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WestConn at a Glance

Opening Faculty Meeting August 25, 2005

Welcome back to the 102nd year of WestConn’s journey! I hope everyone had an enjoyable, rewarding, rejuvenating summer. As you can probably tell, those of us who were here on campus were busy, and I’d like to bring you up to date on some developments.

The most obvious changes are the alterations to our physical space. We’re putting the lie to University of California Chancellor Clark Kerr’s famous quip that on most campuses the undergraduates care only about sex, the alumni only about winning athletic teams, and the faculty only about parking. Well, for the year ahead, we’ve probably got everyone caring about parking! For the next few months, the patience of all of us will be tested, but we have a good plan to get through it, and I’d remind you of the signs the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation always employs on construction sites: “Temporary Inconvenience for Permanent Improvement.”

But the new Parking Structure is hardly the only, or most important, physical change on our campuses:

  1. Most exciting is the opening of our new science building, photos of which you’ve all seen as you entered today. This building — and the work that goes on inside — will transform science education at this university. It is a significant milestone for us. Some of those who’ve worked hard this summer, probably harder than anyone else, are our science faculty. They’ve spent countless hours managing the move of their equipment and labs, which shows their dedication to their students and the university. Indeed, the entire project could not have happened without special efforts of many on the campus. I want especially to point out the work that Paul Hines, Jean Kreizinger and Tom Carlone have done in this regard.
  2. Those of you on the Westside can’t miss the activity surrounding the new Student Center, which will provide a hub for community on that campus and make a huge difference in the engagement of students and faculty with their surroundings.
  3. We also are very close to completing work on the second floor of Old Main, which will house Admissions, University Publications and Design, and other associated administrative offices. This will provide a great first impression for the prospective students and their parents who visit us. I applaud Jim McNiff, Gene Tosetti, Mike Andreycak, Don DeStefano and the entire maintenance crew for their special work in making this project come in on time. Kudos to University Computing & the library staff, too, for the new Library Computer Lab.
  4. We continue working with architects and Department of Public Works planners on the new Fine and Performing Arts Center; the money has been appropriated by the state to make this a reality. An energetic faculty team is working on the organization of a new academic unit to fill that building.
  5. We will this fall be engaging in a physical master planning exercise to determine the future landscape of the campus, focusing on what should happen to Higgins Hall, Holy Trinity Church, parts of Berkshire and White halls, the Roberts Avenue School and other properties on the agenda. The consultants doing this project will seek wide input from the campus community.

But there are changes beyond the physical ones. A most encouraging development concerns enrollment. As you may have heard, one of the surprises we received early this summer was an unprecedented demand for on-campus housing from our new and returning students. In fact, despite opening Centennial Hall last year with 350 beds, we have consistently had more than 100 students on a waiting list. So we are once again housing students at the Wellesley Inn at Exit 8. Overall, we have experienced increasing demand for WestConn, with a larger entering class than last year and a higher yield rate on acceptances. These are very promising signs for our future, for they indicate our profile in the admissions marketplace is improving.

(Vice President for Finance and Administration) Maribeth Amyot can’t be here today, so let me give a brief overview of our financial situation going into this academic year.

Nationwide, public higher education is under fire, with significant (often double digit) decreases in state funding the rule. Connecticut is an exception to this. The worst-case scenario of a tuition freeze and substantial reduction of our current services budget was defeated in the legislature. But our funding is still tight, and our $82-million budget shows a projected $300,000 deficit. When the actuals from 2005 are in, this deficit may disappear. We can easily cover this one-year issue from reserves, but the situation is tight for this year.

The pressure comes from increasing energy and food service costs, additional transportation costs for our bus service, and contractual compensation and fringe obligations that were not totally covered by the state allotment.

This is not at all a crisis, but we will have to be careful and look, together, for ways to improve our financial situation. There are a number of possibilities:

  1. Our bright enrollment picture reminds us that enrollment income is an important driver; I’ll talk more later about how we will focus on this issue.
  2. Similarly, we can better utilize our physical and human resources year round; more on that later, too.
  3. We must encourage additional contributions and encourage grant-seeking activity.
  4. We can use technology to gain efficiency in administrative areas. One example: Our new Web-based payment system is producing bills paid sooner and with far less costs in processing these payments.
  5. Look overall at cost reduction opportunities — many of these can result from collaboration between departments or administrative units of the university.
  6. To encourage all of these, we are working to make financial information transparent and financial decision making more inclusive. This is a big change for our culture, and we won’t get all the way there in one year, but pushing responsibility and accountability downward in the organization will produce efficiencies, new ideas and entrepreneurialism. Every dollar we save streamlining an administrative process can be used to advance our core mission: educating students.

Maribeth’s final comment to me: “Although the budget is tight, it is stable; there is great upside potential.” We can work within it as we lobby the legislature for additional funding to hire more full-time faculty, which is the number one focus of CSU’s efforts there this year.

Finally, we have made some changes in leadership that I’ve already announced, but want to expand upon.

  1. First is Roy Stewart, our Interim Vice President for Academic Affairs. Roy arrived here in late July and is making a huge difference. As you will recall, he’s served in senior academic leadership roles at two Pennsylvania universities: Slippery Rock and Lock Haven. I’m delighted that he’s lending us his experience and wisdom while we conduct our national search for a new provost. Our search consultant, Maria Perez, is very optimistic about the pool of candidates that we’ll attract for this very important role. She’s been collecting impressions on campus this week to help in her communications with potential candidates.
  2. In another area, we conducted over the past few months a search for a new vice president for institutional advancement. Despite the hard work of a very dedicated search committee, we did not identify an appropriate candidate. Thus we are continuing with Koryoe Anim-Wright’s leadership as Interim Vice President for Institutional Advancement for the year ahead. She has implemented meaningful and needed change in that area, winning accolades from some of our largest donors. And I have full confidence in her leadership. We will, however, not delay longer in filling vacancies in that area in both development and alumni affairs.

