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Opening of the Academic Year: 2011–2012

David Werner, interim president, giving the Opening of the Academic Year speech in 2010.Following is a text version of the speech David Werner, interim president, gave during the Opening of the Academic Year: 2011–2012 event on August 26, 2010, in Fisher Auditorium.

Good morning, and welcome to the Opening of the Academic Year, 2011–2012.

One year ago, four weeks after my arrival at IUP, I stood here and spoke about the outlook for the coming year. I said that “IUP faces an extremely challenging budget” as we prepare for Fiscal Year 2011-2012. Little did I know how true those words would turn out to be. We knew then that IUP had entered the fiscal year with a structural budget deficit of more than $4 million, meaning that our planned expenditures would be some $4 million more than our expected revenue. We knew already that federal stimulus money would disappear and that we would likely have a cut in our state appropriation because of the commonwealth’s anticipated $4 billion deficit. By early December, we estimated that the combination of the structural deficit, anticipated loss of federal and state revenues, and unavoidable cost increases in benefits and utilities would mean that we would have to trim in excess of $10 million from our base operating budget, even assuming a modest increase in tuition and fees. A daunting challenge indeed—certainly more daunting than any I had ever encountered in over forty years in higher education.

I remarked last year that we needed to determine our own destiny, and, if the future of IUP were to be bright, it would be bright because we worked together to make it bright. So, we began our work, allocating the responsibility for reducing expenditures not across the board, but with the aim of protecting our first priority—providing a sound educational experience for our students. With that aim, the president’s area was assigned the largest proportionate budget reduction, and Academic Affairs the smallest.

The painful work of finding ways to reduce expenditures by $10 million began in earnest in December, and the assumptions underlying the projected $10-million reduction ironically came to be known as the “Christmas Scenario.” Not my idea of a gift; I would have preferred the lump of coal.

As bleak as the so-called Christmas Scenario was, it seemed far less draconian in early March when the governor recommended a 50-percent cut in the appropriation to the State System in addition to the loss of federal stimulus funds—about 54 percent in total.

In the wake of that recommendation, the System began an aggressive advocacy campaign to educate the Legislature and the citizenry on the value of the system to the commonwealth. The message was simple: We educate some 120,000 students drawn primarily from middle and lower income families, 90 percent of whom come from the commonwealth and 84 percent of whom remain in the commonwealth after graduation.

Fortunately, in the end, that message had traction with the Legislature. We are indebted to our local legislators, Senator Donald White and Representative David Reed, an IUP alum, and Speaker of the House Sam Smith, who serves on the IUP Council of Trustees. They, along with their colleagues from other districts with PASSHE universities, convinced the House and Senate of the value of the System and, in the end, the budget cut was “only” 18 percent, not 54 percent. I never thought I would use the word “only” in describing an 18-percent budget cut.

In those dark days following the governor’s budget address, we had two choices: either stay the course with the Christmas Scenario or begin planning for cuting an additional $20 million. We chose to stay the course, anticipating that a combination of legislative action and a greater-than-normal tuition increase would result in something close to our original projection. In the end, the reduction in our appropriation coupled with a 7.5-percent increase in tuition and a 50-percent increase in the Technology Fee put us with a shortfall of approximately $7.7 million rather than $10 million, approximately a $2.3-million improvement.

That $2.3-million improvement could not have come at a more opportune moment. In mid-April, we realized that Academic Affairs could only reduce its expenditures by approximately $5 million rather than reaching its $7 million target and still be able to offer the courses necessary to meet the needs of the enrollment projected for this year. Had funding not improved, we would have, once again, been in the highly undesirable position of drawing down university reserves to meet current operating needs.

The net result is that we enter Fiscal Year 2011–2012 with a fully balanced budget, meaning that our planned expenditures for Fiscal Year 2011-2012 are equal to our anticipated revenue, and we are not relying on using “old” money from reserves to cover our current operating costs. And, we have protected our core mission and functions as best we could. The allocation of the Christmas Scenario reduction assigned approximately 71 percent of the total reduction to Academic Affairs although it accounts for about 76 percent of the total allocations to all divisions of the university. With the adjustment of approximately $2 million, the Academic Affairs portion of the reduction falls to about 65 percent.

Academic Affairs is the heart of what we do, but, just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes all of us to transform a new freshman to an alumnus. If grass isn’t cut, bathrooms cleaned, students registered, payroll processed, financial aid packaged, food prepared, snow removed, supplies purchased, employees hired, students counseled, that transformation would not occur. Every member of the IUP community plays a role in making it possible for a student to walk across the stage at Commencement.

While we survived the budget cuts, we did not go unscathed: We’ve eliminated or reduced valued programs and services; we’ve replaced tenured faculty with temporary faculty; some staff were furloughed; and, we’ve placed a greater burden on parents and students in a state which already had the dubious distinction of having among the highest levels of student debt at graduation.

Before turning to the future, let me briefly speak to the year that just ended. I said earlier that we entered last year with a $4 million structural deficit. I am pleased to say that we ended the year in the black, not the red. The obvious question is, “How did that happen?” The answer is, “A bit of good luck and a lot of hard work.”

In the good luck category, I would put the change in the methodology for distributing performance funding within the System. IUP’s performance funding increased by more than $2 million over what had been expected, partially because we actually performed better, but largely because the change in the allocation methodology that removed what had been described as the “power ball” category which had historically penalized IUP.

