January 4, 2008
Arkansas State University–Jonesboro

Happy New Year! I hope that everyone in our campus community had a restful and enjoyable break. Irene and I were especially blessed to spend some quality time with family and friends. Immediately after commencement we traveled to Bismarck, N. D., to visit friends and our former church, and to pick up our English Setter, Bess, who had been on a two-month vacation with a trainer. I also was able to test her sharpened hunting and obedience skills during two afternoon pheasant hunts. She passed the examination with flying colors, or I should say with solid points. Traveling on a commercial airline with a large pet is quite an experience, and in our case a positive one.

Back in Arkansas before Christmas, I spent three days at work, one of which was at a Presidents and Chancellors meeting in Little Rock where the major topic of discussion was a version of performance-based budgeting for higher education. This process may eventually involve changes to the funding formula to reward institutions that make progress in achieving possible new articulated state goals such as increased college completion rates, graduates in disciplines of critical need, and greater diversity. I argued for recommending a system that would annually evaluate institutions based on a set of criteria used successfully in other states, but not tie the evaluations to funding because performance-based funding has been spectacularly unsuccessful in several other states. This is primarily because it is so difficult to calibrate, in a fair way, statewide performance standards to different types and sizes of institutions with varying missions and programs that serve different types of students. So far my ideas have not gained much traction, but a working group has been formed to hammer out some alternatives, and I have appointed Dr. Glen Jones (assisted by Dr. Kathryn Jones) to represent our institution in those discussions. The working group meets next Monday, Jan. 7, followed by another Presidents and Chancellors meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 8. We shall continue to engage actively in these discussions.

We traveled to North Alabama for Christmas with my parents and siblings, and our Mississippi granddaughters and their parents. Much good food was consumed, and too many presents were given and received, especially for the children! On Dec. 26 we returned to Arkansas, where friends from North Dakota and Alabama and I hunted ducks for three days, while Irene prepared for and picked up our Mississippi granddaughters, ages two and four, for an extended visit. Just as they were adjusting to our routine, and we to theirs, their parents wanted them back on New Year’s Day!

In spite of our family’s good fortune and happiness this Christmas, our hearts are heavy for those of our ASU colleagues who lost loved ones over the holiday break. Please keep these families in your thoughts and prayers.

Fall Task Force Reports
As you will recall, last semester we had four task forces working on important issues for the campus. They were: Background Checks, Instructional Technology-Distance Learning-Online Education, Summer Program Enrollment and Revenue, and University Web Design. Two of the groups have issued final reports and two have requested additional time to complete their work. The task force reports already submitted are attached hereto in PDF form for your review: Instructional Technology-Distance Learning-Online Education and Background Checks. If you have additional comments on either of these reports, please submit them to Ms. Marilyn Brewer (mcbrewer@astate.edu) by Jan. 15. Thereafter, I plan to use the following processes to reach final decisions on implementing the recommendations from each group:

  • Background Checks Policy This proposed policy, along with any additional comments that may be received from you, will be submitted to Lucinda McDaniel, our new ASU System General Counsel, who will review it for legal sufficiency and place it in a form suitable for submission to the President and Board of Trustees for adoption. Thereafter, that document, drawn from the report of the task force and your additional comments, if any, will be submitted through our shared governance process for any further proposed revisions before being submitted for adoption. Our goal will be to have this process completed and a new policy in place before the end of the Spring 2008 Semester. Many thanks to Dr. Louella Moore, Chair, and task force members Stacy Alley, Brady Banta, Ryan Beaird, Kris Biondolillo, Mary Jane Bradley, Jennifer Clack, Sherry Eskridge, Grant Fenner, Starr Fenner, Susan Hanrahan, Alex Ingram, Kathleen Lorance, Randy Martin, JW Mason, Doug Mathis, Helen McCoy, Pradeep Mishra, Lori Roach, Al Romero, Jill Self, Johnny Van Horn, and Dee Warren for their comprehensive and thorough work on this new policy.
  • Instructional Technology-Distance Learning-Online Education Recommendations Pursuant to the task force charge, this report contains a specific set of prioritized recommendations to enhance instructional technology and distance education at ASU. Since it among other things recommends the establishment of a "Connect @ Astate (CAA)" program, and significant expenditures will be necessary to implement all components of the recommendations, I propose to submit this report, along with any additional comments from you, to our Academic Affairs and Research division for further dialogue and potential implementation of this plan, and to the Finance and Administration division for recommendations on the fiscal implications of the plan. Obviously, if the program is successful in significantly increasing our distance learning enrollment, there will be increased revenues with which to offset the additional expenses of the plan. Dr. Mitch Holifield and task force members Eddy Arnold, Michael Bowman, Rhonda Curbo, Angela Daniels, Sharnea Diggs, Cheryl DuBose, Helen Duclos, Charlotte Foster, Deborah Gilbert-Palmer, Susan Glasgow, Sherry Griffin, Dominique Hallett, Mark Hoeting, David Holman, George Jacinto, Blake Johnson, Craig Jones, Cedric Macklin, Rick McDaniel, Andy Mooneyhan, Josh Niswonger, John Pratte, Richard Segall, Russ Shain, Shawn Smee, Henry Torres, Mitchell Watrous, Greg Williamson, and Ray Winters deserve our gratitude and thanks for their splendid work on this report.

Spring Task Force Plans
As previously announced last Fall, I plan to appoint three additional task forces to work during the Spring 2008 Semester. These groups are as follows:

  • How Better to Integrate Academic Affairs and Student Affairs to Enhance Learning.
  • Research and Teaching Balance - How to Reward Superior Teaching and Continue to Grow Research Functions.
  • What Should Be Our Unifying Academic Theme?

We already have a number of volunteers to serve on these groups, but welcome additional volunteers. If you are interested in serving on one or more of these groups, please express your interest to Ms. Marilyn Brewer (mcbrewer@astate.edu) by Jan. 15. Thereafter, the task forces will be promptly appointed and can begin their work.

Thanks again for your contributions to a successful Fall semester. Let’s have a wonderful Spring, accomplishing much for our students, our university, and the entire State of Arkansas.

Robert L. Potts

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