2009 University Address

2009 State of the University Address: “Eighty Years and Back to the Present”

September 16, 2009

Bob Davies gives his first State of the University Address as EOU's eleventh president.

“Greetings colleagues and friends. It is my distinct pleasure to open the 2009-2010 academic year at EOU.  This is the 80th time we have opened our doors in our pursuit to provide an exceptional educational experience for our students as well as to serve and engage our region.

In 1929, President Inlow greeted 263 students and 13 faculty and staff members.  Today, I am happy to greet 338 faculty and staff who work on behalf of our expected 3,941 students who will join us in a week’s time.

On the rear east door of Inlow Hall, where the students used to enter what was then Eastern Oregon Normal School in the 1930s, it reads, ‘To reveal truth and beauty; to develop intelligence and skill; to inculcate social and civic ideals.’  For 80 years, EOU has been living up to that creed as we have developed a distinct tradition of serving our students and our region.  We have taught needed skills, the fundamentals of reasoning and logic and the appreciation of culture through our commitment to the liberal arts and professional programs. We have promoted a level of civic engagement in our work and in our students to improve our communities in Oregon and beyond.

We have served our students best when we focus, collectively, on the initial promise that was at the heart of EOU in its early history.  I was struck, in reading about the history of Eastern, by the creation of this promise.  It was early in the presidency of Roben Maaske who served from 1939 to 1950.  The state legislature, with global unrest and war on the horizon, declining state and national enrollments, and dwindling state funding, considered it was an excellent time to close Eastern.  Instead, President Maaske led in creating a strategic advantage in promising that Eastern would always provide the citizens of Oregon east of the Willamette Valley access to higher education at an affordable cost.  Furthermore, Eastern would be engaged in meeting the challenges of the times by creating partnerships to seize current, or create new, opportunities.  To deliver this promise and save Eastern, he asked everyone in his opening address to give a ‘pilón’ (pee-LOHN), a Mexican expression meaning, ‘something extra’ as he knew it would take everyone’s concerted effort working together to save the college— everyone knew that if you weren’t helping the cause, you were hurting it.  He too gave a ‘pilón’ and traveled across the state to every small town he could, promoting creative partnerships that not only kept the campus open, but expanded its offerings, added faculty and increased enrollments while keeping the costs of attending Eastern low.  Because of the work of the faculty and staff in delivering on the promise, Eastern was nationally recognized and even received a commendation from President Franklin Roosevelt in 1944.

Through the initiation of the EOU promise, the college not only remained open, but thrived.  President Maaske helped create the Eastern promise of Access, Affordability and Engagement that we continue today.

In many ways, it is symbolic that after 80 years of service to EOU, Inlow Hall is being retrofitted to meet the new demands of the students we serve.  (Please note, this is being funded by stimulus money, and started before I arrived…I am NOT making any changes to my office!)  We can learn from this work as a symbol of what we must do for EOU.  While it’s exterior will not change, as its façade represents what we hold to be steadfast and true—our commitment to students—inside dramatic changes are being made.  In the end, Inlow Hall must be a symbol of service to you, our faculty, staff, students and community.  As such, significant changes will be made to the structure to enhance the flow of operations and our methods of communication must evolve as well.  We must constantly examine and assess the way we serve our students.  Only through these efforts of self-improvement will we strengthen our own presence across the state and region, while remaining true to our founding promise of Access, Affordability and Engagement.

Inlow Hall has many sayings and quotes that we can use today to guide us.  For example, above the rear west door of Inlow Hall, where faculty and staff would enter, a quote from Cicero says, ‘Not only is there an art in knowing a thing but also a certain art in teaching it.’ EOU is fortunate to have faculty dedicated equally to knowing their disciplines and to educating and igniting in our students a passion and zeal for those disciplines.  EOU is equally privileged to have a team of staff and administrative members who are committed to the personal success of each student as they are to their own sons and daughters.

By working together, by making adjustments based on self-evaluation, you have made EOU better.  In my short time here, and I know I will learn even more as I get to know all of you, I am aware of many of our significant accomplishments.  Here are only a few examples of what I have learned:

Our retention of students from the freshman year to the sophomore year increased from 54% last year to over 70% for this academic year.  This was accomplished by all of you recognizing the importance of retention and working together to ensure our students could be successful.  Our advising programs, our first year experience programs, our learning center, our financial aid office, our early notification process, all of the staff and professors who took time to meet with freshman, all of you made student access, success and retention a priority and the results are a direct reflection of your efforts.

Our incoming freshman class is now 379 strong and ranks among the largest in recent history.  Again, we all worked together to ensure that every potential student was treated with the personal care and attention they deserve.  We made significant strategic decisions and aligned our resources to ensure this success.  But it was each of you, who took an active role in recruiting students, who are responsible for this impressive increase in our class of 2013.  As a result of these efforts, we have the happy prospect of reopening residential hall space for all of these freshmen because there is ‘no room at the Inn’ as our Alikut, North and Daugherty Halls are filled to capacity.  Therefore, we are pleased to announce that we are opening two sections of Hunt Hall to meet this new demand.

