A periodic update for faculty from President Robert H. "Doc" Foglesong
March 13, 2008
The Time for Change
Now that the smoke has settled, I keep getting asked the question "Why are you leaving"? Nobody asked me to leave; we have arguably had one of the best years in the school's history, and there's plenty more to do. One of the main reasons I have chosen to move on is the success we have had over the last two years—and the inevitable and predictable ache that change has caused. I thought it would take four years to get where we wanted to be in most areas. We did it in two years.
But change is hard—we needed change. Many individuals and factions will embrace change as an agent to move forward—some will fear it as it takes them out of their security zone. But the school had a recent history that demanded change—declining enrollment, fiscal issues, and its energy down. So, we saddled up—moved out of our own security zone—and had an incredible ride. It truly would have been easier to stay on the same path, but that's not what we needed. We needed to blaze a new trail and turn some new corners.
It started with the development of a strategy for our future—called FutureState 2015. Hundreds of people from across the campus and various communities spent thousands of hours pulling together our roadmap to the future. We established a vision, clarified our mission, defined our goals, and identified over a hundred initiatives to get us started—most of which are well under way.
Our first goal was to recruit and retain quality students—especially important since we had declined significantly over the past five years. That's really unhealthy for a thriving university. Today, we have the highest enrollment in the school's history. We had the largest freshmen class ever this year; we had the best retention ever; we had the highest number of African Americans ever enrolled; we had the highest graduate enrollment ever; we had the highest enrollment ever at the Meridian Campus; and while we did all of that, our average ACT scores for entering freshmen went up significantly. We needed a process to recruit and retain quality students—mission complete.
Our second goal was to recruit and retain a quality faculty. Numbers were an issue here. We needed more faculty to enable learning, research and service to our communities. We worked to increase our faculty. Today we have the highest number of faculty in the school's history. That enabled us to expand our enrollment and to achieve another one of our goals—increase our research and contribution to economic development in the state. This mission will never be complete since we should strive to continue to increase our faculty as the enabler on the campus—but the process is now there to define what we need as we move forward.
Another goal was to increase our research and contributions to economic development—we are blessed to have a rich tradition of cutting edge opportunities to move forward in this area. This past year was an historic year for research—the $186.5 million in external funding for FY 2007 was the highest in university history. In fact, it was an increase of more than 20 percent over our previous high. Our success with our research funding level, in part, contributed to our moving up to the top level among Southern Regional Education Board research universities, effective this coming July. We needed a process to quantify and define our research goals and the strategy to reach those goals—mission complete.
We needed to define a way ahead to help smooth out the disconnects in our budget every year. We started from a position of having spent more than we had in revenues and a significantly reduced reserve account. For the past couple of years, we have been in the black and have recovered our reserve account nicely. Our processes have enabled badly needed pay raises, investment in research, faculty and staff hires, and a renewed focus on our library and other support functions. We now have a budget process with discipline that permits us to best use our revenues. That process will help dampen the budget wave we ride each year. Mission complete.
Our energy and enthusiasm were down. One of our major goals was to recapture our pride. From our success on the athletic fields to the appearance of our campus to the energy you can feel with our employees, alums, and friends, we have made major strides in reclaiming Bulldog Pride. Our most recent survey about how we feel about ourselves shows that more than four-fifths of our faculty and staff feel good about coming to work each day. Eleven percent didn't have an opinion. More than 82 percent of faculty and staff also believe the university is moving forward. Again, 11 percent didn't have an opinion. Those are great numbers for any organization. You can feel our energy. It would be hard to argue that we have not hit our stride. Mission complete.
No doubt there is more to do. It's outlined in FutureState 2015. But it's time for someone else to move us forward. It only took two years—vice four—to achieve what I set as goals for myself. That's because I had great teammates who truly believed in One State—One Team. The processes—recruiting/retention, budgeting, security, research prioritization, accountability, etc.—are all in place. But change is hard—and somebody has to initiate it and somebody had to take the heat for it. That's me. This university needed a hard turn. Now it's time for somebody else to make the next round of changes and set a new standard.
This has been a couple of great years. I challenge you all to make the next couple even greater. Remember, if you are not moving forward, you're probably moving backwards.