Chancellor Q&A: A Decade of Leadership
Chancellor Q&A: A Decade of LeadershipOctober 01, 2001SU News ServicesSUnews@syr.edu
Chancellor Kenneth A. Shaw and Mary Ann Shaw, associate of the Chancellor, marked their 10th anniversary at Syracuse University in August. Chancellor Shaw recently sat down with Record Editor Kelly Homan Rodoski to reflect on the past decade.
When you took your position a decade ago, what were your impressions of Syracuse University?
I saw a place with serious but manageable financial problems. I saw a place with a proud history and with values that allowed it to look to its past, its present and its future. I saw a place where people really seemed to care about their institution and the people in it. I saw a place that was ready for change, and finally a place that respected the role of its leaders. I saw a challenge, but I also saw the right conditions in place for good things to happen.
One of your first tasks as Chancellor was to lead a financial restructuring of the University that included reducing faculty and staff and raising tuition. Why was that belt tightening necessary? How did it shape SU into what we see today?
This was not belt tightening; this was major financial restructuring. Without it, we would not have been able to sustain our activities. It was a difficult time for everyone, but what we did was made possible by strong internal support for change and by a Board of Trustees that was willing to expend money for supported resignations, severance payments and a host of new academic initiatives concurrent with cutting the budget. We are now a smaller, and in my opinion, a more effective, university. Many institutions of higher education have had to cope with fiscal challenges. Few have done what Syracuse has done’move forward in its academic initiatives, academic programs and services to students and cut its budget at the same time.
It was a big mountain to climb. Now instead of mountains we have hills. We have gone from knowing that we needed serious cuts in the budget to knowing that our budget is always going to be tight. We know that we are far too dependent upon tuition and auxiliary service revenue, but it’s a manageable situation and we go into whatever challenges befall us knowing that we can handle whatever comes to us.
One of the problems of the early 1990s was an “identity crisis.” A 1989 survey revealed that the institution’s orientation toward research and its commitment to students were competing with each other. How was change, especially the movement toward the “student-centered research university,” brought about?
I don’t think there was an “identity crisis.” I think there was a gap between our behavior and what most faculty members wanted to do. The survey also noted that most faculty members thought that the scales had tipped too far toward research to the neglect of students, a common perception among research universities. The student-centered research university concept allowed us to do what the majority of faculty and staff thought was necessary. It wasn’t really an identity crisis; it was making our university aligned better with what we are. I think it is worthy to note that a similar survey done in 1993, asking the same questions, revealed that our faculty members felt that the balance was now about right. That is significant because the faculty didn’t respond that way at a lot of major research universities. They still thought there was an imbalance.
In 1990-91, there were 18,235 full-time students on campus; in 2000-01, there were 15,659. Additionally, the average SAT scores of the middle 50 percent of incoming freshmen were 950 to 1050 in 1990-91 and 1080 to 1250 in 2000-01. Why is enrollment lower now? Is the change in SAT scores related?
In 1990-91, the University had more students then it could effectively accommodate. That situation allowed for the University to realize some very desirable financial returns. Upon my arrival, the University community was already aware of the demographic downturn for the early and mid ’90s, that would only begin to turn around in the late ’90s. That meant there would be fewer 18-year-olds during that time period. That meant that if we wanted to maintain the same level of enrollment, we would have to appreciably lower standards. Instead’and the University community was wholeheartedly behind this’we said no, we will reduce the size of our student body so that we can more effectively recruit students who meet our standards. And we did that. In 1988, for example, there were 3,600 freshmen and transfer students. This year, we have 2,950 and we don’t want it to be higher than that. We’ve had long and arduous discussions as to whether that is too many. So that does bear directly on the quality of our student body. And now with a slight uptick in the number of 18-year-olds, it allows us to be even more selective, which is what a distinguished private institution ought to do.
There are other reasons for the rise in SAT scores. The University has dedicated a generous amount of funds to merit scholarships and continues to do so with the Chancellor’s Scholarship, the Dean’s Scholarship and the Founder’s Scholarship. We have raised money for that purpose. I think the improved reputation of the University increased the quality of the applications we receive. It’s a combination of these things.
In the past 10 years, about 32 degree and certificate programs have been added, and scores of school and college-based programs and lots of institutes and centers have been established. To what do you attribute this growth?
I attribute it to the leadership of our two vice chancellors (Gershon Vincow and Deborah A. Freund) over this time and the leadership of the deans, department chairs and the faculty. We’ve had constructive ideas for improving the University, many of which were easy to sell to donors.
The Campaign for Syracuse, held from 1986 to 1991, raised $160.3 million for annual program support and scholarships, among other purposes. The Commitment to Learning campaign, held from 1993 to 2000, raised $372.3 million. Why has fund raising of this magnitude been so important to the institution?
It is essential for a private institution to have a great deal of donor support. We don’t receive state subsidies, as do our public school friends. As a consequence, to be competitive and to offer the best experience for our students, and to create the best environment for research and service, we need this kind of support. We’re excited and grateful about what has been received, but I would be the first to say that we are just in the beginning of our fund raising. We average about $50,000 per student in the size of our endowment; we should have an endowment that allows that to be closer to $150,000 per student. We have come a long way and we have a long way to go. We are beginning to get the mechanisms in place to take that next step.
You and Mrs. Shaw are vocal proponents of “service learning.” Mrs. Shaw was the driving force in the establishment of the Center for Public and Community Service (CPCS). Service is infused into the curriculum in several courses. Members of the University community volunteer more than 500,000 hours of service annually to the community. Why do you view community service as such an integral part of the SU experience?
Give me minor credit for vocal support and for offering some budgetary assistance in the beginning. The credit really needs to go to Mary Ann, the faculty, staff and the students who really have demonstrated’on what is still a small budget’the importance and the transforming experience that can occur for anyone who is involved in community service. A lot of people deserve credit for that.
It is very impressive the number of hours that our people spend in community and public service. At last count, we had about 150 courses where students could have service learning as a part of their experience. It’s important, it’s transforming and hopefully it is helpful to the people we are serving. Most significantly, it is transforming for the people here to get involved. It’s a part of an education.
The University is now in the early implementation stages for two major initiatives’the Academic Plan and the Academic Space Plan. How will these two initiatives change the face of SU in the coming years?
The Academic Plan will allow the vice chancellor to emphasize a select number of initiatives that will also improve the learning environment. Combining these two, and making sure that they mesh together, will make for a much stronger University.
When you came to SU, did you envision staying this long? What has kept you here?
Yes, I did envision staying this long. I made a vow to myself and to the Board of Trustees that my stay would be long enough to allow for substantial improvement. That has been an easy vow to keep. What continues to excite us about Syracuse is its great promise’it is an outstanding University that can become even better. What also makes the environment attractive is that the people here really believe in what they are doing. When you have the best job in the world, why change?
What is the best part of your job? Wearing that cool hat at Commencement?
It’s enjoyable but not the most favored. My favorite part of the job is watching people grow. That’s what makes me happy. That is why we are all here.