My first day on this job 24 years ago, I wrote two letters: one to Sam Marble and one to Jack Ryder. I thanked them each for all they had done to help create the opportunity I had inherited. I was deeply grateful then; in retrospect and knowing what I know now, I am even more grateful tonight.
Twenty-four years ago SVSU was ripe and ready to become what it has become. It had been created with bold imagination, had persevered through difficult times and grown and matured into an extraordinarily promising institution.
Cindy and I arrived from Vermont with Sara and Seth and a timid Labrador retriever and a predatory calico cat. We felt lucky to be here. In fact, we were incredibly lucky to be here.
During these past twenty-four years some buildings were constructed – lots of them, actually: buildings to support and improve academic programs . . . buildings to house and amuse students . . . buildings that encouraged the arts to thrive and recreation to enrich the lives of a campus community. So . . . how did all this happen?
It happened because a number of key legislators endured the tenacious and persistent lobbying of Gene Hamilton and still chose to dedicate their political careers to the development of this institution in and for their Region. Then thoughtful board members took the risks of borrowing money to build a residential campus that would bring students from throughout Michigan and, indeed, from around the world to this flat valley.
Skilled architects and planners worked hard and long to make the difficult and critical decisions about what to build and where to build to create the theaters and stages on which the performances of a University would play out. And then the women and men of the maintenance and custodial staff gave these places the care they needed to serve the people and programs they housed. That is how this wonderful and beautiful campus came to be . . . all these people made it happen.
There were endowments created and programs developed: endowed chairs to provide academic leadership . . . fellowship and grant programs to give students extraordinary opportunities . . . lectureships and performances to enrich the intellectual and cultural life of the campus for students young and old and a community.
How did all this happen? Generous donors were inspired by the possibilities . . . friends did the difficult and often awkward work of explaining these possibilities and asking. . . and then dedicated faculty and staff did the hard work of making these programs and possibilities come alive for students.
And so now we have the Roberts Fellows and Gerstacker Fellows and Braun Fellows and Kantzler Fellows and Vitito Fellows. We have endowed chairs and the Dow Visiting Scholars and Artists Program and the Dow Student Research and Creativity Institute. We have Rhea Miller concerts and the Rush and Edwards and Barstow and O’Neill lectures, and we have the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. And there are literally hundreds of endowed scholarships to help and reward our students.
These and more are now part of the fabric, the culture of our University. But they weren't always there . . . people made them happen.
And there were new academic programs developed and existing ones upgraded and redeveloped . . . countless lectures and projects and exams were constructed and delivered . . . books and articles were published – the most important and most difficult work of an academic institution.
New ideas added excitement and enjoyment to the life of the campus – games and conversations and . . . yes, just plain fun. These and other initiatives brought the campus alive with ideas and opportunities.
How did this happen? Faculty and staff worked and cared, day to day, sometimes going unnoticed and often unappreciated. We appreciate them now.
Over these years, the reach of the University was extended around the world. Students and visiting scholars were drawn here from every continent. And SVSU students and faculty boarded airplanes from Michigan to distant places and returned forever changed. Friendships were deepened and new ones created with institutions and colleagues in Japan . . . and India . . . and Ghana . . . and Taiwan.
In fact, as we have already seen, distinguished representatives of those sister institutions are here with us tonight to celebrate this moment with us.
Board members – the Board of Control, the Board of Fellows, the SVSU Foundation Board, the Alumni Board – gave of their time and treasure and talents to guide and direct the course of the University. They gave – that’s it, they gave – because they believed in what the University did and could mean in the lives of others. And vice-presidents and deans and key staff members joined as a team to work – incredibly hard – and to worry – they do worry, 24/7.
It was their calling to push and prod and ensure that tasks, large and small, were done to move the University forward to its better future. I can tell you first-hand that no one tried harder or cared more than these colleagues – colleagues who also became friends.
And, of course, students came and went – tens of thousands of them. They came from the Thumb, and the Great Lakes Bay Region, and along the I-75 corridor, and then from places twelve time zones away and everywhere in between. They learned and, sometimes, they taught the rest of us. And they left something of themselves here too. They created traditions – new clubs, fund-raising events like their annual “Battle of the Valleys,” parades and parties and painted rocks and all manner of mischief.
They won and lost games of sport; they acted out important ideas and characters in plays; they grew as we watched them on stages and in laboratories. They made memories – for themselves and for those of us who were privileged to share these moments with them. And because of all they did, and what we knew they might become, they made us all want to do better, to be better.
Perhaps now, on an occasion like this, we might begin to see it all come together – rather like an impressionist's painting. The collective work of so many people . . . each adding strokes from their own brushes . . . each adding their own artistry to the shared canvas.
They all did it, individually and together – hundreds and thousands of faculty and staff and board members and donors and politicians and, of course, students. And you all did it. It's a thing of beauty to behold tonight.
I confess to being something of a hopeless romantic about the very idea of a university – often given to rhapsodizing what it is and does in the lives of people and a society. But I do believe that the university is the chosen instrument of our highest and best hopes.
So now, half a century later, we have in our care and keeping an institution that has touched and inspired and lifted the lives of literally tens of thousands of individuals and tens of thousands of their families.
None have been more profoundly touched and enriched than the Gilbertsons; and none could be more grateful.
But here’s the thing: this collective work of art is never finished. Never.
The university is always about the business of creating and being created. It’s fascinating to imagine – or try to imagine –the university students will need fifty years from now. But there are tens of thousands of yet unborn – not yet conceived – human souls who are counting on us.