The hard work category includes the efforts of many individuals across the university to increase enrollment, to grow the winter and summer terms, and to control costs wherever possible.

With last year’s budget behind us and with this year’s budget balanced, our attention turns to preparing for next year. On the positive side, the commonwealth has seen some upturn in revenue collections, and the likelihood of extending our record enrollment is good. On the other hand, the failure of the economy to rebound fully from recession, the high rate of unemployment, and the fallout from the budget debacle in Washington do not bode well. We will see how those forces play out over the coming months and what the governor proposes in February.

Enough about budgets. Let’s turn to the coming year, a year in which we will seek a new president, a president that I trust will serve this fine institution well over a sustained period. My own goal for this year is to solve some remaining problems so the new president can focus on the future, not the past.

As we begin the search, let us keep in mind that hiring a president is a two-way street: The candidates need to sell themselves to us, and, equally important, we need to sell IUP to them. To be frank, IUP has a reputation of being a “tough place,” a place where administrators are devoured. Perhaps IUP’s reputation exceeds reality. Perhaps it is seen as a tough place because so many people here feel so passionately about it. They helped build it; they want it to flourish; they want respect for its traditions. But reputation and perceptions become reality in the minds of candidates. And so, when we interact with candidates, we need to focus on what unites us, not what divides us; on our strengths, not our problems. All institutions have problems; we just know our problems far better than we know theirs.

There is so much good to emphasize to candidates. For a fleeting moment, I considered pointing out a positive feature about IUP for every letter of the alphabet, from a to z. (Isn’t sitting through that a horrific thought!) Instead, let’s just look at a few things under the letter a: accreditation, academic programs, alumni, athletics.

In addition to its Middle States institutional accreditation, IUP holds specialized accreditation in almost every discipline in which it is available. During the past year, we had a disproportionately high number of site visits. I had the opportunity to read all the self-studies, meet with most of the visitors, review all site visitor team reports, and to see the final action of the accreditation committees. The results were fantastic. If it were possible to collect all the accreditation reports received by institutions across the country—and that isn’t possible—I am confident we would find that no institution did better than IUP. Some may have done as well; I don’t see how any could have done better.

Our accreditations are testimony to the strength of our academic programs. And, we’ve strengthened our program inventory with new degree programs in two areas of distinction for IUP: a master’s degree in Spanish and master’s degree in Weapons of Mass Destruction through the Department of Criminology. I anticipate approval this fall from the Board of Governors for a doctoral program in Safety Sciences, yet another area of distinction at IUP.

But, as we add programs in response to societal needs, we also need to continually review our program inventory and eliminate programs that are no longer needed or in which we lack strength. Last spring, the provost, working with the deans, proposed the elimination of sixty-two programs, tracks, specializations, and concentrations. While that seems like an extraordinarily high number of programs, in total, they enroll fewer than 4 percent of our students. Some have no students or are redundant of other programs.

The provost’s recommendations need the careful, but expeditious, attention of the curricular bodies of the university. We cannot be all things to all people; we need to focus our resources on our highest priorities. As I said last year, there can be no “sacred cows.” Our academic programs in total are our first priority, but that does not mean that every program is a first priority and a sacred cow beyond review.

Another a: alumni. I’ve met hundreds of alumni over the past year, at events here in Indiana and in New York, California, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington, and Florida. Some graduated last year; some more than fifty years ago. They hold degrees across the range of our programs; they have jobs as diverse as the American economy. What they share in common is a love of IUP and a tremendous respect for the experiences they had as students and the many ways in which the university enriched their lives.

Those alumni are an enormous resource for IUP, a resource we haven’t drawn upon as much as we should. While tremendously appreciative of their education, they lag behind alumni at our peer institutions in providing financial support. We need to engage our alumni in helping to maintain IUP as the great place they so fondly remember. We will strive to do that this year.

My final a: athletics. At the elite tier of Division I, intercollegiate athletics, in my view, is nothing short of scandalous, driven by money and serving the interests of many but certainly not the interest of most athletes in high profile sports. That is not the case in Division II and certainly not the case at IUP, where we truly have student-athletes.

IUP has a rich tradition of intercollegiate athletics. That tradition continued last year with success both on and off the field. IUP had 390 student-athletes last year, 40 percent of whom were named scholar-athletes by PSAC, a distinction that requires a 3.2 GPA. In Spring semester, 42 percent made the dean’s list and 9 percent had 4.0 GPAs. Athletes volunteered their services to eighty-five community organizations and raised nearly $10,000 for charitable causes. On the field, they were successful as well, with ten teams going on to postseason competition and overall placing fifteenth nationally in the Division II Director’s Cup competition.

Those are a few of the a’s at IUP. I leave it to you to think of the ways IUP excels in the remainder of the alphabet. I’d be particularly interested in what you identify under q, x, and z.

Last year, I closed with these words that I believe are even more relevant this year: “…let us always keep in mind that we are here because our students and their family members pay tuition, and the citizens of Pennsylvania support us through their taxes. Many parents work two jobs at minimum wage to make it possible for their sons and daughters to be here. Let us live up to the trust they have placed in us.”

Thank you for your kind attention. I wish you the best as we begin the adventure of a new year together.

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