Opening Day Address
Dr. Steven A. Scott, President, Pittsburg State University
August 19, 2010

Good morning!  How exciting it is to be with you this morning, as we kick off the 2010-11 school year.  Don't you just love this day?  I know I'm kind of weird, but for me, it does not get any better than the excitement of the opening day of school.  Thank you for being here this morning, and thank you for being a part of this incredible place we call Pittsburg State University.  When I meet with students, I regularly thank them for choosing to attend Pittsburg State.  They have lots of choices in higher education, and they have chosen to come here.  I owe you that same thank you, because each of you has options to be and work somewhere else.  I'm thankful that you too have chosen to make Pittsburg your home and Pittsburg State University your place of work.

Looking back on the past year, we should be proud of our efforts.  Despite the many challenges, it was a successful year.  Records were set in fall and spring enrollments and a record number of graduates crossed the stage at May's commencement.  You all helped to make this happen.  I recognize that in addition to what you've faced at work, many of you have faced personal challenges this year with illness, loss of close family members and friends, and new additions to your family through births and weddings.   Nonetheless we persisted and were successful.  Thank you for your contributions to another great year at Pittsburg State. 

In addition to welcoming you back and thanking you this morning, I've got just a few things I'd like to talk about.  My comments are about where we're going, who is leading the way, and why we bother to do all of this. 

Let's start with some numbers.  I've always liked those features in news magazines that are sometimes titled "By the numbers." Here are some numbers to think about this morning...

  • $38.9M - the state block grant for us for FY2009
  • $34.5M - the state block grant we'll receive this year; the same amount received in FY06
  • 650 - the additional number of students that we're likely to have this year over FY06
  • 635 - the total pounds lost by our participants in the weight watchers program since it began this past fall
  • 416 - the number of new parking spaces added since fall 2008 and by December 2010
  • 70 - Ringo Starr's age
  • 4 - the number of women who now sit on the President's Council compared to 1 in Fall 2008;
  • 0 - the number of individuals who were laid off or furloughed at PSU this past year

Obviously, some of those numbers had to do with our budgetary situation, and I'd like to take a minute to address that.  I want to close the loop on our forums and the budget information we shared with you over the past year.  As you recall, we faced a $5M funding/expenditure gap.  To close the gap, we cut $1.4M from the budget, increased tuition, and expected to tap our reserves in the amount of $1.4M.  Finally, we anticipated cutting an additional $1.4M from the budget as we entered this fiscal year.   The good news is those additional cuts were not necessary. Here's why...1) we controlled our expenditures even better than we thought we could; 2) our utility costs were lower than expected; 3) our enrollment grew beyond our estimates; and 4) the mix of enrollment produced additional revenue. 

That's great news for all of us.  Additionally, during the year we gave back to academic departments the cuts that had been made to their operating budgets.  We hope to repeat that this year, with a decision to be made in January. On top of this good news, we were able to provide modest salary increases for unclassified staff in the amount of $700.  While that does not seem like much, compared to other institutions and other employers, we believe it was significant and important.  Your work is appreciated, and if nothing else, this increase is a gesture from the senior leadership team that says 'thank you.'

While we are optimistic about financially navigating our way through FY2011, we remain deeply concerned about FY2012.  Among our concerns... unemployment rates, state revenues, and a political landscape that will be changing with the fall elections.  Just as we did last year, we have to work diligently to ensure students still seek the Pittsburg State experience.  And we must ensure that the Pittsburg State experience is one of quality and value.

I'd like to talk about the senior leadership team members for just a minute.  As I'm sure you are aware, the President's Council looks very different from how it did just a year ago.  On a number of occasions this past year, I commented to alumni groups and others, that a good portion of my time was being spent in team building.  Well, that team has been built and I believe it is an exceptional one.

