President David L. Soltz's Inauguration Address

President David L. Soltz's Inauguration Address


President David L. Soltz's Inauguration Friday, Oct. 31, 2008

Thank you, Chairman Jarin and members Marie Conley Lammando and Guido Pichini of the Pennsylvania State System Higher Education Board of Governors, Chancellor John Cavanaugh, members of the Bloomsburg University Council of Trustees, President Jerilyn McIntyre, President Emerita Jessica Kozloff, my fellow PASSHE presidents, alumni, delegates, honored guests and, of course, the Bloomsburg University faculty, staff and students. Thank you all for participating in this inaugural ceremony, for the kind and supportive words from many of you, and for you commitment to our wonderful university, Bloomsburg University.

I would like to recognize members of my family who are here today and some who cannot be here:

  • First, I offer special recognition to my wife and partner of over 30 year and my best friend, Robbie, who is proud today to represent UC Irvine;
  • My sons, Eric, and his friend, Devon, and Andrew and his friend, Launi;
  • And my daughter, Laura, and her husband, Michael, and my two darling granddaughters, Finn and Erris.
  • Robbie and I are blessed to still have our parents in our lives. All are in their late 80s and were not able to travel from the West Coast:
    • My mom and dad have encouraged and supported me in all I have done. I must mention that last month they celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary. They were married after graduating from Ball State Teachers College, a college much like Bloomsburg at the time.
    • Robbie's dad, George, and stepmother, Julie Ann, and her mom, Johanna, have been great friends and supporters.
  • My two sisters Susan and Judy, a nurse and a teacher, also were not able to be here today.

I would like to recognize a few good friends in the audience:

  • Jim Wagner, my great friend since my freshman year at UC Berkeley;
  • Dr. Mike Bell, my friend and fish biology colleague from graduate school days at UCLA;
  • Dr. Anne Hirshfield and her husband, Mike, who have been our good friends and colleagues since early in our careers;
  • And "hi" to Becky and Bob Gubser, good friends from Central Washington University.

An inauguration is a rare event in the life of a university. Today is my formal inauguration as the 18th president of Bloomsburg University, but it is much more than that. This ceremony and the many activities of the week are a celebration of the past, present and future of our university and the achievements of the students, faculty and staff.

I thank you and take pride in the privilege of leading this great university into the future. I am fortunate to come to this presidency when our foundation is firm. That is particularly important in these uncertain times. Thank you, President Kozloff, Trustees, faculty and staff for that gift.

I have devoted my entire career of over 30 years in higher education to public comprehensive universities and the students we serve. These universities educate more students than any other sector of higher education and are committed to the core values of: access, inclusion, opportunity, excellence, success and value.

Our university, Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, exemplifies these six values. And that is why BU is a university of choice for students, faculty and staff.

First, we are a university of access. Not open access, but access to the wide range of students who are intellectually capable and academically prepared to take full advantage of the educational and intellectual opportunities we offer in the classroom, in living and learning communities, through faculty-mentored research, internships and civic engagement and through many other co-curricular activities.

We are proud that our fall freshman classes have consistently shown increases in SAT scores and class rankings. We are equally proud that we have large cohorts of Act 101 students and summer freshman who take college preparation and academic courses to enhance their skills and demonstrate their readiness for college. We now have 26 percent of our freshman in living and learning communities (LLC) that range in focus from business and education to the helping professions, civic engagement and international studies. I am committed to expanding the number and scope of the living and learning communities so that every freshman has the opportunity to participate and to continue to live on campus in an LLC throughout college.

We provide access to qualified students from the region, the state, the nation and the world. Most of our students are from Pennsylvania, with about half coming from the more rural areas of central and northeastern Pennsylvania and 25 percent from the greater Philadelphia area. About 10 percent of our students are from out-of-state. Our international students are from over 30 different countries, ranging from Bangladesh and Brazil to Vietnam and Zambia, with the greatest number coming from China and Russia. We are committed to increasing that number to enhance the cultural and intellectual diversity of our campus and to prepare all of our students for life in a multicultural world and a global economy.

