2010 University Address

2010 State of the University Address: “From Turnaround, to Viable, to Sustainable”

September 16, 2010

President Bob Davies gives the State of the University Address during Opening Session 2010.

“Welcome and greetings to our colleagues, friends and community members.

Before I begin my formal remarks on the State of our University, let me take a moment and thank each one of you for this past year and welcoming me into the community and the EOU Family.  As I reflect on this past year, from the very first moment you made my family, Cindy, Katie, and me, feel at home.  From the fly fishing excursions, the horse-riding tips for parades, participating in SPASM, the numerous theatrical, musical and athletic performances, poetry readings,  the discussions over beers at Mt. Emily’s (maybe I should change Coffee with Bob to Beers with Bob!), inviting me to classes to hear student presentations, letting me drop in your offices and labs during my campus walk-abouts, and all of the great conversations and exchanges we have had in regard to EOU and Eastern Oregon.  All of these, and many more events and moments, have made my family and me feel at home and comfortable here in God’s Country. During this past year, my freshman year if you will, I have experienced, and sincerely appreciate, the Eastern Oregon University culture.  I have seen first hand the magic that is created within our confines as we transform the lives of our students in so many and varied ways.  I have experienced the dedication of our faculty to ensure they know each and every student and work with them as individuals—not as one more faceless, nameless, person taking up space in a classroom.  I have witnessed the enthusiasm and commitment of our staff to ensure that each and every student’s needs are met so that they can continue their educational progression towards graduation.  I can see why our students absolutely identified with our brand promise statement of ‘The University that Works With You.’   I must also commend our facilities staff for keeping our grounds and buildings is such terrific shape.   We truly have a campus we can be proud of.

Over this past year, because of you, I—we—truly have come to love EOU and Eastern Oregon and look forward to spending the next few decades here.   Thank you.

Now, it is my honor and privilege to officially open the 2010-2011 academic year at Eastern Oregon University.   This marks the 81st year in which Eastern will provide an exceptional educational experience for our students and provide the means necessary for them to reach their goals and achieve their ambitions.  This year we will continue to serve as a critical asset to our region that extends throughout rural Oregon and includes parts of Washington and Idaho.  It is true, that in this region, Eastern is not just a cluster of facilities, a group of faculty and staff, or an institution of learning.  Eastern is a community, a civic organization, an economic driver and a symbol of hope, the creator of prosperity, the keeper of ideals and the enabler of dreams and goals.  We stimulate and foster thoughts and ideas that are cultivated and harvested to advance our region in many different, and significant, ways.  This is something Eastern has done for the last 81 years and is the mantle and charge we take forth as we welcome you back, and soon our students, for this, our 81st, academic year.

81 years ago, Eastern Normal School President Harvey Inlow wrote:

…where the first building of the Eastern Oregon Normal School now stands, was a sterile promontory extending into and commanding an impressive view of the beautiful Grande Rhonde Valley.  Unoccupied alike and unresponsive yet to the will and hand of man, lay the rich alluvial valley of the brook where now a college campus awaits the development of future years.  Soon appeared the instruments of surveyor and landscape architect, followed by the busy, directed efforts of many workmen in wood, metal, and stone.  Where nothing had been but barren earth, arose a structure of strength and grace, broad stairs and stately balustrade made way for traffic before unknown.  The physical plant of a new educational institution stood ready for and invited use.  Faculty and students came.  In a day a new center of cultural thought and activity sprang into being where none had been before.  Classes met; assemblies convened; library and laboratory yielded truth and beauty; social organization emerged responsive to community need; sports and recreation contributed to the happy and forceful living; a purpose was born which was to find expression in ideals of service and standards of achievement.    

I often reflect on these words because while he is describing the physical structures of Eastern, he truly is describing the ascendance of a culture, a belief, a new beginning.  He is talking about the future of not only a university, but a community of scholars that is committed to service, learning and advancing our entire region.

Over the past year, we have taken up the charge of those ‘busy workman’ as we put the finishing touches on our own rebuilding of EOU by completing the turnaround that was initiated by Dixie Lund.  The outcomes and results of this last year underscore and emphasize the rejuvenation of our great university and now how it proudly stands ready to serve our students and our region with the ideals and dreams set forth some 80 years ago.

