shortcut to content
Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

2003 Convocation Address

Page address:
President Richard Davenport

Moving Mountains

August 18, 2003

by President Richard Davenport

Good morning and welcome back to another vibrant and exciting year at Minnesota State University. Thank you for choosing to attend this morning. I know you are here because you care about MSU and are committed to helping it continue as a modern university. This is a university known for its high quality faculty and staff, bright students, outstanding academic and student service programs, strong values, and safe and friendly environment. And, we are devoted foremost to student learning and development.

“I have learned over the years and been convinced that one person can and does make a difference.”

As I was preparing for this year's Convocation address, I recalled that last year my presentation focused on individual accomplishments. And, as I thought about how I wanted to share my time with you this morning, it became apparent that my entire presentation could be easily used acknowledging the numerous good deeds of everyone; and then it is unlikely that I would still be able to recognize everyone. The very fact that there is so much to brag about says a lot about our institution and the high levels of achievement by so many.

I have often commented publicly that everyone matters at our institution, and I suspect that there are those people who believe that this is simply good rhetoric from the President. However, I have learned over the years and been convinced that one person can and does make a difference. If you believe that then it's easy to believe that thousands can help move mountains. I am here today to request your help in moving mountains!

A few days ago, we hosted a University retreat involving more than 70 representatives from all the bargaining units, administration, staff, students and a representative from the Chancellor's Office. I wish we could have invited more people to the event and I am aware that there were others that would have liked to attend, but due to logistics and space our numbers were limited. Perhaps next year we can figure out a way to extend invitations to more campus constituents. Notes from the retreat will be on the President's home web page soon and I encourage your review and comment. We spent a day talking about the future, with updates regarding the strategic priorities that we established a year ago, and implementation of our planning goals.

“Strategic priorities need to be limited to a few and they must be realistic and achievable.”

At this time, I would like to make a few important observations about strategic planning at MSU. First, I believe today's strategic planning process cannot follow the outdated model of long-range planning from the past which for the most part was ineffective due to many intrinsic flaws in the process. Today, we need a planning process that will establish clear directions and provide a roadmap that everyone can understand. The process must be inclusive with realistic and shorter time frames. Strategic priorities need to be limited to a few and they must be realistic and achievable. Some of the goals should be "stretch goals." Likewise, these goals should energize and motivate the campus and promote pride in the university. The plan needs to be linked to institutional resources if it is to succeed. Finally, we need to remember to focus our future on building and sustaining quality and excellence in all of our priorities.

Now that I've been here for more than a year, I can no longer refer to myself as new. Today I am in a much better position to know the university and to share with you some of my observations about where we're going.

Therefore, this morning my message will focus on the general landscape of higher education in America and the more specific challenges facing our institution as we prepare students for a world full of many opportunities and changes. I have much to share with you; however, if at the end of my presentation you discover that I failed to touch on a topic or issue of particular interest to you individually, please don't assume that it is unimportant to me or the institution. Time is a limiting factor for this address.

“Reductions in funding at any level have serious implications for underrepresented groups and socioeconomically deprived populations.”

Publicly supported institutions are finding that the new direction and trend for funding is toward a "publicly assisted" model. In the past, states have appropriated as much as 75 percent or more of the cost of a college education with tuition and other resources making up the difference. Today, state governments are "assisting" by providing half, or even less of the needed funding. We have observed this here in our home state with a dramatic reduction in state support during the past three to five years. Students are being called upon to bear the burden of the escalating costs with dramatic increases in tuition.

Not long ago, state governments were insistent on holding the line on tuition, but today there is a conscious and intentional movement by decision-makers toward shifting the expenses onto the consumer. In contrast to state policy, some national congressional leaders have recently proposed to Congress that we place limits on tuition increases at the state level, or risk losing federal financial aid resources. Clearly, reductions in funding at any level have serious implications for underrepresented groups and socioeconomically deprived populations. This is especially disturbing at a time when we are reaching out to these populations.

Where does this all leave us in regard to the uncertainty of state support? It is critical now, more than ever, to emphasize the importance of higher education for future economic growth, innovation, job success and for maintaining our quality of life. We must also begin planning how to do more and serve more with less resources by developing an "integrative university" that is focused on a modern approach to strategic planning. Fortunately, we have already spent a year taking steps in this direction, but we still have much more to accomplish.

