WMU News

President addresses the 'State of the University'

Feb. 2, 2001

KALAMAZOO -- WMU President Elson S. Floyd delivered his 2001 "State of the University" address on Thursday, Feb 1, at the annual Academic Convocation. This year's convocation was hosted by the Faculty Senate and was held at the Fetzer Center.

The full text of the president's address is included below. The text prints to approximately seven paper pages.

Also during Thursday's convocation, several members of the faculty were honored for excellence and service:

Alumni Teaching Excellence Awards were presented to Dr. Alexander J. Enyedi, associate professor of biological sciences, and Dr. Alyce M. Dickinson, professor of psychology. Click for more.

A Distinguished Faculty Scholar Award was presented to Dr. Nora Berrah, professor of physics. Click for more.

Distinguished Service Awards were presented to Dr. James R. Sanders, professor of educational studies and associate director of WMU's Evaluation Center, and Dr. Martha B. Warfield, director of the Division of Multicultural Affairs. Click for more.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 616 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

"Initiatives for Sustained Excellence"

State of the University Address
by Dr. Elson S. Floyd, President of Western Michigan University

February 1, 2001

Good evening and welcome. It is my pleasure and privilege to report to you on the state of Western Michigan University and to help chart our course for the future: our plan for sustained excellence in the millennium. I speak to you this evening on behalf of many individuals - students, faculty, staff, alumni, trustees, legislators and external partners - all of whom have worked so productively to further the University's growth, advancement and development.


As we approach our centennial celebration in 2003, I am gratified to report that Western Michigan University is programmatically excellent and financially sound. The University has had another year of substantial progress, which is illustrated by the following examples of institutional accomplishment and community impact:

Western Michigan University achieved its desired and much sought after classification as a "Doctoral/Research University - Extensive" by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. We are fortunate as a state to have four institutions in this category. We join the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, and Wayne State University in this regard. I want to again publicly recognize and thank those individuals who made this achievement possible. Thank you all, very, very much!

Further, we were recognized by U.S. News & World Report for the second consecutive year as being one of the top public universities in the nation. Both are huge compliments to the dedication, achievements, and accomplishments of our faculty, students, and staff to be recognized as one of the top 100 public universities in this nation.

Enrollment in the fall of 2000 was over 28,600 students - of which 21 percent were graduate students. We again closed undergraduate enrollments early in May while maintaining academic quality among our incoming students. Deposits this year are 15 percent beyond those posted at the same point last year; however, we will strive to have an entering class of 4,500. I have heard you on this matter, and we will seek to respond.

Total operating revenue for 1999-2000 was more than $365 million -- with an estimated economic impact on the greater Kalamazoo area of almost a half billion dollars.

The University received over $45 million of external research funds during 1999-2000 - a 30 percent increase over the prior year. Examples of notable grants include those for mathematics and statistics education, chemistry research at the interface of biospheric and atmospheric sciences, the use of interactive technology to improve collaborative learning experiences, technical assistance for the Kalamazoo River superfund site, and for blind pedestrian access and negotiation at complex intersections.

A campus master plan was developed that will guide our physical plant developments over the next several decades.

Construction is on schedule for the new engineering campus and the related Business Technology and Research Park. We anticipate completion of this campus by the fall of 2003.

Planning authorization was received from the State of Michigan for the new $45 million College of Health and Human Services facility. This new College of Health and Human Services will be located south of the Kalamazoo Center for Medical Studies on Oakland Drive and will finally consolidate health and human services programs that are now located throughout the University.

The community's cultural life is enriched by the annual production and performance of over 1,200 musical performances, theatre and dance productions, artistic exhibitions and lectures through the accomplishments of faculty and staff in our distinguished College of Fine Arts, Miller Auditorium and others in the humanities. All I can say is, "Bravo."

The formation of active, external partnerships continues to strengthen our academic programs and institutional achievements. We have forged new partnerships through the Center for Community Asset Building with the Benton Harbor Public Schools. More recently, the scholarship program between Delta Air Lines and our College of Aviation will augment the number of minority and female professional airline pilots. And in terms of economic development, the Michigan Life Sciences Corridor initiative involving our chemistry faculty and scientists at Pharmacia and the National Research Laboratory in Chicago may help establish new life sciences research in Michigan. This is a vitally important initiative, and over the coming months we will discuss more of our strategies that will make us, as a university, even more competitive.

Academic program improvements proposed during the past year included a new interdisciplinary doctoral program in the College of Health and Human Services, a master of science degree in molecular biotechnology and a life sciences option in the undergraduate chemical engineering program. With your help as a faculty, we will be a force in research and life sciences-related pedagogy.

We continue to improve our academic strengths by transferring the journalism program to the Department of Communication and by moving the Department of Computer Science to the College of Engineering. The Department of Statistics that was recently established will more appropriately address faculty and student concerns.

Our athletic programs remain strong and competitive. From volleyball to hockey, to football to synchronized skating, they all represent the spirit of this University and our commitment to graduate the students who represent us so well.

