GEOFFREY S. MEARNS
2013 NKU Spring Convocation
9:30 a.m.; Friday, Jan. 11, 2013
Greaves Concert Hall
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Let me begin by wishing you and your families a happy and healthy new year. And may this be a great year for our students and our university.
Before I continue I would like to recognize Michael Hatton and our talented students – thank you for that wonderful performance. NKU’s production of Grease has received excellent reviews and garnered several award nominations. And now we all know why.
In fact, one prominent arts reviewer wrote: “NKU musical theater students deliver for director Michael Hatton, and their joy in performing fills the auditorium!”
I agree. I enjoyed seeing the show with my family, and you have brought great joy to us once again this morning. Let’s give our student performers another round of applause.
And now to you – thank you for joining me on this special day.
During this presentation, I would like to discuss three topics. First, I will share with you my impressions from my listening tour. Your comments were sincere, candid, insightful and passionate. They have been very helpful to me in learning about our university – about our programs and about our people. Your input will help me to participate meaningfully in the development of our next strategic plan.
Second, I will highlight some of our university’s major strategies that are promoting student success and advancing our current strategic plan. I said in the fall that during my transition our university would not stand still. And we haven’t. We continue to implement our strategic plan, as well as individual college and departmental plans.
Finally, I will share with you the outline and timeline for our strategic planning process. I will also introduce the members of the strategic planning committee.
The world as we know it is changing rapidly. And higher education is changing, too. The environment in which we operate is becoming increasingly competitive and dynamic. As a result of these changes, we face substantial challenges. To continue to provide our students with the best education possible, we must develop effective responses to these challenges. And we – individually and collectively – must become increasingly dynamic, too.
Next year marks the conclusion of our current strategic plan. Today we begin the first step in an inclusive, collaborative process to craft a new one – a five-year plan that will guide us to our 50th Anniversary in 2018.
I will share a few observations about the attributes and significance of that process in a few minutes. But let me begin by talking about my transition – and what I have learned during the last five months.
LISTENING TOUR RESULTS
Since my arrival I have said that, as the new president, my first task would be to listen and to learn. I also said that I knew I was inheriting a strong university that was on an upward trajectory.
At the outset, it was important for me to understand where we are today. Only then would I have a sufficient level of understanding to begin the process of participating in the preparation of a new strategic plan.
Since August, I have received extraordinary help from many people across campus and throughout the community. Your kind support and your advice have given me a much greater appreciation for this excellent university.
My transition was accelerated by the 24 open forums I held in October and November. I participated in forums with faculty and staff in every college and division at the university, as well as meetings with our students.
In addition to these conversations, I emailed five open-ended questions to all faculty, staff, students, graduates and many university friends. The questions centered on our strengths, our distinctive attributes, concerns for the future and the opportunities we should take advantage of. I also asked each respondent for their personal advice.
I received about 600 responses to this email survey. I am grateful to everyone who participated. I wasn’t able to respond to each person individually, because of the overwhelming number of emails that I received. But I assure you that I have read every one. Thank you for your thoughtful input.
The principal purpose of the meetings and the survey was to listen and learn. And listen and learn I did.
Having heard and read your comments, my view of the character of people who work here has been reinforced: You genuinely care about this university and you are proud of the excellent work being done on this campus. I also sense a palpable, collective optimism regarding our future.
I also learned that many of our students appreciate the efforts of our staff and our faculty. In the many responses I received, the students often used the word “caring” to describe our faculty and staff. For example, many students mentioned how faculty and staff took the time to learn their first names and to treat them as a person – not a number.
Many students, staff and faculty also used the word “community” when describing our university culture and our campus. As a community, we support each other.
One of the most inspiring words I frequently read was “dreams.” This word was used when people talked about NKU as a place where bold ambitions can become a reality.
These three words – care, community and dreams – distinguish this university. And that is very special.
Now, permit me to tell you about some of the other positive comments I received.
First, many of our faculty and staff believe that NKU is an excellent university. The most tangible demonstration of this belief is that many of you send your children here for their education. You have great faith in the educational experience we provide.
As a result of our commitment to a personal educational experience, our university has become the first choice for many students – not merely an option of convenience or a back-up if other choices don’t develop.
A large number of our students mentioned small class sizes and the personal attention they received from faculty. Our students value the opportunity to be taught and mentored by experienced scholars who are personally and genuinely concerned with their well-being and their success.
