2019 State of the University by EMU President James M. Smith

2019 State of the University by EMU President James M. Smith

October 22, 2019 0 By Stanley Isaacs


Well, thank you, everyone. Thank you for being here. Good afternoon,
and hello to those who are watching
on streaming video. I understand about
one minute ago, you were looking at a blank
stage and just a podium here. So we are beginning a couple
of minutes after 4:00. And again, thank
you and welcome. It’s a pleasure for me
to have this opportunity to do my second annual
of the opportunities– as taking the opportunity
of my second annual state of the university to
talk about the direction of our institution
and the distinct place that I think we
all know and love. I want to talk today about
what’s gone on in recent years. But I also, more
importantly, want to talk about where I
believe we’re going. We’ve been through trying
times, I think we all know that. I can assure you that much
of the work that we’ve done in the last
16 to 18 months are dedicated toward the worthy
goal that we all believe in. We want more
students graduating. We want more students entering
the careers that they desire, as they come and experience EMU. We want to address the
ever-growing and important question from
students and parents alike, what is the
return on investment for a four-year
college experience, or a five-year
college experience, or a five and half year
college experience. We want to deal with issues
such as student debt that plague students not
only at this university, but all universities
throughout our country. These issues represent
a national challenge that faces, as I said, not
only us, but institutions, large and small. Today, I hope that I can
lay out, for all of you, a test, to test the priorities
that we’re working through in our strategic
plan and to show how we’re continuing to
improve the Eastern Michigan University that
we’ve all known, will continue to know, and hopefully
understand a bit better from the inside out. The dramatic first steps that
we’ve come to in the last year or so are being implemented
in a design that’s all about a financial turnaround. It’s been painful
but also successful. We’re in a far
better place today than we were just a year
ago or two years ago. And I want to thank you for
your collective hard work to get us from where we
were to where we are. In order to describe
a turnaround plan, though, I think we have
to build some context. When I arrived at EMU in
2016, I found the institution with deep strengths, many deep
strengths upon which to build. We had a legacy of
170 years of existence with highly
recognized brand that were focused not only
on our preparation of educational
professionals, but the work that our professors have done
in fields that are far ranging. We have a passionate
alumni base. Over 100,000 alumns live in a
five county, southeast Michigan region. We have a diverse and
engaged student body. In fact, we have one of
the most diverse student bodies in the state
of Michigan, which is a defining element of who
we are and who we seek to be. We have a rich history
of public service, underscored by the
Carnegie Engage Institution Classification that
we’ve held for 10 years. We care about our
community and we show it. We need to share that
fact because it’s a powerful reality. A central aspect of
who we are and what we’ve dedicated
ourselves to can be seen in our hardworking faculty. Frankly, we don’t talk
enough about this. As we see, this as a
signature element of Eastern. We’re going to
talk more about it, not only today, but this
year, next year, and the years to come. Our faculty are deeply
engaged with students in a way that sets us
apart from public education institutions that look
like us and act like us. Ask our students about their
most memorable stories, their most memorable
experiences, the most salient memories they have of
Eastern, and they’ll cite an experience they
had with a faculty member. Frankly, our faculty
work harder than most and they deserve the
recognition that these students give to them. But coming to
understand the shining virtues of our
university, I also discovered that we had
financial challenges. They’re based on a
number of factors, and actually, they had
snowballed over not one or two years, but several years. We were not in good shape. State aid had been slashed
by $11 million in 2012, and still, we’ve not
recovered to prior levels. Michigan today ranks
44th in the nation in support of higher education. That’s just a
miserable statistic. 44th in the nation. I tried to find another
word other than miserable, and I thought,
miserable is right. It is a miserable statistic. Enrollment was
declining, reflecting an evolving demographic for
Michigan that we all know. An evolving demographic
that matches the Midwest and affects most regional
public universities. Despite those challenges,
