August 12, 1998
KALAMAZOO -- An increased presence in Detroit and Grand Rapids, a major capital campaign and an emphasis on research that impacts the lives of Michigan citizens are among his goals for the University, President Elson S. Floyd told audiences around the state last week.
Calling the WMU leadership post "the best university presidency in the land," Floyd began his tenure in office with a whirlwind set of activities designed to raise the University's profile in a number of key areas. His mission was to introduce himself to various constituents and begin his goal of forging strong relationships at the local, state and national levels.
Floyd took office Aug. 1 as the University's sixth president, succeeding Diether H. Haenicke. His first ten days on the job took him from a community charitable event on the banks of Milham Park's pond to Michigan Gov. John Engler's office in Lansing, with stops in Battle Creek and Grand Rapids along the way.
Speaking at an Aug. 3 news conference and during an interactive videoconference later that day, Floyd pledged to increase the University's presence in Detroit and Grand Rapids and vowed to forge even closer ties with both state and federal legislators. But although the launch of his presidency may have appeared focused on an external audience, Floyd said his presidency will maintain a careful balance between external and internal concerns.
"The first challenge I have is to make sure that faculty here at Western understand that I understand academics," he responded when asked to describe where he will focus his attention first. "There is a suspicion that I don't understand the academic nature of the institution. I will try to dispel that myth very quickly."
Floyd said he already has had productive meetings with all of the University deans and next week will begin meeting with the leadership of the Faculty Senate and the WMU chapter of the American Association of University Professors. He spent part of his first morning on the job meeting with emeriti faculty members who, he said, provided him with insight into the traditions of the institution.
Floyd called for increased research efforts to take WMU from Doctoral I to Research II status, calling a step up in the Carnegie Foundation's classification system "an achievable goal."
He said the research emphasis will energize the faculty and make it easier for WMU to recruit top faculty members in the future. He also said when boosting research efforts, the University will take special measures to identify crucial research areas that will impact the citizens of Michigan.
During the videoconference, which attracted 80 invited University alumni and friends in Kalamazoo, six Michigan cities and Chicago, Floyd touched on a number of higher education issues and laid out three areas of commitment about which he expects to speak repeatedly in coming months.
"We will be talking a lot about the investment the state has made in the University and how citizens benefit as a consequence of that," he said. "We'll also talk about a major capital campaign and make sure there are quality academic programs we can highlight at the University that show donors the result of their largesse. And we'll work hard at improving relationships."
Floyd called Grand Rapids the economic engine of West Michigan and said the University would be very aggressive in building its presence in that city. He said the University would have to invest additional resources in its regional center there and take care to ensure it offered the correct array of programs to meet the needs of Grand Rapids residents.
Detroit also will be a focal point for development, Floyd said. He predicted he will spend a good deal of time in that area, and he will investigate the possibility of engaging in partnerships with other public universities there.
"Detroit is just too big a market for us not to have a much more dominant presence than has been established already," he said
Town/gown relationships also were among those Floyd singled out for attention. He pointed to WMU's role as one of Kalamazoo's largest employers and reiterated the University's commitment to the area's continued growth,which he says will be enhanced by partnerships with the community in the areas of education and neighborhood redevelopment. WMU CARE -- the Campus Area Restoration Effort -- which was begun by Haenicke will remain one focus of those efforts.
Floyd said he and his family have been enthusiastically welcomed to the University and the community and he praised the atmosphere and ambiance he sensed at WMU on his first visit.
"This is the best University presidency in the land," Floyd told videoconference participants. "I'm immensely grateful that the trustees had the confidence in me to select me as the sixth president."
Media contact: Matt Kurz, 616 387-8400, firstname.lastname@example.org
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