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Chancellor gives final address to SU community
On Oct. 8, Chancellor and President Kenneth A. Shaw gave his final annual address to the Syracuse University community before he retires at the end of the 2003-04 academic year. His remarks are reprinted here as a service to the students, faculty and staff of SU.
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for coming today – and for caring about your University. Before I begin, I have two important tasks to accomplish. Both recognize colleagues whose teaching and leadership have been truly outstanding.
First, I ask that our two outgoing Meredith Professors – Shobha Bahtia and Larry Lewandowski – come forward to accept our applause and thanks.
These two gifted teachers have served three years as Meredith Professors but will continue to be role models for teaching excellence in the years to come.
Second, I have the privilege of recognizing another faculty member for his great skill in the classroom and in the laboratory. He has been elected by his peers in the field of physics to serve as spokesperson for a worldwide and highly regarded scientific collaboration that brings together the leading scientists from 44 institutions in an effort to find gravitational waves predicted by Albert Einstein.
He is also a popular and highly effective teacher – no small thing for a subject perceived as difficult as physics is by many.
He is a master at lacing his lectures with real world examples, at being available to students for their many questions and concerns, and above all, communicating his passion for his subject. He is also a sought-after mentor for graduate students whose students praise his ability to teach them to become active and considerate members of the scientific community.
I am very pleased to name Peter Saulson, Professor of Physics, as this year’s Methodist Church Teacher/Scholar of the Year.
I am proud and humbled to be delivering my last formal fall remarks to you, the University community. Transitions-both personal and institutional–always bring back memories.
Many of you recall my speech in this place February 1992. You also recall the context of that talk.
Higher education was facing the double bind of a poor economy plus a demographic drop in the number of college-bound 18-year-olds. In an increasingly competitive market, colleges and universities found themselves offering more and more generous financial aid packages to attract the best students. Given these conditions, SU projected an annual deficit of $40 million if nothing was done.
My job that day in February was to describe what must be done – initiate a major financial restructuring while reaching toward the vision of becoming the nation’s leading student-centered research university.
It was a time to face the problem realistically by working together in new, far more productive ways.
Rereading the comments I made at that time makes me very proud of the enormous progress we have made since then. No American institution of higher education has done a better job at financial restructuring while at the same time innovating in numerous ways to become a better place.
On that February day in 1992, I sketched a vision of the future as well as a list of our challenges at the time. I noted that we needed to grapple with the issue of size – an issue still relevant today.
I said that we needed to come to grips with the conflict between our student-centered focus and our research mandates – again, there is still a healthy tension here but we do a better job with this than any other institution I know of.
I said then that we needed to deal with the reality of limited funding, given that a higher percentage of our income came from tuition than is considered healthy.
Obviously, not all of these challenges have been fully met. But much has. That’s because when I asked for your willingness to do things differently – to embrace change as natural and necessary – you did that.
I asked that you help make this a more student-friendly place as well as a place where innovation thrived, and you’ve done this.
I told you then that if we persisted in our planning, we would be much more confident of our future, not because we would know exactly what that future would bring, but because we would be able to withstand adverse external conditions, and that has happened.
Certainly there have been crises and setbacks over the last 12 years. But we have prevailed and thrived. I believe that’s because we know who we are and what we aspire to become. We have relied on our institutional values of quality, caring, diversity, innovation and service. We know that we can respond to any challenge.
You have made me very proud – and humble — to be your leader.
Soon you’ll be working with new leadership. This kind of change usually evokes mixed feelings, but at the end of the day it should be seen as a great opportunity – a time to move even farther ahead.
I was asked to speak to the Chancellor’s search committee recently. I said that committee members would need to be able to explain what this University community means to them. I then offered them my view. Here’s what I said:
First, this is a great place to work and live. We have reason to be proud and we are, but we’re not arrogant (more about that later).
Second, this is a place that truly cares about its members – its students, faculty and staff. Each summer, I frequently hear that staff and faculty count the weeks until “our kids” come back to campus. You, our students, may not be our kids in a paternal sense, but you are very important to us. And it’s equally important to us that that you be successful. We do care.
