February 2, 2007
Arkansas State University Ė Jonesboro

Greetings to and from our beautiful snow-covered campus! For a couple of days now, I almost felt I was back in North Dakota, until I realized it was 20 above zero, rather than 20 below! Last Wednesday evening after the basketball games where both our women and men gave us victories, I took our English Setter, Bess, on a walk in the neighborhood where we live and marveled at the beauty of the landscape, the lack of noise from traffic, and the reflected moonlight piercing the cloud cover and bouncing off the snow. I was reminded of Robert Frostís wonderful poem, Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening. After stopping his horse-drawn sleigh "to watch his woods fill up with snow," Frost noted the sweep "of easy wind and downy flake," and observed that "the woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep." After the very busy month of January, I almost feel the same.

Three trips to Little Rock on legislative and board matters, two civic club speeches, two alumni receptions, attendance and welcomes at several events and meetings held on campus (including a meeting with the Strong-Turner Alumni Chapter officers and attendance at the inspiring community event honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.) and seven very important and informative visits to campus colleges and departments, in addition to the usual office appointments and meetings, have combined to make January stimulating and informative. I want to share with you in this report where we stand in the budget process with ADHE and the Legislature, how I am proposing that we handle the internal budget process this year, and finally describe for you some of the issues that have been raised with me as I have begun my "listening" visits across campus.

State Appropriations
First, we were pleased that Governor Beebe prominently mentioned higher education in his inaugural address, and then followed that up with a proposal to the legislature that higher education institutions receive in the aggregate a 10% increase in their base appropriations (excluding amounts received from the Educational Excellence Trust Fund) for the first year of the biennium, and an additional 4% increase the second year. For the 10 four-year universities, that amounts to approximately $34.7 million dollars of new money for fiscal 2008, and $15.3 million for fiscal 2009. A rigid application of the higher education funding formula would have resulted in only a 6.3% increase, or $3.4 million, in new money for ASU-J in the first year, and only 3.1%, or $1.8 million, in the second year. After some intense negotiations with our colleagues representing the other universities, Dr. Wyatt and I (with good advice from Robert Evans) were able to increase ASU-Jís share that ADHE will recommend to the Legislature to 7.2%, or $4 million, for the first year, and to 3.4%, or $2 million, for the second year. Although we are not yet pleased with this share, it is a significant amount that, if appropriated, will allow us to keep tuition and fee increases lower than they were during the current biennium while providing a pool of funds for wage and salary increases and other critical needs on our campus. We are continuing to work to increase ASU-Jís share of the new funding dollars that will be earmarked for higher education.

Second, ADHE has recommended $16 million of the approximately $23.5 million needed from state capital improvement funds for our proposed new Humanities and Social Sciences Building that will allow other uses for Wilson Hall. We are cautiously optimistic that both the Governor and the Legislative leadership will support funding for this building in an amount sufficient to allow us to begin construction during the upcoming biennium.

Budget Process
For this year, I am proposing that we follow the internal budget building process established by the University Planning Committee several years ago. This committee is broadly participatory, and its work should result in allocations that assist in enhancing our initiatives, previously identified in the strategic planning process. These allocations may be modified if other compelling needs arise during the budgeting process. The University Planning Committee, which is scheduled to meet first on March 16 at 9 a.m., will consist of the Faculty Senate president, the Staff Senate president, the SGA president, a Deansí representative, a Chairsí representative, the Director of Institutional Research, the Executive Council members and some additional Finance and Administration personnel. UPC will review data, discuss policies, and make budget recommendations. The Finance and Administration staff, informed by the discussions, other budget requests, and presentations, will prepare a draft budget for review by the Executive Council. At a final meeting scheduled for the latter part of April, the UPC will then review and comment on the proposed 2007-08 budget that will then be finalized and presented to the President and Board of Trustees for approval before July 1.

Listening Tour
I commend the faculty, staff, and students who have so far met with me on my "listening tour" across campus for being candid and frank on raising issues they suggest on which we should take action to improve our campus. These include:

  • Graduate Assistantships need to be enhanced to be competitive with other universities.
  • We need a more robust international program for our campus.
  • Microsoft Campus Agreements should be maintained.
  • Classrooms need to be improved across campus. We need more "smart" classrooms equipped with the latest technology.
  • Departments need more flexibility in purchasing office supplies with vendors that offer the lowest price and in obtaining small facility repairs from outside contractors.
  • The dining hall needs to offer more "light" selections, including chicken dishes.
  • A process needs to be devised to allow departments to advertise for new faculty positions "subject to availability of funding."
  • A culture of trust needs to be developed on campus.
  • We should adopt the Edinboro University planning model for institutional effectiveness. Each year in the fall, the campus community selects a few critical core processes it would like to see improved. Strategic study groups would examine those core processes over the spring semester and recommend improvements to reduce cycle time and increase constituentsí satisfaction.
  • Services and supply budgets need to be enhanced.
  • The Extraordinary Salary Adjustment Pool needs to be increased.
  • Students should be allowed to evaluate faculty advisors.

As you can see, these and other suggestions for improvement of our campus will be important to consider during our discussions this spring.

Finally, I want to thank those of you who suggested presenters we might invite to campus to provide training and professional development opportunities for senior level staff and faculty. Upon the recommendation of Ms. Barbara Doyle, Director of Assessment, we have selected Dr. Tom Angelo, from the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, to come to campus April 4-5 to present workshops on best practices in assessment.

Thanks to all of you for your splendid contributions to the life of our campus and the education of our students.

Robert L. Potts

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