WMU News

President Bailey describes 'The Risk of Standing Pat'

Sept. 27, 2005

KALAMAZOO--Western Michigan University President Judith I. Bailey presented her third annual State of the University address today, Sept. 27, in the Dalton Center Recital Hall.

In her speech, Bailey talked about progress on previously announced initiatives, including review of all graduate and undergraduate programs, working to double externally funded research, strengthening enrollment management, planning for a capital campaign, prioritizing next steps in multicultural and diversity programs and several others. She also described three focus areas for members of the faculty and staff, and she mentioned the accomplishments of several members of the campus community and awarded two faculty members with named professorships.

President Bailey was introduced by Dr. Linda Delene, WMU provost and vice president for academic affairs. The complete text of the 2005 State of the University address follows.

Related articles
Jianping Shen named Sandberg Professor of Education
Steve Zegree is Bobby McFerrin Professor of Jazz

State of the University Address

"The Risk of Standing Pat"

Dr. Judith I. Bailey
President of Western Michigan University
Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2005

Thank you Provost Delene for that wonderful introduction. Good afternoon and welcome.

It is my privilege to report to you for the third time on the state of Western Michigan University. This University is and will remain a strong, vibrant nationally recognized public research university where discovery and learning occur every day.

Two years ago, I asked you to begin a journey with me that would focus on building the inner strength of this University-by making critical improvements to our academic programs, our research initiatives, our level of student service, and our commitment to a diverse and civil campus community.

With your counsel and hard work, WMU's already significant reputation and stature in the higher education arena has grown even stronger. The road we've already traveled is full of accomplishment. The road ahead is full of possibility.

At the end of our journey, I see a future in which Western Michigan University is nationally recognized for the high quality of its academic programs, research and service, and for its innovation and leadership.

I see WMU as the university of choice for academically prepared students. We will welcome them, serve them, teach them, and engage them inside and outside the classroom. We want them to say "I love WMU" and mean it.

I see faculty who thrive on research and scholarly work, teaching and outreach, and who know they are making a difference.

I see staff members who are proud to work at WMU, who are valued for their contributions and committed to doing their best for both students and their colleagues and who treat every interaction with students as an opportunity to serve and assist.

And I see alumni, donors, community members, and elected officials who respect WMU and are eager to engage with our faculty, staff and students to extend opportunities and expand the possibilities.

My dream for the future is both simple and bold. We will aspire to the highest level of achievement in every facet of our university. To realize that dream, we, of course, celebrate what we are. Building on that foundation, we will commit ourselves to making our university work in ways that are innovative, and we will commit to stretching ourselves in ways that will take us outside our comfort levels.

We are at a point where we have the responsibility to envision our future and picture how we want it shaped. We have the freedom to pick what is best of higher education's traditions and combine it with what we do well and what we can do even better. We have the obligation to blend tradition with innovation to improve the quality and strength of our programs and enhance our University's effectiveness.

We are a university dedicated to learning, reflection and preserving the wisdom of the ages. We must become one that is also nimble.

We are a university that engages in basic research. We must become one that not only unlocks the secrets of the universe, but also finds a way to immediately apply that new knowledge in the service of our state and nation.

We are a university that honors tradition. We must become one willing to question tradition and take risks when situations and opportunities demand it.

To quote Bill Ford in a recent interview, "the risk of standing pat is far greater than the risk of being bold."

We cannot stand pat.

We are on a journey and the milestones are passing more quickly than some might think. While this University searched for a new president in 2003, faculty and staff worked hard to reaffirm the University's mission statement and develop a series of strategic directions and a set of metrics for achieving that mission. WMU's Mission Coordinating Group presented its final report to me in July 2003. That plan and those metrics guide us still.

As we renew our commitment to our mission, we must also recognize the impact of the changing landscape of higher education on WMU. To help guide us, I will convene a group of colleagues to select and prioritize the key strategic directions and metrics on which we must focus our investments. The central tenet of the mission statement-that Western Michigan University is a student-centered research university-remains our anchor.

