Plymouth’s Excellence in Its People

Faculty Week Address
President Sara Jayne Steen
Plymouth State University, August 24, 2011


Good morning, colleagues. It is wonderful to see everyone and feel the energy on campus pick up as new faculty members and their department chairs enjoy dinner outside Mary Lyon, student athletes begin practice, and student leaders laugh in the sunshine and wave at administrators. Last week, someone told me that I’m still a 6-year-old getting a new goldenrod tablet at the start of school–which is partly true, though the image makes me feel only slightly younger than if the comment had involved a slate. I know that many of you also find this a joyous time of year, a time of new beginnings and engaging interactions with colleagues and students. Today we focus on our joint enterprise in a thoughtful and structured way that faculty at most universities can only imagine. Truly, it is an honor to welcome you today.

Let me start with budget and enrollment updates. Obviously the legislative session was difficult and disappointing. Executive Director of University Relations Steve Barba tracked 88 bills affecting our students and programs, the most public of which was our appropriation. As you know, the University System of New Hampshire in June received a 48 percent reduction in state appropriation, which Chancellor MacKay notes was the second highest percentage reduction in the country. Because New Hampshire was 50th in its support of public higher education, however, that loss was lower in actual dollars than the reductions for many public institutions in other states. For PSU, the loss was between $6 and $7M, or 6-7 percent of our budget. As Vice President of Finance Steve Taksar says, it’s the equivalent of the tuition and fees of almost 700 students. We needed to balance the budget recognizing that there is no reason to believe that in New Hampshire–or nationally–the funding lost to public higher education this year will quickly be restored.

Our goal was to put people first, not to have our students and their families handle all the burden, or our faculty and staff. We hoped to avoid mandatory furloughs or staff layoffs, and we achieved that. Balancing the budget was a complex process involving many people, from Steve Taksar and his team to the Planning and Budgeting Leadership Group, the members of the System Personnel Policy Council, and the many individuals who brought forward creative ideas. Thank you to all.

To balance the budget, we reduced expenditures and increased revenues through additional tuition. We held off salary increases. This year’s benefits reduction directly returned dollars to the campus in the form of a lowered benefits rate. Faculty and staff separation incentive plans and time reductions lowered our ongoing base costs, and operational efficiencies such as not providing cell phones contributed. As you well know, we have left some positions vacant and reduced or delayed some planned investments, though we are continuing to make strategic one-time investments that will allow us to emerge as a university even more focused on mission and to continue to succeed.

Access and affordability are huge issues for public higher education. Education is what we believe in, and many of us are the first in our families to attend college: we know what education means for lives extending into generations. After the legislature completed its budget reductions, PSU increased the cost of attendance for New Hampshire residents by $710, for a total increase between February and June of approximately 9.7 percent, a rate that is not sustainable. We will this year be working to keep any further increases very low. Knowing what this meant for students and families, we also increased financial aid for our neediest students by 28 percent this year (after increasing it 12 percent and 14 percent in the two previous years). Just to remind you, the cost of undergraduate attendance is now $20K for New Hampshire residents and $28K for non-residents, and our graduates leave with an average debt of $30K, meaning that some have none and others more.

Thanks to strong admissions efforts, we received 6000 applications from potential new students, and early reports indicate that we will slightly exceed our enrollment projection, although it is too early to accurately predict. Not surprisingly, slightly more students are staying in state or transferring from the community colleges, taking us to 41 percent non-resident and 59 percent resident undergraduates, a 1 percent increase in residential students over two years. Incoming students had a slightly higher profile in math, one predictor of academic success. The good news is that resident and non-resident students continue to be attracted to the academic excellence that PSU provides. Online studies have increased, graduate enrollments are stable, and the new nursing program has attracted 92 happy and excited students.

We want to bring faculty and staff compensation to the level of comparators and above, but you will not be surprised that the cabinet and I are delaying any decision on salary increases until we know more about enrollment. As hires are delayed or vacancies restructured, faculty and staff are taking on additional responsibilities, and I hope we can reward and reclassify staff soon.

Vacancies sometimes create other issues as well; for example, with Carol Kuzdeba’s retirement this summer, two of the three top Human Resources positions would be unfilled and one interim. Elaine Doell has been an extraordinary leader in a difficult time, and we need internal stability for PSU employees. As a result I have asked her to serve as director, to hire someone as soon as possible to succeed Carol, and to hold the third position vacant for now. A formal announcement will be going out soon.

There are other personnel shifts this year. As a result of serious family issues, former Vice President for Student Affairs Rick Barth returned to Alabama a few weeks after commencement. A search is beginning, to be chaired by Steve Taksar. In the meantime, the Student Affairs Leadership Team includes Assistant Vice President of Student Life Terri Potter; Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs Frank Cocchiarella; Dean of Students Tim Keefe; and Coordinator of Recruiting and former Vice President Dick Hage (and I am grateful to Dick for his post-retirement commitment to PSU). There was realignment in Student Affairs last spring, so if you have questions about whom to contact on an issue, call Darlene Brill in the Student Affairs Office.