Let's start with our new Provost...In April, Lynette took over the position of provost on a permanent basis and began the task of overseeing the portion of the university that is at its core...teaching and learning, discovery, and engagement.  She's off to a great start, in what is one of the most critical roles on campus.  I'm confident we will work closely together as a team to ensure the academic programs of the university remain strong and that new and innovative programs emerge.  I'm excited about her efforts to position us in the forefront of HLC accreditation.  We have purposefully stepped into the role of national leaders in that regard. I'm also tremendously excited about enhancing our student support efforts as we seek to significantly increase our retention rates. Beyond those areas, her division has important work to do in enrollment management, diversity, assessment, and international.

Last year in my remarks I promised some changes would be coming in how we manage our IT resources.  Those changes have begun, and leading them is Angela Neria our new CIO.  As a member of the President's Council and the leader of OIS, she will lead the effort to develop our first truly comprehensive, institutional plan for IT.  Angela is already bringing a fresh perspective to our way of doing business.  One of her first tasks has been to reconfigure the Information Technology Council, transforming it into a group that is more representative of the campus IT users and more forward thinking. 

Jim Johnson, who will become the university's new director of intercollegiate athletics on September 7th, is with us the morning.  Jim understands the rich history of Gorilla athletics, and he also understands that our athletes are students first.  He knows we've been as successful in growing academic all-Americans as we have been in competing for conference and national championships.  You'll see him working to strengthen the linkages between our athletics and academic programs.

I've asked Jim to build on the long and storied tradition created by people like Chuck Broyles, Bill Samuels, and Carney Smith to move us to new levels of success.  Jim described his vision this way when I introduced him as our new AD a few weeks ago, he said, "Pittsburg State has been one of the best DII programs in the country, now our work is to become the best of the best." 

You may have never thought of this before, but our athletic donors are strong supporters of our academic programs, scholarships, and campus construction projects.  Here's an interesting fact, last year 86% of donors who gave to athletics also made gifts in support of other parts of the campus.  In other words, our athletics donors are for the most part our academic donors.  Energizing this group of stakeholders through athletics success has important implications for giving in all areas of the campus.  I'll have a little more to say about this in a few minutes.

Another new member of the President's Council is Chris Kelly.  Joining us in early July, Chris is helping us merge the functions of marketing and public relations.  As most of you know, this is an area of intense interest for me.  Chris will be working to enhance our institutional image and improve internal and external communications.  It will take vision, innovation, and persistence to get this accomplished.

The final new addition to the President's Council is Jamie Brooksher.  Appointed to the role of General Counsel in November, Jamie is very talented and well prepared for the responsibilities of a university attorney.  She too is off to a great start.

Then there are the returning veterans...John Patterson, Brad Hodson, Steve Erwin, and Joan Cleland.  They bring a rich set of insights, skills, and experiences to their work and areas of responsibilities.  John's group strives to make this a great place to learn and to work.  HR, the Business Office, and the Physical Plant, and his many other units continue to look for better ways to serve you and our students.  They are also looking for greener solutions to our practices and policies.  Brad's group led the effort that will allow us to announce in September the successful completion of the university's $120M capital campaign.  Steve Erwin has overseen bringing three major facilities online over the past three years...the rec center, the health center, and this fall the new apartment-style complex of student housing.  He also oversees our campus emergency planning and response efforts. Joan works directly with me to 'hold it all together.' Her knowledge of this place is second to none, as is her commitment to the university and to doing things right.

An advantage of being an internal candidate for the position of president this past year was that you already knew me.  You knew how I behaved as a leader, and you knew how I felt about Pittsburg State.  I hope you were not disappointed.  As I lead this senior leadership team, I want you to know that I have high expectations of these folks and of course of myself. 

While I want them to be engaged in national issues, organizations, and dialogs, I want them each to be able to plug into and understand campus issues at very detailed levels.  Your problems and challenges need to become theirs and mine.  Transparency, openness, honesty, and integrity should characterize our work.  Our motives should be pure and clear.  Day in and day out, our work is fundamentally about our students and supporting each of you.  I want you to be proud of this team and feel well served and supported by its members.  If you believe we are not acting in the best interest of the university or we are falling short of the expectations I've described here, I want to hear from you. 

