2011 University Address

2011 State of the University Address: “One Community, One Plan, One Goal”

September 19, 2011

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

“Greetings and welcome to the 82nd academic year of Eastern Oregon University.

Today, as we officially begin this new academic year, we have the opportunity to reflect on the past year as well as discuss some of the challenges and possibilities that await our University in the future.

In preparing my remarks for today, being the son of an historian, I looked back at our own history for inspiration, thoughts and ideas.  I was profoundly struck by the thoughts of President Frank Bennett when he offered the following words to the 1,103 students, and fewer than 100 combined faculty and staff of Eastern Oregon College at the 1963 Fall Convocation:

He noted:

‘This morning we are grateful for our college, and for the unusual opportunities it offers us, for the privileges of growth and development it presents to us . . . As students at Eastern Oregon College grant us readiness of mind for self-discipline and control.  May our thoughts and ideals match the opportunities during our stay on this campus.  Bless our parents and loved ones who have sacrificed through the years that we may have the best in life, and may our coming to college and our achievements here in some measure mark the fulfillment of their dreams for us.

Bless those who teach and work at this college.  May they have the consciousness that they are potent helpers of all that is proper and good in life.  May they be strengthened by the faith that they, together, are critical in assisting us to grow and develop to the very best of our abilities and capacities.’

At this Fall Convocation our faith is that faculty, staff and students may work together, play together, learn together and grow in knowledge and intellectual and spiritual stature together.

President Bennett’s theme of working together as one community by focusing our efforts on the abilities of our students and providing them sound avenues to achievement, is as critical today as it was back in 1963. It lies at the core of our University today, our Eastern Oregon University, just as it did some 48 years ago.  This theme continues to guide us as we develop our programs, engage our students, and focus our efforts and talents in assisting our students to develop the very best of their abilities and capacities.  We have much to be proud of and much to celebrate because we are ALL working together, learning together and growing and nurturing our knowledge and intellectual spirit.

Our identity as a University continues to spring from the shared sense of ourselves as a community, as a single body working together, facing our challenges and seizing opportunities.   During this past year, we have made incredible strides and achievements that we all share in and should be very proud of.

Here is but a very small list of what we achieved last year:

