Wednesday, December 19, 2018

A deep breath before a new beginning

The past four months have been a virtually non-stop whirlwind of activity. They’ve gone by so quickly; and—with them—my first semester as chancellor is over. I’ve already attended my first two commencements—at East Stroudsburg and Millersville—where I was honored to be given the opportunity to serve as keynote speaker. To all of the members of this fall’s graduating class—from all 14 universities—congratulations! (WATCH VIDEO)

I’ve learned so much since arriving on the job in September, and am more excited than ever about the challenges and opportunities facing us as we design for a stronger future for our universities and the entire State System. That’s important to our students and the people of Pennsylvania.

I admit it, I’m looking forward to a short break to relax with my family and to enjoy the rest of the holiday season. I hope all of you can do the same.

But, things will pick right back up in January. Prior to the quarterly Board of Governors meeting, I will be formally sworn-in as the System’s fifth chancellor—an honor for which I am extremely grateful. While an inauguration is a largely ceremonial event, it also will give me the opportunity to lay out a vision for our collective future in my first State of the System address.

That vision will be richly informed by the conversations I had during the 14 university tours I made this fall, by the hundreds of email responses to my earlier blogs, and by the dozens of meetings I’ve had with students, faculty, university leaders, Board and council of trustee members, elected officials, community and business leaders, and yes—believe it or not—still others.

The vision also will be shaped by the excellent and creative work that has been conducted by three task groups whose members have been working assiduously to recommend to the Board answers to questions that we know we must answer in order to chart our future course.

One task group asked: Who are our students? What do we mean by their success? Another asked: What do we expect of our universities? What do we mean by their success? The third asked: What do we expect of our system? How should it perform in the interest of our students’ and our universities’ successes. (You can comment on the recommendations of these task groups when they are posted at the end of the month on the State System website at www.passhe.edu/SystemRedesign)

And of course (because you know by now I can’t help myself) the vision will be informed by my having plundered our rich and invaluable data stores, reviewed countless trend lines, generated spreadsheets, pressure tested fractions and probably driven our wonderful analytics team to distraction (thanks to the team for such patience and support. I appreciate each and every one of you— and you know who you are).

We’ve worked up narratives from the numbers and tested them on countless people, blending the quantitative with qualitative and experiential in order to gain a deeper understanding of our rich and wonderful history, our many accomplishments, and our ongoing challenges.

These several inputs have informed an emerging, powerful vision for and establishing the foundation on which, together, we will build our future. That vision will be the focus of my inaugural remarks in January. Consideration of concrete next steps in enacting it will occupy the attention of the Board. No doubt, this will be an important—dare I say, pivotal—meeting.

Finally, know that I have been overwhelmed by your gracious hospitality and your willingness to engage so openly with me. I am encouraged by the eagerness with which so many of you are ready to get down to the serious work of redesigning the State System in a way that will best serve students and the Commonwealth. I am impressed by how much you recognize both the sense of urgency and the magnitude of the task ahead of us.

But honestly, what inspires me most is not that we recognize the challenges that we face and are willing to talk openly about them… No, what inspires me most—what fuels my optimism—is our willingness, our passion to transform the System so we may expand opportunity. That is what makes me certain we will succeed.

No, it won’t be easy at any level. But we have the grit, the determination, the talent, and the courage we will need to think ambitiously, act boldly, execute faithfully, and win.

As I have at the conclusion of each of my previous blogs, I encourage you to continue to engage in this process. Specifically, I would ask you to share with me 1) one thing we as a System are doing now that you believe we should continue to do, and 2) one thing we should stop doing. Please share your thoughts by commenting on this blog or emailing me at chancellor@passhe.edu. (You can also follow me on Instagram and on Twitter.)

Of course, take a moment to enjoy the holidays, to rest, and to recharge before the new semester. And maybe have a cookie or two.