I also heard about the character of our student body as a point of pride. Our students are hardworking. They bring a sense of determination, not a sense of entitlement to their studies.
As I mentioned a moment ago, many people described the university as a community. During the listening tour, I learned about the NKU Benevolent Fund. The Benevolent Fund is an employee-managed program that provides support to faculty and staff during crises, such as catastrophic illness or other types of emergencies. The support includes monetary donations and donations of sick time or vacation time for a colleague in need.
In that similar spirit, I heard about simple, polite gestures, like holding doors open for other people. I, too, have noticed these common courtesies. I believe they serve as a metaphor. Each of us is on a personal path to a unique destination. But at our university – in this community – we pause to help others on the path to their destination.
With respect to our students’ destinations, many people cited our informatics programs as an excellent example of how we are preparing STUDENTS for careers in the 21st century economy. And many people told me that Griffin Hall is a great example of our innovative spirit and potential.
For these reasons, I think we should expand the programs that will prepare our students in healthcare disciplines – and we must find a creative way to build the proposed Health Innovations Center.
A number of people also mentioned that this is a safe place to work and learn.
And this sense of safety means more than just the absence of crime. A number of students, staff and faculty also said that NKU is a safe place for self-expression, irrespective of race, religion, sex or sexual identity. I believe that we should enhance this commitment to diversity and inclusion.
Quite a few people also mentioned the university’s commitment to campus wellness and our genuine concern for the physical and mental health of our students, staff and faculty.
I also heard that our campus is becoming increasingly vibrant. Although we need to do more in this regard, we are making good progress. The students regularly told me that they are enthusiastic about the campus experience.
But our university community is not exclusively preoccupied with what happens within the confines of our campus. To the contrary, this university is committed to the health and welfare of this region and our commonwealth.
Indeed, NKU’s strong commitment to public and civic engagement is a distinctive attribute – it has brought us national recognition. This commitment is particularly evident in the growth of our graduate programs. This emerging strength should be sustained and extended.
I heard from many faculty, staff and students that NKU is a strong community partner. I also heard from many external constituents that the community supports and values what we do – and that they are willing to invest in our future success, because we provide a very good return on a philanthropic investment.
Notwithstanding these positive attributes, we know that there are also very real issues and concerns about the future of our university. Only when we conduct an honest and open self-assessment of the university can we achieve our potential. This candor is an important step in a process that will allow us to make informed decisions about our future.
With that in mind, many of you shared compelling comments on issues, concerns and challenges you believe we are facing.
Some people told me that we are experiencing a bit of institutional fatigue. Some said that we cannot be “all things to all people.” I heard that, in the future, we should be more focused – perhaps a bit more selective.
I also heard that we need to foster greater transparency and openness throughout campus, especially with regard to communication from me and other administrators.
I agree. You have my commitment that transparency will be a defining characteristic of my tenure. It is key to a constructive and productive university environment.
As one example of my commitment, I emailed the campus community after the November meeting of the Board of Regents. In that email, I summarized the meeting and shared my comments to the Board.
Many of you told me that you appreciated being updated on the good work happening across campus. I sent out a similar email yesterday about the Board meeting on Wednesday, and I will continue this regular communication with you after each of these meetings.
In that vein, I frequently heard from students how important it is that I communicate regularly with them. So, in response to that request, I plan to begin using another form of electronic communication.
Starting in a few weeks, or perhaps today, I will begin using Twitter in my official capacity as president of Northern Kentucky University. [Editor's note: Follow President Mearns on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/PresidentMearns]
Now, I have never sent or read a “tweet” – that’s what it’s called, right? I have never sent or read a “tweet” in my life. I am now convinced, though, that social media is an effective way to reach our students, staff, faculty and alumni, as well as prospective students. More importantly, like this university, I must change with the times.
Another concern that was frequently mentioned was competition – particularly competition for students. This increased competition comes in many ways. It comes from other universities in Kentucky and throughout our region. It also comes from for-profit online institutions, like the University of Phoenix.
And now there are new competitive threats from emerging technologies and innovative teaching METHODOLOGIES.
Many faculty, staff and students suggested that, in response to these competitive threats, we must develop a clear strategy for expanding online offerings. I agree. And that strategy must complement – not compete with – our existing programs.
But more online courses and programs were not proposed as the single, simple response to competitive threats.
