State of the University Address
President Sidney A. Ribeau
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Good morning faculty colleagues, members of the staff and students. I am pleased to be with you this morning to present the second State of the University Address for the 2011-2012 academic year. The presidential State of the University Address is an important University tradition that provides us an occasion to engage in dialogue about the major opportunities and issues that the University must address to strengthen it for the future. I was pleased to address you during the 2011 fall semester, and I am encouraged by the progress that we have made on the academic and operational issues that you raised.
Faculty, School and College and Student Scholarship
During the spring 2012 semester, the University’s academic landscape is being defined by many events that remind us of the productivity and excellence of our faculty, staff and students, and the significance of the academic and cultural renaissance taking place at the University. Faculty, students and alumni collaborated to produce “Steppin’ Out of the Negro Caravan,” an incredible production conceived by Professor Eleanor Traylor, former chair of the English Department and Sterling Brown Endowed Chair, with the artistic assistance of alumna and Trustee Debbie Allen. The production was a tribute to Howard’s legendary faculty members, including Sterling Brown, Arthur P. Davis, and many others.
Steppin’ Out of the Negro Caravan embodies the essence of the African Diaspora PCAR strategic goal in the manner in which it blended the best of the University’s Fine Arts (Music, Dance, Theatre) with the community and professional artists.
Through imagination, collaboration and determination and the early strategic support of Howard University, the historic Howard Theatre has reopened, reviving a major landmark in our community. I appreciate the efforts of the Howard leadership team, the District government, arts, activists, neighborhood leaders and local businesses that led to the restoration of the Howard Theatre. It was home to many of the great ones – Duke Ellington, James Brown, Ella Fitzgerald, Marvin Gaye and the Supremes — and will be a home for the next generation of artists that will be produced by Howard University.
This morning, Bianca Bailey, a senior Chemical Engineering major, will be speaking at the White House to young women about the importance of STEM education. In December, the White House named Bianca a Champion of Change in STEM. This morning’s discussion will be streamed live on Whitehouse.gov and Facebook.
I continue to be impressed by the scholarship of our faculty. Last week, our University Library and Moorland Spingarn Research Center, now under the direction of Dr. Howard Dodson, the Faculty Senate and the Office of the President joined together at our annual Faculty Authors Appreciation Day to honor and recognize faculty members who have published this year. Past scholars are part of Howard’s legendary scholarly community, and who helped change the course of history, were also honored.
Since its inception in April 1997, the Scholarship at Howard database contains nearly 10,000 unique entries of faculty research scholarship, which includes journals, articles, books, and other scholarly creations. This academic year, certificates of recognition were issued to over 600 faculty authors, including approximately 40 student co-authors, evidencing our commitment to undergraduate research.
Six awards were presented to distinguished current faculty members for their unique contributions in the areas of research, teaching, service, international interdisciplinary studies, Africa and the Diaspora, and lifetime achievement. Let us acknowledge:
- Dr. Debra Roberts, College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Psychology, who received the Exemplary Teaching Award;
- Dr. Lorraine Fleming and Dr. Mohamed Chouikha, both of the School of Engineering, Architecture & Computer Science, who received the Outstanding Contribution to Africa and the African Diaspora Award;
- Dr. Priscilla Okunji, College of Allied Health Sciences and Nursing, Division of Nursing, who received the Emerging Scholar Award;
- Dr. Helen Bond, School of Education and Dr. Alem Hailu, College of Arts and Sciences, Department of African Studies, who received Inspirational Interdisciplinary Project Awards;
- Dr. Lalita Kaul, College of Medicine, Department of Community and Family Medicine, who received who received the Lifetime Achievement Award;
- and Dr. Joan Payne, School of Communications, who received the Outstanding Service Award.
We should also take note of the scholarship and service of our faculty and their schools and colleges bringing local, national and international recognition to the University. Examples include the School of Divinity that received a $1 million research grant from the Lily Endowment, Inc. to study African-American churches in three cities and one rural location. Under the grant, faculty will work on a broad range of subjects that affect Black spiritual worship and practice. The National Jurist Magazine ranked our School of Law among the top schools of Law in the nation for producing public service oriented graduates.
Public Policy Engagement and Community Service
Continuing our engagement in the public policy arena and collaboration with civil rights organizations, in March we partnered again with the National Urban League to host the release of its annual State of Black America Report. The release was broadcast on C-Span and MSNBC and witnessed by about 1000 people in Cramton Auditorium. Participating as panelists and contributors to the publication were Dean Leslie Fenwick, Dr. Greg Carr, and Howard graduating senior, Phi Beta Kappa, Desiree Luckey.
Let us continue to recognize the importance of our Alternative Spring Break initiative to the identity of Howard and its commitment to truth and service. This spring, nearly 400 students, accompanied by faculty and staff, passed up vacations and “fun in the sun” and traveled to 5 cities and Haiti to serve communities in need. They demonstrated their commitment to service learning and social justice.
