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State of the University Address: Sustaining our Pioneer Spirit

Welcome to the 2005-06 academic year. At their July board meeting, the Regents renamed the old science building Founders Hall in honor of the faculty and staff who helped shape our University in its earliest years. Much of what our campus is today and will be tomorrow can be traced to the work of these very special men and women, many of whom are with us today.

Last spring, Provost Gail Wells and I asked several groups of these "founders" to share with us what it was like in those early years. Listen to their words:

"We were on the ground floor of something special."

"It was an era of infinite possibilities."

"We had the freedom to create. There were no older faculty to dampen our enthusiasm."

"We were young and full of idealism."

"There was a spirit of nurturing and encouragement."

"We were a community.  We cared for each other."

"We shared common ground with our students."

"We felt like pioneers."

And, indeed, they were pioneers! They came, they stayed, and they built the foundation on which we all now stand. In many respects, they were academic adventurers who chose the opportunity to create a new university over the security and status of an established institution. The naming of Founders Hall honors their work and the values they represented. It is also intended to remind us and future generations of the legacy that we are obliged to protect, nurture and preserve.

In 1997, the University again expressed its pioneer spirit when we set out to become the prototype of the modern-day metropolitan university, deeply imbedded in the life of our students and our region.

Through the Vision, Values and Voices strategic planning process, we asserted our vision to become a preeminent, learner-centered, metropolitan university recognized for its contributions to the intellectual, social, economic, cultural and civic vitality of our region and the Commonwealth.

We also committed to a set of core values that included placing the learner at the center of all that we do, assuring excellence in all that we undertake, providing access with the opportunity to succeed and partnering with our region to help advance economic and social progress.

Eight years later, NKU is recognized nationally as a metropolitan university that is pioneering innovation as it relates to our regional stewardship role. At the same time, we have seen enormous progress across the full breadth of our academic mission. This past year was no exception. In many respects, we have moved to an exciting new level in our capacity to serve both our students and our community.

Let's focus on a few of the highlights as well as the challenges as we begin this academic year:

Enrollments:  A New Era Begins.

This fall we enrolled 14,490 students-a slight increase over last year. The profile of our students has changed considerably. The impact of our new admissions standards has been more dramatic than our most optimistic projections. This fall, we will have approximately 600 fewer under-prepared students than we had a year ago, which is roughly a 35 percent reduction. This combines with an unprecedented increase in our average ACT score from 21.7 in 2004 to 22.8 this fall. This makes for the most academically prepared class in the university's history. A new era has begun!

Consistent with our core values, we've said that we will no longer admit students who don't stand a reasonable chance of success and this is what we've done. Over the years, the staff in academic assistance programs has had to spread themselves very thin. Now they will be able to concentrate their work on those students who, with proper support, have a strong probability of success.

Other significant indicators related to this year's student profile include an 18 percent increase in the number of honors students and a slight increase in the number of international, Latino and African-American students.

Implementing our new admissions standards was not without risk, particularly financial.  It required the commitment of our entire campus to assure that our enrollment targets were still achieved. I want to thank Joel Robinson and our enrollment management team as well as our deans, department chairs and all who helped assure that this transition went smoothly. Your commitment to these new standards has ushered in a new era in the life of our campus.

Along with our new admissions standards, we established the NKU Academy, a five-week intensive program designed for students who wanted to attend the University but did not meet our admissions criteria. In its first year, the NKU Academy enrolled 68 students and all of them graduated and are now admitted. What a terrific achievement this is for these students and for the NKU faculty and staff who helped make it happen!  

At the graduate level, enrollments continue to climb with the launching of two new masters programs in organizational/industrial psychology and liberal studies.  This fall, two new masters-level counseling programs will be launched as well. Access to graduate programs continues to improve with more evening, weekend and off-campus programs. A good example is our MBA program, which is being offered on-site at Citigroup.

Enrollment in on-line courses more than doubled this spring from 494 enrollments to 1,020. Our Department of Nursing introduced a new on-line master's degree program. While I applaud our progress in this arena, we must continue to reach out to new markets through expansion of our on-line programs. I want to be clear that I am not asking us to compromise our academic standards. However, the postsecondary education marketplace is changing and we need to adapt. Students today are looking for programs that allow them to go to school while serving a variety of other adult responsibilities. On-line programs, as well as programs that are offered in concentrated, weekend and evening formats, provide added flexibility. I've asked Provost Wells to make this a top priority. 

