Address to Washburn University Faculty Staff Convocation

September 15, 2000

Delivered by Benjamin F. Blair, Chair
Washburn University Board of Regents

President Farley, members of the Faculty and Administration and students, thank you for the opportunity to visit with you this afternoon. I bring you greetings from your Board of Regents and our heartfelt thank you for the excellent, meaningful services your perform day in and day out for the students of Washburn, the people of Shawnee County and the citizens of the State of Kansas.

I blew the first opportunity that I had to give a speech at an educational institution. I was president of my 11-member 8th grade class in Woodside, California and as such had the duty to present the class present to the school at our graduation ceremony. The gift to the school was the state flag, the California Bear Flag. I proudly stepped forth and presented to the principal a California BLAIR Flag! [One of life's embarrassing moments.]

I regard this as the most important event in my tenure as Chair of the Board of Regents because one my personal goals in this leadership position is to 'humanize' the Board and bring the members into closer contact with the University and its people, faculty, staff and students alike. As Regents, it should be our goal to understand as much about the institution as possible; we need to 'feel' what is happening; we need to understand the basic mood of the University. That is why we have been having Regent's meetings in different locations about the campus and receiving more reports both oral and written from department heads, Deans and administrators. Last year I embarked on a program for all regents who wish to participate to have 'no agenda' luncheons with University Vice Presidents and Deans for the sole purpose of getting to know one another and to gain a greater appreciation for each other's role.

Today I would like to take a few minutes to discuss the role of the regents and the philosophy of oversight that we as board are endeavoring to adhere to today. The Board of Regents is charged with three main areas of responsibility: 1. Establishing, or perhaps I should say endorsing, the overall mission and objectives of the University; 2. Monitoring the fiscal affairs of the University and 3. Overseeing the physical plant. Of course, these functions are performed in close cooperation with the administration. It is not the roles of the Board to manage or 'micro manage' and we are very cognizant of that. Management is the prerogative of the president and his administrative staff and faculty.  The regents are very pleased with the cohesiveness that exists between the Board and the administration, which is reflected in our common goals for the campus. While agreement is important, the Board of Regents is not a rubber stamp of the administration and takes its role as policy maker, fiscal overseer and representative of the public's interest very seriously.

The major lesson that I have re-learned as a regent and particularly as the Chair of the Regents is that new initiatives on a university campus do not take hold and become reality without the overall consensus of the faculty, staff, administration and ultimately the students. I say re-learned because consensus building is not unique to the university setting. In 35 years of running a real estate sales firm and involvement in the Realtor organization I never saw a significant change made without going through the processes necessary to build consensus and support.

My point is that the great birth of Washburn University that is taking place today is happening only because of the direct involvement of and input from the people of this university – faculty, staff, administrators and students alike. The Regents exist to understand and participate in the consensus process, to refine the goals, give them definition and to provide the public and private wherewithal to carry them out.

We are pleased that Washburn has been ranked among the top ten midwestern regional public universities by U.S. News and World Report. What this honor really recognizes is the bright, new direction in which our University is moving. We enter the new century with a host of innovative programs and projects borne of consensus and dependent upon the dedication of you, the faculty and staff for their success.

The most obvious example is the construction of the Living Learning Center. Apart from the concrete and bricks, this new building symbolizes our determination to keep Washburn in the forefront of quality education. At the groundbreaking ceremony I attempted to put into words what all of us who have participated in the creation of the Living Learning Center felt in our hearts:

"The spirit of progress and renewal pervades the atmosphere of Washburn University on this magnificent occasion. It is that spirit that has become a real and significant part of the University's environment. You can see it in the new landscaping and the well-maintained buildings; you can hear it in every conversation with students, faculty, staff and administrators.

The Living Learning Center we begin today was born of that spirit of progress and renewal. It is not the buildings, though, it is the creative spirit, it is the anticipation of plans becoming reality, the anticipation of the coming challenge of filling the concrete and steel void we create with dreams and love and leading and the students' experiences of a lifetime!

No, it is not the buildings, as beautiful and imposing and significant as they will be. Like an empty vase, until the buildings overflow with blossoms of life they do not serve their real purpose. Look upon the space we are creating as an incubator for learning, for developing ideas and nurturing society's future leaders…"

The Board of Regents stands solidly behind the creation of the Washburn Institute for the Study and Practice of Leadership. We are also proud of your willingness to seize upon technology and earn Washburn a new presence throughout the state with the expansion of the Partnership for Learning and the Networking 2+2 baccalaureate degree completion program. These are sterling examples of cooperation and coordination of resources to further our mission.

Today we should celebrate that enrollments for the fall semester are up about three percent, based on preliminary figures. The total number of full time freshmen is estimated to be up seven percent, while the total direct-from-high-school freshmen are projected to increase by almost 21 percent. While all of you have played a special role in this success, special congratulations are due to our entire admissions department. These numbers represent the beginning of an important trend toward accomplishing our objective of reinvigorating campus life by increasing our traditional student base. We look forward to next year at this time when we welcome some 400 new freshmen as they bring life to the Living Learning Center.

