State of the University Address

Chancellor Ruth J. Person, Ph.D. | January 22, 2014

Good morning. 

Thank you all for being here on this cold January morning. I appreciate everyone taking time from their busy schedule to gather as we reflect and look forward. I am especially honored to have members of the community joining us, as well as a colleague of mine from Texas A & M, Pamela Matthews. Dr. Matthews is the Vice Provost for Academic Affairs at Texas A & M, and although our weather is cold, I hope you feel warmly welcomed on our campus.

There is one simple word that perfectly characterizes the state of the University of Michigan-Flint, and that word is strong. The campus is strong in ways both large and small. Our method of success is to consider challenges, and then quietly and diligently work to solve problems. This approach is incremental and yet incredibly powerful and long-lasting. Beyond conversations, action must follow the words or the words become empty promises. That is something we will not let happen at UM-Flint. To that end, I will share with you tangible results that are the product of both words and action. This morning, we will celebrate our brand of success as I summarize for you the tremendous work that was done in 2013, and where we must focus our collective energy in 2014 and beyond. I am pleased to report to all of you that we are making solid progress on the priorities outlined in our strategic plan. We are in fact, doing MORE at UM-Flint than ever before and my remarks this morning will reflect that good work. 

Let us begin with one of our major priorities, and that is enrollment at the University of Michigan-Flint. 

Enrollment continues to grow at an outstanding pace. In fact, UM-Flint holds the “fastest growing” title among state universities based on figures recently released by the Presidents Council State Universities of Michigan. According to the latest statistics, UM-Flint had the highest percentage increase in fall 2013, with an enrollment jump of 3.21% among the 15 public universities in the state. But even more impressive is that from 2004 to 2013, total enrollment soared over 38%, again the highest among any of the public universities in Michigan. Understand that this accomplishment is significant, not just for the numbers, but for the harsh realities that many institutions in the state face. These increases occurred during a period when enrollment trends were heading in the opposite direction. During the past decade total enrollment at all 15 state universities, on average, grew only 4.74%, and, total enrollment at six of the state universities fell during this same period.

Our numbers are up in all categories across the board—undergraduate, graduate, international, and online. It is not enough, however, to bring students to this campus and celebrate enrollment growth. They must thrive. They must explore, experiment, and extend their knowledge in new ways. Enrollment is not just about getting students in the door. It is about retaining students and offering an educational experience that lasts a lifetime. Our students are staying and thriving. The retention rate at UM-Flint rose to 80% in Fall 2013, well above our peer institutions. This increase is the result of dedicated faculty and leading best practices for supporting students throughout their academic career at the university. 

Within the good news of our outstanding enrollment figures is the fact that our campus is also becoming more diverse. African American students made up 16.85% of the Fall 2013 incoming freshman class, an increase of more than 5% over the prior year. International student enrollment growth has increased dramatically with UM-Flint students now hailing from over 40 different countries around the globe. The additional offerings through the English Language Program has also added to the number of international students pursuing their educational goals at UM-Flint. Diversity at UM-Flint is crucial to all that we do. It enriches our community and adds an intangible value. We are not done, however, and we will continue to do all we can to provide access to education to all people, here at home and around the world. 

Since enrollment is central to all that we do here at the university, I have asked our enrollment experts from across the campus to share the successes of the past year, and to offer insight into the plans for 2014 and beyond. The leadership of our recruitment areas will present their information immediately following my remarks. I have the utmost confidence and trust in our recruitment staff and administration, and they are doing a fine job in bringing students to the University of Michigan-Flint. I look forward to hearing their presentation.

I have given you a look inward, and now, let us look outward at our community. 

A month ago, our city landscape changed forever with the implosion of the old Genesee Towers Building. In 2014, our community will progress forward once again as it plans for a new urban plaza called Exploration Park, a refurbished Farmer’s Market, and as we welcome Michigan State University’s School of Public Health across the street. A short time after, we will complete the renovation of Murchie Science Building. New businesses have opened and more are planned, building on the momentum of positive change in our city. The potential for Flint is exciting, and it is rewarding to be part of this phenomenon. The partnerships and collaborative opportunities in this community are rich, a zeitgeist for the times in which we live and learn at UM-Flint.

Our partnerships are an essential part of not just our success, but of who we intrinsically are as an institution. One valuable partnership we have is the partnership we share with K-12 schools. The elaborate network of K-12 school districts that are now part of our innovative DEEP program is preparing a new generation of students for the rigors of higher education. Our DEEP program has become the most sought after model of dual enrollment in the state. Our team of Bob Hahn, Jeff Pratt, and several faculty are in these districts, working with teachers and administrators to offer college courses to academically prepared high school students. We will hear more this morning about the impact of DEEP as part of the enrollment presentation following my remarks.