To the contrary, I also consistently heard that we should find more ways to get prospective students and their parents to visit our campus. Like so many of you, I am convinced that, if we can get them to meet our faculty, to speak with our students and to see our outstanding facilities, then many more students will choose to obtain their college education – and to pursue their dreams – here at NKU.
To support this effort, I heard that we should invest more in marketing our university. That sounds like a very good idea to me.
Now, all of these responses require an increased investment of time and money.
Yet people frequently expressed concern about costs, citing increasing tuition as a threat to greater access to higher education. If we are to thrive in the future, we must reconcile the tension between our need to contain costs and the benefits of new or increased investments.
Notwithstanding this tension, many students still believe that NKU is a very good value when compared with other institutions. Our challenge will be to enhance the quality of our educational experience, yet offer an education that is affordable to our students and their families.
I mentioned technology as an external competitive challenge.
I also learned from you that, internally, technology is a double-edged sword. Many faculty and staff spoke favorably about the investments in new technology. Yet many people – both faculty and staff – said that our SAP implementation has posed new challenges and frustrations for many employees. So, we must ensure that new technology makes our work more efficient.
I also heard that we should invest in salaries and professional development. I agree.
I anticipate that the latter concern will be addressed in the new strategic plan. Specifically, I would like to see us implement a comprehensive, intentional plan for professional development for all faculty and staff. In that regard, I also anticipate that we will evaluate whether to expand the tuition-waiver policy for faculty and staff.
Notwithstanding these concerns and challenges, one sentiment was expressed time and time again – pride. Our people are proud of the progress we have made over the last four decades. People are proud of the impact that this university has on our students. And they’re proud of the impact this university has on the community and on our commonwealth.
This pride in our past and our present translates into another important sentiment: optimism – optimism about the future.
I told you at our Fall Convocation that it was an honor to have been selected to be the president of Northern Kentucky University. As I stand before you this morning, I am very proud.
I am honored to be your president. And like you, I am optimistic that our future is a bright one. I am optimistic because, in every important respect, we control our own destiny.
I am optimistic because of the quality and character of the people that this university attracts and retains. I am optimistic because I know you – I now know you well. I know what you’ve done. And I know what you are capable of doing.
POINTS OF PROGRESS: 2012-14 STRATEGIC PLAN
But before I discuss how we are going to translate this collective optimism about our future into reality, permit me to highlight some of our recent achievements. These successes are proof that we are on an upward trajectory – and that we are well positioned for greater success.
Our single most important objective is the ongoing focus on student success. For me, “student success” means enrolling qualified students, retaining and graduating those students at high rates, and preparing those students to obtain meaningful employment, as well as preparing them for a rewarding, fulfilling life.
This paramount goal is everyone’s professional responsibility. And for each of us, it is our moral obligation, as well.
Within the broader definition of student success, we must focus with ever greater energy and effectiveness on student retention and graduation rates. Frankly, we haven’t experienced as much progress in these areas as we’d like. But I believe that the following initiatives will produce the results that we desire – and the results that our students deserve.
The Student Success Center is just one of many efforts targeted at retention, graduation and the overall success of our students. This facility, which is located in the University Center, will open next month.
But beyond merely co-locating a variety of student support services, we are working to ensure that all of the people who work in the Student Success Center are fully trained and working collaboratively to support our students. I anticipate that there will be significant positive gains as a result of these efforts.
This past semester, Student Affairs also piloted a student retention software tool. This software identifies students at various levels of risk, enabling faculty and staff to prioritize interventions and interactions. A student portal also enables students to schedule appointments, learn about campus resources and have ready-access to those faculty and staff who have a relationship with that student.
Another initiative is the new Norse Advising unit, formerly called the Academic Advising Resource Center. It will increase the visibility and availability of advising services for undergraduate students. And it will be a hub to enhance advising in the colleges and academic departments throughout the university.
All of these initiatives are important in promoting student success.
But student success is about more – much more – than programs and centers and software and best practices. Ultimately, what’s most important, or more accurately, WHO’s most important is the person standing at the front of a classroom. The single greatest influence on student success is our faculty – all of our faculty.
Throughout my transition, I heard repeatedly from students that our professors are outstanding.
Now, our faculty regularly receive external awards and commendations. For example, Dr. Brant Karrick was recently named the College-University Teacher of the Year by the Kentucky Music Educators Association. This is a special recognition and Brant is the fourth NKU professor to receive this honor, joining Jon Gresham, Randy Pennington and David Dunevant.
