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State of the University Address:
Sustaining our momentum in difficult times.


Welcome to the beginning of the University's 35th academic year. In his book, The Art of Leadership, Max Dupree wrote that the first responsibility of a leader is to describe reality. What I intend to do for the next several minutes is to describe reality as I see it.

The state of the University is strong, but we confront what could be very difficult times. Over the past six years, our campus has moved to a new level in its capacity to serve the needs of our students and our community. Our momentum is great. Our challenge, as we enter this academic year, will be to sustain that momentum in a time of enormous uncertainty. It will take creativity, self-discipline, and resolve-qualities that this campus has demonstrated in abundance. And it will take the support and advocacy of our government, business, community, and civic leaders as well as our entire campus community, all of whom have an enormous stake in our continued progress.

In 1997, Kentucky embarked on the most ambitious postsecondary reform movement in the nation. In the past six years, our colleges and universities have made enormous strides in their capacity to educate students, generate cutting-edge research, and contribute to the economic development and quality of life of all Kentuckians. This progress has been possible because of the confluence of several forces, including a governor who chose to make postsecondary reform the cornerstone of his policy agenda a General Assembly that understood that Kentucky's economic future depended on a strong system of postsecondary education and had the courage to act on that knowledge a Council on Postsecondary Education that aligned postsecondary reform with the larger social and economic challenges confronting our state and a strong economy that allowed for major postsecondary investments. Today, we confront a very different world.

On December 9, Kentucky will swear in a new governor who will have his own policy agenda. In a state where a balanced budget is a constitutional requirement, he and the General Assembly will confront a current-year budget deficit estimated to be in the $400 million to $500 million range and a weak economy that is not producing revenue rapidly enough to correct the deficit. I don't envy our new governor or the members of the General Assembly. They'll confront incredibly difficult choices that will have major implications for every college and university in the Commonwealth. The challenge for our public officials is the same as that which we confront on our own campus: Can we find both the capacity and the will to sustain momentum? On our campuses and in our capital, leadership will be tested over these next several months.

Northern Kentucky University approaches these times of uncertainty with many strengths on which to draw. Demand for access to the University remains high. This fall we expect to welcome approximately 14,200 students, which approaches our growth target of two percent. Based on current projections, we expect an 11 percent increase in graduate students, a 13 percent increase in law students, a 10 percent increase in international students and a 10 percent decrease in the number of restricted and stipulated students. We will have another substantial increase in the number of honors students. Our number of African-American students is projected to remain constant after several years of substantial increases while the number of Hispanic students will again increase. In our continuing efforts to take our campus to our students, we will once again enroll nearly 10 percent of our students in 13 distributed learning sites. The Grant County Center alone will have more than 300 enrollments. In short, this fall's class is larger, better prepared, more international, more diverse, and more distributed than at any time in our history.

Student demand is high because we offer students a high-quality educational experience. During last fall's strategic planning process, we asked students and alumni to describe the most valuable elements of the NKU experience. Their response was immediate and unambiguous. It's our "up-close and personal" approach to education that defines what makes NKU special. For current students and alumni alike, "up-close and personal" is defined by a campus environment that is welcoming and friendly, small classes taught by highly qualified professors, and dedicated faculty and staff who care deeply about student success and make themselves available to support that success. Their message: Preserve these qualities at all costs.

Another area of great strength is the success of our academic centers and institutes that transcend disciplinary boundaries as they work across the full breadth of the University's teaching, research, and outreach mission. The Center for Integrative Natural Science and Mathematics, in only a few short years, is well on its way to becoming a nationally recognized hub for science and math education at the P-12 as well as the collegiate level. The Center for Applied Ecology continues to secure significant projects in stream and wetlands restoration while involving our students and faculty in its work to sustain and improve the environment. The NKU Entrepreneurship Institute Sponsored by Fifth Third Bank, in conjunction with the Institute for New Economy Technologies (iNET), is leading the University's efforts to link technology-based companies with our information technology students and faculty. Their work is being supported by $800,000 from the Kentucky Office for the New Economy.

The Institute for Freedom Studies continues to expand its research, teaching, and public education in partnership with the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and Northstar Productions. And the Scripps Howard Center for Civic Engagement is involving more and more students and faculty in the application of knowledge to address the needs of our region and, in the process,  to prepare our students for a lifetime of civic participation, which is the foundation of any democracy. The center has recently been selected to participate in the American Democracy Project, sponsored by The New York Times and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. Our academic centers and institutes expand the opportunities for students and faculty to work across disciplinary boundaries and across the boundaries of campus and community.

This fall we see continued progress in our facilities and campus environment. The new 43,000-sq.-ft. METS Center for Corporate Learning will officially open in September. Located five minutes from the airport, this state-of-the-art facility is drawing rave reviews from the corporate and business community. I don't overstate when I say that this facility, which houses the METS educational program, has the potential to have a profound impact on our community and its capacity to compete in a knowledge-based economy.