There are other new faces among us, and I’d like now to ask Roy Stewart to introduce them and to say a few words about his view of academic leadership here.
(Roy Stewart spoke.)

Now I’d like to introduce (Vice President for Student Affairs) Walter Bernstein to give an update on some of the initiatives that we’ll be pursuing with regard to student affairs in the year head.
(Walter Bernstein spoke.)

I used the metaphor of journey to open this talk because that’s the way I really believe we must see our work. Each year students graduate and colleagues depart; but at the same time, new students and colleagues join us. As an institution committed to changing lives, as a “People’s University for the 21st Century” our journey never ends. So where are we on that journey in late August 2005?

Let me first review where we’ve recently been:

  1. Last year’s Values and Vision process collected the insights, opinions, hopes and dreams of literally hundreds of stakeholders — both internal and external. The Values and Vision Committee organized these into five categories — Academics, Students, Community, Identity, and Resources — that formed the agenda for our Stakeholders Conference last March.
  2. From those conversations and from all of the input received, I conceptualized what’s important to us in my inaugural address in April, identifying the four pillars — Mastery, Creativity, Diversity, and Opportunity — upon which our university rests and which constantly need to be strengthened and buttressed.
  3. Since then, the university’s leadership, in the form of the President’s Advisory Council and the University Planning and Budgeting Committee (UPBC), has spent time in four retreats identifying ways to address challenges and opportunities evident in the Values and Vision comments and also to strengthen the pillars.
  4. What we have decided is to focus in the year ahead on five areas that we believe are important to continuing our journey in a successful, rewarding fashion. These areas are:
    1. Strategic enrollment management,
    2. Identification and development of WestConn’s comparative advantages,
    3. Increasing student success,
    4. Assessing opportunities to better utilize our summer sessions, and
    5. Developing a methodology to assess the costs and benefits of our community partnerships.
    Each area will be addressed by an Action Team comprised of members of the administrative leadership and UPBC, as well as other relevant colleagues. They will be inclusive and transparent in their work, and they will encourage and facilitate continuing dialogue on these topics. They will work with deadlines and produce recommendations by the end of the academic year.
  5. Let me tell you a bit about why we believe these five particular topics are important:
    1. The first three are interconnected. Our enrollment, which is the main financial driver of our enterprise, is affected by the reality and impression of what we do especially well and are known for (in the corporate world we’d call that a brand). It’s also directly related to the success of our students.
    2. Enrollment management is not just the job of Bill Hawkins, Larry Hall and their colleagues in University Admissions. Rather, it’s everyone’s task — the faculty, student affairs staff, financial staff, folks who answer the telephone, and those who maintain our physical plant. Students make decisions about enrolling in an institution and staying there in terms of an overall college experience; our organizational silos don’t matter to them. So as the action team addresses enrollment management, it will do so in this comprehensive sense.
    3. The idea of “comparative advantage” (Excuse the jargon, but I am a recovering business school dean!) gets at what we are known for now and how we can leverage our strengths and opportunities to increase reputation and attractiveness for all our stakeholders — students, faculty, donors, the community. This includes specific academic programs, as well as broader attractive characteristics of WCSU. One idea that has intrigued us in this area is that we might well be particularly able to employ our regional advantage to education for global realities. We do that already in many areas, and we sit in an incredibly diverse community. How can we better leverage this concept? The Action Team will explore that.
    4. Student success is an issue we already are addressing, but we must keep it on the front burner. Our retention rates are lower than any of us would like, and we must work on a variety of fronts, such as academic preparation, financial support, campus culture, student support services, to improve. We have augmented staff in this area, and our “Building the Bridge” program with Danbury and Bethel schools is producing results in mathematics preparation, but this is a large, complex problem that affects all public universities. If we are to be serious about being student-centered — and I believe we should be — we must continue to give it attention
    5. The remaining two areas, Summer Sessions and Community Partnership Analysis, result from observations that we are making decisions about resource use with often less than helpful information.

      With regard to the former, can we do more in the summer to achieve our academic goals? Can we develop an entrepreneurial culture that will use our facilities and generate extra income for faculty?

      With regard to partnerships, can we develop a more systematic way of determining the costs and benefits of a partnership initiative? We do, as a regional public university, have roles to play in the community, but we need to have more confidence that those roles are appropriate ones.

So there’s a lot of work ahead in our journey, but I think it’s important to remind ourselves that much of what I’ve described today reflects an institution undergoing significant, if not dramatic, growth and improvement. That’s why we have all the construction; that’s why we have more students; and that’s why we are engaging in more planful and mindful work on key issues that will facilitate our further development. This, folks is exciting, exciting stuff!

But we need to keep our larger purpose — changing lives — always in perspective, because we will have hiccups, speed bumps, even failures. But we shouldn’t be deterred; those are only natural. As a great student of leadership, Harvard’s John Gardiner, once observed:

“We need to believe in ourselves and our future but not to believe that life is easy. Life is painful and rain falls on the just. Leaders must help us see failure and frustration not as reason to doubt ourselves but as reason to strengthen resolve. … Don’t pray for the day when we finally solve our problems. Pray that we have the freedom to continue working on the problems the future will never cease to throw at us.”

Thanks to all of you for all you do to make WestConn the wonderful place that it is. I invite you all to join me in commencing the academic year with conversation, food and libations outside on the Quad. Thank you.

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