Ensuring that students are prepared for a university experience extends beyond the confines of K-12 education, to other aspects of life experiences. As you may know, Genesee County has the second highest population of foster youth in the state. Last year, I announced during my state of the university address the launch of MPowering, a new program designed specifically to assist foster youth transitioning from high school to the university. To date, 10 students are being served by this program, which offers individual mentoring, development of life skills, and a commitment to do all we can to ensure their success at UM-Flint. I am pleased to announce an exciting new partnership with the Ennis Center for Children, located here in downtown Flint, that will help continue the good work of MPowering. This partnership is the recipient of a grant from the Department of Human Services for almost a half million dollars over a 3-year period. This grant will assist students who have spent time in foster care or who are transitioning from foster care to college.

Another important population we have focused on is our student veterans. Over the last five years, the University of Michigan-Flint has become a leading, nationally-recognized veteran friendly campus. According to U.S. News & World Report’s rankings of the Best Colleges for Veterans, UM-Flint ranked among the best Midwest Regional Universities. I am thrilled that our efforts to assist student veterans are once again receiving national recognition. The opening of the Student Veterans Resources Center, the dedicated staff, and recognition by leading military organizations have helped to strengthen the university’s commitment to serving student veterans, whether on active duty or returning to civilian life. To continue this outstanding momentum, I have initiated an extensive national awareness campaign to promote the campus as vet-friendly to student veterans. In addition, the recent University of Michigan policy change which affords student veterans in-state tuition, presents a new, refreshed opportunity to reach out to this vital student population across the nation and around the world.

Supporting students in their academic endeavors extends well beyond the classroom. The Student Development Center located in the University Center was transformed into CAPS, an integrated, clinical setting with a focus on the mental health and disability needs of students. Staffing enhancements, as well as construction of a new space that is conducive to private consulting and counseling, as well as group-therapy sessions is underway. Currently, CAPS is temporarily located in the Northbank Center, but this spring, the new space designed to meet the needs of all students will debut. This is a particularly important change for our campus, and I am pleased that we are working to provide students an invaluable resource in their journey to graduation.

One of the centerpieces of the strategic plan is the establishment of a Student Success Center. We continue to move forward with plans to develop a Center that will benefit each and every student on campus. Currently, staff of the Student Success Center are working to reduce duplication and overlap among departments providing similar student support. The team is actively improving collaboration among many units on campus as well as strengthening local community and university partnerships. They are also looking at specific student groups, including international students, underrepresented minorities, and veterans and how to best work with these groups. We are intentionally growing these student populations on our campus and desire to make sure we have the best mechanisms and practices in place to ensure their success.

With the structure of the Student Success Center in place, more deliberate and collaborative work can begin. We hope to soon establish a student success resource and information website for faculty and staff. Discussions concerning physical space are ongoing, but there is enthusiasm for developing a Learning Commons that would bring these units into a collaborative, interdisciplinary space. We will continue to explore this opportunity in the coming months.

News of our excellence is garnering praise from across the country and recognition of our excellence has become widespread and consistent. Just in the last year we received numerous honors from a myriad of sources. Allow me to list just a few: 

  • The School of Management was recognized by The Princeton Review as one of the “Best Business Schools” for 2014 and it was also recognized by Business Week as a top ranked part-time MBA program.  
  • AffordableCollegesOnline.org ranked UM-Flint number 3 out of 33 colleges and universities in the state for affordability. 
  • UM-Flint also received recognition from OnlineCollegesDatabase.org as a top college for teacher education. Of the 33 schools surveyed, UM-Flint was ranked 13th.  
  • Our Master of Science in Computer Science and Information Systems was ranked by Best Computer Science Degrees as one of the “Top 10 Best Online Master’s in Computer Science Degree Programs 2013.”

Finally, the Princeton Review selected the University of Michigan-Flint to its “Best in the Midwest “ list for the 13th year in a row. Following are some actual statements UM-Flint students made as part of the Princeton survey: Students say that the undergrads greatly appreciate the “flexibility of class hours” which certainly “suits a work schedule.” Indeed, with its myriad of online courses and an “excellent child-care program” to boot, the “convenience” UM-Flint offers is a dream for non-traditional students. Academically, students are thrilled with their professors. A “real asset,” educators here are “accommodating, accessible, and seek to build rewarding relationships with their students.” And while “they expect a lot from you,” they also “go out of their way…to help you out in whatever way possible.” Undoubtedly, UM-Flint professors “want you to succeed” and are “very encouraging.” When surveyed about the student body, another undergrad continues, “There is a mixture of students. Some are freshmen right out of high school. Others are middle-aged and looking to improve on the life they’ve already built for themselves. Still others are young adults who have tried some other fields and are looking for a better fit. I love the diversity in terms of background. I believe there is a place for everyone here.” These testimonials about the UM-Flint experience are authentic, and are an affirmation of the educational experience our students receive every day.

