First, thank you for your good wishes during my illness. I concluded my treatments a few weeks ago, and will know more about my prognosis soon. I’m beginning to feel my energy returning—enough so to resume this blog. And enough to assure you that I intend to stay on as President through my contract, despite rumors about stepping down in October. To paraphrase Mark Twain, rumors of my early departure are greatly exaggerated.
This was a full week for Wayne State. Wednesday, the Board of Governors approved our Fiscal Year 2013 budget, which included a tuition increase of 3.88 percent for resident graduates and undergraduates. Tuition increases are always difficult, because we know they affect our students and their families. The Board approves them only when there is no choice. Unlike last year’s severe cut, our state appropriation increased by 65/100 of one percent. But that is neither a big increase, nor a permanent one. And not enough to cover the rising costs or needs of a major research university. Other actions by the state, however, give us some hope that they recognize the importance of investing in higher education, and perhaps will provide the type of support in the future that will help us hold tuition costs down.
For example, Governor Snyder held a press conference Monday on our campus, during which he signed the Capital Outlay Bill that will distribute more than $300 million in capital investment among Michigan community colleges and universities. The bill provides $30 million for our new Multidisciplinary Biomedical Research Building (MBRB), and we plan to break ground this fall. Along with the Governor, a number of dignitaries from Lansing and other Michigan universities and community colleges attended the conference. They were flanked by students from our medical school. The campus looked ship-shape. The med students looked sharp in their white coats. It was a proud moment for Wayne State—and a signal of the state’s recognition of the importance of what we do.
In my remarks, I mentioned that the MBRB will be a source not only for education and discovery, but also for economic growth. It will add both temporary and permanent jobs. It will draw talent and investment. It will result in earnings of approximately $40 million, 98 percent of which will be in metropolitan Detroit.
I wrote about higher education’s contribution to economic growth in a recent Huffington Post blog entry, which described my recent trip to the Mackinac Policy Conference. We all understand that universities educate the talent and leadership that we will count on in the future. And some of us—not enough—understand that universities, especially research universities, are a key source of knowledge and discovery. But very few of us understand that universities have a big economic impact. We hire people. We buy things. We attract talent. We commercialize new technology. We create businesses. We do a great deal that people either don’t know about or don’t appreciate enough. If universities were businesses, we’d be doing our best to attract more of them to our state.
It’s hard to believe in this heat, but in a couple of months we’ll be welcoming the fall class to our campus. I look forward to this time of renewal, but, in the meantime, I hope all of you enjoy the summer.
It’s hard to believe it’s February already. January was a very full month and flew by rather quickly, and with little snow and cold.
In addition to starting the new semester, there were a number of other highlights. Michigan Speaker of the House Jase Bolger toured TechTown early in the month. During his visit, I described our capital outlay request designated for a Multi-purpose Biomedical Research Building (MBRB), which would be located in TechTown. The MBRB would become not only a center for breakthrough research, but also a magnet for business, high-tech professionals, and faculty. Speaker Bolger was supportive of the MBRB, as was Governor Snyder, with whom I met soon after.
January is also Auto Show month. Once you’ve been in the automotive business, you never quite leave it, so I indulged myself and paid the show two visits. (If you’re interested in a new car or truck, I highly recommend a Ford.) Wayne State did have a presence at the show, however. Wayne State engineering students, all members of the WSU Formula Society of Automotive Engineers team, showed off their formula race car—and the College of Engineering, a source of pride for all of us.
WSU’s tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King was a big success, thanks in large measure to our Government and Community Affairs team. Donna Brazile, a national political celebrity and our keynote speaker, did an excellent job, but the crowd was just as captivated by the musical and poetic talent of the children who performed at the event.
As you may have heard through the media or at my January Town Hall meeting, we have had a number of discussions, both internally and externally, regarding recommendations for enhancing our admissions guidelines. The recommendations were developed by a Wayne State committee assembled last year to analyze and suggest ways to improve student success, as measured primarily by retention and graduation rates. The recommendations were unanimously approved by WSU’s Board of Governors at the February 1 meeting.
These changes are designed to help our students be more successful, while ensuring Wayne State continues to be a university of both diversity and opportunity.
Happy New Year, and welcome back.