We have been involved in a remarkable turnaround.  We have taken great strides, made significant sacrifices, worked diligently and collectively.  We have taken the necessary steps to turnaround, to save, Eastern Oregon University.  It must be noted that with all of these sacrifices, we did not forfeit the soul of Eastern, we did not bend on what makes her true—and that is our unyielding commitment to student success, maintaining our high expectations of academic quality, and a commitment to be responsive to our community’s needs.  81 years ago, as President Inlow stated, ‘a purpose was born which was to find expression in ideals of service and standards of achievement’ and we remain true to that purpose.

Our foundational principals of access, affordability and community engagement provided a road map to ensure our success in turning Eastern around. It was our charge last year to make her a viable university, and we did just that. Over this past year we can point to many signs of this success.  For example:

  • Last year’s freshman class of 473 was our largest in history.
  •  Equally important, we graduated 687 students last year—the second largest class of EOU in the last decade.
  • Last year, we had a freshman-to-sophomore retention figure of nearly 72%.
  • The list of the numerous faculty members who received Fulbright Scholarships and those who were invited to national and international symposiums and conferences is extremely impressive.
  • Financially speaking, we ended the year with a positive fund balance and put our financial house back in order.
  • One of our students received an international honor to participate in the United Nations Study program.
  • Another student received a coveted internship in Washington D.C. to develop policies for the prevention of human trafficking.
  • Our students performed many amazing theatrical and musical productions.  A highlight was when our students rocked this very stage with the incredible Beatles Celebration concert.
  • And speaking of excellence performances, I would be remiss in not mentioning Steve Tanner’s remarkable performance in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  Steve, I have never seen anyone drool like you did!  I would also mention Greg Monahan’s zombie-like stage presence, but I have to ask, was he really acting or was this just a type-cast?
  • We hosted the 40th Annual Pow Wow and Friendship Feast and we celebrated the 25th Anniversary of our partnership with OSU.
  • We signed an historic memorandum of understanding with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.
  • Our student-athletes excelled on the field of play and in the classroom: nine of our 12 teams competed in Conference or National
    championships and, at the same time, seven of our teams were honored for the academic accomplishments as NAIA scholar Teams. 88 individuals were named as Academic All Conference or Academic All Americans and 168 were named to the dean’s list.  The overall GPA for our student-athletes is 3.02.
  • We received $8 million to renovate Pierce Library and have selected the firm of Allied Works Architecture to lead this design.  Allied Works is internationally known for their work.  They are currently designing Pixar’s new campus and headquarters in California and have completed amazing work for the library at the University of Michigan and many other leading universities.  It is a terrific testament to the leadership of our library that we can attract such a firm to work and partner with us.
  • Inlow Hall’s renovation was not only completed on time, it came in under budget.
  • By working with the Budget and Planning Committee, we invested in key programs that are focused on recruiting and retaining students—in doing so, we looked forward through strategic lenses to what will continue EOU on our upward trajectory.  We invested in academic programs, funded new faculty lines, we supported programs that will enhance student success and leverage current programs and technology, and we invested in EOU’s outreach to develop new philanthropic resources.
  • We retrofitted and modernized many of our classrooms to reflect the learning environment and to enhance the collegiate experience for our students.  I want to emphasize the point that all of the renovations were based on faculty input—we asked, ‘What do you want? What do you need? What will enhance your teaching?’ and those answers provided the direction of the renovations.  We must give credit to our outstanding facilities team for making this happen.
  • Through our auxiliary services budget, we upgraded and retrofitted the EOU Bookstore.  This modernization will have an important impact on our ability to serve students and other customers.
  • And, in July, I officially received notice that the Northwest Commission of Colleges and Universities has reaffirmed, without reservations, EOU’s accreditation.

