.  And, if we can find the right partner, we also plan to build an “active adult” condominium community, and we will look at other options for “continuum of care” facilities.

We also know that faculty and staff members are finding it increasingly hard to obtain housing in Jackson County.  I have asked Chuck Wooten to look at national models for faculty and staff condos for this neighborhood.

We also are examining locations for a campus “downtown.”  Many of you know Gordon Myers, who is currently chairman of the board of Advantage West.  Based on his preliminary business review, Gordon believes that we can create a commercially viable downtown that will be critical both to the planned Millennium Campus and for improving our graduation and retention rates.

Remember that the concept undergirding development of this campus is the conversion of Western into a true “academic community.”  This is a very new concept, but it has its roots in many of the early European and British universities.

Well, that is where we are with the Millennium Campus.  Now, I want to turn to more traditional questions involving the University, and I will start with enrollment since it is at the core of everything else we want to achieve.

Enrollment Management

The single most important factor in enrollment management is the quality of the academic program.  Over the last decade the quality of students we have been able to attract and graduate at Western has improved markedly.  What this really means is that we have significantly improved the quality of the academic program.  It is often said that “universities attract the students they deserve” and if that is so, you have a great deal of which to be proud. However, we still have some significant work to do.

I need to share with you now a bit of information that I hope demonstrates the context of this discussion regarding enrollment.  On the screen is a slide that was derived from a recent staff presentation to the legislature. This is the type of press that one does not wish to have, but I share it with you because I know you and know that you won’t like it either.  I also know that you will join me in doing something about it.  The presentation showed that Western had the lowest retention rate in the UNC system last year.  That is not acceptable. When Jim Hunt was governor, he used to say, “We are North Carolina; we can do better.”  Well my friends, WE are Western Carolina University and we can do better!

First, we must work to attract students who have the background to graduate.  It makes little difference to the region if we add thousands of students if these students are not able to graduate.  Our relatively low graduation rate compared to the UNC system and our modest graduation rate when compared to our UNC-established peers tells us that we have a great deal more to do.  Taking this next step is not easy and it will require us all to focus more intensely on how we recruit students, what happens to the students when they are here, and how we structure our programs to encourage the student to graduate with a first-class education.

Second, we had to change our approach to recruiting students. Western had been using a “mass marketing” approach to growing freshman enrollment.  That worked for a number of years, but more recently it has not been as effective.  We changed the approach to freshmen recruitment by hiring a new director, Alan Kines.  Alan joined us from Babson College in Boston.   Alan will develop and implement a relationship-based admissions process in which each individual is recruited as an individual.

Third, we must assure that we recruit students who are ready to be at Western.  Make no mistake, we are committed to access—we are The People’s University.  Therefore, we will work increasingly closely with the community colleges to assure student access. An important element in this partnership is establishing “fast-track” articulation programs to ensure a smooth transition to Western.

I am very proud to tell you that Fred Hinson has been working with the academic departments and that most now have “fast track” programs.  Thanks to each of you who took the time to put these plans together.  If any of you heard Governor Easley’s State of the State address last evening, you will understand that strengthening our relationships with community colleges could be the most important component of our enrollment plan.  Based on the Governor’s statements, we can expect to see significant increases in funding to support high school students’ co-enrollment in community colleges.  This will make it possible for students to receive their associate’s degrees within a year of graduating from high school.  It is critical that we make it possible for them to receive their bachelor’s degrees in two more years of full-time education.  Our “fast track programs” are an important step in supporting the people of the state as they seek higher education.  Thank you again for this very important work!

Once students come to campus, they need to be retained and graduate in a timely manner.  Over the last five years we have invested very heavily in support systems for our students, but these systems have not yet improved our retention-to-graduation rates to a reasonable level.  We have, therefore, engaged MGT of America to conduct an evaluation of our retention programming.  Because of the importance of the evaluation of our retention programs, MGT will make a campus-wide presentation of their findings and their final report will be posted on the Web.

It is very clear that we have good people in our retention programs.  We must find ways to help them be more effective and to improve retention while holding costs down. So, what is the state of the University with regard to undergraduate admissions and retention?  We have made progress; we have invested significant resources; now it is time to assure that these resources are used effectively.  WE are Western; we can do better.

