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9:30 AM, FRIDAY, AUGUST 22, 2008

Several years ago, there was a university president who, after finishing his state-of-the-university address, was attending a reception when a young man came through and said, “Your speech was too long.” Several minutes later, the same young man came through again and said, “Your speech was poorly organized and confused.” Five minutes later, he came through a third time and said, “Your speech was really boring.” One of the senior faculty members overheard all of this and, in an effort to temper the moment, leaned over to the president and said, “Oh, don’t worry about him. He is a simple-minded fellow who only repeats what he hears others say.” This is why we have our reception before, and not after, this convocation.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Northern Kentucky University. As we begin this academic year, there is no doubt in my mind that the state of the university is strong. In fact, in the 11 years that we’ve been together, I’ve never been more proud of our campus or more confident of our prospects.

This past year, the university confronted challenges that tested both our spirit and our resolve. Deep state budget reductions, coupled with the financial pressures associated with SAP and bringing three major new facilities on line, forced us to make hard choices among competing priorities.Add to these budget pressures, the SACS reaffirmation process, unit planning, PRISM implementation, the press to expand academic programs and services to meet the growing demands of both our students and our region, and the pressure to bring five new facilities online, and we were challenged like never before.

In my experience, when universities confront difficult challenges, their spirit is inevitably tested. Will they allow themselves to be consumed by handwringing and internal bickering, or will they reach deep within themselves and find a way to sustain progress no matter what obstacles they may confront?

The truth is that we learned a lot about ourselves this past year. We learned that we are a resilient campus that has both the discipline and the resolve to take control of our future, even when confronting major challenges. We learned that, even in difficult times, we would not allow trust to be eroded, commitment to be weakened, or hope to be abandoned. We dug down deep, and we found the means to sustain our progress in spite of it all.

Over the past several months, I’ve spent time with faculty and staff across our campus. They’ve made clear to me that, while we made progress this past year, it was not without costs. For many of our employees, stress levels were high, hours were long, and many wondered if their jobs were secure. Thirty positions and five administrative units were eliminated in order to make investments that were important to our future. And our students paid a price as well with yet another significant tuition increase.

What was once again made clear during this past year is that the strength of the university is to be found in its people. In spite of all that we confronted, we made significant progress because we have a Board of Regents that maintained a steady hand and provided wise counsel as we confronted difficult choices.

We made progress because our vice presidents, deans, directors and chairs led with confidence and courage and made difficult choices about what was most important to preserve and enhance, even if it was sometimes at their own expense. We made progress because Faculty Senate, Staff Congress and our Student Government Association worked closely with the administration as, together, we wrestled with difficult choices. We made progress because our faculty’s steadfast commitment to outstanding teaching, scholarship and community engagement never waivered or became distracted in spite of all that was going on around them. We made progress because of our staff’s incredible willingness to put in long hours, often under conditions of great stress, in order to get a crushing workload accomplished in a timely and effective manner, often requiring sacrifice from not only themselves but their families. I know, for example, that we had staff coming to work before dawn and working well into the night to get Callahan Hall completed. And we made progress because leaders throughout our region stepped up on our behalf. They provided advocacy in Frankfort and Washington. They offered encouragement and counsel. And they expressed their faith in the university through their financial support at a time when that support has never been more important.

To all on this campus and beyond who contributed to our progress during this past year, I extend a deep and heartfelt “thank you” for your commitment to the university and for your tenacity in the face of often difficult circumstances. Together, we ensured that the university, in spite of its challenges, would continue to advance in its capacity to serve the needs of our students, the region and the commonwealth.


Where Do We Stand?

Let’s take a look at where we stand as we begin what I believe will be an exciting new era in the life of our university.

Let’s begin with our students. Fall enrollments are again at historic levels. Based on preliminary data, we expect overall enrollment to increase by approximately 3 percent or 450 students with the largest increases occurring in the upper division, graduate and law. Transfer students are up 5 percent.

The quality of the entering class is also strong. The number of students scoring 27 or above on the ACT exam is up by 12 percent. The number of freshmen admitted without any academic deficiencies is up 7 percent. The number of African American and Hispanic new freshmen is up 27 percent. In short, enrollments at all levels are strong, and we’ll welcome the largest, most diverse and most academically talented entering class in the university’s history.

Another significant development in our student profile is the number of students living on campus. With the addition of the 460-bed Callahan Hall, we’ve increased our residential capacity to nearly 1,800 students. In spite of this significant increase in residential capacity, we are currently at 100 percent of occupancy with students on a waiting list for space.

What this tells us is that we are becoming a campus of choice for students who want a full residential collegiate experience. While NKU remains a largely commuter campus, the presence of nearly 2,000 residential students will have a significant impact on the quality of campus life and the patterns of interaction among students, faculty and staff.