We know only this: the University they will need will have to be far better than the one we have created so far. Far better. We also know that fifty years is not really a very long time. Looking back tonight it seems to have passed in the blinking of an eye.
And now the clock is ticking swiftly and relentlessly towards the year 2063.
There’s so much yet to do . . . we’d better get to work.
Thursday, August 22, 2013 Eric R. Gilbertson, President Saginaw Valley State University
Almost exactly 24 years ago, I showed up at this event for the first time. It was held in Wickes Hall then – in what we now call the Marble Lecture Hall – when we could all fit in that room. I remember feeling somewhat bemused as departments and offices cheerfully introduced their new colleagues to warm and welcoming applause, much as we just did. I surmised that this really was an unpretentious and friendly place – one determined to preserve the culture of the small college it once was and, perhaps, still is, if only in our collective imagination.
And I remember thinking back then that I might just get to like this place. Well … I did. And I still do. I hope you do too.
There is a lot on our agenda this fall, so let me bring you up to date on several things. Among our other new colleagues, we also welcome two new members to our governing board.
John Kunitzer is an SVSU alumnus who recently retired from his position as the chief executive officer of Yeo & Yeo, a regional accounting and management consulting company. He has also served the University as a member of the Board of Fellows for several years.
Dennis Durco, of Pinckney, Michigan, is also a CPA and is director of Eclipse Capital Group. He is also active in various professional accounting, charitable and civic organizations.
Both John and Dennis were appointed by the governor to eight-year terms on our Board.
At the same time, we offer thanks to Dave Abbs and Leola Wilson, whose eight-year terms on the Board have concluded. We’ll have a reception to honor their service next month, and I hope many of you will stop by to express appreciation to them.
A number of physical changes are under way on campus – and a few are still nearing completion at a moment perilously close to the start of classes. Parking has been the bane of my existence for the past 24 years, but it does look as though the new and expanded lots will be ready for next week.
The steel structure of the Ryder Center Field House project will soon emerge from the parking lot it displaces. All athletes – those filled with youthful exuberance and those fighting the pitiless ravages of time – can play out their enthusiasms in this place. And I can envision the “Healthy U” crowd of faculty and staff gliding effortlessly around the new 300-meter track.
Once the new field house is completed in April, work will begin on the renovation of the existing Ryder Center – a building that is now some 25 years old.
A number of energy conservation projects have been completed, the most visible of these are the new and more energy-efficient external lighting fixtures on campus.
And work will soon begin on the renovation of first floor space in the Regional Education Center to house the offices of our partner institution, Ming Chuan University of Taiwan.
A re-developed garden and entrance to the Fredericks Sculpture Museum is nearing completion; thanks to friends and family of Marshall Fredericks for their generosity in making this possible. “Black Elk,” one of Marshall’s last works, also found its new home on campus this summer.
Finally, a few new roofs have been installed, so perhaps we can dispense with those water buckets in the Ryder Center and Groening Commons on rainy days. And work on the Wickes Hall infrastructure, our oldest major facility, will continue with the new support of a $6 million appropriation from the state of Michigan. Thanks to our friends in the Legislature for that support.
The accreditation visit by evaluators from the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) is drawing nigh – it’s in April – and work by legions of colleagues on an institutional self-study is nearing completion. This is hugely important work, and our thanks to all those who have served on the committees preparing this report.
You’ll hear more – and more – about this as April nears; but please bear in mind that our institutional accreditation is a responsibility of everyone at the University. This review scrutinizes virtually every aspect of our University – from academic programs to financial management, from student services to community outreach, from athletics to the arts, from … well, you get the idea.
The HLC visitors will wish to speak with faculty and staff and students from across the institution to validate that what we say is, in fact, what we are and what we do. Stay tuned for more on this – again, much more.
There are several important academic initiatives under way; most are the business of individual departments and colleges. Let me mention just two: a major new investment in our capacity to deliver instruction online and an expanded commitment to our future in international education.
You’ve all read about – and experienced – the ways in which technology is changing our higher education “industry.” The so-called “MOOCs” – massive open online courses – have received most of this recent media attention. Some of this, of course, is just hype – but some of it may be prophetic.
Technology does present some threats to our “business as usual,” and it also presents some opportunities for us to reach out and deliver instruction in ways that better suit some students in some disciplines. It is time to make some critical judgments in that regard.
As Don Bachand has announced, we have asked Dr. Poonam Kumar to take a new leadership role in the development of expanded and improved online instruction.
The expansion of online and hybrid offerings in our graduate programs is, quite literally, essential to their success if not to their survival in the current marketplace. We believe, too, that the expansion of these offerings in our spring and summer semesters offers great promise in reaching some of our advanced undergraduates when they are distant from the campus.
Again, stay tuned for more on this as the year progresses.
We are also keenly aware of the increasing importance of international programs to the University – both in terms of expanding the enrollment of international students from a broader range of nations, as well as creating improved international opportunities for our domestic students and academic programs. Key to the accomplishment of these goals will be developing and strengthening relationships with partner institutions in other nations.
Ming Chuan University in Taiwan is the first Asian university to achieve American accreditation, and our work together will be an important strategic relationship for both institutions in the years ahead. Ming Chuan also brings to our relationship its other partnerships with institutions in several other East Asian nations.
An important new position has been created – associate provost for International Programs – and we are now recruiting for an officer of the University who can give senior leadership to these and other initiatives.
We cannot yet predict precisely what fall semester enrollments will be at the end of late registration next week. Suffice it to say for now that we anticipate meeting budget projections.