One final point with regard to retention:  as most of you are aware, longtime Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Bob Caruso has announced his intent to retire this summer.  Bob did a spectacular job, and he has developed a strong, vibrant student affairs division.  I want to publicly thank him for everything he has done in his division and for his strong contributions to the executive team overall.  He has been a great partner and he will be sorely missed.  Now, we need to build on Bob’s legacy.  Bob and Kyle worked to build relationships between academic affairs and student affairs; that work must continue.  Likewise, Bob was a tireless advocate for the role of co-curricular activities in enhancing students’ college experiences, assisting in learning, and promoting retention.  Our next vice chancellor must be able to build on Bob’s legacy and continue to create strong and meaningful experiences for our students.

Now, I want to turn to the core issue for any university:  the quality of its academic program.

Quality Education

As important as it is to improve our admissions and retention systems, the real key to the future of Western is improving our academic quality.  Back in 1996, I initiated what was called the “raising the bar” strategy, which focused on improving academic programming and teaching.  That initiative was reasonably successful.  We can see its outcome both in the fact that we are now rated by U.S. News in their combined “top tier” for similar institutions and that the average SAT score has increased. Western is in a very different place from where it was in 1996.  However, the environment within which we operate also has changed a great deal since 1996, and it is time for us to consider a sequel.  If Jack Sholder is here today, take a minute to ask him about the value of a sequel—sometimes they do better than the original.  Now, in preparing this speech I asked Clifton Metcalf and Bruce Frazier to look at successful Hollywood films and television programs to see if they could come up with suitable theme music.  They suggested Jaws—I’m not quite sure why but at least they didn’t suggest Psycho!  After I explained to them the nature of what I was speaking about today, they both voted on Mission Impossible; but, on further reflection, we all settled on I Dream of Jeannie—since we all know that Cullowhee is a magical place and anything can happen here!

Well, just when you thought it was safe to get back in the water, it is time for “Raising the Bar II: The Sequel.”  It is time to again focus very specifically on improving the quality of our academic programs.  You should be aware that this is a high priority for President Bowles.  Last summer I was evaluated by President Bowles, and he confirmed his desire for us to focus on the same three issues that President Spangler assigned me when I was hired:  1) improve educational quality; 2) grow the University; and 3) focus on needs of the region.  President Bowles’ support is critical if we are to take the next steps.

Improving our academic programs also means that we must take better account of changing global conditions.  Western’s traditional interests in linking what we do to the needs of the region will now be mandatory if the U.S. is to be successful in a globalized setting.  Therefore, we must focus our educational programs on our core values as an institution: Esse Quam Videri!  So, the global situation demands that we more fully implement our approach to education.

Next, because of President Bowles’ and the Board of Governors’ emphases on outcomes assessment, it is in our own best interest to improve quality and to assure that all of our students can graduate.

Finally, it is clear that the internal situation at Western also supports our “Raising the Bar.”  Very few of you who are here today were here in 1996.  We had excellent faculty and staff then and, if anything, we have even more capable individuals here today.  But you have had the advantage of working in an environment where many faculty and staff members did the heavy lifting to move this institution upward.  We can now build on their legacy.  So, to support our “Raising the Bar: The Sequel,” I am proposing that we take the following actions:

First, Dr. Carter will create a formal deans’ and department heads’ evaluation system that evaluates their performance with regard to several critical areas.  Specifically, deans and department heads are to be evaluated on:

1.  Their college’s or department’s role in recruiting and retaining students,
2.  Improving six-year graduation rates,
3.  Implementing appropriate engaged learning models,
4.   Documenting a process for continuous improvement of learning outcomes, and
5.  Management and leadership effectiveness.

These formal evaluation procedures will be in place for the next academic year and deans and department heads can expect to be evaluated on these dimensions in May of 2008.

The second element in improving quality will be the review of Liberal Studies.  The Liberal Studies Committee is conducting a thorough assessment of the program, and this is the first step in any program review.  I am particularly concerned that, in its next iteration, we more strongly include as key themes engagement, globalization, civic responsibility, and cultural understanding.  We also must make sure that all students are developing the learning and interacting skills that will enable them to function well in our rapidly changing world.  Our general education program has to be about both what the students know and how they function.  The latter issue is rarely discussed with regard to general education.

