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Opening of the Academic Year: 2010–2011

David Werner, interim president, spoke at the Opening of the Academic Year: 2010-2011 event August 27, 2010, in Fisher Auditorium.

Following is a text version of the speech David Werner, interim president, gave during the Opening of the Academic Year: 2010–2011 event on August 27, 2010, in Fisher Auditorium. You can also watch the speech on YouTube.

Good morning! Before anything else, I want to introduce my wife, Kay. Kay is no stranger to IUP; some of you know her already, and I’m sure many more will get to know her as the months unfold. And, in case you somehow heard the story that we met at an Iron Butterfly concert, it’s true. It was love at first sight.

Almost exactly five years ago today, I stood before a similar gathering at Mansfield University—although in less elegant surroundings than these. I said then, “If I were sitting where you are, I would have three questions: ‘Who are you?’ ‘What are you doing here?’ And, ‘What is going to happen over this next year?’” Although the circumstances today are a bit different than those of five years ago, you must have similar questions on your mind. So, let me try to answer them.

First, “Who are you?” I grew up in St. Louis, attended parochial schools, and then St. Louis University, where I studied industrial engineering. As a first-generation college student, I paid much of my way through high school and college by working in a doughnut shop. I haven’t made doughnuts in a very long time, but I think I could still do it if I had to. I’ve said often—not always in jest—that it was the best job I ever had.

Like the seniors on this campus today, I struggled with what I would do after graduation. I would have liked to have gone to law school but didn’t see how I could afford it. Then, in the post-Sputnik days of the mid-1960s, I found money was readily available for graduate work in engineering. So, off I went to Northwestern University in Evanston, a suburb of Chicago. Illinois is my home and Chicago my favorite city, except of course, as a native St. Louisan, it’s in my DNA to hate the Cubs. And, just as a reminder, Illinois is still the Land of Lincoln, not of Rod Blagojevich.

My plan at Northwestern was to finish a master’s degree. But as I was interviewing for jobs, I found I had the option of staying on in the doctoral program. One day, I walked to the mailbox outside the engineering building with two letters and one stamp. One letter was to accept a job offer; the other was to reject it and enter the doctoral program. I stood before that mailbox and decided which letter would get the stamp. That decision ultimately brought me here.

Near the end of my doctoral program, I began looking for an institution where I could teach and complete my dissertation. That led to an appointment at the Edwardsville campus of Southern Illinois University, a campus that had opened just a few years earlier. As a suburb of St. Louis, Edwardsville was both close to my home and not overly far from Northwestern. It was a place where I intended to stay for a year and then to move on to some “better” place. But that didn’t happen. I fell in love with Edwardsville—with its mission and with the commitment of its faculty to build a new university.

I met Kay at that rock concert held on campus. One year quickly became thirty-six. I would be surprised if many of you didn’t have nearly the same experience: coming to IUP, expecting to move on, then staying because you found what a great place it is—a place worth a career.

Now, let me turn to “What are you doing here?” Although I lived in Chicago while at Northwestern and Kay lived in Columbia while at the University of Missouri, we have spent the vast majority of our lives in the St. Louis area. When we married, we thought we would be moving to several universities over our careers, but that didn’t happen. Then, we realized that retirement would give us the opportunity to experience the rhythm of academic life in different settings. First came a three-month adventure at Ryukoku University in Kyoto, Japan, a Buddhist institution with a four-century history. Living in Japan was a great experience that Kay and I would repeat in a heartbeat.

Prior to going to Japan, I had joined a small network called the Registry for College and University Presidents. The registry places retired individuals into interim positions with the explicit understanding that they will not be candidates for the positions on a permanent basis. In 2005, the registry took us to Mansfield University, a small campus in a very rural region, and then in 2007 to IUP, a large, residential, doctoral university not too far from a large city.

When the registry called this spring about returning to IUP, Kay’s and my reaction was that it failed our two basic criteria: It was a commitment for more than a year, and it wouldn’t take us to yet another type of university and another geographic setting. What led to our setting aside those basic criteria was that IUP and Indiana shared the same qualities that had kept us at SIUE and in Edwardsville all those years: a great community; a highly competent and dedicated faculty and staff; loyal alumni; and a commitment to excellence. So, here we are.

Now, for the final question: “What is going to happen over this next year?” An interim president has two fundamental responsibilities. The first is to prepare the institution for the arrival of a new president by solving as many existing problems as possible but in a way that does not unduly tie the hands of the new person.

My second responsibility is to move IUP forward. I firmly believe that it is not possible for a university to stand still; we either move forward, or we slide backward. We are not going to slide backward.

You know as well as I that IUP faces an extremely challenging budget for 2011–2012; federal stimulus dollars will disappear; state appropriations are uncertain; and costs for benefits and utilities will certainly be higher. How easy it would be to simply throw up our hands in despair, to blame the situation on forces outside our control, to blame it on fate. We cannot do that. In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Cassius says to Brutus: “Men are at some time masters of their fates. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.” And so it is with IUP; our fate lies not in the stars but in us. We can decide our own destiny. If the future is to be bright, it will not be because the stars have aligned but because we have worked together to make it bright.

We have begun that work. We have reasonably good projections of revenues and costs for next year. Now comes the challenging part: finding ways to increase revenue and reduce costs.

There are ways to increase revenue. The recent addition of the Winter Term at IUP, which benefits students and faculty alike, is but one example of how revenue can be enhanced. We need to find others, including ways to create a more robust summer program, to deliver more programs online to students far from Indiana, and to use more fully our campuses throughout the year.

But, no matter how inventive and creative we are, we are not going to generate sufficient additional revenue as quickly as next year to avoid cuts in expenditures. How we make those cuts will test our resolve and determine the future of IUP. We must focus on our priorities; nothing can be a “sacred cow,” nothing can be “off the table.” We must look for inefficiencies, for redundancies, for administrative bloat, for curricular bloat. The test is not whether a function or activity is good—I’m willing to stipulate that everything we do is good. Rather, the test is whether a function or activity is important and central to our mission. We can’t be all things to all people. 

And cuts must begin, so to speak, at the top. You can be certain that there will be cuts in the President’s Office, and I will not wait until next year to make those cuts.

I am committed to shared governance. But I find the committee structure of IUP to be confusing; perhaps you find it confusing, as well. We have the University Senate, the University Planning Committee, the Administrative Council, the University Budget Advisory Committee, the Cabinet, the E-Team, and perhaps others. These groups seem, at least to me, to have confusing and overlapping purposes and functions. We need to find a way to make these groups more efficient and more useful in providing advice and counsel. We need to stop wasting people’s time.

I am committed as well to sharing information. This is a public university, and we need to be transparent and open in what we do. As one vehicle for providing information and transparency, I will be holding a monthly forum at which faculty and staff members can ask questions about whatever they wish. If I don’t know the answers, I will find them.

Before closing and wishing you well for the year, I want to thank the many, many individuals who have welcomed Kay and me to IUP. My only concern about the warmth of that welcome is, perhaps, the expectation by some that I can work miracles. I cannot work miracles, but I can work hard. I promise you that IUP will have my full attention over the coming months. Working together, we won’t work miracles, but I believe we will do good work.

As this year progresses, 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 being here. Thank you for your kind attention. I wish you a productive new year.

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