Our University is in a very different student recruitment market than at any time during these past five decades. The number of high school graduates in Michigan has dropped by about 7 percent in just the past two years and is projected to fall further in the years ahead. We also know that enrollments in our graduate teacher education programs have fallen sharply in response to a weak employment market for K-12 teachers and to changing state certification requirements.
At the same time, we have been encouraged by the overall level of interest in our academic and student life programs – particularly by students with stronger academic preparation. And we continue efforts to focus on student retention, with some reason for encouragement in that regard.
We also see continued full-occupancy in on-campus student housing, where move-in is underway as we speak. More on this to follow as final registration numbers are computed. In any event, there’ll be lots of students here this semester and lots of work to do with them.
It has surely been impossible for anyone to escape noticing that we’ll be marking the 50th anniversary of our University’s founding this semester. There’ll be lectures and cultural events and, yes, parties. You’ll soon see the literature advertising these events, so do plan to come out and enjoy the full and fascinating cultural life of the campus in this special year.
Several of the lectures will connect with our 50th anniversary and the year 1963. And our Music and Theatre Departments are collaborating on a production of Mel Brooks’ award-winning musical comedy, “The Producers.” This should be fun.
And yes, the Cardinals will show up again on the fields and in arenas this fall. And yes, we anticipate that they will do very well. Our students and our colleagues are working hard to represent the University well – and they’re really fun to watch.
The first home football game is Saturday, September 14. Men’s soccer opens its season at home on September 15 as we dedicate the “Bob Braddock Field;” and the women’s team has its home opener on September 27. The home tennis season starts September 6 against Ashland; and volleyball plays Wayne State on the 27th in Cardinal Gym. Go Cards!
Our 50th anniversary fund-raising campaign has received generous support from the University’s friends – old and new. You’ll soon hear announcements about several new gifts to initiate programs or assist students with scholarships.
And my personal thanks to the 507 faculty and staff who have committed nearly $910,000 of their own gifts to this campaign.
Finally, as you may know, they’ll be looking for a new University president here in the weeks and months ahead. Alas, time marches relentlessly on, making change and transition inevitable.
Given the many strengths of our University – fine faculty and staff, a solid financial position, strong political and philanthropic support, an organizational culture that works and is at peace with itself – this seemed to be as good a time as any for this change to happen.
A search committee has been appointed to advise the Board of Control, and faculty and staff are well represented in that group. You’ll be hearing more about this as the process goes forward and, at some point, some very fortunate individual will be appointed as just the fourth president in our University’s history.
As for yours truly, I started out to be a college professor. Well…I got distracted for a couple decades, but now it’s time to get my career back on track. So next year at this gathering, I expect to be sitting out there with all of you watching my lucky successor struggling to find words that might enthuse us about the cruel reality that summer is over and it’s time to get back to work.
By the way, I just found out that when I do leave this job they’re going to whack my salary, evict me from my house and repossess the keys to my car. And I won’t have Mary to take care of me anymore! That hardly seems right – I’ve gotten pretty used to those perks.
On the other hand, I will soon have at least one new perk that the rest of you fully enjoy. For the first time in a very long time, I’ll be able to join all of you in complaining about the University administration! I’ve long suspected that this place was run by fools, and soon I’ll be able to whisper that, like all of you do.
So… on we go. We’ll take a little time this year to look back – for lessons learned as well as, perhaps, for a little sentimental reflection. But we dare not spend too much time doing that.
I can assure you of this: there are 10,000 students out there, and tens of thousands yet to come, who couldn’t care less about what happened the last 50 years – much less the past 24. They care only about what’s going to happen tomorrow… and the tomorrows after that. They’re not wallowing in any nostalgia about things past; they simply want to know why we’re not doing more to make things better.
That’s not really ingratitude on their part – it’s their job to push us forward, and it’s our job to keep looking and moving ahead… always ahead. The University can and should respect its yesterdays, but the University is really always about tomorrow. Always about tomorrow.
But before we get too serious about the work ahead, let’s have a party tonight – the kegs are tapped and the corks are popped and it looks like the weather is cooperating.
And then tomorrow and the tomorrows after that – one more time for Ol’ Gilby – let’s go out there and do it to them before they do it to us. And people, do be careful out there.
Thursday, January 24, 2013 Eric R. Gilbertson, President Saginaw Valley State University
I really don’t know what an ordinary year would be like at SVSU – I can’t remember any year that was merely ordinary. But, by any test, 2013 is not going to be just another year.
This is the year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of our University’s founding, of course. But it’s also the year we prepare for our decennial accreditation visit from the Higher Learning Commission. And it’s also a year in which we begin implementation of yet another strategic plan – one that signals something of a new era in this University’s ongoing development. More on that in a moment.
But, again, it will not be just another ordinary year – whatever one of those might be like.
Before beginning today, I promised to make a “pitch” to you. Our students are once again conducting a campus-wide “Relay for Life” drive to raise funds for the American Cancer Society. The date is February 22-23, and they ask for your support. I ask too.
Last year our students raised some $50,000 for the “Relay;” they’d like to exceed that goal this year. Raising money for worthy causes has become an important part of the extra-curricular life on this campus. Last fall, the Student Association’s “Battle of the Valleys” – which has become a wonderful campus tradition – raised more than $30,000 for a program that provides recreational opportunities to disabled youngsters.
We can all be very proud of our students’ commitment and generosity. Please help them if you can.
Before moving on, I also want to mention that the guy behind the screen – and the consummate professional who has handled these visuals for me as well as for so many other University events for more than 25 years – is Brian Mudd. Brian is leaving SVSU next month to take a position in sunny South Florida.
