Skip to main content

State of the University Address:
Shaping the Modern Metropolitan University.
Our Journey Continues:

Several years ago, my mother, who is 92 and with us today, decided to write her life story as a gift to her family. In the preface she wrote, "Most people would say that I'm in the winter of my life but, to me, it still feels like the springtime-and I still look forward to each new day."

In so many ways, my mother's words describe how I feel about my work at NKU. Even though I've been here for 10 years, it still feels like springtime-and I still look forward to each new day.

Rachel and I arrived in northern Kentucky 10 years ago this summer and quickly threw ourselves into both campus and community life. What we've received in return has been the opportunity to engage in the most satisfying and rewarding work of our lives. We've had the opportunity to work with some of the most talented academic and community leaders we've ever encountered. To all with whom we've shared this journey, we say, thank you. I would only add that our journey together is far from over. There is much more for us to do. To paraphrase Robert Frost, we still have miles to go before we sleep!

Ten years ago, we set out to define what it means to be a modern metropolitan university: a university deeply committed to both excellence and access, a university deeply rooted in our region, a university committed to protecting our fundamental academic values our core values if you will-while at the same time being willing to think anew about how we go about our work.

Over the past 10 years, we've done our best to advance this vision. We've made the region our campus, and we've drawn heavily on metropolitan resources to connect our academic work with the world around us. We've built strong regional partnerships involving the application of our academic talent to address complex regional challenges.

We've done our best to stay true to our institutional vision and core values and to our commitment to provide NKU students with an academic experience that is characterized by both rigor and relevance... and we've tried to ensure that access to the university remains affordable in the face of escalating costs. We've worked to be innovative in what we offer and how we offer it. And we've never lost sight of our role in advancing democracy and individual freedom through the power of education.

The State of the University:

Ten years into our journey together, the results are impressive. This fall we'll see another record enrollment that will approach 15,000 for the first time in our history. If we compare this fall's numbers to 2005, when our new admissions standards were instituted, we see freshman applications up 22 percent, Kentucky applicants up 21 percent, African-American applicants up 42 percent, and Hispanic applicants up 40 percent. Enrollment size tells only part of the story. This year, enrollments will include double the number of valedictorians in our honors program, double the number of students receiving the Governor's Scholars Scholarship, and a 16 percent increase in the number of scholarship recipients scoring above 26 on the ACT exam.

Sixty-nine percent of the nearly 600 students offered scholarships this fall plan to attend the university. All of this suggests that NKU is becoming the first choice for an increasing number of the region's most academically talented students. Not only are we enrolling the most academically prepared students in our history, but we also continue to see increases in the number of academic programs receiving national recognition.

Last year, the Fifth Third Bank Entrepreneurship Institute was ranked among the top 25 nationally. This year, Princeton Review ranked our MBA program among the best business programs in the country. The Chase College of Law continues to demonstrate strong first-time bar passage rates as well as success in national moot court and mock trial competitions. Our acceptance rates for graduate and professional programs continue to be impressive.

Academic innovation has become a hallmark of the campus as we develop new programs that respond to regional demand. Expansion of our early childhood program, the new undergraduate program in entrepreneurship, the international business honors program, a new major in media informatics, and new and expanded graduate programs in health informatics and executive leadership and organizational change are but a few of the most recent examples of our innovative spirit.

Our intent to become the model for the modern metropolitan university has led us to develop our first doctoral level program outside of law. This fall, we'll ask the Council on Postsecondary Education to approve the creation of a new education doctorate focused on educational leadership at the P-12 and postsecondary level. The Carnegie Foundation has called for reform of the Ed.D. , and we intend for NKU to be a national leader in this reformation process.

Our program will be deeply embedded in local educational practice and will be designed to support enhanced instructional and administrative leadership across the education continuum. Our region has set ambitious goals for education performance at all levels. We believe that this new doctorate will support achievement of those goals.

The university is not only expanding the number of academic programs but also how, where, and when those programs are offered. This fall we expect more than 400 enrollments in our Grant County center. Our Internet courses and programs fill up as fast as we can offer them. Concentrated courses within and between semesters augment the traditional semester format. In an effort to further expand access for students who must balance school with other responsibilities, we are constantly assessing whether there are ways to make our courses and programs even more accessible.

In our efforts to expand student global awareness, this year a record 231 NKU students enrolled in study-abroad programs. We expect to see that number continue to increase with recently expanded scholarship support. This summer, Rachel and I, along with Gail and Charlie Wells, accompanied our theatre and dance department during its participation in a European theater festival in Sibiu, Romania. It was terrific to see the impact of this experience on our students. It further reinforced the importance of an international experience as part of a student's academic experience.