  • To start this list, lets begin at the end: In June we awarded 540 bachelor’s and 87 master’s degrees, along with 6 associate degrees and 3 certificates for a grand total of 636 degrees.  This continues our trend of producing more graduates, and equally important, an overwhelming majority of our recent graduates have gained successful employment, (even Leo Plass, our 99-year-old graduate), or are enrolled in graduate or professional schools.
  • Last year we were honored to have one of our students, Rellani Ogumoro, named as a Truman Scholar.  She is in fact our first Truman Fellow and we are proud of her as she furthers our tradition of national achievements and accolades, including a former student who was selected as a Marshall Scholar and also a Rhodes Scholar finalist.
  • In February, three of our students (all from Union County, I might add) competed internationally and received the ‘Outstanding Award’—the highest award possible—in the annual Mathematical Contest in Modeling sponsored by the Consortium for Mathematics and its Application (COMAP).  Over 500 teams competed and only four received the Outstanding Award.  Note that we were the ONLY team from the United States to receive this recognition. Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Duke, Johns Hopkins and many others competed, but were outwitted and ultimately defeated intellectually by Eastern Oregon University!
  • We have received legislative approval and funding for over $30 million in capital improvements including renovations to Pierce Library, Zabel Hall, Hoke Union and Quinn Coliseum.  Over the next three years, these renovation and remodel projects will strengthen our core physical infrastructure. We should recognize this funding as a direct sign of support for our University from the State Board of Higher Education, the Oregon Legislature and governor, as they make this investment in our future.
  • Our students, faculty and community members produced outstanding performances right here on this stage and in this building.  Our production of Phantom of the Opera—the first collegiate production everhad sold out performances. The cast and crew included our students and faculty, as well as community members, even a professional singer from the Portland Opera. I must say our students outshined and outperformed him!  In the Schwarz Theatre, two plays were performed that were written, produced and directed by our students: Beyond Reasonable Doubt by Angelic McMurray; and Sane by Liberty O’Dell.  Both were outstanding productions and showcased the wide range of talents our students and faculty possess.  Our choirs and choruses provided thrilling performances that I personally always enjoy.  The Nightingale Gallery has hosted many outstanding student and alumni art shows and continues the tradition of excellence by bringing internationally-acclaimed artists to campus.  Other galleries across the region and state regularly seek out the works of our students and one artist, EOU alumnus Morgan McAuslan, was highlighted by OPB as part of the Recent Graduates Exhibition at Blackfish Gallery in Portland.
  • One of our professors had a very special meeting with Pope Benedict the 16th himself when he presented his original musical composition in celebration of the 60th anniversary the pope’s ordination as a priest.
  • Our student-athletes also had amazing results on the field and in the classroom:
    • 8 of 12 teams advanced to conference and/or NAIA post-season play
    • 3 National Champions (Karlee Coffey in the women’s indoor 3000 meter race and Robbie Haynie in the men’s indoor heptathlon and the outdoor pole vault)
    • 11 Performance All-Americans
    • 23 All-Conference Selections
    • 3 Conference Athletes of the year
  • Academically, this list is even more impressive:
    • 32 Academic All-Americans (3.5 or higher GPA)
    • 64 Academic All-Conference
    • 185 student-athletes named to the dean’s list during the 2010-11 academic year
    • 7 teams named NAIA scholar teams (average 3.0 GPA over three terms)
  • And, we beat No. 1-ranked Carroll College this fall in a 42-33 thriller!
  • The financial support we have received from alumni and community leaders also continues to grow.  In the 2010 calendar year, the EOU Foundation raised nearly $3 million dollars for scholarships and programs and the Foundation is aggressively looking to the future by initiating a campaign to increase this amount.  Our Alumni Association has vigorously embarked on efforts to engage our alumni by hosting dozens of events and activities throughout the region.
  • In just a few days, we will welcome to our campus for the first time, over 1,100 new students.  Many of these students are transferring to Eastern from one of our state’s community colleges or other four-year institutions.  Nearly 450 of these students are first-time college students, straight from high school.  Nearly 70% of our freshmen class from last year will be returning to continue their studies.  In total, EOU will continue its trend of having a record number of students.  As we compare our results to our peers, it is clear that we are leading a defined trajectory in growth of the number of students we serve and in the positive manner in which we do so.  It is not always about being the biggest; it is about being the best for the students we serve.
  • Of course, the list of our accomplishments would not be complete if we didn’t acknowledge Professor Mark Shadle and his induction into the Iowa Rock’n Roll Hall of Fame!

All of these are important accomplishments and are just a small sampling of the many examples of tremendous work you—our faculty and staff— have achieved this past year.

Your work and dedication provides us the stable foundation that even in these difficult financial times allows us to record these significant accomplishments and achievements.  Thank you for all that you do for Eastern!

Like any organization, with the arrival of a new year we start again, and today we ready ourselves for that fresh start of a new race.  And I must say, my adrenalin is pumping!

Last year, in my ‘State of the University Address’ I discussed the immense challenges and changes that EOU, as well as the academy as a whole, would confront in the coming years.  To illustrate this, I utilized the analogy of the ‘Three Rivers of Change.’   These rivers represented three significant paradigm shifts in how we, the University, operate and conduct our business as well as facilitate our teaching and learning.  Changes in technology constituted the first of these rivers.  We are expected to be at the leading edge of the technology curve in our pedagogy, not only in our online courses serving students at a distance, but for all of our students—here on campus as well as those across the state or country.  We are also expected to utilize and implement technology to make our business functions more effective and efficient.  The second river involved dramatic increases in the calls for accountability and our ability to articulate objectively not only our impact on the lives of our students but also how we serve our region economically, culturally and socially.  The third river consisted of pressures on our financial foundation, hinging on decreases in funding, particularly state funding, but also through continued calls for tuition reform and other examinations of how we expend our precious, and few, resources.

None of these rivers, as we all know, are necessarily new to higher education.  In fact, in the history of the academy, many of these threads of reform can be traced back to the early 1800s when Harvard, Yale and other colleges were, by relative comparison, going through radical changes.