A team of professors and staff members were honored by receiving the Outstanding ChemLuminary award for their outreach efforts which include the Girls in Science Day annual program, the Saturday Science program held in Ontario and Pendleton, and collaboration with the Girl and Boy Scouts program called ‘Expanding Your Horizons’ held in Yakima.  These programs use a hands-on approach that utilizes and highlights our research labs, equipment and faculty and staff as well as students.

Three professors received Fulbright Scholarships.

EOU received multiple grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Science Foundation.

Students in our Masters of Teacher Education program along with members of the Chemistry Club sponsored Family Science Night and the ‘Importance of Water’ series for local middle and elementary aged students.

Two of our professors from our on-site programs presented at a national conference on their two year study using narratives in assessing developmental levels of learning in business students.

An English professor was selected to serve on the international ‘Semester at Sea Project.’

Professors from our College of Business supported 24 classes in conjunction with the 2nd Annual Entrepreneur Day in which they offered their expertise and guidance to 100s of local business owners.

EOU faculty have published 100s of articles in national and international publications with topics ranging from the Bark Beetle to Watershed Cooperative Modeling.

Six of our intercollegiate teams were recognized by the NAIA for their academic success and 14 of our student-athletes received the coveted NAIA Scholar-Athlete award. 141 of our student-athletes were named to the deans list.

We received $8 million dollars specifically to be used for renovations and upgrades to our library.  We received an additional $6.4 million for needed work on Zabel Hall.

And, of course, the university, I think, concluded a very successful presidential search this past year!

All of these efforts enabled 671 individuals to earn their bachelors or Master’s degree and they have all of you to thank for your dedication to their success.

Again, these are just a few examples and I know that there are many more examples and I look forward to learning about these in the upcoming months during my campus ‘Walk Abouts’ as well my ‘Coffee Chats’ and my attendance at various campus culture and athletic events, the Colloquium program and the numerous other programs we offer.

Clearly, by working together and focusing our efforts, we have experienced success.  As we look towards our 80th academic year, we must continue this spirit of working with one another as we have many challenges and opportunities that still lay ahead of us.

High above the front door of Inlow Hall is a saying from Homer that reads, ‘Wise to resolve and patient to perform.’  This quote is as important today as it was 80 years ago when it was put into place.  We have the wisdom and expertise to meet the challenges we face and we must continually remind ourselves that we must also have the patience, the endurance and fortitude, to see our plans through.

Let me briefly discuss some of these and outline how, by focusing our efforts on the EOU promise, we will continue to advance our university for the betterment of our students and our collective community.

Access is defined by overt acts to ensure that EOU continually provides opportunities for those in the extended region to attend and participate in a quality higher educational experience that includes both curricular and co-curricular activities.  When we think about access, we must highlight and focus not only on our enrollment figures; but also set strategic enrollment goals for on-campus, on-line and on-site.  We must ask ourselves what is the optimal number of students within these modalities that will enable us continually to offer a premium educational experience by preserving small classes taught by professors who have the necessary tools—both technological as well as scholarship resources—needed to fulfill the requirements of their discipline.  We need always to be innovative in our curriculum advances and intertwine our liberal arts and professional programs as we cultivate the mind, body and spirit of our students.  We need continually to exert ourselves to ensure our students have a co-curricular education that provides them with experiences that will further enable them to be successful on the day of graduation in either going into the workforce, attending graduate school or other pursuits.  At a core level, we need to continue to expand and enhance our First Year Experience program and early warning systems to ensure retention and to aid our students from matriculation to graduation.  To achieve this, we must continue our focus on program assessment and use this as a tool for continual improvement.  In addition, we must identify and focus on select student populations, like the veterans and under-represented, low-income and minority population segments, and develop programs that will seamlessly integrate them into our learning communities and meet their unique needs. If we are successful, we will continue to see our retention numbers increase, which will ultimately lead to an increased graduation rate.

Affordability is defined and manifested by our efforts to ensure that EOU remains financially viable and is able to provide higher education in a manner that does not preclude attendance based on personal financial conditions.  Affordability, from the perspective of our students, goes beyond tuition as it includes all of the costs associated with attending EOU—both realized and opportunity costs.  We know from past experiences that our students are price sensitive and we must balance this with our own ability to remain financially viable and stable.  Our development efforts will focus on securing gifts for scholarships that are based on need as well as merit.  We will be seeking scholarships that will directly enhance our retention strategies.

