Opening Convocation

President Bruce Shepard’s Prepared Remarks

September 16, 2009

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Introduction

Cyndie and I are delighted to be here with you.  A year ago, you were welcoming us.  This morning, we welcome you as we gather together to begin a new academic year.

I love the rhythms of the academic life, particularly the excitement as a new year begins.  I expect you, as have I for the past 37 years of opening sessions, feel a twinge of anxiousness about the unknowns ahead, but, predominantly, excitement about the challenges and opportunities of a whole new academic year awaiting us all.

The anticipation of open terrain awaiting our footprints.

All summer, I pondered how best to use these moments, how to make them of greatest value to you.  This is a rare opportunity to speak to the university assembled.   You have every right to expect me to candidly and fully share my best thinking. 

I should warn that I am a bit old fashioned.  I think it not too much to ask of each other, even in this era of texting and maximum 140 character tweets, that some significant time, once a year, be dedicated to hearing from the president.  And, there is much to talk about. 

First, I join in congratulating our award winners.  Ours is a university of such excellence, and excellence so demonstrably engaged.  As outstanding as their records are, our winners are still just representative of what, at Western, is pervasive dedication to being the very best.  Well done and thank you all.

When I refer to pervasive excellence, by the way, that is not mere presidential hype.  It was my greatest “take away” from those 90 listening sessions last fall.  It is more recently documented in all its amazing richness in the Annual Report now available on the web.  Need to bolster your pride in Western and our solid foundation for even brighter futures: do look through that report at: Annual Report on the University Communications website.

Now, there is a certain ritualistic aspect to presidential remarks on occasions such as this: normally to speak first of the accomplishments of the year just concluded and then of the year ahead.  Today I will repeat the ritual.  But, there will be little ritualistic in my remarks for there was little normal about the year just passed.  Nor, will there be in the year that lies ahead.

 

The year just concluded

Last year was much about learning, me learning about you, you about me.  There were those listening sessions involving over 2,000 people, a stakeholders survey, the electronic forums, discussions on immediate plans for Western, and hundreds of other meetings with individuals and groups around the state.  Combine this with our planning and transparent budgeting process, driven as it was by mission, vision, and SWOT analyses at both the university and planning unit levels.  What we put in place was an extension of our strategic planning process. 

Given the prospect of budget cuts, the existing strategic plan was so broadly inclusive that it could not be pursued in equal measure on all its many dimensions.  We needed to settle upon some realistic areas within the existing plan upon which to concentrate our immediate tactical efforts.

Who determined those areas?  You did:  campus, community, Board of Trustees.  Mid-year, I reported back on what you had told me were our needs and priorities.  They all fit within the existing strategic plan but were more immediately relevant and practical, focusing as they necessarily had to on steps we all could take that did not initially require significant new funding.   These areas you identified provide the structure I will now use to report back to you on the year just concluded.

Keeping an eye on the clock, I will pick only selected highlights.  A more comprehensive annual accounting is available on the web, attached to these comments. Please refer to the 15 Initiatives on my website.

Our outstanding record of research and creativity continues: last year, you published 80 books and edited volumes, 379 refereed journal articles, presented 696 papers at scholarly conferences, and showed artistic creations at 232 exhibits and 479 performances in addition to producing 35 recordings. Two patents on inventions by faculty were issued and the reviews of two other patent applications are pending.

In the area of Academic Quality and Innovation, interdisciplinary programs were under development last year involving faculty across campus.  For example: the College of Business and Economics is developing a bachelor’s degree combining study of environmental issues and policy, economic analysis, and business management. This will be one of the first in the country to combine these three areas in one degree.  Another example--many College of Humanities and Social Sciences faculty have drafted a white paper on the “allied health” initiative.

