OPENING REMARKS, FALL FACULTY AND STAFF CONFERENCE, 2012
Focusing on the Future as We Preserve Our Heritage
Good morning. Thank you, Provost Wims.
To each of you I say welcome to the 2012-13 academic year of Alabama A&M University. We are delighted to have with us this morning, the First Lady of the University, Mrs. Abbiegail Hamilton Hugine. I trust that each of you have had an enjoyable yet productive summer vacation. To our new employees, we welcome you to the Hill. We are all now ready to face the opportunities of the new academic year with renewed vigor, commitment and resolve.
As I was preparing for today’s remark, I was cautioned by the Provost not to be so direct and pointed in my comments. Even the First Lady chimed in and asked, “what are you going to talk about?” Well Mr. Provost, I heard you, but I am not going to heed what you said. I know that the First Lady and all of the cabinet members are probably getting a bit worried and wondering what I am going to say. Well I have an audience and I am going to use this time to say just what’s on my mind. If you like it, fine, if you don’t, I am not going to be apologetic. At my age, sometimes, you have to tell it just as it is.
Now that I have your attention, here is what I really want to say. I want to express to each of you my sincere appreciation for your support, sacrifices, and commitment to Alabama A&M University during some very trying times. We endured repeated budget cuts over the past three years, the likes of which I have not seen in my more than 30 years of experience. State appropriations have declined from a high of $52 million dollars to the current $34 million. But you continue to persevere and remained committed to A&M. Thank you.
We haven’t received a raise in at least three years, and for some, perhaps even longer, but you continued to be committed to Alabama A&M University. Thank you. We have been bombarded with letters of inquiry and request for information from SACS on a multitude of issues, but you have remained steadfast through all of this. Thank you. We have been on probation and had two special committee visits from SACS, but you have kept the faith. Thank you. We have had to endure furloughs, increased cost of health insurance and increases in withholding for retirement, but you never wavered from the call. Thank you.
We have been smattered over the front pages of the newspaper for everything from crime statistics to lack of hot water in Palmer Hall, but you kept on marching toward the prize. Thank you.
Dr. Jim Fisher in an institutional review commented that despite all of these distractions, “it is worth noting that both students and faculty alike report that “the quality of what goes on in the classroom really hasn’t been affected. “We haven’t stopped generating well-educated individuals,” commented a veteran faculty. “It hasn’t’ affected me in the least,” asserted a business major and another student said, “we like this place.” Therefore, through all of this, we have still managed to provide an affordable, top quality education in a nurturing and supportive educational environment at AAMU.
Your determination is aptly summarized in the poem by Langston Hughes, Mother to Son:
Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
It's had tacks in it,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor --
But all the time
I'se been a-climbin' on,
And reachin' landin's,
And turnin' corners,
And sometimes goin' in the dark
Where there ain't been no light.
So boy, don't you turn back.
Don't you set down on the steps
'Cause you finds it's kinder hard.
Don't you fall now --
For I'se still goin', honey,
I'se still climbin',
And life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
Yes, life for us here at AAMU “ain’t been no crystal stair” but we are still climbing despite the myriad of challenges that we have faced, are facing, and will continue to face. Thank you for continuing to climb and indeed when the annals of history records this period in the storied history of Alabama A&M University, we will be remembered as those who kept on climbing in spite of.
As we look around the campus, we see that it has been a very busy summer. Needed repairs have been made to the residence halls. New chillers and boilers have been installed. The tennis courts have gotten a long awaited, long overdue repair and upgrade. Through a partnership with the City of Huntsville and Huntsville City Schools, we are installing artificial turf in the stadium. The turf will not only greatly enhance the facility, but will significantly reduce the cost of maintenance. In addition, through the partnership in which the Huntsville City Schools high school and middle school teams will play games in the stadium, we open up the campus and provide a venue to have persons visit our campus who have never visited before. The true benefit of this partnership will not be seen for sometimes but be assured that it will forever change Alabama A&M University. And the great part about this, we are using revenues generated through the athletic program, namely the Magic City Classic and the game with Auburn. But we have not forgotten the academic buildings. The first phase of major work to be completed on Carter Hall is ongoing. We know that biology represents our largest number of majors and it is our commitment to provide state-of-the art facilities for this program on our campus. Also, work has been completed, has begun or will begin shortly on Carver Complex Annex, Councill Training ROTC Building, and the Honors Center.
Our new students have begun arriving and we welcomed some of the Class of 2016 in on Saturday. Preparing for the arrival of our students is a monumental effort but the staffs of all of the areas-- housing, facilities, financial aid, admission, technology department, police department, finance, our alumni, our volunteers--have done an extraordinary job in preparing for our students. To all of you we say thank you. On yesterday, as I moved around the campus, we heard many complimentary remarks from students and parents regarding the friendliness and the willingness shown to meet their needs. We heard many positive comments about this being the best registration at the university. Kudos to all of you.
Now an update on a few actions taken by the Board of Trustees. At its June meeting, the Board of Trustees approved a budget that provided for a modest increase in student tuition. Alabama A&M University increased tuition by 5%, among the lowest reported in the State. We were sensitive to our students and the limitations on financial aid and wanted to keep the costs of attendance affordable. We will all have to be prudent and judicious in our procurement of goods and services. Also, at its meeting in June, the Board approved the University Code of Conduct. This code is intended to assist you, the faculty, in better managing your classes. It deals with everything from the use of cell phones, the respect that must be shown to you as well as their classmates, to the appropriate dress. To be effective, we must all embrace and enforce this code. Remember, that everything that we do at the university is a teachable moment.