No one has worked harder for SVSU, and I know he has helped and supported so many of you as well over the years. So. . . Brian please step out here and let us thank you. . . .
Let me begin with a few brief updates on the semester now underway. Winter semester enrollment is off slightly from earlier projections – down about 3.0% in headcount and 2.0% in credit hours. We had expected and have now seen a continued decline in graduate enrollments in the College of Education – state certification standards no longer require new teachers to complete graduate credits and so, not surprisingly, most have stopped doing so.
It is also clear now that we are beginning to see the effect of declining numbers of high school graduates in Michigan. We’ve seen the enrollment losses in the public schools of the State; almost every district has had to deal with closing school buildings and a loss of state capitation funding.
This year alone there were some 14% fewer high school juniors who took the ACT test. And it is projected that the numbers of high school graduates will drop by some 19% over the next decade. Projecting future enrollments will be a challenge. More on that later too.
For the first year in many, we have no major ongoing physical plant projects to spotlight. Our focus has now shifted to those smaller, less visible, but still important projects that preserve and improve the campus facilities we have. The third floor of Wickes Hall is one example, and the utility systems and energy conservation needs of that facility – one of the oldest on campus – are the next major project for attention.
After that, upgrades to the 24-year-old Ryder Center will be the next priority. These projects are needed and make good sense; and we are hoping for some help from our friends in the Legislature to make them possible.
Guided by consultants and with support and advice from many of you, we have recently completed a new iteration of our campus Master Plan – the first update of this important document in more than 15 years. While no master plan can or should dictate with precision each and every future physical change, our campus development has for the most part generally adhered to a succession of well-conceived plans over nearly five decades of growth.
The last campus Master Plan anticipated future development in the northwest quadrant of the core campus – now the site of the Regional Education Center and Health and Human Services Building. It also called for student housing to be developed at the south, along Pierce Road, and for the improvement of the Athletic Complex and the Davis Road corridor and entrance. You have seen these developments take shape.
The new Master Plan suggests the eventual expansion of Collings Drive to complete a loop around the central campus and provide an entrance from Freeland Road in the north. It also suggests the possible curtailment of College Drive in the center of campus, creating a much larger and pedestrian-friendly “green” core area.
On another interesting note, the first Master Plan for “Saginaw Valley College” anticipated that there might be partner educational organizations attracted to the campus, creating a multi-faceted educational center on this site. Subsequent plans, including the new one, also envision the potential for “University-related” partners to locate on the campus, most likely in those still-undeveloped portions of the Northwest Quadrant.
We may soon see the first such development by a partner organization. We are presently involved in serious discussions with Ming Chuan University concerning the lease of property on our campus for that institution’s North American facility. Ming Chuan is a Taiwanese University with institutional relationships throughout East Asia; it is also the first Asian university to receive full accreditation from an American regional accreditor – the Middle States Association.
The concept would be for Ming Chuan University to bring international students here to study in classes offered both by Ming Chuan as well as SVSU. This would, of course, create a strong relationship between the universities; it would also clearly support our goal of expanding and diversifying the enrollment of international students on our campus. Stay tuned on this one.
Again, please remember none of this means that anything must or will happen exactly this way - or happen at all, for that matter. But this planning exercise and this document will help us and others in the future think sensibly – and creatively – about campus development. And it does – and should – help prevent future campus development from proceeding randomly or as the product of only short-term thinking.
Work continues on our self-study for HLC accreditation, and several committees are busy assessing our programs and policies with applicable HLC standards. To be candid, I really don’t think anyone believes our accreditation is in serious jeopardy – we are a mature, stable and successful institution. But there are things we can do better – things we must do better – and this is an opportunity to confront weaknesses honestly and chart directions for improvement.
Please support the efforts of those serving on these committees and please also take advantage of the opportunities in the months ahead to share your ideas and suggestions as part of this process.
Planning also continues for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of SVSU’s founding, including the continued work on a fund-raising initiative: “Talent, Opportunity, Promise: The Campaign for SVSU.”
We will soon be announcing more early results from that Campaign, but suffice it to say that many of the university’s loyal friends have already been extraordinarily generous in their support. Especially gratifying has been the support of our own faculty and staff colleagues. At last count, some 212 faculty and staff have given or pledged approximately $310,000 for this Campaign.
I can’t thank you enough. When we ask others for their support, it means a great deal to say that our own colleagues contribute to the University’s work with their generosity as well as their daily work.
An important part of this Campaign’s goal will be to raise funds for student scholarships. We know first-hand and all too well that college costs place real burdens on our students and their families. Scholarships can mitigate some of this burden as well as make attendance here possible for many.
Our Campaign theme is, again, about talent and opportunity – and financial support for students serves both the goal of attracting talent to our campus and creating opportunities for that talent to emerge and thrive.
In preparing for this fund-raising campaign, we retained a consultant who surveyed friends and prospective donors – including many who have been strong supporters – about their views of SVSU. What surprised us was a finding that while almost everyone’s views were very positive, many of their impressions about the University were badly outdated.
It served as a reminder that we can never assume our friends and supporters know about our work, and we can never take their support or their loyalty for granted. This 50th anniversary provides a unique opportunity to communicate more effectively about the University with our publics. It is also all of our responsibility to represent our University to others and constantly explain our work and why it matters.
The anniversary celebration events are scheduled for the fall semester, so please look for these announcements and hold those dates on your calendars.
And no discussion about the “state” of things at the University would be complete without at least some reference to matters at the State level – in particular, things pending or soon to be pending in the Michigan Legislature.