New Year’s is a time where we traditionally pause for a moment. Where we think about where we’ve been and where we are going. 2011 was a full year. We faced significant challenges, and took on difficult assignments. We saw great breakthroughs. We learned from failures, celebrated victories, and even played in the NCAA Division II National Football Championship.
If I had to sum up 2011, I would say it was a year of gathering momentum. We have begun to move ahead on many fronts — from the research labs to the playing fields. We have a better sense of who we are, why we’re here and where we are going. Wayne State remains true to its history of being a University of both opportunity and excellence. We remain true to our mission of creating and sharing knowledge for the sake of our students, our community and the world. We are focusing our efforts in areas that will help us move forward – areas like student success, focused research, faculty success, improved processes and systems, and a culture of service.
I am optimistic about 2012. I hope to see you all for the first Town Hall of the year, which will take place on January 19. And I look forward to working with all of you to build on our momentum, and keep Wayne State moving ahead.
I thought the car business was interesting and rewarding. But last week was fascinating, and another reminder of the wide breadth of people, activities and talent at Wayne State.
On Tuesday morning I attended our latest Arthur L. Johnson Urban Perspectives lecture. The featured speakers were a duo of Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee, and our own chief, Tony Holt. The mutual respect they have for one another was evident when they spoke, but it shows even more in the results of their collaborative approach to public safety in and around Wayne State and Midtown.
Wednesday we met with the President’s Community Advisory Group to discuss admissions recommendations that are being developed to help improve student success—measured through retention and graduation rates. The meeting was attended by other community members who are passionate that WSU remain a university of “opportunity” for all students. We have every intention of remaining so. But for the sake of our students, we must be equally committed to academic excellence and student success.
Thursday was World AIDS Day. School of Medicine student Philip Kucab organized World AIDS Day Detroit, which began with a keynote address by Jeanne White-Ginder, the mother of Ryan White, a young man who died of AIDS after a blood transfusion and for whom the federal program is named. Philip is a shining example of students who use their energy and creativity beyond the classroom to make a difference in people’s lives.
That night I attended a special reception honoring our newest Ph.D. and Ed.D. graduates. There were 19 in attendance, and I asked each to tell a bit about themselves and their field of study. They were from all over the world, and each had an interesting story. A common thread was gratitude for the support of their families, their mentors, and Wayne State in helping them achieve this important milestone.
Saturday we welcomed more than 500 “Distinguished Scholars” to campus for a half day of activities. These high school seniors are among the best in their class academically, and all have been awarded scholarships. I look forward to seeing them on campus when they are freshmen.
The week closed with another playoff victory for our football team. That makes three straight for our “Road Warriors,” and a crowd of students and staff gathered in the Student Center to watch the game and to cheer them on. There is a real buzz on campus about the Warriors, and it continues to be an exciting season. We can all be proud of Coach Winters and our players, who give us excellence on the field – and in the classrooms and in the community.
On Wednesday, I read WS-YOU, the University’s new weekly newsletter. I’ve learned a lot each time I’ve perused it, and especially have enjoyed “getting to know” some of our employees I have not met. For instance, I had no idea that Penny Wells at the Oakland Center plays with the Violin Divas amateur ensemble. I’m sure she’s good – anyone who’s a “diva” has to be good.
I also read that the Student Veterans Organization is holding a cold-weather clothing drive to support veterans in need. I can think of no group more worthy of our support than the men and women who have represented our nation in the armed services. Tomorrow is Veteran’s Day, and we all would do well to thank a veteran for his or her service and bravery.
I intend to support the clothing drive. This weekend, after I watch our football team take on the University of Findlay in our last game of the regular season, I will be cleaning out my closet. I have a few coats that I fear (I know!) will never fit me again, and I will be happy and proud to give these to veterans who are thinner than I. Donations can be dropped off until Nov. 18 in room 687 of the Student Center.
There are endless opportunities on campus for community service. You can volunteer. Mentor a student. Or do something as easy as provide warmth to someone in need. Don’t miss a chance to change someone’s life for the better.
It has been a busy fall. It seems as though we were just welcoming our new students and faculty to campus, and already we are well into October.
And what an interesting fall it has been. In addition to new students and faculty, we have welcomed many distinguished visitors to campus. Harry Belafonte shared his thoughts with us as part of the Damon J. Keith Lecture Series. At the FOCIS event, we heard from TIAA-CREF president and CEO Roger Ferguson and former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich. Last week, former Vice President Al Gore spoke at a symposium on the Great Lakes. I particularly enjoy this aspect of university life—the convening of smart people to talk about ideas and figure out how to address the challenges of today’s world.