Focus on PCAR Implementation and Academic Renewal
We remain focused primarily on our goal of achieving a higher level of academic excellence at the University. In the past month, I have visited many of our schools and colleges to engage directly with faculty and staff regarding the opportunities and challenges in front of us. Before the semester is over, I will have visited with each of our academic units to hear from faculty and staff.
We continue to attract the “best and the brightest” students seeking admission to Howard. There is a strong interest in our academic programs. We have received applications from 26,039 students, 11,608 of whom want to enroll in our undergraduate colleges and schools.
The undergraduate pool has impressive academic credentials: a 1090 combined average SAT total, and a 3.35 grade point average. I want to thank our Enrollment Management Team, faculty, staff and students for the manner in which they received more than 2000 prospective students and their families during their visit to the campus in March.
Our faculty, staff, students, deans and department chairs are working collaboratively with the University’s academic team leadership (Leffall, Schmoke, and Frederick) to implement our visionary PCAR initiatives. A faculty task force consisting of 40 Diaspora scholars is working to develop the framework for the interdisciplinary Center for Diaspora Studies. We are also moving forward on the development of the Ronald Walters Center and proceeding with the identification of a Director for the Center. This is a center-piece of our PCAR initiative.
At its meeting last week, the Board of Trustees approved the School of Education’s undergraduate B.S. degree program in teacher education and its new Masters in School Counseling program, which resulted from the elimination and merger of a number of programs in the School. These initiatives will anchor the School’s urban education and leadership PCAR focus. In addition, our extended deliberations and recommendations resulted in the Board of Trustees approving a revised process to determine membership on the Graduate Faculty. The revised process will permit broader participation in the delivery of graduate education by tenured and tenure-track faculty.
I am also encouraged by the progress that we are making to implement our PCAR vision for undergraduate education. The Board of Trustees reviewed our recommendation to establish a 120-credit hour standard for bachelor’s degrees that brings us into alignment with prevailing best practices. We expect their final approval at the June Executive Committee of the Board. With other changes, the new standard will help improve student retention and timely graduation. Our undergraduate education task force is making progress on the development of a framework for a “Common First year Experience.” The task force will present its recommendations to me in August, so that I can make my recommendation at the September Board meeting.
I appreciate the faculty’s engagement with the Faculty Handbook revision process. The Faculty Handbook Revision Committee, led by Dr. Alvin Thornton, is continuing its work with input gained from the faculty’s response to the Faculty Handbook Survey and the results of school and college meetings. The Committee plans to have a revised Handbook proposal ready for the faculty’s consideration in August of 2012.
We are moving forward to fill senior academic positions at the University. The Provost Search Committee, chaired by Interim Dean Anthony Wutoh of the College of Pharmacy, has identified 4 finalist candidates for the Provost position. These finalists are visiting campus this week and next to meet with faculty, students and staff, the cabinet and me. After a thorough vetting of the candidates, I expect to make a decision by the end of May.
After many years of dedicated service and leadership, Dean James Donaldson has decided to resign and return to his faculty position.
As well, Dean Jannette Dates has stepped down and is working with me to help fund raise for a new building for the School of Communications. We have constituted a representative search committee, chaired by Dean Leslie Fenwick, to recommend candidates to fill the School of Communication dean’s position. Preliminary interviews will take place during summer, but the finalist candidates will not be invited to campus until the fall semester when the faculty returns.
I thank Dr. Onwumechili for his willingness to assume the Interim Dean’s position until a permanent dean is identified. Early in the fall semester, I will charge a search committee to identify candidates to fill the College of Arts and Sciences dean’s position. Associate Dean Dr. Gbadegasion has agreed to serve as Interim Dean until the position is filled. The Provost and I will continue our productive discussions with the PCAR Graduate work Group to refine the shape of the Graduate School before proceeding with the initiation of a search to fill the dean’s position.
Faculty Renewal Initiatives
We are continuing with our commitment to Faculty Renewal and implementing its phased retirement and retention components. The Phased Retirement Program (PRP) is the first phase of the faculty renewal program. By February 29, 2012, all eligible faculty members who elected to participate in the PRP reached a mutual understanding (including up to five years of continued service) with their Dean. Of the 212 faculty who initially applied to the program, 190 have confirmed that they will enter the PRP, with 34 retiring fully as of June 30, 2012.
A second phase of faculty renewal is strengthening faculty retention and rewarding faculty performance through our faculty compensation initiative. I appointed a sub-committee of the Budget Advisory Committee (BAC) to develop recommendations for a new faculty compensation strategy. The sub-committee identified comparison universities as benchmarks and is now working on a recommendation for my consideration. The sub-committee is developing and will be recommending a revised faculty compensation system that will: create enhanced transparency and predictability in the university’s compensation system; align with university values and priorities;
move faculty to competitive compensation levels within a reasonable period; enhance the equitability of the compensation system; be affordable and consistent with Board policy.