These are just some of the headlines and success stories from this past year.  But there is one story about EOU, which won’t make headlines, but needs to be told, because it truly exemplifies our ethos of caring about each other.  This past summer, over 440 hours of vacation time—over 55 days—were donated by our classified employees to another classified employee who is battling cancer.  This is truly generous and it is even more remarkable when you realize that the recipient of this gift works at one of our centers off campus and most, if not all of those who donated their time do not even know her personally—they did it because it was the right thing to do.  And yes, this was done on top of the furlough days they already sacrificed.   I am truly honored, and very much humbled, by this act of humanity as a sign of what it is that makes Eastern special.

Collectively, what does this all mean?  Where do we go from here?  Last year, I stood before you and talked about EOU completing its turnaround period and becoming a viable university.  To do that, we had to put ourselves in a position where we controlled our own destiny, in a position where we are not always just reacting to the whims and afterthoughts of those across the Cascade divide directing and steering us.  We have to take the reins of our university, we need to point ourselves down our chosen trail, and have the guts and tenacity to put spurs to hide and ride out our plan.  As I stood before you last year, I outlined five major tasks for us, as a university, to work on, in order to go from a turnaround project to a viable and stable university.

The first was controlling our own enrollments.   This includes not only new students, but also retaining our current students.  This charge is being met.  This year, we will have a freshman class that surpasses last year’s all-time record.  As a result, our residence halls are filled to capacity—North, Daugherty, Alikut, and even Hunt are filled.  Our retention rate will again surpass our peers and be close to 70%.  Our total enrollment will approach 4,200 for the first time in our history, and almost 1,900 of those students on this campus.  This did not just happen—it followed an aggressive plan of recruitment and retention that all of us were involved with.  Our admissions and advising teams in particular played critical roles in our freshman and transfer recruitment efforts.

Our second task was to diversify our own revenues.  As I stated last year—and let me be clear—we are a public university and we will always be a public university that will require state appropriations to be the bedrock of our revenue stream.  However, it is clear, abundantly clear, that we cannot rely solely on state dollars.  We must think about our other streams of revenue—this includes tuition dollars, fee dollars and private donations.  We have initiated several work groups to advise on new strategies regarding tuition and we will need to address the political and economic viability of our current models.  We need to develop a clear policy for tuition that is stable, predicable, and is reflective of not only the quality of our instruction, but also the market and political landscapes.  In regards to private giving, the Foundation had a very successful year.  They raised over $600,000 and they are the only Oregon public university, due to prudent investment strategies, to have their total assets increase last year.  Furthermore, they have created the foundation for an aggressive multi-year fundraising campaign.  I am also very pleased to announce that recently we were notified that we will be receiving a seven figure gift, over a million dollars, for our endowed scholarship fund.  An official announcement will be made later this fall.  This gift didn’t just happen.   It is through the hard work and dedication of the staff in our Advancement Office, as well as through the volunteers of the Foundation that this came to fruition.  Furthermore, it is a direct reflection of the trust in EOU that has been restored over these past few years.

Our third task was to continue to build on our successful outcomes assessment work. Over the past year, we successfully developed university learning outcomes and began aligning those outcomes with programs and activities across campus. We also developed and set assessment cycles for our general education curriculum, our degree programs and our co-curricular programs. Finally, we successfully operationalized and assessed our general education curriculum and a wide range of our degree programs. This important work provides a sound foundation for our continuing planning and assessment efforts at all levels across the university and underscores our shared commitment to teaching and learning.

Our fourth task was to increase shared governance and make it a systemic approach to our manner of doing business.  We have taken great strides in this area by codifying and clarifying the roles of the various governing boards and university-wide committees.  We have increased the communication among the Faculty Senate, the University Council and ASEOU leadership immensely and we will implement the ideas that were presented at the end of last year.  We will also continue to increase communication by hosting a ‘University Hall Meeting’ each term to have an open forum and discussion about our university.

Our fifth task was to have our accreditation reaffirmed.  As I mentioned earlier, this was in fact achieved.  Many people worked diligently on this effort.  In particular I wish to thank and acknowledge the leadership and hard work of Sarah Witte and Michael Jaeger.  They performed well beyond expectations to ensure the successful affirmation of our accreditation.  I think it is important to note some of the findings of the accreditation team.   In their report, they wrote: ‘EOU has a well-functioning campus, which operates according to its mission and available resources.  There is a revitalized sense of optimism on campus… there is a shared excitement about the future of Eastern Oregon University.’  I could not agree more with this statement.  And it is with this level of excitement and commitment that we must now venture from a ‘Turnaround’ university and one that is now viable to one that is sustainable.