Third is that we have excellent faculty members who can successfully raise the bar.  Raising the bar does not mean “making classes harder.”  We must increase expectations, teach increasingly difficult material using appropriate pedagogies, and focus the curriculum so that undergraduate programs reflect the true needs of the student. In a “raising the bar” model, every student who drops out or who gets discouraged represents a loss to the faculty member, the program and the University.  I know that we have the people who understand this education model and who will be able to implement it fully.  I want to make it possible to positively reward both faculty members and departments that are willing to take on these very difficult tasks.  Therefore, I am announcing the following specific actions to support our excellent faculty members who are willing to take on this work.

The Board of Governors approved our campus-initiated tuition.  Following Board of Governors’ policy, 50 percent of these funds were allocated to need-based financial aid and to improving average faculty salaries to approach the 80th percentile of our state-defined peer institutions.  Much of the remaining 50 percent will be used to provide significant faculty stipends for each course that a faculty member teaches using a recognized integrated engagement model.  This is not a one-time stipend—it will be awarded every time the faculty member successfully teaches the course.

It will be important for Provost Carter, the Faculty Senate, and the colleges to work together to create models that provide for improved, integrated, engaged learning and appropriate assessment and accountability that is in line with the directions being taken by the Board of Governors and President Bowles.

Funding for this initiative will be distributed in two categories:  $200,000 will be made available to faculty members who create strong engagement courses oriented to freshmen and sophomores, and $100,000 will be made available for improving courses that represent culminating experiences within the major. These are two areas where we can have the greatest impact on the quality of a student’s education, and we want to start this process by focusing on areas of greatest change.

The process for evaluating the proposals has not yet been established, but it will need to involve departments, deans, a faculty review panel, and the Coulter Faculty Center as well as the Provost.  For this to work well, it must be faculty-led and of a very high standard.  I understand that you do not work for money but by providing these stipends we can make a clear statement as to how much we value you and your hard work.

Integrated Major

So, we are working very hard to improve the quality of education at Western, and I want to focus on one more element.  All the work on the QEP and all of the discussions to date regarding synthetical education have focused on linking traditional in-class learning with out-of-class experience.  There is no one form of experiential education that is best, but it is clear that we must find ways to help our students learn how to generalize their education and to apply it in broad arenas.  Therefore, working to integrate experiential education into the program becomes increasingly critical.  I am asking Kyle Carter to look closely at available faculty development funds and to give preference to faculty members from departments that either currently have, or will develop and implement, plans for integrating strong experiential learning programs within the major.  Semester-long co-op placements, service learning projects, semester-long internships, integrated international experiences, or mentored research all need to be strongly supported.

While I am asking Kyle to focus his use of development funds, as we look at our deployment of resources through the PACE initiative, we also will seek to reallocate funds to support departments in developing these integrative experiences.  Real quality must define all our programs, and especially our core undergraduate majors.


Now let’s turn to graduation rates.  Freshman retention is one important outcomes measure that the UNC system will track and expect to improve. The more important outcomes measure, however, is increasing graduation rates.  Western’s retention and graduation rates are not acceptable when we look at either the UNC system or our approved set of peers.  WE are Western; we can do better.  Therefore, it is important that we support academic departments that are willing to look carefully at their total curricula.

First, to encourage this review, I am committing that up to 50 percent of any faculty salaries saved by streamlining the major to make it possible for students to graduate will be left in the department to improve average salaries of tenured and tenure-track faculty members to move them toward the state’s goal of achieving the 80th percentile of peer salaries.

Second, many faculty members across the colleges have expressed interest in having time to work more closely with students, to engage in applied research, to seek grant funding, or to engage in basic research and public service.  To make this possible, we will need to look closely at our array of courses, especially at the undergraduate level, to assure that we minimize the number of boutique classes and classes that are taught at the undergraduate level that could be taught at the graduate level.  This process has already begun, but it is in a very early stage.  The deans and department heads are currently working with a new set of course-scheduling guidelines.  Implementing these guidelines will not be easy and I want to support any department that takes this work seriously.  Therefore, any department that eliminates boutique classes will be allowed to keep up to 50 percent of any salary savings to support faculty members achieving the 80th percentile of salaries of faculty members in similar departments in our official peer institutions.

