April 4, 2008
Arkansas State University–Jonesboro

Welcome to April and to this edition of First Friday. The Arkansas State University-Jonesboro campus is showing more signs that spring is here. The flowering Japanese cherry, red maple, and redbud trees are beautiful and the campus is becoming greener every day. This is one of my favorite times of the year. The harsh weather of winter is largely behind us, faculty and students have returned from Spring Break, the end of the semester and May commencement are fast approaching, and the fish have started biting on area lakes and streams! (Ok, I know the rain is still falling, but remember April showers bring May flowers!)

I have a potpourri of issues to mention to you as we proceed to conclude this academic year.

Luncheon with Soldiers from the 875th
I recently had the pleasure to host a luncheon in honor of three men who served in Iraq with the 875th Engineer Battalion of the Arkansas National Guard -- Greg Beeler, Eddie Weems, Austin Phillips and his wife Jamie. Greg, Eddie and Austin are employees at ASU. Greg is a carpenter and mechanic in Facilities Management, Eddie works for University Police, and Austin works in the Student Union. In addition, Austin is also a student in the College of Engineering. These men gave dedicated and honorable service to their country, and we are fortunate to have them here working among us. While in Iraq, all were involved in searching for and destroying improvised explosive devices and daily put their lives at risk for each of us. They and their families have sacrificed much to serve in the National Guard. All who have served in defense of our country deserve our continued appreciation and support for their sacrifices and courage.

The Importance of Teaching
Dr. Cathy Reese, associate professor of Public Administration, extended to me an invitation to speak to her Public Budgeting and Finance class in the Master of Public Administration program, which I did on the Monday after Spring Break. She shared copies of the course texts and syllabus with me and agreed it would be appropriate for me to focus on the budgeting process for state institutions of higher education, with an emphasis on my comparative experiences in three states: Alabama, North Dakota and Arkansas.

In preparing for this class presentation I particularly enjoyed reading the latest edition of Aaron Wildavsky and Naomi Caiden’s classic book, The New Politics of the Budgetary Process. As early as 1964, Professor Wildavsky, while noting that public budgets are "links between financial resources and human behavior to accomplish policy objectives" also articulated the impact of political factors on public budgets, both at the federal and state levels. This has certainly been my experience in three states, and as indicated below, is apparent now as we begin the budget cycle for the 2009 – 2011 biennium in Arkansas.

The opportunity to research the material, review my experiences, prepare presentation notes, then go before a class of graduate students served as a vivid personal reminder about the importance of good teaching and the stimulation of the learning process provided by good students asking hard questions. William Butler Yeats captured the essence of what institutions of higher education should be doing when he wrote, "Education is not filling a bucket but lighting a fire." Excellent professors and instructors see many intellectual fires ignited in the minds of their students during well-prepared and fresh class presentations. Thus, excellent teaching is and should remain important on our campus, even as we expand our research and explore creative ways to deliver courses and programs that enhance student learning and success.

One way we celebrate excellent teaching and scholarship at Arkansas State University-Jonesboro is through the annual Convocation of Scholars celebration, which will be held next week. This will be the 30th annual Convocation of Scholars, a tradition during which all of us join in highlighting the superb teaching, research and service conducted by faculty and students at ASU-Jonesboro. I urge everyone to support Convocation of Scholars activities, so that we all are part of recognizing the wonderful academic endeavors that go on here throughout the year. Irene and I are scheduled to attend eight different events during the week, and hope to see many of you in the course of the week.

The State Budget Outlook
On April 1, Kathryn Jones, Donna McMillin, Tom Moore and I traveled to Little Rock to participate in a meeting with Dr. Jim Purcell, new director of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education, and his staff, and other individual campus representatives. Among other things discussed at the meeting, the status of performance funding proposals and end-of-term student count calculation items which would change the formula for allocating money among Arkansas public colleges and universities were examined. Additionally, Stanley Williams of the ADHE staff discussed revenue projections for the balance of this biennium, and for the 2009 – 2011 period. In short, major changes are on the horizon for how higher education is funded in Arkansas, and there is justifiable concern that the economic troubles emanating from the excesses and mistakes on Wall Street will adversely impact tax revenues in our state. The good news is that for the current biennium, revenue collections appear to be staying within projections and no cuts are anticipated at this time. For those of you interested in more detail about these matters, I am attaching the following items:

  • Governor Mike Beebe’s Memorandum to Directors of State Agencies (3-26-08)
  • Dr. Jim Purcell’s Slide Presentation on Performance Funding
  • Dr. Kathryn Jones’ Summary of April 1 Meeting with ADHE Staff.

Good Processes Serve the Goals of Higher Education
I spoke to the Jonesboro Kiwanis Club last week about the importance of the processes we use in higher education. Processes help us make decisions for the University in appropriate ways. A good process has many benefits, including, in most cases, more widespread acceptance for a given decision. The value of broad participation in decision making cannot be overstated. Some examples that come to mind are the high profile searches that the ASU-Jonesboro campus has conducted in recent months, the process used to select our new mascot and logo, the process we are using to build our internal budget for the next fiscal year and, of course, our shared governance processes whereby changes in university policy are considered by the university community before they are submitted for adoption. Also, our task forces that are studying in-depth important issues facing our campus are examples of good processes at work.

Thanks to each of you for your significant contributions to our shared enterprise. Let’s continue to work together to move our University ahead and have fun doing it.

Robert L. Potts, Chancellor

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