WMU News

Western Michigan is a great university

Feb. 11, 2003

KALAMAZOO -- On Thursday, Feb. 6, Western Michigan University Interim President Daniel M. Litynski delivered his "State of the University" address during the annual Academic Convocation at the Fetzer Center. Below is the complete transcribed text of the president's address.

Media contact: Matt Kurz, 269 387-8400, matt.kurz@wmich.edu

 

State of the University

by Dr. Daniel M. Litynski
Interim President of Western Michigan University

February 6, 2003

Before we begin, I am reminded of the events of last Saturday, surrounding the space shuttle Columbia. I wonder if we can we please take a moment of silence to remember the many heroes who sacrifice themselves for us each day and occasionally pay the ultimate price. May we also remember those among us, including some of our own students, who have been called to active duty, leaving family and professions behind, to serve and to protect the nation.

Thank you.

Western Michigan is a great university.

It is a university with a marvelous past, a dynamic present and a bright future. It is a dynamic institution with vision, values, and a commitment to excellence. It is a multifaceted learning community. It is a resource that many of our constituencies draw upon. It is a treasure that contributes to the intellectual and economic development of our community, state, and yes, even the world. Our University is a treasure for us all.

The state of our University is exciting and it is my honor and privilege to report on it to you this evening. The past hundred years have built a strong foundation. Our University is stronger and more vibrant than ever before, yet faces some great challenges in the months ahead. So as we begin our centennial year, it is fitting to take a broader perspective and to the wider view of years past and those yet to come, as we lay the cornerstone for our next century.

Our University has a marvelous past.

One hundred years ago, our University was born here in Kalamazoo, in a community that had successfully competed with 27 other communities. And it became the home for a new state normal school here on the west side of the state. We can all be thankful to our predecessors, who had the courage to be able to stand up and do that.

Much has changed in the last 100 years. There have been several name and mission changes marking the growth and the ascension of this great University.

Yet unlike many other institutions, Western has had remarkable continuity of leadership. During its first 100 years, there have been only six presidents. Each brought his own unique capabilities that were appropriate to the time. The vision, administrative skills and academic prowess of Presidents Waldo, Sangren, Miller, Bernhard, Haenicke and Floyd helped transform us from a normal school into a major university.

But the great accomplishments of the past century resulted from the creativity and hard work of all members of the University. Time and again, we have heard of the innovations of faculty and of students in the nurturing environment that has been Western Michigan University. The strength of our University has been the work of diverse individuals who came together as a team. That team has produced quality education for the over 210,000 graduates since our founding--those who came to seek, to learn and to prepare themselves for the future. In the process, they transformed themselves, our University and the state, as well as the nation.

In the fall semester of 2003-04, this coming fall, we will begin our centennial celebration, officially. We will be proud of our 100-year history, and will do many activities, which we will talk about.

Drs. Ed and Ruth Heinig have done a wonderful job leading a campuswide committee charged with creating an appropriate and memorable celebration of our first 100 years. There will be a host of activities and events that will be unveiled this year, the details of which can be found on our University's Web site. We invite our extended community to come join us for all of the activities that will take place, celebrating our centennial.

Western has a marvelous past.

Western Michigan University has a dynamic present.

Any great organization is concerned with some key items. I like to think in terms of mission, people and resources. I would like to talk about our present state of our University in that context.

Mission

Our vision and mission, adopted one year ago, states our commitment to being a student-centered research university; a source of new knowledge and a resource for those who want to learn; and a premier, nationally-recognized learning and knowledge-generating organization that serves the needs of the people of Michigan and is globally engaged.

But what does it mean to be a student-centered research university?

As a university, Western provides a rich and diverse array of educational opportunities in the liberal arts and professional areas. A research university environment suggests a faculty that is routinely engaged in the generation, in the synthesis and the transmission of new knowledge that has the potential for lasting effect on society--knowledge that stimulates the faculty, as well, and the students, and promotes lifelong learning.