we had not sufficiently reduced our staffing, even
in the face of decreases in our two primary resources for
revenue, tuition and state aid. As a result, the
university incurred seven consecutive operating
deficits from fiscal ’11 to fiscal ’17, with a
total of nearly $60 million in overall deficit. That, my friends, was
clearly not sustainable. With those deficits, our
reserves were dwindling. They fell below peer
benchmarks, they fell below national
accrediting agency benchmarks, and they fell below
bond rating benchmarks. The Higher Learning
Commission had placed us on a financial watch list. That’s a relatively neutral
term for a dire situation. It goes without saying that
it’s a designation that we wanted to avoid, and
we knew we must avoid. But it was clear
that action could not be in a five-year span
or a 10-year span. We had to quickly take action. So we began what I
think is best described as a multi-year turnaround plan. We took difficult steps,
including reducing our staffing to reflect a smaller institution
more in line with our revenues. We reduced expenses. For all of our campus, we shared
in a painful but necessary experience. Looking outward, we launched
external business partnerships in dining and parking. The latter of
those partnerships, well, they had a few bumps in
the road, pun all intended. But those changes allow
us to focus more resources on the time that we had– the resources and
time that we have with our core mission,
which is educating students. They provide a significant
financial shot in the arm as well that
allowed us to escape from that financial watch list. The recently completed Voluntary
Employee Retirement Incentive Program, lovingly
called VERIP, provided an excellent opportunity for
us to become more efficient and focus on what
Eastern does best. I want to emphasize
that VERIP was not simply about saving money. Instead, it was about
giving us flexibility to reorganize and look at
ways we were doing business. We should not,
therefore, and will not, fill all those positions. Now that VERIP is done,
we’re reviewing the processes and the organization of
our work and divisions to make us more efficient. Our turnaround efforts
have positioned us to continue to make focused
and strategic decisions to support student success. I have to emphasize, again, that
I know how extremely painful all this has been for
you and for all of us. Every employee at
this university has sacrificed by
doing more with less. But I’m pleased to report that
our sacrifices are paying off. Our turnaround plan, while
not completely– while not all yet complete,
has been successful. Let me list a few
of the successes. After seven consecutive
years of operating deficits, we’ve had two years of
balanced operating returns, fiscal ’18 and fiscal ’19. We’ve doubled our
unrestricted reserves, and HLC removed us from
that financial watch list and reaccredited the
institution for 10 more years. We strategically invested
in campus infrastructure to reduce expenses and
to lay the groundwork for a long-term program
of financial stability. What do I mean by this? Well, I tried to think of one
good example of a construction or a project that was
meaningful but maybe not all that eye catching. So I thought about
those orange fences that were around the south
part of campus in 2017, we called it the
Loop One Project. It provides services
to many buildings in that area, that at one
time, Mr. Donovan told me, you’re lucky when you turn the
lights on in the morning Dr. Smith, that they come on. That was a big project. You don’t see a lot of
glitz from that project, but now I’m
confident, when I turn the lights on in Welsh
hall, they indeed will come on and stay on. We installed a cogen facility,
reducing our energy expenses. The huge turbine
that exists there has 93% of campus electrical
needs built into its system, and it generates almost
98% of our thermal needs in the form of steam heat. The sustainability gains
for the cogenerator are incredibly significant. Its results bring
us 21,000 tons of reduce carbon dioxide,
equivalent to 78 million miles driven by the average
passenger vehicle, Or the preservation of 260
pristine acres of forest. This project is this is also
achieving an annual net energy savings to the University
of more than $2.8 million. We renovated Strong hall and
are renovating Sill hall. We’re also doing
renovation at the Rec/IM, thus showing that we’re
undertaking projects that support students and faculty, in
high demand academic programs, in terms of quality
of life as well. I want to make it clear
that we have more to do. Overall, I’m pleased to
report, this year is different. We’re financially
stable, and I want to take just a moment
to thank our labor partners for their strong
labor management relations that were the key to the
success of this turnaround program to date. And I’m grateful for
their partnership. And I know we have more