Jim Collins, a popular writer on organizational leadership, tells us that when building a successful organization, you've got to get the right people on the bus.  That's exactly what we've been doing this past year.  However, not only do we need the right people on the bus, we need the bus going in the right direction.  And that of course takes us to my favorite topic...PLANNING.

Over the past year, we've updated our strategic plan to include a new focus on sustainability.  We have a great deal of work to do in this area, but placing it front and center in our strategic plan was an important first step.  Brian Peery, Campus Sustainability Coordinator, Jon Bartlow, Co-Chair of the Sustainability Committee, and the committee members have provided outstanding leadership in this new area of focus.  I'm looking forward to their efforts this fall to articulate a campus sustainability plan. My expectations are that we'll make dramatic improvements in sustainability initiatives in the coming years...reducing our energy use, growing the presence of green topics and skills in our curriculum, and changing our behaviors in ways that make us better stewards of the planet and its resources.

One of the most important planning activities that will occur this year is already underway.  As I hope you've heard, we have contracted with external consultants to help us develop a comprehensive facility master plan for the university.  The resulting plan will guide the expansion and growth of the campus for the coming decade.  Your participation in this process is critical to its success.  As campus forums are scheduled, please make every effort to participate. 

Whether your concerns are about creating a greener, safer, more pedestrian friendly, or more learner-centered environment, or simply about improving parking...we want to hear them.  Your ideas are important to us and will be considered in developing the final plan.

Implementation of the campus strategic plan continues, and as you know each fall we ask all units across campus to update unit plans.  This process should be inclusive and should focus on connecting to the university's strategic plan.  It should also be forward thinking, identifying future opportunities that exist for the unit and how those opportunities will be capitalized on.  Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, said it best, "Control your own destiny or someone else will."  Let's use this process to take control of our future.

While our university strategic plan accurately captures the complexities of our mission and the many roles we play as a state institution, it can sometimes feel vague and fuzzy about the specific direction it provides.  Today, I want to highlight three areas of focus and ask that you support my efforts to move forward in these critical areas.  As I make these comments, keep in mind that the elevation of these initiatives does not diminish the importance of others.  As I just noted, we have a variety of roles to play and we have many stakeholders to satisfy.  What we do is complicated and multifaceted.  Nonetheless, it is my responsibility to share with you the critical areas that I believe will define us in the coming years.

Before I get to those critical areas, I want to remind you of an ongoing focus that we can never abandon...that is student success.  Our culture of focusing on the individual is second to none.  If you don't believe it, look at our NSSE data, talk to alumni, or visit with employers.  We are outstanding at this, and that's because ultimately we care about others.  It's not contrived; it's a fundamental and enduring value of the institution.  No matter what challenges we face, nor changes we put into place, we cannot lose our focus on students and their success.

In terms of strategic areas of focus:  First, we owe it to our students, to each other, and to this region that we build our capacity in the area of the fine and performing arts-specifically this means we need to construct a fine and performing arts center.  We have recently taken major steps in that regard.  Just think...we have a $10M pledge and $6M of that pledge already in hand.  In a meeting tomorrow morning, we'll kick off our efforts to design a facility that can house the performance spaces for our outstanding programs.  Over the coming months, the project architects will help us align our dreams with the reality of what we will actually have to spend.

I trust you share with me a belief in the need for this project.  But if you don't, think about this...Albert Einstein noted the importance of the arts by saying" Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere."  California's first lady and award winning journalist Maria Shriver noted, "Even in difficult economic times - especially in difficult economic times - the arts are essential."  I think we all understand the economics of this region and the deficit our lack of a performing arts facility creates on our campus.  We need to act on this, and we are doing so.

A second area of strategic focus for the university must be the Kansas Technology Center.  From our origins in 1903, this institution has served societal needs in what was for many years called the mechanical arts.  While they seen dramatic changes over the past 100 years, these programs offer us the most significant opportunity we have to distinguish ourselves from other state regional institutions and in fact, from virtually every other institution in the country.  Simply stated, we have the Kansas Technology Center and no other institution does.  For us, it offers an extraordinary opportunity to attract corporate support and student enrollments even beyond our current successes. 