Enrollments in the Chase College of Law continue to be strong with about 600 students this fall. The quality of Chase students continues to be outstanding when measured by both Bar passage rates and student competitions at both the state and national level.

Finally, related to enrollments, I want to recognize the work that was done this year to produce the new Program for Adult Centered Education, or PACE, which provides an intensive degree program for working adults. This program was developed within six months, which is warp speed for most universities and this fall will enroll over 50 students! Thanks to those who provided the leadership and got it done. This program and others like it will allow the University to more adequately serve an adult market that needs access to affordable postsecondary education at times that align with their work and family responsibilities.

In summary, the transition to stronger admissions standards has gone extremely well thanks to the commitment of everyone on our campus. This transition will have enormous benefits for the campus, our region and our area high schools as we work with them to ensure that students have the preparation needed to succeed at NKU or wherever they choose to attend.

Supporting Academic Excellence:

Turning to our academic programs, two years ago, the University initiated a two-year, $4.5 million Academic Quality Initiative designed to invest in programs that have experienced significant growth as well as new programs designed to meet the needs of our region. At a time when many campuses are cutting back the number of full-time faculty in order to control costs, we've increased our full-time numbers in order to better serve our students. This past year, investments were made in 16 new full-time positions as well as in expanded support for Steely Library, instructional equipment, faculty development and increased stipends for graduate students.

Last year we also saw major academic restructuring that was designed to strengthen our capacity to serve both our students and our community.

The new College of Informatics, one of the first of its kind in the country, will move beyond traditional academic boundaries and produce graduates with cross-disciplinary skills including the application of information sciences to many fields. This development represents an important new frontier for our campus and for all of higher education. 

The new School of Nursing and Health Professions was created to support continued expansion of health related programs in response to the needs of our region. The new school has grown to nearly 1,000 majors and will continue to expand in the future.

The Department of Social Work and Human Services has joined the College of Education creating the College of Education and Human Services, which allows us to bring together the in-and out-of-school development of children.

Enrollment management has also moved under the Provost, which provides for a much closer tie between our recruitment and retention efforts and academic programs and services.

Two new associate provost positions have been added to provide leadership related to two major mission priorities.

The associate provost for student success will provide leadership in support of our efforts to improve retention and graduation rates for all students as well as support our continuing efforts to strengthen NKU as a diverse and multicultural campus. We welcome Dr. Dennis Weatherby to this important leadership role. 

The associate provost for economic initiatives position has been created to help link the knowledge resources of the campus with the economic development needs of the region. The focus will be on applying the talents of our faculty and students to help recruit and grow companies while at the same time enriching our students' academic experience. Our success in this arena will not only result in regional economic growth but will also lead to increased financial support for the entire University, including those programs not directly related to economic development. Associate Provost Bob Farrell arrived only a few months ago and is already having an impact.

Academic restructuring, particularly this extensive, is never easy. It takes patience, trust, strong communication and leadership at all levels. I want to congratulate Provost Wells and her staff, our deans and chairs, our Faculty Senate and our entire faculty for assuring such an expeditious and smooth transition. You demonstrated again that our pioneer spirit is intact!   

 Enhancing Student Life:

This past year also saw progress in the quality of our student life. Early warning programs and academic intervention programs continued to expand. Co-op programs grew by 15 percent.  A new two-day student orientation program was a huge success, providing expanded advising and college preparation for all incoming students.

NKU's intercollegiate athletic program won its fourth Great Lakes Valley Conference All Sports Trophy in the past six years. Among many outstanding team accomplishments, the women's softball team set an all-division NCAA record of 55 consecutive victories. Pitcher Krystal Lewallen was named the NCAA Division II Softball Player of the Year. Of equal, if not greater, importance-the overall grade point average for our athletes was an outstanding 3.0!

Our athletic success, combined with our campus growth and the approval of the new The Bank of Kentucky Center, led us to consider whether we should move up to NCAA Division I.  The cost of such a move would be, in round numbers, roughly $4.5 million in operating support and $20-25 million in facility upgrades. While athletics are important, it was my feeling and that of the Board of Regents that this expenditure would delay investments in our core mission that are important to our students and our region. This doesn't mean that we won't make the move at a later time, but not now. Other things are more important. 

Expanding Our Regional Impact:

A defining quality of NKU is our work on behalf of regional progress. NKU is, today, one of a few select universities around the nation recognized for its community engagement. More important than this recognition is the fact that we are making a tangible difference in the life of our region.