The PRP and Faculty Compensation (retention) programs are important to the continued development of the University. Faculty renewal is a three-phased process intended to create an orderly transition of faculty retirements during a time when significant numbers of our senior faculty are choosing to retire. Faculty retirements create the opportunity to hire new scholars within the university’s strategic priority and growth areas.
Continuing Commitment to Facilities Renovation and Renewal
Of the nearly 100 buildings at Howard, more than 40 were built prior to 1950. The University has embarked upon a facilities renewal plan that will see the construction in the first phase of two new residence halls, and a new academic building; the Interdisciplinary Science Building. In addition, there will be upgrades to other buildings across campus. Several of the upgrades and renovations are in progress and will continue over the next year, including those involving Locke Hall, Founders Library, the C B Powell and Numa Adams Buildings, the College of Dentistry Building, and Burr Gymnasium and more. We understand that effective and competitive faculty and student research, teaching and service can only take place in a high-quality facilities environment.
Ensuring the University’s Financial Stability
As I shared with many of the Schools and Colleges that I visited in the last month, in 2008 the University had a structural deficit of about $50 million and an $85 million operating loss, a situation that was not sustainable. The University’s revenue was growing at a much slower rate than its costs. As I have discussed, the deficit and losses were caused by a number of factors. We were challenged at the time by inaccurate accounting. For example, in 2008, our books were closed annually long after the year was over, leaving us with inadequate information about how we were doing financially. In 2007, the University had significant unfunded increases to faculty staff and administration and we were investing in too many academic and administrative programs.
In this environment, we needed to make immediate reductions and begin to focus resources on strategic priorities. In Spring 2009, we offered a Voluntary Separation Incentive Retirement Program (VSIRP) to staff, which resulted in 339 staff leaving the University, saving the University $16 million. The reductions were designed to be permanent. In part, because of the VSIRP initiative, we were able to balance the budget in FY10 with appositive result. In FY11, the Board approved our academic renewal recommendations. With the balanced budget in FY10 and the commitment to renewal, the University was positioned to borrow about $150 million to fund major facilities renovations and modernization projects and new academic buildings.
The 2012 fiscal year introduced new challenges and we were faced with a new operating deficit. We had gone through a major recession and lost 25% of our endowment. In FY12, we committed to implementing academic program renewal, administrative renewal and facilities renewal (deferred maintenance, major renovations and new construction).
We also committed to balancing the budget by controlling operations costs, reducing staff duplication and adjusting faculty and staff compensation by creating financial capacity through staff reductions.
In an attempt to get work done with fewer people, the university got off track. We re-staffed to the pre-VSIRP period, which increased salaries in FY12 by about $12 million above the budget; we increased financial aid above $80 million, which was much higher than the budgeted $70 million; and we increased controllable operations costs by about $12 million above budget. Thanks to the sacrifices of the University community, we are getting back on track.
We are requiring each academic and administrative support unit to operate within their allocated budgets. We have deferred selected facilities projects, while assigning top priority to those needs associated with the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff. We have closely reviewed all contract services with the goal of reducing reliance upon them, and continued with the implementation of the “shared service model.” We devoted focused attention to reducing utilities and other operating costs through a limited campus closure during Spring Break, a practice that we will consider for next year with more advance notice to faculty and staff. These initiatives are necessary so that we can end this year (FY12) with a positive balance.
We will face continuing challenges in the 4th Quarter when we generate the least amount of revenue because we do not collect tuition when classes are not in session. During this period, we have most of the same expenses with less revenue. Diligence and sacrifice will be required to get us through the 4th quarter and position us to stay focused going into the new academic year so that we do not find ourselves off-track in FY13.
End of the Academic Year and Commencement
I deeply appreciate the contributions that you have made this academic year and look forward to joining with you to celebrate our 2012 graduates, honor selected alumni and hear Secretary Duncan’s Commencement speech. As it has done for many generations, Howard will send forth the next critical mass of diverse graduating seniors, doctoral and masters students, and legal, medical professionals who will help define the future of our nation and the world.
Moving Forward Together
Since I introduced myself to you four years ago, many things in the world have changed. We have seen major changes in politics, economics and culture. Higher education has faced unprecedented challenges. But what has remained the same is the unique and irreplaceable treasure that is Howard University. We still have a shared mission, purpose and vision. We still have a collective commitment to truth and service. What we now know is that there is nothing that we can’t improve on if we work together. We are working very hard on academic program renewal, faculty renewal and administrative renewal, all in the context of maintaining financial stability and sustainability. We are encouraged by the successes we are seeing, and committed to continuing the progress outlined.
The phenomenal story of Howard University is a story of individuals who have done great things… but our collective story is more than any single individual. It is the story of ideas that are born, continue, and make a difference as they touch lives and transcend our communities, the nation and the world.