Of course, these events are a small subset of the total activity of a university campus. September and October have been filled with the important business of teaching and research, and the comings and goings of people and events—from Homecoming to Alumni Golden Jubilee celebrations.
One of the things I find most interesting is meeting with faculty. Last Monday I hosted several members of the faculty for dinner and conversation. The faculty were most of those we have featured in our “Professors who do” poster campaign that you may have seen around campus. This was the second such dinner this semester. Our agenda was simple—get to know each other and share ideas.
Not all of the faculty members had met each other, so this gave them a chance to get acquainted. It gave me a chance to meet some very talented people and listen to their thoughts about Wayne State. One idea in particular struck me, and we are going to act on it. It was the idea that professors can be our best ambassadors. And if they choose to represent Wayne State (and I hope they all do), they should be given the appropriate support to help them.
I agree, and will be sending a note to all faculty members soon explaining how they can participate. We understand that our faculty members already do a great deal for Wayne State, and not all will wish to participate. But we want to make it as easy as possible for those who do.
We plan to provide similar communications soon for students, alumni, and administrators who also want to spread the word about Wayne State.
This hidden asset will be coming more and more into the sunlight—and, ultimately, the limelight.
Last week I attended Convocation, where we welcomed our first-time students to Wayne State. It was a glorious day. The campus looked beautiful, and the weather cooperated. But the best part was seeing our new students and their families. Wayne State is new to them. And they bring a fresh infusion of eagerness and enthusiasm that I hope we all can enjoy.
This is one of the wonderful things about working on a university campus. Every fall we have a new start. Of course, it’s not completely new for those of us who are here already. And, in some ways, we don’t need a new start. We are building on 143 years of success, so we’ve done many things right for a long time. Those we want to continue. But we can still use this new energy to recharge our own enthusiasm. And find opportunities to make things better.
The week before Convocation I had lunch with our new faculty. We welcomed about 130 new faculty to our campus—many tenured or tenure-track. They are bright, accomplished, and eager to make a difference. I found their energy infectious. So much so that I intend to sit in on a few classes this semester. I just hope I don’t get called on.
I hope you feel the energy of the new fall semester. There are many interesting and entertaining events coming up in September and October. Take advantage of them. Get to know the campus all over again. Remember what it was like to be on a college campus for the first time—like it is to these students. And remember how fortunate we are to be part of this great institution.
Last Wednesday we met for our latest campus Town Hall discussion. I enjoy these opportunities because they give me the chance to both share information and hear from you.
There is a lot for us to be proud of since our last gathering, and I noted some of our recent accomplishments at Wednesday’s event. Among the most important was a groundbreaking study by the Perinatology Research Branch of the National Institutes of Health, which is housed right here by WSU at Hutzel Women’s Hospital. A simple, low cost procedure has been shown to decrease premature births by 45 percent in women with a short cervix. This is a game changer, and we should be proud of Dr. Roberto Romero, Dr. Sonia Hassan and their colleagues. I also highlighted the success of our Live Midtown initiative with Henry Ford Health System and the DMC, which is attracting new residents to Midtown. To date, we have approved 170 applications, nearly 80 of which have closed. There is much more good news—a new athletic facility, four new deans, more than 100 new faculty members—52 of whom are tenure track. It’s tempting to go on. But it’s also important that we understand the challenges we face and the opportunities that accompany them. This is the only way we can continue to grow and improve.
As you know, we recently approved the budget for fiscal year 2012. To do so, we had to absorb a $32 million cut in state funding—the largest in our history. This required greater operational efficiencies, a large tuition increase, and, as a last resort, the reduction of approximately 200 positions, 85 of which were filled. This is among the hardest realities we face, but we had little choice. We have no plans for another reduction in force, though individual situations may arise due to the union bumping process or unique circumstances.
I don’t anticipate the state restoring funding to higher education any time soon. Recently WSU and Michigan State were summoned to testify in Lansing regarding our tuition increases. The issue was settled in our favor, but it is clear the legislature is stepping up its scrutiny of higher education. That could be unsettling if we were waiting to see what happened next. But we’re not. We are already taking steps to position ourselves for the future. Rather than become victims of change, we intend to lead it.