As we approach this year, I wish I could say that state—or even system—politics won’t be an issue, that state budgets won’t be an issue, that all we have to do is keep doing what we are doing and life will be grand, that roses will bloom and the sun will always fill the sky.  But that, as you know, is not the case.  What is clear to me is that we have made significant strides in making EOU a viable university.  However, as we look into the future, it is equally clear to me that we must now strive to make EOU a Sustainable University.  In thinking about what makes a sustainable university, I have reflected on the works of many leading strategists as well as the numerous conversations I have had with our own faculty, staff and students.   One of our business faculty members provided me with an excellent definition of a sustainable enterprise.  He said, ‘it is one where your short-term goals are fully integrated with the long-term purpose of the organization and where the decisions you make today do not limit the possibilities of the next generation.  Or, to state is succinctly, don’t screw it up for us now or for your kids!’  Thanks Peter D. for your clarity!

Sustainability has often been used to describe many initiatives, from solely environmental issues to cultural and to profitability.  It is so often used that it is almost a cliché, so let me provide a definition for us to follow for EOU:  When we are sustainable, we will not be reliant on a single source of resources; we will be able to adapt seamlessly to changes; that our use of all resources will be balanced in respect to our streams of all resources; that EOU will be in a position, always, to serve our students and community without interrupting or diminishing those services.

To go from a viable university to a sustainable university, we must challenge our previous assumptions and ask ourselves important and difficult questions.  I am sure it is clear to all of us that our operational environment has changed dramatically over the past 7-10 years.  And it will continue to change—just more rapidly and in many ways, more significantly.  As I look over the next horizon, I see a confluence of three rivers of change that we must be considering and anticipating.  These three rivers of change are:  1) the changes in society, 2) the changes in technology and 3) the changes in resources.  These three rivers of change are flowing at a white-water pace and are converging.  In order for us to ride this convergence, it is time for us to rethink how we conceptualize and operate our university.

Societal expectations for higher education continue to climb and at an escalating pace.  The need for higher education to drive economic vitality has never been greater; this is true for both individual citizens and for larger communities.  We are expected to meet this need through our continuing efforts to discover and shape new knowledge and to bring this knowledge to bear in our classrooms and through outreach and service projects.  We are expected to increase access to higher education, while keeping costs down so tuition stays affordable.  The urgency of these expectations have led to increased calls for accountability and demands of us to change how we go about educating and performing our services.  We need to think carefully how we choose to measure our results and about what we promise society for what we will hold ourselves accountable for.  We need to balance our need to be relevant to the needs of students and society and committed to our core educational functions of knowledge transformation.

Meanwhile, technology continues to move forward at an ever-increasing pace and we need to be at the forefront.  We are expected to be implementing these advances in our pedagogy here on campus as well in our delivery online and through our sites and centers.  Additionally, we must also be implementing technological advances in our administrative and service areas.  We must continually build in new efficiencies and methods of operations if we are to succeed and become sustainable.  Technology is our life-blood and it is imperative that we do not fall behind.

Furthermore, it is clear that our resource model will change significantly.  We are a state university and we will always be a state university—but what in of itself does that mean?  State revenues, for the foreseeable future, are volatile at best and, even under the best projection will not increase over the next decade.  Higher education’s share of this declining revenue is also itself shrinking—yes, the preverbal pie is shrinking even as our meager slice of it shrinks too—this is not a positive position to be in, as any business professor will tell you.  Therefore, we must challenge our presumptions about revenue generation.  This re-examination must include discussions about tuition levels and types as well as the creation of new revenue streams and markets.  We can no longer expect the system to ‘just take care of us’ as we must be proactive in our own efforts in creating revenue streams.  Our challenges are not all about revenues; we must also look internally and determine the way in which we allocate resources and implement long-term strategies to ensure we are putting Eastern in a position to meet not only today’s needs, but also the needs of future generations.  We must ensure we are properly providing resources to those activities that generate positive revenues and preserve those activities that are core and essential to our mission and culture.