A student-centered research university places students at the heart of its academic activities, and organizes and recognizes the centrality of education as the primary role of the faculty. As a student-centered university, we find ourselves concerned with education of the whole person--as student and as future citizen. We have developed a much stronger emphasis on graduate education over the past few years, yet undergraduate students remain at the core of what we do.

With this vision and mission in mind, how about our people?

People

We have students from almost every state in the union and 104 foreign countries. Over the past year, we have seen our enrollment grow to nearly 30,000. This has been the fourth consecutive year of enrollment growth that we have experienced. We have indeed become a "university of choice." This is especially true for the citizens of Michigan. To appropriately manage this growing enrollmentfor the last three years, we limited enrollment. But this year, for the first time in our history, we set up a waiting list, so that we could accept not just the first but also the best-qualified students who apply.

We have close to 3,500 faculty and staff who provide over 250 degree programs in seven degree-granting colleges. We educate and graduate teachers, health care practitioners, engineers, scientists, artisans, musicians, pilots, leaders of industry and many more. We award approximately 5,000 degrees each year--to women and men of diverse faiths, culture and race. The majority of these are citizens of Michigan who will live in and contribute to our region. But a significant number also come from around the globe and around the nation. Our international students come and enrich our educational experience and our lives as we hope we enrich theirs. Many of them return to their countries as friends and unofficial ambassadors for our University and for our country. We now have over 145,000 alumni living worldwide. Western Michigan University has global impact.

Excellence

Part of what we do, of course, involves our commitment to excellence. It can be found in many ways. We have faculty and students doing cutting edge research in a multitude of disciplines. The results are manifested in books, professional journals, papers and many other scholarly activities.

One shining example of this excellence can be found in the Lee Honors College. Our community of 1,200 scholars is among the best in the country. With an average ACT score of 28 and a high school GPA of 3.9, the excellence of this student body is on a par with the best institutions in the nation.

Academic excellence can also be found in our Graduate College where Alicia Alvero, a doctoral student in psychology, became the first WMU student ever to earn a Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship for Minorities.

Alicia is one of more than 6,000 graduate students who study here in Kalamazoo and at our branch campuses across the state. Under the leadership of Dean William Wiener and with the support of our academic colleges, graduate education is a growing and vitally important part of our institution.

An example of excellence and courage can be found in junior basketball standout Kristin Koetsier, the 2002 recipient of the V Foundation's Comeback of the Year Award. A two-time All-MAC First Team selection, she won the 2002 V Foundation Comeback of the Year Award after overcoming a knee injury and two life-threatening blood disorders to return as one of the top players in the Mid-American Conference.

Another ringing example of our excellence can be found in the College of Fine Arts, headed by Dean Margaret Merrion. The University Chorale, the premier choral ensemble of the School of Music, recently was named grand prize winner of Europe's Fourth International Robert Schumann Chorale Competition. Thirty-nine choirs from 16 countries were selected to compete in this prestigious competition, and we won.

Our students continue to demonstrate their excellence on the state and national stage. Another example is Benjamin Appleby of Hastings, Mich. Ben is one of just three students from the state of Michigan, and only 80 nationally, to be named a Udall Scholar in 2002. While this is impressive, considered that Benjamin was the only Udall Scholar named from a public university in Michigan. He is our school's third consecutive recipient of this prestigious award for environmental studies.

Turning to excellence among our faculty, consider your colleague Dr. Paul Maier, the Russell H. Seibert Professor of Ancient History. He has been with us for more than 40 years and his most recent publication "The First Christmas," is a revised documentary on the Nativity that he first published in 1971. Truly one of our most prolific scholars, he is the author of 15 books.

Another colleague of note is Dr. Jay Means. Tonight, we can announce that Dr. Means has been named the Gwen Frostic Professor of Environmental Studies. Dr. Means, who came to us in 1997, has distinguished himself on a number of important environmental research projects. You can expect to hear more about his research in the future.