But more important than external validations from their professional colleagues, I learned that our faculty are treasured by their most important audience – our students.
I heard far too many testimonials from students praising our faculty to mention them here. But I do want to share one student letter that was sent a couple of weeks ago to one of our faculty colleagues.
The student wrote to her professor as follows: “I thank you for believing in me. Thank you for seeing something in me that I didn’t.”
“You don’t know the girl who started school a few years ago. I thought I was coming to get an education; instead, what I got was a life-changing journey.”
The student concluded her letter with the following reflection: “I have learned that because you stand in front of a classroom doesn’t make you a teacher. A teacher sees potential and knows how to bring it out. They inspire, they introduce new ways of thinking and they leave people better than they found them. Being a teacher is a God-given gift and you are truly a teacher! Thank you!”
Ladies and gentlemen, it doesn’t get much better than that. These words are the essence of our commitment to student success.
And yet it describes only one student’s experience among thousands of student-faculty interactions occurring every day across this campus. All of our faculty have stories like this one to share – where what they did changed a student’s life. It is gratifying – and humbling – to know how committed our faculty members are to our students.
To our faculty, thank you – thank you for CHANGING the lives of our students.
We offer a special educational experience, and we must continue to attract more promising, ambitious students to our university.
So, this past fall, we launched a new scholarship process. We are making scholarship offers proactively – that is, without requiring an applicant to apply for a scholarship. And we are offering these scholarships on a rolling basis. As students apply and are accepted to the university, we review their file. And if they qualify for a scholarship, we extend an offer to them.
This tactic is helping us continue to recruit more high-achieving students who may be considering other universities, because these applicants will know their scholarship offer from NKU much earlier in the process than ever before.
This strategy is working well. And other new enrollment recruiting strategies are showing promising results.
Applications for fall 2013 are up more than 40 percent compared to last year. Similarly, the number of admitted students has increased more than 45 percent.
Although it’s still very early, I am optimistic that the quality and quantity of incoming freshmen who will enroll at NKU next fall will be very positive.
Let me say a few more words about our faculty and staff. As I mentioned, many respondents said they would like us to invest more in professional development. Human Resources launched a new management-training program in November. This program focuses on learning skills and best practices in management. Having effective supervisors and managers is a key element of our continued success.
But this new program is just a first step.
On many occasions, I have mentioned that this university’s greatest asset is its people. And, as I said a few minutes ago, I believe that we must do more to preserve and enhance this asset. So, you can expect to see, over the next few years, a more concerted, coordinated and comprehensive campaign to foster professional development for all faculty and staff. Your needs may be different, but our strong commitment to you must be the same.
Let me say a few words about diversity. Our people have different backgrounds and different perspectives. That diversity enhances the educational experience for all of us.
That’s why fostering a diverse student population remains a core value here at NKU. And we’ve had good success in this area.
In November, we reported our progress on our Diversity Plan to the Council on Postsecondary Education. Our enrollment of African-American and Latino students has steadily increased. Retention of minority students has also increased. As the six-year graduation rate also increased, the graduation rate gap has decreased. Moreover, the number of degrees conferred to underrepresented minorities has increased.
These improvements are encouraging, but we must and will continue to do more. Specifically, we must continue to improve diversity among faculty and staff. The report to CPE included tactics and strategies for the coming year that will increase student and workforce diversity. While I am president, this university will remain dedicated to a campus that is safe, supportive, inclusive and nurturing for everyone.
Now, I would like to say a few words about athletics.
Our transition to Division I is going very well. Our teams are competing and winning. For example, this past fall, our women’s volleyball team had an outstanding first season in D-I. The team finished the season with a 25-7 record, including 12-6 in the Atlantic Sun Conference – which put them in third place. Congratulations to Coach Hart and her student-athletes!
Our fall sports teams also demonstrated the character of our institution by competing with integrity.
For example, our women’s soccer team was one of only seven Division I teams in the country to receive the Team Ethics and Sportsmanship Award.
The transition to Division I has also raised the national profile of our university. During an 11,000-mile road-trip, our men’s basketball games were televised nationally on ESPN3 and the Big Ten Network. Tonight our home game against Lipscomb University will be televised on CSS TV, because it is the A-Sun Game of the Week.
Our women’s basketball team is off to a great start, too. Under the dynamic leadership of Coach Plitzuweit, the team has won three of their last five games, and they’re currently in third place in the conference. The women will play Lipscomb tomorrow afternoon in The Bank of Kentucky Center.
