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9:30 AM, FRIDAY, AUGUST 19, 2011

Again, welcome to the university's fall convocation and the beginning of the 2011 academic year. I want to offer a special welcome to all who are new to our campus. We hope that, in the process of supporting the dreams of our students, you'll come closer to achieving your own dreams as well. I want to also offer a special welcome to all of our community leaders who are with us this morning. NKU would not be what it is today without your support and your belief in the university as a foundation for regional progress. Thank you!

I also want to recognize my wife, Rachel, who, over the past 14 years has devoted herself to our campus as well as to leadership in the non-profit community.

Fourteen years ago, Kentucky embarked on the most ambitious postsecondary education reform movement in the nation. Why? Because state leaders recognized that, in order for Kentucky to thrive in the new knowledge-based economy, higher education must have the strength to lead.

NKU embraced that bold dream and began one of the most dynamic periods in our history. In 1997, we were a young, open admission university that served both a community college and four year university mission. Well, we are young no more! Today we are a mature, modern, metropolitan university, recognized both locally and nationally for our contributions to our students and the larger public whom we serve.

For the third straight year, Forbes magazine lists us among the nation's best colleges and our students continue to perform with distinction in national competitions, most recently winning the International Odyssey of the Mind competition held at the University of Maryland. Still, we remain a "people's university" offering access and opportunity to those who might otherwise be denied.

Today, the state of the university is strong and our future is bright in spite of the uncertainty that continues to surround us. We've demonstrated our capacity to adapt and focus and innovate in response to the changing forces that are shaping our future.

The strength of the university can be found throughout our campus.

It can be found in the clarity of our mission. Fourteen years ago, we established a vision for our university, a set of core values that would guide our work, and six strategic priorities. We were emphatic that strong undergraduate education would stand at our core, surrounded by high quality graduate programs that respond to regional needs. We made a commitment to selective areas of research excellence along with world class public engagement that addresses society's most significant challenges consistent with our mission. While times have changed, these commitments have not...and will not as we go forward. In short, we know who we are and we're committed to excellence in what we do.

Our strength can be found in our faculty who come from some of the finest universities in the nation and who possess not only a deep understanding of their disciplines but also a steadfast commitment to our students and to excellence across the full breadth of our mission. One of the defining qualities of our faculty is their capacity to integrate the university's various mission components by involving undergraduate students in their research, much of which involves the local application of innovation to support regional progress.

Our faculty understands that we must produce thinkers who can do and doers who can think. They also understand that at the heart of the university is the teaching/learning process. Three days ago more than 340 faculty members, deans, and chairs gathered at METS to spend an entire day focused on teaching/learning effectiveness. Nothing is more important to who we are today and who we intend to be in the future.

Our strength can be found in our students. In 1997, we were virtually an open admission university. As recently as five years ago, we received around 3,000 undergraduate applications for 2,000 spaces. This fall, we received over 7,000 applications for 2,200 spaces. The university's brand value has never been stronger but there's more to the story.

This fall, over 65 percent of our entering freshmen will have no academic deficiencies as defined by ACT scores. When combined with students with only one deficiency, that statistic climbs to 90 percent. Students with two or more deficiencies represent only 10 percent of the entering class and they were admitted because of such factors as GPA, rank in class, and other criteria that suggest that they can succeed here. This is the strongest entering class in our history and represents a new era in our student academic preparedness. Our message to high school students is this: If you want to attend NKU, you must demonstrate that you're prepared.

The diversity of our entering class will again be strong this year and we expect to see a record number of international students, over 450 compared to 349 last year. This past year, we also had a record 318 of our domestic students who studied abroad. In this day and age, when global understanding has never been more important, university campuses should reflect a window on the world and NKU is meeting that standard.

Our strength can be found in the quality and breadth of our curriculum. Ten years ago, NKU offered 52 undergraduate degree programs. Today that number has grown to 70. Ten years ago, we offered 10 master's degree programs. Today we offer 49 master's and two professional doctoral programs, all of which are in response to regional demand.

