Opening Meeting, Spring 2012

Welcome to the Spring Semester!  Let’s compare January 2012 to January 2011.  Then:  we faced budgetary uncertainty; fear for future of individual jobs; statewide governance uncertainty; uncertainty surrounding academic leadership at WCSU. 

Now:  we have stability that permits hiring (21 tenure track faculty; key support staff); contractual assurances regarding layoffs; development of Board of Regents; new Provost and Dean of V&PA in place; Professional Studies and A&S dean searches well along.  The fundamentals are much more stable and predictable today than they were 12 months ago.  The Board of Regents will likely approve a 3.8% tuition increase tomorrow for FY13--and while that’s lower than we would prefer, we will work with it.  None of the hiring we are doing now will be affected.

More recently, we’ve just come through a semester of remarkable external challenge.  We’ve experienced storms, bad personal decisions the media covered, and tragedies.  And we’ve come through intact and effective.  As always, our community has pulled together to follow our strategic vision and to put students first. 

We’ve refused to be distracted by the worst that Mother Nature, bad luck and CL&P have thrown at us.  At the same time, we’ve broken ground on a transformational academic facility, packed auditoriums for outstanding speakers, and celebrated student success.

We know who we are and what we’ve accomplished, and in today’s environment of public higher education in Connecticut, it’s ever more important that we explain that to others.  As we all know, the landscape of higher education in this state has changed.  We have a new Board of Regents learning its role and developing knowledge its colleges and universities. 

It has responded warmly to the four strategic priorities that Interim President Robert Kennedy has posed.  These are:

  • Preparing students to enter postsecondary education prepared to succeed.
  • Efficient and easier transfer between community and 4-year institutions
  • Spurring innovation
  • Encouraging private sector collaboration.

How the pursuit of these priorities will play out remains to be seen.  The main challenge, I believe, will come in efforts to balance pursuit of cost-efficient collaboration across the new, larger system with recognition of the unique characters and histories of each of its 17 colleges and universities. 

Governor Malloy has been crystal clear in his intention to make public higher education in Connecticut more effective and relevant, and we must demonstrate—perhaps more explicitly than ever before—just how and why Western is effective and relevant. 

Why WCSU is Relevant.   All 17 players in the new format of public higher education in CT have their own particular histories, comparative advantages and core competencies.  I believe it’s imperative for each of these to be recognized and nurtured.  Here’s what we are at WCSU:  “High Quality Fine Arts and Professional Programs on a strong Arts and Sciences Foundation.”  Let me suggest to you what I think that means.

  1. We are a university that provides outstanding career preparation—Some Examples: 
      • Nursing—100% placement; new Ed. D.  in Nursing Education
      • Information Security—accredited by NSA
      • Sciences—71% increase since new building; emphasis on student research  
      • Business—Accounting, Marketing, Entrepreneurship—AACSB effort; ASB value proposition for Northern Fairfield County
      • JLA—one of WCSU’s largest majors, known by hirers and law schools around the region
      • Social Work—re-accreditation underway; strong links to the community
      • HPX—addressing public health issues such as obesity; placing students through internships
      • Education—working to address PK-12 coordination

      I would stress again emphatically that these professional programs are all based on a curriculum that focuses on developing skills and aptitudes in communication, critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork and creativity.  These skills and aptitudes will serve students well throughout their entire lives, no matter what careers they follow. 

      This is what we accomplish in the general education and elective courses as well as in the majors that colleagues in the Macricostas School of Arts and Sciences offer.  And this is absolutely central to who we are as an institution of higher learning.  Some examples of what I mean include: 