Third, this is a place that tries to uphold its values, even if they’re not referred to specifically as quality, caring, diversity, innovation and service.
Fourth, this is a place that has allowed me to grow in new ways – that gave me the self-confidence to lead and to risk making mistakes.
I told the committee members that I hoped their view of the University was as positive, and that they would meet the challenge of conveying to the candidates for the job of Chancellor the great news about Syracuse.
I know the University’s 11th Chancellor will be the best choice from among an outstanding field of candidates. And that will make it easier for me to disappear and teach my students.
I’ve used the word “proud” four times already. That’s intentional because you and I have much to be proud about. Our accomplishments make us optimistic about the future.
But there is a difference between pride and arrogance. Institutional pride means that we know we are good and that we have achieved many things. This kind of pride leaves room for improvement and the kind of innovations that lead to even better ways of doing things. This kind of pride means that individually and collectively we can continue to get better.
Arrogance, on the other hand, is corrosive both individually and collectively. The arrogant person not only feels good about his accomplishments but also believes that no one is better – no one can do things better — and that nothing new needs to be done.
Institutionally, arrogance leads to a false sense of security, to complacency and ultimately to stagnation.
Institutional arrogance spells long-term disaster for any social institution no matter how great it is. No institution or people can live fully on past achievements.
Pride means we move forward; arrogance, we stand still and then begin to slide backward. The great institutions continue to move forward. Clearly Syracuse University is one of the great ones.
In preparation for my time with you today, information to make our discussion more meaningful was published in the Record and on the Web. I described what I and members of my cabinet and the academic deans’ cabinet felt to be the short range challenges – those front burner issues and initiatives we must deal with, and complete where possible, this year in preparation for our new chancellor.
I also, with their help, compiled a list of long-range challenges that you also found in the Record and on the Web. After my formal remarks, I will be asking your views as to which ones may have been left out and should be included.
So let me begin with the short range challenges – which I see as challenges we must address at full throttle. I’ll talk about just a few of them to set the stage for our discussion.
Item 3 dealt with supporting the graduate enrollment management center so that we can improve the recruitment of master’s and doctoral students in our schools and colleges. In the past year we have made great strides in improving our admissions and other administrative processes. There is more to be done. Our prospective graduate students have a right to expect timely and efficient service. Our marketing efforts need to describe how good our programs really are. Improvements in this area, particularly for our advanced professional degrees, will not only strengthen our offerings but also provide us with some financial opportunities. We’ve made a good start, but we have much to accomplish yet this year.
Item 4 calls for a more holistic first-year orientation program for our students. This year, we’ve moved in the right direction with each school and college requiring summer reading and discussion of that reading. We must make every effort to convey to our new students how important it is for them to take full advantage of their opportunities here. Research tells us that comprehensive orientation programs create stronger bonds with students and improve retention rates and overall satisfaction with the college experience. It is important that all of us see welcoming new students as our responsibility. Doing so will reap benefits for many years to come.
Item 7 focuses on the fundraising and public relations activities that Mary Ann and I will be engaged in. While I’m extremely proud of the University’sfundraising success over the past 12 years — we’ve raised over $580 million in pledges and cash gifts — we have many opportunities to raise more. This year Mary Ann and I will work with top donors in an effort to finalize their major gifts. We are all, of course, delighted with two very major gifts and pledges made during the past year – the generous contribution by the Newhouse family, making it possible for the third Newhouse building to be built, and the naming gift from Martin Whitman which will help us greatly improve an already good management school.
It is our hope during this year that we will see more major gifts. Also, this will be a time of preparing for the next campaign — the most ambitious campaign in the University’s history.