Also reflecting our curricular strength is the fact that we've successfully implemented our new general education program which is aligned with best practice nationally and introduces a new level of curricular coherence and integration. Students have embraced the new program and tell me that it is far easier to understand and navigate. In a conversation that I had last week with SACS President Belle Wheelen, she stated emphatically that, having again reviewed our new general education curriculum, it is the opinion of SACS that the program meets all standards for SACS accreditation.

Yet another important curricular development is that, today, every academic program has in place a course scheduling plan that allows students to graduate in four years. We need to do all that we can to assure students that they can move through the system as quickly as they choose and this is a major step towards providing that assurance.

NKU's strength can be found in our strong commitment to student success. Over the past two years, we have seen a nearly seven percent increase in our six year graduation rate. Rarely does a campus make such progress in such a short period of time and we expect these numbers to continue to increase in the coming years.

This year, we'll focus on the implementation of the Foundations of Excellence recommendations related to improving the first year experience. We'll also begin to implement the recommendations of our Diversity Task Force many of which are vital for the success of all of our students. Finally, this year we'll invest over $600,000 in new resources to further strengthen and expand our academic advising capacity which is strongly related to student success. Every person on our campus is invested in enhancing student success and the results are impressive.

NKU's strength can be found in our public engagement. Today, universities throughout the nation look to NKU for leadership in how universities can better support economic development, enhanced P-12 education, improved healthcare delivery, regional planning and a host of other public priorities. Today, public engagement is part of the fabric of every college and department and serves to enrich not only our region but also our students and faculty.

Our strength can be found in our collegial governance process. Difficult financial times can lead to stress fractures in a campus governance process. As we've grappled with the impact of the current recession, our Faculty Senate, Staff Congress, and Student Government Association have offered valuable counsel and insight and have joined the administration in charting a path through this period of uncertainty. Collegial governance is alive and well at NKU and we are all the beneficiaries.

Our strength can be found in the continuing expansion, renovation, and beautification of our campus. This fall we'll open Griffin Hall, the stunning new home for the College of Informatics and our first LEED certified "green" building. This facility will not only support the work of our informatics faculty and students but will offer a window on the future of technology enhanced teaching and learning on university campuses far beyond our own.

In addition to the new home for Informatics, the Haile/US Bank College of Business has moved into what used to be AS&T, giving the college an enhanced and more visible identity. Mathematics has moved to the former BEP and a host of other moves have also taken place. In total, more than 500 offices have been moved this summer and my sense is that these relocations have gone smoothly. In addition, we've replaced our classroom furniture and we've renovated several classrooms and lecture halls.

Not to be overlooked is the continued beautification of the campus. The word, "transformative" is used to describe just about everything these days, but I don't believe it's an overstatement to describe the new West Quad as a transformative feature in the beautification of our campus. Not only does this new landscaping set off Griffin Hall but it dramatically enhances the other buildings that surround it. This development, coupled with phase one of the Central Plaza renovation, contributes so much to an enhanced sense of place for all who work and study here. This summer has involved a monumental effort by people across this campus to get all of these projects completed. I would like to ask all of our Facilities Management staff to stand and be recognized for what you've accomplished this summer. What a difference you've made!

Getting Griffin Hall completed as well as all of the renovations and moves has involved the commitment and support of a whole lot of people in IT and a host of other administrative offices. Our physical campus has become a different place since our May commencement and we thank all who have made it possible. Thank you!

In recent years, we have strengthened our planning and assessment capacity at the campus, college and department level. As demands for increased accountability continue to come from public officials, accrediting agencies, and others, we will have no choice but to continue to strengthen our efforts around planning and assessment. This is all part of what is being called higher education's "new normal." The good news is that we've made great progress in the whole planning and assessment arena.

NKU's strength can also be found in our public support. During the past decade, we've received over $31 million in federal support that has directly supported advancing our mission. At the state level, we have been supported enthusiastically by the governor and General Assembly as they've done their best to protect higher education from the reductions that other states have experienced. We have also received strong support from the Council on Postsecondary Education as we work with them on behalf of securing a bright future for all Kentuckians.

In the area of private support, we continue to show strength in our major gifts, annual giving, and alumni giving, all of which continue to increase even in these difficult financial times. In 1997, our endowment was $12 million. Today, through excellent Foundation leadership, our endowment is approaching $70 million.

