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Kyle Pledges Unity, Cites Challenges and Celebrates
Success at RU Fall Convocation
RADFORD Radford University President Penelope W. Kyle outlined a strong record of university achievement during the past academic year, discussed looming fiscal challenges, and encouraged the RU community to embrace unity in the face of adversity during the 2009 Fall Convocation.
She also candidly discussed perceptions of organizational tension that have surfaced during a year fraught with budget problems and encouraged the community to rally around the Centennial as a catalyst for constructive change and progress.
“To say that rapid change and shrinking budgets have generated some institutional angst may be a huge understatement,” Kyle said. “Maybe some have wondered if the ideal of shared governance itself, something fundamental to the heart of the university, is under threat.
(IN THE PHOTO: President Kyle addresses the crowd at Fall Convocation. SGA President President Matthew Clem and Faculty Senate President Steve Owen look on. For more photos, see Fall Convocation 2009 slide show.)
“Ladies and gentlemen, I am here to tell you plainly that it is not. You are scholars who have risen to the crest of your academic disciplines. I understand the creativity, the knowledge, the experience and the expertise you bring to university life. And if there is a sense that it is not valued, then I will do everything in my power to change that sense.”
Kyle pledged greater transparency and inclusiveness, announced plans to begin a sequence of meetings with academic units and other campus groups, and called upon everyone to commit to a spirit of mutual trust and dialogue.
Provost Wil Stanton, Faculty Senate President Steve Owen and Student Government Association President Matthew Clem also spoke during a revamped convocation that sought to share perspectives on the university from faculty and students.
Stanton, speaking after Kyle, echoed the president’s comments, saying to faculty, “You need support, and I intend to give you that support.” Owen (pictured below) also called for unity and commended the faculty for its “unfailing commitment to our students.”
Kyle told the group that a committee led by alumna Barbara-lyn Morris and retired faculty member Gary Ellerman have planned a year-long series of programs designed to commemorate the 100-year anniversary.
“Woven throughout our year of celebration will be a way to express our commitment to each other and society: the Centennial Service Challenge,” she said. “I hope that today’s convocation will serve as the beginning of our celebration of Radford’s first 100 years of service to this Commonwealth and the beginning of our redirection to pursuing excellence in Radford University’s second 100 years of service.”
Earlier in the speech, Kyle recounted a list of university accomplishments, including a listing as one of the nation’s “Top Up-and-Coming Schools” in the U.S. News and World Report’s 2010 Guide to America’s Best Colleges. The publication also listed RU 15th among public master’s universities in the south. RU has been named one of the top 20 public universities in this category for the last six years.
“I see our inclusion in the prestigious Up-and-Coming list of college and universities as a spectacular achievement, one that will resonate far and wide throughout the year ahead,” Kyle said. “This is a reputational category. Presidents, provosts and admissions officers are the ones who nominated these colleges and universities. Based upon what they hear and see about these institutions and our Radford University, I think that says something very special.”
The president also lauded the university community for its work in helping RU become only the second university in Virginia to be awarded Level II status an achievement that grants RU greater autonomy from the state in day-to-day activities concerning procurement and information technology.
“It is a certification of quality and efficiency in the areas of information technology and procurement,” Kyle noted. “It’s a signal from the capital that we are capable of handling additional freedoms from the state in these areas.”
Following convocation, the university held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the newly renovated Young Hall, but during her speech, Kyle shared with listeners the specifications of the academic building that is being touted as one of the top five most digitally advanced academic buildings in the United States. (See Ribbon-Cutting for more information.)
“In the world of 21st century academic buildings, this really puts us on the map,” Kyle said.
(IN THE PHOTO: President Kyle cuts the ribbon to open Young Hall Thursday, as Provost Wil Stanton, from left, Roy Saville, Marc Jones of The Whitlock Group and Christina Peterson of Creston look on.)
Kyle also noted the renovations and reopening of Heth Hall, calling the building the heart of the campus that provides “one-stop shopping for our students” as it serves as the “much-needed nexus of our student affairs operations.”