These accomplishments are meritorious and of notable credit to the students, faculty, and staff of our University. Even in view of this record, we face greater challenges to continued progress in the years ahead.

We must continue to maintain our openness and accessibility as a university. Increasingly, more and more physically challenged students are selecting Western, and I urge this faculty to recognize and to respond to the special needs they present.

More broadly, we must sustain high performance levels despite increasing pressures and again polish our surfboards to respond to this dynamic world of change. Higher education nationally and in Michigan is becoming more complex, more competitive, and more difficult. Increasingly, our accomplishments will be evaluated within a higher education environment that is global in nature and driven by information technology and by the formation of new interdisciplinary fields of study. This global, technology-driven environment - along with emerging academic disciplines - will significantly shape Western Michigan University's continued growth and development.

I will now outline several University initiatives that will help set an essential agenda for sustaining momentum as a student-centered research university and to guarantee our competitive advantage with our peer institutions.

Higher Education Environment:

Global: Higher education has become a global industry that is important and now more accessible to millions of people throughout the world. Government and industry leaders recognize that human progress and national economic development and prosperity are related to the knowledge base of its citizens. Fortunately, Western Michigan University has had an international character and flavor, with international students enrolled since the mid-1940s.

Just last fall, we enrolled over 1,650 international students from 102 different countries, almost evenly split between undergraduate and graduate students. We have established international programs with partners in China, India, Malaysia, Pakistan and Singapore and have nearly 100 study abroad programs that support our U.S. undergraduate students in their foreign study endeavors. And, the recently established Diether H. Haenicke Institute for International and Area Studies has helped focus hiring initiatives for international faculty colleagues.

Thus, the University's heritage in international education and study is long-standing and fortuitous, given the growing international higher education marketplace. Even so, competitive challenges to Western Michigan University - and other established institutions - multiply as entrepreneurs worldwide advertise and compare courses, and compare degree programs, and compare technical training through distance education technology. There are literally thousands of courses accessible on the Internet - permitting student comparison of course content, cost and advertised educational outcomes. The success from this explosion of international educational offerings is uncertain yet the presence of so much activity must cause us to at least re-think our instructional delivery practices.

Recently, The Chronicle of Higher Education (October 27, 2000) speculated that combined "brick and click" institutions, with combinations of courses delivered through distance education technology and on-campus classroom interactions, will be the more competitive and attractive institutions for today's younger adults. However, I hasten to emphasize that such technology alone cannot replace thoughtful, deliberate student interactions with professors who comprehend their fields of knowledge better than anyone else, based upon extensive years of study and continuous scholarship.

Information Technology: The advances from computer information technology have been astounding. It is estimated that approximately one-third of the nation's economic growth during the last decade was related to productivity gains from the use of computer information technology. We now accomplish hundreds of routine tasks using computer-based technology that were done manually only thirty years ago. Four of the fastest growing occupations for undergraduate students - database managers, computer engineers, systems analysts and computer support specialists - require substantial information technology knowledge and computer skills.

This same computer technology also impacts instructional technology, and we must close the digital divide or we will be left behind. Because of the importance of integrating technology within our classrooms, I have allocated over $600,000 for the teaching and learning technology grants that have been awarded to about 54 faculty colleagues during the past year. This is not enough, however. Rather, it is a beginning as we seek to understand how this technology might enrich student learning, teaching and classroom achievement.

Of course, the widespread use of computer-based information technology brings some challenges along the way, along with the opportunity to simplify some aspects of our educational environment.

  • First and foremost, this technology is resource intensive and requires an increasing share of our general funds.
  • Second, newly hired faculty and incoming students expect the latest equipment and software will be accessible for their use, whether or not the latest technology is required. Expectations and comparisons about software and program needs are almost geometric in proportion.
  • A third challenge with computer information technology is that research- funding agencies sometimes gauge research capacity in terms of the latest equipment and software that is available.

These aspects of computer-based information technology will always increase tuition and fees; support or hinder our recruitment of faculty and students, especially in science and engineering programs; and dramatically impact equipment and program operating costs. This constant cost and expectation spiral then requires more institutional funds devoted to computers, software, multi-media and instructional delivery. It is already clear that higher education is more capital and equipment intensive now than at any other point in our history.

Interdisciplinary: The beginning of the 21st century has seen seven new technologies interacting to create a different economic and social world: microelectronics, computers, telecommunications, man-made materials, robotics, biotechnology, and genomics. Advances in basic sciences underlying these technologies have resulted in innovations that have fostered entirely new industries such as semiconductors, computers, lasers, e-business and e-commerce (Lester Thurow, Building Wealth, Sloan School of Management, MIT). Now, a global economy is possible for the first time in human history. We are in an era of man-made, knowledge-based industries. With knowledge as the new basis for wealth, the wealthiest man in the world, Bill Gates, did not acquire his wealth through the ownership of land, oil, gold, or factories, even. Instead, his wealth is based on harnessing his workers' intellectual capital or knowledge base. Research universities are part of this knowledge-based economy through innovative thought that, at least in part, stems from flourishing interdisciplinary approaches.

