The Coming Year, And Then Some

Remarks at the Faculty Reception
August 30, 2012
Bill Perry, President

 

Good afternoon. Thank you for the opportunity to make a few remarks today on the coming year, and then some.

First and foremost, thank you for your dedicated teaching, scholarly work, and service to the university. Consistent with our strategic plan and true to our history, you uphold academic excellence and build personal relationships with our students through mentoring undergraduate and graduate research, supervising study abroad, preparing students for national competitions, encouraging community service, and holding high standards for performance in your classes.

Second, but just as important as the first, welcome to our new faculty, some of whom I was privileged to meet during new faculty orientation. We welcome you to our community of scholars, faculty and students alike, and look forward to the intellectual vitality and energy you bring to the table.

As always, I am pleased with our ability to attract new faculty whose academic backgrounds include the finest universities in the nation.

EIU has achieved much over the past several years, and is poised to achieve more. To do so we will have to meet some challenges, two of which I will mention later in my remarks.

First, regarding the past, EIU has strengthened the quality of its programs, and through many actions, including the first choice graduate program initiative, the integrated learning initiative, completion of a campus master plan, and completion of a strategic plan, set the stage for continued advancement of academic excellence. In 2011, our strategic plan process in the early stages allowed us to take stock of the many accomplishments of the university. Then, recognizing our capabilities and assessing the environment we operate in, we focused on a few very important themes for the progress of the university. The resulting strategic plan, approved by the Board of Trustees this past spring provides guidance for our future actions. The main themes of the strategic plan center on academic excellence, financial sustainability, emerging technologies, global competition and changing demographics, marketing and communication, and campus and community life. We have already taken actions on some plan recommendations. You can check progress on the EIU website—there is a link on the main page.
Since the strategic plan is so important to us, I want to make a few observations about recent events and how they are connected to our strategic plan themes.

Academic Excellence

By National Science Foundation study, we are in the top 5 % of comprehensive universities whose students go on to complete doctoral degrees. Our faculty and staff continue to gain recognition through publications, awards, and grants. In the last budget cycle, the state's adopted performance model had us performing second of the 12 public campuses. We continue to move forward on the renovations to the old Textbook Rental Center to enable us to move the Honors College onto the North Quad. We plan to break ground this year for a building next to our Renewable Energy Center to support our Center for Clean Energy Research and Education. This last project is partially funded from private sources. Our publishing scholars reception is scheduled for this fall. I always look forward to this event to become more familiar with our faculty's scholarly work. Our alumni satisfaction remains high: 99% after 7 years. That is due to a team effort that has your teaching at the core of the student experience.

Financial Sustainability

Our comprehensive Campaign for Eastern surpassed the $50 million goal two years early and now, 8 months later we are at $58 million in gifts, pledges, and planned gifts. EIU's faculty and staff participated in the campaign at a 40% rate this past year—extremely strong participation for any university. We will celebrate the campaign success on September 28. Initiatives we have underway are focused on increasing enrollment, since more and more of our financial resources are dependent on overall tuition revenue. I will give some details later in my remarks. Through careful and conservative budgeting we continue to improve our cash flow management related to delayed state payments of general revenue appropriations.

Campus and Community Life

Jumpstart 2 Give had all of our new students in many communities in our region, completing service projects and on campus completing projects for organizations in need of many helping hands. For the projects I visited, the students were excited to be making a difference in the community. By the way, last year, almost 8,000 of our students completed over 110,000 hours of community service—doubling our efforts from only four years ago. EIU was listed in the United States Presidents National Honor Roll for community service. By being in the Princeton Review's Green Campuses listing we are in the top 10% of campuses in the US. The Arbor Day Foundation has granted us Tree Campus designation, one of 150 or so such campuses across the country. We continue to upgrade sidewalks, residence halls and grounds. We have been able to complete some waterproofing, tuck pointing, and other infrastructure projects in support of our library and academic structures.

In addition to these developments, we are off to a good start this academic year. Move in went extremely well, and the students and parents with whom I have visited are excited to be part of EIU. I received many compliments regarding our students, faculty and staff who assisted in the transition to campus. Here are a couple of quotes: (read from notes). Eastern Reads was again a success with the choice of this year's book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. From the shared email comments of the many facilitators, it is clear that we have an engaged group of new students at EIU. Many facilitators said this was their best Eastern Reads experience from the standpoint of student participation.  By all accounts the first week and a half of classes have gone very smoothly.

Thus we have many positive developments at EIU. Now, I have a colleague from a former life who from time to time would say, "Perry, remember, for every silver lining there is a cloud."

There are two clouds to mention today. These clouds are not unique to EIU, but they are clouds that we must deal with.

Cloud number one is State support for higher education. State support has declined and will likely continue to decline, through reduced appropriations, or mandating assumption of normal costs of pensions by campuses, or both. We work hard to make our case in Springfield, doing everything possible to showcase our performance and impact on the goals of the Illinois Public Agenda for College and Career Success. Our fiscal year 2013 state appropriation is 6.1% less than our 2012 state appropriation—a nearly three million dollar reduction. We are gradually being asked to continue to provide an outstanding educational experience with fewer funds from the state. We are in my opinion being forced to operate in the future as a public/private hybrid university.