Other new facilities include our new 400-bed residence hall, which brings our resident student population to nearly 1,400 and will have a major impact on campus life. Over the summer, we opened our new Welcome Center, which will provide an impressive "front door" to the University for visitors and prospective students. Construction of the new power plant is underway, and we are finishing plans for a new parking garage to be located on what is now the soccer practice field. We have begun planning for a new student union, which was recommended by our Student Government Association and approved by our Board of Regents to be financed by agency bonds. And how about our campus! Has it ever looked more beautiful? A special thanks to our building and grounds department.

We have also strengthened our capacity to raise private funds. Six years ago, we were raising less than $1 million annually in private support. This past year, the University raised $10.1 million at a time when the economy was weak and other fund drives were finding it difficult to meet their goals. This exceeds our goal of $10 million and puts us at more than $36 million toward our comprehensive campaign goal of $40 million. In addition, we will soon officially announce the largest alumni gift in the history of the University, a planned gift estimated to have a current worth of $2 million. This gift will be designated for scholarships in science and mathematics. Our private support is yet another example of the public"s belief that NKU is contributing, in important ways, to the future of our region.

In 1997, the University conducted a strategic planning process entitled Vision, Values, and Voices. We held more than 30 conversations with faculty, staff, students, alumni, and community members from throughout the metropolitan region. We spoke to more than 400 people about the University and its role in their lives. Last fall, we updated our strategic plan using a five-year horizon. Again, we interacted with more than 400 faculty, staff, students, alumni, and community members concerning the major priorities that should drive our future over the next five years. Those priorities include the following:

Broaden Student Access:

Over the next five years, we intend to meet or exceed CPE targets for growth, retention, and graduation. We will do this by increasing our transfer student population, growing graduate programs, and offering degree programs where, when, and how they are most convenient for working adults. This process is already well underway. Our partnership with Gateway Community and Technical College is a model for the entire state. We are demonstrating what can happen when a two-year campus and a university set out to build a seamless and mutually supportive relationship on behalf of the public that we both serve. In partnership with the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, the Department of Technology is offering a new online bachelor's degree in organizational leadership that will allow KCTCS graduates to complete their four-year degree without leaving their community. This spring, the College of Business, with strong support from the College of Arts and Sciences, will offer a weekend bachelor's degree in general business for working adults. We need to all understand that Gateway will eventually impact NKU's enrollment. We have made a good start in preparing for this impact but more will need to be done.

Enhance Academic Quality:

Over the next five years, we intend to make major investments to further enhance the quality of our academic enterprise. Already we have announced our intent to apply admissions standards for entering students. These standards will help ensure that we are admitting students who are prepared to succeed at NKU. We will work closely with area high schools to help students understand what preparation they will need to be admitted to the University, and we will offer programs to overcome deficiencies so that students can meet our admissions criteria.

We will continue to offer our outstanding first-year programs, advising programs, and other services designed to support student success.

We will expand student participation in undergraduate research and other forms of creative activity as a defining characteristic of the University.

We will raise another $2 million to support merit-based scholarships to enhance our ability to recruit well-prepared students.

We will ensure that our criteria for evaluating faculty-pre- and post-tenure-are clear and consistently applied and that they promote academic quality.

We will ensure that our library is structured and supported to meet the needs of our students and faculty. This year we made the first of what is intended to be a multi-year investment in the library collections budget.

We will encourage and support further internationalization of the curriculum and increased opportunity for both faculty and students to work and study abroad.

We will continue our efforts to hire a diverse faculty and staff, and we will work to increase the number of tenure-track faculty by funding the conversion of full-time temporary lines to tenure-track lines. This year, nine conversions have been approved.

We will continue our commitment to be competitive in the areas of compensation, benefits, and professional development so that we can remain able to recruit, reward, and retain outstanding faculty and staff.
Strengthen Public Engagement

Over the past six years, the University has achieved national recognition for its community partnerships and the expansion of public engagement as a core campus mission. Last fall's community conversations underscored the need for the University to further expand its efforts to address four community challenges.

These include:

  • Expanding our partnership with P-12 education and helping to stimulate more young people to attend college.

  • Expanding our support for regional economic development through partnerships with the business community.

  • Strengthening our capacity to support local government and community decision making through the application of knowledge.

  • Enhancing our support of the local non-profit community through capacity building.

In addition, we were encouraged to have the University play a more active and prominent role in helping the region address complex community and regional issues.

Universities don't solve the problems of society, but we have an indispensable role to play in partnership with society. Through applied research, technical assistance, demonstration projects, and policy analysis, we can help communities analyze the problems that they confront, develop strategies for addressing them, and then assess the impact. In short, we can use our knowledge resources to help inform the problem-solving process.

