March 6, 2009
Arkansas State University-Jonesboro

Where did February go? For the first time since I began writing First Friday reports almost two and one-half years ago, I am sitting in my home office at dawn on Thursday, March 5, with a dictating device in hand to start this report. Instead of carefully considering for several days what message I want to send in this month’s report and then typing it on a computer, editing as I go, here I am this month working against a pressing deadline, dictating instead of typing, facing a full day of appointments and an out-of-town Board meeting on Friday. I am trying to decide what to say that might be of interest to you and maintain the quality of prior editions. Tom Moore was kind enough a few days ago to suggest some possible topics including my continuing meetings with the faculty of each college; the first meeting of the University Planning Committee; a recognition of the passing of Ellen Strong, who in 1964 became the first female African-American to earn an undergraduate degree at ASU and dedicated her career to serving as a classroom teacher; the work we are continuing to do to follow up on the task force reports; the issues being considered by the Board of Trustees on Friday; the ASU presence at the Washington Fly-In with the Greater Jonesboro Chamber of Commerce earlier this week; developments in the legislative session; and topics from a conference that brought together higher education trustees from around the state for a session with the Arkansas Department of Higher Education (ADHE) and other state officials.

While each one of these topics could be the subject of a complete First Friday report, it occurred to me that perhaps a chronological journey through my calendar for last month might be of some interest, especially since it was an atypical month with much more travel than usual for me. One of the delightful aspects of my job as chancellor has been the fact that I have been able to focus on our campus and remain at home much more than I was able to do at my two previous jobs, where I had major responsibilities for relationships and work in the state capital, as well as being the chief advocate for university or system interests in Washington, D.C. During that period in my life, I also was deeply involved in accrediting issues on regional and national levels, as well as serving on boards of two national organizations. ASUJ is represented in Little Rock principally by our System President Les Wyatt, with the fine assistance of Robert Evans and Tracie Blake, and principally in Washington by Dr. Wyatt and Randi and former Senator Tim Hutchinson. Dr. Glen Jones also has Washington duties, especially with regard to ASUJ's earmark requests. While I no longer have leadership roles in national organizations, it is necessary for me to represent our Jonesboro campus interests in Little Rock and Washington from time to time and to attend one or two national meetings annually to keep abreast of issues important to our campus and higher education. However, with the major issues surrounding the stimulus bill in Washington, the American Council on Education annual meeting and the ongoing legislative session in Little Rock, this month was unusual in its travel demands.

Campus and Travel Schedules Stay Full
The first week in February was fairly typical and involved numerous meetings with faculty, students and staff regarding various issues such as our shared governance process and issues arising between our Student Government Association and the Graduate Student Council. Additionally, I worked very hard on February’s First Friday, which several of you commented on favorably after it was released. The following weekend, Glen Jones and I went to Washington to attend the annual meeting of the American Council on Education and to meet with Congressman Berry and his staff and staff members from the Arkansas senators’ offices to discuss issues involved with the stimulus bill, which was then being formulated with many aspects very important to higher education, generally, and to Arkansas and our campus, specifically. Glen also met with the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education (NADOHE) Board of Directors, which met during the ACE meeting. He is a founding board member and current secretary of this national group. After several meetings on campus on Feb. 11-12, including one with a group of developers who are considering establishing a major project in the Jonesboro area, Irene and I attended a visitation in Rector for the deceased father-in-law of a close friend. The severe damage from the ice storm in that area of the state was still evident and was much worse than we experienced in Jonesboro.

On Valentine’s Day weekend I attended the Clinton Global Initiative University on the campus of the Bertha Ayi at the CGIU in AustinUniversity of Texas at Austin, at the invitation of former President Bill Clinton. The CGIU involved each participating student and university president/chancellor making a commitment to do something good in the world, and learning how to turn good ideas into action. I worked closely with Dr. Jerry Farris to develop an Environ-Partners program for our campus that will match university scientists and graduate students as mentors with high school students  who will complete a summer project and compete for the privilege of attending a meeting in Washington to exhibit their projects. More than 1,000 students and some 75 presidents and chancellors from around the world attended this meeting graciously Gov. Bill Clinton at ASU-Jonesboro, April 1979hosted by president Bill Powers of UT. Typical of the students attending the conference was Bertha Ayi, M.D. (above). Originally from Ghana, she is a full-time student pursuing an MBA degree while also serving as the full-time medical director of Mercy Infectious Disease and Epidemiology Center in Sioux City, Iowa. She and her husband, Richard, are parents of three young sons. She is preparing herself to go back to her home country to improve the health care system there. While at the initiative, at a luncheon President Clinton hosted for presidents and chancellors, I gave him a copy of the photo (right) that Tom Moore had uncovered while doing some work for the Centennial Celebration, showing then-Gov. Clinton on the ASU campus in 1979. He was delighted to have this, and showed it to several people while remarking on the effects of age!