to do, and I look forward to working with them. Thanks for these
collective efforts. We’re in a position to
invest in Eastern’s future, and to continue to position
ourselves to best serve our students in the most
challenging of times. And I think, do we
have a bright future? Absolutely. We have a plan, and I
think as the plan unfolds, we’ll all be excited about it. We’re organizing to make
future strategic investments in the university built around
our existing strategic plan. As many of you will
recall, the strategic plan was developed through
a campus-wide process. It involved extensive
participation by students, faculty, and staff. And now we’re updating
the strategic plan with a devoted group of
students, faculty, and staff. Three institutional
priorities have been outlined and the strategic plan
continues to guide our action. The first of those promoting
student success and engagement. Second, delivering high-quality
academic programs and quality research, and third,
engaging and serving EMU and our regional communities. Additionally, an important
overarching institutional commitment to diversity,
equity, and inclusion will be woven into all
of these priorities. These priorities should guide
our work each and every day. They’re our pathway
to the future. To ensure that this
can happen, work groups are charged with updating
the strategic plan, and they’re focusing on
specific institutional goals to support those priorities. They’re also charged
with proposing institutional outcomes
that will allow us to measure whether
we’re making progress toward those goals. Together, these
goals and outcomes will form a roadmap for
our strategic investments that will drive our
university forward. As a first step
in that direction, today, I’m extremely
pleased to announce the creation of the University
Strategic Investment Fund. We’ll commit $250,000
dollars next year, designed in next year’s
budget, to support new campus initiatives that
support and enhance our institutional priorities. Proposals could include
projects related to faculty initiatives,
student retention, or community engagement, or other
just really great ideas. Requests to access
these funds will come through an
annual budget process, and we’ll ask for
feedback from campus as we refine the criteria
for this new and exciting initiative. In the meantime, we need to
look at the excellent work that we’re doing every day
that drives and surrounds these institutional priorities. First what do we do to continue
to promote student engagement and success? Obviously, this is
the heart of our work. A teaching-focused institution. An institution that’s life
depends on opportunity. So far, we’ve done
solid work with this institutional priority. For example, six
year graduation rates have increased
significantly for a variety of student populations. These include students who
receive our Educational First Opportunity Scholarship
that we know as EFOS. Our student athletes
whose cumulative GPA is at an all time high, 3.27,
and other populations as well. The real magic of this is
that our overall six year graduation rate has increased,
not only for subcategories, but overall. These improvements
reflect the commitment of our faculty and
our staff as well as our strategic and intentional
student persistence efforts. It demonstrates our increased
focus on support and support systems that include things
such as improved advising. Our efforts also include the
ReUp program, in which we have a partner who’s
helping us locate and re enroll students who
stopped out at Eastern. The program has helped us enroll
176 students just since summer. Similarly, our
Engage Eagle Corps combines debt forgiveness
and public service in tandem with community
programs to re-engage students who have left EMU or
consider leaving us as a result of
financial challenges. We’ll have our first graduate
from the Eagle Engage Corps walking across commencement
stage in December. The mentor collaborative
was launched to pair at risk
incoming first year students with older students. Initial data shows strong
engagement and progress. Now, going forward,
Provost Longworth has designs on
expanding that program to make it even more powerful. Another example of our
efforts to facilitate student persistence is the launch of
our Diversity Campus Climate Assessment, for which
I think you’ve received more than one communication. The initiative includes
several components, and we’ll provide a roadmap for
a variety of future actions. The process stems from the idea
that a welcoming climate is crucial for student engagement. The assessment is an
exciting and vital exercise in self-understanding,
and central to helping us succeed, not only
individually, but collectively and institutionally. This must be our focus,
supporting our students to ensure that they persist
in each class and each year towards that end goal
of obtaining the degree. That’s a goal to keep in mind
