WMU News

President charts WMU's future in campus address

April 22, 2005

KALAMAZOO--Western Michigan University President Judith I. Bailey outlined the challenges facing WMU and told a Dalton Center audience how, "working together," they will continue to build the quality and reputation of the university.

Speaking yesterday to more than 400 people, mostly WMU faculty and staff members, the president described in detail the financial realities of cuts in state funding and enrollment decline. She outlined several specific near-term and longer-term strategies "for continuing to move ahead" despite the economic challenges.

The complete text of the president's address follows.

Campus Community Presentation

"Moving WMU Forward Together"

Dr. Judith I. Bailey
President of Western Michigan University
Thursday, April 21, 2005

Good afternoon,

I have invited you here today to review the challenges facing Western Michigan University. Our individual and collective strategic responses to these challenges will, in large measure, determine the future of our University. Thus, my remarks will address three related points: (1) the vision statement for WMU, (2) the economic context facing the University, and (3) the University's near and long-term strategies for realizing and sustaining the vision we all share.

First, the University's vision statement remains unchanged. That is:

WMU is and will remain a nationally recognized public research university. As such, the University will become increasingly diverse.

The University is committed to all forms of student engagement--intellectual inquiry, creative and artistic endeavors, and laboratory, clinical, and field experiences.

Further, graduate education and research are two primary hallmarks of research universities and must be maintained, although with more deliberate focus and targeted support.

Undergraduate education remains central to our academic enterprise, preparing students for the professions and--through general education--for responsible global citizenship.

Our alumni leave WMU grounded in scholarship and engagement, prepared for professional work, community service, and on-going learning throughout their lives.

Second, the economic context has remained relatively unchanged since I became president of WMU. While the two primary revenue sources are still tuition and state support, the revenue percentages from each source continue to reverse. Specific economic highlights pertinent to our situation include the following:

State funding now provides 40 percent of annual revenue while tuition provides 60 percent.

General fund budget reductions and cost savings of $30 million have occurred over the past two years due to reductions in state funds and declining student enrollment. We have lost about 2,000 students since the fall of 2002.

WMU has eliminated 336 positions primarily in facilities, maintenance, grounds, custodial, and student affairs during this same time period.

In protecting the direct delivery of instruction during the past two years,

  • the student affairs base budget was reduced by 26.2 percent,
  • the finance and administration base budget was reduced by 21.6 percent,
  • and the president's division was reduced by 21.3 percent including the elimination of four intercollegiate sports.

The State of Michigan's economy is the nation's worst. At present, the State is facing a $500 million shortfall for Fiscal Year 2006, and Michigan automakers are experiencing unprecedented losses which are reported daily by the media.

The combined impact of two years of revenue decreases--$16.8 million from state appropriations and $9.4 million from tuition loss due to enrollment declines--coupled with necessary additional expenses for the 2005-06 fiscal year creates a staggering prospective deficit of some $20 million. Our cost increases for next year include funding new initiatives in academic affairs and selected faculty positions, increasing health care costs, student financial aid, and building operations. Frankly, it feels at times in our budget discussions as though we are in the confluence of a "perfect storm" financially.

Given the vision we share for WMU and the economic realities we currently face, the central institutional question is, "What is the University's strategy for continuing to move ahead?"

The strategy involves both near-term and longer-term approaches which are proposed in the tradition of hard work and collaborative discussions that characterize all WMU employees. I want to formally express my admiration for your energy, ideas, and perseverance. While we face a difficult period of institutional transition and individual adjustments, I am confident that we have the wisdom, tradition, and good will to move ahead together.

In the near-term and before the fall semester of the 2005-06 year, I am taking the following actions:

1. I will recommend to the Board of Trustees tomorrow that the prospective $20 million deficit for the 2005-06 year be spread over two fiscal years. This action is not without risk. In utilizing base funds reserved for facility improvement and deferred or emergency maintenance on a one-time basis, we risk having to make other reductions in the event of emergency or continued revenue losses. However, I believe this step warrants genuine trustee consideration while internally we take other necessary steps.

2. Also, tomorrow, I am requesting that the Board of Trustees approve a change in our tuition policy which will create a "flat rate" tuition for a block of credit hours. For example, an undergraduate student will be able to take 12 to 16 credit hours for the same tuition rate, and the block for graduate students will be 10 to 12 hours.