Throughout our own history, EOU has responded to many of these same calls for change and challenges.  Many of you in this room can think back to when assessment became the buzzword, or when technology, by some accounts, invaded the classroom, or when budgets had to be significantly reduced.  It is clear to me and to all of us that EOU can respond to challenges and adapt to changing environments.  We can say this because we have dealt with these issues repeatedly over time.  Eastern has entered the storms of change and controversy and has emerged, albeit slightly different, a stronger University and even more committed to our core values of focusing on the individual needs of our students, of ensuring that we serve our region first and foremost, of engaging in scholarship that benefits not only our students but our region and state.  We have continually risen to the challenges, surpassed the expectations, and emerged more fervently committed than ever before to our students, to learning, to serving our communities.

So, you may ask, what is different?  We have accepted the challenges of the past and have moved forward.  What is different today than what we faced 10, 20 or even 30 years ago?   In the past, we have indeed faced each of these issues in single moments of time.  We have proven that we are able to navigate down any one of these rivers, skillfully and successfully.  However, this past year, we entered at the confluence of all three of these rivers, dealing with all three issues at a single moment in time.  All three challenges combined became more forceful than we, or any other University, have ever seen.  This new river, the combination of all three, produces rapids with immense power and thrust.  It hides rocks that await careless travelers where safe eddies once were.  The previous maps used by our predecessors have been outdated by the ‘new normal.’

Over the course of the past year, we contemplated various options.  One could have been to wade only partially into the new waters to test our nerve. Or we could have not entered at all but just walked along the shore in search of a safer place.  The option of waiting and seeing was, in fact, evaluated and discussed.  Both of these options, while in the short term feasible, proved not to be in our collective long-term best interests.  Correctly, the Budget and Planning Committee, along with many faculty and staff members, concluded convincingly that this was not our best option.  The advice and wisdom provided to me through the Budget and Planning committee, along with the University Council and Faculty Senate leaders, was invaluable. It proved to our executive team and me that waiting and hoping was a fool’s game, entailing a great deal of risk with little potential for positive return.  As stated by one member of the Budget and Planning Committee, ‘Now is not the time to wait.  We need to act, to take the lead, to make the necessary changes. Otherwise we will be doing even more, and deeper cuts.’

And one of our most significant accomplishments last year is in fact coming together as a community as described by President Bennett, as we worked together to develop a plan that provides a road map for our financial sustainability and stability.

The plan targeting mission fulfillment and financial sustainability is the culmination of all of your hard work, efforts and insights.  We set the stage for the information and data to be shared and analyzed.  Your input was instrumental in its drafting and redrafting, and for that, the University is grateful. The plan demonstrates our ability to focus and move forward.

Writing and presenting the plan to the University community and our state board was a vital task.  Now, however, the real hard work commences and that is sticking to and working the plan.  I am committed to seeing the plan through its implementation.  The executive team is also committed and we need the entire University to have that same dedication and desire to see the plan fully implemented.  It will not be easy; doing so will require a focus on the long-term and not solely on immediate gains or losses.  I will always remember what a member of our facilities team said at the end of one of our discussions: ‘Bob, you need to commit to the plan, work the plan and see it to the end.  Don’t let it be like a wishful New Year’s resolution to lose weight.  You start with good intentions and do some things and in the first month you shed a few pounds.  Then you smile and quit the effort and call it good.  We can’t do this.  We need to make this happen.  We need to commit to it and see it to the very end.  If we stop, like the diet, we will gain it all back and then where are we?  Back at the beginning, that’s where.  Keep the faith and go.’

With that in mind, over the summer we have put many aspects of the plan in motion.  The overriding goal of this effort is how to continue to increase instructional capacity, improve business practices and serve our students in light of the significant changes in our environment.

Regarding the financial issues, we have made significant changes to streamline the manner in which we conduct business.  Our discussions of creating a unified College Business Center are taking hold.  This will not only streamline work, but it will also eliminate duplicated efforts and create efficiencies.  We have overhauled our administrative structures in the Financial Aid and Admission offices and have introduced efficiencies that will not diminish student services, but will in fact save resources.

We have also initiated several long-term strategies that will yield increases in our revenue.  This is not, of course, easy and will not materialize overnight; however, through diligent planning and precise execution, we will decrease our dependence on state funding as our major source of revenue.