Most importantly, our student-athletes continue to excel in the classroom. For the third straight semester, they have achieved the highest cumulative GPA in the history of the university with a 3.11 GPA for all 235 student-athletes combined. And the highest team GPA was the women’s volleyball team with a 3.64 GPA.
Before I discuss the strategic planning process that is about to begin, I want to talk about an initiative that reinforced an important lesson for me.
In August, Ken Ramey invited me to say a few words at the quarterly meeting of the facilities staff. During my brief remarks, I offered to provide $50,000 to fund one or more projects that they – the staff – believed would contribute to the ongoing efforts to make our campus more attractive.
I asked them to develop the ideas and the process for prioritizing these proposals. I would simply provide the money, and they would do the rest.
For more than a month, I didn’t hear anything about my offer, but Ken assured me that the process was underway.
Then, in November, I was invited to attend a meeting in Griffin Hall. The purpose of the meeting was for me to hear from an ad hoc committee that had been formed by the staff to evaluate the proposals that had been submitted in connection with this campus beautification contest.
The presentation was impressive, to say the least. These men and women established a specific list of criteria to rank more than 20 proposals that had been submitted by their colleagues. Their presentation included photographs of the existing conditions and renderings of what our campus would look like if the recommended proposals were approved.
On wednesday, these staff members shared their presentation with the Board of Regents. After giving the staff a standing ovation, the Board encouraged me to invest even more money in these projects.
So, I am pleased to report that all five of the projects that these men and women recommended, including more landscaping at the traffic circle, more campus directories and aesthetic improvements to the bus stops, will be completed over the next year or two. And soon you will begin to see the very visible, tangible fruits of their efforts. I am grateful for the ongoing commitment of our outstanding facilities staff. They are just great. Let’s give all of them a round of applause.
But perhaps more important than the physical results of this process is that it reinforced an important lesson. And the lesson is this: those of us who have offices on the 8th floor of the Administrative Center don’t have a monopoly on all of the good ideas to improve this university.
We have some. But everyone on this campus has the experience and the knowledge to offer constructive suggestions and sound solutions to the challenges we face.
And so the strategic planning process we have designed must inspire and empower every member of our campus community to offer their ideas. We need your input. I need your help.
2013-18 Strategic Planning Process
Let me now share with you some of the details about the planning process that is about to begin.
The Board of Regents and I first discussed the need for a new strategic plan at the Board retreat in July. We agreed that 2013 is the right time to begin our new strategic planning process, because this timing allows us to plan until 2018 – which is our 50th Anniversary. The plan will guide us to the culmination of the first 50 years in the history of this exceptional university, and the plan will lay the foundation for the next 50 years of success.
This fall, I sought broad input from the campus community on the timeline, format and composition of the Strategic Planning Committee. Among other constituents, I had conversations throughout the semester with the college deans; department chairs; the executive committees of Staff Congress, Faculty Senate, and the Student Government Association, as well as with our directors and administrators.
Based on the feedback I received, I made a presentation to the Board on Wednesday. I would like to share with you some of the important points from that presentation.
Let me begin with a few basic questions: Why are we doing this? What purpose does a strategic plan serve? And what are its key elements?
The primary purposes of a strategic plan are to articulate a clear, succinct mission and vision of the university; to set strategic priorities that will guide our work and our investments; to promote a shared sense of direction; and to provide a system for measuring progress toward our goals.
This new plan will be our guide for developing and implementing strategies, programs and initiatives that will effectively address the challenges that we face. As part of that plan, we will continue to foster those distinctive attributes that have made us a successful university. And we will identify new opportunities for distinction that will further differentiate us from our competitors.
At its core, this plan will provide a roadmap from where we are today to what we aspire to become in 2018.
Let me now address two other important questions: Whose plan is this? And who will be involved in developing it?
Simply put, this plan is about our collective future. So in order for it to be our plan, we need the active involvement from all of you and your colleagues, as well as from those we serve—our students and our key stakeholders.
We have an outstanding strategic planning committee to help facilitate the process over the coming months. These individuals have demonstrated their commitment to university citizenship – to do what is best for our university and community. But their contributions are only the beginning.
We have formed several work groups. The people who serve on these groups will also provide their expertise and their insights.
But in order to produce the best plan – to produce our plan – we need the input of our entire campus community. We will ask for your ideas in several ways, including at meetings, on a planning website, and through social media and written suggestions.