We expect the Governor to present his proposed Executive Budget in a few weeks. And while Michigan’s recovery from the “Great Recession” continues to be slow, State revenues appear to be more stable; we can reasonably assume that those dark years of annual cuts to higher education appropriations are behind us – at least for the near term.
We do not yet know, of course, what the criteria might be for higher education appropriation allocations, but if they are similar to last year’s then we might expect some sort of modest increase in State funding for the coming year. If so, this would not only provide much needed support but also help mitigate any future increases in tuition. More on that to follow as more becomes known.
Over the past six months, a great deal of work has also gone into the preparation of a new Strategic Plan for SVSU. It is important to point out that the development of not just the physical campus but the overall institutional direction has been accomplished through a succession of plans.
Everything we have and are today began with a plan back in the 1960s – “Design for a College” – which set the stage. In the past 20 years, there have been a series of successor plans, each the product of work by a task force of faculty and staff, and each was eventually adopted by our governing board. Vitally important decisions – such as the expansion of student housing, efforts at internationalization, the creation of new degree programs, investments in technology, the setting of enrollment and financial goals – all were the result of this planning.
The growth and development of SVSU was not the result of random decision-making or rudderless drift. There have been, of course, unanticipated setbacks and occasional serendipitous developments. But, for the most part, SVSU is the creation of careful planning.
A lot of what passes for “strategic planning” in higher education is superficial and pretentious – often substituting what I call “big words and bad ideas” for substance. Some of it also reaches too far – seeking to appear lofty and visionary – and thus has little value in the real world in which a university lives and works with real people.
SVSU’s plans have attempted to balance hopes and needs with merciless realities – and to set goals and directives that serve a historic mission.
We hope this Plan, which will be presented to the Board of Control for its approval next month, accomplishes those purposes. A copy can be found on the website, there are some key details that deserve special mention here today.
In a chapter of this Plan concerning “Academic Improvement,” we will commission work with a consultant to explore the future of technology-based instruction at SVSU. In fact, this work is already underway.
To state the obvious, there is a lot going on out there including the development of the so-called “massive on-line open courses.” How will this affect our University and our programs? And what opportunities should we be pursuing – or avoiding?
We know, for example, that, especially at the graduate level, students are demanding more and more convenience in the delivery of instruction. And own graduate programs have been inching more and more into on-line or hybridized coursework.
It is now time for us to step back and chart a clear direction in that regard, and then to move ahead more boldly.
In a chapter on “Qualitative Distinctiveness” it is proposed that we continue to invest selectively in programs and services that lift the quality of opportunities for students – and especially for high-achieving students. It starts with this question: why should a very good student come to SVSU?
Earlier strategic plans led to the creation of initiatives like special advisory services for pre-medicine and pre-law students, the new Vitito Scholars Program in the College of Business, artists-in-residence in Music and scholarships in Theatre, the Foundation Scholars Program and several other new or improved programs.
This new Plan calls for the University to set aside each year – in good times and bad – a sum for investment in these qualitative initiatives that seek solely to answer that critical question.
This year, new investments are being made in the Moot Court and Model United Nations programs in the Political Science Department. And we have just announced the creation of a new “Saginaw Bay Environmental Science Institute” in the College of Science, Engineering and Technology. It will be headed by the Herbert H. Dow Chair in Chemistry, David Karpovich, and will involve several faculty colleagues whose research focuses on critical issues in this wonderful environmental laboratory just a few miles away.
Some of you may recall that we had once considered establishing a research station in the Bay, on Charity Island. That did not come to pass – at least for now – but in sober analysis we concluded that what was most needed to expand our research capabilities was not a physical site but better access to this body of water. Look for good things to come from this initiative – an initiative imagined and promoted by these colleagues.
We hope that the availability of investment funding will stimulate other departments to include creative proposals in their annual plans. Too often, to be candid, the annual departmental plans have been a rote exercise rather than a process of ambitious imagining.
I can’t stress this strongly enough: we need the best ideas of our colleagues, and the departments and offices which have taken seriously the responsibility to plan and create have been and will be supported.
There is another important opportunity addressed in this Plan. The Carnegie Foundation has created a special classification for institutions that have built service and research and learning connections with the communities around them as a key element in their institutional mission: “Community Engagement Institutions.” Clearly, SVSU is deeply engaged in the region around us: businesses and schools and hospitals and social service agencies are all important laboratories for our academic programs; student organizations volunteer in community-based organizations and raise money for worthy local causes.
We believe that obtaining this special designation from this prestigious national organization would both recognize and encourage these important relationships with the Great Lakes Bay Region. The next application cycle is in 2015, and work has already begun in preparation; much more work will be involved as this proceeds.
The “Enrollment Management” chapter of this Strategic Plan calls for the stabilization of our overall enrollments at current or close to current levels. It acknowledges the obvious challenges this will involve: the declining numbers of high schools graduates over the next decade; changes in teacher certification requirements; a continued lag in the retention rates for our entering first-year students.
But there are also opportunities in each of these challenges: to recruit a more diverse array of international and out-of-state students; to expand several of our graduate programs; and, most important, to improve retention and “student success” rates.
Everything we do will require even more focus on the whole issue of “student success.” That is a major theme throughout this entire Plan. To state the obvious, the strength of our enrollments has been utterly critical to everything else at our University. It will be even more critical to us in the future, and we should never take our past success for granted or assume it will continue without considerable effort and expense.