As part of our efforts to continually improve and strengthen our commitment to transparency, as well as improve our own financial planning systems, I have asked our new Vice President for Finance and Administration to work directly with our Budget and Planning Committee to institute a new collaborative budgeting process for the upcoming and subsequent years that is based on our ability and driven by our effort to meet the goals supporting our Fore Core Themes.  This process will involve all units and divisions within the University in developing budgets and in discussing them with the Budget and Planning Committee and how these efforts further our fore core themes.  This will provide an open forum for discussion about the opportunities we have, as a University, for further investment as well as highlighting budgetary deficiencies that must be addressed.  This will also be a key piece of our new accreditation cycle with the Northwest Commission which begins this year as we demonstrate to the Commission and to our Oregon University System that we are directing our institutional resources effectively toward our mission, as focused through our Four Core Themes. These are the same Core Themes that drove the planning and development of our sustainability plan.

Core Themes

  • Theme 1: EOU has high quality liberal arts and professional programs that prepare students for the world beyond college.
  • Theme 2: EOU is a regional University with a deep sense of commitment to students where they are.
  • Theme 3: EOU is the educational, cultural and economic engine of eastern Oregon.
  • Theme 4: EOU provides personal, student-centered experience in both the curricular and co-curricular program.

Also, in working with our Budget and Planning Committee, the strategic focus on the key financial ratios and setting targets and benchmarks for our financial performance will enable us to react sooner and in a progressive manner instead of reacting to shifts in funding after they occur.  A key component of this will be our effort to establish rolling five-year budgeting cycles for our University.

We have also made significant strides on how we view the role of technology within our University.  One of the organizational structure shifts that has been implemented from the Sustainability Plan is flattening the administrative structure of Information Technology and tying the efforts of the IT department to our strategic direction and goals.  This reorganization builds on our very creative and highly capable IT staff members who have vast expertise.  By creating this direct link under the Vice President for Finance and Administration and coordinating with the Provost, we have created an environment that allows for and connects planning, budgeting and implementation.

Our inaugural Summer Institute for Instructional Technology, led by Professors Heidi Harris and Steve Clements and supported by David Komito, was the first piece of a larger initiative that I look forward to continuing well into the future.  This supports one of our second Core Themes as a University with a deep sense of commitment to students, wherever they are located.  Eastern has long been a national leader in providing quality distance education to our students, and it is imperative that we invest in our faculty, that we provide them the opportunity to gain insights and new ideas to enhance our instructional expertise so that we will retain, even expand, our leadership role.  Sixteen professors participated in this year’s Institute, and the results and comments I received have been incredible.  We must build on this momentum and continue to share best practices with one another.  I am delighted that Professors Harris and Clements have agreed to continue their leadership role by spearheading our larger effort, the Innovative Instructional Initiative.  This effort, initiated by the Summer Institute, will develop a strategic plan aimed at supporting and assisting our faculty in further developing their pedagogies through the leveraging of existing and new technologies, providing as well the resources and other tools this will demand.  The exciting part of this plan is that the focus is centered on how students learn most effectively and how technology can be best leveraged to assist this endeavor, rather than on how technology itself can drive changes in teaching practices.  Furthermore, as we develop this initiative, we will be creating a faculty-led advisory board to gather input, to plan and to produce the outcomes.  The Innovative Instructional Initiative will be a faculty-driven proposition and is a priority for me, for our Provost, and for our Vice President for Finance and Administration.  This is an important program and will go a long way in solidifying our leadership position within the Oregon University System, and in strengthening our national prominence in providing quality technology leveraged education for the benefit of our students.

We will also continue to increase our efforts to remain accountable to the state and region that we serve.  Accountability is about being held to a high standard in the way in which we manage and deliver on our promises to our stakeholders—our students, our community and the state.  This responsibility goes beyond many of the commonly referred to measures of accountability, like graduation rates, retention rates and faculty-student ratios.  While these measures are certainly important, accountability is also about ensuring that we deliver a quality educational experience that is affordable and accessible.  Accountability is about working with the eastern and rural regions of our state to ensure that a college education is not a mere dream but an expectation.

We have an incredible and long history of reaching out to our K-12 partners to create this expectation of higher education for students.  Most recently, our Girls in Science program, yet again, received a plethora of regional and national awards and acclaim for this very effort.  Our Summer Institute for high school students continues to attract numerous young people from our area—many from low socioeconomic backgrounds—so they can earn University credit and gain the personal confidence that they can succeed at the collegiate level.  Last year, we had over 500 fifth-graders visit Eastern and see our labs and they were dazzled and amazed by Dr. Jay Van Tassell’s presentation of our mammoth tusks!  It is exciting to see all of these efforts and to realize that many who attend these programs eventually become students here and assume leadership roles.  We need to build on these programs and the success they have secured and expand our horizons to include even more.

