A Heritage of Excellence, A Commitment to Innovation and Engagement

August 23, 2006

Good morning. I am so pleased to welcome you all and to have this opportunity to speak with you as we begin our new year together. I hope you’ve had happy and productive summers and are as eager as I am to begin our work. Outside we have the noise of heavy equipment, music to me because it means wonderful new facilities and infrastructure are being readied, and the greetings of students returning to campus to prepare for the greater numbers of eager students soon to arrive.

In April, I was honored to be introduced to you as your 14th president, and I have spent my first weeks learning about PSU through its people, a process I will continue over the coming months, meeting with individuals and with groups on a regular basis. Please know that my door is open to you and that I look forward to seeing you in your office, lab, or studio as well. And thank you to those of you who invited me to summer workshops, presentations, and special events; I attended as many as I could and enjoyed the opportunity to do so.

During the past weeks, people often have asked me to define the specific directions in which I’d like PSU to move, sometimes with excitement about future initiatives and sometimes with an underlying concern that part of what they value might be lost. So let me start our conversation – and today is just that, the start of an ongoing conversation — by saying that I, too, value what Plymouth State University is. Its future is something we will shape together.

One of my first days in office, I found a manuscript journal kept by Carrie E. Abbott of Rumney, a student at the Plymouth State Normal and Training School from 1885 to 1888. In it, she recorded what she was learning about how to be a good schoolteacher. Let me quote from one section for the first year’s work. “Lay aside slates by count. It is well to give pupils their names written on small pieces of ruled cardboard as soon as they enter school. Some pupils will be able to copy them on their slates in a few days, others in few weeks” (7).

By the second year, she notes, some students will be able to use pen and ink, “but the success depends almost wholly upon the teacher,” who also should be guiding students to work together (13). She discusses drawing, math, and reading, to “cultivate the perceptive powers, memory and imagination” (51). She explores teaching language, the history and culture of Greece and Italy, and science, such as “the advantages of mountains” — among others, that the rain can run off (245). She writes of having students participate in learning.

The technology of teaching, and of teaching teachers, at PSU has radically changed, but the commitment to individual student learning is part of the PSU heritage of excellence. (And, yes, her manuscript journal will be transferred to Lamson’s Michael J. Spinelli Center archives.) This faculty week itself is in that tradition of on-going learning; such a full-scale effort to come together as an educational community is unusual and special.

I’ve also been asking a set of questions of those with whom I’ve met over the summer, and I am asking them of all of you now. First, as we look forward and think about how we’ll change, what should we be sure to hold onto? What keeps you at Plymouth State and should never be lost, no matter what else we change? Second, if the president were to ask you what should change, what would you tell her? And third, what are your dreams for PSU, the back-of-the-mind aspirations you usually don’t articulate, the musings, the wouldn’t’t-it-be-wonderful-ifs?

What I believed when I visited campus, and what has been consistently affirmed by those of you who have spoken about that first question – what do you most value about PSU? — is that we are genuinely student-centered and committed to people, to those we serve on and off campus and to each other. Ut Prosim – “that I may serve” — is a motto that powerfully resonates with many people here.

Others have emphasized that PSU is a place that cares about innovation and engagement: innovation in teaching, in scholarship and creativity, in service; and engagement in learning and in active interactions with our community, state, and region. I like that word engagement because it implies reciprocity that we learn as well as teach, listen as well as speak.

There are three issues that I plan to work on during this initial year of my presidency. The first we are beginning this week, as I and Interim Provost Julie Bernier invite those of you on the faculty and staff to talk about your hopes and dreams for PSU, the ideas that eventually will help us all shape the next phase of strategies. Provost Bernier spent part of yesterday afternoon in this discussion with the department chairs at their retreat, and other opportunities will follow.

In recent years, our innovation and engagement have been evident. We have officially become a university. We have initiated a new General Education curriculum, a first-year seminar, and a University Studies program for students deciding on a major; we have developed the Frost School for Continuing and Professional Studies; we have worked on retention — our retention rate for first-year students has increased by 17 percent—and our applications continue to increase. We have added new degree options. We have become increasingly active in research, scholarship, and creativity and in offering our undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to join us. Our Centers for the Environment and for Rural Partnerships are moving forward with exciting initiatives, as are our established, successful institutes; and our graduate programs are flourishing and expanding, having increased by 88 percent in the past five years. That indicates vitality and excitement.

As we continue to move forward, however, we also need to examine whether there are issues such as faculty workload, or the relationship between undergraduate and graduate programs, or space, or other concerns – and you should have the opportunity to tell me what they are—that we should begin to address in order to ensure the continued long-term vigor of our programs. In addition, the Faculty Welfare Committee is looking at promotion and tenure standards, and we will be assessing the report of the committee charged to recommend changes to campus governance. There is much to consider this academic year.

Once we have these discussions under way and are developing a sense of direction, we will then begin a search for the permanent Provost. (And I have left open the possibility that Dr. Julie Bernier may apply for that position if she chooses.)

Second, I plan to work on development and advancement. We are fortunate to have a loyal group of alumni who are very supportive of us. Some of them have taken the initiative to write or phone or stop me on the street or in a restaurant to describe their experiences; our graduates have been incredibly positive in speaking of how their lives were transformed here and how well they were prepared for graduate school or their positions. On July 3rd, my husband, Joe, and I went to the fireworks in Ashland and met a series of recent graduates who wanted to talk with us about the wonderful people I should get to know and be sure NOT to fire. “Please don’t fire Professor Santore – he’s so good with students.” (This does raise an interesting question, by the way, of what people might imagine a president’s role to be.) We have a President’s Council formed of alumni who took a leadership role in our last campaign, raising millions of dollars over their goal; they are ready to work with and for us again.

