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 SRU president uses 'Perfect Storm' theme to describe year ahead 




April 15, 2009

Contact: K.E. Schwab  



SRU president uses 'Perfect Storm' theme to describe year ahead


SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Using a nautical theme based on the book and film "The Perfect Storm," Slippery Rock University President Robert Smith said the University is facing high seas, gale-force winds and rocky shores, but "when a ship is at sea, it is not the force of the gales nor the howling of the wind that moves it along its path. It is people on the deck, at the helm and pulling together that preserves the ship and assures its course."

            Smith delivered his remarks Tuesday as part of his annual State of the University address in Swope Music Hall. The event also recognized 40 faculty for their years of service.

            "The Perfect Storm," written by Sebastian Junger, has become a pop culture phrase that refers to the simultaneous occurrence of events, which if taken individually would be far less devastating than the storm resulting from their chance, simultaneous combination. 

            "Setting the course for the next 50 years, or even the next 10 years, will not be without challenge," Smith said. "The convergence of four factors: changing demographics, a condition for which we have spent seven years in preparation; rising costs of education, a condition that has been the passion of the state system board of governors for the past six years; increased competition for students and donated dollars; and duress and panic about our economic state are all converging to create a 'Perfect Storm.'"

            "The challenges of this storm give new urgency to our work to keep this ship on course and guided to safe harbor. I am not being dramatic; not all institutions will survive, many will be badly damaged, all will be changed. I don't think we can overstate the importance of our decisions and our resolve in the next three years to the future of our University. Changes in demography are upon us, public institutions are facing difficult times of epic proportion, and society at large is uneasy."

            The competition for quality students and private support has never green greater. Smith commended the faculty and staff as "a shining beacon in this story," citing their support and involvement in the Campus Family Campaign launched last fall and ending with 49 percent of the campus community contributing. Smith said 11 departments or offices had 100 percent participation in the drive. Before the most recent drive, participation had been at 26 percent.

            Smith described the economic difficulties facing students, their families and the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. He noted the University faces a $6 million shortfall in budgeting for the coming year. "Each vice president has been tasked with helping to close this gap. We are guided by our tenants in our strategic plan, including the budgeting process principles and our strategic decisions," Smith said, adding, "We will stay the course to pursue quality, and we will implement certain specific actions."

            Smith urged the campus not to forget that "our students and their families are facing difficult times as well." He said 2,100 current students are facing gaps in financing their education and efforts are being explored to help some of them through the Slippery Rock University Foundation Inc. 

            "We have lowered tuition for another 175 out-of-state students to help their families," he said. "It is easy to forget that all of our students came to us in the first place with hopes for a better future. It will be our resolve to help them weather this storm." Smith urged faculty to pay close attention to students in need of special help in the current economic times and to not "throw them overboard."

            "We have charts for our voyage, and I believe we have a strong ship under our feet. What remains for us to be successful are the willing hands on the deck. The good that each of us does will move our ship. Inherently, our work with our students and with each other is to uplift, encourage dreams and find possibilities where none were seen before. And, when the seas calm, the sun breaks through and our destination will still be reached."

            Smith opened his remarks by congratulating retiring College of Education Dean C. Jay Hertzog for his 10 years of dedicated service, and College of Humanities, Fine and Performing Arts Interim Dean Diana Dreyer for her leadership during the past year.

            He said the University has much to celebrate, including recent accolades from the Butler Community Development Corp. Survey of Business Leaders that listed the University and the Slippery Rock Development Corp. as two of the 25 most significant economic enterprises of the past 50 years influencing Butler County. Pittsburgh Magazine's April issue cited the SRU student-driven "Green Fund" as one of the region's Top 50 Best Eco-Friendly Projects.

            Smith noted that work was under way by five emerging trend committees involving more than 160 faculty and staff. He said one task force subcommittee had already submitted its report and that others were to be delivered before the semester's end. He said there was still time for others to join in and urged faculty and staff to contact the committees direct to provide input.

            Smith commended the Task Force for Cultural Awareness, headed by Catherine Massey, associate professor of psychology, and Paula Olivero, assistant vice president for student development, for its final, 35-page report. "The group spent a very intense work period listening to all segments of our campus and compiled a comprehensive report. That report includes the theme for all of us titled 'RESPECT,' and they have put together a model for our consideration."

            He cited Brad Kovaleski, head of the Compass Leadership Program, for his work in developing that program, and Building Bridges, a student organization dedicated to promotion of cultural awareness for its work throughout the year. 

            Susan Parsons, assistant professor and director of the SRU Student Support Services Program, and Herman Jones, associate professor of social work, criminology and social work, were cited for their work in continuing the "Infusing Diversity in the Curriculum" project.

            Service awards were presented to 40 faculty members celebrating 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35 and 40 years of service. Glen Brunken, professor of art, who has announced his retirement, and Mohammad Akhtar, professor of psychology, were recognized for their 40 years of service. 

            For a list of other service award recipients, see related story in this issue of rockpride online.  


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.

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