Two Hundred Years of Educational Partnership

August 27, 2008

Good morning.  It is wonderful to see you all here together as we begin our new year.  Next door we have a powerful reminder of our past and present as we see the scaffolding and hear the sounds of Rounds Hall being preserved and enhanced.  (We actually had hoped it might be enhanced a hint faster – impatience being perhaps a common trait of academics – but in this case we may be aware of our renewal into October.)  On the other hand, the slate and copper are glorious in the sunlight, and a central campus symbol is being renewed for generations of students.  This week, we finish preparations for thousands of those students.

As Plymouth State’s 14th president, I feel a special connection to our history.  To many people I am a repository of it, especially to alums who feel the statute of limitations has expired and their sometimes astonishing and often moving stories now can be told.  And our official founding was in 1871 — not so long ago to someone who does Renaissance studies.  I feel a special kinship with Silas Pearl, first principal of the Normal School at Plymouth, because Pearl’s motto, “Better to wear out than rust out,” had been my husband’s motto and part of our family lore for years before we came to New Hampshire.

This autumn of 2008 marks another milestone, 200 years of partnership between the town of Plymouth and “higher” education. In December of 1808, Holmes Plymouth Academy was founded, and it lasted for decades, with students such as Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian Science, and principals such as Samuel Read Hall, who was credited with developing the first teacher training to grade levels.  The Academy was dedicated to promoting “religion, virtue and literature, and more especially for teaching and instructing youth in English, Latin and Greek languages, in writing, music, and the art of speaking, in geography, logic, mathematics, history, and agriculture and such other branches of science as opportunity may permit and the trustees hereinafter mentioned shall order and direct” [p.294]. The memorial stone, Holmes Rock, today sits appropriately between the Silver Center for the Arts and the Plymouth Historical Society.  In 1871, the Academy’s land and two buildings were turned over to Plymouth for the normal school and thus were our base in the most fundamental sense.

This year, a joint committee of campus colleagues and townspeople – and thank you all for your participation – has worked on an initiative entitled Holmes Schooling to celebrate that partnership.  At Alumni weekend in June, our alums saw the first historical re-creations of 1808 in a musical interlude, “Incorporate, Celebrate,” written by Trish Lindberg from historical research by Marcia Schmidt Blaine, Rebecca Noel, Cynthia Vascak, Alice Staples, and local journalist Malcolm “Tink” Taylor, to music by New Hampshire composer William Ogmundson, and sung by Dean of Students Tim Keefe.  And, for those of you who missed it, Director of Sustainability Bill Crangle was among those from town and gown who appeared in full costume, in his case as citizen Noah Worcester.  It was worth seeing, on a number of counts.  And there is more to come this semester.

As educators in the tradition of those who in 1808 cared enough about the future to invest themselves and create a school, we also look forward.  Ray McNulty’s address at the graduate commencement this spring suggested that the traditional injunction to “think outside the box” is not good enough.  The challenge is to make new boxes, to lead with innovation and engagement, to consider what our students will need long before they know it, and to examine how we will deliver what those students of the future will need. Today’s speaker addresses that topic.

As a guest instructor over the past two years, I have visited Jay Moskowitz’s first-year seminar; Robert Swift’s general education course, Exploring Music; and lower- and upper-division courses in History and English taught by Marcia Schmidt Blaine and Karolyn Kinane.  Our students speak of their PSU classes, their excitement, their undergraduate and graduate research, and you, their faculty mentors.  They invite me to their presentations and performances and events, and I attend when I can.  The quality of teaching and learning at PSU is impressive, as is the commitment of advancing it.

Among this year’s topics for you as faculty are several larger issues associated with teaching, to ensure the continued long-term vigor of our programs and people. This year you will be looking at your departmental curricula to assess what best prepares students and meets the goals and mission of PSU as a regional comprehensive university; to consider workload for faculty, which also affects the time and mentorship you can give students; to consider our institutional structure with regard to colleges and schools to see what best serves student success; and to look at promotion and tenure guidelines presented by the task force, key to our long-term institutional health.  Those are serious tasks.

Other structural changes also are recently in place or in process for this year:  many of you served on the successful VPFA search committee, and I would like to introduce Steve Taksar, who joined us last week.  We have a new Director of Sustainability in former VPFA Bill Crangle, who only thought he could retire; sponsored programs has moved to the Provost’s Office as a primarily faculty process; and we will this year be searching for an Executive Director of University Advancement and for the Associate Vice President of Undergraduate Studies.

Our NEASC interim report has been filed this summer — thank you to many who worked on it, read the drafts, and commented on them.  You know how much have been accomplished over 5 years. (This is, incidentally, the 5th anniversary of the formal name change from college to university: Happy Birthday PSU).  Over the five years covered in the interim report, you have streamlined governance, and we have added a comprehensive Planning and Budgeting Leadership Group for more meaningful campus participation (and many of the initiatives put forward in 07-08 are being funded).  We have examined mission and developed a strategic plan through 2012.  The USNH charter has been modified to provide PSU with doctoral authority. In June Governor Lynch chose to sign HB 1304, rather than simply allow it to become law, indicating his active support; we are now going forward to NEASC for approval of the Doctor of Education degree.

