Convocation 2016

Posted August 10, 2016

President Ginny Arthur's first convocation address to faculty, staff and students, August 2016

Good morning everyone! Welcome to Convocation, the opening of the 2016-2017 academic year. I have the pleasure of knowing so many of you. For those I have not yet met, I am Ginny Arthur, and I am pleased to be in my seventh week as President of this amazing university.

For those of us who live in the world of education, this time of year is our academic "New Year's." It's a time when we reflect on what we have accomplished together, and setting our intentions for the year ahead. It's a time for reconnecting with long-time colleagues and for welcoming new members into our university community. Each year I relish the renewed anticipation and excitement this season brings.

The new members of our faculty and staff bring energy and ideas that are valuable ingredients for fueling our organizational creativity. At each year's Convocation, we enjoy welcoming all those who have joined our community since this time last year. On the screen, we will see our new colleagues' names listed by college or division. I ask each group to stand briefly as we go through the slides and to be welcomed. Please seek these new colleagues out during lunch or on campus over the next few weeks to make their acquaintance and personally welcome them to our community.

I admit that I am still getting used to the idea of being a university president.

It is a tremendous and humbling honor to serve as president of this great institution. When I pause to think of the thousands of students who have come through our classrooms and the ways their lives and this community have changed as a result, I'm reminded of the power this university holds to bring positive and lasting change through the students we serve.

As well as feeling honored and humbled, I am also very excited.

It is exciting to look at the possibilities that lie ahead for Metropolitan State-building on our unique legacy of student-focused instruction, of serving those who have not been well-served or have been under-served by traditional higher education, of the flexibility and innovation that are hallmarks of our education, and arguably, most importantly: of striving for inclusion and equity for all students, faculty, and staff both within our organization and throughout our communities.

Many of you are familiar with the history of our great university-and I hope that newer members will take the opportunity to learn more about our story-but I've also heard that some of you are interested in learning more about your new President and my own journey to my dream job!

So let me tell you a bit about myself...and why I am so thrilled to be serving this particular university as its president.

Not unlike a number of our students, my first encounter with formal education was not terribly successful! I grew up in a small town with a burgeoning population of baby boom children. I remember there were almost 50 students in my elementary classrooms, and I was the youngest of six children-the next oldest being 9 years my senior. These are my only explanations for how I got away with skipping kindergarten for several months. I guess my teacher and my parents were just too tired to notice!

At four-and-a-half, I didn't like having my time regulated and regimented, so I started hiding out in a neighbor's abandoned carriage house. This worked really well for me until I made a mistake and arrived home early one day. I don't care what they say about the unreliability of memory, I still clearly see my mother's face and hear her voice. She was not pleased! And since she could tell time, she wasn't buying my assertion that I always came out at this time. Next thing I knew, I was transferred to a parochial school under the watchful eyes of the nuns; I wasn't even allowed to go home for lunch like my neighborhood friends. As I recall, even outside recess was questionable. You could say it was my introduction to academic probation.

Despite my struggles against school as a child, I was determined to go to college, even though I had no idea what was really involved. Some of you may have already heard the story of my first trip to college. My parents had to borrow a car to get me there and, not having any higher education experience themselves, they quickly unpacked my things, nervously helped me settle my side of the dorm room, said goodbye and were on the road home. They wanted to get home before dark! In retrospect, I realize they probably felt as uncomfortable and out of place as I did. For a long time, I felt like I didn't fit, that maybe I wasn't meant to be there.

I never once met my undergraduate advisor. I would take my advising form to the department secretary and she would tell me to come back the next day to pick up the signed registration card. I thought this was how it was supposed to work! I floundered for a while but was finally able to figure out how to complete my degree after changing my major four times. I honed my skill at reading catalogs and schedules, making charts and checklists of requirements, uncovering for myself how to navigate the system. Because of my own experience, I understand the frustration of students who struggle to figure out how to transfer from one of the community colleges to Metropolitan State, who aren't quite sure how to begin planning their schedule. The work that Joe Rockers, Ashley Weatherspoon, and many of our faculty and advisors have done over the past few years to create transfer guides is saving many students from giving up and dropping out.

