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‘Our Path Forward’

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Text of President Jake B. Schrum’s Sept. 15 address to faculty and staff

Good morning.

As we begin our time together, I would like to acknowledge the divisiveness that we all experienced last spring.  Much of this address will speak to where we are as a University and plans for moving forward in some key areas of our University’s life.  While there have been disagreements and diverse concerns expressed, I look forward to increasing our trust and progressing in such a way that wounds can be healed so that we can aggressively move Southwestern along an innovative, creative, and more importantly, toward a more financially sustainable path.  I am committed to working with you, in the belief that all of us, working together, have the creativity, commitment, and courage to fulfill Southwestern’s purpose and destiny as a liberal arts college of the first rank.

I want to begin with two important symbols of Southwestern.  First, here is what one of our first-year students, Daniel Dumitru, told us about his expectations of Southwestern and what he found when he got here:

“I expected the challenging learning environment, but I didn’t expect everyone to be so friendly, and I didn’t expect the pride students and faculty have in Southwestern.”

One of the traditions we have at this annual assembly is the presentation of the Joe S. Mundy Award.  I am pleased to present the Mundy Award to four of our colleagues who, through their daily work, define what it means to be a part of the Southwestern community.

Will Don Gregory please come up?

From the moment he set foot on our campus in 1998, Don has been a leader and inspiration to his colleagues and students. 

He has a passion for soccer, to be sure, but he also has a passion for learning, for teaching, for sharing, and for bettering the community and world around him.  From his summer staff enrichment classes in French, to his mentoring of a GISD student, to his weekly volunteer service at the Caring Place, Don gives of himself completely.

Just this past school year alone, Don’s service to others offered an example we all should strive to follow.  In February, his Paideia group organized a program to provide food to needy residents on Valentine’s Day. 

This effort resulted in more than $3,000 worth of food and drinks being delivered to the Caring Place and the Eagle Locker program for homeless students attending Georgetown High School.  Then, over Spring Break, he took members of our soccer teams on a “soccer and service” trip to El Salvador where they distributed soccer equipment to local teams and gave soccer clinics for children in the area.  Before the group left, Don said, “We want our student-athletes to experience the tremendous reward found in contributing to a larger humanistic cause.”

Don has cultivated many long-lasting relationships with his humble spirit, quiet determination, and witty sense of humor.  He is more than just a Southwestern professor or coach.  He is passionate about this place and about his work.  Don truly defines the spirit of the Joe S. Mundy Award for Exemplary Service.

Will Ben Nava please come up?

Ben has been on the staff at Southwestern for a decade, and during this time he has made an incredible impact on the entire community – not only students, faculty, and staff, but also the animals who live here and the land itself.

Ben takes his role as a keeper of our landscape very seriously, and he is amazingly gifted at this work.  He knows the plants and animals of our campus and cares about them to a degree that I have rarely seen.  But Ben’s role on the campus is much larger than that. 

Not only is he the advisor for the SU Native student group, but each year he organizes the SU Native Powwow.  People come from all over the country to attend this Powwow.  And it is not just an event – it is a witness to social justice issues that are central to Ben’s leadership on campus.  For example, after the McCombs Building was completed and the display cases on the second floor were populated with a variety of historical objects dating back to the Spanish conquest of the Americas, Ben pointed out that several sacred pipes were displayed inappropriately.  He knew this meant challenging people to think differently, but he confronted these challenges and coordinated a ceremony to separate the pipes.

Ben has taught Native American craft making in the summer free school and has helped teach students about Native traditions in countless other ways as well.  We are extremely fortunate to have such a fine colleague who provides such an outstanding role model for our students.

Will Phil Hopkins and Jimmy Smith please come up?

I’m going to recognize Dr. Hopkins and Dr. Smith together, because their contributions are so similar.  Both have served as chair of their departments (Dr. Hopkins in Philosophy and Dr. Smith in Kinesiology) and both have taught innovative First-Year Seminars. 

The past two years, both provided exceptional leadership for the Academic Affairs Council as it wrestled with a variety of difficult issues related to our curriculum change, with Dr. Smith serving as chair of the Council in 2009-2010 and Dr. Hopkins serving as chair in 2010-2011.  Both helped the group bridge the gap between different viewpoints to reach consensus, all the while maintaining a good sense of humor.  Successfully implementing our new curriculum meant this group had to meet as many as three times a month – far more than the normal time commitment for committee assignments.

