Making a Difference at Home and in the World

August 26, 2009

Good morning.  It’s wonderful to see you all.  And once again we have sounds of construction outside and the sense of renewal and expectation as students arrive and begin to move into the residence halls.  It is astonishing for me to realize that this is the fourth time I have been privileged to address you in this forum, as we look forward to the coming academic year, to making a difference in the lives of students who will themselves make a difference, in a ripple effect impossible to measure but critical to recognize and to treasure.

People often ask what happens over the summer; “it must be so quiet,” they say.  This year faculty members offered 300 courses, including a full graduate session.  Faculty and staff members hosted 32 conferences and events, providing wonderful programs such as Mindflight, the New Hampshire Writing Project, the Piano Monster Festivals, sports camps, and LEGO camps for children.  There were children’s theater performances and New Hampshire Music Festival concerts.  Hundreds of graduates returned for Alumni Weekend, which marked the dedication of the new Veterans Commons, funded by alumni to honor our military veterans.  The Pakistani Educational Leadership Institute celebrated its 6th year, and we appreciate what it means that its alums have trained tens of thousands of master teachers across Pakistan.  Facilities across campus were remodeled.  Faculty members received awards, were nominated for awards, travelled the globe creating partnerships and programs, advanced their research and creative projects, mentored students here and at remote sites, and cheered students who were selected to study opera in Salzburg or winds at Cape Canaveral.

There were a number of transitions and firsts. Chancellor Ed MacKay began his first year as USNH’s chancellor.  For those of you who don’t know him, he is a former high school math teacher and coach and worked in student affairs before turning to financial affairs.  He is a national leader in his field.   He is also himself first-generation college and understands on a personal level what we do and what it means.  We honored retiring chancellor Stephen J. Reno, who, fortunately, will continue his efforts on behalf of USNH’s international partnerships.  We welcomed with joy our first, and full, cohort of impressive students in the Doctor of Education in Learning, Leadership, and Community with a presentation by the state’s new Commissioner of Education, former PSU provost Ginny Barry.  As I travel the state, educators stop me to say how pleased they are about the doctoral program and how much they look forward to participating.  The first phase of our center for Active Living, Learning, and Wellness (ALLWell), a complex, integrated project for teaching, research, and community engagement, as well as for athletics and recreation, has progressed, with the ice arena‘s 252 geothermal wells nearly sealed.  (A forum is being scheduled for 9 September for those who wish more information.)   The first phase of the construction determined by students to be necessary for the EcoHouse—a new foundation—was completed.  PSU awarded the first Henry W. Blair Medal for Distinguished Public Service to Plymouth resident and former NH Supreme Court Justice William F. Batchelder at an event hosted by PSU friends and community partners the Reverend Sid Lovett and Alex Ray. And PSU was named, thanks to good work in Academic Affairs and Human Resources, and to your responses, to the Chronicle of Higher Education’s 2009 list of Great Colleges To Work For, an achievement of which all can be proud.

So, yes, summer was quiet – and by comparison with the level of excitement we already can sense as the autumn semester begins, it was.
Let me bring you up to date on items that have required much recent effort: first, the budget and related enrollment issues. Many of the uncertainties I discussed with you last year have been resolved.  In June, Governor Lynch and the legislature approved a biennial budget that employs federal stimulus dollars to supplement state dollars in order to keep funding level with last biennium for USNH.  Our state appropriation is 14% of PSU’s budget, and, in this economy, level state funding is a significant commitment to public higher education.  Soon afterward, the Board of Trustees met on campus and confirmed the tuition increase that we had anticipated, 6% for New Hampshire residents and 5% for non-residents.  Because people across campus, including our student leaders, had worked to keep room-and-board and mandatory fees to a minimum, PSU’s increase in cost of attendance for in-state students is 4.8%, the lowest increase of the three residential campuses in the system.   That means that for 2009-2010, PSU’s tuition is $7,000 for residents and approximately $15,000 for non-residents; with room-and-board and mandatory fees, the estimated undergraduate cost is approximately $17,500 for residents and $25,500 for non-residents, and to that must be added additional costs, such as books and travel.   You also should know that, as part of financial aid for in-state students, USNH institutions meet the gap between the “expected family contribution” and the cost of attendance.  We have increased institutional financial aid by approximately 12% for next year and nearly 20% over the past two years in order to respond to students’ and their families’ situations.

