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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Welcome Breakfast Speech 2010 to Faculty/Professional and Academic Staff

Given to faculty/professional & academic staff
Chancellor Black Remarks
Thursday, September 2, 2010
7:30 a.m., Kirby Ballroom

It is with great enthusiasm that I began August 1 as UMD's chancellor. Your warm welcome has made the transition to Duluth easy for me and my wife, Connie. However, if we had a dollar for every time that someone reminded us how cold it will be in Duluth, we would be rich! We now welcome being cooler by the Great Lake than we were this summer in Hotlanta, and we look forward to getting back to winter activities we knew for many years in Connecticut and Kansas.

For those of you not familiar with my background, I have spent the last eight years as Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Kennessaw State University, which is a regional university of 23,000 students just outside of Atlanta. As the university's Chief Academic Officer, I led the university's transition to a doctoral-granting institution and added several academic programs at the undergraduate and master's levels. Before moving to Georgia, we lived in Emporia, Kansas, for 20 years, where I served in a variety of positions at Emporia State University. I began as a "temporary lecturer" in theatre, and I left as a full professor and dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, and I earned my bachelor's degree in English at the University of Tennessee Martin, a campus of the UT system where I received an excellent liberal arts education. I earned my master's degree in theatre at the University of Connecticut, and completed my PhD in theatre at the University of Kansas. My research area was Russian theatre and drama.

Many people have asked me what drew me to UMD. When I began responding to opportunities for chancellor positions, I was looking for strong educational institutions with a promising future. UMD indeed has a rich academic tradition, dating back to its founding as the Duluth Normal School in 1895. When I looked closer at UMD, I learned that the campus is a focal point for regional economic development, while also serving as a major cultural center for northeastern Minnesota. Outstanding faculty and staff leads to an excellent student body. UMD's enrollment has remained strong, attracting high quality students. In fact, I recently learned that this fall, the average high school rank of incoming students is 72 percent. Of those freshmen, 18 percent were in the top 5 percent of their high school class and 22 percent were in the top 10 percent. Many of you will be involved with some of these new students on undergraduate research projects, which has a 60-year history of success at UMD. Academic excellence and expanding academic opportunities have been the hallmark of my administrative career, and I look forward to working with you to find new avenues of academic excellence at UMD. There seem to be many opportunities to expand at the graduate levels and in undergraduate programs were we have particular strengths. We need to continue and capitalize on our achievements in undergraduate education, as we explore new graduate opportunities. As I've said to the deans, I want us to be first class in everything we do, and to be world class where we can.

Another thing you should know about me is that I grew up in a segregated neighborhood in Memphis and was in high school in the late 1960s when Memphis became a focal point of the civil rights movement. I remember very clearly the night Dr. King was killed and the shameful way many in my all-white suburb reacted. I grew up in a family of privilege. We were privileged not because of our economic status, because my father, who was wounded in WWII, had to stop working in his 30s and passed away when he was 49. Financially, we struggled. We were privileged not because of higher education, because neither of my parents went to college. They were smart people and wise people, but their education, like our economic status, was quite modest. We were privileged, because of the color of our skin. It took many years for me to understand this and to come to terms with this privilege and with what happened in my home town in the late 1960s. I share this with you today to emphasize my commitment to a campus of inclusion and opportunity for all of our students, faculty and staff. There is much to be done and this is a new day of commitment to social justice on our campus. We have an outstanding faculty and staff, but we all, myself included, have much to do and to learn in order to create the inclusive and civil environment that we all deserve. We will not reach our full potential academically until we have a campus that values the contributions and understands the differences that we all bring to our distinctive learning environment. Also, we will not reach our full potential until we all demonstrate a zero tolerance for exclusionary and hurtful behaviors and practices.

In thinking about my new role as chancellor and your roles as faculty and P&A staff members, I'm reminded of the following parable:

A man in a hot air balloon realized he was lost. He reduced altitude and spotted a woman below. He descended a bit more and shouted, "Excuse me, can you help me? I promised a friend I would meet him an hour ago, but I don't know where I am."

The woman below replied. "You are in a hot air balloon hovering approximately 30 feet above the ground. You are between 40 and 41 degrees north latitude and between 59 and 60 degrees west longitude."

"You must be a faculty member," said the balloonist.
"I am," replied the woman, "How did you know?"
"Well," answered the balloonist, "everything you told me is technically correct, but I have no idea what to make of your information, and the fact is I am still lost. Frankly, you've not been much help so far."

The woman below responded, "You must be a chancellor."