In addition to the joint contributions I just described, Dr. Hopkins leads a Paideia group and has participated in activities such as Classes without Quizzes for our alumni at Homecoming.

And Dr. Smith is well known for the countless hours he spends outside the classroom helping rescue unwanted dogs and placing them in good homes.

Thank you both for your many contributions to our campus and our community.

——————-

These are extraordinary times.  During times such as these our commitment to our common responsibilities is paramount to Southwestern’s success.

We need to understand the forces at play for higher education, and especially for private colleges like Southwestern. 

In their new book The Innovative University, Clay Christensen and Henry Eyring conclude that traditional colleges and universities are going to have to “change their DNA” and quickly if they are going to weather the disruptive innovation which is a menacing threat to many mature institutions.

They go on to say that to survive and thrive in the unprecedented, emerging, competitive landscape, schools are going to have to rewrite the rules of the game. 

The winners will be the ones that can successfully scale back from the expensive competition to make students more satisfied – more comfortable – (with climbing walls, easy A’s, and party weekends that begin Wednesday night) and to compete instead, rigorously, to make students more curious, more committed to a meaningful cause, more contemplative, and more compassionate.

That’s good news for Southwestern, because this is our DNA.

In the coming months and years, Southwestern will change as will much of American higher education.  My goal as your President is to steward our University through this change so that we are known as an innovative, sustainable, relevant, and distinctive provider of educational experiences that are essential to successful and fulfilling lives in the 21st Century.

Let me add that Southwestern can no longer foster innovation on the margins.  In the next few years we will have to dig deep to decide what is truly indispensable and what other initiatives we might pursue.  The initiatives which I am announcing today are the first steps in this process.  We will need to work together with trust and transparency to move forward.

We completed the past fiscal year with a balanced budget and successfully met our fundraising goal for the year, both of which we have done every year of my presidency through very careful fiscal management.

Thanks to recent gifts such as a $2 million bequest from the estate of alumnus Howard Sides for scholarships, we have now raised over $117 million toward our $150 million campaign goal.  Howard loved Southwestern as well as the interactions he had with faculty and staff over the years.

However, even with such good news, there are still challenges.  As you know from the memo I sent you on August 18, we are facing a $2.8 million budget shortfall this year due to our enrollment projections being off by 60 students as well as increased expenditures for financial aid for the new and returning students.

We also have lost significant net revenue from room and board due to nearly 80 vacancies in the residence halls. 

In the current economic situation, there is no end in sight to the increasing need our students have for financial assistance, and just cutting expenses will no longer work. 

We have already cut some areas of our budget 20 percent in the past four years to free up additional funds for financial assistance.  Reality requires us to take bold new steps in order to be financially sustainable.  Beginning this fall and continuing over the next two years, I am committed to the following:

  • Restructuring our administrative and academic programs to be relevant to our global society and to achieve higher productivity and efficiency; and
  • Launching new programs that increase enrollment and contribute to essential educational experiences for the 21st Century.

While many other colleges and universities have had workforce reductions the past few years, we have worked hard to avoid layoffs.  I have made this a priority.  However, the current financial environment, coupled with our own budget challenges specifically, now requires a more aggressive consolidation.  While it is a bitter pill to swallow and one I deeply regret and did everything I could do to avoid it this fall, changes will occur in every area to consolidate programs and staffing.  This strategic restructuring will affect at least 37 total staff positions and will reduce the number of visiting faculty positions beginning with the 2012-2013 academic year. 

Although the strategic restructuring will not be completed for two years, it is important for you to know that the 37 affected staff positions have already been determined, and individual staff members who will be immediately affected by the restructuring were notified Tuesday and Wednesday about the impact to their jobs. 

This, of course, has been very difficult.  Members of the Senior Staff have been meeting with their areas to discuss particular changes affecting their operation.  If you have any immediate questions about any of these changes and initiatives, please contact your Senior Staff officer.  Our Human Resources staff is providing transition assistance to affected individuals.  This is a close-knit community, and I know we will all treat our colleagues whose jobs are affected with dignity, compassion, and support. 

Let me say that there are no words that can adequately express my regret that we have had to make decisions that require that we lose some of our valued colleagues and friends.  These are decisions that are very hard to make in a community like ours.