“Another vital principle is inclusiveness. Institutional stakeholders, students, faculty and staff should be involved in discussions about planning and budget reductions.”

Inherent within an integrative planning process is the need for a set of basic principles to help guide our decision-making. For instance, we need to realize that students come first as we strive to enhance graduation rates and maintain high quality. Seeking external funding from a variety of sources is essential to our future well-being. At MSU, we will need to step up our efforts in securing state and federal grants, federal earmark funding, and increased private funds. Local and regional partnerships and collaborative agreements must also be sought with the private sector and other educational institutions. This will place greater accountability on our research faculty and our development officers and it means that we will need to work toward greater flexibility in our workloads. As you can see, we have a difficult challenge.

Another basic tenet of integrative planning is efficiency. We need to realize that we cannot continue to offer all the programs that we have at the undergraduate and graduate levels and should look for ways to consolidate or eliminate some in order to maintain the quality of those remaining. Another vital principle is inclusiveness. Institutional stakeholders, students, faculty and staff should be involved in discussions about planning and budget reductions. There must be institutional ownership in our priorities. Furthermore, we have got to move toward a modern financial management approach where we intentionally link our limited resources to the strategic priorities of the University. We must, of course, act responsibly by continuing to plan and budget annually to address our basic operational and programmatic needs while at the same time figuring out how to set funds aside for future planning and growth. MSU, as a modern university, cannot sit still and fail to plan for the future during these stressful times.

“We must somehow find new resources, prioritize offerings and move forward with these 21st Century ideas.”

The challenges of higher education in the 21st century can be overwhelming and even staggering when we examine the demographics that we are facing as a nation. More Americans than ever before are seeking post-secondary education. According to a recent poll, 87 percent of the general public agrees that a college education is as necessary today as a high school diploma used to be. Almost two-thirds believe the additional education is necessary for people to function in a diverse society and workplace. The issue isn't merely one of providing access to college, but of providing an education that will prepare our graduates for lifelong learning.

The numbers tell the story. More than 90 percent of today's high school students have aspirations to attend college and 75 percent actually do continue their study. Even though 28 percent of students at American universities are minority college students, there are still groups underrepresented.

Older adults constitute more than one-third of our student population. Women graduates in the year 2000 comprised 57 percent compared to only 40 percent in 1961 indicating a continuing trend toward more women entering the workplace. This is an age characterized by tremendous diversity in the workplace. Furthermore, some will be surprised to learn that 73 percent of all undergraduates would fit the definition of a "non-traditional student." This population is expected to increase by 14 percent by 2010.

A college education has become essential for almost every occupation as graduates engage in an interconnected, complex world. Here at MSU, we already feel the increased enrollment pressures and these will continue, not lessen. I predict that if we are not enrolling increased numbers of traditional students we will be enrolling more transfer and non-traditional students in the decades ahead. State and national demographers have a tough job today trying to predict future enrollment patterns since the homogeneity of student populations is changing so rapidly.

Strategic Priority – Enrollment ManagementHere at MSU, our enrollment management strategic priority task force has worked hard this past year in establishing objectives for recruitment and retention of diverse populations. The plan focuses on a number of goals related to how we will address the increasing enrollment and related pressures.

In addition to these pressures, I believe our faculty at MSU have their individual and unique challenges as well. I have spent a lot of time thinking about an important question that many American universities are asking themselves: "do we need to revitalize our liberal education program?" While our faculty are in a better position to answer this question, I believe it is important to at least examine our liberal studies philosophy, review our academic standards and consider establishing a modern framework for teaching and learning. A model framework for our core general studies would help address and emphasize learning over teaching, connections between and across disciplines, critical thinking for problem solving, creativity, cultural and global interconnections and emphasize a quest for lifelong learning and discovery. I challenge the MSU faculty and academic administration to seriously examine our liberal studies program to determine if a distributed studies model is still appropriate today in light of the changing world and workplace expectations of our graduates.

“Our faculty is superb and dedicated to our students, learning and research. Our staff is second to none in the quality of service, richness of experience and the physical environment and facilities they provide for our students.”

