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Fall Faculty and Staff Convocation 2005

President David Maxwell's Address
September 20, 2005

I'd like to welcome you, and thank you for coming to the Fall 2005 Faculty/Staff Convocation. It's good to see you all here as we begin a year of celebration of Drake University’s 125th birthday. Today is the 124th anniversary of the first classes held at Drake, and we have a lot to celebrate.

Tradition dictates that my remarks this afternoon focus on the "State of the University." We're off to a great start this fall, with a strong first-year undergraduate class, an enviable retention rate, strong enrollments in graduate programs, and a number of exciting developments. To put it most succinctly, the state of the University is—by the usual measures—very, very good; perhaps better than it’s been in quite some time. But I'd like to focus, briefly, on two things; some of our more significant accomplishments in the past year and some of the challenges that confront us as we go forward.

First, the accomplishments:

  • Fall 05 enrollments—We have the 2nd largest entering 1st-year class in 12 years—testimony to the hard work and creativity of our admission and financial aid staff, and to the participation of dozens of faculty and staff in a coordinated, collective effort that clearly bore results. We also have an overall increase of 1% in headcount—the largest since 1997.
  • As of this summer, we have put nearly $5.5 million in new money into the faculty and staff compensation budget in 3 years, and we are rapidly closing in on our goal of assuring equitable and competitive salaries
  • We have designed and implemented an infrastructure to prepare Drake University for the reaccreditation process in 2008 and—ultimately more important than reaccreditation itself, to ensure that our decision-making and resource allocation across the University reflect our mission, guided by our strategic plan and focused on outcomes, and driven by objective data.
  • We recently contracted with Noel/Levitz to conduct a student satisfaction study, in which—among other things—the students were asked to identify the best things about their Drake experience. The top 10 things that our students listed were all academic—the first time in Noel/Levitz’ vast national consulting experience that this was the case.
  • 10 classrooms were renovated over this past summer
  • Wireless internet access was installed in all academic buildings, thanks to the initiative and support of our Board of Trustees
  • We began design and planning for a $3 million renovation of the second floor of Olin Hall
  • Raised nearly $13 million for the Drake Stadium revitalization project—and the project is on time and on budget
  • Law School's moot court team placed 2nd in national competition
  • Hired a wonderful new VP of Admission & Financial Aid, Tom Delahunt, and an impressive contingent of new faculty and staff
  • We completed the University’s Master Plan, which will guide our decisions about physical plant improvements for the next 15-20 years.
  • 63% of our intercollegiate athletes had grade point averages above a 3.0 –all the more significant when you realize that Drake University, in marked contrast to many Division I institutions, does not have special academic majors in which we park our athletes—our student athletes are achieving those grades in the same courses and the same majors as the rest of our students.
  • Began an exciting new exchange relationship with Southwest University of Politics and Law in Chongqing, China; under the agreements we established in 2003, last year 9 graduates taught English in Hebei Province and 6 faculty members were there on short-term consultation and teaching visits

And last but certainly not least, the budget:

We finished the fiscal year with a modest budget surplus, and with the appropriate level of payout from the endowment (much of that surplus was allocated to the classroom renovation initiative)

We clearly have a great deal to be proud of—we've accomplished a tremendous amount as a community in the past year, and in the past six years, beginning with Program Review. But we can only afford to look back with the well-deserved glow of accomplishment for a brief time—it is vital that we are always looking forward at what comes next. In my previous Convocation remarks over the past 6 years, I have always devoted some time to identifying the key challenges ahead, and I'm about to do it again—but framed in a slightly different context. A few months ago, someone—upon learning that I am the president of Drake University, asked, "so what is it that keeps college presidents awake at night? What keeps you awake?" So while I'm not encouraging all of you to join me in episodes of insomnia, let me give you some sense of how my colleagues in the Cabinet and I would answer that question:

  • Demographics – who will our students be, and where will they come from? The number of high school graduates in our core "footprint" is declining, and who they are in terms of background and educational preparation is changing. The number of applicants for law and MBA programs has begun to decline on the national level, and we are not immune to that phenomenon.
  • Finances—as a tuition-driven institution, how do we continue to keep making progress on our compensation goals, address continuing and often dramatic increases in health benefit and utilities costs, address deferred maintenance needs, maintain our more than $31 million commitment in financial aid, and at the same time keep our tuition increases at a minimum, and ensure that cost is not an obstacle to student enrollment?
  • The Drake Story—higher education historically has done a terrible job of explaining who we are, what we do, and why we do it to people who are not "us." And we haven't gotten much better at it. National survey research shows that while most Americans think that a college degree is necessary for success, and that America has the best higher education system in the world, at the same time many of them believe that we cost too much, that we're inefficiently managed and waste resources, and that our professors are overpaid and bent on turning their students into left-wing ideological clones of themselves. We have to do better—collectively—at telling our story.