Let me give you a few examples of the significant restructuring that will occur over the next two years:

  1. Our Smith Library Center and Information Technology Services will be merged into one unit that works together to provide technology in service to the liberal arts and which will further enhance our ability to make knowledge accessible to the learning community. This unit will be run by a new Chief Information Officer who will report to me.  A national search to fill this position will begin this fall, and I will place a high priority on finding a dynamic, forward-looking, thought leader to reposition our efforts in information services to complement our national leadership through NITLE.  This model has been successfully adopted by some of the leading liberal arts colleges such as Occidental, Middlebury, and Rhodes.

2.  Our Institutional Advancement Program is being re-structured and re-named University Relations.  It will embrace a philosophy that focuses on researching, cultivating, and stewarding relationships with key constituents among our alumni,  in our community, across Texas, and throughout the nation.  The University Relations team, under its consolidated programs in gift planning, communications, and alumni and parent relations, will constantly push this philosophy and encourage all of us to fulfill our shared responsibilities that I stated when I began my remarks:  as educators of our students, custodians of our resources, and public representatives of Southwestern University.

3.  In 1996, the University implemented changes in its post-retirement benefits program.  At that time, the liability for these post-retirement benefits for those who were eligible was $2.8 million.  In the last 15 years, due to increased costs of health care and other factors, the liability for these benefits has grown to nearly $30 million.  As one of the initiatives I am announcing today, we are looking at options to reduce this liability.  We have begun this evaluation.  No decisions have been made at this time.

4.  For many years, the Kurth Landrum Golf Course has been able to operate on a break-even or better basis.  With only six holes, a tough economic environment, and diminished access to limited water resources, our revenues from the golf course no longer meet our expenses.  Therefore, we will close the Golf Course on November 9.

We all need to understand that the restructuring I am announcing today may change operations across the University, and we may not have all of the same help and support for everything that we do.  This will require our patience as we adapt to these changes. 

But in these tough times, activities and operations that are not financially sustainable will be and must be looked at closely for what they add or keep us from doing on a strategic basis.

So before I go any farther, let me summarize how we will be meeting the $2.8 million budget shortfall we have this year:

  • Each department has been asked to take a 7.5 percent budget cut which will give us $402,100.
  • Changes in State and Federal financial aid programs resulted in savings, and we made other financial aid adjustments resulting in savings of $545,000.
  • We reduced operating reserves that we can live without, giving us $216,000.
  • NITLE has increased its contribution to our overhead expenses from $75,000 to $100,000.
  • $250,000 will be cut from the library materials budget.
  • Closing the golf course will save us $19,900.
  • We will use some one-time revenue sources, such as estate gifts, to give us $424,000.
  • There will be salary savings due to the immediate elimination or restructuring and adjustment of staff positions and other program expense changes, which will give us $1,003,300.

In summary:

  • We started with a shortfall from enrollment and financial aid of $2,824,400.
  • All of the changes I just announced total more than the shortfall and leave a modest surplus.  This is still a very tight budget, and all of us need to adhere to strict budget management for the remainder of the year.

I now want to give you a few more examples of some of the initiatives we will pursue and the efforts needed to support and to move Southwestern forward.

Enrollment must be strategic and successful.  As you know, Dave Voskuil joined us as Interim Vice President for Enrollment Services on July 26, and he is moving aggressively to fulfill our enrollment objectives for next year, knowing that enrollment for this year is below budgeted levels.  I am confident of his abilities and am appreciative of his quick response to fill this role without any gap.

He has already reached out to faculty and staff to meet him and to engage in conversations about our shared goal of enrolling sufficient numbers of qualified students who can embrace the rigors and enjoy the richness of our University.  I strongly encourage everyone to welcome Dave and to work with him in every way possible.

We are planning new academic programs and adapting others.  Emphasizing our commitment to an innovative liberal arts curriculum and environment, our Quality Enhancement Project (QEP) as part of the re-affirmation of our accreditation by the Southern Association and Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges will take the experience and knowledge gained from Paideia and our growing commitment to interdisciplinarity and bring them together in a powerful new set of course requirements.

The recommendations of the QEP Task Force will allow us to take a big step toward making the Paideia philosophy central to the Southwestern education.  Simply said, Paideia will be for all students.

We will add a January Term and work to make our May Term and June Term more robust.  This will expand ways in which our students can complete their education as well as augment teaching compensation opportunities for faculty.

Given the strength of our current Education Program and the quality of our students, we may explore the possibility of adding a fifth year in teacher education so that our students can attain a Masters of Teaching degree consistent with the State of Texas credentialing standards. 