We have a rich variety of disciplines, programs, curriculums and courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels. How many academic disciplines can we afford to offer at MSU? As a previous faculty member and academic for many years, I used to think that it didn't really matter if we had lots of programs with small enrollment because they didn't account for significant amounts of resources. However, I have learned over the years that these small and sometimes outdated programs can seriously drain the human and financial resources away from other more emergent and high priority programs. These lower subscribed programs are nice to have, but do they really contribute to the overall quality of our University? Could we better utilize those resources for new and innovative programs that students and the workplace are clambering for today? I am asking our new academic leader, Dr. Scott Olson, to work with the faculty and deans within the established governance structure to review our offerings and develop an overall long-range academic master plan consistent with the directions of our University.

In the area of teacher education, it is interesting to note a recent study regarding high school teachers' attitudes about the preparation of our students for a rigorous course of study. I was surprised to learn that six in ten high school teachers believe they are not preparing students adequately for college. Many believe that these low expectations impact student success. The research literature clearly demonstrates that when standards are low, not much will be achieved. In contrast, when expectations are higher, success and achievement rates rise. Nevertheless, we are all aware of the national focus on improving teacher education programs and curriculums for K-12 education.

MSU has been doing its part in helping to address teacher preparation to meet the tremendous teacher shortages, but we need to find ways to do more at a time when we are challenged with limited resources. Here again, I am asking our new dean of education, Dr. Michael Miller, and our faculty and administration to put their heads together to determine how we can advance our efforts in teacher education.

Strategic Priority – Academic Excellence In Undergraduate StudiesThe same holds true for many other academic disciplines where workforce shortages are not being adequately addressed, i.e., nursing, allied health, engineering, the biological sciences, social sciences, humanities and fine arts.

This past year, I attended dozens of departmental meetings and was delighted to hear about all of the projects and new programs underway; we are not lacking in innovative faculty ideas for new programs. However, we must somehow find new resources, prioritize offerings and move forward with these 21st Century ideas. I wish all of you could know firsthand about the numerous futuristic proposals coming from our individual academic departments. It is very exciting and energizing to see the enthusiasm among our faculty and staff.

MSU has been a leader in providing services to meet the professional and personal development needs of our students through creative support staff and programs. The innovative Learning Communities and First Year Experience programs have been major successes and serve our students well. In the area of student housing, however, we have serious challenges. I will be asking our new Vice President for Student Affairs, Dr. Denise Schlake, to provide leadership for implementing the housing master plan this year. Many of our residence halls are outdated and in need of renovation.

Strategic Priority – DiversityIn the area of strategic planning for diversity, last year's task force drafted a definition of diversity that needs to be discussed and evaluated by the campus. There is a general consensus that we have talked a lot about diversity over the years and now we need to actually implement our ideas. That will be the challenge for the Diversity Task Force this coming year. I will be looking for strong leadership in this area and involvement of the entire campus. This is one of those "stretch goals" and not a short-term goal that can be realized easily. It will require the input and cooperation of everyone at the University and throughout the region. There must be a deep commitment to this goal if we are to be successful. We have got to move this off center now!

Strategic Priority – Distance Learning, Graduate EducationThere is much that can be said about where we need to go in the area of distance learning and graduate education. Both task forces have developed strategic plans this past year. They both require serious discussion and deliberation. However, we need to give serious attention to distance learning since online learning will play a very key role in educating increasing numbers of students in the years ahead. I am pleased that so many of our faculty are already involved with e-learning and utilizing technology to enrich on-campus classes, as well as offering coursework to students unable to be on a traditional college campus.

Strategic Priority – Facilities Master PlanThe campus facilities master plan has been a challenge too. We had several efforts underway during the past three years that were finally coordinated last year into a meaningful plan that includes housing, academic and administrative buildings, athletics, the Centennial Student Union, and the campus grounds.

Many groups have been involved in the process, but you might also be interested in learning that we have asked some of our faculty in the Urban and Regional Studies Institute to help coordinate our efforts. I am impressed with the overall plan and know you will be too. The plan provides the roadmap for future development of our campus facilities.

