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Press Release: Chancellor's remarks to faculty staff convocation breakfast

Chancellor's remarks to faculty staff convocation breakfast

Chancellor MacCormack urges faculty and professional staff to "nourish the soul of this institution."

Author:  Jean MacCormack
Date:  September 17, 2008
Department:   Chancellor's Office
Good Morning.

I am really delighted to see so many of you here. We are establishing a new campus tradition today of having a Faculty and Staff Convocation Breakfast.  

Since we spend a lot of time in the first days of each semester ensuring that new students are settled in and ready to succeed, we thought it would also be a good idea for us to gather to check our collective compass and identify the course that our academic community is taking. Coming back to school in the fall provides the opportunity for reflective assessments that can influence future directions.

Thank you for taking the time to be here this morning. We plan to gather our classified staff later in the semester.

I have been walking around campus quite a bit over the past couple of weeks and speaking to many of you.  I have  met many new faculty and staff, and I see some of them here with us today.

If you are new to the campus, can I ask you to please stand.  We have added 18 new tenure track professors, 15 new full-time lecturers, and several new staff in strategic areas.   To all of the newcomers, I say welcome to UMass Dartmouth. We are fortunate to have your energy, expertise and insight  And we look forward to your great contributions to our community.

Also during this last year, we awarded tenure to 15 faculty.  This is one of the most important things we do to ensure the quality of this academic institution.  So to all of you we say, congratulations on so much hard work. Your recognition is well deserved.

New faces bring a new perspective and a sense of renewal to our community, the  familiar faces provide us a sense of comfort and confidence borne from wisdom and experience. This dynamic of the new and the old, the traditions of the campus, the challenges of changes, and the ability to integrate meaningful innovations are the stuff of which universities are made.

The great philosopher Alfred North Whitehead reminded us that universities must be places of imagination and invention, and that keeping them alive and vibrant, while preserving their sense of purpose, is the challenge of the 21st century.  That is why so many of us are drawn to universities -- because they are not place of "dusty old books" but of fresh, invigorated minds.


This is the beginning of my tenth year as chancellor of this great institution. Time flies when you love what you do and are busy.  But, as we consider a decade of activity and growth for the campus, these are moments to reflect about where we have been and to consider what is needed now and tomorrow.  

UMass Dartmouth is in the midst of a period of dramatic evolution.  This evolution has been exciting...scary...always challenging... and mostly stimulating and exciting.  The ride we  have taken together has brought us to new places, and has helped us become a better institution.  

Most of you are familiar with the trends:

Student growth from 6000 to 9300.

Residential student growth from 2400 to 4600

Research growth from $7 million to $21 million

More than 1/3 of our faculty hired within the last five years.

State funding of our operating budget from 78% to about 32%

Growth of graduate programs.

Technology integrated into our teaching, research, service and administrative work.

National accreditations achieved.

New facilities built and old ones selectively renovated.

Expansion beyond Ring Road to campuses and programs embedded across the SouthCoast.

Student Success / Alumni Support

A history celebrated and a future embraced.

We remind you of this because sometimes we forget where we have been as we get caught up in the focus on where we are going.  These accomplishments are the result of your work, your dedication, a shared vision, and hunger for meaningful achievement.  They are the result of shared, innovative choices.

All of these numbers indicate a major shift in the intellectual, social, and financial landscape of the campus. The challenges and opportunities reflected in those numbers have enlivened our community. They have made us stronger, smarter, positioned better for future opportunities.

But the numbers and the trends don't tell the whole story or capture the spirit and intellectual dynamic of UMass Dartmouth.  What is at our core?  What makes these things possible?

It is the willingness to be innovative, to experiment, to be entrepreneurial, to go out on a limb, to not shrink from an  intellectual aspiration, a social challenge, or a good fight.  It is the unwillingness to accept people saying, "You can't do that, or try that, or accomplish that."

The soul of this institution has been its passion for innovation.  Jen Riley in her wonderful address to our new students about Terry Tempest Williams' book, Red Passion and Patience in the Desert, focused on the metaphor of "strike moments"- those moments when the match and the band of sandpaper unite in a friction that creates a flame.  

If innovative thinking is the flame that keeps us vibrant as an institution, then we have an obligation to ensure that we are encouraging and nurturing "strike moments" all across the campus.

If you remember one thing from what I say to you today I hope that is my urging to nourish the soul of this institution--its innovative fire--to ensure that we are truly empowered to meet the demands of our public land grant mission.  If people ask you what I talked about, say the topic was institutional passion and the transformative power of innovative thinking.

There is great book by Harry Lewis, a former Dean of Harvard College that my friend and fellow Chancellor Keith Motley and I both love called Excellence Without a Soul.  In it Dean Lewis reminds universities not to forget the essence of their mission as they grow -- as so many have-- to become wonderful research enterprises --- not to forget their core teaching mission.

His message, simple yet profound, is one we must also remember.  Pursuing excellence is not to be done at the expense of losing one's soul or passion.

Ten years ago I fell in love with the spirit and the process of working with all of you  and being able to ask the big "what-if questions."   The "what if "questions create movement toward "strike moments."

Over the last decade, we asked ourselves:

What if we reorganize ourselves to be more interdisciplinary?  

What if we completely rethought our education programs?

What if we became the international hub for the study of the Portuguese speaking world?  

What if we could actually change peoples' lives through literature?

What if we used technology to extend access to and success at education?

What if we really went green?

What if we established a truly effective service culture?

What if we redefined what student-centered means?

What if we showed Washington a better way to measure the fish population?

What if we could prove better strategies to preserve our coast?

What if we could harness the healing power of botulism?

What if undergraduate students were part of our research enterprises?