And our colleagues in the Department of Mathematics are known worldwide for their research on graph theory and conbinatorics. They host a Quadrennial International Conference on Graph Theory, Combinatorics, Algorithms and Applications, which will be held in 2004. While at this conference they will discuss research on the mathematics behind DNA coding, airline routes and communication networks.

And Regena Fails-Nelson, associate professor of teaching, learning and leadership was recently named president-elect of the Michigan Association of Early Childhood Teacher Educators. They have been very active, of course, in teacher education preparation, preparing to teach children from birth to eight years. For those of us who heard Gov. Granholm's speech last evening, this is, of course, an area of great interest now to the administration in Michigan.

Research

There are numerous examples of the exciting research that is being conducted by our faculty and students.

Research funding grew to over $43 million in the 2001-02 academic year, and under the leadership of Vice President for Research Dr. Jack Luderer, grants for the current year to date already total $20 million!

With a grant from the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of International and Cultural Affairs, faculty members from geosciences will team with colleagues from two Egyptian universities to address water supply problems in one of the most arid areas of the world--the Sinai Peninsula and the eastern desert of Egypt. The project director is Dr. Alan Kehew, chair of the Department of Geosciences. Cathleen Fuller, overseas program coordinator for WMU, and Drs. William Sauck and Duane Hampton, both associate professors of geosciences, will serve as co-directors of that project.

Dr. Jan Bedrosian has been awarded a National Institutes of Health grant to help those with serious communication disorders communicate more effectively. An internationally recognized researcher in augmentative and alternative communication, she is using the grant to fund four experiments over a three-year period. Each of these is designed to help find information on her particular theory of disordered communication, which he has developed with colleagues from around the nation.

Senator Carl Levin traveled to WMU at the end of October to announce a recently approved $2.6 million EPA grant that will be used to establish the Great Lakes Center for Environmental and Molecular Sciences at WMU. The new center will combine the resources of our environmental researchers with those of the energy and environmental division of the Ann Arbor-based Altarum, a nonprofit research and innovation organization formerly known as ERIM. Dr. Charles Ide, director of our Environmental Institute, will work on the project, along with Dr. Jay Means, our new Gwen Frostic Named Professor.

Technology transfer

In addition to these research activities of our faculty, Dr. Luderer's office is aggressively pursuing technology transfer initiatives. As you know, we have been granted patents over the past few years, from a couple of firms: Procter & Gamble and Ford Motor Co.

Just last month, we announced another significant tech transfer, when Pharmacia gifted to the University global patents for a category of drugs known as Xemilofiban. This new drug, if successfully commercialized, has the potential to trigger new life science development work in Kalamazoo, give doctors a possible new option for treating cardiac patients and generate a new revenue stream for the University. Next week, we will be announcing the name of a firm that will be in charge of commercializing that product.

Resources

For people to demonstrate excellence in accomplishing our mission, we often need resources of various types.

Although we are a state-supported public university, less than 50 percent of our operating funds are now provided by the state of Michigan. We are all well aware of the budget concerns now, in our nation and in our state.

Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to seek other sources of revenue to support and to strengthen our programs and activities. We do this through tens of millions of dollars of external funding for research and scholarly projects. These funds are raised from federal and state agencies, collaborative partnerships with other public sector organizations and private sector entities, and the generosity of our alumni and friends.

Fund raising

Turning now to our fund-raising activities, you may recall that in August 2001, we announced "Partnering for Success: The Centennial Campaign for Western Michigan University." The Centennial Campaign has a goal of $125 million. With a time frame of five-and-one-half years, the Centennial Campaign is scheduled to conclude on Dec. 31, 2003. Gifts from this campaign will provide funding for five areas of priority: student support, faculty support, programs, equipment and facilities. The excellence of our faculty and students is being recognized and rewarded by our alumni and friends who have contributed more than $119 million to date. This represents over 95 percent of the campaign goal in just 83 percent of the time. So we are well ahead of schedule, and we anticipate we will surpass our goal by the time of the close of the campaign. But we are not there yet, so please encourage all of your friends to continue to support the campaign as we go through this year.

