Proceeding confidently in uncertain times
Dr. James E. Cofer, Sr.
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Colleagues, students, alumni, friends, members of the Board — today my message to you is one of optimism and opportunity. It is a message of reality and resolve. It is a message of change and is a message of inclusiveness. It is a message of confidence in the face of uncertainty.
Education: the great equalizer
Education has always been, is and always will be the great equalizer. It was for me.
My father was a working-class man who saved few dollars from his job as a warehouseman for Standard Oil Company. He never had a college degree or even a high school degree, but he had a healthy respect for learning. As I prepared to go to college, he took a second job as a department store security guard at night to help pay my tuition.
Like many of you, college changed my life. And you and I are fortunate to wake up every day and have that same chance to change the future for our students. Fifty years from now it will not matter the size of your bank account, how big your house was or the kind of car you drove — but the world will be better because you changed the life of a student.
Every student we graduate is a triumph, not only for us and for Missouri State, but for the country and society. It is the value of a higher education that has led the president of the United States and the governor of the state of Missouri to put a premium on the number of graduates our colleges and universities are turning out. It is a noble endeavor and we need to do our part to achieve those goals.
As you know by now, students will be the focus of my administration.
How will our decisions affect students? How will the actions we take improve education for students? How will our decisions and actions benefit students? You might as well start asking those questions, because if you don’t, I will.
If we keep students foremost in our minds, I am confident that the kaleidoscope of issues and options will come quickly and clearly into focus.
With this in mind, I wanted to share with you today the goals that are established for this year. These goals are ambitious and they are essential because they set the tone and the stage for the next long-range plan.
Goal 1: Complete the five-year strategic plan for 2011-16.
Our work on the long-range plan is for the students — not only our current students but our prospective students — today’s fourth and fifth graders.
That is why we must look over the horizon as we do our work on the long-range plan. We must envision what Missouri State University should be and needs to be in the long term for future generations of students. We must force ourselves to look beyond the immediate challenges to the future. Guiding this process is one of our goals and one of my major responsibilities for this year.
More than 100 of your colleagues have been working for almost six months building the foundation for the next long-range plan. We have synthesized that work into a list of strategic directions that will guide us as we begin drafting the plan.
Tomorrow, the strategic directions will be posted on the long-range plan web site. I need to emphasize that this is the current draft. It is a work in progress. In the coming weeks, our intent is to reduce and further focus these so that we have a select number of meaningful strategic directions. We want your help in that process.
So, I invite you to review that document and provide feedback how best to further refine this list. We also will seek your feedback on the first full draft of the plan and throughout the process.
The new long-range plan, which covers 2011 through 2016, has many new initiatives, but the basic mission of the University remains the same.
We value both undergraduate and graduate education, but we must improve our pedagogy, our technology and our modalities (how and when we offer courses).
We will focus on undergraduate education first, but not at the expense of graduate education. After all, it is the undergraduate program that underpins a strong graduate program.
We have a distinctive statewide mission in public affairs that we must incorporate into all we do, beginning with the core curriculum. We will identify public affairs competencies that all students should have in the three components of the mission: ethical leadership, cultural competence, and community engagement.
We will continue to respect and emphasize the important interrelationship among teaching, research and service.
Closely related to all of this, we will begin to align faculty roles and rewards with the University’s vision and strategic plan.
When we choose to pursue distinction, we need to examine faculty roles and rewards. We need to ensure that efforts to enhance pedagogy and improve instruction through assessment, curricular redesign and course transformation are recognized in assignments, compensation and tenure and promotion.
Likewise, we need to value contributions to the public good as part of the expected and recognized role of our faculty. In these ways, Missouri State can distinguish itself, ensure its viability and flourish.
We will be pursuing academic distinction. We cannot distinguish ourselves merely by doing more research and graduate education than regional colleges and universities because the immediate comparison is always that we are doing so much less than research universities.
We can distinguish ourselves in the quality of what we do to promote student learning and the benefit to the public interest achieved through our public affairs mission.
We can distinguish ourselves through the innovation and ingenuity we bring to these tasks.
We need to tap the incredible intellect that exists on this campus. We need the best thinking possible for the long-range plan, so I hope you will become engaged in the process.
We need to look out across our campus and see Missouri State University not for what it is, but what it can be. This is not a futile exercise. This plan will not be put in a pretty notebook and sit on the shelf, and never used again. This plan needs to incorporate the richness of our campus, the unique culture of our community, and challenge us to be bold in the future.