      • The opportunity we provide students for independent scholarly work in academic journals in Social Sciences, History, Psychology and Writing
      • The learning experience of providing live coverage of local elections by Communication students last fall
      • Exciting recent study abroad experiences in Spain and Italy directed by Modern Languages faculty
      • Engagement with current issues like the immigration debate and the Arab Spring by experienced faculty and eloquent guest speakers
      • The reinvigoration of the Macricostas Chair in Hellenic Studies with two noted scholars from the University of Florida and Sam Houston State joining us in the years ahead.
      • Participation in experiential learning opportunity like the archaeology field school that Laurie Weinstein directs at a Revolutionary War site in Redding
      • The continuing success of the Roger Sherman Debate Society
      • The special academic experiences we provide our very best students through the Honors Program 
      • And the exciting focus on Tibet that lies ahead in the visits of Prime Minister Lobsang Sangay in February  and His Holiness the Dalai Lama in October (*RECOGNIZE JEFF SCHLICT)

      We want our students to be ready not only for their first jobs in today’s competitive economy, but also for the challenges that future economies will present.  And we are committed not just to creating the state’s workforce, but also to building an educated citizenry that will elevate the quality of life in our state.

      We need to think as Steve Jobs did at Apple.  He intended to change the world—and he did so by bringing computing to ordinary people, by transforming the way we enjoy music and by reinventing the cell phone.  He always claimed that making the world a better place was more important to him than profits.  His was a long-run view. 

      And that’s what we at universities have.  We do not operate just for the current economic or political cycle.  We create the future—not just of the workforce, but of the social, political, cultural and intellectual life of our state, nation and world.  That’s why, despite whatever criticism universities like ours may receive about efficiency or cost, they remain relevant—as they have been since the beginnings of higher education in 11th century Padua and Paris. 

      That’s the broad, long term focus through which we provide career preparation.  And that’s enduringly relevant.  There are two other reasons we’re relevant: 

    • We are  (without question) Connecticut’s public university of the arts
      • We contain the only School of Visual and Performing Arts in the ConnSCU
      • More than half of the state’s music teachers are our graduates  SLIDE
      • We are among the few institutions in the state authorized to offer the MFA
      • Look at our students’ success—for example, most recently in the Kennedy Center competition 
      • Consider the Impact of new building on students, faculty and academic programs; think of how it will transform our Westside Campus
      • Consider how the new facility will provide opportunities for collaboration within and outside the university
      • Think also of what we’ve accomplished in our less-than-adequate space.  The sky is now the limit.  Just look to our Science Building for an example of what can happen.
    • We are the Region’s university 
      • The Bridges Program with Danbury and Bethel has attracted national attention and hundreds of thousands of dollars in support from federal and state government and corporations; we will expand it even further in the years ahead
      • Collaboration with the Community:  One Book One Community; Community Health Report Card; IT Solutions for Nonprofits, more than 400 public cultural events 
      • Presence in the community—help for veterans, Homeless Connect, storm sheltering, thousands of hours of student community service
      • Economic Impact—latest study’s results for 2010 show
        • 5,068 degrees in last 5 years (up 30% from previous five)
        • Fifth largest employer in Danbury
        • Created 1,018 jobs
        • Created $2.91 in regional output for every dollar of state support

I know that all of us here believe in the relevance of this university and what we do.  And many others in the region and state do as well—foremost among them the students whose lives have been changed during their time here.

But in the months and years ahead, we will be increasingly challenged to demonstrate this relevance.  It’s clear that accountability and metrics will be important to this new Board of Regents.  We will need to demonstrate the reality behind our assertions of accomplishment and quality.  That’s why a number of activities now underway are especially important:

    • NEASC accreditation; work toward drafting our self-study
    • Re-assessment of our progress in achieving the goals of our strategic vision and plan
    • Renewed attention to the financial model under which we operate
    • Academic program review across the university


I’m grateful to the dozens of faculty, staff and student volunteers who have stepped up to work on these issues.  They will give us a head start in demonstrating the accountability upon which the Board of Regents will insist.  Our new leadership in Hartford has asserted that “we need to step up our game.”   We are used to doing that here at Western.

With all of us working together as we do, I have no doubt that we will not only meet, but will exceed these expectations.  And we will do it by remaining true to the collective vision we have chosen, remaining true to the other members of our academic community and remaining true to our commitment to provide the very best educational experiences possible. 

That’s the Western Way—that’s the way we enable our students, no matter who they are or where they come from—to live their own American dreams.  Thank you for all you do to make that possible every day and have a great semester!

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