There are also chapters in this Strategic Plan on “Campus Culture” and “Physical and Technological Resources” and “University and Community Advancement.” Each of these chapters contains important ideas – and, sometimes, important reminders. And each deserves and will receive full attention in the months and years to come.
In fact, as with previous plans, the Board of Control and the campus community will receive annual reports on the progress, of lack thereof, made towards these goals.
This new Strategic Plan does not indicate an ending date. It may well serve the University for three to five years, but we leave open that question. Events and trends are too difficult to predict – we make no claim to prescience – and another planning process may well be needed either before or after some arbitrarily set date.
If there is an over-arching theme to this Strategic Plan, it might be this: we are now a mature University at what is likely to remain the overall size and character it has now achieved.
All of our previous strategic plans sought to control and direct growth; and growth has been a dominant theme in the identity of the University. This Plan now signals an important shift in SVSU’s direction and, to some extent, in its identity.
SVSU is and will be a mid-sized public university – seizing that as a differentiating feature and a virtue. SVSU is large enough to offer a broad range of academic programs, and it has more than a critical mass for a vibrant and vital campus life. And yet we believe it remains a human-scale organization, committed to relatively small class sizes and excellence in teaching. In fact, we promote SVSU almost more as a small college experience than a mass-production academic factory.
This Strategic Plan, then, focuses not on continued growth but accelerated improvement. We know that the world around us is not standing still and that if we do not improve we will inevitably fall behind. Some of you may scoff at this, but the late football coach at The Ohio State University, one of the institutions where my career took shape – OK, it was “Woody” Hayes – and he used to say this: “Nothing stands still – you’re either getting better or you’re getting worse.”
Growth for SVSU was easy – well, not easy, but dramatic and visible. Improvement is harder; and it usually comes in smaller, incremental steps. And those steps – thinking and re-thinking what we do, constantly looking for ways to do it better, adapting to new conditions and opportunities, learning and teaching and helping our students – those steps must be taken by all of us . . . every member of our University community.
And so we begin our University’s 50th year. I’ve already talked a lot about this and some of you are probably already tired of hearing it. But I’m fascinated with the power of human imagination.
A university . . . this University. . . is the product of human imagination. People first imagined this place when there was nothing there – or, nothing but a field and a historic moment. It is a great story!
This year we’ll talk some more about 1963 – a consequential year not just in this flat valley but also in national and international affairs. It was the year John F. Kennedy was assassinated; Martin Luther King spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and stirred congressional action on a landmark Civil Rights Bill; events in a far-off place – Indo-China – were a portent of things to come for America; and the first “Baby Boomers” started college – yours truly among them.
And here, a number of community leaders came together and asked why this region shouldn’t have a baccalaureate-granting institution in its midst.
You know, or should know some of their names. Harvey Randall “Rand” Wickes put up the first million dollars to help buy the land on which the campus now sits. Ted Doan (as in Doan Science Building) and his father – both CEOs of the Dow Chemical Company – were original incorporators of “Saginaw Valley College.” His sister, “Honey” Arbury, was an original member of the Board and served for its first two decades; she later brought the arts to this campus. Honey passed away just last month at the age of 91; we owe her so much.
Bill Groening (as in Groening Commons) was the first chair of the governing board; and he brought his lawyering skills to the drafting of policies and by-laws that still serve us well.
Charlie Curtiss (as in Curtiss Hall) was a youthful original board member who then served for some 32 years. Mel Zahnow (as in Zahnow Library) was also a long-time board member who oversaw the Wickes Foundation – this University’s largest benefactor.
And Bill Edwards led the fund-raising campaign that purchased this land, resulting in then-Governor Romney signing the legislation to adopt this as a state institution. Decades later, Bill contributed the funds to build a bell tower on this campus in honor of his wife, Julia Stacey Edwards.
There were legislators who made the development of this University the focus of their political careers: Jim O’Neill; Joel Gougeon; Jim Barcia; Mike Goshka; and others.
And there were the original and early faculty and staff – Sam Marble, the visionary, and our colleagues who came in those early years when there was not much here and not much to hope for. And then they stayed. We are much in debt to all of them and to so many others.
A university is, again, a uniquely human creation – this one didn’t just spring forth from a bountiful earth or drop from the sky. People, real people, made all this happen.
Every brick in every building . . .every book in the Library . . . every academic program and every lecture delivered in it . . . every service and every scholarship and every play called in a sports contest… all of those and more were the product of human imagination and effort. This University is, in a sense, a collective work of art.
And it not yet finished . . . it is never finished. A university, this University, is always about the business of creating and being created. Always . . . . And so the challenge . . . our challenge . . . is to continue this creative process – a process begun here a half-century ago and a process that will be continuing a half-century from now and beyond.
Honoring our history is important and this year will, again, provide us some special occasions to do that. But those students who enter this University care scant little – too little – about the toil and the creative thinking that came before them. They care mostly – perhaps only – about what comes next. And that is what we should care about too.
History – a story. There are many stories yet to be written – important stories, stories about an institution being created and about people’s lives being changed. And each of us has a chance to write them – every day here.
Let’s not squander those chances. Thank you - for listening today and for all you do every day.
Thursday, January 12, 2012 Eric R. Gilbertson, President Saginaw Valley State University
SVSU President Eric R. Gilbertson delivered the keynote address to the class of the Great Lakes Bay Regional Leadership Institute on Thursday, January 12:
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When I moved here some twenty-two years ago, I read and thought and tried to understand how this place had come to be what it was. Finally, I concluded that it was mostly the product of awesome geophysical forces.