Our mission provides access to first-generation college students, with over 40 percent of our students being the first in their family to go to college. We are also delighted to be graduating the second, third and, even, fourth generations of area families as Bloomsburg University alumni.

Providing access to this wide variety of students from all socioeconomic levels and all regions of this state, the nation and the world brings a great diversity to our campus: diversity of people, cultures, languages, ideas, life experiences and learning styles that enriches the educational experience for all and prepares our students for the world of the 21st century.
Access to regional public comprehensive universities provides the opportunities for students to pursue higher education and to excel. Bloomsburg University has a long history of fulfilling this important role.

If we look at history, our students were the daughters and sons of the ethnically diverse coal regions, agricultural communities and small industrial towns along the Susquehanna River in northeastern and central Pennsylvania. This university, founded in 1839 and chartered in 1856, gave local families their first opportunity to send their children to college and to expand their opportunities in life.

I have heard the stories from so many alumni of different ages of how Bloomsburg gave them the opportunity to go to college at an affordable price and how they received a high-quality education from a dedicated faculty that prepared them well for their careers. They speak of the small classes, the high expectations and the opportunities to interact with their professors outside of the classroom as important enhancements to their learning experiences and preparation for their careers.

They speak of the camaraderie that developed in the dormitories, such as the beloved "long porch" or old Waller Hall, where so many alumni met or courted their future spouses. All of this adds up to the tremendous sense of community at our university that has become so apparent to me.

We are proud of these traditions and will enhance the learning opportunities for all students at Bloomsburg. I am also convinced that we can keep Bloomsburg University at the right size of no more than 10,000 students while fulfilling our obligation and mission to provide excellent educational opportunities to the diverse citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Access and the opportunities it provides contribute to a vibrant and inclusive society where critical thinking, tolerance and wise decision-making prevail. Bloomsburg University has been and always will be an institution of inclusion. First, it was a literary institute and normal school providing teacher preparation for local women and a few men. Today, we prepare students from throughout the world in the full range of academic disciplines for life and work in the global economy.

The end of World War II resulted in the inclusion of another student population and the beginning of the transformation from Bloomsburg State Teachers College to Bloomsburg State College with its broader mission and liberal arts core curriculum. During the five years after the war, returning veterans made up 60 percent of the student body and stabilized the enrollment. Their ability to receive a high-quality college education at Bloomsburg allowed them to successfully pursue the American Dream after disrupting their lives to serve our country.

Bloomsburg led the way in fostering inclusion in K-12 education through our special education teacher training program that developed rapidly in the 1950s and led to the establishment of the Department of Special Education in the 1960s. That department has transformed into our Department of Exceptionality Programs, which prepares teachers for inclusive classrooms and for work with the widest possible range of learning abilities and exceptionalities including developmentally disabled, gifted and talented, American Sign Language/English interpreting, and deaf and hard of hearing education.

Last spring, we celebrated the opening of the Jones Center for Special Education Excellence, founded by the family of Dr. Bill Jones, the first department chair. The first institute, "Building Partnerships for Individuals with Autism," was a tremendous success. This is an outstanding example of an area of distinction at Bloomsburg University. I intend to build on the area of distinction concept as we leverage our greatest strengths to better serve the region and the commonwealth.

As we move toward the end of the first decade of the 21st century, we are delighted that our fall 2008 freshman class is the largest, most diverse and best prepared academically. The number of historically underrepresented students at BU has more than doubled since 2001 and they now represent 10.1 percent of our student body, but there is still much work to be done. I commit us to continuing this growth in diversity of our student body, and of our faculty and staff.

The BU Multicultural Center has a wide array of programs and activities designed to increase multicultural awareness and understanding at BU and in our community. We must and will do more to expand the impact of our center and to infuse multicultural perspectives into our curriculum. To further these efforts, I intend to establish an External Diversity Council to assist me and the university in building on our successes in reaching out to diverse communities and meeting the needs of an increasingly diverse student body. Such a council has been of great value to my mentor and friend President McIntyre at Central Washington University.