Our faculty research and scholarly productivity continues to increase with faculty pushing back the frontiers of knowledge in their fields, often involving undergraduate students in their work. This past year, more than 400 students were involved in the celebration of undergraduate research and creative activity. In the area of public engagement, the university is supporting some of the most complex and ambitious regional and statewide goals that I've ever encountered.

Vision 2015:

Vision 2015, northern Kentucky's 10-year strategic plan, involves the university providing support in six areas that are key to the region's future: growing the economy, improving schools, revitalizing our urban core, promoting livable communities, achieving more effective governance, and promoting a culture of regional stewardship.

Strive is a regional effort involving the University of Cincinnati and NKU, among a host of other partners, to promote school success in our urban core and increase college attendance out of Holmes and Newport high schools and Cincinnati Public Schools.

On a statewide level, our new Kentucky Math Center is shouldering statewide leadership on behalf of improved math education in schools throughout Kentucky.

One of our major engagement priorities has been to invest ourselves in advancing and supporting P-12 education. CINSAM continues to be a national model for offering enrichment programs for P-12 math and science faculty and students. Our theatre and dance department provides a terrific example of how faculty and students reach beyond the boundaries of the campus to engage young people in both rural and urban settings.

Our colleges of informatics and business are doing cutting-edge work to support regional economic competitiveness. Additional examples abound, but suffice to say that our public engagement efforts are strong and becoming ever more deeply embedded in our college and departmental structure.

NKU has also made a landmark commitment to advancing campus access for students in our urban core. Last spring, we established a new scholarship program for Holmes and Newport high school students that provides full tuition support for any student who is Pell eligible and meets our admissions requirements.

The result this fall is a near doubling of students from these two high schools. My hope is that there will come a day when no qualified students are denied access to NKU because of their financial circumstances. This new program reflects a bold new step in that direction.

If we turn to progress in the area of campus facilities and environment, our progress has been breathtaking. Construction of the 10,000-seat Bank of Kentucky Center is on schedule. Next spring, we come back to campus for commencement! It's anticipated that the center will host upwards of 130 events a year and will bring thousands of people to our campus annually.

Exciting new facilities:

The new student union is also on schedule with its official opening next summer. This facility will quickly become the university's "town square," with its food court, meeting rooms, lounges, and recreation space.

Construction has begun on a 700-space parking garage below AS&T and facing The Bank of Kentucky Center.

Planning is currently underway for the new College of Informatics building, which we hope to make a signature campus structure with the help of a nationally recognized designer.

The new digital science center is now all but complete and we have a very happy Chuck Hawkins.

Finally, Nunn and University drives are now reopened and the traffic circle is completed. Had this not been the case, I had plans to deliver these remarks via video from an undisclosed location!

The greening of our campus continues with the addition of more trees, shrubs, and flowers. I draw your attention particularly to the new trees along the side of Fine Arts. Our physical plant, building and grounds employees have again distinguished themselves in getting the campus ready for fall, often working in extreme heat and humidity and against tight deadlines.

On behalf of our entire campus, thank you for what you've done to make NKU such a beautiful and welcoming place!

Parking stress has been alleviated with the addition of 500 new spaces through lot reconfiguration. The university has also struck a partnership with TANK to allow anyone with an NKU ID to use the buses free of charge. Next Monday, Lot J will be back on line.

One of our most important activities this year will be the update of our campus master plan. As we look to the future, one of our biggest challenges will be to make wise and efficient use of our limited land. The master plan update will consider land use, facility placement, parking, and a host of other factors important to our future. It will also place a major emphasis on continued campus beautification and the reinforcement of a welcoming and "up close and personal" feel in the face of continued growth.

Community impact:

Another important development related to campus facilities and environment is our commitment to environmental sustainability. Today, there is an abundance of scientific evidence to suggest that our planet is at great risk if we don't learn to behave differently.

We believe that NKU has a special obligation to demonstrate environmental responsibility. Campus recycling will be greatly enhanced, and we are committed to building environmentally sustainable structures. On top of being good for the environment, there are data to suggest that the university can achieve substantial energy savings.

The one disappointing development related to facilities is lack of approval for agency bonds to renovate Lakeside Manor. Lakeside will eventually provide an additional 460 residence hall spaces. Demand for residence hall living is far outstripping our capacity to respond. In fact, we estimate that as many as 200 students were lost this fall because of a lack of residence hall space. In addition, Lakeside Manor is costing the university $60,000 per month with no income anticipated for at least another year or two.

