September 17, 1998
KALAMAZOO -- WMU President Elson S. Floyd pledged a presidency of vigor, vision and passion in his first remarks to the Faculty Senate Sept. 10, declaring that he will support the work of the faculty and the primacy of the University's academic mission.
"Yes, there are challenges before us," he told senators, who had warmly welcomed him to the podium in Kirsch Auditorium of the Fetzer Center with an extended round of applause. He assumed the presidency Aug. 1.
"But there also are immense opportunities," he stressed. "We need to celebrate WMU, and we need to talk about its excellence and commitment. And so, as a president who will lead with vigor, thoughtfulness, decisiveness, passion and vision, it is clear to me that the primacy of this institution is its academic mission.
"I will do everything I can to support your teaching, your research, your service, and your scholarly and creative activities," Floyd told senators. "That is my role. That is my responsibility. I take it very seriously. And if I'm nothing else, I'm very passionate about it."
He also asked for the support of faculty members as well as that of the University community at large. "I'm very clear about the direction I want to take this University," he said, "and I can only do that with your support, your assistance and your best efforts."
To that end, Floyd said, the next year will be one of assessment and planning, a process "made more timely by my arrival and the culmination of an extraordinary chapter in the history of the University, marked by Dr. Diether Haenicke's retirement.
"Even more compelling is the growing realization that new social, political and economic forces in higher education require universities to reexamine and significantly, if not radically, change the way we conduct our business," he continued.
"Our University must be responsive to this cultural transformation and position itself to lead the pace of change," he said. "If we fail to do so, we will be in the unacceptable circumstance of being followers rather than leaders. And we must be leaders.
"I believe that we can become the model of a premier student-centered research university," the president declared. "This is a goal that is attainable with the dedication and commitment of our faculty, students and staff. We are fortunate that WMU's situation is not one of exigency, but of aspiration.
"The University is fiscally sound, and with the continuing commitment of the Legislature, our situation will improve as we seek additional resources to support our emerging Research I status," Floyd said. "In doing so, we will not abandon our fundamental obligation to high quality undergraduate and graduate teaching."
Floyd issued what he described as a call to action to the University community. "I invite all members of the faculty and the greater University community to participate in an active process to assess our strengths, to understand better our weaknesses and to map a course for the future."
He announced that he would name three broad-based committees to develop what he called "A 21st Century Framework for Western Michigan University." Each is to include representatives of faculty, staff and students.
The committees, each headed by a vice president, are: planning, assessment and program review, headed by Provost Timothy Light; infrastructure master-plan development, headed by Robert M. Beam, vice president for business and finance; and capital campaign, headed by Keith A. Pretty, vice president for external affairs.
"I am intently committed to make sure that this is an open, collaborative process involving all of us," Floyd said. "I am relying on our best minds and thinking as we look at the challenges ahead."
The president said he already has begun a wide ranging collaborative process in which he has had or will have dinner with leadership groups among faculty, staff and students, including a newly established student advisory board.
"It is important for me to keep my finger on the pulse of this institution," he said. "I want to have open, frank and active dialogue about the critical issues facing the University."
Floyd then addressed a series of matters.
He applauded past efforts of the University community to celebrate the birthday of the late Martin Luther King Jr., announced a $15,000 commitment for this year's observance and declared the day would be a University holiday.
"It already is a federal holiday, it is a state holiday, and it seems entirely appropriate to mark it as a University holiday for all employees," he said. "We will, however, maintain the educational programming associated with MLK Day because it is important for us to do so."
He stressed the importance of program delivery in Grand Rapids, pointing out that it is the state's second largest city and has a significantly upward growth trend, but not at the expense of quality.
"We cannot increase our commitment to Grand Rapids on the backs of our faculty, spreading them thinner and thinner and thinner," he said. "It reduces the quality standard, of which I have spoken before.
"There are other institutions that can provide first-rate programs in Grand Rapids," he continued. "On the other hand, the strength of our faculty positions us exceptionally well to do an even better job than some of the institutions that are currently serving Grand Rapids, and I am convinced we will be able to do that."
Floyd made it clear that his will be an attentive, responsive administration but not one of micromanagement. "This administration will listen very carefully to your issues and your concerns," he said. "We will not be an administration of micromanagement."
He told senators that the University's five vice presidents would have the final authority as well as the accountability to determine staff size and compensation in their divisions. "If you, as a faculty, have issues about the size of the administration, I will have the appropriate vice president in tow with me to explain why it has grown in that area," he said.
He also announced that he would discontinue the presidential interns program, which, he said, had served the University well. In it, recent graduates would be employed by the University in executive offices for up to two years while they pursued master's degrees.
"I am very comfortable with the modest size of the president's immediate staff," he said. "I have no intention of augmenting that staff." Besides Barbara Johnston, executive secretary to the president, there is Andrew A. Rivers, executive assistant to the president; Betty A. Kocher, secretary to the Board of Trustees; and Bernadette Ballard-Reid, administrative assistant.
Noting the rapidly changing economy of Kalamazoo County, the president singled out "a unique and special mission" WMU must maintain as one of the region's largest employers.
"It is our obligation to provide the very best instruction and other services that we can to the people of Kalamazoo County," Floyd said, pointing to a recent partnership WMU has established with the Kalamazoo Public Schools to provide first-year teachers with electronic access to faculty mentors.
"It is important to make sure we are providing the essential tools and support for our first-year teachers," he said. "If we have strong schools, it will help us as a University to recruit strong faculty and staff members to our campus and to this community."
Floyd concluded his remarks with a pledge that "I will do everything in my power to represent you as effectively as I can."
"There are major challenges in front of me, and the first is to make sure that we improve our relationship with the state legislature," he said.
"To that end, I will talk often about the extent to which this University benefits the citizens of Michigan, and how having a very strong Western Michigan University redounds to the benefit of every single citizen in the state."
Media contact: Matt Kurz, 616 387-8400, email@example.com
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