While we might be able to wade and make our way across one of these rivers of change, the fact is, we are at the confluence of all three and we cannot stand still—the force is simply too great and we will be knocked over.  Therefore, as we focus our efforts on dealing with the confluence of changes in society, technology and resources, we must integrate five key themes over this next year to guide our thoughts, decisions and actions.  In my mind, we are putting together a puzzle of sustainability that has five interlocking pieces.  When this puzzle is whole, we will have a foundation addressing these rivers of change on which to build a sustainable university.

The first piece, our first theme, starts with US—Eastern’s most important asset is all of you in this room.  Our most important asset is people: the faculty and staff, who make Eastern Oregon University a community—not some cold, heartless, soulless institution.  As such, we must do everything we can to harness the creativity and productivity of those in this room.  We must, and we will, invest in you to give you the tools necessary to not just ‘do your job’ but to excel in your position—this commitment extends from the newest employees announced here today, to our most senior professors and staff members.  And as I talk about people, I need to reveal a fact that we must address and one that cannot wait.  Within the next 10 years, this next decade, more than 60% of our faculty will reach retirement age.  In fact, over the next 3 years, 11 of our faculty members have already committed to a retirement plan.  Now is the time, as we focus on our own future, to plan for the recruitment of new faculty members.  We expect our faculty members to have long careers here at Eastern, so we are making decisions that will truly last a generation.  As such, we must be deliberate about these decisions and think generationally—not just yearly.

As we discuss our commitment to people, it is important to think and act holistically and be deeply committed to ensuring that we have an inclusive community.  The President’s Commission on the Status of Women and our Diversity Committee will be integral in establishing strategies and practices as we move forward recruiting and retaining our future family members.   At the same time, we must ensure that our curricular and co-curricular plans continue reflecting the global community our students will live in.  We must foster the dialogues needed to bring people together to solve increasingly complex problems in an increasingly complicated world.

The second core value and piece of our puzzle is the group of people who will be arriving in a mere 11 days, and of course, these are our students.  This year, we are projected to enroll some 4,200 students, the largest enrollment in our history; our freshman class will be at historic levels; and our residential halls are, literally, full.  These are all good signs.  However, we must realize that we have a very different student body than we did a decade ago.  They are coming with varied backgrounds and expectations.  Our resources will be stretched in many different ways.  Core student service areas will be extended and we must invest in these crucial areas because of their direct impact on our academic environment.  We must continually reinvent our retention efforts, and other student services, to meet the dynamic nature of our students.  We must prepare now for the increasing number of students moving from underclassman status to the junior and senior levels so we do not create roadblocks and bottlenecks that prevent graduation within four years.  In doing so, we must address faculty overload issues and their impact on access and quality.   In short, we must continually recommit to Eastern’s promise of being student centered and reinvent the manner in which we achieve this promise. We must shift our enrollment focus from a term-to-term approach to a strategic enrollment management process that is based over six-and-seven-year time frames.

