Behre delivers inaugural University address; announces new student scholarships
Sept. 13, 2018
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Departing from a traditional and formal format in delivering his inaugural State of the University Address, Slippery Rock University President William Behre offered his observations based on what he has learned during his first 75 days on the job.
Behre, in delivering his remarks, told the gathered audience of faculty, staff and students "while other universities are struggling to survive, we are in the position of defining the best ways to thrive."
"By most measures Slippery Rock University is doing extraordinarily well," he said. "Our enrollments are solid. We are down less than one percent at a time when some of our sister institutions in the State System are experiencing double digit declines. And, we are continuing to reinvest in our campus at a time of extreme austerity at other regional universities."
As evidence, Behre offered that since Jan.1, the University has completed 25 projects with an aggregate value of $23,049,000; the current energy savings project, when fully complete, will generate $1.08 million annual in utility and operation/maintenance savings; and that the University estimates that it will also reduce annual electricity usage by 4.23 million kilowatt hours and water usage by 12.6 million gallons. "These are major steps forward in meeting our carbon neutrality goal," he said.
"Our construction dollars have been invested in everything from building renovations to adding labs to upgrading steam pipes and HVAC systems. And, while all projects are critical to maintaining an exceptional learning environment, I think the loudest cheers went up when the state finally launched the Performing Arts Center project.
"We are engaged in a vigorous master planning process that focuses on aligning facilities with our academic mission and vision. We'll continue to discuss, prioritize and reach consensus and then develop a framework and a phased action plan for implementation of the envisioned projects," Behre said.
The University is in sound financial shape. "The 2017-18 fiscal year budget finished on-track to budget, with a surplus of $691,725, or 0.5 percent of the total budget; and the current year budget is balanced despite receiving about $1 M less than expected under the existing allocation formula."
"From a budgetary perspective we will to continue to align our spending with what we say is important to us," Behre told the audience.
For example, "We say we are committed to diversity, still we struggle to achieve this goal," he said. "In fact, the single strongest concern that I have heard since my interview process has been in regards to the University's efforts in this area. To help address this issue, I am thrilled to announce today that we will be committing $400,000 of the $691,000 surplus from last year to scholarships for students from underrepresented groups.
"This marks an additional $100,000 to be awarded for the fall that will be guaranteed to continue for four years. In truth, this is not enough, but it is a start - and, we must start somewhere."
The University is also addressing other mission critical areas, Behre said. "We say that internationalizing our campus is important to us. In response, we have hired an assistant provost for global initiatives who has expertise in building partnerships across national borders. We say that undergraduate research is important to us. I am happy to announce that later this semester we will publish a competition for 10 fellowships that will provide salary for faculty and students to perform mentored undergraduate research or creative endeavors during Summer 2019."
Behre, who started his presidency July 1, thanked Philip Way, former interim president and current provost and vice president for academic and student affairs, and Cheryl Norton, SRU's 16th and first female president for their "careful stewardship of this extraordinary place" prior to his arrival. He also thanked staff and faculty for their devotion, talents and compassion that have made SRU the strong and resilient University that it is.
Behre said FY 2017-18 was a benchmark year for friend-and-fundraising and pointed to a 9.4 percent increase in charitable gift support, totaling nearly $3 million; the $142,000 generated from the President's Scholarship Gala; total assets surpassing $37 million - the highest asset total in the Slippery Rock University Foundation's 48-year history; and an investment portfolio value that surpassed $30 million for the first time in the Foundation's history as examples of how the University is thriving.
"As a result,, we were able to realize 40 new or increased scholarships during the year and the Foundation was able to provided $2.1 million in scholarship support for our students.
"And I'd be remiss if I didn't share that this year, 100 percent of the members of our executive leadership - the president, vice presidents, deans, assistant vice presidents and associate provosts - made financial contributions to the University. Additionally, 54 percent of our faculty and staff participated in the SRU Family Campaign. That's a great start. Thank you to all who took part. But we need to do better if we're going to meet future challenges"
Behre said that while financial independence is important, "we must always remember that finances are a means to a greater goal, not an end unto themselves."
He spent time documenting the accomplishments of a sampling of University alumni, student and faculty achievements, as well as accolades bestowed upon the institution by a variety of external entities. Behre singled out SRU's recent selection as one of 15 recipients nationally to win a 2018 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award, the highest U.S. government honor given to employers for support of National Guard and Reserve employees, as one of the highlights of the year.
Gary Clark, an SRU assistant professor of physical and health education and an Army Reserve member, nominated the University, citing its "incredible support" that has allowed him and others to "concentrate on their military obligation and not stress about their civilian employment."
"While we are incredibly proud to win the Freedom Award, Gary, we are even more proud of you and the 100 students at SRU who identify as veterans and the 350 military-affiliated students who are either reservists, active duty military, contracted ROTC cadets or dependents in military families. Thank you all for your service," he said.
Behre shared that when he welcomed first-year students to campus a few weeks ago, one of the points that he attempted to drive home was that when they joined SRU's academic community, they joined something that is bigger than themselves.
"They became part of more than a century of history at SRU and part of the privileged few who have the opportunity to earn a four-year degree," Behre said. "Worldwide, roughly only 7 percent of the total population has a four-year degree. This great opportunity, I reminded them, comes with the responsibility to commit to giving back and helping to create a socially just world."
Behre closes by telling the assembly, "Before we get hopelessly lost in our day-to-day responsibilities and I fret about the bottom line, it is important to pause and remember: We tackle these daily mundane issues because they lead to something much, much more important. They allow us to use education as a lever towards greater equality. To paraphrase John F. Kennedy, 'We do not do take on these challenges because they are easy. We do this work because it is hard.' And, I might add, because it is the right thing to do."
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