About fifteen thousand years ago (give or take a millennium or two) a massive glacier plowed down from the north to cover most of North America and then receded, leaving in its wake the Great Lakes. When water eventually settled into what is now the approximate shoreline of Lake Huron – remember that where we are now was also once under water - it left in this place, about 43 degrees north latitude, 83 degrees west longitude, the “Saginaw Valley”.
To be pitilessly candid, it’s actually not a valley at all – there are no discernible walls on either side. It’s technically just a drainage basin - but that sounds so terribly inelegant, not the sort of thing you’d want to name a great university after. So the Saginaw Valley it became.
What the glacier also left behind was an environment agreeable to forestation, and so developed the great white pine forests. Rivers provided for the easy movement of timber, and so came about the lumber industry and era here in this flat valley.
As luck would have it, the glacier also deposited brine beneath the soil of what is now Midland. And those brine deposits brought a young Herbert Dow here from Cleveland about a century ago to perfect his chemical processes and to create what is now the major employer and economic driver in this Region.
And there was yet even more terrestrial bounty from our earth. The glacier also left iron ore deposits to the north of the lakes and coal to the south. Those assets, together with the prospect of efficient transportation via the waterways, made southern Michigan a congenial site for the development of an auto industry – an industry which then sprawled north from Detroit to Pontiac and Flint and on to Saginaw and Bay City.
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Humans, impelled by the economic and demographic forces which resulted from these natural phenomena, came next. First the French, then the Germans, then the Poles and then other Europeans came. (Native Americans were simply pushed aside for a time). In the early and mid-twentieth century, African Americans arrived as part of a great migration from the American South. Later, Hispanics migrated to work in the fertile fields of this former lakebed, and many stayed to work in the auto plants.
More recently, immigrants from East and South Asia and the Middle East have come to call this their home too – often lending their talents to the businesses and hospitals and universities of what we now are pleased to call “The Great Lakes Bay Region.”
Each of these ethnic groups seemed to announce their arrival and declare this place their home by erecting their own houses of worship. Think about the historic mainline churches in our cities - Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopalian. And there are the great Roman Catholic houses of worship - St. Mary’s and Holy Family in Saginaw, and St. Stanislaus Kostka in Bay City. African Americans centered their lives and communities around a host of Baptist, Pentecostal and African Methodist Episcopal Churches.
And now we have an Islamic Center in our midst, and soon perhaps a Hindu Temple. These neighbors too have declared this to be their home.
What could be more thoroughly and wonderfully American than that?
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So here we are, gathered together in our shared home community. And, as individuals, we are here by reason of choice. All of us chose either to come here or to stay; we all had options.
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So what happens next?
If I am correct that our history was created largely by impersonal forces of nature, then I would also suggest that our future will be shaped more by human factors: the imagination, talents and energies of people – including us, and especially you.
There appears no new glacier in sight that might shove things around and rearrange the distribution of natural resources. We pretty much have what we’re going to have.
We’re not, of course, in a topographically gorgeous place; we’re a bit out of the way from heavily trafficked highways and rail lines; and we do have cold winters. But we don’t suffer from droughts or hurricanes; we’re not located along a tectonic fault line (i.e., not much threat of major earthquakes or tsunamis); and we are in the middle of the world’s largest reservoir of fresh water. So, all things considered, we haven’t exactly gotten a raw deal from Mother Nature.
We have been alternately buoyed and buffeted by the forces of larger economic trends: the booms of the early auto years and the busts that occasionally followed; the migration of manufacturing to lower-cost environments in other states and other nations; the shifting of population densities to the south and west; and so on.
But if we understand these things now, there might at least be fewer inconvenient surprises ahead. We can also be pretty sure no one and nothing from some distant seat of government is likely to arrive in a dramatic fashion to save us from our sundry despairs. We have, from time-to-time, entertained the cheerful notion that a wise and beneficent government would choose our Region as the object of its largesse. Alas, such daydreams were – and always are – ultimately a cruel self-deception.
But in the final analysis the most critical factor in what happens next is us. We’re on our own and we alone will decide what will happen in our moment in time, here in our chosen hometown.
It is all about our imagination, our talents, and those we can attract and develop to help us, and about our combined energies.
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It starts with imagination. Everything starts with imagination.
There are several monuments to human imagination around us. Brine deposits may have brought Herbert Dow to Midland, but it was his imagination and those of a succession of CEOs and scientists who followed that created and developed The Dow Chemical Company.
Think about Frankenmuth! Who but a whimsical optimist could have looked at that flat farmland and thought, “Wow, maybe if we construct Bavarian-style buildings with a glockenspiel – and cook up lots of chickens – people will flock here to eat and buy Christmas ornaments! And then some day, more people will bring their kids to stay overnight and splash around indoors!”
But guess what?
And it took the combined imaginations of John Bintz and then Mike Bierlein to build a ski hill and golf resort from an apple orchard.
And so on and so forth.
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The next factor in our future is talent – what our friends at Dow call “the human element.” That comes from good education - you expected me to say that, and I’ll say more a bit later. But it also comes from welcoming into this community the talents of our immigrant friends.
Dow Chemical leaders will echo what Governor Snyder also said recently: we need human talent - creativity and expertise - for Michigan to prosper. We do need to develop the talents of our youth, but we also need to attract the talents of those who come from abroad to American universities and medical centers and who wish to stay and join our adventures here.
Dow is a major importer of international talent; our local health care institutions are critically reliant upon professionals born elsewhere, and a large share of the doctoral-level faculty SVSU has hired in the past decade were also foreign-born.