Progress on Initiatives

We have already begun implementing the initiatives, I announced to the campus over the past two years:

We are reviewing all graduate programs and will begin reviewing undergraduate programs next fall.

We are actively working to double externally funded research.

We are examining all degree requirements.

We have strengthened enrollment management in a way that allows us to focus on the retention of enrolled students and the recruitment of more students who are highly qualified. Our goal is to ultimately reach an optimal enrollment for the best use of our resources.

We have begun strengthened enrollment management.

We are reviewing the Diversity and Multicultural Action Plan to prioritize the next steps.

The farther along we move with each initiative, the more critical your advice and collaboration become to the final outcome of this important work. The governance infrastructure of our University is the foundation for our discussion, deliberation and decision-making.

Internal self-examination through rigorous program review usually takes years in the academic setting-years which we can no longer afford to take. We must commit ourselves to finding innovative ways to speed our self-examination along. I will ask you to put your creative abilities to work to make this happen. Make no mistake; the process must be thorough and we may find it difficult. Yet it will be rewarding. We must make strategic and serious decisions about where to invest our resources and talent. As a result of our work, our University will become a stronger institution focused on key areas of academic strength and excellence.

As part of our quality commitment, we are working to re-invigorate undergraduate education. That process is well under way through the review of general education.

Our goal for the University's graduate programs is to achieve national recognition as "best in class." Programs in the College of Health and Human Services are so recognized already and serve as outstanding examples of what we can and must accomplish in the graduate education arena.

As an institution, we are setting goals for our research agenda-again, with your help and input. We must identify areas in which we have existing strengths and for which we see emerging opportunities to secure funding, add additional researchers and pursue excellence.

Each of our academic colleges is making solid progress toward "best-in-class" status for programs on both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Our service areas are moving forward in improving operational excellence. Each new development in research, programming, resource management and the enhancement of student life is an example of the level of quality toward which we are striving.

Three focus areas

With all that is taking place, a key question might be: What can or should an individual do to help move the institution ahead, to become a university of even higher quality? The answer is simple - its implementation perhaps a little less so. Each one of us can help create an environment that:

  • responds with operational service excellence,
  • retains enrolled students, and
  • renews faculty as scholars with a passion for learning.

Let me comment on each of these three elements.

First, we must improve service responsiveness, not only for and with our students, but with each other as well. It is imperative that we achieve operational excellence in every facet of our work. That means we do our work accurately, with pride, and in a timely fashion. We keep our promises with each other, with our students and with our partners, and we deliver first-class services to everyone. We must never be complacent.

Our provost has adopted a mantra that I think we should all share. "You have to major in the minors," she tells us, "to be a major player." She's right. No matter how high our reach, how big our ideas or how clear our focus on the big picture is, it is the little things-slow response time, needlessly complex procedures, institutionalized inconvenience or thoughtless actions-that will keep us from reaching our goals.

I believe WMU's staff is dedicated to our students and faculty. The cross-campus cooperation exhibited when this fall semester began is an example of our staff's ability to build excellence and service improvement into daily work and activities. By working together to create a one-stop convenience venue at the Bernhard Center, we generated much good will with the exceptional service that was offered. Our students and their parents raved about the convenience. Our new faculty and staff also took advantage of the opportunities provided. The lesson here reinforces the value of anticipating the needs of those we serve.

This fall was a good beginning. I was heartened to read in a recent Western Herald the words of WMU freshman Heather Forgione, who described her first four weeks on campus and her feelings about how our University had helped her make the transition from high school to college.

"Being at Western has made the transformation a lot easier to handle," she wrote. "It is comforting to know that not just a few new friends, but a whole college is behind you, making sure you have a great first year. To have been here only a few weeks and be able to call WMU home is a gift within itself."