Finally, and most importantly, a defining strength of our campus can be found in our people; faculty, staff, and administrators who share a vision for the university and are willing to do all that's necessary to achieve it no matter what the challenges may be.

Over my 14 years as president, I've seen this leadership and commitment at every level but never more so than in the past couple of years. In response to significant budget reductions, we had two choices. We could hunker down and wait for the state or some other white knight to rescue us or we could come together and take control of our own future. We chose the latter and it's made all the difference.

What I've seen time and time again in recent years is the willingness of faculty, staff and administrators to balance their own self interests with the interests of the university as a whole. I saw it in the general education reform effort. I saw it last year when we reduced our administrative infrastructure by over $800,000 and reallocated nearly 13 percent of our General Fund appropriation so that we could fund mission central activities. I saw it in the leadership of our deans, chairs and faculty as they accepted the target of increasing student credit hour productivity by 10 percent over three years in order to support investment in our people and programs. And I see it in the current collaboration between Student Affairs and Academic Affairs around a new and more comprehensive approach to advising and support for student success.

Institutional adaptation and change requires a commitment to be stewards not only of the parts but of the whole. This past year I interacted with hundreds of university presidents from around the country. Many of them described campuses where divisions and departments have circled the wagons to protect what they have rather than setting self interest aside and acting on behalf of the entire campus. I am not naive regarding the power of self interest but our demonstrated capacity to act on behalf of the whole and not just the parts is a defining quality of this campus and will serve us well as we continue to confront a turbulent and uncertain environment.

Today, NKU is a strong, resilient, and adaptive university because we've chosen to be so. We've chosen to focus our mission, make tough decisions about priorities, and take control of our future. The result is that, in spite of the challenging times, we are stronger both academically and financially than at any time in our history and our momentum has been sustained.

Turning to the future, our major effort this year will be to implement a new and enhanced academic advising system which reflects our steadfast commitment to student success. Included in this initiative will be the renovation of the University Center to be a Center for Student Success which will house many of our academic and student support services.

This year we will continue to focus on ways in which we can enhance the quality and efficiency of our work. We will implement many of the most important Huron and Gartner recommendations with a particular focus on improving business practices, enhancing the student experience, formalizing institutional policies, enhancing data driven decision making, and continuing our progress related to SAP implementation. Regarding SAP, we have made great strides in recent years but we still have a ways to go. At this point, we still have too many people who are not trained on the system. I want to be clear that all those employees who have responsibilities that require the use of SAP need to become trained. If you haven't been trained, it's time to do so. In order for us to derive full benefit from this new system, people have to fully understand it and use it.

This year we will move forward with the reclassification of our intercollegiate athletic program to NCAA Division I. We've studied this move for several years and have received input from all of our stakeholder groups both external and internal. There is strong support from both our campus and community with one important caveat: this move must not undermine our capacity to support our core mission, a position that I strongly support. In fact, a move to Division I is about more than athletics. It's about branding and positioning the university with universities who are more like who we are today and who we want to become tomorrow. NKU is, today, Division I in every respect; the size of our enrollments, the quality and breadth of our academic programs, the strength of our faculty and staff, and our performance across the full breadth of our teaching, research, and outreach mission. We expect to announce a Division I conference affiliation before the end of the semester and we believe that this move will enhance every aspect of our campus.

This year we will also work closely with the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education to support their efforts to raise the level of postsecondary attainment and impact throughout the commonwealth. The CPE will work with each campus to set performance targets related to College Readiness, Student Success, Research and Economic & Community Development, and Organizational Effectiveness. NKU is strongly positioned in each of these domains.

We will focus this year on two capital projects important to our future. Our top capital priority is the construction of a new Health Innovations Center to house all of our health related programs. This facility is absolutely essential if we are to adequately serve the growing regional demand for health care professionals. St. Elizabeth Hospitals is now the fourth largest health care organization in the commonwealth and they have expressed their strong support for this facility as well as their willingness to partner with the university in both advocacy with the state and design of the programs that the facility will house.

This year, we'll also begin the design of a new campus recreation facility that was proposed by our students and will be funded by students. This new facility will contribute to overall campus quality of life and will better position us in the recruitment and retention of high performing students, faculty, and staff.