Enrich the Student Experience:

Over the next five years, we will take steps to enrich the student experience in several important ways. The strategic planning process underscored the need to expand opportunities for students to engage in "community-based learning" through internships, co-ops, and service learning. Over the next three years, we will expand cooperative education by nearly 50 percent. We will expand participation in both curricular and co-curricular activities that build strong bonds between the student and the campus. We will expand services for non-traditional students. And we will work to provide students with service beyond their expectations.

I want to emphasize this last point related to service. In many respects, today's postsecondary education is a commodified industry. That is, most universities offer the same majors and the same services in the same way. What influences a student"s choice of universities is often the combination of quality, affordability, access, and service. If we can score high on these four dimensions, we will be very well-positioned in a very competitive environment. If we fall short on any one dimension, we will weaken our position in the market.

Advance the University's Full Metropolitan Mission:

Over the next five years, we will take steps to insure that we are adequately supporting the full breadth of our teaching, research, and outreach mission. We will expect each academic unit to develop plans to serve the full breadth of the mission. We will recruit and retain faculty who have both the capacity and enthusiasm to serve the full breadth. Where necessary, we will build faculty capacity in departments in order for them to better serve specific mission-related priorities. We will ensure that faculty and unit-level incentives and rewards are aligned to support the full breadth of the mission. We will consider ways for faculty to negotiate with their departments the amount of time they will devote to teaching, research and outreach with the expectation that these percentages will differ among faculty and change over a professional lifetime. And we will recruit, develop, and reward academic leaders at all levels who have the capacity and commitment to lead on behalf of the full breadth of our mission.

Improve Campus Facilities and Environment:

A major pressure point for the University is our severe space deficit, which limits the number of students we can serve. According to the CPE, we are the only campus projected to be underbuilt in 2006. This year, we will entirely renovate BEP 200 with the help of private funds. We will expand the Albright fitness center, and we will construct a new academic greenhouse. With the help of a $1 million corporate gift that must be matched with another $500,000, we will redesign the lake area and make it the aesthetic center of campus. We will work hard to win approval for the old science building renovation. For NKU basketball and volleyball fans, this fall we will have new chair backs on the north bleachers in Regents Hall. And, yes, we will continue to promote a new special events center for our region. NKU should not have to go to Ohio to find a space large enough to celebrate commencement!

What will it take to accomplish all of this? First, it will take the alignment of every element of our campus to support what we believe are our most important priorities. In their book, Built to Last, Collins and Porras studied companies that achieved and maintained a very high level of performance over many years. While we are not a business, what the authors learned is worth noting. They found that high-performing organizations have two qualities in common. First, they are very clear about the outcomes they want to achieve and who they intend to serve. Second, every element of the organization is aligned to support those outcomes.

NKU is, today, very clear about its vision, core values, and strategic priorities. We know that high-quality, learner-centered teaching, scholarship, and public engagement are fundamental to our mission and our success. We know that service beyond anyone's expectations can set us apart in a very competitive market. The question we must ask is this: Is every element of the University strongly aligned to support these priorities? For example, do our individual and unit-level incentives and rewards support what we value? Does our planning and budgeting process? How about our organizational structure? Does our faculty and staff hiring, evaluation, and professional development reflect our priorities? How about the selection and evaluation of our leaders at all levels? Alignment is a key to our future, and I will ask the campus to focus on how well we're aligned during the coming year.

Second, the ability to achieve our goals depends on both the adequacy and deployment of our resources. By any measure, NKU is the most underfunded university in the Commonwealth and among our 19 benchmark institutions. The difference is staggering. Among Kentucky postsecondary institutions, our per-student funding is lower than all, including the Kentucky Community and Technical College System. Among the six comprehensive universities, we receive, on an annual basis, approximately $7.6 million less than the next least-funded university. We receive about $15 million less than the median for university support. Where students at other universities pay about one-third of their education, NKU students pay more than half. This is unfair to both our students and our community and bad public policy for the Commonwealth. Does it make any sense at all to have this region, which is one of Kentucky's prime economic engines, supported by the two most underfunded postsecondary institutions in the Commonwealth, NKU and Gateway? It does not!

I want to be clear that our problem is not simply our underfunding. Rather, it is the enormous imbalance between our funding and the expectations that our region has for us. Last spring, the message from our region was clear. Continue to increase enrollment to meet demand. Maintain the "up-close and personal" approach to education that has become our hallmark. Help drive economic development. Do more to enhance our P-12 schools. Provide greater support for local government decision making. Help strengthen our community-based organizations. And the list goes on.

We have two options. We can complain about our funding and sit on our hands until the economy rebounds and the Commonwealth can increase its investment, or we can assume responsibility for our own future and influence those things over which we have some control.