The remaining funds that become available from these two actions will be used to support implementation of our QEP and to provide additional faculty-development funding.  We must implement the QEP the right way, and it must be based on improving our faculty expertise rather than hiring a cadre of new administrators.  We know that some of the work must be accomplished by administrators and support staff, but the QEP will be most effective if it is led by faculty members working together to improve education.  I also want to take this opportunity to thank the faculty leaders who have been so involved in developing the QEP, and especially Brian Railsback and Scott Philyaw—great work everyone!

The final element in this process is improving graduation rates.  This year, our top funding priority was full funding for the QEP.  It was not included in the system budget, so we had to begin implementing the overarching strategy by asking for campus-initiated tuition.  If the QEP is funded next year, I will ask for a much lower increase in campus-initiated tuition to cover the gap in faculty salaries and need-based financial aid.  A portion of the future tuition funds also will be utilized for support of academic departments that develop and implement a plan to systematically improve or maintain graduation rates to achieve a six-year average of 65 percent or greater.
I know that I am asking you to take on some very difficult work and that is why we are making significant money available to support you.  It will mean everything to our students and, over a few years, improving our educational programs will attract increasingly high-quality students.  But, even more importantly, we will be implementing our core values and truly becoming what we espouse: Esse Quam Videri!

Distance Education and Graduate Education

So far, I have limited discussion to undergraduate education because unless our core is strong, other programs will not work.  We are all aware that the nature of our region is changing and the situation within which we find ourselves is shifting rapidly.  This changed situation also means that we need to focus increased resources on returning adult learners, on linkages to community colleges to promote transfer, and on serving non-traditional graduate students.

We are very fortunate at Western to have great leadership in this arena in the persons of Dean Pat Brown and our new graduate dean, Scott Higgins.  Many of our academic programs have worked to develop and expand our offerings for adult learners in distance education.  However, we have not yet solved the problems of dealing with adult transfer students or students who simultaneously enroll in more than one institution; nor have we dealt effectively with joint admission of community-college students or fully implemented our guaranteed-admissions program.  We must make these transitions much more seamless and friendly.  I have asked Alan Kines to work closely with Pat on these undergraduate issues, and I have asked Pat and Scott to develop support systems for adult graduate students.  I also am asking Pat and Scott to look at their uses of funding to increase the rewards for departments that are willing to expand their support for, and enrollment of, adult learners.  We must focus on quality so that our students can compete in the new global situation in which they will live.  This must involve all our students—traditional and adult, graduate and undergraduate.  Over the last decade we have improved our quality and our reputation; it is time to press to the next level of excellence.  WE are Western; we can do better.


Now, I want to turn away from our academic program to talk for a minute about athletics.  We have had some major ups and some major downs with our athletics programs. When we look at such sports as baseball, track, women’s basketball, softball, women’s golf, and soccer, we have had significant success on the field or court.  We also can be proud that all sports are above the required APR rates for the NCAA. I also was very proud, when at a recent Board of Governors meeting, admissions data for athletes were discussed and Western’s football team had the highest average entering SAT and GPA of any campus in the system and we were the only campus with a freshman football SAT average above 1000!  At the same time, we are all aware of the press reports when a student-athlete gets into trouble or when a student-athlete becomes academically ineligible.

If you follow our athletics program, you also know that Athletics Director Chip Smith is impaneling a “blue ribbon” task force to look at the future of our football program since it is not where we would have it.

Largely because of this review of our football program, I spent some time recently with leaders of the NCAA; I also had a chance to hear Myles Brand, President of the NCAA.  It is clear from these discussions and from Dr. Brand’s speech that much of the lore surrounding high achieving teams is just that—lore.  Funding makes some difference, but not as much as one might think.  Facilities make some difference, but again, not as much as you might think.  To build winning athletics programs takes, above all else, commitment to excellence and the character to do the hard work necessary to achieve excellence.  It is little wonder that if you look at most of our highly successful programs, you will see that the coaches have recruited good athletes; but most importantly, they have recruited good people.