Perhaps the best things that happened to me in college were my learning experiences OUTSIDE the classroom, including a work-study job transcribing class discussions for a graduate seminar on race and women's issues. It was a new "experimental" course, taught by an African-American professor, a rarity in higher education in those days. It was the best class I didn't register for; the experience opened my eyes to the depth of social justice issues. Similarly, I secured an unpaid internship in the new Office of Consumer Protection, which was opened with the city of Syracuse-only the second unit of its kind in the nation. It was a significant and lasting learning experience for me. In addition to the knowledge of consumer law and advocacy and negotiation skills I acquired, my boss, Rosemary Pooler, who later served as a judge for the New York State Supreme Court and still serves on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, taught me to be courageous, and the importance of helping those without much social power to acquire and to exercise it.

If I had had an advisor or someone else to talk to in college, my life might have taken a different turn, but I was determined to be a lawyer, and a career in higher education was the furthest thing from my mind. However, after trying on several different kinds of law practice and not feeling satisfied, I went to see a career counselor, who said after my second appointment, "you want to be an educator." I told her in no uncertain terms that I did not want to be a school teacher, and she's the one who pointed out to me that the professors I had in college were educators too. Well, who knew?

Shortly after, I had a chance to try out this idea with an appointment to a one-year faculty position at a private liberal arts college. I stayed 24 years, became a full professor, and served seven years as department chair. During my time as a faculty member, I championed internships, study abroad, and classroom simulations, because I understood and believed in the power of experiential learning. I even remember attending a CAEL conference in the early 1990s; I probably met some Metro State faculty there!

Of course, as most of you know, I have had the privilege of serving as your Provost for the past four years. As a new President, knowing you and being deeply familiar with so many of our university's strengths, challenges, and opportunities, I have the opportunity of building on the momentum we have gathered as a university community, especially over the past two years.

During that time, we have been rebuilding our commitment and our optimism. Despite the setbacks we overcame, or perhaps because of them, our completed building projects have created a shared sense of pride in our Saint Paul campus. The opening ceremonies for the Student Center and the Science Education Center, and countless tours for legislators, trustees, community members, foreign dignitaries, and potential donors have brought many people to our campus who didn't realize this space even existed. They have been surprised and delighted to see our campus and its integration with the community, and, nearly to a person, they remark on this beautiful setting. Our facilities team, under the new leadership of Chris Maas, deserves our thanks and appreciation for tenaciously working to create a setting of which we can all be so proud.

Now, I know that not everyone was excited about the parking ramp construction, but having that asset has enabled us to assume a more prominent place in our community.

Over the last year, we have hosted several Minnesota State conferences and gatherings, including:

The onboarding meeting for new system presidents,

The transfer pathways team kickoff, which brought more than 75 people from across the System to our campus,

The System-wide advancement meeting and kickoff for the System-wide scholarship campaign, attended by development professionals, college and university presidents, and business leaders,

The presidential retirement celebration attended by members of the Board of Trustees,

Visits last spring by educational leaders from Spain and Mexico.

I think the Chancellor was here at leave eight times since last March!

We have also held numerous academic forums and community oriented events, our annual scholarship breakfast, the spring outstanding student reception and our first ever doctoral graduation ceremony on campus. It's easy to forget that the families of our students often don't see our campus. They were all delighted to visit the space where their family members had gathered with classmates to study, attended class, and met with their advisors.

We also hosted the first Saint Paul residency for the Twin Cities International Film Festival. Even people from Minneapolis, who don't like to cross the river, came to experience a movie in our upgraded auditorium!

Just since June, we have hosted events such as:

  • The Capital Pathways internship celebration, which was attended by Governor Dayton,
  • The Urban Scholars program, an internship program for the City of Minneapolis,
  • Mayor Coleman's 2017 budget address,
  • A conference for Current and Aspiring Teachers of Color and American Indian Teachers, which had representatives from across the region and from national organizations.

Each of these events has brought people to this campus who have never been here before. Everyone who is exposed to this location is surprised by its beauty and is eager to learn more about what we do, the students we serve, and the role we play in making the Twin Cities a vibrant and prosperous area: economically, socially and intellectually.