The University of Michigan-Flint recently reached a major milestone with the establishment of our first Ph.D. program. Our Physical Therapy department now offers the state’s first Ph.D. in Physical Therapy. This dual DPT/Ph.D. is designed for individuals who aspire to careers in academic teaching, research, and advanced clinical practice in physical therapy. This new Ph.D. program addresses a national issue since there is a significant faculty shortage in this field. Graduates of this program will not only have the credentials, but also the skills necessary for successful careers in academia. Thank you to all our faculty who worked so hard to make this a reality. I am extremely proud of this accomplishment.

Another significant accomplishment this past year is the accreditation to the Professional Education Unit of the School of Education and Human Services at the University of Michigan-Flint by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education or NCATE. The process for NCATE accreditation includes a review of all programs in the educator preparation provider. Achieving national accreditation is a historic moment for our educator preparation programs. Congratulations to the faculty of the Education Department on this important achievement.

Our faculty and students are the center of our university and the daily interactions in the classroom are the heart and soul of this institution. Our faculty are innovative professionals who connect with students, reaching out to them, but maintaining high standards that our students must achieve. There are so many examples of this occurring every day in our classrooms. One example is Dr. Amy Gresock’s Strategic Management capstone MBA class working directly with a local publishing business and developing useful strategies. Dr. Aviva Dorfman’s education class plays with blocks to understand the creative play of children in the learning process. Dr. Mojtaba Vaziri works with first year students to help them understand whether pursuing an Engineering degree is the right choice for them. Another example is our nursing students engaged in hands-on clinical work at Hurley, where classroom instruction and practical application come together. And of course, our faculty and students in Music, Theatre, and Dance who bring together their talents to produce first-rate concerts, productions and entertainment for all of us to enjoy and experience. These examples are just a small, small part of the story of excellence that is UM-Flint. We must never forget that the most important activity that takes place on this campus is learning, and supporting academic endeavors is our greatest priority.

One important academic priority is research. Research activities on this campus have grown substantially over the last several years. One example of this growth is The Faculty Research and Creative Activity Summit, otherwise known as FRACAS. This was an incredible event and interdisciplinary conference where faculty presented their creative and scholarly works. This type of event represents the best of what our faculty have to offer at UM-Flint. Research is central to what we do as faculty, and an event such as FRACAS allows the opportunity for us to join together and revel in our disciplines. The formats were lively with informative presentations and posters, and it was an invigorating session. I look forward to this type of event in the future. 

As a university, we know that the status quo is not acceptable, and that we must change and adapt in order to build toward the future. Within the last year, important dialogues have begun on campus; dialogues that are necessary as we consider how best to move forward. These dialogues, including conversations related to the enhancement of STEM offerings and programs on campus, are all part of continued work on our strategic plan. The discussion has been rich and necessary, and I encourage all members of the campus community to engage in these conversations.

Another important discussion on campus is the issue of social justice. Both students and faculty are deeply engaged in exploring this topic. As a result, a concept for a Center for Social Justice has begun to take shape. Led by Dr. David Gordon, Dean of the School of Health Professions and Studies, many are working actively with students, faculty, and staff to develop a vision and mission for such a center on campus. The social justice movement on campus is part of our strategic plan, and we will continue to foster the growth of this endeavor as we strive to fully integrate social justice into the culture of the campus.

The university is successfully weathering the economic challenges facing all of higher education. There are many, many examples of how we efficiently manage the campus while maintaining the highest academic quality. UM-Flint has had in place a shared-services model for years, specifically in the areas of Accounting and Human Resources to name just two. It is the ability of our campus to be both efficient and flexible, that allows us to nimbly respond to challenges. In keeping with our philosophy of smart savings, this year we are reviewing a pilot program called Print Smart. Some administrative units on campus have volunteered to support a review of their office printing practices, with an eye toward establishing shared “print centers.” In an age where most documents can be shared electronically, this practice may offer cost savings for some departments. I am eager to hear the results of this endeavor. I welcome your suggestions, creativity, and innovations on the topic of cost savings. It takes all of us working together to make this happen. 

