Benson Calls for Relentless Optimism, in trying times
President-select Michael Benson presented to the EKU campus, via email today, the anxiously awaited outline of recommendations from the Strategic Reallocation Task Force. Promising that funds derived from the process would soon be used to address issues related to faculty and staff salary compression and equity, Benson also called for a wholesale examination of our academic offerings and a determination of what we can, and cannot, afford to do.
Benson's letter and list of Task Force Recommendations follow:
Dear EKU Colleagues:On the day before the most significant of days for Eastern Kentucky University – Commencement – I wanted to send a quick update on some important developments. Given that many of the faculty will be away from campus after this weekend, my hope is that this information will make its way to everyone before folks leave for the summer. I wish to thank all of you for the warm welcome my family and I have received. We are incredibly excited to become members of the EKU family and are endeavoring to get things wrapped up here at Southern Utah University so we can focus full-time on issues at Eastern.The transition in presidential leadership is always an exciting time in the life of an institution. It gives us an opportunity to appreciate the past and anticipate the future. It is a particularly true for EKU in light of the important work being done by the Strategic Budget Reallocation Task Force. Doug Whitlock will be the president at EKU until August 1, and I respect that. For his part, he recognizes that while the Task Force’s work was begun during his administration the implementation of its recommendations will come during mine. I thank him for his commitment to a smooth transition.I would also thank all those who have participated in the work around the Strategic Budget Reallocation Task Force – and especially the members of that group – for the many hours they have spent in trying to accomplish the task given them by the Board of Regents. This has not been an easy commission and they have approached their responsibility with the utmost consideration given that people and careers and families have been and will be impacted by the implementation of their recommendations.After visiting at length with Provost Janna Vice, I requested that the Task Force provide a summary of its work to date for dissemination to campus. This draft summary is below. The Board of Regents will approve – or disapprove – this list of recommendations at their June meeting. But I felt it was important to share what has come of their deliberations at this point and thank the Task Force members for providing this information.Draft Summary from the Task ForceThe following list summarizes the Strategic Budget Reallocation Task Force’s actions and further recommendations:1. At the request of Dr. Benson, the Task Force was asked to reverse the recommendation to reduce the tuition waiver from 12 to 9 credit hours for spouses, dependents and sponsored dependents. The Task Force supports this change. Other components of the recommendation stand.
2. Re-organizations include
a. the decentralization of Continuing Education and Outreach and eliminating the dean’s and associate dean’s positions. This reorganization includes reviewing the regional campus programming, closing the center at Ft. Knox, and repurposing the Lancaster Center.b. the merger of Administrative Affairs with Financial Affairs and the elimination of the vice president for administration’s position.c. the decentralization of the office of Policy, Compliance and Governance and the elimination of the executive director’s position.d. additional reorganizations within units that have merged and/or eliminated other positions.3. The Voluntary Buyout Plan (VBP) and the Enhanced Retirement Transition Plan have been successful. All of the requested VBPs are expected to be approved. Individuals can revoke their request for VBP until May 20.
4. Academic Affairs is committed to review with Dr. Benson the economics of our academic programs, faculty workload, and policies related to faculty.
5. Areas for additional revenue, cost savings, and efficiencies include:
a. Increasing tuition for Model and for the Burrier Child Development Centerb. Adding an auto registration fee for faculty and increasing fee for students, with a designated free lot and shuttle accessc. Receiving parking revenue from the Crabbe Lotd. Increasing the fee for ticket service for the Center for the Artse. Reducing the contingency for the Center for the Arts and Airport operationsf. Renegotiating the contract with Embanet Compassg. Increasing the net revenue from e-Campush. Eliminating service factor for part-time contracts – complying with Travel Policy.i. Increasing savings on Prescription/Formulary6. Athletics has proposed three options by which the Athletics’ budget can be reduced by 10 percent.
7. Student scholarships, and work study, and the Office of Admissions have been held harmless.
I trust this summary from the Task Force is helpful in quelling some of the apprehension and uncertainty.A very important issue which I intend to address immediately is that of faculty and staff salary compression and equity. It is anticipated that funds from the reallocation process will be directed to this issue in the coming weeks and months. More news of salary adjustments will be forthcoming.Another issue that needs immediate attention is a wholesale examination of our academic offerings and a determination of what we can afford to do – and to do it even better. The corollary to this objective is to determine which programs we cannot afford to offer in the future and what additional efficiencies can be realized. I intend to engage all faculty interested in this process to be active participants in this review.At the August “Welcome Back” meeting, I will present some initial ideas of EKU positioning and branding as we determine the role we will play in the future both within the Commonwealth and throughout our region.During my inaugural address at Southern Utah University in the Fall of 2007, I made this statement which can be readily applied to the challenges we face at Eastern Kentucky: “We cannot afford to be average, nor can we be all things to all people. But those things that are asked of us and that we choose to do, we will do exceptionally well.”I am an unabashed Anglophile and admirer of Sir Winston Churchill. No doubt, you all have seen the “Keep Calm and Carry On” posters which are all the rage and are entirely en vogue these days. But the message of these posters – produced to be plastered all over London during the dark days of World War II – has applicability to all of us today.
Consider how fortunate we are to work in higher education: to be around young people who are at a pivot point in their lives; to try and exert a positive impact on these students and help them make good choices; to be surrounded by faculty who are experts in their respective areas; to work alongside committed and caring staff; to come to work every day at a place called the “Campus Beautiful” with its rich and storied history. To be sure, we have our challenges – but think of how lucky we are to work at a place like Eastern Kentucky University.To quote the famed Nicholas Murray Butler: “Optimism is the foundation of courage.” It falls to each of us to keep our chins up and to remain optimistic. Saturday will be a never-to-be-forgotten experience to have the First Lady of the United States as a guest at Commencement. I know the graduates and their families will remember it for the rest of their lives. What a time to be a Colonel!While difficult times will invariably persist, to be sure, the one thing I can control on a daily basis is my attitude. As I assume my responsibilities at Eastern as your next president, I will refuse to be dour and long-faced. Rather, I will be relentlessly optimistic and positive and will encourage all of us at EKU to do the same.I will look to the example of Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, who lost his entire family in the extermination camps – except for one sister – and whose life’s work focused on the power of attitude as the ultimate determinant of success or failure. Dr. Frankl once wrote: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing; the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.”We have much work to do in the coming months and years. I wish you all a most enjoyable Commencement weekend and the very best of times during the coming weeks of Summer. But I can’t wait to welcome you all back to campus in August.Yours sincerely,Mike Benson