Also, as part of building our momentum, we have been focused on developing a sound budgeting and planning process. Last winter we took a serious look at the state of our budgeting process. We discovered that we not only had a budget process issue-it was slow, untimely, confusing, and cumbersome, inhibiting good planning and stewardship of resources-but that we had a culture problem, as well. Our culture was defensive, antagonistic, opaque, and mistrustful. The instruments provided by an external evaluator also measured the culture we aspire to work in. This showed that many of us wanted a culture that focuses on collaboration, problem-solving, generosity of spirit, and trust.

If you can attend the all-university session at 2:30 this afternoon, you will hear more details about these new processes. While it will take some time to correct and repair the situation that developed over the course of several years, we have mapped out a method of budget development for FY 18 and subsequent years that we expect will help us achieve a collaborative process, provide candid and complete information in a timely manner, and use the budget to support and advance the university's strategic priorities. We will need all of that because the current budget situation requires that we collectively examine and debate how we fulfill our mission and achieve our vision within the confines of our current resources.

In an effective organization, budgeting and planning need to be tied together. Our Strategic Planning Advisory Committee has worked to develop university-wide strategic priorities based on input gathered from across the university, as well as a process for integrating unit-level strategic plans into a focused set of prioritized actions that will position the university to achieve its mission and vision.

Building on the Appreciative Inquiry work of two years ago that engaged more than 350 people across our locations, the committee developed:
Prioritized recommendations for the interim president's action,

A strategic positioning statement: the "elevator speech," if you will, which gives the succinct overview of who we are and entices listeners to learn more about our work, contributions, and accomplishments,

Eight strategic priorities to guide our planning and prioritization.

Again, you will hear more details about this work at the afternoon session and in the weeks and months ahead.

During the past two years, we've also brought academic and student affairs into a single division and created academic units that align with our mission and vision.

As an engaged, public, urban university we've created a College of Community Studies and Public Affairs which aligns and concentrates our academic strength in community-change disciplines.

To elevate the work of the humanities, history, social sciences, language and literature, and ethnic and religious studies, and to make proudly visible our belief in the importance of a liberal education, we created the College of Liberal Arts. Talk about counter-cultural! That's exactly what we hope to be.

Our new College of Sciences capitalizes on our opportunity to develop outstanding programs in the natural sciences, mathematics, and computer science, positioning us to be a leader in developing the next generation of diverse STEM-professionals.

And to focus and emphasize our innovative programs in nursing, dental hygiene, dental therapy, and other health sciences, we've established a College of Nursing and Health Sciences, to meet the growing and urgent demand for health-care professionals to assist a diversifying and aging population, especially in community settings.

We've recognized the growth of disciplines within the College of Management through the creation of a departmental structure that will allow more focused planning and expansion. The College is now organized into the departments of:

  • Accounting
  • Economics
  • Management
  • Management Information Systems
  • Marketing, Business Law, International Business, & Operations Supply Chain.

To recommit ourselves to our university's legacy of creativity and innovation in higher education, we are creating a Center for Educational Innovation under the direction of Carl Polding, the dean of the College of Individualized Studies. We recognize that CIS has been the university's nursery for unique educational approaches that have, in some cases, had profound effects on U.S. higher educational practice.

We are strengthening the identity of the School of Urban Education, which under the leadership of its first permanent dean, Dr. René Antrop-González, has been building important partnerships with our neighboring two-year institutions, school districts, and the community.

All of this work will lay the foundation for Metropolitan State's next stage of development and achievement.

In a very interesting twist of fate, as the search for Metropolitan State's next president was winding down last March, one of the library faculty discovered the founding documents for Metropolitan State in a box that had been sitting at the Minnesota Historical Society for decades. The file, labeled "David Sweet's Miscellaneous Papers," contained then-Chancellor Ted Mitau's charge to the soon-to-be-appointed President David Sweet and Sweet's response.

When I had a chance to see the documents, to see the vision Metropolitan State's founders had for us back in 1971, I realized that the core values and commitments of 1971 are still relevant and critical in 2016 and beyond. For example, Chancellor Mitau wrote that: "Metropolitan State should be innovative and non-traditional." This is still an imperative for us. Just as in the 1960's and 70's, we are experiencing a revolution in the economic, political, social, technological and global spheres. Innovative, flexible and non-traditional approaches to higher education are needed to assure access and affordability if we are to maintain our democracy, build an equitable and just society, and minimize the economic disparities that are so corrosive to our shared prosperity.