As the campus continues to grow, it's putting increased pressure on the infrastructure of our surrounding communities. During the upcoming year, we will need to address this issue. We cannot, on the one hand, speak of our commitment to regional well-being and, on the other hand, fail to acknowledge the impact that we're having on our immediate communities.


Turning to our financial condition, this past year reflected major progress in our state funding, which allowed us to invest in faculty and programmatic expansion as well as infrastructure and salaries. This will help ensure that we remain competitive in both our local and national markets.

Last year was also very successful in the area of private fundraising, which totaled nearly $8 million, $.5 million of which came from our own faculty and staff. Of particular note was the creation of the Lois and Richard Rosenthal Chair of Theatre and the $1.8 million Iler Scholarship Endowment.

As we prepare for our 40th anniversary next year, plans are underway for our next comprehensive campaign. A critical first step in this process will be for the university, and its various academic and administrative units, to establish the campaign priorities that will guide our efforts.

The university is strong:

There are a host of other signs that the state of the university is strong. During last year's Vision, Values, and Voices strategic planning update, faculty and staff indicated that their morale is high, and they believe the future of the university is bright.

Students expressed great satisfaction with their education. When asked to describe the university's greatest strengths, their response was immediate and unequivocal: small classes and faculty and staff who know our names, are available to us, and care about us. No message is more important for us to hear than this one.

With a student/faculty ratio of 14:1, an average class size of around 23, and tuition less than $6,000, we do, indeed, provide what Professor Russ Proctor describes as a private school education at a public school price.

Collegial governance is an important quality of American higher education, and it is alive and well on our campus. Our Faculty Senate, Staff Congress, and Student Government Association have each demonstrated leadership on key institutional issues and a willingness to work with the administration to accomplish important objectives. I look forward to working together again this year.

One of our greatest assets is the strength of our leadership throughout the campus. Good management is important for universities, but it's not enough. Universities require leaders at all levels who believe in the importance of our work, who understand how to organize and motivate others to achieve ambitious ends, who bring out the best in those around them, who can paint a picture in which all can find themselves, and who have the capacity to trust and be trusted.

Our campus is well managed...but it's also well led. From our board of regents that sets overall policy and institutional direction to our vice presidents, deans, directors, chairs, and key faculty and staff members throughout the campus, we have leaders who understand what we're working to build and are committed to achieving it.

Overall, the state of the university is strong, although we have two challenges that I want to highlight briefly:

First, our graduation and degree completion rates still lag behind too many of our peer metropolitan universities. We need to carefully analyze why. This year, Provost Wells will ask the campus to take a deep look at our undergraduate experience to better understand the forces that both support and inhibit student progress toward graduation.

The second challenge involves institutional focus and execution. Over the past 10 years, we've done a great job of defining a campus vision, establishing key priorities, and developing strategies for their achievement. In fact, several years ago, Harvard wrote a case study on our strategic planning process. However, literature on high-performing organizations suggests that all organizations have goals and strategies, but execution is what determines success.

An analogy can be drawn with athletics. It's not enough for Coach Winstell and Coach Bezold to develop goals and strategies. It's all about execution. The same can be said for the university. How well do we execute and on what basis do we make this assessment?

What we heard from faculty and staff during last year's strategic planning process was that this is a great place to work but that we need to be cautious about overloading the campus with too many new initiatives to a point where we lose focus and don't have adequate support and follow-through.

Pace is important and impacts the quality of our execution. A wise former university president once told me that universities can't advance, advance, advance. They need to periodically catch their breath and consolidate. We may be at such a time. (I can feel the eyes rolling!)

Looking to the future:

Looking to the future, our strategic planning process identified several forces that will impact our campus in important ways. Technology will continue to influence how we go about our work. Students who come to us as "technology natives" will bring with them expectations concerning the role of technology n the teaching/learning process.

Public demand for greater institutional accountability and transparency will require us to do a better job of measuring what we do and the impact that we have on our students and region. Demonstrating our impact will also be an important factor to making the case for increased funding.

Concern over university affordability will continue to increase, and with it will come increased pressure to keep tuition low. NKU depends on tuition for 64 percent of its public support, which makes this issue a major challenge for us.

Competition for well-prepared students will continue to increase, requiring further investments in marketing, student recruitment, and innovative instructional design and delivery.

Public funding for NKU will continue to increase. It's unlikely, however, to keep pace with ever-increasing public demand for programs and services. Pressure will increase to streamline and re-engineer academic and administrative systems and processes in order to reallocate funds to our highest-priority areas.

Leaders of the Northern Kentucky Vision 2015 process will continue to look to NKU for support, placing further stress on our human and financial resources and requiring us to focus our efforts where we can have the greatest impact. Increasing globalization will require the university to become more international in scope as we prepare our students for the world in which they will live and work.