as we work day in and day out. The second area of
focus is deliver high quality academic
programs and research. You can see this emphasis
in the new academic programs that we’ve launched, bachelors
in electrical and computer engineering, a
bachelor of science in engineering, a technology
and workforce education. A bachelor of science in
engineering technology and workforce education. I told you Jeff, I
can’t do long sentences. A master’s in data science
and analytics, a master’s in finance, and a bachelor’s
degree in teaching English to speakers of other languages. Other programs continue
to be successful and grow, such as our
neuroscience program, where we continue to be
extremely proud of the 400% growth in that program
since it launched in 2016. Last year, I called
on our campus to develop more high-demand
online programs, especially in business,
health care, and technology. This past year we launched
an online master’s degree in curriculum, a master’s in
early childhood education, a master’s in special education,
and a bachelor’s degree in cyber defense. But more must be done in
generating online offerings. Graduate students in particular
demand online programs because they don’t want to
give up that job that they’ve worked so hard to get
to come back to school, and their employers
will pay for the degree quite often, as long as
the employee keeps working. Undergraduate students
also want the flexibility of online education for
a myriad of reasons. In addition to our
academic developments, our faculty continues to
secure grants at record levels. For example, our awards
are up 36% since 2016, and the number of proposals
are up 20% since that year. Going forward, we’ll
continue to actively invest in strategic programs that face
and focus on talented faculty, and what the talented faculty
can bring to their laboratories and to their classrooms. Our final institutional
priority is engage and serve EMU and its regional
communities. Eastern continues to
focus on this priority in a variety of areas, including
supporting local schools, ensuring safety and security,
and promoting community health. The launch of Engage at EMU
and the office of Engage at EMU has resulted in a
remarkable array of work that’s gone forward with
area schools and the larger community. I could take
another half an hour and talk about all the things
that Decky Alexander sent me to put in the speech. I will not. But I will highlight
one example that I think is a great Illustrator
of the work that’s done there. It’s called
Collaboration for Change, a partnership we have
with Ypsilanti Community Schools in Washtenaw County. It seeks to promote
student success in and through the community. The partnership was
launched this past summer with the goal of
creating new initiatives and fortifying existing
ones, such as bright futures, the after-school program, and
pathways for future educators which supports high school
students in their goal of becoming teachers. Also in terms of
student support, this past year the
College of Education has engaged in a
yearlong immersion in Estabrook elementary school. Just down the street, just
down Cross street from Eastern. The effort led by Jackie Derose,
a professor, teacher education and this year’s
Porter chair, is part of a deep and
mutual collaboration between the faculty,
the principal, and the staff of Estabrook
and the College of Education. As part of that collaboration,
20 Eastern teacher education students were embedded
in the school, as they took their curriculum
and practicum courses there. This fall, the program’s being
expanded to Holmes elementary in Ypsilanti township. In terms of safety,
our police force now patrols a considerable
area around campus as we work to support Ypsilanti
and county law enforcement. Our officers are fully sworn
in the city of Ypsilanti and deputized in
Washtenaw County. We have more than
900 cameras on campus helping to ensure that
Eastern is even more safe for its visitors, as
well as its own students and all of us as employees. Finally, I think you can see a
vivid example of the evidence of community engagement. If you walk or drive by the
Northwest end of campus, where you will see the
IHA health center at EMU, set to open on November 4th. The center is a collaborative
between IHA, Saint Joe Mercy Health system, and Eastern
Michigan University. It will provide primary
health care services to students, faculty, and
staff, as well as to members of the community at large. You’re all invited to
the community open house, to be held 10 AM to noon
on Saturday, November 2. And I will assure you, this
will not be the first invitation that you’ll receive. I don’t know what the
games are going to include, but I asked the
other day if we were going to check
temperatures in one’s ear or something of that nature,
and I didn’t get an answer. But it’s not just our