And we will start this process by doing what universities do best – research and learning. We will conduct an analysis of our strengths and weaknesses, as well as opportunities and threats from our external environment.
We are in the process of forming the work groups that will examine various specific issues, including competitive forces; demographic trends; the political and economic environment; technological trends; and institutional trends.
This work will begin immediately. In fact, the Strategic Planning Committee will have its first organizational meeting right after this convocation concludes. The work groups will also begin meeting within the next week or so, and they will present their reports to the committee in March.
The results of these analyses will be shared with the campus community and the Board later in the spring. At that time, we will begin to identify common themes and we will begin outlining the plan in early summer.
That preliminary outline will be shared with the Board at its July retreat and a draft plan will be presented to the campus community for review and comment at the beginning of the fall semester.
As we develop the plan, we will also prepare to implement it. Specifically, during the summer, the divisions, colleges and departments will begin to develop the processes necessary to bring their respective plans in alignment with the university’s plan.
We will also begin to review our budget processes to ensure that we are well prepared to allocate our resources to support our strategic priorities.
Simply put, it will not be enough to develop a good plan. We must distinguish ourselves through the execution and implementation of our plan.
The final proposed strategic plan will be presented to the members of the Board for their consideration in November 2013.
We have designed a website to provide important information to the campus community about our timeline and the process. I encourage you to check the website often, because the content will be regularly updated. Additionally, I intend to share timely updates with the campus community through emails and at university wide-functions.
Now, I have the privilege to introduce to you the members of the Strategic Planning Committee. The committee consists of three faculty members, an academic department chair, a dean, two staff members, one student, a graduate, and one community leader. To demonstrate my commitment to this process, I will serve as the chair.
Before I introduce the members of the committee, I need to thank everyone who submitted nominations. Please know that I selected the members of the committee based on their demonstrated commitment to the best interests of the university and on what I believe would give us the most balanced cross-section of constituents. The members of the committee include those who are relatively new to the university as well as some “veterans.”
Let me begin by introducing the young woman who will represent our students: Ms. Katie Cox is a junior majoring in business management. Ms. Cox is active on campus with several organizations, including the Presidential Ambassadors and the Student Government Association.
Next, permit me to introduce the two people who will represent our important external constituencies.
Representing our alumni is Ms. Diane Sticklen-Jordan, a principal of HRC Consulting and a graduate of Northern Kentucky University. In her professional role, Ms. Sticklen-Jordan is a respected consultant, and she coaches business leaders and HR professionals.
Representing the community is Mr. Chuck Brown, vice president of accounting and finance for Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing, North America. Mr. Brown served with distinction on our Board of Regents for 12 years, including two years as chair.
There are three faculty members on the committee:
Dr. Richard Boyce is a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences. Dr. Boyce is also the director of our Environmental Science Program. He couldn’t be with us this morning, because of a prior professional commitment.
Dr. Dana Harley is an assistant professor in the Department of Counseling, Social Work and Leadership. Dr. Harley is a licensed social worker.
Dr. Stephanie Hughes is an associate professor of management. She is an entrepreneur and a creative thinker.
Our two excellent staff members are:
Arnie Slaughter, the director of University Housing. Mr. Slaughter has been at the university for 10 years.
Mary Paula Schuh, the director of Campus & Space Planning. She will celebrate her 34th anniversary at NKU next week.
The department chair is Dr. Zach Hart, the interim chair of the Communication Department and an associate professor of public relations.
And the college dean is Dr. Denise Robinson, the founding dean of the College of Health Professions and a regents professor of nursing.
Let us show our appreciation to these women and men for their service to our university.
There is much work ahead of us, and I am eager to begin this process. The committee is equally eager to hear from you.
I ask that you participate in our open forums and the surveys. Everyone’s thoughts and ideas are critical to the success of the next strategic plan. It is not my plan. It is not the committee’s plan. It is not the Board’s plan. It is our plan.
As we embark on this important process, permit me to share a few final observations – some of my expectations and some of my hopes. In this plan, we must continue to foster an institutional culture that is innovative, creative, responsive and nimble.
At the same time, we must maintain certain institutional values that make this university an attractive place to study and work. We must preserve a community characterized by collegial relationships and shared governance responsibility. And we must encourage and reward excellence in everything we do.
And most importantly, our paramount institutional goal must be student success.
