WMU News

President addresses 'State of the University'

Feb. 8, 2002

KALAMAZOO -- On Thursdays, Feb. 7, WMU President Elson S. Floyd delivered his "State of the University" address during the annual Academic Convocation at the Fetzer Center. Below 1s the complete transcribed text of the president's address.

Media contact: Matt Kurz, 269 387-8400, matt.kurz@wmich.edu


State of the University

by Dr. Elson S. Floyd
President of Western Michigan University

February 7, 2002

Good evening. It is again my pleasure and privilege to report to you on the state of Western Michigan University, as we consider our future as a growing nationally recognized, student-centered research university. As President, I report on behalf of many individuals -students, faculty, staff, alumni, trustees, legislators and external partners-and all who have worked productively and hard to advance the University's commitment to excellence and its continuing development.

These are keenly exciting times on the Western Michigan University campus. Students are voicing their opinions about social, civic, and economic matters important to them, while deeply immersed in the rich and vibrant classroom experience of our University; faculty are engaged in teaching, research, service and creative activities that redound to our collective benefit, with scholarship as the principal organizer; and our staff is maintaining a dedication and an unabashedly strong commitment to service on behalf of all of us. That is the way of our University, and I am proud of each and every one of you for what you do to make us successful!

It is during this annual event that we review the accomplishments of the past 12 months and imagine and, indeed, plan for the opportunities and even the challenges of the coming year.

Let there be no mistake about it. Our University has a momentum, a presence, a persona and a character that provide appropriate alignment for the year ahead.

This year's annual report is within the context of the tragic events of September 11. As we begin to realize the impact of the resulting changes throughout the world, we recognize the fact that our campus is a microcosm of the world itself. We have and will continue to do everything possible to keep this campus safe from disruptive behavior and violent events while engaging and educating our students, both foreign and domestic. We will continue to seek common ground across diverse cultures represented by the people on our campus, and support the positive involvement and engagement of all individuals in a safe and secure campus environment.

As we approach the University's centennial, the celebration of which is being coordinated by Drs. Ed and Ruth Heinig, I am pleased to report that Western Michigan University continues to provide excellent academic programs and remains financially strong. The University has had another remarkable year of success with many accomplishments that are illustrated by the following examples:

The University received its largest philanthropic gift ever -- $13 million from the estate of Gwen Frostic -- remarkable woman, a 1929 graduate of our University and a lifelong WMU friend. Initially, her generous gift will help fund a new art facility, an endowment in our nationally- recognized creative writing program, an endowed chair in the College of Education, and numerous graduate and undergraduate scholarships.

In August, we announced "Partnering for Success: The Centennial Campaign for Western Michigan University" with a goal of $125 million. Gifts from this campaign will fund five areas of need-for students, faculty, programs, equipment and facilities. Today, more than $99 million has already been raised, representing 79 percent of our campaign goal, has already been raised. This includes a $2 million gift from National City Bank that will fund an endowed chair in the Department of Finance in the Haworth College of Business.

Record University enrollment occurred again in the fall of 2001 with almost 29,000 students coming through our doors-of whom 20 percent are graduate students. Again, we closed undergraduate admissions in early May, while maintaining academic quality among the entering freshman students. Included among this record enrollment were 2,200 international students, representing some 102 different countries.

The University had an estimated economic impact of around $564 million and these funds redound to our collective benefit. The University is responsible for the creation of over 7,000 jobs and spends roughly $310 million within the greater county of Kalamazoo, benefiting some 4,000 businesses. Western Michigan University is truly an economic force.

Our University was fully reaccredited by the Commission on Higher Learning for the next ten years, with focus visits scheduled on assessment and strategic planning for the fall 2005.

In the area of academic programs, three new doctoral programs were established-one in audiology, another in electrical and computer engineering, and a third in interdisciplinary health studies. The Prague Summer Program was moved to Western Michigan University from the University of New Orleans. In another academic initiative, the University joined with the Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing to offer a joint degree in public administration and law. That program will begin this spring. Another graduate program initiative, with the support of the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation, is a new master's program in performing arts administration in the College of Fine Arts, which is truly a College of Distinction. That program will begin this coming fall.

The University's Medieval Institute sponsored the 36th International Congress on Medieval Studies here in May with more than 3,000 medieval scholars from all over this country and all around the world. Additionally in June, the University hosted the 33rd International Horn Society's International Symposium, a gathering of 500 French horn players from around the world. Last year's symposium was held in Beijing and next year's event will be held in Finland.

The Business and Technology Research Park on the Parkview Campus, has been designated as a SmartZone by the Michigan Economic Development Corp. We are the only institution in the state of Michigan to have two SmartZone designations, one here in Kalamazoo and a second in Battle Creek, associated with our world-class aviation program. In the BTR Park here in Kalamazoo, we have four new tenants-Fluid Process Equipment, Esperion Therapeutics, NephRx Corp., and the environmental and civil engineering firm of Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber. Also on the Parkview Campus, the Richard Allan Scientific building is nearing completion and site improvements are on schedule for our new College of Engineering campus with occupancy expected in the fall of 2003.