Numerous campus meetings on Monday and Tuesday, Feb. 16-17, were followed by the Grand Slam Banquet for the baseball program on Monday and a dinner with visiting Nordex officials from Chicago on Tuesday. The next day I attended ADHE’s Trustee Day in Little Rock, which was attended by Trustees Florine Tousant Milligan, Howard Slinkard and Ron Rhodes, along with Dr. Wyatt, Pam Kail, Robert Evans, Tom Moore, and trustees and presidents or chancellors from almost all Arkansas public institutions. Finances, campus safety and security, lottery scholarships, pending legislation and ethics were among the day's agenda topics. After a busy day on Thursday, Feb. 19, on campus, including a meeting with the faculty of the College of Sciences and Mathematics, I returned to Little Rock on Friday, Feb. 20, for a luncheon with donors to the university, a meeting with Governor Beebe, and a scholarship fund-raising function for the Sigma Pi Educational Foundation at the Governor’s Mansion. Numerous scholarships have been awarded by this Foundation to participants in the Beck Pride Program on our campus.

Returning to Jonesboro on Saturday, Feb. 21, I spent a great deal of time planning for a lay sermon that I gave the next day at our church at the request of our worship committee since we are between pastors. I chose as my topic, "Positive Thinking in Difficult Times and Coping with Adversity," and, of course, by preparing for this I am sure I obtained a much greater blessing than I was able to impart to the congregation. Also on that Saturday evening, Irene and I attended the Faculty Women’s Club Centennial Gala in the Fowler Center. The assembled members of that group and others from the university were treated to a delightful reminiscence about the history of ASU by President Wyatt, former President Eugene W. Smith, and Dr. Ruth Hawkins, Centennial Commission chair. I attempted to sketch out possibilities the university has for the next 100 years.

Last week involved our first meeting of the University Planning Committee, which discussed budget planning principles, the economic outlook for our state, and the potential consequences for our campus. I also had excellent meetings with faculties of the College of Fine Arts, the College of Business, and the Library last week. Along with others I also met with Robert Julius, chairman and principal owner of Nice Pak, Inc., the New York-based company that is establishing a new plant here in Jonesboro at the former Haworth building. He and several of his managers were on campus for dinner and to meet with faculty members and others to discuss collaborative research on certain product developments he and his company are envisioning for the future.

On Friday, Feb. 27, the chancellors from the four ASU System campuses met in Newport with President Wyatt and the system staff to discuss policy issues and possible agenda items for the March 6 Board meeting. This meeting was very productive in that a healthy exchange of information occurred and the system officers showed exceptional sensitivity to the issues of concern expressed by the campus chancellors.

Washington, D.C. Fly-In
Last weekend, Irene and I participated with some 60 other Craighead County residents and ASU faculty and staff in the 20th annual DC Fly-In sponsored by the Greater Jonesboro Chamber of Commerce. Participating for ASU were Dr. Carole Cramer, Dr. Glen Jones, Mr. Alan McVey, Dr. Susan Hanrahan, Dr. Len Frey, Ms. Susan Tonymon, Ms. Lucinda McDaniel, Dr. Bert Greenwalt, and four ASU College of Agriculture and Technology students, Taylor Burdett, Jason McGarrh, Ashtyn Wilkison, and Ms. Caitlin Maki. This session affords the  participants the opportunity to meet in an informal setting with Congressman Berry and Senators Lincoln and Pryor, and their respective staffs and present an agenda of issues of interest to the Jonesboro community, in general, and ASU, in particular. This year the issues, which are carefully vetted in advance at Chamber meetings, included several road projects and ASU’s proposal for a Center for Sustainability and Knowledge-Based Economic Development. This was one of numerous projects ASUJ presented in January 2009 to the Congressman, the Senators and their staffs for funding. The project selected for highlighting had been proposed by Dr. Carole Cramer, Dr. David Radin, Mr. Alan McVey, Dr. Michael Dockter, Dr. Greg Phillips, and Mr. Mark Young, and is an outgrowth of the ABI-COM business incubator build-out project in the Arkansas Biosciences Institute. ABI-COM was presented for funding last year and currently is in line to receive roughly $2.25 million this year and hopefully an additional $3 million next year for the infrastructure build-out, project support, staffing, and an entrepreneurial fund. We are fortunate to have a Congressional delegation that is very receptive to these types of special appropriations for our campus and over the years has provided many millions of dollars for campus research and infrastructure.

Finally, I am disappointed that our men’s and women’s basketball teams were eliminated from the Sun Belt Conference tournament during their first-round games on Wednesday evening. Because I had some work I needed to complete, I listened to both games by having two radios tuned simultaneously to the respective stations carrying the games and got doubly upset when we were unable to finish the job in the final minutes of each game. However, I believe that we have fundamentally strong athletic programs with good coaches leading them and that next year we will see several of our teams competing successfully for conference championships and national rankings. Dr. Dean Lee, the athletic staff and our 300-plus student-athletes appreciate the support they receive from the university community.

Thanks for taking time to read this long and not-very-focused report. Next month will be better! Best wishes to each of you as we begin to near the completion of another academic year.


Robert L. Potts

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