Opening Faculty Meeting February 2, 2005

Welcome to Spring Semester 2005

It’s Groundhog Day! And winter is with us in this “Spring” semester!

I trust that everyone has used the weeks of our semester break productively—be it by reading outside your syllabi or research agenda, by catching up on those tasks we all procrastinate, or by following Dr. Johnson’s advice and using “traveling to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.” I participated in examples of all of those activities.

One of the questions I’ve been getting over the past month or so concerns how I find WestConn. What do I think about the place? Well, permit me to share some impressions with you.

First, this really is a student-centered learning environment. Time and time again, I’ve seen faculty and staff going above and beyond the call to help students succeed. A great example of that appeared in the January 6th issue of The News-Times in a story about December graduate Michael Cohen. Michael tells us how WestConn changed his life (the whole story is on our webpage), including his comment: “I realized in the second or third semester that I was here that the resources I had at this university were better than those at other schools I was looking at.” He savored the one-on-one relationships he forged with professors, which he said friends elsewhere didn’t have. “I could see they were special.” I see that every day here.

This reflects the second observation I have about WestConn. We really do have dedicated people who work here. As I’ve said before, we can only really succeed if all of us are internally motivated, by dedication and love of what they do, to go beyond the confines of their individual job descriptions. And I see that every day here.

I also see how interwoven we are with our community. There are simply countless examples of these partnerships that demonstrate how we both contribute to and draw upon the community.

Two examples:

  1. Contributing to: A team of Ancell School students is doing a marketing assessment for both the Roots & Shoots program and the Jane Goodall Institute, learning while they help one of our important partners (JGI).
  2. Drawing upon: The recent addition to our faculty of Todd Brewster as a Distinguished Professor of Journalism and History. Todd is a world-class journalist and author, with the international prizes to prove it, and with continuing relationships with people like Peter Jennings and other giants of print and media journalism. Todd lives in Ridgefield.

Finally, like all good universities, we have ambitions that tax our available resources. We have to prioritize and make decisions every year and every semester. I believe that the results of our V&V process will place those decisions in a broader context and help us make them.

Let me talk a little more about the V&V process, in which we’re engaging the broad WCSU community to help chart our collective future. The V&V Task Force has spoken with hundreds of stakeholders of WCSU, and will continue to do so over the next few weeks.

As a matter of fact, we are holding two V&V sessions right after this meeting, and if you haven’t participated yet, this is your chance. I hope you will do so, because we want to hear from as many members of our community as possible. This emphatically meant to be a transparent, open dialogue. By the time we’re done, we will have had more than 75 of these sessions, and received the input of more than 500 people.

We are beginning to process the notes of these many conversations to tease out recurring themes. This includes the coding of hundreds (and by the end, thousands) of items. We’ll be disseminating these initially at our March 5 stakeholders meeting.

From this session, and from the input we receive there, we will draft intellectual constructs that will be a roadmap for our future, especially:

For developing of an integrated planning/budgeting process;
For clarifying and strengthening our mission and public identity; and
For develop a strategy for the acquisition of new resources—not only gifts, but also grants and other revenue streams.

So the V&V process is an important element of what will be happening this Spring semester.

Let me mention some other changes and news that will affect our lives.

WestConn has a new website that will be operational soon. A team from IT, University Relations and Academic Affairs has developed this, and I think you’ll find it more attractive and, especially, easier to navigate and more useful. It includes an up-to-date online catalogue, for example.

A number of colleagues have been successful in obtaining grants that will enable them to pursue exciting initiatives, and I want to recognize them.

We have some changes in the leaderships of the university:
Rich Sullivan, our former Vice President for Finance and Administration — let’s recognize his contribution to WCSU one more time.
Our new Vice President for Administration and Finance is Maribeth Amyot.
Richard Gerber will be leaving us this semester, and I want to recognize his contribution as well. A national search is underway for a replacement.
Another addition is the new Dean of Students, Walter Cramer.

On April 22, we will be holding the first annual WestConn Research Day.

There’s an inauguration coming up — and in a minute or so I’ll ask Carol Hawkes, the co-chair of our Inauguration Committee, to provide an update on that event.

During my first semester here, I’ve been privileged to be a part of a number of conversations on issues important to our future. The V&V exercise and other processes will push these along, but I think it’s worth reminding ourselves to continue to work on these topics in a variety of venues and formats. They are central to what we do, and will be ongoing.

These topics include:

  1. The future of General Education at WCSU;
  2. Our promotion and tenure policies and practices;
  3. The development of new resource streams;
  4. The challenge of our physically bifurcated campus;
  5. The integration of Student Affairs and Athletics with Academics; and
  6. The future physical setting of our campus.

The conversations we have and decisions we make on these topics will shape what we are as a university, and I look forward to our continuing dialogue.

Let me now introduce our Vice Presidents for quick updates on activities in their respective areas.
First, Carol Hawkes on Inaugural activities.
Gene Buccini, who will also introduce new staff joining us
Rich Sullivan
Walter Bernstein
Richard Gerber

I do look forward to a great semester. But to return to the Groundhog Day theme, we can’t simply continue to do things the same way we have over and over again. We must react to the changes around us and grasp the opportunities that come our way.

At her address to the Opening Session of the State Legislature, our former student Gov. Jodi Rell reminded her former legislative colleagues that “this is our time.” Well, here at WestConn, it’s “our time” as well. It’s our time to continue our labors together toward creating the university we all dream about; it’s our time to work together to build a true learning community; and above all, it’s our time to continue our important, indeed our even sacred work — the work of changing lives. Carpe Diem!

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