A few recent major commitments were received: A $1.2 million gift from the Bronson Healthcare Group in support of the new College of Health and Human Services facility; a $1.5 million anonymous gift in support of the new College of Health and Human Services facility, also; and a $1 million gift from Mr. and Mrs. William U. Parfet for unrestricted use. As many of you are aware, Bill Parfet is the chair of the centennial campaign. We also have received a $4 million unrestricted anonymous gift from one of our supporters. We indeed have a great deal of momentum, as evidenced by our success to date, and I am truly grateful for the ongoing generosity that is being shown to our University by our many friends and supporters.

"Partnering for Success" is the campaign theme--it is also a key concept and method of operation for our University.

Partnerships

The partnerships that we form with research funding agencies and our donors are only a small part of the collaborative efforts that characterize our activities and successes.

Other partners who we work with and who assist us in our mission include other educational institutions, locally, nationally and internationally; our government at various levels; as well as economic development agencies.

We look for partnerships that can leverage our resources and benefit all participants. Given the current climate, such activities will become increasingly important, and we must continue to step up our efforts in this area.

One of our most successful collaborations is on the Parkview Campus. Under the leadership of Associate Vice President Bob Miller, we have what is arguably one of the fastest-growing and most successful business, technology and research parks in the nation. There are currently 12 businesses that have committed to the park, with more to be announced in the weeks and months to come. These corporate partners are engaged in the areas of life science, information technology and advanced engineering.

Each has a great potential to bring jobs and economic activity to the region. And, importantly for the University, each is committed to working collaboratively with our faculty and our students to add value to the institution and our core academic mission. This is truly a win-win situation. It is compatible with the TIER initiative that was announced by Dr. Floyd last year and the Technology Tri-Corridor concept re-emphasized by Gov. Granholm in her State of the State address, last evening.

Facilities

Adequate facilities for our students and faculty are important to support a learning environment. We have been fortunate in the past to acquire state capital funding and, in many cases, support from private and community donors to help renew and to replace many of our facilities over the past 20 years. From the Haworth College of Business with Dean Jim Schmotter, where we prepare our future captains of industry, to the research laboratories of Haenicke Hall with its cutting edge research, we have increased our capability and attractiveness to recruit top students and faculty and have improved our environment for the work we do. Dean Michael Atkins and the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences will be moving this year to start operations in our new Parkview campus. Dean Janet Pisaneschi and the College of Health and Human Services are looking forward to their future new facility on Oakland Avenue. Although more difficult in a constrained economy, we will continue to look for opportunities to maintain excellence by partnering with supporters in the community and with donors. We hope that our future projects can be continued in this way, such as the College of Fine Arts and renovation of other buildings necessary, here on campus.

Extended University Programs

The service that our University provides to the state of Michigan has been enhanced by a number of strategic initiatives carried forward by the Office of Extended University Programs.

Among the more noteworthy has been the new Southwest branch campus located on the campus of Lake Michigan College. This new $8.5 million state-of-the-art facility is the first and only building of its kind to be built by a four-year institution on the campus of a community college. In fact, the president of Lake Michigan College was in today, speaking with us, about different ways to collaborate in the future in terms of curriculum and other partnerships.

Another new and exciting collaboration is in Grand Rapids, where we have partnered with the Thomas M. Cooley School of Law to bring legal education to the state's second-largest metropolitan area.

Our successes and accomplishments over the past year have been noteworthy, and I would like to extend my sincere appreciation to our faculty, to our students and to our staff for their superb efforts in moving this great University forward.

Western has a proud past and a dynamic present.

Western Michigan also has a bright future.