Another indication that we’re entering a new era is the progress we’ve achieved in our academic programs and services.This past year, we once again had outstanding success in faculty recruitment, and we were able to increase the number of full-time tenure and tenure-track faculty members while adding new faculty in several high-demand academic programs.

Our faculty continue to reflect a strong commitment to undergraduate education while expanding their research and scholarly activity, often with the involvement of undergraduate students. This past year, our faculty members received a variety of awards and recognitions. Two examples are illustrative. Biology professor Hazel Barton was recently awarded a National Science Foundation $800,000 Faculty Early Career Development Award. This is NSF’s most prestigious award in support of junior faculty members who show great promise. Professor Vernon Hicks received the Outstanding Chemist of the Year Award by the American Chemical Society, Cincinnati Chapter. This is particularly significant in that it includes both industry and university chemists.

Throughout our College of Arts and Sciences, our College of Business, our College of Education and Human Services, our College of Informatics, our School of Nursing and Health Professions and the Chase College of Law, we are developing faculty and programmatic breadth and depth that are the hallmark of an outstanding university.

This past year also saw the university become much more focused on those areas of public engagement where we believe we can add significant value in partnership with our community. Our work related to P-12 enhancement, economic competitiveness, nonprofit management, and health informatics is having a significant and measurable impact on these areas in ways that support and enhance our core mission as a university. This past spring, 22 university presidents gathered here to learn more about how they can advance public engagement on their own campuses.

The university’s co-curricular student life has also seen major advancements this past year. Student Affairs has reorganized several of its offices to strengthen the impact of its programs and services on student achievement. New leaders have been recruited to focus on student retention and campus engagement. More students are studying abroad than ever before, and our new International Education Center will promote the internationalization of the campus at all levels.

Intercollegiate athletics is an important part of student life. Last year, Coach Nancy Winstel and her women’s basketball team won their second national championship in the past eight years, and the Norse had 11 of 13 sports participate in NCAA postseason competition. Professor Bob Wallace has written a fascinating book on a year in the life of our women’s team. It will be published by the UK press later this year. NKU again won the GLVC Commissioner’s Cup, emblematic of overall athletic excellence. And our athletes had an overall grade-point average of 3.06.

If we look for other evidence of a new era at NKU, we can turn our focus to the physical campus.The new Student Union is now open and will dramatically impact the quality of campus life. Do not underestimate the influence this facility will have on student recruitment and retention. In an era when students pay close attention to the perceived quality of life when choosing a college, the Student Union will be a major asset in a very competitive recruitment environment.

The Bank of Kentucky Center will bring thousands of people to our campus and create greater NKU visibility throughout the Tri-state and beyond. Commencement is finally back on campus!

This spring we will break ground for the new state-of-the-art College of Informatics facility. This will be the first new academic building in six years and will be constructed to meet the needs of the college, not only today but well into the future.

The new campus Welcome Center is now about complete, and the new parking garage, along with new surface parking, adds approximately 1,200 additional spaces as we begin the new year.

The former Hermann Center is now down, and the former Thriftway property will come down shortly to make room for a new Foundation-led campus development that will include a hotel, retail and office space. Our goal is to have this new area contribute to the quality of campus life while giving knowledge-intensive companies convenient access to our students and faculty.

The update of our campus master plan will be completed this fall and offers a vision for our campus that’s breathtaking. New green space, bike and pedestrian paths, and academic and residential clusters will all combine to assure that, as we grow larger, a sense of intimacy is preserved.

Our new partnership with Highland Heights helps assure a bright future for both our campus and our local community. Our agreement provides land and financial support to construct a new state-of-the-art soccer complex across from what is now the Highland Heights City Hall. Construction of this facility will begin this fall.

I want to acknowledge Mayor Greg Meyer and the Highland Heights City Council for their willingness to join hands with the university to build a bright future for us both. I’m pleased to report that NKU continues to receive high marks for its efforts to support environmental sustainability through both new construction and programs to conserve and recycle. Just this past week, we were recognized by the National Wildlife Foundation for our sustainability efforts, the only Kentucky university to be so recognized.

Speaking of green, we again return to a campus that is greener and more beautiful than the year before. Our grounds crew has worked long and hard this year to ensure that all of the new construction doesn’t take away from the beauty of the campus. Wouldn’t you agree that they’ve done a terrific job?

As we enter a new era, there is nothing more important than our capacity to recruit and retain talented faculty and staff. Like all universities, NKU competes both nationally and locally for the talent needed to accomplish our work. In spite of deep budget reductions, we were able to enhance our salary and benefits position in what is a highly competitive market environment. At a time when several Kentucky universities approved no salary increases, we funded a 2 percent salary increase plus an additional 1 percent to offset the cost of the Highland Heights payroll tax.