The Bloomsburg University faculty are dedicated teacher-scholars who have chosen an academic career with a primary focus on excellence in undergraduate education and who use their scholarship to inform their teaching.

Our undergraduates are encouraged to enhance and expand their learning experience and become better informed and productive citizens through civic engagement and internships. This wide array of faculty-mentored undergraduate experiences is another example of an area of distinction at Bloomsburg University and as such is an area that we must nurture. We will identify resources and other incentives that facilitate faculty involvement in mentoring as we expand these opportunities so that all students can participate in co-curricular experiences that broaden their perspectives. To document student participation in these important aspects of their education, we have developed an optional co-curricular transcript. This is an opportunity that should be a part of every BU undergraduate student's portfolio.

Let me highlight a few recent examples of faculty and student excellence in scholarship and civic engagement and other co-curricular and extracurricular activities that provide our students with that breadth of education that is a hallmark of Bloomsburg University:

  • The $600,000 National Science Foundation STEM grant that Dr. Beth Mauch received is helping Bloomsburg University recruit and retain well-qualified students into science, technology, engineering and mathematics majors.
  • In April 2008, Dr. Sam Slike of the Department of Exceptionality Programs and Ms. Pam Berman of the Department of Instructional Technology won the United States Distance Learning Award for their distance learning course design. Their synchronous online courses incorporate a number of innovative design features for our deaf students.
  • Dr. Thomas Zalewski received a U.S. Department of Education grant for $772,008. The funding will be used to improve services and results for deaf and hard of hearing children by educating more students in our doctor of audiology program.
  • The Institute for Interactive Technologies program in our Department of Instructional Technology is very unique. Students not only learn the theory of instructional design but student teams work on Requests for Proposals from companies across the United States.
  • Marketing students, under the leadership of Dr. Bill Neese, provided a valuable service by surveying the community as part of the development of a marketing plan for downtown Bloomsburg.

BU has a long tradition of success for our student athletes:

  • Under the outstanding leadership of Coach Jan Hutchinson, our field hockey team is well on its way to a fifth NCAA Division II national championship in the past six years and an unprecedented 15th national championship.
  • Our football team, under the outstanding leadership of Coach Danny Hale, is ranked fourth in the nation with a record of 9 and 0.
  • We are equally proud of our 94 scholar-athletes with a GPA of 3.2 or higher.

The environment of student and faculty excellence here at Bloomsburg University attracts a diversity of qualified students and provides an inclusive community of scholars that sustains high achievement. Our measures of student learning outcomes and success are, and consistently have been, very good, but we can do even better. Our strong support and retention programs would be improved by increased integration and coordination. We are exploring strategies that have the potential to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of student academic support units to further improve student success.

I often speak of the high value of a Bloomsburg University degree. We offer a great value in higher education because of our reasonable cost and high quality. We offer a value-added education because of the great academic growth that our students demonstrate. And our degrees are especially valuable because they qualify our graduates for employment in the multicultural, knowledge workforce.

The cost of attending Bloomsburg University and the 13 other universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education is a still bargain. It is not the bargain it once was because state resources have steadily decreased to only 36 percent of the university budget. The balance is made up by tuition and fees. As a consequence, we must strive to maintain the quality of the Bloomsburg University degrees while keeping tuition affordable and our university accessible. We must look to private donors to make up the funding gap. One of my highest priorities is to substantially raise our scholarship endowments.

Bloomsburg University exemplifies the six core values of access, opportunity, inclusion, excellence, success and value in so many ways. Where do we go from here? We build on our successes to make Bloomsburg University even more of a university of choice and to increase our high student success as we prepare our students for careers in the global economy of the 21st century.

Today, I want to discuss some of the key ways we will approach our future.

We will begin a new strategic planning process this semester with a stakeholder survey. I will personally review all of the responses, summarize the data and use the information, perceptions and impressions gathered to frame the strategic planning effort. A summary report of the survey results will be presented to the campus community early in the spring semester.

Our strategic planning effort will be informed by our Middle States reaccreditation review this spring and, of course, linked to our new chancellor's system planning efforts. We will be reviewing and revising the university's mission statement. The strategic plan will have the academic master plan at its core. And we will provide the opportunity for input from all members of the university community and the greater Bloomsburg community.

