September 7, 2007
Arkansas State University – Jonesboro

Thanks are due to everyone on campus for initiating our Fall Semester on a very positive note. From the new faculty orientation on Aug. 14, through the Faculty Conference on Aug. 15, the residence hall move-in on Aug. 18, the First-Year Convocation on Aug. 19, and the first day of classes on Aug. 20, the hard and good work of our faculty and staff was evident everywhere. As I walked around campus, visited with folks and attended events during this period, I could sense the enthusiasm of students, their families and, of course, faculty and staff in anticipation of a superb academic year ahead. At today's Board of Trustees meeting, I was happy to report that our preliminary, unofficial fall semester enrollment for ASU-Jonesboro stands at 10,934. This figure is the highest recorded at our campus since 1992, and represents a gain of 207 more than last year. I was particularly pleased to see a growth of 105 students in graduate programs. Again, this achievement is the fruit of lots of hard work by many of you throughout the campus.

College of Nursing and Health Professions has big news
Where did the summer go? Mine began with a trip to Nevada (along with Dean Susan Hanrahan, Dr. Les Wyatt, and Board Chair Mike Gibson) to participate in a successful presentation to the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation Board of Trustees in support of a $14.5 million grant for a new Donald W. Reynolds Center for Health Sciences for our campus. Those who worked on this grant for many months before I arrived on campus last November deserve all the credit for this successful effort.

I spent a significant amount of time over the summer cultivating potential donors for our capital campaign, as well as some time in Washington, D.C., and Little Rock in pursuit of additional resources for our campus. On a personal note, I took some time off for a fishing trip to Minnesota in June, and in July spent a week in England, the highlight of which was attending a wedding at Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford where our twin four-year-old granddaughters, Ella and Olivia Shackelford, were flower girls and our daughter, Julie Anna, was a reader. My reading list this summer was pretty light, a couple of novels (The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, and A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian by Marina Lewycka), Tim Russert’s latest book, Wisdom of Our Fathers Lessons and Letters from Daughters and Sons, and The Assault on Reason by Al Gore. Irene just returned this week from a few days in Sweden visiting her family there. Our dog Bess, the cat Marigold, and I are extremely happy to have her back in Jonesboro!

Four Task Forces will study important campus issues
I am in the process,
in consultation with the Faculty Senate and Staff Senate executive groups, and my Executive Council, of appointing four task forces for the fall semester to study issues of importance for our campus and to recommend actions that can be taken during this academic year to improve our campus policies and procedures in those areas studied:

  • Instructional Technology-Distance Learning-Online EducationDr. Mitch Holifield, chair;
  • Summer Programs Enrollment and RevenueDr. Len Frey, chair;
  • University Web Design Mark Hoeting, chair; and
  • Criminal Background Checks Policy for New Hires Dr. Louella Moore, chair.

 In the spring semester three additional task forces will be appointed. They include:

  • How to Better Integrate Academic Affairs and Student Affairs to Enhance Learning;
  • Research and Teaching BalanceHow to Reward Good Teaching and Continue to Grow Research Functions; and
  • What Should Be Our Unifying Academic Theme.

Thanks to all who have volunteered and agreed to serve on these important groups.

Research initiatives net EPSCoR grant involvement for ASU
Congratulations are in order to all our faculty members and students who are engaged in research projects on our campus. In addition to almost $10 million which is pending for ASU in appropriation bills in Congress, most of which is assigned for research on our campus, our scientists have, in collaboration with UA Fayetteville and UALR researchers, landed a competitive $9 million EPSCoR grant. Grant applications are also currently being prepared for U.S. Department of Energy funds being made available for cellulosic ethanol and other biofuels research. These efforts follow a campus visit last week by John Mizroch, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Department of Energy for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Congressman Marion Berry arranged this visit. Splendid presentations were made to Dr. Mizroch by our faculty members Dr. Steve Green, Dr. Beth Hood, Dr. Pam Weathers and Dr. Gauri Guha, who were each introduced by Dean Greg Phillips. Likewise, at the annual Judd Hill Foundation Cotton Technology Field Day held on the Judd Hill Plantation near Trumann on Aug. 30, our College of Agriculture faculty (and a student!) along with their colleagues from the University of Arkansas gave public demonstrations of their agricultural field research. The event was facilitated by our Board of Trustees Chair, Mike Gibson, who serves as the trustee of the Judd Hill Foundation, and people from our Advancement area, led by Christy Valentine.

ASU System has great prospects for future
I used the opportunity while in Austin, Texas, for the University of Texas versus ASU football game last weekend to visit with an old acquaintance, University of Texas System Chancellor Mark Yudof, and briefly with UT Austin President Bill Powers. Chancellor Yudof shared with me a white paper on the value the UT System brings to the system’s 15 institutions. The paper titled, "Laying the Groundwork for the Future: Advancement and Innovations at The University of Texas System (June 2007)," advances the thesis that "a system of campuses is worthwhile and defensible only when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts," which I believe for many reasons to be the case with the newly reorganized ASU System.

Student athletes are credit to ASU
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention the fantastic way that our football team and coaches represented us at the football game last Saturday. I have never felt so good about a game my team has lost! While the contest between our teams was touted in the media as the mismatch of the week, and we were predicted to lose by a massive margin, our young men came within a hair’s breadth of upsetting a team ranked fourth in the nation with vastly superior resources as noted by The Chronicle of Higher Education in a David and Goliath story. We led in virtually all statistics (passing yards, rushing yards, total yards, total first downs, fewer turnovers etc.) for the game except for the final score, 21 to 13. Before more than 84,000 screaming fans dressed in burnt orange clothing and holding aloft their index and little fingers, our poised young men on offense moved the ball at will on the Longhorns, and the ASU defense once held Texas for four downs inside the 10 yard line! However, the event that made me most proud was to see our players politely applaud a Texas player who went down after a particularly hard but fair hit by an ASU player, and as the Texas player was helped from the field, one of our student-athletes rushed over to pick up his helmet that was left behind and to take it to him.

My closing wish is for us to have an outstanding semester with lots of fun, civility to and friendship with each other, and spirited debate about matters of importance to us.


Robert L. Potts

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