On campus, we will continue to connect our budgeting with our planning; to manage our revenues effectively; to serve as good stewards of our resources; to work with an awareness of our students and their families and the costs of higher education. And we will seek partnerships and new resources that will allow us to succeed and help our students to succeed.

Third, I plan to work closely with the town of Plymouth to move our united community forward. We are lucky to be in a wonderful town, and I will do my best to advance our joint interests with our neighbors and friends here. Relationships between a town and a campus are most difficult when the two are similar in size, as is the case here, and we can draw on creative ideas developed in other places. The close working relationships among Plymouth, Holderness, and Plymouth State University, and especially our Athletic program, in the recent Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl parade and football game are indicative of the high level of cooperation we are capable of achieving.

Those are some of my plans for the coming academic year.

Now I would like a few moments to survey some recent events, announcements, and achievements. (I enjoy being able to say to groups with whom I meet, “Let me tell you about the past few weeks” because you have given me so many PSU accomplishments to discuss.)

  • Four of our students – Daniel Scott Michaud, Melissa D. Payer, Katherine Anne Pingree, and James Jared Rennie — have received Ernest F. Hollings undergraduate scholarships for 2006-2007, 4 of 101 given nationally. These awards of up to $8 thousand dollars each are made to junior and senior students who have shown promise and are interested in careers in public service or as teachers in oceanic and atmospheric science. The students all will have a summer internship and attend a culminating conference. (You have an idea of the company in which our students are and will be working when I tell you that other award-winners came from places such as Harvard, Stanford, and the University of Michigan.)
  • Nine of our undergraduate and graduate students, with professors Kate Donahue and Len Reitsma, have seen their work on community-based conservation in Tanzania published in Interdisciplinary Environmental Review.
  • We have had success in external funding, on topics such as surface and ground water, tourism in New Hampshire, acid rain, education in the North Country, the environment and sustainable rural economies, and the Pakistani Institute. For such projects, we have received notification in recent weeks of $2.8M for 2006-2007, and the year is only starting. With these funds we will accomplish much.
  • Faculty have also published new books, made presentations, had exhibits on their work, led workshops, accepted editorial positions on journals, and guided productions. There are more news items here, as you well know, than I can list. And our teaching has been extended, with projects such as Mindflight, the Piano Monster program, the KAT theatre productions, the National Writing Project, the Math-Science partnership, and others. This summer we have enjoyed the ongoing partnership between the Silver Center and the New Hampshire Music Festival.
  • This year’s theme for our convocation and the 2006-2007 academic year is Asia, reflecting our commitment to internationalization and to diversity. Increasingly we are asked, as are all institutions of higher education nationwide, what we are doing to ensure that our students can compete in a global arena and help to solve the large problems that can be addressed only with an understanding of varied peoples and cultures. Diversity is part of educational excellence, and we will continue our commitment to it.
  • We are establishing a graduate campus in Concord, where we have significant partnerships and growth. Instead of having our graduate students move from available classroom to available classroom across the city, we have leased a portion of a building at 2 Pillsbury Street and will have state-of-the-art classrooms, a conference room, and office space, as well as safe, well-lighted parking for evening and weekend classes. In this, we are cooperating with the New Hampshire Association of School Principals. The facility will open for advising in October and for classes in December.
  • Many of you already have visited the new Lamson Learning Commons, integrating computer support with research and reference assistance and even a new internet café. This is an exciting and innovative campus collaboration of which we can be proud.
  • Among our projects in this busiest of PSU construction seasons, our new residence hall, Langdon Woods, is opening within days. This $29.5 million, 347-bed facility, with a fitness center and coffee shop, will be a LEED certified environmentally sound building, in keeping with our philosophy as a green campus. Many people – faculty, students, Vice Presidents Hage and Crangle, and those in Residence Life and the Physical Plant — have participated in its design and construction. They deserve our congratulations and appreciation for their fine work. We will have a formal opening celebration later in the semester.

Finally, I am grateful and honored to be part of this community. Several weeks ago, I met a candidate for a new faculty position who was having lunch with the search committee. He said he understood that I was new here, and I said “No, I’ve been here for weeks.” Luckily he understood I was joking, and I will be working hard to learn about PSU and New Hampshire as I meet with you and others across the state in the coming months. But the comment also had a serious aspect in that it reflected how very welcoming this campus and town have been, how much my husband and I already have been made to feel that Plymouth and Plymouth State University are home. Thank you.

Let me now shift gears and turn to our guest speaker. As academics, we are fortunate to be able to unite our avocation and our vocation, to paraphrase Robert Frost, and it is now my pleasure to introduce our guest speaker today, Dr. Vincent Tinto, Distinguished University Professor at Syracuse University and Chair of the Higher Education Program. He is obviously someone who has embraced learning in many forms — Dr. Tinto holds degrees in physics, philosophy, mathematics, education, and sociology – and united his avocation and vocation. He has written and lectured widely on student learning and retention, learning communities and the first-year experience, and collaborative pedagogies, and we are happy to have him join us this week. Please welcome him to Plymouth State University.