For example:

Our "Southern Counties Science Project," which provides professional development opportunities for science teachers in Bracken, Carroll, Gallatin, Grant, Owen and Pendleton counties, has produced remarkable improvements in the CATS science test scores of fourth grade students.

At the same time, our Department of Theater is taking performances and master classes to rural counties in our region and beyond.

Last year, our Center for Integrative Natural Science and Mathematics supported math and science enrichment programs for over 9,000 P-12 students and 1,400 teachers.

NKU, the University of Cincinnati and Xavier University will soon announce a new joint initiative to expand college access for students in our urban school districts. Gateway Community and Technical College and Thomas More College will be partners in this new initiative.

The METS Center for Corporate Learning exceeded all expectations last year by serving an attendee headcount of more than 40,000-double the previous year. This is a remarkable achievement by Rob Snyder and the METS staff. It is also an enormous contribution to employers who depend on continuous learning to advance their organizational effectiveness.

The Scripps Howard Center for Civic Engagement, under the leadership of Miles Wilson, is expanding education for citizenship and the involvement of students in our community.

Our new public leadership initiative, under the leadership of Roxanne Qualls, is providing support for local government leaders as they struggle with complex governance and planning challenges.

Time doesn't permit me to describe all of our outreach initiatives related to economic development, environmental quality, P-12 enhancement, healthcare and a host of other outreach areas. Suffice to say that these initiatives are impacting the region as they enrich the education of our students and faculty.

Currently, our largest and most complex community initiative is the leadership that we are providing for Northern Kentucky's year-long planning initiative called Vision 2015. Five action teams, each supported by NKU faculty members, are focusing on economic competitiveness, educational excellence, urban renaissance, effective governance and livable communities. I'm co-chairing the overall effort, which will be completed this January. Vision 2015 is a textbook example of the role that universities can play in advancing regional progress.

Faculty involvement in public engagement continues to expand. However, what we have not done is bring our various academic policies and procedures into alignment with this work to provide faculty with adequate guidance on how community engagement should be defined and evaluated. I have asked Faculty Senate President Bill Oliver and Provost Gail Wells to make this a priority for the coming year. This is also a major priority of our Board of Regents.

Enhancing Campus Facilities And Environment:

In the area of campus facilities and environment, this past year exceeded any in our history.

Thanks to Governor Ernie Fletcher, the General Assembly and the outstanding leadership and support of our caucus and our community, NKU received approval for nearly $100 million dollars of capital construction in this last legislative session. The new 8,000-10,000 seat The Bank of Kentucky Center will make the campus a hub for not only athletics but also for a broad range of entertainment and special events. I should add that this new center will leverage $30 million to 440 million in private development at the entrance to our campus and have an overall construction impact of $100 million.

Later this fall, we expect to break ground for a spectacular new student union. Talk about progress-the new student union will double the number of Starbucks on campus-from one to two! More importantly, this new campus gathering spot will have a major impact on both student recruitment and retention. It will be a hub for student and campus life.

Turning to the dusty bowl next to the Fine Arts Center, Vice President Ken Ramey assures me that Lake Inferior will become superior in the coming months! When completed, the lake enhancement project will include water falls, walkways, a bridge and amphitheater. The area will become the esthetic hub for the campus and a gathering spot for our campus community. While we emphasize our close links with the larger society, a university should also serve as a sanctuary that exists apart from society. It should be a place where students can retreat from the world, take a deep breath and consider life's ultimate questions. The new lake area will contribute to this sanctuary environment.

The PRISM project continues to test our patience and sense of humor, but if we stay the course we will strengthen our system capacity to support every dimension of our work. To those who are working so hard to implement this enormous systems change, we know how hard you're working and it's deeply appreciated. 

Thanks to Senator Jim Bunning and Congressman Geoff Davis, NKU received nearly $16 million to construct the I-275 connector road to the AA Highway, which will ease traffic and improve campus safety. In addition, Senator Bunning secured $1.6 million for transportation related research. We are deeply indebted to our federal delegation and to our liaison, Mac Riley, for their success in this effort.

Finally, this summer our physical plant personnel moved almost 400 people and over 40 offices. I don’t know how they did it but they got it done. On behalf of the entire campus, I want to thank you for your hard work in support of these moves. We all appreciate it! 