    At the same time, we need to do a better job of telling the Drake University story—to prospective students and their parents, to donors, to the community, and to ourselves. We must do a better job of helping people understand what is distinctive and important about our university in ways that engage them, that generate in them the same enthusiasm that we have, that make them want to become part of who we are and what we do.

  • Competition—the competition for students, faculty and staff, and resources will continue to intensify. And that competition is coming not just from our peer institutions, from other so-called "traditional" colleges and universities, but from for-profit universities, in-house corporate programs, and the ongoing proliferation of on-line degree programs.
  • Government intrusion: Drawing on a growing distrust of higher education in the general population, the Federal government—both the Congress and the Department of Education—is taking some worrisome steps in our direction—steps that threaten our autonomy and sanctity as an institution. These mandates range from the new requirement (passed by Congress) that every college and university that receives Federal funds must have a formal Constitution Day program, to proposals in the Higher Education Act reauthorization process that would punish institutions for tuition increases that are deemed excessive (they ultimately rejected that). Our tuition increases in recent years have been significantly lower than the norm, but consideration of a punitive system by Congress is unsettling, to say the least.
  • The Future: Positioning ourselves for an extremely uncertain future—to ensure that we have the vision, the planning, the resources, the flexibility, the commitment, and the agility to confront and manage the rapid pace of change, to turn the challenges before us into opportunities
  • Change: In coming months we will be talking more about a document entitled Drake University: Vision 2025—a project that has been the subject of discussion in various venues, including our summer senior staff/trustee/faculty and student senate retreat. Vision 2025 assumes that there will—and must—be dramatic changes in how education is delivered, how it’s measured and assessed, where it takes place; who the students are and what their academic and career interests are; who the faculty and staff are and what their jobs look like. Are we capable, as a community, of challenging our existing assumptions about what we are, what we do, and how we do it? Are we capable of the dramatic changes over the next 20 years that will be essential to effectively respond to changes in the external environment over which we have little—if any—control.
  • Complacency: Given all that we’ve accomplished in the past year, all that we’ve accomplished in recent years, particularly the encouraging budget results, our biggest immediate danger is complacency—relaxing, letting our breath out, and thinking that “we’re there.” But thinking that “we’ve made it,” that “we’re there,” implies that there’s a static point of achievement, a static goal that—once attained—will serve us well into the future without further effort. The reality, of course, is that we’re never “there” for more than a fleeting moment, because the conditions around us, our external reality, are changing rapidly and in often unpredictable ways. While we can—and should—be satisfied with all that we have accomplished, we cannot let that satisfaction interfere with the urgency, clarity, and commitment with which we must take on the future.

What I'm talking about, really, is something that’s intrinsic to the academic culture—what I'd call "healthy dissatisfaction." The core functions of the university are predicated on healthy dissatisfaction with the status quo—we don’t know enough, so we do research; our students don't know enough, so they come to learn; we are always in search of new knowledge, new truths, new understandings. So while we have every reason to feel good about Drake University on September 20, 2005, we also have to recognize that by tomorrow it’s not quite good enough—and that in five years, some things will have to be very different if we are to continue to thrive.

It's important to emphasize, though, that I am confident that we have the capability and the capacity to overcome complacency, and to commit ourselves to ongoing change. We have the experience, the expertise, the commitment and—most of all—the people to turn challenges into opportunities. We have a terrific track record as a university community in recent years—a record of confronting the challenges head-on, and turning them to our advantage.
As I look back on my six years here thus far, I have nothing but gratitude to all of you for everything that you’ve done to move Drake University forward, for everything you’ve done to keep our promise to our students and their parents, to our alumni, to our supporters, and to the community—a promise that we will do our utmost to fulfill the mission and goals of the University, a promise to provide the best in teaching and learning, and a promise that we will do it all in a manner that is consistent with our shared values of integrity, truth, and mutual respect.

And so I close this section of today's Convocation with a very simple, but very important, message—thank you for everything that you’ve done, and that you continue to do. And on a personal note, I want to thank you as well for your support and friendship—it is an honor for Maddy and me to be part of the Drake family.

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