Faculty and staff are the University's most important resource. Attracting and retaining the best people must be at the top of our priorities because our ability to achieve all other goals is totally dependent on the quality of our people. Despite lower enrollments in 1998 and 1999, the Board of Regents and administration recognized the need to be competitive by providing salary increases well beyond inflation. At the same time the Board implemented a salary program as a means of recognizing meritorious performance and responding to the demands of the public for accountability.

A few years ago we made huge changes in the Washburn Endowment Association and the fundraising mechanisms of the University. I cannot begin to tell you what a difference this has made and what possibilities it opens to us in the future. I could spend an hour or more on this subject alone. Time does not allow. Never-the-less, congratulations to Jerry Clevenger, the entire WEA staff and to all of the fundraisers around the campus. Funding for academic excellence through professorships, programs and scholarships will be the main emphasis for the future, and our fundraising groups are working hard to add more successes to their records.

The physical face of Washburn will necessarily change rapidly as we meet the needs of a changing student demographic. Committees are hard at work formulating plans and building consensus for upgrading the student union, completing the dining facilities in the new Stauffer Commons, improving office and student areas in Petro and Lee Arena, conceiving a new campus fitness center, expanding and relocating art education facilities and providing Mulvane with more exhibit space. Student housing needs are being studied so we are not caught short as the first year of students move out of the Living Learning Center looking for a different kind of campus living experience. Moore Bowl represents a special kind of challenge and opportunity to all of us. Uniquely at the center of campus, this facility must be rejuvenated to serve as more than just a place to play football, but a gathering place for all kinds of outdoor activities and assemblies. Stretch your imagination; help us out on this one. It needs and deserves all of the creativity we can muster.

I fee like a presidential candidate delivering a speech that lays out programs and projects one after another. These are truly unique times at Washburn. These are times of rapid change, opportunity, growth and improvement. It is not business as usual around here. We must all sense the difference and seize the moment. If we do the moment will become the norm, the new standard for excellence!

I have been careful today not to mention any particular academic program at Washburn. The Regents are committed to all relevant programs. We recognize that in the cycle of life, some programs need reinvigorating and special attention, some need re-evaluating, and others need to be improved to be even better than they are. This is part of the never-ending process of remaining academically relevant in ever changing times.

At Washburn we are in agreement that excellence in teaching is of paramount importance. We emphasize teaching with less emphasis placed on research. What does all of this mean?

I graduated from the University of California at Berkeley. I never knew one of my professors. In fact, I never knew one of the teaching assistants. I was a number. Believe me I know the difference between the huge university and the more modest size. I know that the typical Washburn student can obtain a better overall educational experience than I did at Cal. Since we have declared that we are an excellent teaching University, we have a responsibility to deliver on that promise and we are committed to do so in each and every course we offer. This is Washburn's special niche, her promise, her very source of pride. This is what makes Washburn premier.

We are blessed at Washburn with good leadership. Not only from our outstanding, talented, enthusiastic, bow tie touting President, but in our vice presidents, deans, department heads and coaches. And, we are simply loaded with employees who respect this institution, work with a purpose, take the initiative, innovate and lead in their own special ways.

Most of us understand what real leadership is: It is embodied in the spirit of the servant leader who proclaims, I am their leader, I must follow them."

I believe that among the important functions of your Board of Regents is making certain that an atmosphere of including and consensus in decision making is preserved; that innovation and initiative is encouraged;' that adoption of new systems and efficient management methods is common place; and that positive change is encouraged and not hampered by an intransigent bureaucracy. The ladder of opportunity for personal advancement of both people and ideas must remain open.

These are daunting ideals and they are not easy to maintain. While our record so far is a good one, the challenges of serving our constituencies in the future will be even more complex.

I am reminded of an old story, which many in this audience have undoubtedly heard. It does make me chuckle:

A college professor was giving an exam to one of his large lecture classes. He passed out the tests and said, "You will have precisely two hours to complete this test. Under no circumstances will I accept any paper after the deadline." Well, two hours later he said, "Time is up. Turn in your papers." All the students brought their papers forward except one young man in the back row who kept writing furiously. Finally, about fifteen minutes later he came forward with his exam clutched behind his back. The professor just glared at him from behind the huge pile of all the other exams and then he said, "I'm sorry, you are late and I will not accept your paper." With that, the student drew himself up to his full height and said, "Professor, do you know who I am?" The professor said, "No I do not." And the student said, "Great!" and shoved his exam into the middle of the pile.

Now, this guy was insightful, quick and innovative. But then again, at Washburn the professors know the students.

To succeed in attaining all of our objectives at Washburn we must get better at what we do, be more efficient, insightful and compassionate. And, yes, faster, quicker and more decisive. Our customers demand it; our public expects it and our survival as a respected institution depends on it.

As you move through your daily lives and especially your Washburn Lives, I encourage you to be ever on the alert for new opportunities for yourselves, each other, our students and for our University. Act on those opportunities. In life you only get so many shots at the target. Don't miss the opportunity to do something well, to advance an idea, to accomplish a goal, small or large. Don't stand back: seize the moment!

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