Chancellor Mitau also said: "Metropolitan State should serve non-traditional learners and meet the unmet educational needs of the Twin Cities." This is still the heart of our mission. It includes the working adults that Mitau and Sweet contemplated, but it's also students from communities of color and new Americans, students who are place-bound, and those helping to support their families of origin. They may have some college, but slipped away from higher education with no degree, and now they are ready to try again.

We began democratizing learning long before the internet and online learning became ubiquitous and began to breach the walls of the ivory tower. This university remains the hope of many who are not well-served by traditionally-organized institutions of higher learning.

And just last June, the Board of Trustees of Minnesota State adopted a Metro Baccalaureate Plan designed to increase baccalaureate degree completion, a plan that recognizes Metropolitan State's unique and central role in fulfilling those goals.

As Mitau further said: "Metropolitan State should be a college with the community as its campus." How do we do that? We hire community and resident faculty with expert, experiential knowledge; we facilitate community-based learning within relationships based on mutual respect and benefit for the student, community, and university; we have nearly 30 instructional sites across the Twin Cities, including those on two-year college campuses and a robust program of online learning. President Sweet didn't foresee any of these developments, but he noted upon his appointment that Metropolitan State is not an "enclave within the cities" for those who want to retreat from the urban environment. Instead, we remain fully engaged in being part of the solutions our urban communities are seeking.

That's not to say Metropolitan State has not evolved since 1971. We were originally founded as the "university without walls." And lately, we have built a lot of walls-albeit beautiful and inviting walls. But that's because this university wasn't founded to be one thing forever. It was founded with a spirit of flexibility and innovation, to meet the changing needs of its students and community. We wouldn't be able to serve more than 11,500 students, house our 178 resident faculty and our many advisors and student development staff, provide a technologically and scientifically competitive education, or gather for events that enrich our campus and greater community, without these walls. We need to change that tagline and narrative and strive to be the "university without barriers," enabling undergraduate and graduate degree attainment and helping non-traditional and post-traditional students realize their potential.

Metropolitan State is going to continue to evolve because that's what is needed to serve the changing and growing population of the Twin Cities, who want and need a flexible, innovative, accessible, affordable education grounded in the liberal arts and preparing them for life, work, leadership, and citizenship.
When I look ahead, I see a thriving university that is vital to the civic, economic, and cultural health of the Twin Cities region. People throughout the area, whether potential students, business leaders, civic organizations, government entities, or philanthropists will see Metropolitan State as a destination:

  • For obtaining bachelors and graduate degrees,
  • For continuing professional development,
  • For recruiting well-prepared employees,
  • For finding expertise on regional issues,
  • For partnership and engagement,
  • For making a positive difference in people's lives, and
  • For fostering and sustaining a socially just community.

As a result, we will achieve the ambitious goals set for us in the Minnesota State Board's Metro Baccalaureate Plan, which envisions a doubling of our graduates over the next eight years.

I'm enthusiastic about our new collaborations and cooperation that this growth will entail. For those of you who are relatively new to the University, it may not sound like news to say that we have strong and still-growing partnerships with our region's community colleges. But it is and we do! Those relationships are critical to our future, and we will continue to work every day to deepen those partnerships and to earn the cooperation-and the enrollments-that grow out of them.

We all need to understand that the Minnesota State system sees Metropolitan State as being indispensable to its strategic focus on elevating the number of bachelor's degrees conferred across the Twin Cities metro region. It is hard to overstate the importance of this alignment. It is not that we have taken on a new system project. It's just the opposite: the Board has concluded that the goal of providing adult-friendly, flexible, affordable bachelor's degree pathways to large numbers of metropolitan residents, is one of their critical few strategic priorities. So now Minnesota State is on board with the mission we've been pursuing for 45 years! The growing cooperation we will enjoy with our community college partners and our system colleagues is very exciting-it will open up new avenues for us to serve students as never before.

