Opening of the Academic Year: 2014–15

  • The following is the text of the speech President Michael Driscoll delivered during the Opening of the Academic Year program on August 22, 2014 in Fisher Auditorium.

    I know that some of you worked on our campuses this summer. Some of you return today. Regardless, I hope you all are as anxious and ready as I am to begin this new academic year together. 

    Before we look forward, I want to congratulate the university community on our successes of last year. Together, we solidified our shared vision, set into motion the strategic planning process, and began the Middle States self-study that will reaffirm our accreditation. We are a university on the move—and we’re beginning to move in the same direction. I could not be more proud to work with so many people who love this institution, who are invested in its progress, and who are committed to seeing it become the university we dream it should be. 

    You’ll hear more about the Middle States effort as the semester goes on. A few months ago, we received approval on the design that many of you helped devise, and you’ll see other opportunities to participate in the process, namely through a survey. When that comes your way, please be sure to take time to participate.

    I am enormously proud that we opened the Military Resource Center, and I know that many others are, too.  We hired a director for this new facility in Pratt Hall. The way I see it, the Military Resource Center symbolizes all the things we do to reach out to our students in ways that are most likely to enhance their success.

    We broke ground for two new facilities (remember, “mud is good”), and a group of alumni who are leaders in their respective scientific fields convened to help plan the new academic building for the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. Those alumni were incredibly happy to reconnect with IUP in such a meaningful way—and one of them, Tim Cejka, and his wife, Deb, were inspired enough to provide us with seed money for the new building. They hope their investment of $1.25 million will, in turn, inspire others.

    But, the Cejkas weren’t the only people who philanthropically invested in IUP. Your philanthropic investment in our students through the University Family Drive benefited 206 different departments, programs, and scholarship funds. You smashed through previous giving records in that regard, and your support is being leveraged right now for even greater support from alumni and foundations. 

    Yes, we had a super year, but it wasn’t perfect. 

    In March, we found ourselves garnering unwanted media attention because of excessive celebrations that were…let’s just say…not sanctioned by the university. Far from alone in having to deal with the dilemma of excessive student partying, we have taken action. You’ve probably read news reports about our pulling together representatives from the community—law enforcement and government officials, landlords, Liquor Control Board representatives, and our own staff members—to work with experts from the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency in analyzing how to better anticipate and deal with future such situations. 

    We’ve learned a lot from this exercise, and the most important point is that we acknowledge we all must work together to combat a nationwide issue on our own local level. PEMA recommends what they refer to as a “whole community” approach. I am proud of how the entire Indiana community has come together to enhance communication, coordination, and planning; to increase enforcement, safety, and consequences; and to improve education, alternatives, and prevention. We still have a lot of work to do, and we will do that work together.

    The latest edition of IUP Magazine, our alumni communications piece, goes into some detail on the subject, if you want to read more. The fact is, though, that even this situation, while not pleasant, illustrates our deep commitment to the health and well-being of our students and our community.

    The budget situation also puts a slight fog over our success of the last year, but I think we’re doing the best we can under the circumstances, and I’m actually hopeful. Thanks to the hard work of many of you over the last several years, we aren’t facing a crisis, as some of our sister institutions are, but we do still face reduced circumstances in the form of support from the commonwealth, declines in high school student numbers in western Pennsylvania, and increased costs.  For this year, we balanced our budget by making modest cuts and redoubling our efforts to recruit and retain students.  We still are registering students and have enrolled more than 14,300 and should be close to our projected number this fall. Another very positive note: We paid off our debt on the Kovalchick Complex, which frees us from that ongoing burden.

    Last spring, you’ll recall I distributed notice that we’ll make a few changes in our budget processes. Working with the University Budget Advisory Committee, we will take a three-prong approach for future years that entails adjusting allocations to reflect actual expenditures, setting college-level expectations and incentives for achieving institutional goals and generating revenue, and, where necessary, increasing the student services fee.  

    Implementing these concepts enables us to balance our budget over the next several years and sets the stage for long-term financial stability and success.  We will appropriately and periodically examine budgets and the budgeting model to adjust any structural budget issues and to adapt to changing conditions. While we are in good stead now, we must continue to act to remain that way.

    I know that discussing our successes is more fun than examining how we must improve, but what kind of university community would we be if we didn’t always look for ways to capitalize on our best qualities and continue to seek something better for our students and for society?

    Just for a moment, let’s take a hypothetical look at two students who are competing for the same spot. It could be for a job, or it could be the last opening on the roster for a graduate program.

    There’s Jack. 

    Jack is 22. He earned his bachelor’s degree from an online university that promised to give him the skills he needs to get his first job. He probably racked up a good bit of debt, at least as far as return on investment goes, but the degree he earned qualifies him for the spot in question. He enters today’s interview with the perspective he received through his Internet-based classes. 

