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Remarks to the Faculty from Blair Lord, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs

Aug-30-2012

While we are well into our second week, basically an eighth of the way through the semester, I believe it is still appropriate to say welcome back!  We have had a very smooth start made possible because of the hard work of you and your faculty and staff colleagues.  Thank you!

My stated function this afternoon is to introduce the president for his annual address.  Starting my 12th year as provost, I’m going to take advantage of having the mike for a few moments and offer a couple of provostial observations. (Well, at least they will be from the provost, if not provostial.)

As a well-seasoned Eastern provost at this point, I like to brag about the quality of the educational experience you make possible.  I know that we deliver an even better educational product now than when I arrived.  Eastern has raised its game because you have raised yours.

As you probably know, our freshly minted Strategic Plan has as the first of its six planks, Academic Excellence.  I am pleased, although not surprised, at the prominence given academic excellence and know that the work on past goals has promoted this.  Specifically, we have made progress on the goals I shared six years ago:

•  Being a showcase for teaching and learning at a regional comprehensive university.

•  Having the most active and highly regarded student research/student scholarship program of any Illinois public comprehensive university.

•  Having each degree program identified as the “first choice” program for students considering that major at an Illinois public comprehensive university.

•  Being known as the university of choice for Honors College/Programming among the state’s public comprehensive universities.

•  Having the highest student participation rate in Study Abroad of the state’s public comprehensive universities.  (This has been achieved.)

More recently we have used the concept of Integrative Learning, an intentional holistic view of learning, to promote academic excellence.  This, of course, speaks not only to the intellectual development of our students but also to their personal development as engaged citizens, as well.

Finally, last year, I rolled out my revisionist take of the old "Three Rs" of education.  They are still fully relevant for us, but I’m going to reverse their order now.  As the chief academic officer committed to advancing academic excellence, “Rigor” needs to top the list.  I am very aware that the Academic Excellence plank seeks the proverbial “more better students,” and this is a worthy goal on which we are working very hard.  Eastern, however, always has been and will continue to be an institution of opportunity and access.  We do not get vast numbers of students who can garner admission to the small group of designer-label, elite institutions.  Rigor, however, must apply fully to the students we have.  To deliver on the promise of higher education, demands rigor.  AAC&U has framed the challenge before all of higher education, not just Eastern, as the challenge of making excellence inclusive -- that is, assuring that all the students invited into higher education are given the opportunity to achieve excellence.  In this framing, “excellence will be determined by high expectations coupled with high support, high hands-on practice and a very high degree of faculty and staff collaboration to assure an intentional educational experience."  For the students of today, we must never abandon high expectations.  It also is true that merely imposing high expectations without the other pieces will not be sufficient for any students.  It strikes me, however, that when Eastern is referred to as a superior teaching institution committed to the success of its students, and we are often referred to in this way, it is because we have always connected high expectations with the other pieces of support.

Certainly, many students today, here and elsewhere, do not understand the concept of rigor and how to achieve academic excellence.  Dean Irwin shared with me P.M. Forni’s book "The Thinking Life," which suggests that we need to help today’s students understand that reading is not the same as studying… that studying requires reflection upon what is being read to understand and retain… that grades are a by-product of good work, not the primary goal… and finally, that students should be thinking about how their courses link to their other experiences and how this prepares them for life.  I would submit that such intentional reflection, a key element in the Integrative Learning equation, is rigor itself.

The second R, of course, is Retention.  We retain students at rates that are equivalent to the retention rates for institutions in next higher tier of selectivity.  Our Noel-Levitz consultants reflected that we do very well at retaining our students.  Nevertheless, while keeping students enrolled is advantageous in a business sense, our real objective is to retain students so that they can meet their educational goals.  The President has set a high bar here which we need to continue to strive to attain.  If I can pry Dr. Herrington-Perry away from her recruitment duties, I know she wants to devote some serious time to working on retention issues.

The last R, of course, is Recruitment, and rather than say anything more about this, I will use it as a segue to introduce President Perry because I know he will have some things to say on this topic.

I look forward to a terrific year – again.  Thank you for all you do.

Now it is my pleasure and honor to introduce President Perry to deliver his annual address to you.  While I am starting my 12th year, Dr. Perry has commenced his sixth.  There have been many noteworthy achievements during his years of leadership including, of course, the soon-to-be-celebrated success of our Capital Campaign.  He has an agile, inquiring mind and loads of ideas – almost daily!  Without further adieu, the 10th President of Eastern Illinois University, Dr. William “Bill” Perry.