The primary uncertainty that remains is our fall enrollment, and student tuition is approximately 70% of our budget.  Right now we are cautiously optimistic and are monitoring closely a number of measures.  Our number of first-time applications had increased each year for several years; this year we received a number second only to last year’s, and the quality of applicants is equally high.  We are enrolling slightly more resident students, which corresponds to our expectations.   Our graduate enrollments are slightly ahead of last year at this time, as would also be expected in a difficult economy, but it is too early to know for certain.  Much can happen in upcoming weeks with both undergraduate and graduate students.  We will not know until 30 days after registration (R+30) exactly what our undergraduate enrollment will be, and whether the balance of resident and non-resident students matches our budget projections.  As a result, as I said in my last update to you, the members of the cabinet and I cannot make any statement about salary increases until later in the semester, after our enrollment numbers are certain.  We have budgeted carefully and are trying to be both careful as stewards and transparent in our processes.  Our goals are to support students and to provide a stable work environment for faculty and staff members.
In this year of unprecedented economic upheaval, many people at PSU have worked on budget and enrollment issues: Vice President Steve Taksar, for whom last year surely was an interesting and memorable first year; the Finance division; the Admissions team; the members of the Planning and Budgeting Leadership Group; the Office of Public Relations; all of you who submitted ideas to me and the cabinet; and all of you who contained costs.  Many of your ideas for cost containment have been implemented or are being discussed, from hybrid cars to composting.  Other ideas for revenue enhancement have coalesced into exciting initiatives, such as the White Mountains Institute that Provost Julie Bernier will be discussing in a few minutes.   Under the leadership of Sylvia Bryant, Executive Director of University Advancement, and with the support of the PSU President’s Council, we are moving forward on a fundraising campaign for PSU.
Because the H1N1 virus is likely to affect our autumn semester and winterim in significant ways, we also have engaged in extended emergency planning. Tammy Hill, PSU Manager of Environmental Health and Safety, has led the pandemic planning efforts, and you will receive regular updates via e-mail and on the website.  All of us must be prepared for substantial absenteeism among students, the majority of whom are in the age group most likely to be seriously affected, and among faculty and staff members, who may be ill themselves or need to care for family members.  Some staff members are being fitted with masks to allow them to care for students who may be unable to return home, and faculty members will need to be prepared to help others, working with students electronically, taking classes for colleagues, filling in for others in various roles.  Supervisors across campus have been asked to develop plans for keeping basic functions intact, and, although it now seems less likely than it did a few months ago, we are preparing for eventualities as serious as temporary closure.  As we have worked together on budget issues, we will work together through this.

Many of you may have heard by now that someone who has had a major influence on our students, our recruiting, and our campus community, will be shifting roles.  Vice President Dick Hage will be retiring as Vice President for Student Affairs after this year, though I have convinced him to continue part-time as coordinator of domestic and international recruiting.  PSU will conduct a national search for his successor, and we will later this academic year recognize his impact over more than three decades at PSU in creating a campus culture of what our students call “respectful dialogue.” Thank you, Dick.
Last year, you as faculty accomplished a great deal; you worked on curricular revision, workload issues, P&T and annual review, and adjunct faculty initiatives.  That work will continue this year, as will discussions of academic restructuring.  As a campus we will continue to move forward on our strategic plan, to think about environmental sustainability and wellness, internationalization and diversity. It is important that we move forward on our plans and priorities even in challenging times.  There is much to do and much to look forward to.  (By the way, we will have a distinguished guest at convocation next week.  Amory Lovins, energy entrepreneur and co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute, will receive an honorary doctor of science degree, a wonderful opportunity for our first-year students and one about which you will hear more soon.)

In focusing on our students, each of you makes a difference.  Those being honored in Excellence 2009 reflect our motto, Ut prosim (That I may serve), and we thank and congratulate them.  When then chancellor Stephen Reno and, just this week, PSU Director of Financial Aid June Schlabach were interviewed on The Exchange, PSU students called in with praise.  (Links are accessible for those interviews.)  Let me read briefly from two letters from our 2009 graduates.  One writes to thank the faculty.  Her professors, she says, and she refers to faculty members in English; Education; Music, Theatre and Dance; and Social Sciences “pushed me to my scholarly and creative limits.  They always encouraged me to do more, and to do it with greater precision, greater clarity, and greater passion.”  She hopes to “make Plymouth proud.”

Another writes:  “When I speak to PSU alumni, I always hear the same thing – ‘I love Plymouth State.’  I understand why, first-hand.  The faculty and staff truly care about the students and everything seems to run seamlessly, which does not happen by itself; that comes from true team effort.  PSU has changed my view of the world by example.  The past year has been incredibly difficult . . . for our country as a whole.  To me, PSU has been a beacon that shines brightly.  When it comes to offering a great college experience with knowledge, organization, support, respect, and compassion, Plymouth State University walks the walk.”

This summer, our Board of Trustees was visiting PSU in June. Provost Bernier asked faculty members and department chairs to locate photos of our students engaged in serving, whether in our host communities of Plymouth and Holderness, in the state and region, or across the globe.  I thought you would enjoy the video that resulted, developed from your materials and scripted and created on campus by the Offices of Academic Affairs, Public Relations, and Information Technology. The narrator is Steve Barba, Executive Director of University Relations, and you will recognize the music of the men’s a cappella group, Vocal Order.  After the video, or at any other time, I’ll be happy to take questions.  Thank you, and have a wonderful year.