As you know, Southwestern teacher education students have been awarded a scholarship from the Texas Association of School Personnel Administrators for the past 12 years, consistently besting students from other programs in the state.  The fact that we are the only school to have done this is a testament to the quality of our Education Department. 

In relation to our commitment to prepare great teachers, it is my pleasure to announce that Dr. Alicia Moore, Associate Professor of Education, has been appointed to the Cargill Professorship in Education, funded by a recent grant from the Cargill Foundation.  Congratulations to Dr. Moore.

A team of our science faculty members has been working with representatives from The Methodist Hospital Research Institute in Houston to develop the curriculum for a new master’s degree in Translational Medicine that will be awarded by Southwestern with laboratory facilities provided by The Methodist Hospital Research Institute.  Translational medicine is an exciting new field that focuses on how to take discoveries from the lab to the bedside, and this is a bold endeavor for a small liberal arts college to strategically align with a world-class research institute to further opportunities for our students.  It also will raise visibility for Southwestern and our strong programs in the natural sciences.  As you may know, three Southwestern undergraduates spent the past summer at the TMHRI as research interns, working side by side with principal investigators.  This number will grow to five each summer.

We have launched fundraising for our new Science Center and have raised more than $4 million toward the $24 million cost.  Just last week our own graduate, Dr. Timothy Boone, Class of 1977 and president of the American Board of Urology for 2011-12, accepted an appointment as Chair of the Science Center Advisory Council to advocate for and raise funds for the Center.

Provost Jim Hunt and I will work diligently with faculty, through existing governance councils, to meld these new initiatives and meritorious existing programs in our curriculum while simultaneously increasing the student: faculty ratio from the current 10:1 to 13:1 over the next two to three years.

Our faculty, whose status here is the most enduring, have a valued and essential role in making Southwestern’s programs both academically successful, sustainable, and distinctive for the benefit of students today and in years to come.

I also believe that it would be helpful to me and to the University for there to be an anonymous evaluation tool for faculty and staff to use to evaluate members of the Senior Staff.  I welcome suggestions you might have in that regard.

The Board of Trustees Executive Committee met on September 8 and unanimously approved what I have presented to you today, our path forward to re-structuring and innovation.  I have their complete endorsement and support to move Southwestern ahead with a renewed sense of urgency and commitment. 

There is much to be done.  We must embrace our challenges and convert them into opportunities.  In the coming days and weeks, I will be meeting with faculty and staff to gain your counsel and to map our initiatives. 

The Board of Trustees will discuss our initial progress and planning in more detail at their Fall meeting in October.  Clear communication will be very important as we address challenges and opportunities. 

This address is now being posted on the University Website. I will be available at 4:30 p.m. on September 20 and 21 in this theater to visit collectively with any faculty and/or staff who have questions or constructive comments. I also have accepted an invitation to visit with members of the Student Congress next Tuesday evening. I look forward to those conversations. We will continue to be transparent with information about our University finances on the website, in meetings with the University Council, and through a fall and spring forum open to all faculty and staff. 

These two forums will replace the Budget Advisory Committee for they will provide transparency regarding University finances to all faculty and staff.

Thank you very much for your attention.  Now we must rally to the mission that brought us all to Southwestern: providing every student with an education that extends beyond the simple transmission of knowledge and skills to a concept of learning as a broad, integrated, and transformational process.  The initiatives that I have presented today represent a critical path to sustaining our mission. 

Every action is being taken to sustain and enhance the Southwestern Experience − to support the social sciences, the humanities, the natural sciences, and the fine arts that lie at our core.

We also recognize that learning takes place outside the classroom as well, and for those students who are listening today, I want to assure you that we are committed to maintaining the quality of our student experience both inside AND outside the classroom.

In closing, let us focus on our students and the exceptional education experience that you make possible for them.  Let me share an experience that Daniel Dumitru – the student I mentioned at the beginning of this talk – had his first day of class:

“My first day of Mathematical Concepts, with Dr. Richter, I took extensive notes but didn’t understand anything.  After class I asked him if I could schedule some time with him and he said, ‘What about right now?’  45 minutes later, I understood everything.  The faculty are so present, and this environment is conducive to my learning style.”

As our session comes to a close, in the midst of questions and concerns in the changes and challenges we face, may we all renew our dedication to the highest ideals of this institution and to our relationships with one another.

Thank you.

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