Historically, area and urban studies were among the earliest interdisciplinary endeavors in American higher education. Since then, we have seen the emergence of comparative literature, genetics, geoscience, resource management and environmental studies as later examples of interdisciplinary approaches. More recently, universities have developed new interdisciplinary degree programs for robotics, genetic engineering, nano-technology and cognitive science. Virginia Commonwealth University has introduced a forensic science graduate degree, an interdisciplinary program that integrates chemistry, molecular science, criminal justice and legal procedures. There are many other examples of interdisciplinary programs built from older disciplinary strengths into different and contemporary combinations of knowledge and thought across the country. Most recently, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation has initiated a project called the "Responsive Ph.D.," which encourages students to think in interdisciplinary terms for both graduate study and career development alternatives.

Western Michigan University has made some interdisciplinary advances with its doctoral program in environmental chemistry, but we need additional programs that realign our academic strengths creatively and distinctively. To support such advances, I have recently authorized seven new faculty positions for interdisciplinary programs. And of course, to foster interdisciplinary innovation, we must have responsive and flexible organizational structures throughout the University - while still protecting the tenure rights of our faculty and the intellectual property of everyone.

Presidential Initiatives for Sustaining Excellence:

Within this environment of higher education, and with constant rapid change, we must pick up the pace of institutional direction and self-determination. The strategic question that I have wrestled with, as president of this University, is how do we proceed?

We have just completed a lengthy self-study in preparation for our 10-year review by the North Central Association's evaluation team. From that self-study report, it is apparent that many of you in this audience understand keenly the University's strengths as well as the unresolved issues that thwart our ability to sustain our growth and development momentum. Thus, I propose that we work collectively to accomplish the following four major initiatives:

Initiative #1: We must update the University's mission statement with specific goals that recognize the global, technology driven, and interdisciplinary nature of higher education. Within this initiative, we must formulate a strategic enrollment plan that is related to targeted areas of expected institutional and enrollment growth, academic innovation and responsiveness. This initiative will help set the priorities and boundaries for the University's future program development and resource allocations. With more clarity about institutional priorities, there will be less conflict and disappointment about resource allocations. Additionally, while institutional enrollment has grown over the last several years, these enrollment increases have been unevenly distributed among colleges and among programs. We must determine how to choose between meeting additional student demand and academic program and research growth with fewer new institutional resources.

Initiative #2: We must develop a concrete funding plan to add approximately 200 new full-time faculty positions and some 50 new full-time staff positions over the next 10 years. Within this initiative, we must design a fiscal plan that supports these additional positions as the first institutional priority of our University. This action plan should include funds, if necessary, to insure that increasingly diverse faculty and staff are employed as a result of this initiative. This initiative addresses the appropriate mix and balance between full-time faculty and full-time staff for the number of students who are enrolled here, the scope of our academic programs, and our increasingly growing research enterprise.

Initiative #3: W must design and institute an institutional assessment program that combines program assessment findings into results that provide sound comprehension of student learning, and that provides guideposts for instructional and curricular improvements, additions, and eliminations. This initiative recognizes our responsibility to demonstrate that the University's academic programs and general education provide matrices of value to students, employers, graduate institutions, and various other organizations. We can no longer assume that careful instructional design and good teaching result in appropriate learning.

Initiative #4: We must continue to build and to strengthen our information technology systems within and without our classrooms. Within the next 12 months we will have a completely wireless campus. This technology is being installed as we speak, and I have asked Vice President Viji Murali to make this her highest priority. Soon, all members of the faculty and every student and each appropriate staff member will have access to these digital technologies and will be able to incorporate them in their lives, in their work, and in their other activities. I ask for your help in making our campus a place of demonstrated best practices from wireless access to Web-based courses, programs and degrees. The call is now and the urgency is immediate.

In Conclusion:

Certainly these initiatives are not a panacea for all the issues we face daily. But with your commitment, I believe our work here will be fruitful. Each person at Western Michigan University is invited to consider our environment and assist with these four initiatives outlined this evening. Some individuals will be asked to chair or to serve on task forces or committees that must produce, in a very short period of time, specific action plans that will guide the University's future resource allocations, and thus, its ongoing growth and development. Collectively, we understand our strengths as well as areas where we need additional intellectual concentration and improvements. Although we will still respond in an opportunistic way, in some cases, we can no longer operate a half-billion dollar enterprise without the determination of major specific growth and resource priorities that are supported and understood throughout the University and by all of our stakeholders.

I give you my pledge and resolve as president that your recommendations will be eagerly received and, where practical, form the basis for the next phase of our University's development. While some important areas in the life of the University are not mentioned in these initiatives, every person's work and contributions do count, as we continue to build momentum as a student-centered research university. However, like all organizations, we must concentrate our improvements and be able to respond to emerging needs and conditions. These initiatives are, in my opinion, critical to the University's sound development in the first decade of the 21 st century - and I invite your comments and your participation. Thank you for your consideration of these ideas and for your continuing work in advancing our University.

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