Goal 2: Prepare the campus to effectively deal with the budget challenges of fiscal year 2012 and beyond.
A more immediate challenge is dealing with the budget. At this point, we do not have a lot of details from the state regarding the appropriation for fiscal year 2012 or how much we might be permitted to increase student tuition. We hope to have those details sooner rather than later, but it may be December, or even January, before we have precise numbers.
For the time being, we will have to be comfortable with ambiguity.
We do know one thing: Our state appropriation for fiscal year 2012 will be less than it is this year.
Tomorrow, in a "Dear Colleague" letter to the campus community, I will describe in detail the budget process we will use while I am president. I will not try to provide all of the details here. Suffice it to say that it is a bottom-up, collegial process.
The work begins at the college level, with committees in each of the colleges, moves to two campus-wide committees, one on academics and one on administration, then goes to a reconstituted Executive Budget Committee chaired by a faculty member, and ultimately will result in my recommendation to the Board of Governors.
The West Plains Campus will develop a similar collegial process.
The ultimate goal of this process is to end up with a recommendation that is "our budget," not "the president's budget."
I promise you that the process will be inclusive and transparent, as you have requested. There will be suggestions we accept, there will be suggestions that we reject and there will be suggestions we improve. We will discuss and debate all suggestions; no suggestion, yours or mine, will be accepted as final before it goes through the process.
The process I expect is one where ideas are born and shaped publicly then either wither or bloom. MSU should become a place where ideas are exposed so that they may be blunted or focused by sharper minds and we end up in a place other than where we started.
I also can promise you that it will be hard and slow and messy and, at times, frustrating. That is what happens when you raise ideas and discuss them. That is what happens when people feel strongly about the subject. There will be arguments and disagreements and passionate positions on all sides of the issue.
But, it is important, very important, that we agree to disagree and we must affirm that we will disagree without being disagreeable. Because in the end, I assure you we will have a better budget than we would without this process.
The budget process outlined is a significant change from past practices for faculty, staff and college and University leadership.
This means neither dean recommendations, nor faculty recommendations, nor staff recommendations, nor administrative recommendations — but recommendations born of collaborative assessments of the goals of the departments as part of a college, and colleges and administrative units as part of a larger university — working together to promote student learning and the public interest.
We need to get started, so I will ask the chairs of the various budget committees to identify and name the members no later than October 15th. The first meeting of those groups should occur soon thereafter. I will continue to share information as it becomes available.
I would offer a couple of reminders.
First, we will likely deal with the budget reduction using some combination of permanent cuts in expenses, plus revenue from reasonable student tuition increases plus University reserves. Thanks to your hard work along with President Nietzel and the Board, Missouri State has a strong financial base from which to operate. Be thankful for that; not every university is in the same position.
Second, be prepared for us to make targeted, strategic investments even as we make cuts. This may seem like a contradiction; it is not. We cannot stand still as a University; we must make progress. We must come out of this budget situation relatively stronger than we are now.
As we begin to deal with the budget, I am reminded of Ronald Heifetz’s observation in his book "Leadership without Easy Answers." He wrote:
"In a crisis we tend to look for the wrong kind of leadership. We call for someone with answers, decision, strength, and a map of the future, in short, someone who can make hard problems simple.
"Instead of looking for saviors, we should be calling for leadership that will challenge us to face problems for which there are no simple painless solutions — problems that require us to learn in new ways."
I believe he is correct.
Goal 3: Foster a positive, collegial environment for faculty and staff on all campuses.
I, also, believe those affected by decisions should have a voice in those decisions. That will be one of the hallmarks of my administration. Accordingly we will increase and improve campus communication.
All of this is intended to achieve our third goal of fostering a positive, collegial environment.
Openness and transparency, and true collaboration are difficult to develop — but once they are firmly established as part of the organizational culture they are difficult to undermine or replace with something less. Achieving this goal requires deliberate, constant and careful support at all levels of the organization
Another key component of this goal is to begin to develop a comprehensive compensation plan for all System faculty and staff.
We are not talking about a new system to evaluate faculty and staff, or a different matrix to distribute whatever funds we have.
We are talking about looking at total compensation, honestly and openly evaluating what that compensation should be, where we are in that evaluation and, finally, crafting a plan to strategically fund that shortfall.
Everyone agrees that Missouri State is behind on salaries — for faculty, for staff, for administrators. The challenge we have is finding ways to reallocate funds to improve salaries.
