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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

2002 Convocation Address

Page address:

August 19, 2002

Good morning everyone and welcome to the academic year 2002-2003. And, thank you Dr. Boubel for that very nice introduction.

This is my first presidential address and I am delighted to be here today following on the footsteps of several very important Minnesota State University leaders such as Dick Rush, Margaret Preska, Jim Nickerson and most recently, Interim President Karen Boubel. These leaders have had many things in common. They were visionary, creative, and committed to building a team and sense of community for the purpose of providing students an excellent learning environment. They were student learner focused and clearly had the ability to unite the forces toward common goals and inspire others. Those of you in the audience who have known these individuals also understand firsthand how important a role they played in the lives of our students and the members of our community. Their impact on the institution is obvious and they will not be forgotten. Nor, should those of you who worked along side them to make this university what it is today be overlooked. When I look around, I see a proud university, one where pride seems to permeate the campus. Likewise, I begin my role as the twelfth president with a sense of purpose and with pride. As you can see I am eager and ready to work with all of you in charting a course for the institution. It is apparent that the university is ready to move forward without delay.

I want to take a moment at the outset to thank all of you who have been so kind and helpful to me during these first few weeks on the job. The number of people from the campus and the community that attended the various receptions this fall to extend a warm welcome to me is truly appreciated. In fact, on my first day of work, July 1, a retired faculty member and his spouse (Dr. Truman and Mrs. Reta Wood) met me in the parking lot as I stepped out of my car and presented me with a chocolate cake... having heard that I have a weakness for cake. Also, my office staff, Jan Eimers and Carol Stallkamp, had taken the time to learn about my fondness for Starbuck's coffee and had a mug of steaming coffee waiting for me. So, the first thing I did on the job was have cake and coffee! Sounds like an auspicious way to begin your first day! Jan and Carol are spoiling me too much and I think I've gained five pounds since arriving on campus! Thank you for that Carol and Jan! During the community reception at the Civic Center, the turnout of local business leaders told me how important this university is to the community. It also revealed that the previous presidents have done an excellent job in cultivating good relationships with the community.

I knew when I applied for the position, I would be coming to a University with a rich tradition of success and accomplishment. As I gathered information for today's comments, I was humbled at the reality of working with such an outstanding faculty, staff and student body. Let me take a few minutes to share with you some of the many accomplishments (under the leadership of Interim President Karen Boubel) that were reported to me. I apologize beforehand if I have omitted important accomplishments and recognitions. I'm sure after a year on the job I'll know the institution more intimately and can share more of my personal thoughts regarding various activities and individual accomplishments. I trust you too will be equally impressed with what I learned about the campus.

  • During the past year, there were 17 major theater productions and over 100 musical performances provided through the College of Arts and Humanities that enriched the cultural life of the area.
  • The University's Premier Series brought former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno to campus. She gave a major lecture in the Taylor Center, spoke with student leaders, and engaged faculty and students in discussion on a range of topics.
  • The College of Science, Engineering and Technology involved over 2,200 area K-12 students in elementary and junior/senior high school science fairs.
  • The Center for Economic Education provided information and workshops to local teachers.
  • The College of Allied Health and Nursing, in partnership with the Madelia Health Care Center, initiated a dental hygiene clinic in Madelia that serves primarily the Hispanic and Somali communities.
  • The College of Education responded to the statewide teacher shortage in math, science and special education by creating a new opportunity for people who already hold bachelor's degrees and want to teach, to earn their teaching certification in just 15 months.
  • The College of Allied Health and Nursing has been named the lead institution among the state universities to develop the Healthcare Education-Industry Partnership.

Improvements in institutional quality include:

  • Continuing full accreditation was granted to four programs within the College of Allied Health and Nursing.
  • The Civil Engineering program is offered through the Department of Mechanical Engineering. With the addition of this program, MSU has the largest and most diverse engineering and engineering technology programs in the Minnesota State system.
  • The Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards has renewed its registration of MSU's financial planning certificate program and the financial planning option with the BS in Finance.
  • The University's Student Health Service received word this summer that it had been granted national accreditation by the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care. The Health Service achieved top level compliance in every category and an unprecedented three-year full accreditation status.