Last fall, our Vision, Values, and Voices strategic planning process identified four strategic priorities for the next five years. Details are contained in the plan, but here are some highlights worth emphasizing:

First, we'll focus on talent development across the lifespan. In fact, the title of the plan is "The Talent Imperative." We'll nurture young P-12 talent and support the strengthening of P-12 education. We'll prepare collegiate talent in fields important to the region and state. We'll sustain talent through innovative lifelong learning programs of the sort provided by METS. And we'll apply our own academic talent to the challenges confronting our region and its communities.

Second, we'll focus on expanding student involvement in learning and campus life. We know that students are more likely to graduate from college the more engaged they are with the collegiate experience. With a nearly 90 percent commuter population, most of whom work at least part time, getting students actively involved in campus learning and life can be a challenge. We'll look to employ more students on campus, expand student involvement in research and other academic activities, and enhance our co-curricular activities, all with an eye toward increasing retention and graduation.

Third, we'll focus on ensuring academic quality across the full breadth of our academic mission. We'll take steps to better assess student learning and examine closely the extent to which we can strengthen our support of student success.

We'll continue to increase the number of tenure and tenure-track faculty so that we have greater capacity to spread faculty workload across the full breadth of our mission. We'll take a close look at our undergraduate experience in terms of improving graduation rates and reducing time to graduation.

And we'll promote areas of academic and research excellence that fit with our mission, build on our strengths, and align with the needs of our region. It may also be time for us to take a fresh look at our general education requirements, with an eye toward more clearly defining what a student needs to know to live, work, and exercise citizenship in a world growing more complex by the day.

The SACS reaffirmation process offers us an opportunity to look carefully at other elements related to academic quality. One of the most important decisions that we'll make this fall will be the selection of a Quality Enhancement Program on which we'll focus our efforts over the next five years.

Fourth, we'll focus on regional stewardship that is consistent with our mission, builds on our strengths, and supports Vision 2015 goals. We will think more deeply about measuring the impact of our community engagement efforts. We'll also try to concentrate more of our intellectual and financial resources on where we can have the greatest impact. In addition to these four strategic priorities, our planning process identified four supporting priorities.

First, we will do all that we can to maximize our competitive advantage in the recruitment and retention of faculty and staff. In this regard, we'll focus on fair, equitable, and competitive salaries and benefits, along with further enhancement of our work environment, and expanded professional development.

We'll ask ourselves how we can recruit great employees and support them for maximum performance. Campus wellness will be an important priority. When discussing our overall work environment, it's encouraging to note that NKU is regularly ranked among the best places to work throughout the Greater Cincinnati/northern Kentucky region.

Second, we'll increase public awareness of NKU through an integrated marketing strategy and a focus on the achievements of our faculty, staff, and students. NKU's image in the region is strong, but we need to take public awareness of NKU's special qualities up yet another notch.

Third, we'll look for every opportunity to increase institutional effectiveness. High-performing organizations set high standards and hold themselves accountable. We'll implement a comprehensive-unit planning process along with performance measures that allow us to measure our progress on both campus and unit goals.

We'll also look carefully at ways to streamline our organizational processes and systems so that more of our current funding can be reallocated to our most important institutional priorities. Also related to institutional effectiveness, this will be a pivotal year for the SAP implementation process. Financial resource systems are now live, and we're preparing to go live with human resources on October 1.

I know that this process has been exhausting and often frustrating. I only ask that we continue to press on and take full advantage of this new system to streamline and re-engineer our work.

Fourth, we'll do all that we can to expand NKU's financial base and capital assets. I want to make clear that we've made progress these past 10 years related to both operating support and facilities expansion. Our state and federal delegations have been strong advocates for the university-and it's paid off.

If we compare ourselves to our past, we have much to celebrate in this regard. However, if we ask ourselves whether the campus is positioned to provide what both the state and the region require of us, the honest answer is no.

Regional goals:

If Kentucky is going to compete in today's innovation-driven global environment, northern Kentucky will need to be a major driving force. This is beyond debate. Our region currently generates about 16 percent of the state's total economic output, and that percentage is growing. I'm not familiar with any high-performing region in the nation that's not anchored by a university strong in areas that the region requires.

Often these universities are major research institutions. Just as often they're comprehensive universities that are deeply involved in supporting regional progress. Look at Charlotte, Indianapolis, Boise, Fresno, San Jose, Greensboro, Portland, Wichita, Jacksonville, Milwaukee, and the list goes on and on.