I anticipate that the strategic planning process will lead to the identification of several areas of distinction for Bloomsburg University and from these will emerge a few centers of excellence. One of my role model presidents, Bob Maxson, liked to say in his vernacular way: "Our university needs to water the green spots!" Using that approach, President Maxson led the advancement of University of Nevada Las Vegas and then California State University Long Beach to much higher levels of academic achievement and national recognition. We will be "watering the green spots" at BU.

The academic plan, the enrollment management plan and the strategic plan will drive the next phase of our facilities master plan. As you have seen, we have an absolutely beautiful campus. Under the leadership of President Kozloff, the university completed phase one of an ambitious facilities master plan with completion of the Academic Quadrangle last fall.

Where will the next phase of our facilities master plan take us? We will continue to upgrade the infrastructure of our instructional building and modernize classrooms and laboratories for today's more collaborative and interactive approaches to teaching and learning. One exciting possibility is that Old Science, or its successor, could become an administration building and Waller Administration Building could become an academic building, resulting in all instructional building being on or adjacent to the Academic Quadrangle.

BU has strong programs in the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) including, and perhaps most important of all, science and mathematics teacher preparation for pre-K through 12. Students with highly valued degrees in the STEM and STEM education disciplines are and will continue to be in great demand in the knowledge economy of the 21st century. As Bloomsburg University grows as a center for STEM disciplines, we will be producing a workforce that can attract more science- and technology-based industries to northeastern Pennsylvania and the Central Susquehanna Valley.

As I mentioned earlier, our $600,000 NSF STEM grant recruits and retains students, links us to high schools and colleges throughout the regions and will increase our graduates in these disciplines.

Our electrical engineering technology program was recently accredited by ABET, joining our computer science and health physics programs as programs certified by ABET to fully meet professional quality standards. All such STEM discipline degree programs at BU are accredited.

National data clearly demonstrates that children and particularly girls become "turned off" to math and science in middle school. We now have the opportunity through the revisions of Chapter 49-2 of the Education Code to develop a new elementary/middle level certificate that has the required content knowledge and, therefore, will produce teachers who stimulate and excite these young minds and keep them from turning away from these core disciplines early in their education.

We must use innovation and agility in higher education, as well as in business and industry. New jobs and professions are emerging at an increasing rate, and Bloomsburg University must be ready to prepare our students for them. One approach that is underway is the development of professional science master's degrees. As defined by the Council of Graduate Schools, the Professional Science Master's (PSM) is an innovative, new graduate degree designed to allow students to pursue advanced training in science or mathematics, while simultaneously developing workplace skills highly valued by employers. PSM programs consist of education in an emerging or interdisciplinary area, along with a professional component that may include internships and "cross-training" in business and communications. These degrees are developed in concert with industry and are designed to dovetail into present and future professional career opportunities.

Another long-standing area of distinction at BU is our health science programs at the undergraduate, master's and, in the case of audiology, the doctoral levels. We have leveraged our relationships with the Geisinger Medical System and Bloomsburg Hospital to offer outstanding clinical preparation in our health science programs, such as nursing, audiology and speech pathology, exercise science and medical imaging. Geisinger employs over 350 of our alumni, and our graduates in the health sciences have 100 percent employment rate in their profession. We must continue to find innovative ways to expand our offering and produce more graduates in these high-demand fields. Just this week, we had the accreditation site visit for our new nurse anesthetist MSN program that is a collaborative effort with Geisinger designed to meet a critical regional need.

We are continually looking at ways to expand our health science programs and to develop the synergies and partnerships that keep them strong and innovative. We are also talking about consolidating the health science degree programs that are now scattered in five departments in three colleges into a School of Health Sciences.

Bloomsburg University is proud of our College of Liberal Arts with its strong majors and prominent role in our core general education curriculum. We are reviewing our general education curriculum. I am committed to using innovation to keep these core academic areas strong and vibrant. One such effort that is underway is the possible merging of several departments and programs into a Department of Performing Arts with the eventual goal of developing a School of Performing Arts.

