The Plymouth Commitment: Faculty Day Address

The Plymouth Commitment
Faculty Day Address

Sara Jayne Steen, President, Plymouth State University
Plymouth, New Hampshire
August 29, 2012

Good morning.  This is a wonderful time of year for academics, and faculty week is a valued Plymouth State tradition that is unique in my experience, a week of excitement and focus, the reunion of friends and welcoming of new colleagues, the exchange of ideas that energizes us as we begin the academic year together.

Two weeks ago, PSU again was recognized for excellence, this time as a 2012 “Great College to Work for” by the Chronicle of Higher Education.  One of the categories for which PSU was recognized, based on an external assessment and a survey of faculty and professional staff, was teaching environment, which includes educational innovation and commitment to student success.  Asked to comment, Faculty Speaker Francis Williams said, “What makes PSU a great place to work is the collegiality of the faculty and their commitment to the students.  It is a commitment that I experience and observe each and every day in my collaborations with colleagues and in my interactions with students.”

We see that commitment in the vitality of the campus and in people’s willingness to extend themselves for students, in faculty fundraising for student scholarships through a summer garden tour or a barbequed ribs competition.  (And the PATs and Operating Staff similarly support scholarships for students.) You see it in the videos that Director of Advancement Communications Heidi Pettigrew and her student videographers created of last year’s top 20 seniors speaking of their experiences and mentors.  The videos were playing as you entered Hanaway Theatre.  During alumni weekend in June, we heard about commitment from the class of ’62, reminiscing as they celebrated their 50th anniversary.  Afterwards, I telephoned retired professor Norton Bagley, who had been unable to attend and had been widely praised by the class of ’62.  Dr. Bagley said that personal commitment to students was part of Plymouth even when he arrived as a student in the late 1930s.  His comment suggests a legacy at Plymouth that is hard to define, but an essence we should be careful, however we change, to hold onto.

We are and will be changing, as the higher education landscape is changing, with demographics that have implications about which you will hear more from new Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs Jim Hundrieser.  Technology is shifting our understanding of access, delivery, even our role in the certification of learning.  At an alumni event on the seacoast this weekend, I was asked by someone starting his first MOOC (or massive open online course) what that technology means for PSU and for graduate and continuing education — and how we are responding. Provost Julie Bernier, Assistant Vice President and CIO Rich Grossman, and Director of Learning Technologies and Online Education Scott Robison will lead discussions today as we contemplate possibilities and opportunities.  The issues are many.  Globalization and how best to prepare students for international careers.  How best to create and articulate the value-added distinctiveness of the residential campus’s face-to-face experience.  How to create a niche through projects like the Museum of the White Mountains, which will officially open this February. How to make the case for public higher education as some question the value for students of what we are dedicating our lives to.

This year faculty members will have the opportunity to participate in significant discussions associated with the University’s future and directions.   Faculty member Terri Dautcher and Associate Vice President Linda Dauer and the Planning and Budgeting Leadership Group will be guiding the campus strategic planning process.  We also will begin a 10-year master planning process for facilities, including a space inventory that will involve many of you, to make sure we know the current and planned academic programs, a process coordinated by Vice President for Finance and Administration Steve Taksar.  Clearly any effective facilities study must be very closely coordinated with academic planning.  We are moving forward on the detailed plans for the next phase of ALLWell (or the Center for Active Living, Learning and Wellness), of which the Hanaway Rink and Savage Welcome Center were the first phase.  And all this comes, appropriately I hope, as we are preparing the NEASC accreditation self-study, which focuses campus thinking on where we are and might be.  Thank you to all who are participating in that process – it matters.

There are some changes at the University System level as well.  Like many public boards of higher education across the country now, the University System of New Hampshire Board of Trustees has looked at our overall structure and developed a change management task force to suggest ways to provide more autonomy to the campuses and allow the four institutions increased flexibility in planning, while still offering a well-coordinated system of public higher education to New Hampshire.  That change is intended to allow us to make decisions more quickly on many academic issues while the councils of presidents, provosts, and others continue to collaborate.  There also will be personnel changes at the System level, as Chancellor Ed MacKay, now in his 4th year, has announced his retirement this March after a long and successful career with USNH. A search for his successor is beginning.  A search also is under way for a president at Keene State College following the departure of Helen Giles-Gee.  Jay Kahn is serving as interim president.

As an update on legislative action from last spring, I am pleased to report that the New Hampshire Senate rejected two House bills, one to allow weapons on campus and another to reduce the University System office to a dozen people, a shift that would have eliminated shared services that the campus then would have had to assume at significant cost.