We are constantly evolving and growing as a university. To support the exciting levels of possibilities and promise at UM-Flint, we will join the University of Michigan in the Victors Capital Campaign. Our campus is currently in the silent phase of the campaign as the leadership reviews and refines campaign priorities. As The University of Michigan-Flint prepares to mark its 60th anniversary in 2016, we are honoring this significant milestone by focusing the capital campaign on three critical areas: Extraordinary Student Support, Engagement for the Public Good, and Big, Bold Ideas to Ensure the Future. Student scholarships will be a priority in the upcoming capital campaign. Access to education is one of our core values at UM-Flint, and we will do all we can to encourage our donors to help us create more scholarships for our students. We will continue to build upon and strengthen our community ties and partnerships as we collaborate on ideas for the Public Good, and of course, we want to take every advantage of big, bold ideas that will shape the university for years to come. I have every confidence that Linda Moxam, Executive Director of Development and Alumni Relations, along with her team will help to guide us through this important capital campaign.

Development and Alumni Relations is just one of the great administrative departments on this campus. A great university such as UM-Flint, benefits from an outstanding internal support structure. So many departments contribute to the overall excellence of this campus and the educational experience. I know that I could easily talk about the multitude of great contributions from each and every department, but with limited time, I will highlight just a few. Please know that I am grateful for each and every way all departments on campus make a difference for the greater good.

One area that is always a topic on every college campus in the country is that of public safety. This morning, I will explain how we are doing all we can to keep our campus safe, not just in terms of crime, but in terms of emergency preparedness.

The Department of Public Safety has worked very hard to reduce crime on and around our campus. We have a safe campus and it's getting safer. Later this year, the Department of Public Safety will be releasing the crime numbers for 2013, which will reflect a decrease in crime. The credit for this reduction in crime does not solely belong to the Department of Public Safety, it belongs to all of us....to all of you. This is a campus where everyone makes safety their responsibility. Our police Chief, Ray Hall, reports that found property turned in by members of the campus community increased significantly this past year—just one example of many where our campus community is taking action to reduce the opportunity for theft. Simple steps make a big difference.

When it comes to community engagement, the Department of Public Safety joins our academically-based engagement efforts to interact outside the campus boundaries. The Department of Public Safety recently hosted a community action forum at NorthBank and took part in community peace marches last summer. Public Safety and Student Government teamed up once again to sponsor the second annual Touch-A-Truck event, bringing over 1,400 community members to campus this past fall. DPS has also teamed up with the Boys and Girls Club of Flint, the Police Athletic League, Student Government and other student organizations to host the 3 on 3 “Stop the Silence” basketball tournament and are now planning the second annual tournament to be held in June. 

These community events are designed to build a sense of community; and healthy relationships between the police and the community must be built on mutual respect and trust. We are not an island in the center of this city. We are a part of this community in each and every way, and helping to maintain safety for all citizens.

Keeping campus safe is not just about crime. We are always preparing. Mother Nature has kept us on our toes in recent weeks as we weathered not one, but two historic storms. Facilities and Operations work around the clock to keep our campus running, maintain our beautiful grounds, and handle any weather emergency that comes their way. Beyond dealing with weather woes, the importance of business continuity planning and preparation is ongoing and must be a priority for every department. Our All Hazards team helps to keep this effort at the forefront of our agenda. In fact, the team is preparing for a change to the emergency alert system we have all come to rely upon to keep us ready for weather, or aware of any incidents on campus. These ongoing efforts are invisible, but if things were not running well, they would be very visible and troublesome to all on our campus. The infrastructure of the campus is not just sound, but superior, and is another example of the excellence our campus enjoys.

As I stated at the beginning of this speech, this campus is strong. We simply do more here at UM-Flint than at many other universities. These efforts are reflected back to us in the words of our students, the work of our faculty, and the strength and support of our community. We are strong because of each and every one of you.

This year, there will be a leadership change as we welcome a new chancellor to the University of Michigan-Flint. I am prepared to assist the new chancellor in any way that I can to ensure a seamless transition. This individual will find a university that is well positioned for the challenges of the future. The new chancellor will find dynamic, engaged faculty who inspire their students to pursue research, civic engagement, and their dreams. The new chancellor will find the support of an amazing community, full of possibility and promise. I am confident the next leader will be an excellent steward of the University of Michigan-Flint.

Thank you for all that you do to make this university one of the top educational institutions in the world. The more that you do, the more our students experience here at UM-Flint. I invite you to stay for the enrollment presentation which will begin shortly, but first, I want to share a very short video featuring some of our students who express what the University of Michigan-Flint means to them.