Opening Faculty Meeting - August 30, 2007

“Pursuing our Purpose”

It’s great to kick off the 2007-2008 academic year in this most pleasant outdoor setting.  Because of our new partnership with the Ives Center Authority, we can use this park for more events, as we did with classical music, children’s theater and puppetry this summer.  And all will be invited to a community celebration on Sept. 23 featuring the Ives Festival Orchestra under the baton of our own maestro Fernando Jimenez. 

Our program today, however, features no music (which is probably good considering the cast), hopefully no theatrics, and certainly no puppetry.  What I and my vice presidential colleagues want to do is talk about where WCSU has been in the recent past, where we are today, and where we are headed for tomorrow.  We do this in the spirit that Ralph Waldo Emerson implied when he observed that “life is a progress, not a station.”  Our university, like all human organizations, is on a journey of evolution and change.  This is a progress report.

First, I want to catch everyone up on the many developments that have transpired over the summer.  While many faculty colleagues depart the campus in the summer to pursue their own productive endeavors, work continues here.  Just a few manifestations over the past three months include:

  • The signing of a formal articulation agreement between WCSU, Naugatuck Valley Community College and Norwalk Community College that will permit smoother transition for students from those institutions to our bachelor’s programs;
  • WCSU’s joining the list of signatories of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Control Compact;
  • Selection of WCSU as one of 15 AASCU universities to participate in its “Deliberative Polling Institute;”
  • The awarding of a $100,000 planning grant to WCSU by the Nellie Mae Foundation for “Project IMPACT,” a program to increase retention, success and graduation of Latino students;
  • Presentations to AASCU and Education Trust national meetings on our “Building a Bridge” partnership with Danbury and Bethel public schools;
  • The beginning of the renovation of Fairfield Hall;
  • The development of a new Coffee Bar in the Westside Campus Center, featuring wireless access and Seattle’s Best coffee;
  • An expanded, and highly effective, orientation program for entering first-year students featuring wide faculty and staff involvement;
  • Ongoing, close coordination between academic affairs, housing and financial affairs to ensure we meet student demand for rooms in our residence halls as effectively as possible; and
  • The hosting of a Hollywood film crew shooting on campus.

All of this is, of course, in addition to the summer session courses taught, the maintenance conducted, the advising and course schedules adjusted and the summer camps, programs and schools run — for visitors ranging from German high-schoolers to Joe Namath. 

So people have been busy, but that’s not just a phenomenon of this particular summer.  We as a university community have been very busy over the past few years, creating a new vision and strategic plan, building a new master plan for facilities, and working to accommodate the fastest-growing public university undergraduate enrollment in the state. 

As we’ve accomplished these things, we — as is always the case — have bid farewell to beloved colleagues who spent careers here.  Many of you attended the event that celebrated that service last May, and we’ll certainly miss these friends and long-time associates.

At the same time, we’re welcoming new colleagues to our community, and I’d refer to the list on the back of today’s program for a full list of those joining us.  I have the pleasure of seeing all of their CVs when I sign letters of appointment, and it was enjoyable and exciting to envision the contributions these talented folks will make.

Now, because of our planning process over the past three years, I believe that we belie Shakespeare’s observation that “We know what we are, but know not what we may be.”

As a university community, we do know what we intend to be: an affordable public university with the characteristics of New England’s best small private universities.  Defining this vision and creating a map to achieve it has been our task in the past. Continuing on the journey so enunciated is now our imperative.

Our strategic plan will be the map for this journey, but let me stress to you again what this plan is and is not.

  • It is not a codicil written for trustees and people like me to present a few times and put in a drawer. It is a living document.
  • It is not a check-off list of action items.  Such plans are simplistic and, in my experience, never work.  Rather, this map guides us while affording the opportunity for necessary detours, pauses or side-trips.
  • It is not a document that applies only to specific members of our community. It is OUR plan.  All segments of the university joined together, with external stakeholders, to create it.  And all will implement it together.
  • It is a document that guides our work, and especially our allocation of resources.

This guidance has played out in several ways relevant to the upcoming year.  First, the commitment to increasing full-time faculty, which I announced at this time last year, continues.  We approved the recruitment for five new lines to begin this fall; and I’m pleased to announce that we will do the same for 2008-2009.  Five more lines.  In addition, the state has made a special allocation to us in this year’s budget to hire five additional new full-time faculty in critical job shortage areas.  Thus by a year from now, we will have added 15 full-time tenure track colleagues, and I intend to continue that augmentation of staff by five more lines next year.  This means that we will have added, by fall 2009, 20 new faculty lines in three years, nearly a 20 percent increase in our tenure-track staff.  Our vision demands it; our plan demands it.  And we will do it.