While we are not prepared to recommend next year's tuition rate at this time, WMU is prepared to assist students with this flat rate plan which, in turn, enables them to complete degrees more quickly and at less total cost.

3. I am continuing the institution's action to strengthen enrollment management and student retention. As you may know, we have initiated several efforts this year to strengthen our enrollment management. We have created an enrollment division, placing formal leadership for the integration of admissions, financial aid, records and registration, academic support services, and the First-Year Experience with one senior administrative officer.

Our new First-Year Experience program will serve 600 beginning students this fall. We know from research that students so engaged have higher persistence rates, improved campus involvement, and usually earn higher GPAs. These are qualities in students we are deliberately seeking.

Also, we are working to integrate graduate student and international student recruitment and admissions into a more effective University-wide system. This effort will require assistance from all academic departments across the campus.

Further, we have reconfigured the Medallion Scholarship program, established a new scholarship initiative for transfer students with an associate's degree, and added scholarship funds for both merit and need-based assistance.

In addition, we have increased summer course offerings and are expanding our on-line course portfolio, both of which should provide additional student access to courses.

And finally, the investment we have made in a replacement student information system will effectively support and integrate all such enrollment activities. Many of you, in every division of the University, have worked long and intense hours to make this happen in nine short months. We simply could not make these continuing advancements without your dedication.

Everyone's commitment to increasing enrollment will result in more beginning students annually. And of course, the companion issue to the recruitment of students is student retention once they are enrolled at WMU. While providing access for students, supporting their financial need, and supplying the necessary classes for students who wish to move through programs in a more timely fashion will help, I must also ask for your continued and serious efforts to retain our students.

These three near-term actions will assist with our strategic transition over the next few years. The cost of these actions raises the question as to how we can grow our enrollment while we are losing funding. I believe we have few acceptable alternatives given our increasing dependence on tuition as the major source of institutional revenue.

Concurrently, the fourth near-term action is to reduce the probable 2005-06 year's deficit. Let me reiterate our long-standing budget principles:

1. Protect direct instruction while providing essential services that support the academic mission.

2. Protect permanent employees as much as possible. You are a vital part of the University so the first step is to minimize filling new positions.

3. Retain our commitment to no layoffs of tenured or tenure track faculty. At the same time, however, we will curtail or eliminate all term appointments whenever possible.

4. Assign reduction targets by program or service function rather than across the board percentages. During the past two years, academic affairs has accounted for 68 percent of the general fund budget yet took only a 3.3 percent base budget reduction. However, this time, in making reductions for the 2005-06 year, academic affairs will have a larger overall reduction in order to protect those essential services that make our university--and our students' lives--better.

5. Hold the vice presidents and other senior staff accountable for the specific budget reductions for the 2005-06 year which will be assigned by the end of this month.

As you can see, we can neither just cut nor just grow our way out of this budget dilemma. Despite how difficult this may be, we must both cut expenses and increase enrollment simultaneously in order to keep the University moving forward.

In addition to these initial actions, there are longer-term strategic issues that also must be addressed by the fall semester of the 2006-07 academic year.

First, I am asking the provost and deans in consultation with the faculty to establish a more focused array of academic programs, especially in terms of our graduate offerings. Over the past 15 years, the University has added 20 master's-level programs and 21 doctoral programs. In doing so, we sought to move academic areas ahead in research and scholarship across the board simultaneously.

Even with the addition of these new graduate programs, graduate student enrollment has slowly declined by 1,050 students from fall 1989 to fall 2004. Obviously this graduate program growth strategy must be re-evaluated.

The University needs to continue graduate programs of strength, substance, and demand where we have the capacity to sustain such programs. Some graduate programs in this category are already nationally recognized, externally accredited, or are stars in their own right. In other instances, we should consolidate degree programs or, in some cases, eliminate programs. The faculty and academic leadership in the departments and colleges are responsible for making these decisions. Therefore, I ask that this review, department by department and for all graduate degree programs, be conducted expeditiously with decisions made in time to affect program offerings for the 2006-07 academic year.