In a strange perversion of language, the notion of “tolerance” has somehow seemingly been elevated into a high virtue. But we must not merely be “tolerant” of those who may in some ways differ; we need to embrace them and call them neighbors and friends as well as colleagues and co-workers. We also need to call them fellow Americans.
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The other element needed for any preferred future we might imagine is, of course, the investment of human energy and effort – and some measure of confidence and courage.
The notion of a regional organization like the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance is, obviously, to build on the combined imagination and talent and energy of our larger community. Each of our respective towns has its own conceits and insecurities, of course. And historic mistrust and suspicion have too often divided the Region into isolated pockets. But this Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance was conceived in the conviction that together we can create things and improve things that no one of these smaller communities could do, or do as well, alone.
And there is historic evidence to support that (almost) self-evident proposition.
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Which leads me to mentioning, albeit briefly, SVSU. I do this not just because I am its underpaid spokesman, but because it – along with our sister institution, Delta College – is a monument to the efficacy of regional cooperation in this drainage basin.
The University originated in the imagination of several local leaders some half century ago. It was a creature of local initiative – not something dreamed up for us in Washington or Lansing. Folks from what was then called the “Tri-Cities” came together to create an institution that would mature into what it is today.
Today, of course, it annually serves nearly eleven thousand students, drawing more than sixty percent of them from outside our immediate Region. In fact, literally hundreds of them also come from places as distant and different as Saudi Arabia and the People’s Republic of China. They come here with their talents and their money and their enthusiasms - some of them wholesome – and make this a much more interesting and far more promising place.
We hope that many of them will also stay and live and work here in our Region – like some 20,000 other SVSU graduates have.
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But back to history . . . .
From that audacious initial idea came an effort by some 300 leaders from Saginaw, Bay and Midland to raise more than $4.2 million to purchase the land upon which SVSU now sits. (A commensurate financial effort today would be about $28 million). And then a bi-partisan regional delegation worked to pass legislation making this a “state” college, later university.
Over the years and decades, combined bi-partisan political clout also won funding and buildings for the fledgling institution. Political leaders from the various corners of the larger Region took the lead at critical times and made their University the State’s most important investment in this Region. Jim O’Neill and Jerry Hart and then Jon Cisky and Mike Goshka of Saginaw all led efforts to create vital facilities on the campus. Jim Barcia and Joel Gougeon from Bay did likewise. And Dave Camp and Tony Stamas and others from Midland played important roles in several significant initiatives.
All of these efforts had – and could not have succeeded without – focused, committed and staunchly bipartisan regional political support.
By the way, don’t disdain politics or think for a moment that politics doesn’t matter. In the 5th Century B.C., Pericles said something like this: “Just because you do not take an interest in politics does not mean politics will not take an interest in you.”
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Similarly, the University could not have grown and matured without the philanthropic support of the entire Great Lakes Bay Region. Names like Wickes and Arbury and Doan and Curtiss now designate campus buildings; names like Gerstacker and Field and Kantzler and Miller and Braun and Dow – and literally hundreds of others – are associated with endowed chairs and scholarships and programs for students, all of which enrich the intellectual capital of the University – and the Region as well.
And the entire Great Lakes Bay Region has always been critical to the most important challenge facing the University - attracting more and better talent. We know how to “sell” this as a place to make a living and a life. Within a thirty-mile radius from the campus someone can choose from the widest variety of homes: from the charms of Frankenmuth to the sprawling suburban neighborhoods of Saginaw Township and Midland to waterfront condos in Bay City to . . . well, you get the idea.
And it’s only a short drive from our doors to urban centers or to the hills and lakes of our storied “Up North.”
But remember that working together toward "regionalism" does not mean that we should seek to homogenize our respective communities. Each of their unique qualities and features and identities adds to the rich diversity of the Region - much as the various neighborhoods in New York come together to create the splendid mosaic of that great city.
We too often define ourselves by what we’re not. And we’re clearly not Las Vegas. But what we are is a good place for people with settled values and a settled lifestyle to come and make a life.
Cindy and I thought so, and it certainly has been for us.
I hope for you too.
* * *
There are, again, other successes that could only have happened by drawing on the talents and imaginations and energies of the larger Region. Delta College is one, of course, and MBS International Airport, but also minor league baseball, and the Dow Events Center and the Midland Center for the Arts and the Temple Theater, and the Bay City riverfront festivals.
Bay Cityans and Saginawians add to a market that makes the Dow Diamond come alive summer evenings with the Great Lakes Loons. And from Midland, Dow’s support for the Events Center in Saginaw brings hockey and musical programs to the Region for all of us.
Midland’s support helped make the Dow Bay Area Family Y project a reality; and on the drawing board are plans for Saginaw developers to work with Bay City on the development of Uptown at River’s Edge.
Clearly, we can do things together that none of our towns could do alone. And that was the genesis of the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance – and that is why this leadership class and those who have preceded you in this program are so important to the future of our Region.
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So what next? Again, it probably won’t be determined by the forces of nature. And if we regard ourselves only as helpless and hapless spectators to merciless economic or political forces beyond our control, then it really won’t be determined by us either.
So what’s it going to be? What can be created or improved if we have the imagination and the talent and the energy – oh yes, and the will and the courage – that others had in their historic leadership moments?
Will this be an unfortunate or merely inconsequential time in our Region’s history, or will we work together – paraphrasing the traditional American ethic – to “leave this land better than we found it.”
There is a wonderful line from Emerson: “This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.”
It is, or soon will be, your time. Being part of this class is a good start. I can’t wait to see what you’ll do next.