SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - In an address both strong on praise and filled with optimism about Slippery Rock University's future, Cheryl Norton, the University's new president, presided over her first Academic Assembly since taking the post June 4.
Norton spoke for 30 minutes Thursday before an assembly of faculty and staff in Swope Music Hall as part of the traditional program that launches fall semester.
She received strong applause after informing the assemblage, "Today, because of careful fiscal management, the institution is in a positive financial position. However, we cannot relax our thoughtful management of the budget. Having said that, at this point in time, I do not foresee the need for faculty retrenchment, and consequently, will be eliminating this option from our current fiscal-year management strategies. I will withdraw the letter of retrenchment effective today. In reality, we need every person on this campus to participate in the success of our continued vision of education excellence."
Still, Norton said, SRU's financial picture will need constant monitoring. She said while the University ended the 2012 fiscal year with unspent funds representing "approximately one-half of 1 percent of our total budget, in reality, we were fortunate to have had a mild winter, little snow removal and reduced heating costs account for this cushion."
She said future budgets, and spending, would rely on funding from student tuition. "So maintaining and hopefully, increasing, enrollment is critical to our financial stability. Unfortunately, we are at a time in the commonwealth, and our country in general, where a declining population is now resulting in a declining number of high school graduates. As a result, there is a smaller pool of eligible college-ready students to enroll at any institution of higher education. The academic progress that we have achieved cannot, should not, be lost. Instead, we need to continue to focus our attention on students of quality and how to attract them to our campus."
Norton also used the address to thank those involved in her selection as SRU's 16th president.
"It is not an understatement to say, I am extremely proud and privileged to be at Slippery Rock University. While my tenure as president has only spanned 13 weeks, Henry [her husband] and I have grown to love this campus, admire the community and have enjoyed a warm welcome from faculty, staff and students. I'm not really surprised by these connections, because, from the beginning, first as a colleague from a distance and then, as a candidate on campus, I could already sense the quality of this institution and the excellence of the people that call Slippery Rock home."
"Certainly the professional recognition Slippery Rock has achieved, whether in last year's Middle States Accreditation review or from the multiple public listings identifying Slippery Rock as one of the best universities in the northeast, a college of distinction, a best value in the country, a top college nationally in its commitment to sustainability, or, historically, the University's recognition by The Chronicle of Higher Education as a great place to work, your reputation precedes my entry onto campus and highlights the respect that your colleagues have for Slippery Rock University and your work," she said.
She thanked both former SRU President Robert Smith and current Provost William Williams for their leadership in bringing the University to its current position of preeminence.
"I look forward to continuing this legacy: To continuing to work with you through the process of shared governance to help position the institution for further success in the second decade of the 21st century. To continue our collective commitment to a faculty that is full time and professionally credentialed; to sustained high quality and accredited academic programs; to maintaining our investment in quality teaching and learning environments, campus safety and security; and to recruiting, educating and graduating high quality, engaged students," Norton said.
She said initiatives to enhance market share of students, including expanding scholarship money and financial aid, adding graduate assistantships, expanding the SRU Honors Program and increasing money for undergraduate research were already being discussed.
"If we are going to have a competitive advantage that enables us to enroll the students we want, you are the key to providing the curriculum that will support their development in the 21st century," she said. She asked faculty to consider where their disciplines are growing and developing and how the SRU curriculum should be changed to meet the needs of an ever-changing society.
"It is said that if you are going in the wrong direction, speeding up does not help! Our direction is not the wrong direction. It is the right direction for SRU, for our faculty, our staff, our students and our community. Together we can continue our commitment to excellence," she said.
Norton addressed the recent legislation approved by the state legislature as the Higher Education Modernization Act, saying, "With the passage of this act, we can now offer applied doctorates, doctorates that may also require a complimentary master's level of education. In addition, this act encourages entrepreneurial activity for faculty by allowing faculty members to profit from their scholarly work. In October there will be a series of workshops sponsored by PASSHE to introduce HEMA and how you can become involved with new entrepreneurial initiatives."
"I would also encourage you to consider how to continue to utilize additional programming times and formats to attract and keep new students. Whether it be winter session, summer session, online education, weekend colleges, module courses, or other innovative academic programming, these formats have the potential to encourage adults to come back to an educational setting. While we will always remain Pennsylvania's premiere, public, residential institution, focused on traditional-age students, the changing pace of technology, industry and the service sector will continue to demand life-long learning opportunities for non-traditional students. Life-long learning is what we believe in. It is what we encourage. We must embrace new ways of addressing this need," she said.
In looking at the immediate future, Norton said she had already launched a number of low-cost projects to improve the look of campus, including new benches, trash containers and furniture at key locations across campus. A revised and updated website is also planned.
"Folks, this is an institution of quality and that quality should be recognized at all levels. Of course, there are other initiatives that we will be working on through the year. Our new performance measures have been approved [by PASSHE] and predictably focus primarily on student success, retention, graduation, diversity and institutional enhancements," she said.
"As always, we will continue to be guided in our priorities by the SRU strategic plan 'Reaching for 2025 and Beyond' adopted in 2011. With this plan in mind, we will review the campus master plan to ensure that our physical plant keeps pace with our campus vision," she said.
"I hope, I truly hope, we will have many more times to meet, listen and learn together for I have much to learn from you. So far, I have had the pleasure of taking with nine faculty departments. They have reconfirmed my first impression of the faculty. They are quality professionals committed to excellence. I look forward to getting to know each of you soon," Norton said.
She urged the assemblage to participate in the upcoming Inauguration Week activities that is using the theme "Embracing the Challenge: Excellence, Innovation and Responsible Citizenship."
"My sincere appreciation and grateful thanks goes out to the inaugural committee that is working on behalf of the institution to provide a celebration of Slippery Rock University during this week. An inauguration may install a president, but the activities acknowledge the excellence of the institution. During this inaugural week, let us gather together and celebrate Slippery Rock University - an institution that has a tradition of excellence and a future of unlimited potential.
Provost Williams welcomed SRU's new faculty and introduced those in attendance, and Patrick Burkhart, president of the Slippery Rock University chapter of Association of Pennsylvania State, College and University Faculty and SRU professor of geography, geology and the environment, addressed the audience.
Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.