NKU understands and is committed to its role in supporting regional economic and social progress. What we lack are faculty, staff, facilities, and infrastructure in areas that are vital to northern Kentucky's future. For example, based on Vision 2015 regional priorities, we need to substantially expand our capacity in nursing and health programs, in informatics, in science and mathematics, in technology, in education, and in business.

We're also going to need a major infusion of resources to meet the CPE goal of 23,000 undergraduates by 2020...only 12 and a half years away. Analysts have determined that, if Vision 2015 is to meet its goal of 50,000 new high-wage jobs by 2015, NKU will need to more than double its degree output.

Over the past several months, we've been working with the Stillwater Group to develop a university business plan that addresses the following questions:

  • First, what is our current capacity and resource base?

  • Second, where must the university build capacity to support Vision 2015 goals, with a particular emphasis on a net increase of 50,000 new high wage jobs, as well as meeting other workforce needs?

  • Third, what will it cost to build this capacity?

  • Fourth, what will be the sources of funding?

  • Fifth, and most importantly, what are the benefits that will accrue to both the region and the state if this capacity is developed?

The region's goals are ambitious, even with the full support of a university possessing the necessary capacity. Absent that capacity, the goals are far less likely to be achieved, and the entire commonwealth will be impacted. We will roll out this business plan in early fall in preparation for next spring's legislative session.

I see this as a critical year in defining NKU's future trajectory. Ten years ago, Kentucky embarked on the most ambitious postsecondary movement in the nation. HB 1 established that the University of Kentucky should become a top-20 public research university and the University of Louisville should become a nationally recognized urban research university.

However, HB 1 was essentially silent concerning the role of each of the comprehensive universities. It treated them all alike. Ten years into reform, it's time to recognize that the six comprehensive universities serve very different missions. NKU is Kentucky's only comprehensive university located in a major metropolitan region ... a region on which the commonwealth will lean for much of its economic future.

In my view, it's time to differentiate the missions of the comprehensive universities and provide funding that allows those missions to be adequately served. From a public policy perspective, it's all about return on investment. NKU will demonstrate, through its business plan, that the return to both the region and state will far exceed the investment that will be required.

It's clear that NKU's capacity to adequately support Vision 2015 goals, as well as meet ambitious enrollment targets, will not be achieved through the incremental funding of the past. The university is rapidly approaching the maximum number of students we can accommodate with our existing faculty, staff, facilities, and infrastructure. Already, we are denying qualified students access to high-demand programs, such as nursing, because we have no more room.

Absent a major infusion of resources, we will see enrollments level off in the coming years, with qualified students being denied access at a time when demand for college graduates has never been greater. Let me give you one figure that exemplifies the level of need. Even with all of the new construction, a major facilities study sponsored by the CPE concludes that NKU's space deficit represents 40 percent of the total space deficit for all six of Kentucky's comprehensive universities!

It would take roughly seven additional buildings the size of Landrum Hall to get us to the median of the other comprehensive universities. As I said, marginal investment won't get it done. If we compare ourselves to our past, we have much to celebrate. If we compare ourselves to other high-performing regions and the universities that support them, we still have a long way to travel-and we have no time to lose.

I want to be clear that this is not about simply providing more funding to NKU. It's about investing in the future of our region and commonwealth.

Our journey continues. . .

I want to close these remarks by thanking everyone who has contributed to what's been a decade of impressive university progress. We are a very different university today than we were 10 or even five years ago. This past decade has not been for the faint of heart.

The pace has been fast-and we've advanced a variety of very ambitious initiatives. I know that many of you have made sacrifices, worked evenings and weekends, and given up vacations in order to complete important work. To you and to your families, I can only say thank you! My hope is that you feel a sense of deep satisfaction over what we've achieved.

As we gather here today, nearly 40 years since the founding of the university, we can take great pride in what's been accomplished. Presidents often get a lot of credit for the work of many others. The fact is that everyone-and I mean everyone-has had an indispensable role in building this university. We are well on our way to becoming the model for the modern metropolitan university, and it's because of everyone in this room!

I have believed all of my professional life that the American public university has more capacity to be a force for both individual and social progress than any other institution in the land. This journey we're traveling together involves harnessing that capacity, however imperfectly, on behalf of the public whom we serve. Could there be more important work?

Could there be more inspiring or renewing or poetic work? I don't think so! So our journey continues. On Monday, nearly 15,000 students will converge on our campus . We know that some will arrive filled with confidence . Others will arrive feeling uncertainty and doubt.

All will be filled with hope ... and we mustn't let them down! Now it's time to get on with our journey! It's been my honor to serve the university during this past decade and I look forward to many more years together .