To achieve this, we may need to have a smaller footprint so that our faculty and staff can be compensated closer to market. But that is only one possible approach; there are others and we can discuss them all. This is an important goal and we will begin work on it immediately. And, yes, this will be done with a broad-based group of faculty and staff working together.
Goal 4: Prepare the academic curriculum and academic organization throughout the System to meet the demands of the 21st century.
You need to know that my administrative style is to expect those with the responsibility to take the lead in their respective areas. That will be true for all members of the Administrative Council.
For example, I expect the provost to take the lead with goal four that deals with academic curriculum and organization.
We have a lot of work to do in this area to maintain our excellent academic programs. In response to very specific recommendations from the Academic Priorities Work Group of the Long-Range Planning Committee — we will be embarking on a review of our general education program. Our current general education program is not broken, but it needs to reflect what we are capable of and what our students need to face the challenges of the world around them.
The provost has already started working with many of your faculty colleagues on the process of looking at the core curriculum and incorporating the public affairs mission into the curriculum.
To be fully implemented, the public affairs mission must be in the curriculum as well as in part of our public scholarship, our applied research, our economic development and our interaction with the community itself. All of us need to model the kinds of roles we want our students to play in the world after us.
The emphasis for the next few years is on enhancing the quality of undergraduate education — this means examining what we teach and how we teach it.
Over the next several weeks, you will hear discussion about low-completer programs as we respond to an initiative from the Missouri Department of Higher Education.
"Low-completer programs" are defined as those undergraduate programs that average fewer than 10 graduates over three years and those graduate programs that average fewer than five graduates over three years.
But, unlike other states where the Coordinating Board makes the decision to keep or eliminate the low-completer programs, we have the opportunity to shape our programs to address the concern.
Provost McCarthy, and the other chief academic officers in the state, are working with the Department of Higher Education to clarify the criteria, the process, and the timeline for reporting on low-completer programs.
This review of our programs will be led by the faculty, department heads and deans. Provost McCarthy and her office will work to support our programs throughout this process. No program should be disadvantaged acting in the best interests of students. It is better to do the right thing than the political thing.
While it is a distraction in our effort to promote the efficient utilization of our resources and to engage in deliberative and thoughtful program planning, we must ensure that we honestly and intently take a look at our program productivity.
Goal 5: Assure student access and success on all campuses.
We will explore and then focus attention and resources on retention strategies, including such initiatives as expanding living-learning communities, expanding the Bear CLAW, and adding collegiate living communities, just to name a few.
Research shows a strong correlation between who teaches and how they teach — or pedagogy — and retention. So, to assure student access and success, Provost McCarthy will lead our effort to look at pedagogy, alternative modalities, the use of technology and many other aspects of our academic programs.
We will facilitate the recruitment and admission of transfer students using a variety of strategies, with special emphasis on the West Plains Campus and OTC.
We know that technology-enhanced instruction not only provides opportunities to students unable to pursue education through traditional means, it also provides opportunities for enhanced learning when paired with face-to-face discussions with faculty and classmates. The focus will be on access — providing opportunities for degree attainment to transfer students and students pursuing degrees through nontraditional means.
And, we will ensure the athletics program is positioned to meet the goals established by the University, including meeting Title IX, and the NCAA academic standards.
Again, students and their success need to remain our top priority.
Goal 6: Improve the diversity of the student body and workforce at the University.
We do a disservice to our students by not having a more diverse student body and work force. Our students are bright and perceptive; they are the ones who tell us this. We must do better. The Board of Governors insists on it, and it is the right thing to do.
For example, we will investigate partnerships with public schools to enhance access, especially with diverse and under-represented populations in areas such as Kansas City and St. Louis. And, we have work to do right here in the Ozarks in this area.
In the near future, we will announce a broad-based program to begin to improve our diversity, and we will invest resources in that effort.
Beginning immediately, all search committees will live up to their name. Instead of simply screening candidates, these committees need to search for the best candidates, including qualified historically excluded groups.
From this point forward, neither the provost nor I will approve interviews for searches for faculty and executive staff that do not include qualified candidates from under-represented populations.
But our success in recruiting and retaining a diverse student body and diverse workforce is more basic than that. It requires that we take steps to develop a "welcoming environment" on campus. It is my expectation that the interim vice president for diversity and inclusion (chief diversity officer), Dr. Leslie Anderson, will help guide that effort this year as we search for a permanent vice president.
Creating a welcoming environment will take time and require a combination of training and new attitude. But we will get started and we will make progress. Our students deserve the richer education that comes with a diverse environment.