These programs generally have few if any students in academic trouble; in the main, the members of these teams are good citizens, and they are willing to do the work necessary to win.  What is interesting is that these teams do not necessarily have the most naturally talented athletes in the conference.  But they have a team whose members respect one another, work hard, and are willing to do what it takes to win in life, not just on the court or field.

What this really all boils down to is character.  Character is what wins both in life and in athletics:  doing the work necessary to be the best team, to represent the university well, and to never give up.  That is character.  Because of the obvious importance of character in athletics, I am asking Chip Smith to work with the Southern Conference, the NCAA, and the coaches to develop and implement a coaching evaluation system that includes significant evaluations of the recruitment policies of the team and the ways in which the coaches, and especially the recruiting coordinators, assess a potential student-athlete’s core character.  That is, how does the coach know that the student is willing and able to do what it takes to graduate, to be a good campus and community citizen, and to help his or her team win?  Catamount athletics must take a consistent step forward as we develop Western into a quality university.  I am proud of our student-athletes, and I expect to see them continue to represent Western in a positive manner.  WE are Western; we can do better.

Report on Progress of Key Issues

Now I want to turn for a few minutes to an update.  Two years ago I laid out a specific plan for the University that focuses on the future needs for education by the people of the state.  Now that the SACS review is at hand, and our move to Banner is nearly complete, it is time for a review.  On the screen behind me you will see the major initiatives that I outlined in that speech.  The issues are listed in three categories:  those areas on which we have made a great deal of progress; those on which we have made good-to-moderate progress; and those on which progress has been modest.  Please note that reviewing Liberal Studies is not listed on any of these slides since we were not to begin that review until after the SACS visit.  Remember also that the 2005 speech laid out what was intended to be a five to ten year plan, so it would be expected that we would have made more progress on some issues than others.  But just look at what we have accomplished on key questions.

In several areas, we have made much more progress than I would have thought possible in just two years.  Banner implementation was very difficult, and everyone involved deserves a vote of thanks for the extraordinary efforts it has taken.  Also, college restructuring is nearly complete—awaiting only the hiring of the new deans.

There also is are significant number of areas in which we have made good progress.  I particularly here want to note our continuing commitment to assisting our SPA employees to get competitive salaries; improving the research and sponsored-projects area; working to reduce the teacher shortage; and improving the processing of paperwork for international travelers.

As one would expect, there also are areas in which we have not made much progress.  Some of these simply have longer time frames, but others need attention before the end of the academic year.  I will work with the appropriate vice chancellors and the Provost to make sure that we begin to address some of these issues.  Likewise, I will ask that internationalization of the curriculum be a part of the Liberal Studies review.

Overall, with very few exceptions, the progress made on these key issues is more than one might have imagined two years ago.  Many people have contributed to developing this university and propelling it forward and I want to say a firm “thank you” to each person who has contributed so much.

Well, it is now time to conclude this address.  As Deborah and I finish our twelfth year at Western we could not be more proud of what you have accomplished and we are deeply grateful for all that you have done on behalf of the people in the People’s University.  You are making sure that our students and our region live the state’s motto—to be, not to seem—Esse Quam Videri.

I would like to end this State of the University address with a quote from a significant work in American literature that I think sums up where we are today.  Many of you are probably familiar with Stephen Vincent Benet’s famous story “The Devil and Daniel Webster.”

To quote Benet:

Yes, Dan’l Webster’s dead—or, at least, they buried him. But every time there’s a thunder storm around Marshfield, they say you can hear his rolling voice in the hollows of the sky. And they say that if you go to his grave and speak loud and clear, ‘Dan’l Webster-Dan’l Webster!’ the ground’ll begin to shiver and the trees begin to shake. And after a while you’ll hear a deep voice saying, ‘Neighbor, how stands the Union?’ Then you better answer ‘The Union stands as she stood, rock-bottomed and copper-sheathed….’

Well friends, if the spirit of President Robert Lee Madison were to speak to us today and ask “Neighbor, how stands my University?” I would tell him proudly, “Because of the men and women of this campus and their commitment to excellence, President Madison, Western Carolina University stands as she stood—rock-bottomed and copper-sheathed—in fact, she stands stronger then ever!!”

Esse Quam Videri!

Thank you for all you do; thank you for being a significant part of this academic community; and thank you for being here today.