We know that there are genuine and substantial challenges that lie ahead – for our university and for higher education as a whole. These challenges are complex and difficult. To succeed, we must be determined and dedicated — persistent and patient.
But we should be confident, because this university has a history of rising to a challenge. And we, the current guardians of this legacy, are directly connected to that success. Overcoming obstacles with vision and hard work is a legacy that we are fortunate to inherit.
Since my arrival, I’ve had the chance to learn more about the university’s remarkable past. And, quite frankly, I’ve absorbed its narrative with equal measures of respect and inspiration. I would like to share some of the history that I learned and that I feel demonstrates the spirit and character of this university.
Some of you may be familiar with these facts. I recount them because they exemplify the determination and dedication we will need to nurture the next stage in the life of our university.
I learned that NKU officially traces its origin to 1967, when a grassroots petition asking for a new college in the region was signed by more than 3,000 people including children, many of whom would someday graduate from NKU.
I learned that this university was constructed on farmland dotted with cows, barns and a small pond, which today is Loch Norse. And our university was literally built from the ground up by our first president, Dr. Frank Steely, and our founding faculty and staff.
Before the construction of these buildings, academic departments were held in barns and houses. A photography studio was located in a farmhouse cellar and a music practice room was held in a renovated dog kennel.
From 1970 to 1975, NKU experienced one of its greatest building booms, with 12 projects either under construction or completed. During this period, the university merged with the Chase College of Law, which today remains a source of great pride for this university and our region.
Dr. A. D. Albright served as NKU’s second president from 1976 to 1983 – a critical period in the university’s history. During this era, enrollment doubled to more than 10,000 students. The university embraced a philosophy of creating innovative programs to meet the needs of the community and society as a whole. That sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Dr. Leon Boothe became the university’s third president in July 1983. Dr. Boothe and the staff and faculty strengthened campus life by expanding campus housing, which helped recruit new students.
In 1997, Dr. Jim Votruba became the university’s fourth president. As a result of his vision, and the many women and men who responded to his leadership, we are a modern, comprehensive, metropolitan university. Our university is now a nationally recognized educational institution – and the first choice of many students.
But Jim’s legacy consists of much more than the new facilities that were built or the new programs that were added during his tenure.
In my view, his legacy is less tangible – but more enduring.
Because Jim Votruba regularly reminded us to welcome the dreamers – and to strive to make all of their dreams, and all of our dreams, come true.
I share these brief reflections on our university's history, because I am inspired by the remarkable progress we have made in such a short span of time. I hope that you are inspired as well.
But now, now it is our time.
It is our time to write the next chapter in the history of Northern Kentucky University.
It is our time to create a legacy that our future colleagues will remember
fondly – and with great pride. It is our time to do that which will inspire those women and men who will follow us.
Let us embrace this special responsibility with courage – the courage to believe that we have the capacity to thrive in these challenging times.
Let us also embrace this special responsibility with humility – the humility to listen to the ideas of others with an open mind and an open heart.
As we embark on this journey together, let us – let all of us – model those attributes we seek to nurture in our students.
We must strive to be excellent, not merely average. Indeed, let us aspire to create an ambitious vision for our future – let us envision and pursue a bold institutional dream.
We must seek to develop and mature. In doing so, we should resist the temptation to seek refuge in the status quo. We should reject the temptation to conform to current conventions – to conform to what others perceive as indicia of prestige.
We must work together as a team to advance our collective best interests, not the special interests of a select few.
We must celebrate genuine success – and we will. But we cannot ignore our shortcomings.
In fact, we must insist upon a rigorous, comprehensive assessment process as the only way to ensure that we will achieve our true potential, both individually and collectively.
We must recognize that some setbacks and some disappointments are inevitable. But we will not retreat – we will not be deterred. Instead, we will be disciplined in implementing and executing our strategies and tactics.
We must be persistent. We must be determined and dedicated.
And let us face all of our challenges with unflinching optimism and enthusiasm.
These are the qualities that we seek to instill in our students and in our children. They deserve nothing less than for us to exhibit those attributes ourselves.
So let us join together in a common commitment: to make a difference – to make it matter that we have come together at this special university at this important time.
I am excited and energized by the potential for our bright future. I am optimistic that our best days await us.
I ask that you join me on this journey. For now it is our time.
Thank you for coming this morning. Best wishes for a great New Year.
[Let us now rise to sing our alma mater.]