In addition to Young and Heth Halls, RU also completed renovations on Davis Hall and the Dedmon Center, upping the total to $33.4 million in campus renovations and improvements that have come online in the past year. Add to that $22.5 million for the Douglass and Beatrice Center for the Visual and Performing Arts, which opened last fall.
“So we are indeed ‘On the Move’ in the revitalization of our campus infrastructure for academic and student needs,” Kyle said. “Add it all up and our university has completed more than $55 million in construction and renovation in just two years.”
The president informed faculty and staff that cranes will be on campus during the centennial year as well, as RU begins construction on a new state-of-the-art $44.3 million headquarters for the College of Business and Economics. Planning for a 110,000 square-foot, $32 million student wellness and fitness center is underway.
“We’ve all worked together to achieve these things for our university, more specifically, for our students,” Kyle said. “Their campus experience is being enriched in so many ways. Thanks to you, our students learn from amazing scholars and dedicated teachers in a highly-personalized, student-focused, technology-enhanced environment.”
News from Thursday’s convocation was not all promising. Kyle reminded those in attendance that state agencies are bracing for more budget cuts.
“During the first four years of my administration, we have had to implement budget reduction plans that amount to 35 percent of our general fund operating budget,” Kyle said. “To date, we have coped with $10 million in cuts without resorting to faculty and staff lay-offs.”
Kyle also reported that while the official Census numbers are not yet available, RU is expecting enrollment to decrease from 9,200 students a year ago to 9,000 this coming academic year. However, Kyle noted that graduate school enrollment is surging, and student retention remains even.
The president noted numerous factors that may have led to RU’s decrease in freshmen students this coming year. She stated that many of RU’s students are first generation students, a group whose families are hit hardest by the recession. Kyle also noted that community college enrollments are rising and many colleges and universities in Virginia are dipping into waiting lists, taking students who, under ordinary circumstances, may have enrolled at RU.
“The long and short of it is that this year we are going to be facing what will be one of the most difficult budget years we have ever faced,” Kyle said. “Right now, we simply don’t know how bad it will be. What I do know and what I pledge to you today is that our leadership team, with assistance from all of you, will do its absolute best to manage this problem.”
Kyle noted that this spring the University Planning and Budget Advisory Committee, under the leadership of chemistry professor Joe Wirgau, did a “yeoman’s job of surveying the campus community for suggestions about how to spend any stimulus funding that we might receive” and making a list of recommendations for Kyle and her cabinet to consider.
“Our overarching goal is simply to position Radford to fulfill its destiny as one of the nation’s leading public comprehensive universities,” Kyle said.
Earlier in convocation, Kyle recognized two of RU’s newest hires: Richard Alvarez, chief financial officer and vice president for finance and administration, and Jeff Douglas, the chief communications officer and executive director of university relations. Steven Nape, the university’s first Vice Provost for Enrollment Planning and Management, also was introduced.
In addition, recipients of the Outstanding Faculty and Staff awards bestowed by the Radford University Foundation were recognized during convocation. The award winners were Jolanta Wawrzycka, Wei-Chi Yang, Susan Van Patten, Holly Cline and Patti Williamson. (See Awards story.)
Each year, the Radford University Foundation bestows awards upon teaching and administrative faculty whose performance has been exceptional. Through the generosity of the Foundation, each award recipient receives a plaque and a monetary prize and has the privilege of consulting with a committee of colleagues to select an outstanding student who receives a scholarship in the award recipient’s name.
Vice Provost for Academic Enhancement Steve Lerch presented the awards and received a standing ovation as Stanton announced that Lerch was retiring after 31 years of service to the university. “Thank you for all that you have done for me, and I speak on behalf of all the faculty in saying that,” said Stanton to Lerch.
(IN THE PHOTO: Steve Lerch, middle, with President Penelope Kyle and Provost Wil Stanton.)
At the convocation’s conclusion, Dennis Grady, dean of the College of Graduate and Professional Studies, honored Jenny Burroughs, a professor in RU’s School of Social Work, and Kenna Colley and her colleagues in the Training and Technical Assistance Center for their efforts in securing more than $5 million in grants, contracts and cooperative agreements.
August 27, 2009