The College of Liberal Arts will have the lead role in internationalizing the curriculum. We must establish a process to infuse international studies and global education throughout our degree programs. We need a more robust international exchange program that both provides many more of our students with study abroad opportunities and brings students from many nations to our campus to enhance the diversity and multicultural perspective that all of our students must have to be the global citizens they will need to be.

Another important question for Bloomsburg University to ask and answer is how do we assist the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in educating more people to higher levels? And how do we do so while maintaining the values and environment of a residential university in the Town of Bloomsburg.

For the commonwealth to thrive and prosper in the 21st century, more of its citizens must obtain post-secondary education to provide the workforce for the knowledge- and technology-based economy. We know that the current demographics will result in a statewide decline in the number of high school graduates beginning in the next couple of years. We also know that more of the graduates will come from populations that are historically underrepresented in higher education. Many of these students, our potential students, will be time- and place-bound by their jobs and family obligations. And many will be non-traditional in age as well as they return to college to improve their ability to prosper in the knowledge-base economy.
How will we serve all of these potential students with their wide range of preparation for college and their differing needs for services?

We must continue to increase our offering of courses by distance and multimodal education. And very importantly, we will expand our degree-completion programs in partnership with regional community colleges. We currently offer our elementary education degree on the campuses of two of our community college partners. The demand is there to expand and offer several other applied and professional degrees. These approaches to higher education will greatly increase our ability to serve time- and place-bound, non-traditional students. And they will assist us in educating more citizens to higher levels while maintaining Bloomsburg as a residential university at the right size of approximately 10,000 students.

We are also engaged in preliminary discussions of another exciting approach to meeting these goals. There is a possibility of establishing a branch campus of Bloomsburg University in the Sunbury area. Another option that is on the table is the establishment of a new community college with which we would partner. The next step in this process will be to conduct a feasibility study that looks carefully at the demographics and the current and future post-secondary and workforce needs of the area. These are exciting possibilities, but they also need to be carefully considered by both the Bloomsburg University community, the regional business and economic development communities and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Today I have talked about how Bloomsburg University exemplifies the six core values of public comprehensive universities and about some of the exciting approaches we will take toward our future.

How do we pay for all of this and advance Bloomsburg University further into the 21st century as a great public university that even better exemplifies the six core values? And how do we do so in the face of a steady decline in state support of higher education and an economic downturn of potentially unprecedented scope and unknown duration?

Bloomsburg University must look more to private donors to make up the gap between available funds and the true needs of the campus. After extensive discussions, I am restructuring the division of University Advancement and its relationship with the Bloomsburg University Foundation. Once the restructuring is completed, we will begin our comprehensive campaign in 2009.

We are moving forward with some major development activities during the organizational restructuring. The BU Foundation is conducting a feasibility study for a campaign focused on our outstanding College of Business that has AACSB-accredited undergraduate and MBA programs and a highly successful dual degree program with the Academy of Finance in Moscow. This campaign will fund enhancement of the renovation and expansion of Sutliff Hall that was built in 1952 as a science building. It will also fund much-needed scholarships.

Last week, the James E. Morgan Trust gave the BU Foundation a second $100,000 for immediate use for scholarships and an additional $500,000 to begin the endowment of their scholarship program for students from Schuylkill County. We thank the trust for providing higher education opportunities for many coal region students who would not have access without their generosity. We are delighted that they have chosen Bloomsburg University because of our partnership with the Tamaqua campus of Lehigh Carbon Community College.

In closing, I want to say again that I am truly privileged to have the opportunity to lead Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania forward to deal effectively with the opportunities and challenges of these uncertain but promising times. We have a strong base in our excellent faculty and staff and our well-prepared and motivated students. In his book "Good to Great," Jim Collins states: "Everyone would like to be the best, but most organizations lack the discipline to figure out with egoless clarity what they can be the best at and the will to do whatever it takes to turn the potential into reality." With your advice, assistance, support and friendship, we cannot fail to turn our potential into reality and to move Bloomsburg University from being a very good institution to being a great public comprehensive university.

Thank you!