In this vein, I look forward to building on this work and incorporating the high school programming developed by Professor Dan Mielke several years ago. Starting from this foundation, we are creating a program called the Eastern Promise which establishes a concerted effort to work with our two area community colleges, the region’s ESDs and school districts, as well as elementary, middle and high school teachers and principals to develop a systemic effort, starting in the fifth-grade, to advance and create a college-going culture in our area.  The statewide goal of 40-40-20, which means 40% of our citizens will have a bachelor’s degree, 40% will have at least an associates degree and 20% will have at least a high school diploma, is now a state law.  It is up to us to ensure that efforts toward this goal are concentrated not only on the west side of Oregon; it is up to us to ensure that this goal is a statewide effort.  The Eastern Promise is our stake in the ground to guarantee that we are a part of the statewide dialog.  It is our effort to make certain that post-secondary education remains a viable option and expectation for our community.  If we work in partnership with all of the entities involved, we will reach this very ambitious goal.

As we guide ourselves down this fast flowing river, an important element of accountability to keep us afloat is our pledge to be transparent and inclusive in our work and dealings.  We have established a viable shared governance system.  Yes, there are quirks to it that we need to address to ensure it continues to be open and efficient and provides for the flow of information that is the foundation for important discussions and dialog.  I am, as are all of members of the executive team, committed to ensuring that shared governance and the transparency of our work is held to the highest standards.  We, all of us, are public servants and we need to remain committed to the ideals and standards that are expected of us in this role. We are accountable to our public as well as to each other in moving our University forward and through the rapids that are in front of us.  As we continue to work our plan and maintain our commitment to success, transparency and inclusiveness is a bedrock foundation of this effort.

This past year we were presented with an extreme challenge.  At many times, we could have rationalized an easy or expedient way out and punted the issues down the road.  However, we chose instead to focus on our long-term sustainability and viability options.  This required a harder look at who we are and what we do and, just as importantly, where we want to be in 10, 15 or 20 years.  We paddled straight to the heart of the rapids instead of veering to the edge and seeking safety in eddies.  Yes, those were options. However, as noted by many of you, if you stay in an eddy for too long, you only get further and further behind and are never able to regain your momentum and experience the calmness and beauty of what lies around the bend.

Last year we came together, we worked together and developed our plan together.  Now, as we continue to navigate our path, we must remain dedicated to our plan.  We must all be paddling in unison.  On September 10, our football team traveled into the lion’s den and pulled out an amazing victory against Carroll College.  Carroll has an incredible athletic program with 11 straight conference championships, 6 national championships, a 44 conference-game winning streak, winning over 145 games and only losing 14, and only 3 in Helena.  We, along with most Universities, have not beaten them in this century.  It was an amazing win and was only done because of a true team effort.  After the win, Professor Greg Monahan summed up the win in writing the following:

‘Like others, I was impressed, no, amazed, by Eastern’s win over Carroll College this weekend.  It certainly evidenced excellent skills, fine training and great coaching, but it testified to something else.  I noticed that they were behind 21-7 in the third quarter.  Any other team would have given up and folded.  Some would have given up before they showed up.  Carroll College is a very intimidating opponent, with massive win streaks and national championships to its credit.  But this Eastern team came back and defeated them, and on their turf.  The comeback is even more impressive than the win.  It testifies to attributes that really matter:  determination, perseverance, and, most of all, character.  When team sports build that, they build something valuable, something lasting.  I’m very proud of these young men.’

It is with this spirit of teamwork, determination, perseverance and character that we as a University, as a community of scholars and learners, will build the foundation and the fortitude to navigate our way through the rapids ahead.  As we work the sustainability plan, dedicating our focus to these efforts, we will in fact reach the calm waters of sustainability.  It is through our ability to work, learn, and play together that truly presents us with an exciting and energizing time at Eastern.  This is a time for us not to wallow, but to strengthen our resolve in meeting the demands and the challenges that are before us.  In doing so, we are not only preserving our future as a University, we are determining what that future will be.

Thank you for your support, your dedication and your efforts.  And, most importantly, thank you for your commitment to our fine University, Eastern Oregon University.

I am eager to start this, our 82nd academic year!”

Bob Davies
President, Eastern Oregon University