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2014-15 President's Opening Day Celebration

Welcome to the 2014-15 Academic Year.

It is a true pleasure, after serving as provost since 2006, to fill the acting president's role at Kutztown University, and to kick off another exciting academic year. 

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the members of the president's cabinet for their help and support in my role as chief academic officer and, in particular, more recently, as acting president.  This includes: Mr. John Green, Mr. Jesus Pena, Mr. Jerry Silberman, Ms. Kimberly Scranage and Ms. Tracey Thompson.

Over the summer, I shared with the university community that we would be identifying and hiring an experienced acting provost to help guide Academic & Student Affairs during my term as acting president.  The gentleman who now fills that role is Dr. James Mackin.  Dr. Mackin brings experience that includes stints as provost at Bloomsburg University and the University of Abu Dhabi.  We welcome him to KU.

As we enter a new year, I am proud to be a part of this institution, and to serve as acting president.  One year from now, we will begin our Sesquicentennial Celebration - 150 years. When we were founded as Keystone Normal School in 1866, we were placed here on College Hill to provide the best educational experience possible for the students of our region --- particularly Berks, Lehigh and Schuylkill counties.  149 years later, while our institution has grown significantly, our mission remains very much the same --- to provide a quality learning experience and to prepare students of the region, and now the state, nation, and world, for their careers and lives ahead.

Over the next year, we must recommit to our origins --- our roots if you will --- by ensuring that we put our students FIRST.  We all know that there are challenges that we must face as we lead Kutztown University back to full strength.  In the weeks ahead, there will be other times and places to discuss our challenges and solutions.  Today, however, I want to spend a few minutes talking about the primary reason we are all here, and about my focus as acting president in the months ahead.

What I will share with you will be brief.  But, I hope that these thoughts - which I believe are shared by all - will remain with us.

As we go through the 2014-15 academic year, I will be routinely asking variations of one basic question:

What impact does the work we are doing at Kutztown University have on the Student Learning Experience? 

This question, of course, will take different forms: 

  • If you are an administrator making decisions about the budget:  How does funding or not funding this specific project impact the Student Learning Experience?
  • If you are a staff member working with students on financial aid, payment of accounts, or student records:  How does your interaction with students impact the Student Learning Experience?
  • If you are a faculty member: How does this course that you may have designed, and are delivering, create a positive and long-lasting Student Learning Experience?
  • If you are a residence life coordinator: How does the living community you are nurturing impact the Student Learning Experience?
  • If you are a coach or a student affairs professional providing co-curricular experiences: How does your style, your approach, your strategy enhance the Student Learning Experience?
  •  And, as the Acting President of the university, I will ask myself: How does, what I am doing each and every day contribute to and support the Student Learning Experience?

If we are going to improve the Student Learning Experience, we must ALL ask ourselves on a continuous basis:

  • Does this work that I am doing benefit students? 
  • Am I putting students first and foremost in what I do?
  • In our leadership roles, are the decisions we make responding to the needs of our students?
  • In the learning experiences we provide to our students, are these experiences actually increasing our students' learning?
  • In our interactions with individual students in our offices, are we providing them with the things they need?
  • With the processes that we put in place, have we created a pathway that is as smooth and as obstacle-free as possible for students to be successful and graduate in a timely fashion?
  • The bottom line:  When we call ourselves a student-centered institution, are our actions consistent with our words?

At the heart of the new Middle States standards is the question:  Are students well-served by the institution? When our self-study is complete in 2017, I want our institution to be able to answer: YES, Kutztown University IS serving students well.

Now, please know that I am aware - without a doubt - that many individuals at the university are serving our students quite well, and act in ways that contribute positively to the Student Learning Experience; but...there is also room for improvement. 

I believe that we need to operationalize the concept of being a student-centered university.  To reiterate, we must place the Student Learning Experience at the center of our work. We must look at all our business processes from the perspective of a student.

In this next year, my approach will be to explicitly view decisions, actions, interactions, programs, and all that we do, through the lens of the Student Learning Experience.

Now, this does not mean that the student will only be seen as a "customer"; and, as a consequence, that the "customer is always right." But, our students should be treated with respect and civility.

We need to remember that most of our students are young adults and that they look to us to help them develop and mature.  And much of what we do is foreign to them - we need to guide them in a caring manner, and we need to be patient.

Putting the Student Learning Experience at the center of our work means, among others:

  • That we create processes that are smooth and easy to follow.
  • That we have interactions that help students get what they need to succeed.
  • That we create classroom experiences that help students gain the knowledge, skills, and attitudes appropriate to the discipline.
  • And that we create out-of-classroom experiences that will provide opportunities to reinforce the learning that is taking place IN the classroom.

In summary, I ask that you please all join me this year by reflecting on our work and ensuring that it is contributing positively to the Student Learning Experience.

If we take the time to do so, and make the necessary adjustments, we will find that Kutztown University will have made the transformational changes needed to help our students be successful for many decades to come.

In closing, I want to thank you for coming this morning; and most of all, thank you for your many contributions to our students.   It is such a pleasure to serve you; and I look forward to ALL that we will accomplish together in the months ahead.  

Thank you again and let's make this an outstanding year!