Second, I am reiterating my earlier challenge to double externally funded research and tech transfer. I do this knowing that this goal has been widely discussed and debated. I believed then that we can do this, and I believe today that it is even more essential. We need to grow our graduate education and research portfolio where there are synergies among disciplines and external funding to support related research.

To help accomplish this, rather than use one presidential research hire in four different departments to start or complement a program, we need to target several hires in areas where we have strength but lack depth and where there is also potential for commercializing the research. WMU has been identified by the State as a university responsive to the needs of business and industry with faculty who are interested in research partnerships that result in product commercialization. This is an area in which the State is investing new funds and one where WMU excels.

Third, I am also asking the provost, the Faculty Senate, the faculty and others to examine all degree requirements. We must ensure that when the general education requirements are added to any major program of study, we do not require so many courses that students have difficulty completing program requirements in a timely fashion.

And fourth, genuine consideration should be given to differentiated workloads among the faculty. While our institutional enrollment has declined, the total number of bargaining unit faculty, term appointments, and department chair FTEs has increased.

Thus, to extend our instructional capacity and to protect the core tenure track and tenured faculty, I am asking the provost and deans to work with the faculty and departmental chairs, in accordance with the AAUP contract, to find more creative ways to meet the instructional needs of all students.

Finally, I am requesting that each vice president conduct a comprehensive review of all positions and organizational processes. Wherever possible, tasks should be consolidated and processes streamlined to achieve greater student responsiveness.

We are actively working to address our financial concerns. Other steps, especially academic program adjustments, will take place during the next academic year. I urge and ask the Faculty Senate and the AAUP Chapter to help us move forward together.

Time is not our friend--the longer we wait, the more difficult it will be to make decisions that secure our future and make the University financially as well as academically strong. No one--not the state, federal government or tuition-paying students--will do this work for us. Nor should they make our institutional and academic decisions. However, if we do not act, those decisions will be made for us. Then our focus becomes balancing the budget without due consideration of our institutional vision, necessary and important services, and the impact on our students.

One additional step that I am taking is to seek advice from other public universities that have been through similar situations. I believe it helps to have a fresh set of eyes look at WMU--our administrative structure, our processes, and our future plans--and provide guidance and counsel to the senior leadership team. Several of you will be invited to meet with Dr. Kenneth Shaw, Chancellor Emeritus of Syracuse University while he is on campus this month and next.

Just as time is not on our side, neither is our reluctance to change. To move forward, we must look beyond the scope of our individual department, program, research or scholarly activity to the broader university. Western Michigan University has sustained itself for 102 years, and will for another 102 years. It is the common good, not individual agendas that has made this university great and allowed it to become far more than a normal school, a teachers college, or a comprehensive university.

Neither you nor I are willing to walk away from a vision and mission that those before us have built over years. Yet, you and I together must focus our work in ways that will move the University forward in a financially responsible manner. This is not easy to do, but we will succeed. Growth will take time, perhaps longer than we had hoped. But staying the course, and seeing each step along the way as essential to moving ahead, must be our common agenda.

You and I are at Western Michigan University because we have a common vision--that of WMU as a nationally recognized public research university.

If we take a moment to really look at the vision--to bring it to life through a word picture--we see faculty and staff engaged with students in a learning community that supports student success in the classroom, the research lab, the arts and performance venues, the residence halls, and the sports venues. We embrace different experiences, engage with our colleagues in earnest on difficult issues, and support one another through changes. We work in facilities that are new or being renewed.

Most of all, we see Western Michigan University becoming an academically stronger university with a growing student population. Our students will be challenged in and out of the classroom to embrace a lifetime of learning. Our faculty will be nationally and internationally known for excellence in selected research areas that are strengthened by our graduate students' involvement. The state, business, and industry will partner with us to bring new ideas to the market place, enhancing both the economy and WMU's support for research and commercialization activity. Our graduates will be valued for the depth of their expertise in their majors and the breadth of their experiences through internships and co-curricular activities.

Robert Frost reminds us that we have a choice between two roads--two roads to our future. The one less traveled is often the more difficult path to walk, and we may stumble at times and some may falter. But if we stay together on the road, focus on our journey together, taking the road less traveled will indeed make all the difference for future WMU faculty, staff and students.

Thank you. Now let us move forward together.

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

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