Finally, the times require that we spend this year further focusing and integrating our campus priorities as well as attending to both strategy and execution. For example, we have a number of planning efforts that have recently been completed. They include Foundations of Excellence, the Diversity Task Force, Huron, Gartner, the CPE agenda, and others. As a campus, we'll need to identify our most important priorities across all of these domains and then focus on the execution of strategies to achieve them.

We'll have one additional priority this year, the selection of a new president. I've discussed with the board my intention to step down as president after this year which will be my fifteenth. The timing for this transition could not be better. The university is strong and well positioned for the times in which we live. It's also the case that at this point in our lives, Rachel and I would like to achieve a better balance and a bit more freedom in our lives. I plan to remain at NKU as a professor of educational leadership and will continue my involvement at the national, state, and local levels in issues that I care deeply about. Northern Kentucky is our home and Rachel and I will continue to be actively involved in the community.

When I finish my remarks, the Chair of the Board of Regents, Terry Mann, will share with you how the presidential search process will unfold over the coming months. The board and I are committed to making this transition as smooth and seamless as possible. Our university deserves no less. What I can also tell you is that NKU is a great place to be a university president and we can expect a large number of very strong candidates who will arrive at this same conclusion.

Now, permit me to close on a personal note.

All of us want our lives to make a difference. In Parker Palmer's terms, we want our lives and our work to speak on behalf of values that we hold most dear. When I was a young boy growing up in the shadow of Michigan State University, I remember listening to faculty members in my family's home talking with passion about their work. Some described what they were doing to unlock in their students the capacity to think and learn and grow. Others talked about how their work was making a difference in African crop yields, rural health care delivery, and improved inner city schools. Little did I know then that those stories would inform so much of what would come much later in my life.

When I was finishing graduate school, a mentor gave me some career advice that I've never forgotten. He said, "Jim, find something that you believe is important to do, that you love to do, and then throw yourself into it. Your career will take care of itself." Over the past 14 years, I've experienced the most important and satisfying work of my life. Not a day has gone by when I've not been inspired by the work of this campus and those who comprise it.

It's been a great honor to represent both our university and our community. I've had 14 years working with what the Association of Governing Boards describes as one of the strongest governing boards in the country. I've had the privilege of working side by side with some of the most talented and committed administrators, faculty, and staff I've ever known. And Rachel and I have had the opportunity to work with an enormous array of talented and committed leaders from throughout this region and beyond on initiatives that make a difference in the lives of others.

Today, we should celebrate that Northern Kentucky University has come of age as a fully mature, modern, metropolitan university. We are poised for the future, whatever it may involve. In a thousand different ways, our work speaks on behalf of the most important and noble virtues that anyone could ever embrace. And together we've worked to make the university a foundation on which our students and our community can translate dreams into reality. Is there any more important work we could be doing? I don't think so.

There will be other opportunities for us to speak of these matters but, for now, Rachel and I want to thank the Board of Regents and the entire university community for the opportunity to travel together in this important work. Thank you and best wishes as we launch this new academic year.

Comments from Terry Mann, chair of the NKU Board of Regents:

We are about to begin a process of both celebration and selection. We intend to celebrate the progress we've enjoyed over the past 14 years under the administration of President Votruba and eagerly welcome a new generation of leadership.

I know I speak for the entire board when I thank Jim for his outstanding guidance over these past years. The University is stronger because of his contributions. Our lives have been enriched because of his contributions. This hall is filled with outstanding faculty because of his contributions. We have a non-teaching staff as competent as any in the country because of his contributions. Our classrooms are filled with students of greater achievement because of his contributions.

I am confident we will attract an outstanding pool of candidates because of the quantity and quality of this institution's growth during his tenure as president.

The board extends its deepest gratitude to Jim and Rachel as does the entire University community and the Northern Kentucky region. Their unwavering commitment to improving the quality of instruction and competence of the graduates at this university as well as their tireless interaction with the people and organizations of our region have established a legacy that will shine into the future. During the coming year the board and other Northern Kentucky entities will be recognizing their contributions in many more formal and informal ways.