The most important aspect of affordability is our unwavering commitment to our students that they will have the opportunity to complete successfully their chosen course of study and graduate in four years.  That must be the focus of our efforts and planning.  This means we must continually monitor our programs to ensure a four year road map for our students should they choose to take it.  This needs to be our stated guarantee.

EOU’s promise of engagement and service to our community is defined by our practices and commitment to direct interaction with external constituencies and communities through the mutually beneficial exchange, exploration, and application of knowledge expertise and information.  And, when we think about ‘our region’ we must think beyond Eastern Oregon to include western Idaho and southeast Washington as well as our impact on the western side of the state—or ‘in the Valley’ as I have heard it called.  Through our engagement efforts, we can create new markets to recruit students, fortify and establish internships for our students and jobs for our graduates.  We are able to apply our knowledge, research and skills directly to pertinent situations and circumstances.  We can shape what we teach, how we teach, and when and where we teach to benefit those who have been forced to change their own livelihoods and direction because of economic or other unforeseen conditions.  Our partnerships with OSU, OHSU, ODS are important in these efforts as we can not do it alone.  And, as such, we must look at ways to expand these programs as appropriate.  I must point out that engagement is continuously demonstrated by our own faculty, staff and students. For example, the work of many professors and staff who are inspiring young girls and boys to explore science as a field of study; the numerous individuals involved with the Oregon Writing Project and many other grant funded projects where we teach the teachers who will educate our sons and daughters; literally, any day of the school year you can find an EOU faculty member interacting in a K-12 school; we provide numerous community services through Family Science activities, Science Discovery,  Family Literacy events, book donations to needy children; and our students raising over $10,000 in the inaugural ‘Walk for Warmth’ program.  While there are many more examples, a final example is our partnering with the local Training and Employment Consortium to serve approximately 250 displaced workers in Union County through the offering of associate degree and certificate programs.

As we focus on our long-term promise of access, affordability, and engagement to the region, we will continue to address our immediate needs as well.  As I view the upcoming year, there are five immediate tasks we should be working on.

The first is our continued effort to have predictable and controlled growth of our enrollment.  We must, as a university, recognize that for us to control our own destiny, we must control our enrollments.  We must continually develop new plans and set goals for our enrollment on campus, on line and on site.  Each of these three modalities have their place within our university—it is we who must drive enrollments in each of these areas as we can not have one grow at the expense of the other.  Toward that goal, we have two leavers that we must continually utilize.  The first is our recruitment of new students.  We have made great strides this past year in this area but we cannot stop or rest now.  We must own Eastern Oregon as a recruiting area; and we must expand our marketplace by aggressively recruiting in Idaho, Washington and even Nevada and California.  Clearly, the students who are attracted to EOU are ‘doers’ and not spectators.  We must mirror that action by being aggressive in our outreach to them and we ALL have a part and role to play in this endeavor.  The spectrum of shared responsibility in student recruitment begins with Jerry Brown, our campus landscaper and ends with me.  We all represent Eastern and is it incumbent that we all recruit students.  The competition in Eastern Oregon, and the surrounding areas, is intensifying as more and more universities know that the key to long-term success is an ever increasing enrollment—we too must be as aggressive, if not more so, than our competitors.

The other lever in enrollment management is retention.  Again, last year many programs were implemented to assist in retention and the early results are positive.  The First Year Experience and the early warning system are just two of these programs.  The student experience, curricular and co-curricular, is the purview of all of us and we all have a role to play in ensuring our students are retained.  I will be working with many of you in identifying key reasons why a student is retained, and why others are not. It will be up to all of us to continually work on the retention puzzle to ensure the success of our students and long-term viability of EOU.

A second significant undertaking for this year is the interim accreditation visit by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and University which will occur in April 2010.  I have personally met with the President of the Commission and fully discussed their report and findings of last year.  Through the hard work of many, we have implemented a plan to address the areas of their concern.  With your dedication and focus, I know that we will be able to respond to each of the recommendations and show the results needed to have our accreditation reaffirmed.  In addition to our efforts, we will be openly supported by the Oregon System and the Chancellor as well as the Board of Directors.  Again, this is not the task of a single person or unit; rather it will require attention and work from all of us.  Your work later this week in the General Education Core and assessments meetings will be crucial to our success in April.

A third activity, which stems from the accreditation visit, but it important in its own right, is continually to recommit our efforts to outcomes assessment in all of our programs.  This process, which EOU was nationally recognized by the winning a Compass-LEAP grant, will allow EOU to refine and adapt to the changing environment.  It will also provide the roadmap for the areas in which we need to reinvest funds to better serve or to foster growth.  Through our insistent efforts in asking ‘how we are doing’ and ‘what could we do better’ we will in fact be a better university and will be recognized for our work.