In addition to the decrease in appropriations, as you all know, the state is also considering changes to the pension plans of university employees and shifting the normal pension costs from the state to the individual university campuses.  Rather than get into too many details today, I will just say that our consistent position with respect to pension reform has been that a "deal is a deal" and the state should honor the individual contracts our employees entered into with respect to pensions. I will also say that as a university we, along with the other public universities, have been open to assuming some of the normal costs of our pensions with our appropriated funds, provided:

  1. Our future general revenue appropriations be no less than the FY12 level, and
  2. Our employees not be required to forfeit individual benefits.

Regrettably, the political process led to drafted legislation mandating universities assuming normal costs, but not supporting a floor for appropriations and forcing loss of benefits to our employees. The legislation has not passed, but is still in play.

We will continue to press our position. We have established a website to track the pension reform matter. To access this website, go to www.eiu.edu/legislative and click on pension news.

Cloud number two — Enrollment. Our overall enrollment has declined. How are we dealing with this, and how will we continue to work on enrollment?

This past year, during the second half of the admissions cycle, working with consultants we implemented some analytical tools to maximize the impact of financial aid, offered tiered merit scholarships to students with ACT scores above our mean, and offered targeted waivers under our panther promise program. The good news is that the yield rates from those programs were strong. Our job this admissions cycle is to generate more undergraduate applicants in those categories. As the recession wears on, financial aid is becoming more and more important to recruited students and our continuing students.

For the recruitment of undergraduate students entering in fall 2013, that is, for this admissions cycle, we have in place an Undergraduate Recruitment Plan based on our experience this past spring and what we have learned from the consultants. This will be shared with Faculty Senate and other groups on campus during this fall. The plan has several goals, but here are four in particular:

  1. Improve the overall academic profile of entering freshmen. (Academic Excellence)
  2. Increase the number of new Honors students by 15% over fall 2012. (Academic Excellence)
  3. Increase the number of new freshmen by 10% over fall 2012. (Financial Sustainability)
  4. Increase the number of new transfer students by 15% over fall 2012. (Financial Sustainability)

I would also note that undergraduate enrollment is up in some majors: Communication Disorders and Sciences, Engineering/Engineering Physics, Health Studies, General Studies, Organizational and Professional Development, Nursing, Health Studies, Kinesiology and Sports Studies. Where there is room for more growth in some of these areas, we must pursue those student markets, as well as shore up other areas where demand has fallen.

Enrollment depends also on graduate enrollment. I believe we have room to grow in this area. The Graduate School has been working with departments in this sector of enrollment. I encourage extra effort in this area by the departments.

Enrollment depends on more than student recruitment. It depends on student retention. I urge your participation in our Early Alert system. It is an automated way for you to notify EIU colleagues when a student is falling behind in your classes. When you use it, the EIU village goes into action to assist the student and get him or her back on track. It is a system that works and should be used to its maximum effect.

Going into the future, guided by the principles of our strategic plan, we will be reshaping the university to respond to our environment. As we operate more like a private university, the revenue we generate will depend more and more on enrollment. That is our future. Everyone on campus benefits from strong enrollment. That means each one of us has a stake in and will have some measure of responsibility in enrollment.

In addition to our specific recruiting plan for undergraduate students entering in fall 2013 we are developing a broader strategic enrollment plan by means of a Strategic Enrollment Planning Committee to begin meeting this fall. It will involve a faculty representative. You will hear more on this later in the semester.

I believe higher education in Illinois will have to change rapidly over the next five years because of many factors, a major one being the decrease in state support for public universities. I believe EIU needs to deeply consider how we are shaped and how we will respond to the many forces upon us, while remaining true to our mission.

As we make these deep and detailed considerations, I think we should heed the words of the philosopher Rollo May, writing in The Courage to Create, (W.W. Norton and Company, New York, 1975): "Shall we, as we feel our foundations shaking, withdraw in anxiety and panic? Frightened by our loss of familiar moving places, shall we become paralyzed and cover our inaction with apathy? If we do those things we will have surrendered our chance to participate in the forming of the future. We will have forfeited the distinctive characteristic of human beings—namely to influence our evolution through our awareness."[pp. 11-12]. May also says that creativity in its authentic form is the "process of bringing something new into being."[p. 39]. We at this time have to create new ways for our university to function and achieve its mission. Following May, this means we will have to experience a genuine and "intense encounter" [pp. 44-54] with our world and our situation in it.

The coming year and those following will be years of encounter and creation — we will certainly have to grapple with many significant issues. These must be years of creativity as we build upon the past to reshape the university. I believe we are capable of the encounter with the tides of change coming our way, and already upon us. This university has met many challenges and created opportunities before: World Wars, the Great Depression, Recessions, the effects of the GI Bill, high school population growth, a (now long past) time of growing state support, environmental responsibility, and others. We were chartered in 1895 as Eastern Illinois State Normal School. In 1921, we became Eastern Illinois State Teachers College and evolved to Eastern Illinois State College in 1947. A short 10 years later, we became Eastern Illinois University. Now some 55 years later we have matured and grown in our role as a comprehensive state university. Through these many years, EIU has always responded and reshaped because of the will, spirit, and hard work of its family of faculty, staff, students, and alumni. EIU will respond now as well; and because we do have the collective courage to create, we will emerge stronger than ever, fulfilling our mission, and becoming the premier comprehensive university we desire to be.

In closing, thank you once again for committing yourself to the highest ideals of our profession, and for the excellent work you have done and continue to do for EIU. I look forward to serving the university with you as we expect greatness of ourselves, our students, and each other. Best wishes for a very successful year.