Let's all recognize the accreditation renewals and program accomplishments! I'd like to share with you now some of the additional programs that have contributed to student success and also some of the individual accomplishments of our students and faculty:

  • Graduates of programs within the College of Allied Health and Nursing have exceeded national performance standards on National Boards and Certification Exams.
  • Ninety-five students worked in close partnership with faculty and then presented their research or creative activity to the campus community at MSU's 4th Annual Undergraduate Research Center.
  • It is difficult to single out faculty for recognition, but allow me to mention three faculty achievements as representative of the accomplishments of all faculty:
    1. Kathleen Piehl, Library Services, was awarded the national 2002 Louis Shores-Oryx Press award by the Reference and User Services Association.
    2. Carl Egan, Construction Management, was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship.
    3. James Tanner, Art, received the Minnesota Crafts Council 2002 Lifetime Achievement Award.
  • In the College of Arts and Humanities, first-year MFA theatre student Shannon More received the prestigious Irene Ryan acting scholarship nomination for her gender-breaking portrayal of Mark Anthony in Julius Caesar.
  • And, recent MFA graduate Alan Shorter composed the music for "Oliver Button is a Star," a documentary film aired on Minnesota Public Television and won the Silver Angel Award for Excellence in Media in the National Public Television Program category.
  • MSU Theater alumnus, Curt Enderle, '87, won an Emmy Award for his art direction for a UPN cartoon, "Gary and Mike."
  • In the College of Behavioral Sciences, Geography student Joshua Kuhn was one of only 22 students worldwide to be accepted as an intern for the coming year by the National Geographic Society.
  • And, Urban and Regional Studies student Kristi Wibben was awarded the Salvation Army national "Others" award for a project she initiated last fall as part of her Community-Based Problem Solving course, in which she spearheaded the raising of more than $20,000 for the Mankato Salvation Army.
  • The US Army recognized MSU's Department of Military Science as being in the top 15 percent of more than 270 ROTC departments.
  • MSU Forensics Team (speech and debate) earned first place at the 2002 Minnesota Collegiate Forensics Association state tournament.
  • MSU was awarded the Minnesota State Excellence in Financial Management Award and Excellence in Management Facilities Award. These awards are presented for leadership and team effort.
  • In addition, Steve Smith, Business Affairs, received the Minnesota State Outstanding Service Award in recognition of his significant contributions toward furthering professionalism in financial management.
  • MSU also received the 2002 Minnesota State Student Affairs Award for its Maverick Mentor and First Year Seminar programs.

Let's take a moment to recognize all these individuals and units for their many accomplishments.

All of the campus is new in my eyes, however, I think you will discover, as I have, a beautiful campus that has undergone noticeable changes that occurred during the past year.

  • You will notice the more than 10,000 flowers planted by more than 100 volunteers to beautify the campus.
  • The recently dedicated Marso-Schmitz Plaza and Jane Rush Gathering Place is a restful area for students to relax, study and meet others and will be used for outdoor music performances and University events.
  • ITS has also expanded the number of satellite computer labs.
  • The Myers Field House opened in December and Phase II of the Student Athletic Facilities project is almost completed. This project offers great instruction spaces for students, including five new traditional classrooms.
  • The Information and Technology Services Division reports that all general education classrooms (approximately100) have now been technology enabled.
  • A year-long effort to develop a comprehensive campus master plan was completed and approved by Minnesota State in the spring of 2002. This plan will be widely shared on campus and the community.