At the Town Hall I noted a number of areas where you can expect to see changes over the next months and years; you may have seen some already. Our budget process requires better information for decision-making and integration of the internal financial systems. Our graduation rates and retention rates are improving, but they remain unacceptable. We will continue to be a university of opportunity, where students with the talent and desire—but perhaps not the academic background—are given a chance. But we must also be honest about which students have a chance to succeed, and which do not. We must do what is right for the students. Their success if our success. And their failure is our failure.
I reported to you earlier in the year that we had retained the Huron Consulting Group to provide recommendations regarding our administrative processes. We recently received the final report, and you can expect to see significant improvements in structures, processes and systems in areas like C&IT, purchasing, FP&M, travel policy, human resources, financial aid, and admissions.
Development and Alumni Affairs also worked with an outside consulting firm and will be adopting an approach much better suited to the unique needs of each of our schools and colleges.
As a result of our own surveys on customer service, we plan to adopt a “one-stop-shopping” approach in enrollment services, so our prospective and current students can get the help they need in one place.
There is much going on to improve the way we do things, but it is all for one reason: the success of Wayne State University. We offer a unique combination that no other Michigan university offers—a comprehensive research university; in a metropolitan location; with a diversity of business, culture and people that resembles the real world. It is this combination that ensures our students are prepared to succeed, and this is why we are here. Let’s build on it.
This year I’m spending the July 4th weekend in northern Michigan, where I will have the luxury of a brief pause between a busy June and the ramp up to the new school year. It already seems like a long time ago, but last month we approved the budget. It wasn’t easy, and required many difficult decisions that will be implemented over the next months and years. But I was pleased by the collaboration of people across campus, and especially appreciate the Board of Governors’ hard and thoughtful work on this. I will speak more about this at a town hall meeting we will be scheduling for August. I hope you can attend.
Earlier in June I attended the Mackinac Policy Conference. When I and my two colleagues from the University Research Corridor – President Mary Sue Coleman from the University of Michigan and President Lou Anna Simon from Michigan State – weren’t doing interviews with the press, I was able to attend a few talks and seminars. One was from Jim Collins, author of Good to Great. Collins described one characteristic of successful organizations as the ability to “face the brutal facts.” He also said the successful people and successful organizations succeed in any environment. I think both of these apply to our situation. We are facing the “brutal fact” of the largest cut in state appropriations in our history with objectivity and professionalism.
We are also well aware of the tough environment going forward. Higher education is the target for a great deal of criticism lately. Some of it is due to tuition increases, but some is due to the general feeling that universities have avoided the harsh reality with which businesses have had to contend. This is not entirely true, but we can expect to face increased scrutiny and higher expectations. That is part of our environment going forward. Success in such an environment will take focus, and hard work, and change. But we will succeed.
For the moment, though, it’s good to pause, enjoy the summer, and get ready for the fall. It won’t be long before the campus is teeming with students again—a great reminder of why we are here, and a great incentive build on Wayne State’s success.
Our Presidential Inauguration was held on April 15. After a full day of tradition and celebration, I was both exhilarated and exhausted. Thank you. To those who planned the day; to those who exhibited their talent and genius; and to those who attended and shared their kind wishes and comments. I enjoyed every moment.
I remarked in my comments that tradition is good. It connects us with our history, and allows us a precious opportunity to pause and think—about who we are, what we do, and where we are going. Wayne State has been around since 1868. We have a long and successful record of discovering knowledge and passing it on. We also have great potential to prosper and grow.
If you were able to attend or watch the Academic Symposium, you had a small taste of this potential. This event featured just a few of our faculty stars presenting or exhibiting on topics from the sciences to the humanities to the arts. It was a terrific event, and a true celebration of our faculty talent. We are fortunate to have such depth and creativity in our University.
The formal inauguration ceremony followed the symposium, and I was humbled by the generous reception and the attendance of so many distinguished guests. The day concluded with a concert showcasing the talent of our students. I was once again amazed by the professionalism and excellence displayed during a broad mix of dance and music. If you weren’t able to be there, you can view the inaugural activities at: http://president.wayne.edu/speeches.php.
Each of the day’s events made me proud to be part of this extraordinary institution. I was honored by the effort and energy of everyone involved, but most of all I was grateful for the trust you have placed in me to lead Wayne State University.
I look forward to working with you as we move ahead.