What if we understood the roots of chronic disease?

What if the arts were at the heart of student learning?  

What if our knowledge of textiles could be applied to using human tissues?

What if you could be in a class without coming to the campus?

What if Massachusetts had a public law school?

These big "what if" questions and the people who ask them every day -- alone and with others-- have ignited the fire that has really has transformed us.

People say that universities don't change quickly or move very fast.  That is true. None of our growth has been instant or easy.  

When I suggested that we could grow to serve 10,000 students, people said, "Is she crazy- can't happen...won't happen...they all say things like that but it doesn't really ever happen."  

Institutions, like people,  don't like change, but this institution and its faculty and staff has demonstrated an ability to suspend disbelief and experiment and innovate.  When you do that meaningful change does happen.

I also remind you that these fundamental changes were accomplished despite tough fiscal constraints.  No one said to us -- here is a pot of gold --go and transform yourselves.

On the contrary, we transformed ourselves because we recognized that fiscal constraints did not free us from the responsibility to meet our public mission.

This is again a time of tough reality for public institutions.  The public compact that calls us to serve the public good in exchange for public support is being questioned.

In 1988, we received 78% of our full operating budget from the Commonwealth. Today, we receive 32% from the Commonwealth.

Despite our best efforts and a strong legislative delegation that supports us, there has been a slow but constant erosion of the base support for public higher education here and across America.

The economic signs we see around us today suggest further erosion...even as the public demands that we do more. Are we up to the challenge?  The future requires that we put our most creative minds to the task of understanding and engaging in a broad dialogue on this most critical mission issue.

But budgets are not the subject of my reflection today. I bring it up to simply remind you that we have risen to the challenge before by becoming more competitive, collaborative, creative and innovative so that we can keep the 70% of the operating budget that is no longer funded by the state..

The reality is that the competition for talented students, research dollars, and philanthropic support, is only going to get tougher in the years ahead; and we need to organize ourselves to win that competition.

We must, of course, also fight for the mission of public education because over the years is has been the great equalizer of society, the strong pathway to achievement for generations of young people of all races, genders and social and economic backgrounds. Public institutions have been the training ground for compassionate citizenship, and the primary generator of a rich array of ideas and innovations that have transformed agrarian, industrial and manufacturing economy.  It should be the home ground of future knowledge-based economy and culture.

When I came here 10 years ago, I found a campus that truly embraced its public role and was becoming engaged in the region and poised for growth.  We succeeded because we were willing to think and act boldly and deploy our intellectual capital to make a difference locally and globally.

We see innovation as the default response to current and emerging trends.

What is the source of the imagination that will continue to propel us forward? It is all of you.  Watch this.

Those individual examples, for me, illustrate the essence of UMass Dartmouth at its best in the classroom, in the lab, in the service units, and in the community. Any one of you could have been up there, and I invite you to sign up for our "nano-lecture" project.

The project will record 1-2 minute lectures and post them for all the world to see. What better way to share our knowledge and excite people about what goes on here.

There is a sign up sheet just outside and you will be hearing more about it in the coming weeks.

We want this be a place where people are saying -- did you hear about Brian's or Sue's or Hamed's idea?  We want to tell the world that UMass Dartmouth is thinking "red" in a black and white world.

Be proud to be part of this institution no matter what your role is.

We are a regional research university that truly and in very tangible ways focuses its intellectual resources on the issues facing our region and our Commonwealth.

I believe we do this better and with more energy than anybody else.

We put our skin in the game because we know it is the right thing to do for the community and the right thing to do for our students. You will witness the fruits of this effort this year:

We have brought the Science on the Sphere technology to the Ocean Explorium in downtown New Bedford because we need to excite young people about science.

We are leading the Massachusetts Estuaries Project because our coastline is at a dangerous tipping point.

We launched our new School of Education, Public Policy and Civic Engagement because our educational systems and civic life need fixing and it all starts with sound, well-informed public policy.

Our Nursing PhD  has its first students and we are planning a Bio-manufacturing center in Fall River because this region needs to be a significant player in the life science sector.

The Library Renovation will begin in the late Spring.

The Charlton College Fundraising Campaign will be launched in October.

The Portuguese Archives will open in November.

Planning for the SMAST Expansion is underway.

We will be hosting a regional Youth Orchestra.

The Governor's Higher Education Capital Bond Bill will help us begin some major on-campus renovation projects.

You will see innovative ideas continue to come alive this year.

Now, we need to talk about the next decade. I invite you to sign up for one of our Compelling Conversations about Core Values.

We need, in manageable small groups to gather and rethink those essential compelling values that have been embraced by this institution, and be sure we have a common understanding of what these values should look like in a changed environment and world.

These will be led by Faculty and staff over the fall and early Spring semester and will be shared with the whole community to be affirmed as part of our strategic plan. We need your most innovative thinking.


Oftentimes, during periods like this -- when there is financial instability the reflex these situations is to scale back aspiration, duck and cover. Frankly, if we took that approach a decade ago, this campus would likely not be a university today.

Throughout this university's history, indeed this region's history, we have chosen  the innovative response.  Fred Gifun's book reminds people that against great odds we took the street to develop this place as a major university.

When the Kerr Mill burned down, we built the ATMC on the ashes.

Rather than plod along like the flagship in a fleet, we have chosen the characteristics of the Corsair -- a fast, nimble ship that was the choice of true adventurers.

One of the Presidential Candidates has reminded us of the tremendous power that comes with the audacity to hope.  Let's choose to be audacious in shaping our future.  

Let's keep ourselves vibrant by always asking ourselves, "What if....." because we are confident in our ability to generate innovative answers that make a difference.





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