Finally, allow me to mention a few other accomplishments:

  • Five years ago, MSU launched the largest fundraising campaign in Minnesota State's history. "Campaign MSU" closed on June 30, 2002 exceeding its goal. Additionally, the MSU Annual Fund resulted in donations totaling $412,783 and the Campus Drive raised $137,396.
  • All of these items and more have resulted in Minnesota State University, Mankato being ranked among the best universities in U.S. News & World Report's 15th annual "America's Best Colleges" rankings. MSU is in the second tier of the overall quality listings for master's level Midwestern Universities.
  • In additional, the MSU Engineering program is again listed among the top undergraduate programs in the country. The program, ranked 50th, is one of the most comprehensive engineering programs in the state.
  • For the first time, MSU was listed among the Midwestern schools (in its category) with the largest number of international students (MSU has nearly 600 international students).
  • MSU was also recognized in Kaplan/Newsweek College Catalog 2002 as a top University for "Schools that Offer the Best Value for Your Tuition Dollar."
  • And, by Yahoo! Internet Life 2002 as one of the "Top 100 Most Wired Campuses" in the nation.
  • Word is getting out that MSU is a great place to receive a quality education. I'm happy to report that as of August 15th, 12,400 students have registered for fall classes compared to 11,567 at the same date last year.

As you can see, this list, which is only a sampling of accomplishments, is impressive and demonstrates a campus on the move. I am truly humbled and blessed to be a part of such an outstanding campus. Once again, let's recognize everyone for these remarkable accomplishments.

Since I have arrived, many people have told me, "you have big shoes to fill." And, I know this is true. Actually, I like hearing this because the admonition only serves to challenge me more and to strengthen my resolve to be the best president for MSU that I possibly can. Everyone has their own personality and uniqueness. And, soon you will get to know me and understand my quirks, my humor, my philosophies, my expectations, what drives me and so forth.

This is probably a good point in this morning's address to share with you something about my personal and educational background. I think it is natural for people to wonder about the new president, what he stands for and where he came from? I know some of this has already been printed in various columns and newspapers, but perhaps I can give you a brief synopsis. I grew up in Grand Island, Nebraska, but had early ties with Minnesota because my grandparents lived in Worthington, MN and their ancestors had settled in the area as well. I come from a family of 11 children, and as you might imagine, we all learned to work early in life. We each had responsibilities and were expected to work. Actually, my first paying job was at the age of eight when I assumed my big brother's paper route. It seems kind of strange to reflect that I was even balancing budgets as far back as then. At that early age, I learned to save money and set goals. It seems like I always had spending money for one thing or another as I was growing up... now I have children with never ending needs! If only I had invested the money at that young age!

Also, it is true that I knew as early as 12 years of age that I wanted to be a college professor after spending a summer on the campus of the University of Nebraska with my brother-in-law, who was a struggling graduate assistant at the time. And, interestingly enough, my first university teaching job was exactly twelve years later at Iowa State University. I've never regretted that early decision.

My wife and I have two unmarried children, both of whom are anthropologists and involved in fascinating research projects. Our daughter, like most anthropologists has two different jobs in order to pay the rent; one where she is involved in an archeological excavation near Lake Tahoe. And, her other job is at a hotel where she has a defined contribution plan! Our son is still working on his graduate degree in Illinois and told me recently, "Dad, I promise to get a fulltime job in the fall! Trust me!

You may have heard that my hobbies and interests include vintage cars, fly fishing, hiking and exploring wilderness areas. Like many people, I enjoy adventure and challenges. In addition, I love theatre, most types of music, good historical novels, and I read for pleasure whenever I can steal some time. I enjoy reading about American history and I love to take road trips. In fact, a memorable road trip, one my family would probably like to forget, was an intensive automobile journey through the heart of Kansas! Believe it or not, Kansas is actually fairly interesting if you take the time to look around and explore. It's easy to get absorbed and sometimes lost in those Kansas wheat fields. Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you how easy it is to get lost in the Boundary Waters Canoe area too! It seems we are always getting stranded, be it in the high country of the Rockies, or the tropical rainforests of Venezuela. I don't understand why people are afraid to travel with me anymore!