This increased full-time hiring will be accompanied by a decrease in our reliance on adjunct instructors.  Our utilization of these part-time colleagues is the highest in the CSU system and has garnered the attention of parties in Hartford.  But that is not why we should shift more resources to full-time teaching faculty.  Adjuncts are invaluable in many fields and often provide insights that are truly unique, but they are not in a position to provide the advising and mentoring of students and the participation in university governance that full-time colleagues do.  We need more colleagues who can perform all three elements of the triad of faculty work: teaching, creative activity and service.

On the administrative side, our plan is directing the reallocation of work.  In the months ahead, you will see the hiring of new colleagues in areas such as fundraising, business services, international affairs, admissions and financial aid.  All of these positions occur due to reallocation.  The headcount FTE for non-teaching staff has not increased.  I congratulate our vice presidents for their discipline in making this happen.  In my experience, this is an all-too-rare occurrence.

The strategic plan, as many of you know, has laid an important (and firm) foundation for the development of our 10-Year Facilities Master Plan and also for the spending plan we presented in June to the Board of Trustees.  I will, with due immodesty, report that the vice chair of the board commented that this was the best spending plan he had ever seen.
Now I’d like to think this was because of my eloquence or at least because of Beth Amyot’s superb financial analysis.  But I know that it was the fact that our spending proposals were related to a plan, a plan that made sense and had been confirmed by the community, that really lie behind his praise.

As we proceed in the year ahead, implementation teams will be working on all aspects of the plan.  With two exceptions (Diversity and Information Technology), these teams are not ad hoc, special groups, but rather composed mainly of the colleagues who do the work in the relevant areas: facilities folks in facilities, student affairs colleagues in student affairs, etc.  These groups are already meeting and will be inviting input and insights from others.

Coordinating the entire effort is an advisory group that will report to me.  Its members include Beth Amyot and Ellen Durnin, who chaired the Strategic Plan Steering Committee; Vijay Nair representing AAUP; Rebecca Woodward representing SUOAF; Dan Goble representing UPBC; and Betsy McDonough providing staff support.  You will be hearing from this group periodically, so stay tuned.  You’ll also be invited to an event on Saturday morning, Oct. 27, at which we’ll report on the plan to external community stakeholders who participated in the Values and Vision conversations that launched this endeavor three years ago.

Those conversations included the viewpoints of many different voices and perspectives. They are emblematic of what is for me one of the most powerful statements of the plan — our assertion of belief that differences create learning opportunities.  While that statement may be self-evident, contemplate it for a second.  So much of education involves exposing students (and ourselves) to differences: differences in gender, race, nationality, intellectual training, learning style, geographic location. 

Thus, I take this opportunity to announce the second round of the President’s Initiatives Fund, which will provide grants to projects devised by faculty, staff and students, or combinations thereof, that advance the “learning opportunities that differences create.”  These differences can involve the human, the intellectual or the geographical perspective, and I know that the creativity of this community will produce transformational ideas, as the first round of grants did.  Provost Rinker will be sending out the formal request for proposals soon.  We will also be featuring this theme in a number of public lectures and programs in the year ahead, featuring in late March a President’s Lecture presentation by Professor Amy Chua of the Yale Law School, who will speak on her new book, “Day of Empire.”

I want to emphasize finally that what has brought us to this point is a spirit of inclusiveness.  While not perfect, our process has involved all of the community to a degree that I’ve not seen at other places.  We must maintain that attitude and practice as we go forward, and I’ve emphasized again and again to those in leadership positions how important this is.  We have a plan and a vision for this university, but more importantly, we have a shared purpose. We provide access to higher education that elevates the citizenry and prepares the workforce of the state; we transmit knowledge and cultural heritage; we change people’s lives.  And as the poet Maya Angelou once observed:

“People have to feel needed. Frequently, we just offer a job and ‘perks.’ We don’t always offer people a purpose. When people feel there is a purpose and that they’re needed, there’s not much else to do except let them do the work.”

Welcome to the new academic year.  As our exciting journey together continues, we are pursuing our purpose.

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