While we are thinking about our partners at the community colleges and at the system office, we should all be aware that the Board of Trustees recently acted to change our system's nickname from "MnSCU" to "Minnesota State." This is part of a larger effort to enhance the public's understanding that we are a system of unique public colleges and universities working together to meet diverse students' higher education needs.

Research has shown that the "MnSCU" label, after 20 years, still doesn't convey what we are all about. And since 97% of our students are transfer students, anything that helps them understand the close connections between the programs at their colleges and those at Metropolitan State is important for them and for us.

This new name will not affect our efforts to market our programs and to communicate our own brand messages to members of the public. But it will help prospective students better understand the pathways that lead to Metropolitan State.

Because Metropolitan State is not a conventional university and these are turbulent times in our country, the role of President is both sobering and exciting.
I am sobered daily by the national trends of declining public support for public higher education, coupled with downward pressure on tuition revenues, and cyclical enrollment drops which threaten the long-term sustainability of our system and potentially our university.

Locally, I am determined to bring expenditures and revenues into positive alignment so that we can grow sustainably and maintain academic quality.
I'm also optimistic because we have the expertise and the partnerships with community colleges that we need to improve our enrollment outcomes each year. By being the partner of choice, we can help students persist through their associate degree programs and come to us to complete their bachelor's degree. We have the faculty expertise to develop and grow appealing graduate programs, which will allow these students to achieve their further goals.

I am also sobered by the widespread instances, nationally and in our own communities, of systemic racial injustice, violence, and a poisoned public discourse. These challenges affect our communities, our students' communities, and our students personally. They are our challenges, too and as "stewards of place" we have a responsibility to foster the health of our community.

At the same time, I am energized by the knowledge that, as a comprehensive, public, urban university, with an "unwavering commitment" to community engagement, we provide skills, resources, and opportunities for examining difficult issues and engaging students and community in the discovery of new knowledge and constructive, just responses.

These societal conflicts are likely to escalate during this election season. With leadership from our Institute for Community Engagement and Scholarship through the "Metro State Votes 2016" campaign, we can engage our students in the work of sustaining democracy, connecting elections with life and learning, envisioning what a future community and nation could be, and embracing the tough, but essential work of democracy to achieve it.

While we do this work, we also intend to continue engaging in our own internal process of dialogue and deliberation, by revitalizing and strengthening the work of our National Coalition-Building Institute team, by improving supervision and communication skills, and by providing opportunities for candid and productive discussions regarding our internal issues with a commitment to work toward a healthy campus climate, build an inclusive community, and dismantle racism.

I am truly excited about our future. I have mentioned the inspiration and excitement that is fueled by our new colleagues, new facilities, new academic programs, pathways and partnerships, and new colleges.

But I'm also energized by our new conversations. I appreciate the chances I have had to hear from individuals and small groups of employees and students in listening sessions and meet-&-greet events. I still have several more to go, so don't worry if I haven't been to your unit. I know my new assistant, Shelly Heller, who I am thrilled to have working with me, is scheduling even more of these conversations on the calendar. To date, I have heard from you about a number of issues and concerns, and your frankness means a great deal to me. I acknowledge the feelings of many segments of the campus community.

In my view, listening carefully is not a "transition" activity. I intend to listen to you, my campus colleagues, throughout my presidency, in a number of ways.
For example, I intend to spend time regularly in the Student Center, with my coffee cup, but without an agenda, to talk with students, staff, and faculty. You will know when I'm going to be there. Just show up and we can chat.

I also don't intend to be the kind of president who seems to be enrolled in the witness protection program, hidden from the campus and out of reach. I plan to get out of my office on this campus and stop by your spaces to say hello, and to spend time at our other campuses and sites. Please feel welcome to chat with me. I need to hear your ideas and concerns.

I will also be scheduling open office hours so that you can visit me in a more private setting if you prefer.

I will be developing some forms of regular communication, from me to the entire university community. We have an outstanding team of interns working on social media and they have a plan for Tweeting and blogging for me. I hope I can meet their expectations and yours! By the way, my TWITTER handle is: @MetroPresArthur.

Please don't hesitate to give me other ideas about how to effectively communicate with you. I understand the importance of regular, transparent, and varied communication, but I also know I can easily get absorbed in tasks and activities and may need a nudge.