Other facility enhancements continue with our co-located campus under construction on the Lake Michigan College campus. This facility will support the University's outreach programs in Berrien, Van Buren and Cass counties. Additionally, in August, Western Michigan University opened its Grand Rapids Graduate Center in downtown Grand Rapids. This complex will provide improved facilities for our master of business administration program and other graduate offerings in health and human services as well as counselor education and counseling psychology.

And lastly, before I review some major challenges facing the University, I want to report briefly on the four initiatives I outlined last year at my State of the University address.

1) Mission Statement. In December, the Board of Trustees adopted and approved a revised mission statement that, as a student-centered research university, supports building even stronger avenues of intellectual inquiry, investigation, engagement and discovery into academic programs for all of our students. The revised mission statement also identifies several institutional goals that will help shape the University's direction now and into the future. This direction will include the support of interdisciplinary collaboration; international engagement; increased diversity within our student, faculty and staff groups; responsible environmental stewardship; and collaborative regional partnerships. We continue to refine a companion enrollment management plan that will permit student growth in selected programs, and one that will increase the quality of students admitted to our University.

2) Faculty Hiring Initiative. Last year we added 20 new faculty positions, and this year's budget will include the addition of 20 more faculty positions-even in light of declining revenue circumstances in our state. Increasingly, the allocation of new faculty positions will be related to the departmental academic programs and plans systematic review protocol that we have in place. These reviews will occur within a seven-year cycle.

3) Institutional Assessment. A renewed institutional assessment plan and program is currently underway. Under the leadership of the newly established University Assessment Committee, work has been initiated to organize assessment activities that will formally demonstrate the quality of our academic programs and learning outcomes for undergraduate, graduate and professional students. This activity, along with external program and departmental reviews, will be the primary channel for documenting program quality and measuring student outcomes.

4) Information Technology and the Wireless Initiative. We have strengthened information systems on our campus and made excellent progress on the goal of becoming a completely wireless university. Almost 100 percent of our classrooms now have access ports to wireless technology, and Yahoo Magazine ranked Western Michigan University's campus in the top 65 most wired academic institutions in the nation last September. My compliments and congratulations go to the IT staff, under the leadership of Vice President Viji Murali. Further, I am pleased to report that, with the assistance of Congressman Fred Upton, the University should receive a $500,000 federal grant to establish a Wireless Research Institute that will examine best practices for research with wireless technology. We continue to infuse this technology within the University, through the instructional technology grant program. We've awarded over $600,000, which has been distributed to more than70 members of our faculty in direct awards so far. These awards have supported the adoption and use of technology in courses and curricula throughout many instructional programs and activities.

These accomplishments, and others too numerous to recount here, are a credit to the solid and dedicated work and the involvement of our students, faculty, and professional staff. Still, several difficult challenges are ahead for Western Michigan University, and these challenges will require our best thinking and even more productive efforts in the future. Among the most serious challenges are the following:

Challenges Ahead

First Challenge: Resources and institutional capacity. We are fortunate being a University that is increasingly attractive to large numbers of students. On the other hand, we contend daily with issues of institutional capacity because of physical plant limitations and ongoing fiscal constraints. We need additional classrooms and specialized instructional space, and our students expect refurbished housing and co-curricular facilities if we are to furnish a top-flight instructional, research, and learning environment. The financial assistance from the State of Michigan is simply inadequate for the size of our student body, for the institution's scope in external locations throughout Southwest Michigan, and the complexity of our academic programs.

We are further challenged as a public university to remain accessible to qualified prospective students, especially those who reside within our wonderful state. Thus, historically we have followed a policy of limited tuition increases. While that policy has been very helpful to students and their families, we are now at the margin in terms of the institution's capacity to deliver high-quality programs within current personnel, infrastructure and fiscal resources. We must aggressively continue to add more faculty and staff positions; increase instructional facilities, including specialized laboratories with advanced equipment; and continue to upgrade older facilities if we are to deliver the academic programs and university services most valued by our students and other stakeholders. This we must do!

Second Challenge: Information technology and communications infrastructure. The challenging pace and expectations from information and communications technology advancements continue to exhaust the financial and human resources of our University. A recent national publication estimated that rewiring the average academic building will cost $500,000, with major upgrades required every 10 years (The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 18, 2002, B17). The same authors suggest that a campus with around 20,000 students needs a staff of 20 to 30 people to simply support its communication infrastructure. And, while we have made excellent progress with the campuswide wireless initiative this year for instructional space upgrades, we also require much more powerful, much more robust computational tools with laboratory and field equipment used in many academic disciplines. Such computer-based instruction and computational equipment is needed for several graduate programs and especially for those in the life and physical sciences as well as in several fields of engineering. In addition, the University must have a robust student information system that will be the basis of a 21st-century academic information and communications infrastructure. A replacement of the existing SIS system that supports the decentralized review of online student records; integrates our admissions, financial aid, and registration operations; enables campus-wide assessment activities; organizes instructional assignments, grading and classroom scheduling tasks: and provides superior communication services for our faculty, students and professional staff is absolutely essential.