Others tell me that I tend toward optimism; sometimes to the extreme, which occasionally drives people mad. I like to help others see that there is always another way of looking at a situation no matter how bad it might seem at the time. Teaching is an activity I have enjoyed from the very beginning of my career and I still look forward to teaching, even if it is only guest lecturing and team teaching... it serves to keep me in touch with students. I really enjoy talking with students... they usually provide some very interesting perspectives on life if you take the time to listen. And, of course, they often make me smile and reflect on why I love my job so much.

If I've had any success over the years, I would like to attribute it to the competent people I have surrounded myself with... often those with a "can do" attitude. Having a good leadership team is critically important for the success of the university. I realize that almost everyone has a point of view about leadership; there has been so much written on the subject. My view is quite simple, I believe that personality is perhaps the most important ingredient in successful leadership. It is important, however, for leaders to articulate a vision, to energize others and to build a consensus and be decisive in a way that unites others in achieving important and meaningful goals that truly make a difference.

When I interviewed for this position back in February, I addressed many relevant questions from the Search Committee and different campus and community groups that I met. One question that frequently popped up was what is your educational philosophy? Quite simply, I believe we must provide our students with a well-balanced education consisting of a strong liberal arts and professional career preparation. It is important to have graduates who are good communicators; critical thinkers and adaptable in the workplace. Graduates today must have a worldly view, an appreciation for diversity, high standards and values, and a strong sense of citizenship. I've been impressed with the students that I have already met from MSU... they seem to have these strong qualities, plus more. Those of us in higher education have the responsibility to instill in our students an appreciation and desire for the discovery, application and expression of knowledge. We must raise our learning expectations in the classroom and challenge our students to study more than the national average of 10 hours per week.

Another question I have been frequently asked is what are the strengths I could bring to MSU and how would I go about helping the institution move to the next level? At a recent university retreat, we talked about strategic planning. I introduced a meaningful approach to strategic planning that should enhance confidence in the process. My philosophy of strategic planning involves setting clear directions, being inclusive, listening and discussing issues openly, establishing a limited number of realistic and achievable goals that are linked to institutional resources, including some stretch goals, working with shorter timeframes of 2-3 years and building momentum and support for these collective goals. The campus and community must feel energized and be hopeful for the future.

My expertise and knowledge of shared governance processes and principles is another strength that I bring to the presidency. It is important to provide sound rationales for decisions. Everyone needs to be valued and feel their opinions are also valued in the decision-making process. Likewise, I believe we must have clearly defined principles and accepted roles in decision-making. This is an area that I look forward to working on at MSU.

Also, I am a firm believer in promoting external relationships, partnerships and in developing affiliation agreements that support the mission of the institution and enrich the learning experience of students and faculty, while at the same time providing a service to the private sector. Institutions are realizing more than ever the importance of giving back to the community. Universities in this country need to connect with the external world in meaningful and practical ways in order to be accepted and supported by the public. We must rebuild the trust and confidence in higher education. The resources and expertise we have to offer are critical to solving the problems of the region, the state and the world.

Earlier last week, I held a special retreat involving more than 60 MSU representatives from different groups on campus. The purpose of the retreat was to talk about a concept of the modern university. We started with the assumption that the MSU community wants to be a "modern university." Therefore, we attempted to operationally define this concept while also looking at some of the obstacles we need to overcome to achieve this goal. I urge you all to go to the President's webpage for a summary of our discussion. Also, I have included a brief survey on my webpage with a feedback form that I'm asking everyone to complete in regards to some of the strategic goals we discussed at the retreat. Please feel free to suggest other goals for consideration. I look forward in the coming weeks to holding open forums and speaking to other groups on campus regarding our future directions.

So, in closing, I want to invite all of you to the All-University campus cookout starting at 11:00 a.m. this morning in the Mall area. I look forward to meeting and visiting with you at that time, as well as at the College meetings throughout the day. Also, I will meet many of you at the President's New Faculty and Staff Reception starting at 5:30 p.m. in the Johnson Alumni Room of the Taylor Center.

Thank you for coming today. I can already feel the excitement in the air as we begin a new academic year. 2002-2003 holds many challenges for us, but most importantly it promises to be an outstanding year.