A periodic update for faculty from President Robert H. "Doc" Foglesong
November 26, 2007
Time for Some Straight Talk
Welcome back. I hope you all had a restful and refreshing Thanksgiving break.
At the risk of lowering myself to a level that is beneath most of us, I think it's time to take advantage of the academic freedom we all enjoy here at MSU and share some straight talk about faculty-administration relations.
A few faculty representatives apparently think they can lead through the news media, but some of the uninformed statements and dubious data don't add much clarity to the issues, and certainly don't build mutual trust and cooperation. Trying to influence policy without having the facts is a strange—and a bit self-centered—way to proceed.
I was warned when I got here that we have some teammates who love to hear themselves in the news. I have found that to be the case in almost every organization.
My leadership style is simply to use the facts—not the news—to enable you, and our teammates on the staff, to reach for professional and personal excellence. And while I value the feedback and varied perspectives of faculty and others, major university decisions are laid on my desk, as they should be. Lately I've wondered why those who profess to be "insulted" by my leadership style didn't apply for the job of MSU president themselves, since they seem to feel blessed with special insight on how the university ought to operate.
Concerning the comments about my leadership style, most of the advice I get—including that from faculty members—is to just ignore them. Perhaps I should, but to be honest, I'm a little "insulted" by some things myself, and in the spirit of candor and straightforward communication, I'd like to get a few things off my chest.
First, let's remember our motto: One State—One Team. Our shared goal is to move MSU forward and demand the respect we deserve. We can't do that by creating distrust, which leads to mediocrity, which translates into declining enrollment, lost revenue, lost faculty positions, and so on. That's what we just went through in recent years when we lost $10.2 million in tuition revenue alone and overspent our budget by $5 million-plus. Nobody wants that. And nobody wants to see us lose the new faculty positions we retrieved this year!
I spent the formative years of my professional life in an organization that demanded service before self, and I have been pleased to find that most of our teammates at MSU feel the same way. But to those who feel "insulted" by my leadership style, I'd like to pose a few questions and maybe put our record in perspective.
Are you insulted by the cumulative pay raises of 13 percent over the past two years? I don't think our teammates who received those raises are insulted.
How about the 31.5 new faculty lines created this year? My guess is that the departments filling those positions aren't complaining.
What about the major increases in the library budget for materials and staff? I don't believe our library patrons are offended by them.
Are you insulted because we've allocated new funds for faculty research start ups? Or upset by the fact that five faculty-led conferences and symposia are being planned with support from the Reach for Excellence Fund? I'm certain the faculty who are organizing those events don't object to our efforts to help them.
Are you insulted by last year's record $186.5 million in external support for research and development—an increase of $30 million over the prior year—and the added indirect cost recovery that helps fund new research and other priorities? Our most productive researchers aren't unhappy about that.
Are you disappointed that we have increased graduate stipends by 15 percent? Or that our graduate enrollment is at an all-time high? Does that insult anybody? I'll bet the graduate students who can better afford their health insurance aren't insulted.
Are you bothered by our commitment to strengthen the arts and sciences core of the university and gain a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa? Does anyone in the College of Arts and Sciences think our liberal arts and sciences programs don't deserve support?
Are any academic departments insulted by the $1 million-plus tuition dividend paid this fall to departments that have increased enrollment and student credit hours? Probably not those that benefited because they helped recruit our largest freshman class ever.
Are you insulted by our record enrollment this fall? Or the increased financial stability that comes with it?
Or by the Mississippi State Promise Program that permits qualified students from low-income families to enter MSU? I can assure you that those students and their families are grateful for the opportunity.
Is anyone offended by the funds raised for new scholarships and endowed faculty positions? Not those who are benefiting, surely.
Do you object to our new Honor Code? Is anyone not proud that we place an emphasis on character at MSU? Is the new African-American Studies program insulting? I hope you don't find campus diversity objectionable. How about the new academic minor in leadership studies? Is anyone opposed to cultivating the leadership skills of our students?