Third Challenge: Economic development and the TIER initiative. Another major challenge facing our University is the existing national economic climate that impacts the economic health and condition of our state and of our nation. I have spoken on several occasions about a collaborative portfolio approach to economic development for our region, and have recommended we establish the "I-94 TIER Corridor," which hopefully will become the signature stamp for this region's economic development effort. This TIER initiative is built on synergies surrounding technology, innovation, education and research -things that we do very well as an institution. It supports a balanced portfolio approach for economic growth and stability and vitality and should provide an integrated focus and identity for this entire region. We are serious about the University's engagement as a major economic partner and believe that such an organized, systematic regional approach will foster the necessary presence, participation and involvement in an environment for balanced growth and development here in west Michigan. The call is now, and the urgency is immediate.

These major challenges affect the University's delivery capacity, its educational quality, our information infrastructure, and the region's economic vitality. Such challenges must be addressed if the University is to continue to serve its students, advance its academic programs, provide a supportive technology-based campus environment, and contribute as a major economic engine for the region and for our state.

Presidential Initiatives for the Road Ahead

Now, I will outline a few initiatives that will help meet some of the challenges. Beyond these initiatives, we will use other avenues, including the ongoing capital campaign, to address other needs and priorities and University concerns. I need your support and your help in our growth and development.

As President, I face the strategic question, "What should we do next to continue our forward momentum at Western Michigan University?" We have more ideas and opportunities than we can respond to because of the extraordinary competence, dedication and commitment of our faculty, our students and our staff. Since resources are quite limited and, in light of the current economic climate, I think we need to be prudent in the decisions that we make in going forward. From all of the possible choices available, I am requesting that the following initiatives be undertaken by our University in the coming year. Periodic reports will be made on each of the initiatives during the coming months.

Initiative #1: We must establish an interdisciplinary Nanoscience Research and Computation Institute.

Professor Subra Murali of our Department of Chemistry has done a remarkable job in nanotechnology; however, he needs our help and our assistance. The establishment of this Institute, along with its attraction of funded research and graduate student educational opportunities, will recognize that nanoscience is an increasingly important field of study, both nationally and internationally. Driven by nanobiotechnology, nanoscience is the design, synthesis, and characterization of nanomaterials, where an interdisciplinary approach is crucial and essential. Further, computational nanoscience research requires the power of supercomputers to adequately investigate complex phenomena in order to comprehend and predict the behavior of nanosystems. The benefits of a supercomputer, and other related computational equipment, go far beyond serving only nanoscience research at our University. Such equipment can also be used for other scientific research computations, such as data mining. Idle computer cycles can be sold to commercial industry partners to generate additional resources and reserves for academic research program support and enhancement.

This initiative will directly support the University's research programs in the life sciences as well as in engineering and the applied sciences, and provide increasingly valuable educational opportunities for our graduate students in academic programs such as biological science, chemistry, physics, computer engineering, materials science and electrical engineering.

Initiative #2: We must assess the climate of our campus community and its ability to support programs and services for an increasingly diverse student, faculty, and staff complement.

As an overview, I am requesting policy, program and structural recommendation of changes that will strengthen the inclusion of all people in our University and within our community. While an ambitious undertaking, our tolerance and support for multicultural groups and individuals has become even more important since the events of New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington D.C. We must strive to enhance the social and cultural interactions of diverse populations throughout our University so all individuals-students, faculty, and staff alike-are genuinely welcome and valued members of our University community.

Initiative #3: We must fund and implement a new student information system over the next five years.

We must strengthen academic information services for our students and improve the communications ability of our administrative staff and our faculty in order to meet the challenges of the future. We must have increasingly effective support operation throughout academic affairs and throughout the University. To do this, we must build an information and communications infrastructure that meets campus needs, and one that is equal to our wireless initiative of last year. The new SIS initiative is imperative for our future growth and prosperity as an institution. Such an infrastructure improvement, although expensive, will give us the ability to improve the stewardship of the scarce resources entrusted to us and to measurably enhance our communications and information service levels throughout our University.

In conclusion, these three initiatives-one in the emerging, interdisciplinary area of nanotechnology, the second to improve our campus climate, and the third to strengthen our information infrastructure - are important, but they are not the panacea to all the issues we will face in the years ahead. However, within our economic circumstances, I believe the three indicate our determination and willingness to move forward in these important areas of endeavor for our University. Additionally, I pledge my own continued leadership in collaborative efforts to advance the TIER initiative. This spring, the University will facilitate a major, regional, invitational conference to produce an action agenda that will further strengthen related economic development efforts. I hope this work will continue to be fruitful for the region's growth and prosperity.

This is a strong, vibrant, engaged University; and we must continue to work together in areas that need improvement with the necessary institutional support and leadership. Once again, I give you my pledge, my promise and resolve as President that your ideas, work and recommendations will be eagerly received and will help form the basis for the University's plans and activities. They serve as the beacon for what we must do. Every person's contribution is important in our efforts to build momentum as a national, student-centered research university. Thank you for your consideration of these ideas and for your continuing contributions in advancing Western Michigan University.

As President Bush said to our nation, and I say to you, "Let's Roll."

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