I would argue we have positioned ourselves to take a huge step forward with the Kansas Technology Center and the programs housed within it.  We have the faculty expertise and commitment.  We have the leadership that can see and act on the opportunities that exist.  We have put into place the right organizational structure that fits the programs and will better serve the faculty, staff, and students.  We have staffed the KTC with a full time fundraiser and full-time recruiter. 

It's clear to me, our future as a university is tied to the future of the Kansas Technology Center.   So, what does this mean?  In the coming years, we must capitalize on the extraordinary assets that comprise the Kansas Technology Center, building and expanding those programs in service to the region and world.  As we do so, we'll lift and grow the campus in ways that otherwise would not be possible.  I ask for your ideas and support to make this happen.

You might say, "Gee Steve, how do you talk about the arts and technology in the same speech...almost in the same paragraph?"  Former Harvard sociologist Daniel Bell answers that by observing, "Technology, like art, is a soaring exercise of the human imagination."  So in many ways, they are closer than you might think and in addition, they create a balance and harmony for our strategic interests...something for the mind and something for the spirit.  And that leads to my third area of strategic focus, which is in essence something for the body-our intercollegiate athletics program.

I won't take the time now to say much more about my intentions to elevate our status in Division II.  I've already noted this in my introduction of Jim Johnson.  But I want to make sure you know that I'm approaching this from a perspective that is reasonable and appropriate.  Do you remember John Wooden, the legendary coach of the UCLA Bruins?  Not only was he a great coach, he was a great teacher and even philosopher.  He once observed that, 'Winning takes talent, to repeat takes character.'  

Nothing better portrays my view of how we'll have success over time than John Wooden.  I am serious about enhancing our competitiveness and transferring the energy and excitement that comes from it into support for the overall university and our students.  The only way we can do this is through hiring and retaining coaches and athletics staff members of character and directing them to recruit students cut from the same cloth.  I promise we'll do just that.

In closing, I want to make a few observations about what this all means and why we bother to come to the campus everyday.  As I often say, both our vision and the meaning of what we do are best understood by reflecting on our past. 

Because I spend so much time with alumni, I regularly think about the people who came before us and the legacy they left.  Alumni are wonderful at helping us understand the importance of what we do.  At an alumni event in San Antonio this past winter, an 81-year old grad said his time at PSU was "the best years of my life."  And those feelings are exhibited in today's students as well.  Consider this...at a spring banquet this year, a graduating senior women's basketball player observed that PSU was a "light of opportunity, offering me a second chance in life." 

Earlier this year, I met two fairly recent graduates at an alumni event in California. Sure they talked about missing the university and southeast Kansas chicken, but more than anything they missed the faculty in the department.  For them, returning to Pittsburg for a lunch with Troy, Cynthia, and others at the Mall Deli is about as good as it gets. 

I met a couple in Washington, D.C. in January both of whom were originally from India.  They met and married while they were in the HRD program at Pittsburg State.  Now one works for the IMF and the other for the World Bank.  Each fall they return to campus for homecoming because of the strong connection they feel to the campus and the people here.  They expressed deep affection for this place and appreciation to the faculty and staff who helped them while they were here.

Finally, let's think about Dr. Mary Roberts this morning.  She passed away two weeks ago, following a long career at Pittsburg State as a professor and a number of years of an enjoyable retirement.  You may have seen her obituary in the Morning Sun.  In the list of survivors, it noted...'She is also survived by numerous former speech communications students.' 

That says it all, doesn't it?  What we do...what we accomplish together matters...plain and simple...it matters.

All of these and more are testament to the importance of what we do and should reaffirm our efforts to serve students of today to ensure they have the opportunities students of the past have had.  We are today creating memories of this place that will be meaningful for decades to come and provide opportunities to our graduates that will transform their lives. 

There is much work in front of us. I'm confident that the senior leadership team is ready for the challenges that lie ahead, and I'm confident that each and every faculty and staff member is ready for the challenges.  Together we are sure to have a successful year. 

Thanks for what you do in service to this great university and its deserving students and thank you for being here this morning.  Have a great semester, and I'll see you along the way.