In the area of expanded benefits, this past spring the Board of Regents approved a new extended family benefits program that makes the university’s benefits more fair and equitable for all employees and helps make us more competitive in our recruitment and retention of talent. Our goal is to be financially competitive in every hire that we make. Even under difficult financial times, we will not back away from this commitment.

NKU is also on the cusp of a new era in private donor support. This year, NKU received $6.5 million in contributions. We also saw the percentage of alumni giving in the top quartile of our benchmark institutions.

We are poised to move to the next level in private giving, but it will take the involvement of the entire campus in order for it to happen. In a few minutes, we’ll celebrate a historic major gift announcement that should signal to our region and beyond that NKU is a university deserving of private support. In fact, the difference between a good university and an outstanding university can generally be found in the level of private support.

If private support is growing, public support remains uncertain. The U.S. and Kentucky economies are sluggish, and few economists predict a quick turnaround. NKU is one of the most dynamic universities in the commonwealth and serves one of Kentucky’s most dynamic regions. This year, we were able to make key strategic investments in the campus through internal reallocations. However, without a major public investment, the university’s continued growth will not be sustained at a time when demand for access is at record levels.

We also confront major funding challenges at the federal level. Senator Bunning and Congressman Davis are both working hard to provide support for high-priority campus programs. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has championed a $2 million earmark to support equipment in our new College of Informatics facility. Senator McConnell has expressed strong support for our work in informatics, and, if the past is any predictor, he will be successful in securing significant federal support.

In summary, the university has made significant progress related to key strategic priorities in spite of major budget reductions. We’ve protected our budget reserves, reallocated more than $3 million to high-priority areas, invested in both programs and people, addressed the budget pressures that I alluded to in the beginning of my remarks, and positioned ourselves to move to a whole new level in support of our students, the region and the commonwealth.

We have also established a context for decision making through the development of our business plan, the unit planning process and our dashboard of key indicators that we’ll use in the future to monitor our campus progress.

Just a word about these key indicators. While the university continues to grow and develop, we need to ensure that we protect our core quality, which is the “up close and personal” nature of our academic experience. Our key indicators include a close monitoring of average class size, student/faculty ratios and percentage of tenure and tenure-track faculty in order to guard against compromising qualities that we believe set us apart. This is a view that is strongly shared by our Board of Regents.


Looking to the Future:

As we look to this year, we can expect several external forces to impact our work.

First, we can expect Kentucky’s budget picture to remain uncertain. This means that we’ll need to budget conservatively and be cautious about taking on more than we can afford to support.

Second, the public will continue to demand greater accountability and transparency from its universities. We’ll be asked to demonstrate our progress in key domains of student performance such as retention and graduation rates. And we’ll be asked to demonstrate how effectively and efficiently we are using our current resources. Third, college affordability will continue to be a growing public concern. Tuition at NKU as well as the other Kentucky universities has gone up dramatically over the past decade.

In the absence of state support and in the face of growing student demand, NKU has chosen to be aggressive in both tuition increases and increases in need-based financial aid.

Still, the financial pressures on students continue to mount, and we must protect against qualified students being priced out of a college education. Today, NKU students pay for a larger percentage of their education than any other student body in Kentucky. Without the state stepping up, and with increasing pressure to limit tuition increases, we could very easily find ourselves lacking the financial capacity needed to support growth while maintaining quality.

Finally, we will continue to be impacted by our nearly 30 percent space deficit. For the casual observer, it would be easy to conclude that, with all of our construction, NKU must have an abundance of space. In fact, even with the new student union and The Bank of Kentucky Center, we remain 30 percent under-built for our current student body. Think about it. We have not added a new academic building since completion of the Natural Science Center in 2002. While the College of Informatics building will soon be coming out of the ground, it will take another five to six comparable facilities to meet the space requirements for a campus that has been asked to double its degree production by 2020.


2008-2009 Priorities:

As we turn to this year, I believe we need to focus our attention on three priorities.

First, while we’ve achieved national prominence in community engagement and we have expanded our research and scholarly activity, the core of our university continues to be the undergraduate experience. Let’s use this year to begin a deep analysis of our undergraduate programs with special emphasis on:

•    Active engagement of students in learning.
•    Simplifying and strengthening general education.
•    Ensuring that major and minor curriculum requirements are consistent with best practice.
•    Strengthening advising at all levels of the undergraduate curriculum.
•    Preparing students for a lifetime of civic participation.
•    Internationalizing the curriculum in order to prepare students to live and work in a global environment.
•    Making it possible for all students to finish their degree in four years with a financial incentive to do so.