Not much has been said about professional development since I arrived at MSU. I understand that we do not have a comprehensive professional development plan. There is, of course, professional development taking place, but it is difficult to know how many personnel it is impacting and if it is even effective. I will be asking our new Human Resources Director, Ms. Lori Lamb, to work with each of the divisions in developing an institutional plan for professional development this year. In addition, I will ask Dr. Stewart Ross to develop a faculty plan through the new Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning utilizing his Active Learning Advocate Grant. It is important that we all stay current in our fields and have the skills needed to perform our jobs effectively and efficiently.

Strategic Priority – Public Relations and MarketingI think all of you know that MSU has a very positive reputation and I believe we enjoy this primarily because of the experiences of our graduates who feel positive about their education. To my knowledge, we have never implemented a comprehensive public relations and marketing plan for the University. One of our key priorities is to move forward this coming year with the first phase of such a plan under the leadership of our new Vice President for Advancement, Mr. David Williams. Some of you may wonder why we are interested in this priority when our enrollments are soaring and we've been turning students away. The answer is simple: we need to continue to build relationships and support for our University among our publics.

It became apparent to me a few weeks ago that we had an image problem with some people when Governor Pawlenty stood up on this very stage addressing the Minnesota Rural Summit audience and touted the University of Minnesota throughout his presentation with barely a mention of our University or Minnesota State Colleges & Universities System. Not to take away from the world-class reputation of the University of Minnesota, but what about MSU? This told the story for me.

MSU is a modern Minnesota university and not many people know how good we really are. Our faculty is superb and dedicated to our students, learning and research. Our staff is second to none in the quality of service, richness of experience and the physical environment and facilities they provide for our students. As we move forward with our challenge of seeking alternative forms of financial and state support, it is important to tell our story. I don't believe the Minnesota public knows how good we are, or the importance of the role the Minnesota State Colleges & Universities System plays in undergraduate and graduate education. It is time we let people know that there is more than one leading university and system in this state!

Strategic Priority – Fund RaisingMuch of what I have been urging today involves finding resources. I will be working intensely with the Division of University Advancement in laying the groundwork for another fundraising campaign. However, meanwhile we have enormous fundraising goals that must be pursued.

That brings me to the question of how I will spend my time this year. When I interviewed for the job I talked about the importance of the President being externally oriented. The President must be involved with the local community, the region and the state and must be viewed as a leader. It is important that I connect with alumni, Foundation Board members and other leaders throughout Minnesota so that I can advocate for MSU and tell our story. I have a list of more than 300 people who I need to get to know better. I cannot do that by spending all of my time in meetings on campus. Therefore, I know you will understand why I am seeking your assistance, support and understanding in helping me implement my schedule this year. I will be asking the vice presidents and deans to represent me at many of the campus events I will be unable to attend due to my accelerated involvement. I don't mean to give you the impression that I plan to be away from campus all the time, and I do hope to reserve time each week to move around campus and visit informally with those of you whom I seldom get a chance to see.

As I near the close of this address today, I want to mention one other important goal. I think it is critical that we continue to improve campus communication. We must find effective ways of working together to address differences and strive toward creating a campus culture characterized by trust, civility and team work. This will be one of our most important objectives this year.

“I am confident that with everyone's help we will be successful in continuing to be the modern university of today, tomorrow and beyond!”

When I stroll across campus meeting faculty, staff and students it is readily apparent that people seem generally happy to be a part of our community. We really do have a friendly campus and I believe this is a unique and special attraction for our students and those working at and visiting our University. Also, I have yet to talk to someone who has not expressed strong enthusiasm for their work and interest in the future of the institution. We are not without problems and challenges, and sometimes these may seem almost overwhelming. The good news is that we somehow continue to move forward regardless of the barriers and obstacles with a strong Minnesota spirit and pride that permeates the foundation of our University. MSU is a good place to be! And, I hope you look forward to coming to work everyday, as I do.

In summary, I have shared with you today a number of my thoughts about the future directions of MSU and visited with you about our focused strategic planning efforts. I have offered a number of challenges to the University community and shared with you the landscape of American higher education. We have awesome challenges ahead of us, but I am confident that with everyone's help we will be successful in continuing to be the modern university of today, tomorrow and beyond! We need everyone's help in moving mountains!