We have substantial initiatives in environmental sustainability, including a new Office of Sustainability and an eco-house, a living, learning laboratory for environmental sustainability and historic preservation; and in internationalization.  This summer we had a successful summer Pakistani Educational Leadership Institute and signed an agreement for an ELS Language Center beginning in September of 2009.  It will be the only full-service center north of Boston, and we will benefit both from the diversity this program will bring to campus and from enhanced international student enrollment..  Emergency planning has moved forward.  We have sirens and unified messaging, and there will be an interruption as we test systems with full emergency teams.  An integrated communications plan will involve “communicators” from your departments for the most effective use of resources and delivery of message.

Other long-term issues on which we are working and making progress are benefits and salaries.  Recently you should have received materials on this.  We have a multi-year plan on healthcare benefits mitigation, and the 09 raise pool was 5.5%.  This year we were able to increase the salary floors, eliminate the 2-year waiting period for promotion raises, and provide much-needed increases in adjunct faculty pay rates last year at mid-year and again this autumn.  These steps have required significant effort, especially from the offices of the Provost and of Human Resources.   All of us can appreciate these improvements, though there is more to do.

We are extending more opportunities to our emeritus faculty and to our long-term employees (thank you to the PAT leadership on this issue); and many people have worked to solve problems with identity management and to create an Alumni and Friends site.  We want to keep connected with people who have devoted decades of their lives to us.  On issues of space, we have expanded our graduate site in Concord and may expand again this year to accommodate growth; the Methodist church likely will require another year before it is remodeled for use; and the Highland Hall swap with the hospital, moving the College of Graduate Studies to its new site, will occur in October.

As we begin school, financial aid requests are up 7%, but the Financial Aid office has been able to help students.  Our student numbers are high.   Admissions saw a record number of applications (over 5000 for 1100 spots), and our enrollment numbers of both new and returning students are on track.   We are prepared for next week with the classes and numbers of spaces we need.  Thank you for your help in that.

We also will want to continue to move forward on other issues this year.  One is our on-going relationship with our host communities in Plymouth and Holderness.  I have mentioned the 1808 initiative, one part of which is to endow another scholarship for students from Plymouth Regional High School who attend PSU and perhaps one for Holderness.  The Board of Trustees at the end of June approved our plan for phase one of AllWell, an ice arena for teaching, research, athletics, and community programming that includes a welcome center to PSU and to the towns of Plymouth and Holderness.  In our case, a river really does run through it, and we are careful to work with two Select Boards, two planning boards, and more.  We have collaborative projects on emergency planning and policing.  Earlier this week in a ceremony at Town Hall, Plymouth Police Chief Steve Temporino honored three officers, one from Ashland, one from Plymouth, and one from PSU, William Melanson, who took risks and peacefully ended a potentially life-threatening situation.  These relationships matter in our daily lives.

Just this month, National Geographic Adventure Magazine named Plymouth, New Hampshire, one of the nation’s 50 next great towns in which to live, calling us “a master class in recreation,” a “college-meets-covered-bridge depot” between the White Mountain National Forest and the lakes region, with excellent opportunities for living and working in a spectacular setting.  We knew that.

We also want to continue our research and creative activity, and our partnerships and regional initiatives.   Faculty members are publishing and presenting widely, earning more praise than I can enumerate.  I really do say to groups “let me tell about the last few weeks” because you give me that much to discuss.

New Hampshire  has too few people for businesses and agencies and universities to accomplish much individually, but by collaborating we can accomplish a great deal on behalf of our region, through our arts and cultural outreach and our applied research: “real solutions to real problems by real people”  in the social sciences, sciences, IT, business, education, and more.  We have added programs in tourism management, environmental science and policy, and graduate work in historical preservation and healthcare administration, all important for this region.

You are working with senior citizens at Plymouth and Inter-Lakes Senior Centers.  We have partnerships with the Squam Lakes Association for a field station and support for undergraduate and graduate students, with Newfound Lakes Association for a master plan for the area; with Hubbard Brook for science education, and others.   Live, Work and Innovate in Rural New Hampshire is designed to keep the economy strong and offer our students new opportunities.  The Centers for the Environment, for Rural Partnerships, and for Active Living and Healthy Communities, the Institute for New Hampshire Studies, the Small Business Institute- these offer advances for the region and opportunities for students in meaningful hands-on learning.

Other partners are our donors: we are in the quiet phase of a campaign.  We will be hosting dinners, and I have met with chairs about their roles.  And we have partners in a strong and supportive Board of Trustees; Plymouth’s Carol Perkins has become a new member.  With the help of our Congressional delegation, Michelle’s Law may become the law of the nation.

There is also a genuine community here, shown in part in these two weeks before the opening of the term.  This week of the year, Faculty Week, is thoughtful and exciting and unusual among the many schools I know in the degree to which PSU takes care to welcome new faculty, to focus on teaching, on pedagogy, as an intellectual activity worthy of serious and on-going professional development, and to re-engage colleagues in our collective goals.  That is something for which we all should pause to be grateful.  Thank you, and have a wonderful year.