Thank you, Heather. You've summed up the feeling we want for every one of our students as they begin their college careers with us. We want that feeling of connection and engagement to continue throughout our students' time here.

Second, we must retain our enrolled students. I ask each of you to consider the impact of your every encounter with students. Start with the tone of your "hello" and the sincerity of your offer of assistance. Engage students at every turn. Reach out to them with genuine desire to meet their needs and honor their interests. The research is clear: the more actively engaged students are with faculty, staff, other students and the subject matter they are learning, the more likely students are to remain enrolled, to earn higher grades and, most important, to graduate.

Curtis Deer is a wonderful example of a student who thrived and grew at this University.

Curtis first came to WMU as a curious and committed high school student from Lawrence, Mich., who just wanted a taste of life in the research lab. Today, Curtis is a W. M. Keck Scholar, working on a $1 million nanotechnology effort with Dr. Subra Murali. Curtis is also pursuing his own research on nanodots. He spent last summer as a United Negro College Fund/Merck Scholar at Merck's Rahway, N.J., site. His senior year is being covered by the UNCF/Merck award, and after he graduates in April, he'll head back to Merck for a second summer fellowship and then will be off to graduate school. And I can't neglect to mention that Curtis' achievements also netted $10,000 from the UNCF/Merck fund for his department to use to support the research of other students.

Curtis, we are delighted that you chose WMU and that WMU has been instrumental in your success. We're also proud of the faculty and staff who mentored and engaged you as a student. We will watch your progress with pride.

There's an important lesson here as well. Central to the retention of every student is intellectual and creative engagement that is challenging, that recognizes the importance of academic excellence and sets high expectations for student performance. It is also clear from research that students perform better academically and are more satisfied with their education when faculty and staff are openly committed to their success. Being committed to students' success is accomplished by raising the bar and expecting our students to meet rigorous academic, intellectual and professional standards.

We can have rigorous classes with evident respect among students and faculty.

We can have difficult exams with fairness and notice to students.

We can provide a challenging academic environment where expectations are known, shared and embraced by all engaged with the educational experience.

We can have lively discourse that adheres to our campus standards for civility and our desire to build a welcoming learning environment.

As a university, we must expect nothing less in each of these areas. In turn, we will expect our retention rate to steadily climb to levels above the national average-because we have determined that being "just average" in any area is simply not good enough for Western Michigan University.

Our commitment to diversity will continue to help us both attract and retain a student body that is representative of the world in which our students will live and work. Our conversations on the topic will continue and expand this year. As we move forward on campus, we need to be aware of the broader context and conversations about diversity in our state and nation. Dr. Frank Wu, dean of Wayne State University's Law School, will be with us for the Martin Luther King Jr. celebration in January. Dr. Wu is a leading national advocate and legal counsel on race-related issues, and he offers valuable insights on diversity in higher education.

Third, and finally, I ask each of you, as a member of the faculty and staff, to consider carefully how to most effectively devote your time. This sounds so simple that I hope you will continue to listen. We all make choices each day about the tasks on which to focus our time and talents. Your intellectual or work-place legacy is a product of the choices you make everyday. Whatever you define that legacy to be, devote your time and talent accordingly.

Passion for an academic discipline and commitment to communicate knowledge effectively to students are traits that reflect the central activities of the academy, yet ones that may be set aside in the face of less important but seemingly more urgent competing demands on time and energy. I ask each of you to concentrate on the most curious or pivotal questions in the discipline, the unresolved fuzzy areas, and the tough, controversial issues. Only then, will we be able to bring the passion of our knowledge and creativity to every student in every class, lab, clinic, and practice room throughout the University.