Does the new Center for America's Veterans trouble you? Is anyone insulted by our efforts to help veterans transition to civilian life and into our university? I don't believe those who have served in the armed forces are offended.
I hope you're not embarrassed by the appearance of the campus. Most people I hear from, including faculty, are pleased with the progress in that area.
Maybe someone is insulted by my hiring of the outgoing lieutenant governor, who will bring considerable economic development skill and legislative expertise to our team—but probably not those who will fill the new jobs we are helping to create. Oh—did I mention already that we hired 31 faculty members during the period in which I added one administrative staff member? We also added two police officers this year. Hope no one is insulted by that.
Perhaps you're offended by the fact that our new food services contract is saving the university the equivalent of a half dozen faculty positions. Or because I recently sought advice through a campus wide survey on how we can best spend any additional resources available next year.
I hope nobody is insulted by our strategic planning process that involved hundreds of faculty and staff and thousands of hours—and resulted in a roadmap to help us achieve excellence through the year 2015.
Some have claimed to be insulted because I haven't attended enough Faculty Senate meetings—although I have visited with academic departments, the Faculty Senate, the Faculty Senate Executive Committee, and other faculty groups and representatives more than 90 times in the 18 months I've been here. That is considerably more than I have interacted with any other university constituency. Those pesky facts always get in the way! As an aside, my meetings with departments have been incredibly insightful and useful in helping me formulate policy.
The 138 faculty members, plus their guests, who have been invited to dinner at my home didn't seem to be insulted, nor did the 78 faculty, plus their guests, who have been invited to the president's skybox for football games or to basketball games. Faculty guests far outnumber representatives of any other group invited to those events.
I've touched on a variety of initiatives we've undertaken and successes we've had in the past several months, and the list could go on and on. But why don't we try this instead: tell me about anything of significance to the university that the faculty has asked for and that we have NOT tried to address.
I think that would be a short list, but it would be genuinely helpful to receive consistent and coordinated advice on issues that are important to academic excellence. Naturally, faculty won't always be of a single mind on some major issues—I've received at least four different suggestions from faculty individuals and groups about how to structure our Graduate Studies program, for example.
Since we're on the subject, let me note that this accountability thing should go both ways. I'd like to see the faculty stressing accountability within its own ranks, as well as within the administration.
Some of you may have been insulted, as I was, by the faculty member who awarded more than 90 hours of independent study credit—all A's, by the way—to members of his family. Does that sound right to anybody?
Or maybe you were embarrassed by the behavior of the faculty member who hid in his closet for 20 minutes on the first day of class, then emerged to take roll after part of the class had left. Perhaps you were offended because some faculty members ignored the warning sirens and messages during a recent tornado alert and carried on with class. I was insulted by that.
Unfortunately, there's more of this stuff. Wonder why this isn't in the newspaper? It's because we're bigger than that. At least most of us are.
If you're feeling insulted by something I've done or not done, I invite you to communicate with me directly, rather than via the media, and rather than remaining silent while I'm meeting with you and then raising your concerns after I've left. Instead, I hope you'll feel free to come by and see me. I'm available anytime I'm in town, including weekends. (I'll be working then anyway.) Or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. If it's constructive and free of profanity, I'll answer it.
I only ask that we keep the dialogue factual, civil, and focused on the big picture. My job is to enable you to succeed, and to do that I need your advice on matters of academic significance. I can probably manage the hiring of my staff and arranging my work and travel schedule on my own.
One other thing—have a great Holiday Season.
Richard Lyons, professor of English, was recognized by the Mississippi Humanities Council as MSU's 2007 Humanities Teacher of the Year.
Lucy Senter, director of laboratory animal resources at the College of Veterinary Medicine, is a new member of the board of directors of the American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine.
David Shaw, director of the GeoResources Institute, is a newly selected Fellow of the American Association for Advancement of Science.