"I am," replied the balloonist, "but how did you know?"

"Well," said the woman, "you don't know where you are or where you are going. You have risen to where you are due to a large quantity of hot air. You made a promise that you have no idea how to keep. You expect someone else to solve your problem. And the fact is you are in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but now, somehow, it's my fault."

Unfortunately, the parable captures occasional interactions between faculty members and administrators, and interactions among many on campus when we are too focused on egocentric comments and finger pointing, resulting in miscommunication and widening distances between us. 30 feet separation can quickly become much farther until it's very difficult to get two parties back together and on the same plane.

What intrigues me most about this parable, or lame joke if you prefer, is that by nature the chancellor and the faculty member operate on different planes. The chancellor can be viewed as aloft. I've already heard references to the fifth-floor of Darland. And in some ways the chancellor should be aloft, because his perspective needs to be broader. He must scan the horizon, or monitor the boundaries, and bring that information back to the faculty. The faculty member is by nature more grounded, or some would say, "in the trenches." I don't like that metaphor, because it suggests warfare. My grandfather was literally in the trenches in France during World War I. I don't like to think that I'm doing battle with the faculty or that faculty members are fighting their students. But I understand that at times faculty members feel like they are being attacked and under siege. So what can we do together as a scholarly community of life-long learners to get on the same plane? What can I do to pull the faculty member up to higher ground and what can you do to keep me grounded and in touch with your concerns and needs?

When looking at UMD's future, I believe that it is important for me to help create an environment where you can do your best work. I do not have all the answers. But I am an optimist, and I promise to work with you as we solve the challenges facing all higher education institutions. We are in uncharted waters today in higher education. You may have heard President Bruinicks refer to the "new normal" for higher education. As my colleagues in the American Association of State Colleges and Universities have outlined, the new normal in higher education has created three major challenges. First, we need to change how we operate in light of shrinking state financial support. We can expect several years of declining, or at best flat, budgets from the state, and we can't continue to do everything the same way as in the past. Second, evolving technology has led to new competition and a rapidly changing learning environment as free access to course content from around the world is available on the Internet. Changing the ways knowledge is acquired and distributed, technology could lead to substantive, fundamental and ultimately productive changes in teaching and learning. Finally, we face increasing political and societal pressure to provide access to higher education for more students with less funding and to demonstrate more clearly how we add value to students' lives. Assessment of student learning outcomes and explaining those assessments to the general public is becoming more and more important. Bottom line, we are increasingly told to do even more with less, but we also need to find ways to do things differently in our classrooms and laboratories, so that we maintain quality and serve an increasingly diverse student body within this environment of shrinking resources and rapid change.

While I have only been at UMD for one month, I have been listening, and I have learned from many of you about the substantial cuts that have been made. We are all feeling the pain of the reduced funding levels. You have all experienced at least a 1.15 percent salary reduction this year, with others receiving a 2.3 percent cut. While these funding measures have helped to balance this year's university budget, the state financial outlook continues to be bleak. We have to expect and prepare ourselves for the possibility of future reductions in the state budget for the next few years.
It is time that we look at new ways to continue to deliver a quality education. It is time for us to take a close look at our strengths and opportunities. We need to work together to make sure that what we are focused on a vision and mission that serves us well now and in the future.

That's where I need your help. By the end of September, you will hear the details of a new strategic planning process that will help us craft a new vision for UMD and help us meet the challenges of this new higher education environment, the "New Normal." I am here to listen, to learn and to work with you and your colleagues to ensure that UMD continues to be a strong leader in providing higher education opportunities that our students deserve and expect. By listening to you and gathering opinions from across the campus and with our external stakeholders, we can think creatively and examine how we deliver instruction and how we will use our budgets and other resources to make UMD even stronger.

While we do face serious challenges, I want to close by recognizing all the talented faculty members and the experienced team of academic professionals who are here at today's breakfast. I also would like to welcome the new faculty and staff members who are introduced today. Let's commit together to continue our efforts to get on the same plane the administration standing in the balloon and the faculty members standing on the ground. In addition, we must have strategic alignment among all units of UMD, and our scholarly community must work together to create a culture of academic excellence, collaboration, and student success.

We have a lot of work to do and we have our share of challenges. But we have the potential, and the tools, and the knowledge, and most importantly, we have the PEOPLE to get the work done and to do it with great joy. Let's get in this balloon together and see how high we can rise and how far we can go.

As we kick off the start of the school year, I want to thank you for all that you do on behalf of our students. You have my best wishes for continued success.

Thank you.

Chancellor Lendley C. Black