The third puzzle piece is our commitment to transparency and integrity.  Over the past year, I have worked diligently to ensure that my administration is transparent and I will continue this commitment and will demand it of my vice presidents and all other executive leaders within Eastern.  A critical part of our ability to be sustainable is related to how flexible and nimble we are as an organization.  This can only be achieved if we include in our ethos a commitment to transparency in all of our dealings and decisions.  A key test of this will be forthcoming as we move into what the Governor has called, ‘The Decade of Deficits.’  In order to prepare for this, we must explore our own financial paradigms and models.  As a starting point for this, I feel it is imperative that we analyze and evaluate the outcomes and results of the Implementation Plan for Repositioning EOU for the Future that was put forth by the Budget and Repositioning Team in 2008.  This is known as the ‘BART Plan.’  I am not doing this to scrutinize the decisions of BART nor am I doing this to set up another BART plan.  Rather, I feel it is important to assess ‘where we actually are’ compared to ‘are we where we thought we would be.’  In BART, many assumptions were made with regards to efficiencies and the concentration of duties.  We need to look carefully and see if these efficiencies were actually achieved.  We need to know what was lost because of the required changes and whether those losses are still acceptable now in a new and different environment.  We need to understand what we need and what we do not as we move forward.  To address this, and to be as transparent and as open as possible, I will be charging the vice presidents to first analyze their own areas of operations in terms of the efficacy of the BART plan and to develop recommendations to assist in EOU in meeting the challenges brought on by the confluence of changes that are upon us.  I expect that each vice president will do this in an open, transparent and inclusive process.  Their recommendations and reports will be posted on my web page along with a comment feature to allow for feedback.  These reports will also be discussed with the Budget and Planning Committee, and their recommendations will be shared openly with the University Council and Faculty Senate.  I will also be meeting with various groups of employees to gain their insights and inputs as we move forward.  Furthermore, we will dedicate a university hall meeting to this process to ensure that everyone will have the opportunity to hear first hand the discussions and share their ideas.  The outcome of this process will be a foundation for our discussions and planning in making EOU financially sustainable for the future and see us through the Governor’s Decade of Deficits.

The fourth value is our commitment and connection with the communities that we serve.  Over the past year, I have traveled over 30,000 miles visiting with alumni, potential students, civic and business leaders and anyone else who will have a cup of coffee with me and talk about EOU and our region.  It is clear to me that we have a vast amount of potential to serve rural Oregon.  We can do this by applying the skills and talents of our students and by guiding the work of our faculty and staff to the benefit of our communities in ways we have yet considered.  This can be done socially, politically and culturally, as well as economically.  I am working with our local, state and federal legislators to bring back the Rural Services Institute to help foster these activities.  I am also very interested in working with you in creating a Sustainability Institute that will focus our efforts in the sciences, business and the humanities to create not only a curriculum, but a co-curriculum and a community service center to fill in the larger picture of what it means to have a sustainable organization and outlook—socially, environmentally, economically, and culturally.

The fifth and final value, at the center of our puzzle, is academic excellence.  We are a university that ‘guides student inquiry through integrated, high-quality liberal arts and professional programs that lead to responsible and reflective action in a diverse and interconnected world.’  At our core, we must continue our commitment to academic excellence and quality; otherwise, all of our other efforts are for naught.  This means that we must foster scholarship and pedagogy through effective faculty development and support.  We must look at our systems and structures that support the academic enterprise.   We must, for example, institute academic leadership for the liberal studies program.  We must also determine ways to ensure academic quality in all of our program offerings—regardless of whether the mode of instruction is face-to-face or technology-leveraged.  A degree from Eastern must stand for and symbolize the values and ethics beholden to us by the academy of our peers and colleagues.  We owe that commitment to our students and to ourselves.

These are our keys to creating a sustainable   Eastern—by making unshakable commitments to: our people, our students, our community, transparency and integrity and to academic quality.  These commitments will get us  successfully across the confluence of the rivers of changes in society, technology and resources.  As we go forth this next year, by focusing our efforts in these core areas and by addressing the changes we will see, we will create a sustainable university that we can and will be proud of—a university that is transforming the lives of our students through an education that values and balances both the necessary professional tools as well as fostering the imaginative insights needed to be successful in the dynamic world.

I look forward to working with each of you over the coming year as we advance our great university.  The challenges, and opportunities, that lay ahead of us will require us to provide a great deal of effort and forethought.  The challenges will require us to be bold and diligent in our efforts. They will require us, as it says above the entrance to Inlow Hall, ‘Wise to Resolve and Patient to Perform.’  I am excited by this time and what is ahead of us.  Yes, we are entering uncharted waters and the environment in unpredictable.  But, we have the tools, the strength and tenacity to ride through these rapids and come up on the other end stronger and better.  We have the wisdom to resolve and to perform.

Let us commit to making this, Eastern’s 81st year of providing exceptional educational opportunities, be our finest.  I wish all of you, personally and collectively, a successful year.”

Bob Davies
President, Eastern Oregon University

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Eastern Oregon University