Goal 7: Inventory, prioritize and strategically fund improvements to facilities.
We need to make targeted improvements in our facilities; therefore, as soon as possible, we will announce a strategic investment of one-time funds to improve our facilities. The funds will be used to improve academic classrooms, laboratories and technology on all campuses. We are currently working to inventory and evaluate the current condition of these.
I anticipate that the facilities package also will include some facility commitments to ensure we are fully compliant with current federal law, both ADA and Title IX.
I said earlier that our core curriculum is not broken. What is broken is the quality of some of our learning environments. We must inventory, prioritize and fund improvements in laboratories, build larger classrooms and improve our academic technology.
Beyond that, the housing system will work on a plan to update and renovate its inventory of options for current and future students. Refreshing the residence halls is over-due and must be accomplished to keep us competitive for tomorrow’s students. This package will likely be funded through bonds, with the income from student rent payments covering the debt service of those bonds.
Goal 8: Meet and exceed the $125 million goal of the Our Promise: Campaign for Missouri State.
Private contributions will continue to be an important component of our overall funding. We are making progress in contacting alumni. And we are making good progress on fund-raising.
The comprehensive campaign for Missouri State, titled Our Promise, is on the home stretch and if we continue to be vigilant we should be able to announce the successful completion of the $125 million goal sometime in fiscal year 2012.
Goal 9: Continue to advance economic development and community impact through the IDEA Commons, JVIC and other collaborations.
The IDEA Commons and all it encompasses continue to set Missouri State apart from other schools, not only in Missouri, but also in the nation.
The successes to date of the IDEA Commons and the Roy Blunt Jordan Valley Innovation Center are impressive.
JVIC facilitates cutting-edge research in cornea repair, wound healing, migraine concussion research, development of biomedical devices, carbon nanotube technologies, bio-sensor detectors and other clean-room research developments.
Over the past five years, Missouri State's contracts and subcontracts for research in JVIC, most related to defense, total more than 30 million dollars.
Two of the JVIC corporate partners are commercializing products in Springfield as a direct result of research at JVIC.
And, thus far, JVIC has led to an additional 20 million dollars in private investment in the area.
By any measure, the IDEA Commons and JVIC have been enormously successful.
This year, we will develop appropriate plans for the Robert W. Plaster Center for Free Enterprise and Business Development (formerly Willow Brook), JVIC and Brick City.
So, I can tell you today that the state of the university is strong — intellectually, demographically, and financially.
Because of that, Missouri State is in an enviable position to be able to see our challenges as opportunities. We have the ability to shape our own future.
We go into these next couple of years with our eyes wide open. We know the budget reductions will test us, but our resolve, determination and best ideas will help us deal effectively with the dollars we have.
We must be comfortable with change — by changing the way we educate students, by increasing our diversity, by how we envision the University for the next generation. All of us teach change every single day. We must embrace change just as much as we insist our students change.
And the course we chart, we will chart together. You will have the opportunity to participate in the decision-making process. If and how you choose to become engaged is up to you. But I promise that you will have the opportunity.
It is with a mixture of great pride, pleasure and humility that I serve you as the 10th president of Missouri State University. Deborah and I couldn't be more pleased to be in Springfield and at MSU. We appreciate the warm welcome we continue to receive from all of you.
I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the expressions of support and sympathy we received following the passing of Deborah's mother, Doris Jones. Both Deborah and I are touched and overwhelmed by your thoughtfulness. It made us feel very much at home, and demonstrated once again that Missouri State University truly is a big university with a big heart.
I admired Missouri State from afar for some time now, and I have not been disappointed in my first 60 days here. We look forward to meeting you and working with you in the coming years to advance our University.
There is much to be done during the next few years and we will run into a few problems along the way. Theodore Rubin once said, "The problem is not that there are problems. The problem is expecting otherwise and thinking having a problem is a problem."
Every year there are new budget challenges, regardless of whether we receive increases or decreases in state funding. Every year a new class of high school seniors arrives on campus and deserves the same amount of recruiting attention we gave the prior class. Every year we have students engaged anew in the process of learning.
Every year we renew our promises to theses students, to the people of Missouri, to MSU alumni — promises to every teacher who has taught here — promises to every person who passes this campus and will never take a class, but believes enough in the power of an education to work two jobs to send their child to Missouri State University.
To all of these we owe our life’s work because work well done has transcendent meaning and a lasting legacy. This is the true vision for Missouri State University.
But as the late Poet Laureate Robert Frost reminded us:
"I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep."
Thank you and have a great day.