I'm going to take this opportunity to share with you the process we will follow for hiring a new president. The Board knows that we are not only hiring the fifth president of NKU but a leader for our entire community. We plan to conduct this search in a manner that is consistent with the values of the University, meaning that we will share information about the search with the campus as well as the rest of the Northern Kentucky community. We are committed to giving everyone an opportunity to weigh in through in-person forums and web-based tools.

In the next two weeks, we will launch a website with additional search details. A notice will go out to all faculty, staff and students when the site is live. The website will provide timely updates and additional details as we proceed toward the ultimate selection.

We will be assembling a search and screening committee of about 14 persons including one or more representatives from each of the following groups: faculty, staff, students, alumni, the NKU Foundation, the external community and the Board of Regents.

The committee will be chaired by Regent Martin Butler, a 1977 graduate of Chase College of Law. Regent Butler is a practicing attorney and has been on the Board of Regents since 2002. He served as its chair for two years. Other regents serving on the committee are:

- Charles H. Brown, vice president of accounting and finance and secretary of Toyota Motor Engineering and Manufacturing, North America Inc. Mr. Brown holds degrees from both Princeton and Stanford.

- Nathan G. Smith has been a partner of SSK Communities, a manufactured housing company, since 1995. His B.A. is from NKU, where he served as SGA president.

- Elizabeth L. Thompson has been a member of the Stites and Harbison law firm of Lexington since 1995. She earned her undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Kentucky.

These are the only regents who will serve on the committee. The remaining 10 members will come from the groups I mentioned before. When they are appointed, we will post their names, along with a short bio of each, to the search website.

The role of the committee will be to review and screen applications. The committee, using a variety of screening methods, will identify a pool of finalists who will be invited to campus for meetings with various constituent groups. This will give the finalists a chance to get to know us better while simultaneously letting us get to know each candidate better. We'll want a lot of people involved in this step of the process and we'll be seeking feedback from those who attend sessions with the candidates. Of course, the ultimate selection of a president rests with the Board of Regents. We take this responsibility very seriously. It is without doubt the most important decision a university governing board ever makes.

In the next month, we will be issuing an RFP to hire a search firm to assist us with the search. Carole Beere, who is a tenured professor of psychology and has been part of the NKU administration for a decade, will serve as the administrative coordinator for the search.

Before proceeding with the actual search, we need to consider our vision for NKU's future and what characteristics we need in a president to help us achieve that vision. Addressing the vision issue will require broad-based input. Therefore, once the search and screening committee is in place we will be scheduling a series of open forums with different constituent groups: faculty, staff, students and community leaders. We anticipate holding 8-10 meetings. Once the schedule is set, we will post it to the website, announce it via campus listservs, and publicize it through various media outlets. I see this early part of our process as absolutely essential. We need a clear outline of what we wish this University to become over the next decade. Without a vision there is no direction, without direction there's paralysis.

We want the selection of the new president to be an open process in which the various stakeholders can participate, yet we need to protect the identity of applicants in order to attract the strongest candidates possible. After we have pared the list to the finalists, we will share their names and invite all to participate in the process. Until then, information regarding applicant identities along with committee deliberations will remain strictly confidential.

We believe confidentiality to be of great importance. For this reason members of the search and screen committee will be asked to sign pledges not to reveal sensitive details to anyone outside, including me and the other regents, until the finalists are announced. As chair and spokesperson for the Board I want to be able to respond to questions and relay suggestions from outside sources, as well as release regular updates on the search process.

At this time, I can share a tentative timeline for how we expect to proceed. In the next few weeks, we will announce the non-regent members of the search and screen committee and issue an RFP for a firm to assist with the search. In September and October, we will hold the open meetings to obtain input on the vision for NKU and the characteristics needed in the next president; and also select the search firm that will be assisting us with our task. In October, we will issue the vacancy announcement to recruit applicants. In November through January of 2012, we will generate the applicant pool and screen the applicants. We will identify and interview the finalists next February. And then, hopefully, in March 2012, we will select the new president and communicate the name to the public.

As you can see, we have a busy and exciting time ahead of us. The board welcomes all of you to our year of celebration and selection.