NKU is the most lean and efficient university that I have ever seen. In my experience, no university produces more with less than our campus. Last spring, this point was reinforced by members of the Legislative Research Commission who visited our campus to better understand how we do it. Nevertheless, over the next several months, we will do a deep analysis of both our revenue and cost-cutting options. Guided by our institutional vision, core values, and strategic priorities, we will make difficult choices about what must be funded, what would be nice to fund, and what funding can no longer be justified, given our financial challenges. We will ask the question, "Is everything that we are now doing more important than what we need to be doing?" We will look at expenditures both big and small. We'll look for opportunities to de-bureaucratize, consolidate, and eliminate. And we will do all within our power to protect the core mission and defining qualities of our campus. We have not come this far to lose ground in those areas central to our mission. We will not lose ground!

On the revenue side, we will continue to set ambitious goals for private support. We expect the current $40 million comprehensive campaign to be completed next spring, one year ahead of schedule. At that point, we intend to begin a set of very targeted campaigns designed to support scholarships and other mission-related activities. We will also look at ways in which the campus can be more entrepreneurial. For example, last year we created a revenue incentive for departments to become more involved in summer course offerings. This resulted in a 20 percent increase in summer enrollments and returned to some departments as much as $34,000 for discretionary use. We'll look for other similar opportunities that have revenue potential and are consistent with our mission. Our academic and administrative units will be asked to look deeply for ways that they can take greater responsibility for their financial condition.

NKU has been a national leader in the development of community-based partnerships, and we will look to new partnerships to leverage our capacity with that of others.

We will expand our efforts at the federal level through both the competitive grant process and through federal earmarks designed to support core mission activity. With new leadership in our Research, Grants and Contracts Office and strengthened advocacy on the ground in Washington, we are much better positioned to expand our success at the federal level and we expect to do so.

Our focus on revenue will also require us to look again at raising tuition. I can tell you that this is the last thing that the Board of Regents and I want to do, but we must balance the expectations of affordability and quality. Our students have indicated that they understand this dilemma. They have also made clear that they want academic quality preserved and enhanced, even if it means that tuition must increase. Kentucky currently ranks as having one of the most affordable systems of higher education in the nation. We will do all that we can to protect our affordability, and we will continue to increase need-based financial aid in order to help ensure that no qualified student is denied access because of his or her financial circumstances. But we must also protect the quality of what we do and help ensure that an NKU degree continues to increase in value.

We will also do all that we can to make our case in Frankfort. Our student government leaders are already organizing their efforts on the University's behalf. We are working to organize our alumni and community support. And we will do all that we can to demonstrate to the leaders in Frankfort that, rather than an expense, we are an investment in the future of both our region and the Commonwealth.

We have every hope that our policy makers in Frankfort will find a way to preserve the progress that has been achieved over the past six years. However, if this does not happen, we need to be prepared for what could be another round of budget reductions, possibly quite severe. If this occurs, all of the revenue and expense strategies that we can summon will not prevent the impact that such reductions will have on our quality, affordability, access, and community involvement. We need our current funds protected and new funding added, if we are to be the University that this region needs and wants us to be. My greatest fear is that this fact will not be recognized or acted upon.

To sustain our momentum and protect against the possibility of serious budget reductions, we will need the commitment of every person on this campus, every member of our legislative caucus, every business group, every civic and community group, and every other group of constituents who have a stake in the future of this campus. We will need your advice, your support, and your advocacy.

Our aspirations for the future of this University are not our own. They flow from the dreams and hopes of the metropolitan region that we serve. On Monday, we will welcome more than 14,000 students to our campus. Some will be full of confidence. Some will be full of fear. All will be full of hope. It is our responsibility to do all that we can to see that those hopes are fulfilled. Our greatest strength is our people. Earlier this morning, we celebrated the qualities and achievements of Ken Jones, a remarkably gifted professor who cares deeply about the impact that he has on his students and his community. The reality is that we could fill this stage with faculty who exemplify those same qualities! The same is true for our staff. Our Regents Distinguished Service Award winners, Judy Strange, Terry Linkugel, and Jeff Baker, have that same deep commitment to serving our students and our campus. Again, we could fill this stage with staff members who reflect that same commitment. No matter what this year brings, it is the strength and commitment of our people-all of you-that gives me confidence that we will sustain our momentum. We can do it, and we will do it!

Yes, we may confront difficult times in the months ahead. But I remind everyone in this hall that we are not alone. Across this nation, families, communities, companies, and other colleges and universities are having to make hard choices. I can tell you that no matter what we confront this year and in the future, we have the strength and the resolve to deal with it. We will find a way that is consistent with who we are, what we value, and where we're headed. And we will do it together.

Thank you, and best wishes for a wonderful year.