    Then, there’s Judy. 

    Judy earned her bachelor’s degree at IUP. As an 18-year-old freshman, she resided with other students in a learning community mixed with students from different backgrounds—people who were new to her in many ways. She became involved in a professional society related to her major. With a scholarship award, she traveled abroad with a small group of students under the supervision of her favorite professor to conduct research. The next semester, a close family member died. Judy's grades slipped a bit, and another professor noticed and reached out to her to lend moral support and give her a chance to make up the work she missed. That helped to knit yet another strong alliance.  Judy completed an internship before graduating. Because of the relationships she established at IUP, she’s as committed to her alma mater as she is to her chosen field. We have a life-long relationship with Judy, and she with us.

    As a university community we hear all the time about a loud but misguided faction that would like to see the comprehensive, life-changing baccalaureate experience be replaced with a cheap substitute. 

    And yet, as a university community, we reaffirmed last October during our visioning exercise what kind of graduate we want to produce—students who are thinkers and problem solvers, who are strong communicators, who are connected to and aware of the world around them and have an understanding of our shared human experience. 

    We all know that course content alone, while highly important, cannot by itself sustain a graduate’s career in a fast-paced and ever-more complicated world.  

    So, I ask you: Which student—Jack or Judy—is better prepared not only for that opportunity for which they are competing but also as candidates to make the world a better place?

    Need I say it? 

    Not Jack. 

    If you want to capture the Vision for IUP’s Future in a single image, this is it. 

    And, in a world that has fundamentally changed since Judy was born in 1992 and that will have changed again and again before Judy’s children are ready for college, we must ensure that our great university continues to graduate students like Judy.  

    Make no mistake; the route we must sail is a difficult one, and in stormy seas we must keep a steady hand on the tiller to stay true to our vision.  

    We must sail safely past the irresistible pull of the whirlpool, Charybdis, and its seductive currents, which entice us to act as if a university is nothing more than a business and to embrace each new technology or management fad as the cure for all our ills.  But, as we steer to stay clear, we must not run aground on the shoals of Scylla, unwilling to learn from the best practices of business and unable to adapt and change to surmount the challenges we face, so that IUP can serve generation upon generation of Judys—and Jacks, too.

    A few weeks ago, our senior leadership team—the provost, vice presidents, and a few others—gathered for a day of discussion about how we do our part in moving the university forward and ensuring it achieves the vision.

    Of course, the strategic planning process that is occurring is paramount to achieving the vision—Tim Moerland will get to more about it in a minute. But there’s more to moving us forward than implementing the strategic plan. 

    During that day-long meeting, we discussed culture. The vision statement includes several attributes that will be reflected in the strategic plan, but it also contains elements that must be part of our culture regardless of what our strategic plan might be at any given time. 

    Our alumni have told us time and again that the relationships they established here—the care they saw our faculty and staff take with them—was a meaningful part of their experience. Care abounds at IUP. We must find a way to liberally apply it to all that we do—with students, with their parents, with the public, and with each other. 

    So, let's take a look at some of those other cultural attributes.

    Collaboration and accomplishment 

    Innovation and inclusiveness.

    Transparency and evidence-based decision making.

    Integrity and accountability. 

    These attributes must seep into our everyday work lives and become part of our DNA—our culture.

    Practicing these things in all that we do will seal the deal on how we educate the whole student. They also serve an additional purpose.

    Positive and productive and just, they serve as protection. They provide a buffer against the storm.  After all, the best protection we have for our reputation is having the right culture.

    As Warren Buffett once said, “You only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out.”

    Likewise, when backed by the right culture, a great reputation influences the ability to attract more outstanding students, faculty, and administrators. It enables us to secure more philanthropic gifts and attracts investment from funding agencies. Alumni will rally around a university that has a good reputation—and they will become our best advocates. A great reputation attracts positive media attention. And, when things go awry—as they sometimes do—our reputation will protect us from long-term damage. 

    Having the right culture will be an outcome of the things we’ll accomplish through our strategic plan, but I believe—and others agree with me—that caring for these cultural attributes in all that we do will be a key to our long-term success. Keeping them at the forefront of all we do will provide the right environment for students to develop into the educated, responsible, and socially aware people our world needs.

    I know others await their turn to speak, and so I had better stop. Again, I welcome you all to the beginning of the year.  I’ll address the new students on Sunday here in Fisher Auditorium, and I hope I see you there. As we emphasize to them, Freshman Convocation sets the tone not only for the academic year but, we hope, their entire careers here. Your presence reinforces that to them.

    I look forward to working with you this year! Let’s weigh anchor and together set sail toward our future!