Number 9 is controversial – approving a new paradigm for class scheduling that allows for more effective use of available time through the week. The proposal has been advanced through the Vice Chancellor’s office and the Senate Committee on Instruction, and many members of the University community have responded to it. There appears to be opposition – some for the right reasons – some for the wrong. Wrong reasons would include that somehow a class-free Friday is an entitlement. This is a very wrong reason. It is wrong because we should expect far more from our students – indeed, many of our better students tell us that they want to be even more challenged than they are now. An academic culture of an abbreviated week is not consistent with our own values.
It is wrong, also, if we believe our commitment as faculty and staff is to an abbreviated week. This is not to say that time shouldn’t be available for scholarly and other purposes. It should mean, however, that we make maximum use of our time and our space here.
Some of the concerns about the proposed class schedule are for the right reasons – concerns over internships, work, and possible scheduling rigidities. We need to work through these and other issues with a spirit of determining what is best for our students and our own efforts. We owe this to our students. We owe this to ourselves.
The University Senate will discuss this issue in October and present its formal view in November. At the Oct. 15 meeting, I will outline some of my observations before the Senate begins its discussions. These observations are:
- Regardless of which paradigm is used, the University must take back the scheduling of classes. While we must listen to specific student and faculty concerns, in the last analysis, the deans and the Registrar’s Office must have both the authority and the responsibility to schedule classes.
- Flexibility under any paradigm is an absolute. However, the University must make the exceptions, not individuals who desire a different schedule configuration and can unilaterally make that decision.
- The status quo isn’t good enough. No matter the paradigm we choose, it must ensure that we fully utilize the available time and that we improve student access to courses.To date, the discussions have been extended and robust. I trust that the Senate deliberations will follow that very healthy pattern.
Finally, item 11 of the short range challenges describes the flexible work policy which will be implemented yet this academic year. Flexible work policies can lead to improved productivity and performance. If abused and not managed properly, they do the reverse. Ours will be a policy that provides opportunities for staff, where possible, to have more flexible work hours. There will be no diminution of the work commitment. Simply stated, while units may require staff to be available during certain core hours, when we allow for greater flexibility, staff can better deal with personal situations and become even more productive.
This is not something new to Syracuse. Many units already provide flextime. What is new is making this a formal policy and making flextime available to more people. It will require a well-stated policy and managerial effectiveness. We expect this to happen this year.
I’ve left out the rest of the short range challenges – the budget, the Academic Plan, athletics, campus safety and security, among others. Let me be clear, however, that all 12 of these items are important, and I do expect to see them accomplished or significantly farther along this year. The new Chancellor will have plenty to deal with when he or she arrives. These items should not be among them.
What do you think has been left off this list – what needs to be included? What items would you like to talk about that are on this list? You’ll have a chance to tell me in a minute.
Next we move to the 17 long-range challenges identified by my cabinet and the academic deans’ cabinet. I will also be seeking your guidance on what we’ve left out – what we might want to emphasize more. You see that these challenges include continuation of the Academic Plan, branding, budget matters, campus security, diversity and internationalization, faculty and staff compensation, fundraising, graduate education and research, intercollegiate athletics, retention and student quality, the Academic Space Plan, student housing, technology funding, assessment, intellectual property issues, the economic health of Central New York, and substance abuse.
Many of these challenges will last even through the next Chancellor’s tenure and some, to quote a far more famous Buzz – Buzz Lightyear from “Toy Story” – some will continue to infinity and beyond – and Buzz would say perhaps even farther. I won’t try to describe these challenges fully, but as we look at them, we can see that we share many of those facing all institutions of higher education.
Item 2 deals with assessment, something that Middle States will be examining during our next accreditation review in 2008. Our own University Assessment Committee has mandated that all schools and colleges and units in Academic Affairs and Student Affairs participate in this important effort. At this point, we have a wide variety of responses to this mandate. Some units have made significant progress while others have not. We must focus on student learning outcomes so that we can make the necessary changes in our curricula, programs, and departments.
Item 4 focuses on budget concerns. For a variety of reasons, good luck and good planning, we haven’t been faced with some of the difficult budget challenges that our colleagues have seen elsewhere – particularly state universities.