A Stronger Financial Base:

Turning to our financial status, the University enters this fiscal year on solid financial footing. In addition to nearly $100 million in capital construction, last spring's legislative session produced $6.5 million in recurring funds for additional campus operating support-the highest percentage increase of any of the universities. Again, we thank the governor, the General Assembly, our caucus and the Council on Postsecondary Education for recognizing the need to fund the University and taking steps to respond. This was an historic legislative session for our campus and I want to thank Joe Wind for his leadership. He did a terrific job of leading and coordinating our effort.

On a cautionary note, Kentucky will go into next year's legislative session with between a $500 million and $600 million structural deficit, which creates some funding uncertainty. NKU has responded by doubling our reserves in order to protect against possible reductions.

Coupled with our increase in legislative support, the campus raised $10.2 million in private support-representing another banner year and another testament to the leadership of Vice President Deborah Read and her staff. Debbie will leave the campus next week to take a similar position at the State University of New York at Albany. Please join me in thanking Debbie for her leadership.

On top of our increases in both public and private support, it is important to highlight that last year we generated $11M in grants and contracts, a 46 percent increase over the previous year. My hope is that we will continue to expand this external support, and I believe that our new Research Foundation will help lead the way.

Addressing Our Challenges:

The University has just come off quite a remarkable year of progress. Still, we confront several major challenges that will shape our future.

Let me briefly mention a few:

First, we must continue to improve student success. Progress in this area requires the commitment and involvement of our entire campus. There are encouraging signs that we are improving but we are not where we need to be. We can do better and Provost Gail Wells has made this a high priority.

Second, we must continue to focus on aligning our campus to support the full breadth of our academic mission. If we value strong undergraduate education, selective areas of research and scholarly excellence and outstanding community engagement, every element of our campus should be aligned to support this work. Our Board of Regents has asked that we make this a top priority and Gail and I share their sense of urgency.

Third, we must be much more intentional in addressing the public agenda that Kentucky has developed for its universities.

At the heart of this agenda are five questions:

Are more Kentuckians ready for postsecondary education?

Is Kentucky postsecondary education affordable?

Do more Kentuckians have certificates and degrees?

Are college graduates prepared for life and work?

Are Kentucky's people, communities and economy benefiting?

To the extent that we can demonstrate major contributions to the public agenda, we will strengthen our case for public support. I've asked Vice President Sue Hodges Moore to help the campus be more explicitly focused on the five questions and our contributions to each, which are already considerable.

Lack of space has reached a crisis on our campus. It impacts our ability to both grow enrollments and serve our community. This year, we've requested two new academic buildings-one for our new College of Informatics and the other for the new School of Nursing and Health Professions. In addition, it's time for the state to finally fund the renovation of Founders Hall.

Around the state I sometimes hear that, with our $60 million The Bank of Kentucky Center, we've had our turn. My response is that this is not about taking turns. It's about making investments that will leverage Kentucky's economic future. It's about return on investment.  Measured by this standard, we can still claim a place at the head of the line!

It is time for the Commonwealth to fund postsecondary education's public engagement mission. If NKU is to further expand its support of economic growth, P-12 enhancement, and local government decision making (and a host of other priorities important to our region's future), this work must have a state resource stream to support it. The CPE has recommended the creation of a Regional Stewardship Trust Fund to support public engagement work and the state should adequately fund it. Kentucky can lead the nation in this arena and we should. The time is now!

A Few Final Thoughts:

I close with a few final thoughts. It seems to me that no university has an innate claim to importance. Our importance is earned through the impact that we have on our students and our community. If we sustain a pioneer spirit regarding our work, and if we are willing, in the words of our founders, to sustain a culture of infinite possibilities, then we will take the University to yet new levels of impact and importance.

Toward the end of their lives, Samuel Coleridge and William Wordsworth exchanged letters reflecting on their work, their lives and their legacy. Wordsworth wrote, "What we have loved, others will love, and we will teach them how."

To our founders I say, you have taught us well. You've taught us how to care deeply about our students and how to weave them into every dimension of our work. You've taught us how to love and nurture this University, even as we advance our disciplines and professional fields. You've taught us how to nurture each other's work and support each other's dreams.  You've taught us how to think anew about our work without sacrificing standards of academic excellence. And you've taught us to be pioneers, creators, idealists and dreamers on behalf of our University and its future.

We, and those who follow us, should never lose sight of these qualities. To do so would mean to lose sight of what has made our University special since its earliest beginnings.

This is important work that we do. We are advancing the dreams of our students and our community and, in the process, building a University of which all can be proud. What better work could there be? Best wishes for a wonderful year and thank you for being part of this journey that we share together.