We stand at the threshold of our second century of outstanding service. We have reviewed some of the accomplishments in which we can take pride and the names of some of the people who are making a real difference. These accomplishments hint at the concept of university.

University is about the excitement of new ideas. It is about the concept of an academy that stimulates creativity and generates discussion and debate. It is about experiencing the transitions of life; about learning, and learning how to learn; about individual effort, and being part of a team; and about taking action and taking personal responsibility for those actions. It is about knowing and practicing respect and integrity. It is about gaining competence and striving for excellence. It is about becoming an educated person in the broadest sense.

Our values and the public trust

As a state-supported university, we serve the people of Michigan, our students, faculty and constituents. It is a privilege to serve others, but academic leadership, especially at a public university, involves a special trust, and all of us in this room are leaders. We are given the mission and the opportunity to help each individual to grow intellectually, physically, socially and ethically.

In carrying out that mission, we each typically base our work on a set of values. There are many sets of values that we may aspire to. I would like to share my thoughts on a set of values that I have found meaningful and useful for me. These include respect, integrity, competence and excellence, teamwork, leadership and mission focus.

Respect for ourselves and for each person we come into contact with is fundamental --respect for our colleagues, our students and our constituents. It is respect that enables us to embrace the diversity of all individuals and of the ideas that we encounter. A belief in the fundamental dignity of all human beings is a foundation to ensure that there is no place for abuse, harassment of any kind or discrimination. We are committed to the belief that in diversity there is strength.

As public servants and educators, we are keepers of the public trust and treasure and should hold high the values of integrity, honesty and fairness. It is important to be competent in all our areas of responsibility and to be excellent in many.

The importance of teamwork, I think, is shown very well here at Western, which is a team--an integrated organization with many parts whose diversity generates strength, provides continuity and fosters excellence in all that we do. Effective team members know to lead when appropriate, follow when appropriate and support others in both ways. I want to thank all of our colleagues--each member of our team, who has contributed in the past and will continue to play such an important part in our future success.

And let me speak for a moment about the importance of mission focus. For me that is the value that keeps me on track. We know our mission, as an institution, is education. When all the other things are happening and when all the other issues come up, we always have to ask: Is what we are doing core to our mission of education, even as we face the great challenges that we have?

In the State of the State speech last night, Gov. Granholm stated that "Educational Excellence is the No. 1 priority." I believe we all share the same goal. But it will take teamwork and hard work to reach that goal.

We are, and will continue to be, recognized for the innovative way we do things. It's that innovative streak that will carry us past the challenges we face.

Our challenges

What challenges do we face?

A new president

Our immediate challenge of course is the process of finding our next University president. The Board of Trustees is currently conducting this important task and plans to have that individual in place by the fall of 2003. Upon arrival, our president--number seven--will find an institution that is on the rise with great strengths in its people, in its programs and in its facilities.

Budget

However, there are other challenges to be met in the near term, and one of the greatest challenges we may face is the budget.

As you know, the state recently cut its support to all state public universities by 2 percent just before the Christmas holidays, in order to help meet its own budget shortfall this year. We must also prepare for any additional cuts that may come this year from the administration and the legislature. Those are still to be determined. Although numbers in the order of 1.5 percent have been talked about, we will wait and see what occurs. The governor mentioned last night that she will be sending another Executive Order to the legislature cutting expenditures in this fiscal year. The levels of cuts from the state for next fiscal year are potentially the largest in the history of the University and the state and could impact operations significantly, so we need to plan very carefully on how we will go forward. The details of that budget are not available at this time, and will not be for at least another 30 days. We are working, I want to ensure you, with the legislators and the administration in the crafting of that budget, and making our views and the views of other universities known as this process continues.

We are currently taking measures to adjust our budgets accordingly. To prepare for a reduction in appropriations, if it occurs, we have asked each operating unit of the University to do a comprehensive review of its budgets and budget plans. Any reductions will be examined in the light of our mission, and the achievements that we have made in recent years to maintain the long-term vitality of the University. We must maintain or even increase the quality of the education we provide in an environment of constrained or reduced resources. We are all partners in this great mission of the University and I ask you now to please examine each and every area that we have to see how we may be able to reduce expenses and/or increase revenues in the future.