The fourth venture we will pursue is fortifying our ability to diversify our revenue streams.  Currently, we are heavily reliant on the state for funding.  Let me be clear.  This will never change. We will always rely on state funding; however, we can take steps now to lessen the impact from the unstable funding offered by the state.  A major step in the right direction is for us to take control of and manage our own enrollment.  By not only increasing our enrollment, but by establishing a predictable growth pattern through recruiting and retention, we will gain control of a significant revenue stream.   Another aspect of enhancing our revenue streams means removing our own structural barriers to allow our entrepreneurial spirit to cultivate new programs that meet our mission and promise.  Finally, it also entails the aggressive pursuit of private gifts and grants.  Let me also be clear in setting expectations.  Private gifts and grants will never supplant public funding nor should we expect to ‘just ask for money and get it’.  We need to be strategic in our efforts to seek private support that will enhance our mission, not alter it.  We need to be realistic in our goals.  We can’t run a billion dollar campaign, like the UofO, but we are at a place where we can, and should, be looking at a feasible long-term multi-million dollar campaign that will provide significant gifts for scholarships and for scholarly activities around our existing programs and faculty and staff expertise.  Our partnership with the EOU Foundation is key to our fundraising success.

The fifth and final project is the fortification of our own systems of shared governance, committee work, and administrative policies.  This is also about creating a culture of doing our work in an open, transparent and inclusive manner.  The current system of shared governance is still in its infancy—with a mere two-year history.  We need to create a seamless communication stream between and among the governance bodies and clarify the roles of each body.  We need to create the methods to ensure that communication throughout the university is consistent and uniform and that discussions and decisions are not made in an isolated manner.  While there are, at times, clear lines of demarcation, we need to work on the edges where the policies are not as clear and the pathways are not as consistent.  As I have told the members of the cabinet, we are all playing in the same sand box and we should share our toys!  In addition, we need to, as a university, arrive at decisive conclusions on key issues and move forward from debating the issues to implementing the ideas and defining the rubrics to assess them.  We need all of this to occur in an environment that invites debate and discussion, that allows for all to see all sides of the issues, and, very importantly, for all of us to acknowledge that while we may not always agree with the final outcome and decision, we all need to support these efforts for the benefit of our university.

In conclusion, I want to address one thing I have not mentioned.  That is the ‘B-word.’  For the last several years, if not longer, the focus of EOU has been the budget.  And, it was rightfully so.  Under President Dixie Lund, the university had to make some difficult decisions, and it did so with grace, professionalism and with a view as to what was needed in the immediate future to survive.  EOU, like many universities of our size and structure, will always live under financial and budgetary pressures.  This university has spent endless hours over many years discussing the budget—which was appropriate at the time. The budget we have is the budget we have. I will be working with public officials and private citizens to improve our level of financial support. Let me worry about this while you focus upon the things in which you can make a clear difference: recruiting and mentoring students, using every opportunity on campus and off to emphasize the value of a college education, by teaching exciting and meaningful courses, by contributing in an affirmative manner to make shared governance a positive force, and by continually upgrading your skills as a member of your individual professional and academic disciplines

In seeking additional resources, I will focus on three simple questions.  One, what can we do best; two, what creates the enthusiasm that drives our work; and three, how are our total resources generated.  It is important to note that total resources does not only mean funding, but includes all resources from our human resources of faculty, staff and students, to the value of our partnerships, support from our legislators, our vocal community support, and many others.  Because of the great work of Dixie and many others in dealing with the immediate needs of the budget, among many other issues, and in restoring faith and pride in EOU, we can begin to reflect on those three questions and plan our strategies accordingly.  I submit that what we are best at is providing an exceptional educational service that focuses individual attention to each student in a supportive and vibrant learning community.  Our enthusiasm is derived from our focus on the student as a whole person.  And our resources are generated by maintaining a constructive relationship with our communities to develop inseparable partnerships for program delivery that enhance student recruitment, political capital, and private gifts.

By focusing on EOU’s promise of access, affordability and engagement with the community we answer those three questions by our unyielding commitment to personalized service and dedication to our students and their success.

We have an impressive tradition of excellence.  We are, therefore, duty bound to think and act on how we can enhance our own efforts, our own structures, our own methods of operation and deliveries, to strengthen and grow.  In all of what is happening in our world, we are holding true to philosophical basis of what we are and what we do: we educate, we serve, we create, we motivate.  We change lives.

Above yet another entrance to Inlow—hey, there are a lot of doors in Inlow, and I go through them all time the time as I run OUT of Inlow to be on campus where the action is and where the real work is done!—it says, ‘So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.’  As we open our 80th academic year, let us all continue to give our ‘pilón’.  Let us all commit our hearts to the service our students, to teach them and to serve them, and let us commit our actions to each other, to entrust each other, with the wisdom to work with the openness and inclusiveness needed to advance our great university.

Let us continue to be wise in our resolve and have patience in our performance.

I wish all of you, personally and collectively, a successful year.”

Bob Davies
President, Eastern Oregon University