“The Chronicle of Higher Education” recently reported that about half of the states reduced spending on higher education in 2003-04 with the average cut being around 5 percent; some are facing cuts in excess of 25 percent. The University of Illinois has cancelled 1,000 classes. The University of Colorado has eliminated academic programs in journalism, business, and engineering. The University of Wisconsin has raised tuition 16 percent but still faces a $250 million cut in state funding. That means eliminating 300 courses, 90 administrative positions, and 60 faculty positions. And private institutions – including some of the private AAU colleges and universities – have faced similar hard times. For example, both Stanford and Duke University have had to make faculty and staff cuts as well as freeze spending.
We can take pride in not having this problem, but certainly no arrogance is warranted. We continue to be highly tuition-sensitive and any extended recession would cause serious discomfort. At the undergraduate level, we have made a commitment to remain small enough to enable us to focus on the quality of the education we offer. We can plan for some growth in our graduate and professional programs, which has revenue implications, but these improvements won’t provide us with everything we need.
Obviously, the next chancellor will be faced with budget concerns. The Budget Committee of the University Senate, staffed by John Hogan, projects that over the next five years some years will be balanced, some will see slight overages and some will see losses. Overall we will be at about a break-even level. During the past year we were in the black by about $0.5 million. This seems like a lot, but with a $600-plus million budget you can see that’s about one half of one percent.
Difficult decisions will need to be made about priorities, and we can expect that, unless the economy greatly improves, we will have some challenges to meet. This fall, we were slightly under our targeted enrollment range of 2,925-2,975. There was more “melt” this summer than in the previous year. That is, students who signed up to come changed their minds. We think much of this is for financial reasons, a direct impact of the economy. We did, however, meet our goal of improving the freshmen class. The average SAT is 1187 and the average high school GPA is 3.61. Of course, we’ll continue to need to be vigilant in our budget matters – and collaborative in working through solutions.
Item 5 of our long-range challenges list is campus security. There’s nothing about the future that suggests that without institutional intervention we will see a safer campus and surrounding area. The University will need to decide how much to spend on these endeavors and work together to determine the trade-offs between safety and security and personal privacy.
Item 9 deals with graduate education. We’ve made some strides in evaluating our graduate programs – particularly at the Ph.D. level. But basically my observations of over 12 years ago would pertain today. We have too many Ph.D. programs for the size of our faculty. One of our colleges, for example, has a good, strong program and has accomplished much to make us very proud. However when compared to 28 of the top private institutions in the U.S. having such programs, this college has a greater number of doctoral degree programs, when the size of the faculty is taken into consideration: seven Ph.D. programs for a faculty of around 70. And only a handful of students graduate from some of these programs each year. I know there are other examples on this campus. Improving quality won’t come from new revenue alone; it must come from making difficult choices about what can and should be supported and what level of support we are willing to provide.
Item 12 describes challenges related to the economic and social health of Central New York. While I will continue as chairman of the Metropolitan Development Association, the new Chancellor will also be expected to be a positive influence in this area. As one of the area’s largest employers and its largest institution of higher education, we all must stay involved in community matters. This is a difficult time for Central New York – the number of manufacturing jobs is falling precipitously and more people leave the area each year than move in. Yet we know this is a good place to work and study, and we have a responsibility to work to make it even better.
Our future and that of the surrounding community are intertwined. Our health and prosperity affect the entire region, and we are affected by our surroundings. While the University, its Chancellor, faculty, staff and students cannot be expected to solve all of the problems facing the region, we must continue to be full partners in working toward their amelioration. Great universities do this.
To allow for meaningful discussion, I won’t say anymore about the other long-range challenges. It’s time to hear what you think needs to be added to that list and also what you think about our short range challenges.
I close by saying that I couldn’t be prouder of what we have done together. And I couldn’t be happier knowing that after my leave I will join the faculty. My goal will be to teach classes in leadership – and I will be accepting invitations from different disciplines to do such. I thank you for the support you have given and the love that you have for our University.
Let’s make this year a good one and the years following remembering Buzz Lightyear’s charge: to infinity and beyond.