programs and our partnerships that propel our vision. The final priority that
we list between this area is communication. Notice the serve
EMU aspect here. This involves enhanced
communication, as you know, I think all of you know,
we’re working very hard on a variety of fronts
to make that happen. This annual address
is just one example of how we’ve tried to increase
communication internally as well as externally. Before I close, I’d like to
touch on two more efforts that fall outside the three
above priorities, but are critical to EMU. The first is enrollment. It’s been falling
at universities across the Midwest, and
in Michigan specifically. Eastern is not
immune to this trend. There are fewer high school
students in Michigan impacting our first year
enrollment, and there are fewer community college
students, which certainly affect our transfer enrollment. It is important to
note that these are not isolated areas of decline, you
see them throughout Michigan, as I said earlier,
throughout the Midwest. We know that despite
those trends, the growing demand for online
opportunities that exist, we still must have a focus,
a strong focus, and attention to what our classes
that are ground based. While ground based
enrollment has to be crucial to our future. We’re working diligently
on several fronts to seek students
from near and far. Utilizing traditional media
channels and an increased emphasis on digital
outreach, we’re sharing more positive
information more broadly about our university,
its academic quality, its academic rankings, our
students, our recent graduates and their success, and the
vibrancy of our community. Our enrollment team continues
to aggressively seek outreach efforts
with additional focus on sharing the academic
quality mission throughout the
recruitment cycle. We lead the state in
articulation agreements. We now have 150
articulation agreements, more than any other
institution in our state. And just last year,
we launched 10. There are universities that
didn’t have more than 10 just a few years ago. We launched 10 in the last year. We continue our
outreach work as we recruit international students. We’ve been active in Asia,
specifically India and China, as well as in the Middle East. We’re also undertaking
a comprehensive review of our enrollment practices,
specifically as they pertain to graduate students. The College of Arts and
Sciences Dean, Dr. Dana Heller’s leading a broad effort
designed to identify the impediments in graduate
recruitment, our processes. How do we streamline
those processes? How do we make the
functions easier to allow students to
enter our university and be the graduate student that
they want to be here at EMU? We will, through this process,
increase graduate enrollment. Finally, to help
support all the efforts that I’ve noted
throughout today’s talk, a comprehensive multi-year
fundraising campaign continues to be developed. This is a major initiative. Its scope is without
precedent at Eastern. A feasibility study
is being undertaken, interviews with major
stakeholders are underway. Our campaign case
statement noting why Eastern is worthy of
support has been drafted and is currently being reviewed. In the meantime, please
be on the lookout. Please be on the lookout for
our annual faculty and staff campaign that will
be coming soon. Regarding that campaign,
I say this often, we cannot credibly ask others to
invest in our university if we as employees don’t
invest ourselves. In closing, I want to emphasize
the sense of community that we have on campus. It truly exists in
good times and in bad. We possess a singular
ability to work together, the potential to
realize our vision, and to further implement
the plans that I’ve laid out for today. In that vein, I call on each
of you to think of one thing. It can be small or
it can be large. From your area or just from
an idea that you have that would allow one, two, or
three of these priorities to come together and help us
make the challenge of serving our students even more robust. You can email your
thought to me, [email protected], you can’t
possibly forget that email. And its lower case
or upper case. [email protected] As I conclude, I know many
of you will have feedback, you’ll have questions. As we did last year, I’ve
asked our executive council, we’ll all congregate
up here and we’ll be happy to talk
and answer questions or to listen to ideas. Again, don’t give
us all the ideas. I want some– certainly some
to come to [email protected] Please do come down and converse
with us, if time allows. And with that, I want to
say thank you very much. Thank you for your time. I know this is an incredibly
busy point in the semester. I thank you for being here. Those of you who
are watching online, I thank you for taking time out
of your day to watch as well. It is a privilege for
me to partner with you and to be your President at
Eastern Michigan University. Thank you very much. [APPLAUSE]