One of our investments has been in Advancement, an area increasingly important. For those of you who have not met her–most of you, since she has been here all of three and a half weeks–I’m pleased to introduce Sally Holland, Vice President for University Advancement, who recently joined us after a search led by Executive Director Steve Barba. Most recently, Sally has been at the University of Delaware; she also was Director of Development at Williams and Vice President at Middlebury–and we have lured her home to New Hampshire. (She has an undergraduate degree from UNH and worked with the Appalachian Mountain Club.) And I would like to extend my thanks to Laure Morris for her wonderful work as interim director of University Advancement through the spring and summer.

In upcoming weeks, you will see more of Sally, as she attends meetings and learns about your programs. University Advancement will be working to increase annual funds for current use to replace some of our reduction in state appropriation; to develop scholarships and support for faculty and staff; and to support capital projects–and the academic deans will be closely involved. ALLWell (the Center for Active Living, Learning, and Wellness) is the University System of New Hampshire’s top priority with the Capital Projects Committee of the legislature, and support for Capital Projects has been a huge state contribution toward our success–witness the Silver Center and Boyd Hall. The USNH plan is that each campus raises 20 percent toward our buildings from internal reallocation or private sources, even those academic buildings supported by the state, so Advancement’s role there too will be significant. Planning toward ALLWell phase 2 has begun, and plans for the first phase of the Museum of the White Mountains are being finalized. Both facilities will offer wonderful opportunities for teaching, research, and engagement, affecting students and faculty across many disciplines and creating powerful connections with the region.

Starting today, you will be engaging with the academic deans in a conversation about the future, and our future–important explorations in innovation. If learning increasingly will be available in many different forms, the residential campuses that thrive will have thought about how they are distinctive and created meaningful long-term academic plans. This year will be a natural time for reflection and discussion, because we are assessing the University and preparing for the NEASC review in 2013. As someone who is now a NEASC review team chair, I know how much work is involved for a campus. Thanks to many of you for the work in which you already have engaged and will engage. This year we will strategize about the planning process and place the active process more clearly in sync with our NEASC accreditation reviews.

Among other initiatives for this year is emergency planning. The campus has, thanks to IT and Public Relations, an updated emergency messaging system. Please be sure you are registered to receive messages. And although our last emergency plan was developed only a few years ago, it should be updated, and each of you should know how to react in a crisis so we are a team.

Last year was a difficult one in terms of our ongoing relationship with our host community of Plymouth, and I am asking this year for a renewed emphasis on community relations. A 1913 issue of the student paper, The Prospect, recalls the Teachers’ Seminary that preceded us on this site. According to the article, in 1839 three dozen subjects from intellectual arithmetic to mollusks and the art of teaching were taught by 12 faculty to 200 students. Stage coaches were the transportation. And each student was “in conduct and deportment, to have reference to the happiness and convenience of others.” If all students had been doing so, of course, there would have been no need to say it. Student noise, for example, isn’t a new problem, but it is one on which we continually must educate students, and this year the town has an updated noise ordinance. Last year faculty member Jeremiah Duncan led a clean-up initiative, and this year several faculty members who live in Plymouth are sponsoring cookouts to help students and neighbors gather together. The Student Affairs leaders have many new activities planned, on campus and in the neighborhoods. I hope that you will let me know of other ideas and will encourage students to respect their town.

I sometimes offer long lists of honors, and I do so because I want you to have a sense of the campus achievements. For example, the Savage Welcome Center / Hanaway Rink, last year featured on the covers of Rink and College Planning and Management magazines, has been named Business NH Magazine’s Green Building for 2011. It was not easy to design a sustainable ice arena, and thanks go to many in Academic Affairs, Athletics, Finance and Administration, and the Physical Plant who created something innovative, from its geothermal wells to the technology. PSU again has been named one of the nation’s most environmentally responsible universities by The Princeton Review; and for the fourth year has been entered on the President’s Service Honor Role for civic engagement and community service, recognizing the Community Service Center and the service learning initiatives across the disciplines. Locally, PSU was recognized with the CADY Community Partner Award “in recognition and appreciation for your collaborative spirit, partnership, and leadership in support of youth substance abuse prevention.” Those awards say much about how the motto of “Ut Prosim” is lived by faculty, staff, and students.

In the final analysis, PSU is all about the excellence that faculty and staff live and inspire in students, in teaching, in scholarship, in related activities. It is about our first two EdD candidates, Cheryl Baker and June Hammond Rowan, defending their dissertations this week. Or the bright photos of graduate and undergraduate students doing research in Iceland this summer with Lisa Doner (CFE), collecting sub-bottom lake profiles and mapping the lake floor. It’s about English students teaching creative writing to middle school students in Campton and creating the young people’s first book. It’s about the breathtaking student murals on the R&D building in Berlin, bringing together students and faculty, the PSU Department of Art and Center for Rural Partnerships, and external partners. The “It Gets Better” video, initiated and produced by faculty and staff to respond to LGBT student suicides, has been viewed by tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people; one alum wrote, “This video is one more example of excellence in the people, programs and philosophy which guide PSU. … In my career it has always been about the people–and Plymouth has such good people.”

Today, three new faculty awards will be announced, and this year’s Excellence publication distributed, an important start to the academic year. Congratulations to the award-winners and to all of you for all you do. Let me now introduce Provost Bernier to begin the awards.