BGSU should seize opportunities: Cartwright

BOWLING GREEN, O—Lest anyone think Bowling Green State University might be simply treading water during this transition year, the message from Interim President Carol Cartwright in her Opening Day address was emphatically the opposite. This is a time of great opportunity for the University, she said.

Speaking to a full crowd in the Lenhart Grand Ballroom Aug. 22, Cartwright reviewed some of the factors that make it imperative that the Universitycontinue to move forward—in some cases, quickly. These include the “new relationship we have with the governor, the chancellor and the Ohio Board of Regents,” the search for a new president and the renewed importance of recruitment and retention of students.

“We have a fundamental responsibility to ensure that BGSU does not mark time while looking for a president. I think you will agree that slowing down now would be the wrong approach. The stakes are too high,” she said.

“The issues in higher education are coming fast in Ohio. Expectations for us are changing, and we must be proactive and we must be responsive.

“This is a responsibility we all share. We have an important role to play during this historic time,” she said.

The campus community will have a prime opportunity to exercise that responsibility during the upcoming “Charting Our Future” discussions on the University’s strategic plan, she noted.

Future of higher education

Ohio is in the early stages of a 10-year strategic plan for higher education, designed to make the state more competitive in the nation and around the world, Cartwright pointed out.

“The goals are straightforward: Graduate more students, keep more graduates in Ohio and attract more degree holders from out of state.

“For the most part, these are things we are already doing at Bowling Green, and we are doing them well. We just graduated the largest entering class in the history of the University.

“In order to maximize resources, the board of regents wants to work with us to leverage the unique strengths of each institution, leading to the establishment of the centers of excellence,” Cartwright reiterated. Each university is responsible for nominating and approving its own centers of excellence by next June; BGSU has identified the arts as its first and is in the process of examining other possibilities, such as educator preparation, leading and creating effective organizations, health and wellness, and the environment and sustainability.

Campus input will be solicited throughout the nominating process, she said.

In addition to the centers of excellence, all of the public universities and community colleges will be measured on 20 areas of accountability under four broad headings: access, quality, affordability and efficiency, and economic leadership.

“These are already strong areas for BGSU,” she said, giving examples in each.

“We will participate actively in Ohio’s Strategic Plan for Higher Education,” Cartwright said. “I assure you we will stand up for issues that are important to us when they arise. And, as in any transition, there may be occasional frustrations. But I am confident we will be capable of managing whatever comes our way. 

“We cannot succeed alone,” she added. “We will be active in the dialogue at the state level. We will adapt. And we will do our best to keep BGSU aligned with the new reality for higher education in the state of Ohio.”

Enrollment becomes crucial

Another area of “great transition” is that of enrollment and retention, Cartwright said. The core mission of the University is to provide a strong academic experience that attracts students with “depth and character” from around the world and to provide the programs and services to see them through to graduation. In order to do that, having financial support from a “robust undergraduate enrollment” is imperative.

“Everyone is feeling the changes that are being driven by a major shift in demographics in our region and across the country. As our fall recruitment will demonstrate, our recruitment efforts are slightly out of synch with these shifts,” she said.

For example, the Cleveland area has always been a key region of focus for Bowling Green’s recruiting efforts, she said. But while BGSU will always be attractive to students from that area, “the demographic reality is that northeast Ohio is just not a current growth area. Each passing year produces fewer and fewer potential students for Bowling Green.”

The University has enlisted the assistance of a leading enrollment management and recruiting specialist firm to “help guide our internal discussion and ensure that our efforts are headed in the right direction. They will help us see new opportunities and new ways of sharing the excitement of a BG education” and to adapt to the changing situation, Cartwright said.

In the end, it will come down to some fundamental questions that BGSU needs to answer: “What kind of students do we want? Where will they come from? How will we attract them? How will we support their success?”

Giving examples of some of the University’s “extraordinarily intelligent and committed students” who are academic standouts and involved in their communities, Cartwright said “we are finding that the students of 2008 and beyond are looking for new directions. They want more than a degree. They want a sense of purpose and values in their lives.

“We need to respond with the types of programs they want to pursue, inside the classroom and with our co-curricular partners in our own learning community and beyond.”

Charting our future

Cartwright issued a strong call for the campus to participate in “Charting Our Future” week, Sept. 8-12, a chance to provide thoughtful input into the direction BGSU will take in the coming years.

Acknowledging the strong legacy left by President Sidney Ribeau, Cartwright said, “His accomplishments here over the past 13 years helped to create opportunities and position the University for even greater success in the future.”

Last year, Ribeau charged a campuswide group with drafting a 10-year strategic plan, “a unified plan to align all areas of the University and allow us to respond to changing conditions, including the new expectations of Ohio’s chancellor and governor,” Cartwright described.

That team has reviewed the many planning documents created over the past few years and identified the major themes and ideas. “They have completed important background work and built a platform for all of us to use as we create the new plan. And when I say ‘we,’ I mean all of you in the BGSU community,” Cartwright said.

The sessions scheduled for Sept. 8-12 will allow broader input from the campus community. A video of a “dry run” of one of these sessions is available on the Charting Our Future Web site (http://www.bgsu.edu/strategicplanning/)

In addition, beginning today (Aug. 25), more background information will be sent by email for nine days, each day addressing a different topic. “After nine days we will all be even better prepared for the collaborative discussions,” which will encompass the community’s debate on the University’s vision, mission, values and overarching goals, Cartwright said.

“We will look carefully at your input, consult with appropriate groups and, shortly after the conclusion of all the discussions, I will issue a statement about the results of our work,” she said.

“We’re in a leadership transition and people want to know where we’re going,” she said. “And we need to inform the presidential search process—finding the best possible leadership match with our vision, mission and values is the key to a successful search. This is our opportunity to influence the process.”

Seizing opportunity

“We’ve all heard the saying ‘opportunity only knocks once,’” Cartwright said. “But I will warn you that it has been my experience that, many times, opportunity doesn’t even knock at all. We have to be prepared to open the door, track it down and maybe even tackle it.

“This is our opportunity.”

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(Posted August 25, 2008 )