Our focus on the undergraduate experience occurs from a position of great strength. NKU is recognized by both its students and the public as a university committed to high-quality undergraduate education. As strong as our programs are currently, we can take the campus to a whole new level if we are willing to look deeply at ways to further strengthen and enhance the undergraduate experience.

Second, let’s focus on making a campus-wide commitment to strengthening P-12 education throughout both our region and the commonwealth.

In an age when talent rules and knowledge drives economic growth and innovation, there is nothing more important to Kentucky’s future than enhancing P-12 student performance. Here’s the plain, blunt truth: States that have the best schools will attract the best companies and the best jobs. States that fail to acknowledge and act on this truth will face an uncertain future.

What we’ve learned over the past several years is that the university can have a dramatic and measurable impact on P-12 education, from early childhood through college readiness. Each year, thousands of P-12 students and teachers are served by the university. In fact, there is not a college on our campus that does not have P-12 involvement at some level.

I would like to propose that one of our defining qualities should be our partnership with P-12 education to advance student success from preschool through college.

We already have great strengths in this area. CINSAM has become a national model for P-12 math and science enrichment. The Kentucky Math Center is having demonstrable success working with teachers throughout Kentucky to introduce best practices related to mathematics education. Our new Center for Educator Excellence will provide both pre-professional and continuing professional education for teachers throughout the northern Kentucky region in response to Vision 2015. Our involvement in STRIVE reflects our commitment to expanding college access for students in our urban core, and we are already working with area school districts to test high-school juniors for college readiness and pinpoint where there may be deficiencies.

Let’s take a deep look at where we can have the greatest impact on P-12 education and then make a campus-wide commitment to supporting P-12 enhancement at every level consistent with our mission. For us, there is no area of public engagement that holds greater potential for deep and long lasting impact.

Third, let’s continue to focus on how we can support regional economic competitiveness. Again, we approach this area from a position of strength. Programs throughout our campus are providing the workforce for economic expansion. Launchpad is a new program designed to use faculty and students to assess employer needs. The Infrastructure Management Institute is assisting companies to address challenges related to information technology. These initiatives, along with many others, involve NKU faculty and students in ways that contribute to both economic growth and the opportunity for students to work on real-world problems.

This year we will also be focused on completing two very large and complex undertakings: the SACS reaffirmation process and PRISM implementation. I wish that I could tell you that things will be less intense this year, but I can’t. However, I believe I can say that the end is in sight for these two major undertakings. Again, I ask for your patience and your commitment as we move both projects to completion.



At last spring’s commencement, I asked our 1,300 graduates to raise their hands if they believed in the power of dreams. Nearly every hand went up. I believe all of us would agree that it’s hard to imagine life without dreams. Dreams motivate and inspire. They cause us to persevere under difficult circumstances, and they create a focus in our lives. Dreams matter – for students and for the university.

I admit that I’m a dreamer. I take great pride in what our university is today. And, at the same time, I dream of what it can become tomorrow. I have very little patience for naysayers and doubters. Give me dreamers any day and particularly if they have the capacity and courage to pursue dreams no matter what obstacles they may encounter.

Our campus stands on the cusp of an exciting new era in large measure because we’ve not lost our capacity to dream nor our commitment to act on those dreams no matter what we may confront. Our dreams for NKU continue to be ambitious, and they permeate the campus at every level. It’s these dreams that motivate us to mount new academic programs, expand new academic deliveries, try new academic calendars and test new student support services, all with an eye toward becoming the model for the modern metropolitan university, deeply rooted in the dreams of our students and our community.

This past year saw our still-young university mature in some very important ways. To paraphrase John Gardner, we learned that we have more energy than has ever been tapped, more talent than has ever been exploited, more strength and resilience than has ever been tested, and more to give than we have ever given before.

Once an institution finds within itself this strength to persevere under trying circumstances, life is never the same again. What we now know about ourselves is that, no matter what challenges may come our way, we have the strength to prevail. I can’t tell you what we will confront in the years ahead, but I can tell you that, no matter what we confront, it will not outstrip our capacity to deal with it.

In 1990, John Gardner wrote (p. 88):

Many factors contribute to the rise of a civilization – accidents of resource availability, geographical consideration, preeminence in trade or military power. But whatever the other ingredients, a civilization rises to greatness when something happens in human minds. There occurs at breathtaking moments in history an exhilarating burst of energy and motivation, of hope and zest and imagination,n and a severing of the bonds that normally hold in check the full release of human possibilities. A door is opened and the caged eagle soars.
-On Leadership, 1990, p.193

It seems to me that this is the task before us as we begin this academic year: To help create in each of our students a burst of energy and motivation, of hope and zest and imagination that will cause them to soar higher than they ever thought possible. Soaring like eagles, they will take not only themselves to new levels but our region and state as well.

Best wishes to all for a wonderful new year.