And, in June we attended the orientation for our reaffirmation of accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Of all of the efforts that we have here at the University, this is by far the most important. Recognition by the U.S. Department of Education is contingent upon our maintaining our accreditation. And recognition by the Department of Education is necessary to received financial aid. This is nothing to be taken lightly. Accreditation affects the university, the reputation of the university, the value of the degree, and the future of the University. Let’s not try to use this process to address other issues and concerns. This will entail a tremendous amount of work. We will all be called upon to provide information and to participate in the certification and reaffirmation process. Dr. Virginia Caples, who is no stranger to Alabama A&M University, has consented to lead this effort. Your cooperation with Dr. Caples and the SACS Leadership Team is expected and will be appreciated. We can get through this process with flying colors.
As I close, in keeping with the theme of the conference, “Focusing on the Future as We Preserve Our Heritage,” I want to share with you a few comments about the rear view mirror and the windshield. Do you know why a car’s windshield is so large and the rear view mirror is so small? Connie Lee in the “Power to Live” discusses what car designers can teach us about life. She says the windshield is 80% larger than the rear view mirror for several reasons:
The reason the front windshield is so much larger than the rear view mirror, is because it’s a necessity and it’s used to look forward, so you can focus on where you’re heading.
Because you need to look forward with vision and clarity, the designers included windshield washers and wipers for the front windshield. You’ll note the rear view mirror lacks this feature leading one to believe seeing what you’ve left behind isn’t that important to your journey.
The rear view mirror is smaller than the windshield, because it’s used to look behind. When it comes down to it, this mirror is helpful but not essential.
In short, the windshield is larger than the rear view mirror because, while our past is important, it is not as important as our Future. Patti LaBelle says that we should “Look at life through the windshield, not the rearview mirror."
As we look into the rear view mirror of Alabama A&M University, we admire and cherish the founding of this great university by Dr. William Hooper Councill. However, all of his contributions will not ensure the future of Alabama A&M University. The windshield of what we must do to ensure her survival awaits us. The windshield of creating new programs, new structures, new ways of doing things. The windshield of asking and answering a question germane to our very existence, what is it about Alabama A&M University that makes her different? What is her niche? How is she addressing the needs of the 21st Century student? Or, are we looking back in the rear view mirror of time and fondly reflecting on the way it used to be. Yes, Alabama A&M’s history, yes her rear view mirror is grand, but as we look through the windshield of the future, we can say with certainty, that Alabama A&M’s future is indeed greater than her past.
The future that awaits us is mindboggling and unparalleled, provided we are willing to shift the paradigm. We must embrace the road map for survival as listed in a June 26, 2012 article in the Huffington post entitled, “Which Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) will survive and Why?” by Marybeth Gasman Professor of Higher Education, University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education. While I do not agree with all of the fifteen points, the article does raise some salient points necessary for the survival of our schools.
The article posits that the HBCUs that will survive in the 21st century are those:
1. .... that have an institutional niche -- a strength -- something that makes them stand out. Strong programs draw students, funders, and alumni support. What is that for AAMU?
2. .... that are led by bold leaders with brave sensibilities.
3. .... with leaders that make decisions based on data -- data at the institutional level as well as at the state and federal level.
4. .... with presidents that speak out on national higher education issues, especially those that directly influence HBCUs.
5. .... that look closely at their retention and graduation rates and if they don't see change and improvement, they make immediate change.
6. .... that learn to 'manage up' in terms of their funder relationships. If you get funding, you have to make sure that you keep the funder informed about your use of the money.
7. .... that diversify their student body. Although there is resistance on the part of some leaders and alumni to diversification, there's no other choice given increased access for African Americans at majority institutions and the growing Asian and Latino populations. Thriving, in most cases, depends on aggressively reaching out to all students.
8. .... with leaders who remember to respect faculty and faculty input and faculty that are willing to hold their colleagues accountable and to high standards of performance and conduct. Happy faculty = happy students.
9. .... that improve student services and the treatment of students as they move through the various student services venues on campus. Satisfied students make happy alumni that give back to the institution.
10. .... with leaders that roll up their sleeves and work with all entities on campus.
11. .... that choose leaders and administrators with diverse experiences and perspectives. These leaders and administrators need to be chosen because they bring strength to the institution, not merely because they have worked at HBCUs in the past. Safe leaders and administrators don't move institutions to forward -- bold leaders do.
12. .... that take alumni giving seriously and fully engage their alumni on all levels. If those who have benefited most from our institutions do not support their alma mater, why should others?
13. .... that learn to cultivate the media at all levels, telling their institutional story regularly.
14. .... with presidents that get excited about fundraising and work as a team with their fundraising staff.
15. .... those HBCUs that honor their roots by reaching out to the surrounding community, uplifting it and measuring their interaction and contributions to it.
I challenge you, I urge you to join me, in not only looking through the windshield of Alabama A&M’s future, but committing to work together to realize her potential. Yes we will, because we are AAMU. We are:
A--Acute and adept—we are perceptive, discerning, and readily react. We are highly skilled at what we do.
A--Accountable and Adaptable—We take responsibility for our actions but we recognize that change is inevitable and we readily adapt.
M--Marketable and Mission oriented—We must market and tell the AAMU story remaining true to our mission of access and opportunity.
U--Unified and unrelenting—We must be willing to work together, unrelentingly, putting aside our own personal agendas for the Alabama A&M agenda.
Yes we are AAMU, A—acute and adept; A—accountable and adaptable; M—marketable and mission oriented; and U—unified and unrelenting
Have a great academic year, thank you for all that you do, and let us look through the windshield of the future. God bless Alabama A&M University.