Our Fairhaven College is just one example of how Western is leading necessary changes in higher education today, incubating new ways to promote student learning. I quote from the jacket cover of a new book that addresses the need for transformation in education today, “Fixing College Education: a curriculum for the Twenty-first Century” by Professor Charles Muscatine of the University of California at Berkeley:

“Fixing College Education predicts new roles for students and faculty, redefines educational breadth and depth, and calls for deeper assessment of learning and teaching. Muscatine highlights the outstanding colleges and universities, including Harvard, Boston University Professor’s Program, and Fairhaven College at Western Washington University,  that already remade their curricula successfully or adopted features like the ones he proposes. Muscatine argues that the new curriculum is better able than the old to produce good scholars and good citizens for the twenty-first century.”

This recognition is one measure of the Western’s success in setting new standards of best practices based on careful experimentation.

Strides were made in our Institutional Research capabilities:  providing a set of wide-ranging indicators for informed and transparent decision making, allowing departments and deans to reach decisions about how to most effectively utilize reduced budgets.  The Graduate School carefully studied four cohorts of Western graduate students to better understand the factors that influence completion rates and time to degree.  With the leadership of the Provost’s Office, we have become a participant in the joint American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) and Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (formerly NASULGC) national initiative known as the “Voluntary System of Accountability”.

Essential partnerships are being formed. One example:  the College of Sciences and Technology, the Port of Bellingham, Bellingham Technical College, and private industry have partnered at the Waterfront Development Zone to establish the Technology Development Center.  There, shared expertise is engaged in cutting edge learning opportunities for our students and economic development projects of value to the region and state. 

As regards continuing innovation and being willing to take some risks, there are so many examples but here are two: Western’s new Karen W. Morse Institute for leadership, under the inaugural leadership of Dr. Joseph Garcia is seeking to advance the research and study of leadership as well as to collaborate with the portfolio of opportunities within Student Affairs and… to further broaden, enrich and engage the education of our students, making leadership a hallmark of the Western experience. Woodring’s Community Action Grant Program provides  “seed monies” to support faculty in their pursuit of innovative programmatic ventures with partners in the community and with other education agencies. 

In the area of educational outreach, Woodring continues to add programs and students, this fall serving 1,139 students in undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs on site in Bremerton, Everett, and Seattle; Huxley College of the Environment has taken a major step in now offering two bachelor’s degrees in Everett; the College of Business and Economics, again in a major step for that college, will be offering an executive MBA program in Everett as well.

In transparent decision making and budgeting, I will simply repeat what I believe governance leadership volunteered in their reports at a recent meeting of our Trustees: in the last year, the transparency of Western’s budgeting and decision making moved from the significantly problematic to setting a mark that the other Washington public higher education institutions need to strive to reach.

Essential partnerships are being formed. One example:  the College of Sciences and Technology, the Port of Bellingham, Bellingham Technical College, and private industry have partnered at the Waterfront Development Zone to establish the Technology Development Center.  There, shared expertise is engaged in cutting edge learning opportunities for our students and economic development projects of value to the region and state. 

As regards continuing innovation and being willing to take some risks, there are so many examples but here are two: Western’s new Karen W. Morse Institute for leadership, under the inaugural leadership of Dr. Joseph Garcia is seeking to advance the research and study of leadership as well as to collaborate with the portfolio of opportunities within Student Affairs and… to further broaden, enrich and engage the education of our students, making leadership a hallmark of the Western experience. Woodring’s Community Action Grant Program provides  “seed monies” to support faculty in their pursuit of innovative programmatic ventures with partners in the community and with other education agencies. 

In the area of educational outreach, Woodring continues to add programs and students, this fall serving 1,139 students in undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs on site in Bremerton, Everett, and Seattle; Huxley College of the Environment has taken a major step in now offering two bachelor’s degrees in Everett; the College of Business and Economics, again in a major step for that college, will be offering an executive MBA program in Everett as well.

In transparent decision making and budgeting, I will simply repeat what I believe governance leadership volunteered in their reports at a recent meeting of our Trustees: in the last year, the transparency of Western’s budgeting and decision making moved from the significantly problematic to setting a mark that the other Washington public higher education institutions need to strive to reach.

 

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

 

Page Updated 11.27.2013