So, while we carry out the exciting and transformative work of teaching, advising and serving students every day, in person and online, we have important work to do to advance on our pathway to sustainable growth and quality. There are some important, upcoming steps along the way:

We are actively preparing for a major site visit by our regional accrediting body, the North Central Association's Higher Learning Commission, at the end of February. This is important work because the renewal of our regional accreditation is based on it, and also because it is foundational for our work of continuously improving everything we do to educate and support students. This is part of being intentional, focused, and data-informed in our service of students.

In four weeks, we pivot to making an 8-9 month, transparent, public, budget development processes our standard operating procedure. (More about this at today's forum.) This is the earliest we have ever undertaken our budget work for an upcoming year.

While we have had to carefully consider filling vacant positions this summer as we worked to deliver a balanced FY17 budget, we have important positions to fill across the university. Some of these are key leadership roles. I am applying the same review and scrutiny of the work to be done in these executive team positions as we have to all vacant positions. Nevertheless, there are three critical positions.

We need to fill the lead position in Advancement with an experienced, energetic and skillful Chief Advancement Officer who can provide strategic direction and support to the advancement team and who will ensure that I connect with the right people to tell the compelling story of Metropolitan State and the students it serves. I plan to begin the search within the next few weeks.

We will hire a permanent executive vice president and provost to begin July 1, 2017. Dr. Bormann Young was clear and emphatic when she agreed to take on the interim role this year. She is willing to serve the university as provost for this year only. I expect to form the search committee in September and launch a national search. By the way, Carol is doing a marvelous job!

Financial stewardship and sustainability are one of our strategic priorities. We need permanent leadership to maintain a timely, comprehensible, and strategic budget process. Thus I plan to begin the search for a permanent Chief Financial Officer in early 2017.

A strong, capable, and effective executive team is critical to our university efforts. A strong team will support each of you in doing your best work in fostering student success.

Metropolitan State's legacy of opening doors to opportunity through student-centered instruction, flexible delivery, innovation, and inclusion is a Minnesota treasure. For too long it has been a hidden treasure. As I think about our future, I am excited by the prospect of placing this treasure on open display and offering that legacy of access and opportunity to many more residents of this region.

Part of that legacy is high-quality, high-impact academic advising. Earlier I mentioned my own perfect record of having never met with my college advisor, and wondering how things might have gone differently if I had informed and helpful counsel at critical points.

Many of our students have told me about the life-changing experiences they have had here, thanks to faculty and advisors. I am proud that Metropolitan State celebrates the value of academic advising, and the work of those who provide it, through an annual Advising Award, as well as through a Lifetime Achievement Award. Last February, we lost one of the five recipients of that award-yes, that is five recipients in 18 years as the result of a long-term illness. Donna Blacker was known as a "superb, student-centered advisor." As was noted when she received the Carol C. Ryan Excellence in Advising Award, she "understood every student and his/her unique situation, and students blossomed under her tutelage and validation. She was known in various quarters as the "advisor to advisors," or as Yoda.

Based on a recommendation from the Advising Council and with the assent of our MSUAASF and IFO colleagues, it gives me great pleasure to announce today that the Lifetime Achievement Award in Advising will be known as the Donna Blacker Lifetime Achievement for Excellence in Advising Award.

Thinking about our future also makes me realize that, in 5 years, it will be Metropolitan State's 50th anniversary. That will be an occasion to celebrate and a platform for telling our singular story. In 2021/22, that story will have progressed from where it is today.

Our collective hopes and aspirations for the university will continue to unfold through our academic and university strategic planning this year.

Our attention to internal culture, improved processes, better organization of our work, open and honest communication, a straightforward budget process, and data-informed decision making will help us achieve those aspirations.

I am energized by the opportunity of helping strengthen and expand our platform for providing an extraordinary learning experience for all those in the region who seek to invest in their futures.

I am humbled by the privilege of serving as your president in carrying out this work, and I look forward to sharing with you in the day-to-day challenges and successes, standing side-by-side to face the difficulties, celebrate the accomplishments, and realize the vision that we share for this great university.

Thank you.