Initiatives

Now, even as we keep the realities of these budget constraints in mind, we must continue our progress. There are several initiatives under way we can mention.

Initiative #1: Strategic planning

In the past two years, a broad representation of our colleagues from across our academy has been examining the mission and goals of the University and how they can be best implemented. A comprehensive assessment plan has been initiated to ensure quality improvement of our academic programs. We are examining various national standard data assessment systems that may help facilitate this and give us valuable benchmarking information for our academic enterprise. Our goal is to help strengthen our great programs by comprehensive long-term planning, review and analysis. These efforts will continue under the guidance of our Interim Provost Elise Jorgens and our Vice Provost Linda Delene.

Initiative #2: The Nanotechnology Research and Computation Center

For the past year, we have been involved in detailed planning for this important interdisciplinary unit. We are pleased to report that at the December meeting, the Board of Trustees approved the establishment of the NRCC with Professor Subra Murali of our Department of Chemistry as its first director. The center is a focal point for several research efforts in nanotechnology already under way at the University and is in the process of seeking external funding to help bring that to another level.

Initiative #3: New student information system in next five years

Our current student information system operates in an environment that, over the next few years, will not be technically supported, without significant and costly stopgap upgrades. We have over the last 18 months sought to assess our options in terms of a new system.

Various committees and groups have provided input towards a new system. A campuswide steering committee consisting of faculty and staff was formed to gather information and seek vendor demonstrations and proposals. Diane Swartz, our vice president for student affairs, and Susan O'Flaherty, executive director of student services, have been instrumental in these important efforts.

Given the magnitude of the investment we will need to make in such a system and the current short-term budget issues that we face, we are continuing to move forward on the assessment of a suitable new system; however the pace of implementation will be dependent upon our future budget situation.

Initiative #4: Classroom technology and computing security

Under the leadership of Viji Murali, our vice president for information technology, we have gone in partnership with various vendors, and successfully completed the first phase of an initiative to dramatically improve the classroom technology available to our faculty members. As a result, 13 classrooms--located in Brown, Dunbar, McCracken, Rood and Knauss--have been equipped with an LCD projectors, sound systems, laptop projection capability, and VCR and DVD playback ability.

Also, looking at security, we hear all the time about hacker-attacks on various systems. We of course are subject to the same, and also subject to many other mandates now coming from the federal government. So, we are looking at ways in which we can upgrade our system to ensure that we can take care of the initiatives and the problems that may arise.

We have asked the Office of Information Technology to undertake a study of the current infrastructure, to implement improvements where feasible and to advise us on the long-term outlook.

These initiatives and others will continue to move us toward our long-term goal of excellence across the campus.

Conclusion

In these remarks, we have selectively recognized, by name, a few individuals for their contributions to the University. But this is certainly only a small sampling of the excellence that we have at our University and especially the excellence represented in this audience today. I am continually impressed by the dedication and the care of the Faculty Senate, of the AAUP leadership and its members, the leaders and members of the staff organizations, and the student organizations. I wish we had the time to honor each and every one of you, but please accept the sincere thanks and support of the University for all the great things you do.

We stand on the threshold of a new century. We came to this point with a proud past and a dynamic present, and we face a bright future. We have a vision, based on values, and we are committed to excellence. We continue to accomplish our mission through the teamwork of people, wisely using our resources entrusted to us. The result is a future that holds the promise of a vibrant learning community; successful graduates prepared for a technologically advancing world; increased research; and successful collaboration partnerships with universities, communities, government and industry. Western Michigan University will continue to advance in its performance and in its reputation. It is a treasure whose richness lies in the diverse people who bring it to life. It is your Western Michigan University.

I thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today and thank you for listening.

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