In recognition of this passion for the life of the mind and the corresponding commitment to the well-being of our students, today I am recognizing two faculty members who are exemplars of this passion. I take great pleasure in announcing two named professorships:

The first is awarded to Professor Jianping Shen, who today is designated the John E. Sandberg Professor of Education. Dr. Shen, from the Department of Teaching, Learning and Leadership in the College of Education, receives high teaching evaluations from his graduate students, and he has successfully chaired or served on 35 doctoral committees during the past ten years. Additionally, during that same time period, he has published 45 refereed articles and serves as guest editor for six national journal publications. Professor Shen is also a grant writer of distinction with three recent awards from the Wallace Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education totaling more than $4.25 million. The Sandberg professorship honors a longtime dean of the College of Education, who served in that position from 1971 to 1984.

The second named professorship is awarded to Professor Steve Zegree, who today is designated the Bobby McFerrin Professor of Jazz. Professor Zegree, from the School of Music in the College of Fine Arts, is a superb teacher, internationally renowned for his expertise in vocal jazz who has brought "his" Gold Company to the Lincoln Center in New York as well as the prestigious French Polyfolia Festival. Professor Zegree has led his students to win more than 40 DOWN BEAT awards, and Gold Company performances have firmly established the prominence of WMU's jazz studies program. He is also widely sought as a conductor and clinician, and recently conducted the World Youth Choir and the World Symposium on Choral Music.

Please join me in congratulating these two exceptional faculty colleagues.

Encouraging innovation

I am convinced that passion and innovation and the desire to elevate our University to the highest level of excellence can be found throughout this University.

To recognize those qualities and encourage members of our community to share their creative abilities, I am making a commitment to provide institutional support for the best ideas that can be offered to help us move our University forward. I want to foster bold, forward-thinking that some might even call transformational. I will do this through the creation of the President's Innovation Fund.

I will use unrestricted gifts to establish a pool of $2 million for a series of one-time awards over the next two years that will fund the implementation of innovative ideas designed to challenge us to achieve the highest standard of quality. These innovative ideas-from new interdisciplinary programs to new uses for integrated technologies and beyond-will serve to advance and accelerate the kind of thinking that will build our University's future.

This Innovation Fund will provide an opportunity for faculty and staff members to advance WMU, to challenge the status quo and shape the institution for the years ahead. Details about eligibility and proposals will come in an announcement from my office next month. But I can share this with you now. The Innovation Fund guidelines will be remarkable for the lack of limitations they impose. I want this peer-reviewed competition to be wide open.

Good ideas come in all shapes and sizes. Any idea that improves the quality of instruction, research, student life or any other aspect of our University's core mission areas is eligible. Innovations in e-learning and energy efficiency can compete against new ways of looking at student life, generating support for an interdisciplinary research initiative or redesigning our financial aid program. An innovative use of new equipment in a research setting or a workshop on a groundbreaking topic may be just the idea that enhances the quality of a particular program area.

I am looking forward as much to the energy level I expect this competition to generate as I am to the very real advancements this effort will produce. My confidence is a product of what I have learned about this faculty and staff over the past two years. This University is a treasure trove of talent. May the competition be fierce and the ideas that emerge spectacular.


Ours is a remarkable university with potential I don't think anyone yet fully comprehends. It is up to those of us on this journey together to unleash the power that Western Michigan University can become. Great universities-the ones that are universities of choice for students, faculty and staff-are known not just for the quality of their programs alone, but for the way quality permeates every corner of their campuses.

I've shared the how and the why of where we're headed. Let me remind you of my bold yet simple vision:

  • Western Michigan University - a nationally recognized research university.
  • Students - the center of everything we do.
  • Strong undergraduate education - our core.
  • Research and graduate education - our cornerstones.
  • Quality - our hallmark.

If you wonder if this journey is worthwhile, you need only look at Heather and Curtis. Your work - teaching, research and service to others - transforms lives.

I am reminded of a quote by Winston Churchill

Every day you may make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb.

Our journey is not about us as individuals; it is about the individuals whose lives we as Western Michigan University touch.

Thank you.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, (269) 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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