This year PSU will be working with legislators and other stakeholders to advocate for public higher education in New Hampshire and for our students and their families.  We need to clarify the link between state appropriation and the cost of attendance at USNH institutions, especially the three residential campuses.  It is not an easy concept.  We have determined, however, that if the legislature continues to support facilities and restores the appropriation to 2010 levels, we can freeze in-state tuition for the two years of the upcoming biennium, which will be meaningful to New Hampshire students and their families.  Executive Director of University Relations Steve Barba will be leading PSU’s advocacy efforts to explain how public higher education and PSU work for New Hampshire.  We make a difference in New Hampshire, and around the world, and we work to be effective stewards; studies indicate that we are more efficient and cost-effective than our comparators in other states. The state appropriation is the margin that explains why NH’s cost of attendance is among the highest of public systems in the nation.

As a public institution, we also receive from the state capital support for our buildings, which contributes to our institutional success by helping us to maintain and build academic facilities.  In a previous capital budget request, Boyd Hall was expanded and remodeled, and our science programs greatly have benefitted.  The next three phases of ALLWell, which will house the Department of Health and Human Performance and include high-tech classrooms and research laboratories as well as space for athletics and recreation, are in the University System of New Hampshire’s capital budget request for the next three biennia.  I testified at the Governor’s Budget hearing on capital requests at the end of June, and in my next monthly report I will provide a link to that testimony.  In the meantime, Vice President for University Advancement Sally Holland and the Advancement team are working to engage private support on behalf of PSU’s priorities, from student scholarships to capital projects; and Vice Provost for Research and Engagement Thad Guldbrandsen will be working to expand the sources of revenue for the good work being done by the faculty, staff, and students.

The autumn enrollment report is mixed this year, after several years of increasing numbers.  Enrollment is down approximately 150 students, especially New Hampshire students, though we better will know final numbers in a couple of weeks.  The incoming class is slightly below the last two years for the incoming class, again in New Hampshire students, and that concerns us, as it does those at the other two USNH residential campuses, who are experiencing similar numbers.  The difference may be in the cost of attendance, which did increase as a result of the reduced state appropriation, even though only 20% of the reduction was managed through tuition. Approximately 44% of our undergraduates are the first in their families to attend college, and those families often have fewer resources on which to draw until the economy more fully recovers to its new normal.  We also are hearing anecdotally that some guidance counselors misunderstood the 48% reduction in state appropriation — which took approximately 13% of our operating budget to 6% – to have reduced USNH overall budgets by 48%, with attendant concerns about damage to programs. Out-of-state enrollment, however, has held steady, indicating that PSU’s academic programs and friendly, beautiful campus continue to be attractive.  International recruiting is increasing, and the new International Center in Mary Lyon opens this fall.  Over this academic year, all of us will be joining Jim Hundrieser and his team to enhance enrollment and retention.  Approximately 80% of our annual operating budget is tuition, so any change affects the budget, but our mission is education: we think of what education means to students and their families, and the decision not to attend could affect generations.

As you will have guessed, the cabinet and I will wait until final enrollment numbers are available before announcing salaries. I have asked Human Resources to examine equity for OS and PATs this year, as we have over the past two years examined equity for faculty, and HR Director Elaine Doell will lead that effort. On a related note, the PSU wellness initiative, Healthy People in a Healthy Place, led by Barb McCahan and Becky Busanich, has received system funding and will be moving forward.  This is a wellness project researched and based at Plymouth State and designed for our community’s needs.   Barb and Becky deserve thanks for developing the program.

Thank you to many for helping our students understand their role as members of our host communities of Holderness and Plymouth.  Last year, a number of faculty members worked with the Student Affairs team and with students and student groups to emphasize mutual respect, and the difference in behavior was appreciated.  This year also will mark important anniversaries in Plymouth.    St. Matthew’s Parish will mark its 100th anniversary, and the Town of Plymouth, incorporated in 1763, its 250th.  The latter will be commemorated with an ETC production this January and three days of events, including collaborative community-university projects, next July.

As there are challenges, there is also much to celebrate.  Shaney McLane, adjunct faculty member in art, early this summer was named by New Hampshire Magazine a 2012 Remarkable Woman for her artistic vision and imagination; in June, the Global Education Office was recognized by the Center for International Studies with their first Going Places! Award in recognition of their “innovative work in education abroad”; at the end of June, Margie King (Health and Human Performance) was inducted into the National Athletic Trainers’ Association’s Hall of Fame, the highest honor in her field.   The list goes on, and other exciting announcements are being prepared.  Today we distribute Excellence, celebrating PSU faculty and staff achievements, and today we recognize distinguished faculty members with awards for service and research and the student-initiated award for advising.  I’ll now ask Provost Bernier to introduce these awards.