For her first State of the University address following her installation as president, Dr. Carol A. Cartwright chose to focus on the “promise of possibility.”
Taking inspiration from a campus talk given by Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and author of The Art of Possibility, Cartwright encouraged the campus to see the proverbial glass as half full rather than half empty. Far from being an unrealistic form of optimism, the half-full view is the one based on tangible reality, while “emptiness and lack are an abstraction of the mind,” she said.
It is the optimists, therefore, who see the possibilities and take us forward into the future, she said. “And so, drawing on these ideas, I am confident in saying to you today that the state of our university is strong at its core.
“However, it is appropriate to add that we are subject to the stresses of an unprecedented national economic crisis—just like everyone else,” the president said.
“I will not dwell on the obvious challenges of balancing budgets in the midst of what Gov. Strickland described as an ‘economic tsunami’ for Ohio. Those are serious matters, and we will continue to deal with them in the months ahead.
“It is important to note that although there were three budget cuts in 2008 to balance the state budget, the governor has maintained his ongoing commitment to higher education and he has not reduced higher education core funding, the State Share of Instruction. The governor, with bipartisan support of the state legislature, has made it clear that he recognizes that higher education plays a key role in the economic recovery of our state,” Cartwright said.
In today’s world, where 85 percent of jobs are classified as “skilled”—that is, requiring education beyond high school—there is a need for more complex skills and expert thinking, she said.
“Going forward, we need to embrace today’s budget challenges as an opportunity to change the way we operate, to increase our efficiency, enhance our programs and services and be nimble in our response to the rapidly changing playing field of higher education. Not only do we need to be open to partnerships with other colleges and universities and businesses, we need to actively seek opportunities for collaboration.”
The economy will turn around, Cartwright predicted. “What is most important for the University and for our state and region is that we plan for, and invest for, the recovery—and that we contribute energetically during the recovery by grabbing hold of opportunities that help us position ourselves for future success.
“The good news is that we have begun this process through a number of major initiatives already under way on our campuses,” she said.
Building Dreams Campaign
BGSU is fortunate to have had the support of more than 70,000 individuals who pledged or donated to the Building Dreams Centennial Campaign. “That number alone indicates an unprecedented broad level of support for the University,” the president said.
Together, they boosted the total past the $120 million target to $146.5 million. “The people who contributed made investments in excellence. They know they have invested wisely,” she said.
Charting Our Future
“We have already begun to understand the possibilities of the future as a result of our strategic planning,” Cartwright said.
Based on last fall’s campuswide discussions involving more than 600 faculty, staff and students, a working framework was developed for revamping BGSU’s mission, vision, values and goals. Six subgroups have been formed and are working on specific goals. Cartwright encouraged the campus community to submit their ideas for strategies to meet those goals.
“I am confident we will end up with a rich set of strategies for review and implementation. Each unit of the University will then be asked to determine specific action plans that will contribute to the University-wide implementation and achievement of the goals and strategies,” she said.
The college compacts developed to align academic priorities, performance metrics, enrollment targets and budget planning goals with the University System of Ohio’s strategic plan for higher education will be linked with the action plans in the strategic planning process.
Also under way is a redesign of BGSU’s general education program, “with the goal of integrating the undergraduate experience at BGSU–from orientation to capstone courses,” Cartwright said.
“This must be an intensive and extensive institution-wide conversation, and it is a significant opportunity to build upon some important, innovative and high-quality work we do here. It will lead to greater retention and could become a signature program—an identity—for BGSU,” she said.
To be able to fulfill the University’s role in the state economy, it will be important to continue to implement “high-impact practices,” Cartwright said. As defined by George Kuh, Chancellor’s Professor of Higher Education at Indiana University and a national leader in student engagement, these include such things as first-year seminars, common intellectual experiences, learning communities, writing-intensive courses, collaborative assignments and projects, undergraduate research, diversity/global learning, co-ops and internships, capstone courses and electronic portfolios.
“I don’t think there is any ‘secret sauce’ in this list,” the president said. “The reason these are effective is that they require time and effort on important work. What I really like about this list is that, while we don’t have these high-impact practices completely integrated yet, we are a lot farther ahead than most institutions. Learning communities, service learning, co-ops and capstone courses are just a few practices where we are already well on our way.
“Focusing on these high-impact practices will help us solidify our identity and be a national player. Because we have years of experience in experimenting with and implementing these practices, we are already on the national stage and in a good position to deepen and broaden these practices throughout our culture.”
Cartwright urged the campus to take its efforts to the next level. “When I arrived on campus last summer, I was given a welcome gift by the classified staff. It was a book called 212: The Extra Degree. The premise is that at 211 degrees water is hot. At 212 degrees, it boils–and with boiling water comes steam. And steam can power a locomotive. This uncomplicated metaphor reminds us at BGSU that we are already doing so many things very well, but by constantly pushing to achieve the extra degree we can position ourselves to tap the vast power of possibility.”
Strategic Plan for Higher Education
“Our ability to succeed in the future is directly tied to our ability to align our goals with Ohio’s Strategic Plan for Higher Education,” Cartwright said. “Our approach to an integrated undergraduate experience has the potential to define our identity, and so do our centers of excellence, which are at various stages in our internal approval process.”
The board of trustees has already approved the arts as a center of excellence, and health and wellness across the lifespan are under review. Educator preparation will be presented to the trustees in February, she said. The College of Education and Human Development has just come through a long reaccreditation process with the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). The preliminary report is that BGSU’s educator preparation programs have received “national recognition” status, which is the highest evaluation possible from NCATE, she said.
Also to come before the board next month is a proposal for a center of excellence in high-performing organizations, Cartwright said. “Nationally ranked programs in industrial psychology, supply chain management and organizational development form the core of the center. It will leverage existing academic strengths across disciplines and colleges at BGSU, while focusing on research, community engagement and education.”
Several other centers are under consideration and may be proposed later.
The strategic plan will also bring a new funding formula to state colleges and universities, she said, one that relies not only upon enrollment but also performance in such areas as retention and graduation rates. BGSU is doing well in the major areas of access, quality and economic leadership.
BGSU has important goals for this semester: balance the budget, focus on enrollment, complete the strategic plan and fill leadership positions, the president said. “But in the end, today is an opportunity for a clarion call to be engaged in the future—to imagine Bowling Green after the economic recovery. As we inch even closer to the exciting celebration of the 100th anniversary of BGSU, it is more important than ever for us all to ‘think forward,’ and I invite you to get engaged.”
Again quoting from Benjamin Zander’s book, from a chapter titled “Giving Way to Passion,” she explained: “‘Giving way to passion has two steps: The first step is to notice where you are holding back, and then let go. The second step is to participate wholly. Allow yourself to be a channel to shape the stream of passion into a new expression.’
“In other words, raise the temperature just one more degree to harness the powerful steam that is produced.”
Optimism and power are alike in that the more you share, the more you have to make positive change, Cartwright said. “Today I pledge to share the power of engaging in change leadership—the power of thinking forward—together we will work toward the promise of possibility.”