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Meet the Chancellor Speech 2010 to Civil Service and Bargaining Unit Staff

Chancellor Black Remarks to Civil Service and Bargaining Unit Staff
Meet the Chancellor
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
2:30 p.m., Kirby Ballroom

It is with great enthusiasm that I began August 1 as UMD's new chancellor. Your warm welcome has made the transition to Duluth easy for me and my wife, Connie. However, if we had a dollar for every time someone made a joke about cold weather or reminded us how cold it will be in Duluth, we would be rich! We now welcome being cooler by the Great Lake, than we were this summer in Hotlanta, and we look forward to getting back to winter activities we knew for many years in Connecticut and Kansas.

For those of you not familiar with my background, I have spent the last eight years as Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Kennessaw State University, which is just outside of Atlanta. KSU is a relatively new comprehensive university with over 22,000 students. Before moving to Georgia, we lived in Emporia, Kansas, for 20 years, where I served in a variety of positions at Emporia State University. I began as a theatre "temporary lecturer," and I left as a full professor and dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. I grew up in Memphis, and I earned my bachelor's degree in English at the University of Tennessee Martin. I earned my master's degree in theatre at the University of Connecticut, and I completed my PhD in theatre at the University of Kansas, with a research focus on Russian theatre and drama.

Many people have asked me what drew me to UMD. When I began responding to opportunities for chancellor positions, I only considered strong educational institutions with a promising future. UMD indeed has a rich academic tradition, dating back to its founding as the Duluth Normal School in 1895. When I looked closer at UMD, I learned that the campus is a focal point for regional economic development, while also serving as a major cultural center for northeastern Minnesota. Outstanding faculty and staff leads to an excellent student body. UMD's enrollment has remained strong, attracting high quality students. In fact, I recently learned that this fall, the average high school rank of incoming students is 72 percent. Of those freshmen, 18 percent were in the top 5 percent of their high school class and 22 percent were in the top 10 percent.

Duluth is a beautiful city, and Lake Superior is a powerful draw. Our campus is a premier regional employer, with more than 700 faculty and academic staff members dedicated to the highest quality teaching, research and service.
In addition, as this full room shows, UMD has a dedicated full-time staff of more than 800, who take pride in their important role in support of UMD's academic mission.

Today, I would like to thank you for all that you do to make UMD so successful. While students come to UMD to get an education, I know that their college experience is much more than time spent in the classroom. Each of you plays an important role in educating our students and each of you is part of our community of learners. I discovered early in my academic career that I could not be successful unless I had the assistance of quality staff members working alongside me and creating a campus environment that is safe, clean, well-equipped, and conducive to learning.

I was impressed to learn about how many staff members have been here for many, many years. That's not always true at other campuses. We tried to come up with a firm figure of how many years of experience we have on the staff. I'm told that it's in the thousands of years. Let's try something. Do we have anyone who's worked at UMD for 30 years or more? If so, please stand and remain standing. Would all of you who have been at UMD 25 or more years please stand, and remain standing. Now, let's have those with 20 years or more of service please stand. And now 15 years or more. And 10 years or more. And 5 years or more. And everyone else. Let's give all of you a hand for your dedication to UMD and for your contributions to the success of the students! (applause)

Let's take a quick look at how many staff members a new freshman living in the residence halls at UMD might run into on the first day of classes. A custodian cleaning the floors. Dining Center staff. Cashiers in the Deli, in the bookstore and in Darland. A librarian. An academic department staff member. A first year experience professional. Staff members in Rec Sports. The ITSS help desk staff. When I first activated my UMD email account earlier this summer, I called the ITSS help desk and was asked if I was an incoming freshman! While I learned that the staff member was embarrassed to not recognize my name, it was a lot of fun to talk with her and to see how professionally she handled my request.

Many of you work behind the scenes to make the campus function so smoothly. The campus grounds are beautiful, and the pride that all of you take in your work shows. While we might not see the staff members who work in the heating plant very often, we would sure know there was a problem if there was no heat in January.

I want all of you to know that you are an integral part of the campus community, and your dedication and professional attitude makes a difference. It is important to me that we create an inclusive campus environment where each of you can do your best work and where every individual is valued.

Another thing you should know about me is that I grew up in a segregated neighborhood in Memphis, Tennessee and was in high school in the late 1960s when Memphis became a focal point of the civil rights movement. I remember very clearly the night Dr. King was killed and the shameful way many in my all-white suburb reacted. I grew up in a family of privilege. We were privileged not because of our economic status, because my father, who was wounded in WWII, had to stop working in his 30s. Financially, we struggled. We were privileged not because of higher education, because neither of my parents went to college. They were smart people and wise people, but their education, like our economic status, was quite modest. We were privileged, because of the color of our skin.

It took many years for me to understand this and to come to terms with this privilege and with what happened in my hometown in the late 1960s. I share this with you today to emphasize my commitment to a campus of inclusion and opportunity for all of our students, faculty and staff. There is much to be done and this is a new day of commitment to social justice on our campus. We have an outstanding faculty and staff, but we all, myself included, have much to do and to learn in order to create the inclusive and civil environment that we all deserve. We will not reach our full potential academically until we have a campus that values the contributions and understands the differences that we all bring to our distinctive learning environment. Also, we will not reach our full potential until we all demonstrate a zero tolerance for exclusionary and hurtful behaviors and practices.

When looking at UMD's future, I believe that it is important for me to help create an environment where you can do your best work. I do not have all the answers. But I am an optimist, and I promise to work with you as we solve the challenges facing all higher education institutions. We are in uncharted waters today in higher education. As my colleagues in the American Association of State Colleges and Universities have outlined, higher education nationally is facing three major challenges. First, we need to change how we operate in light of shrinking state financial support. We can expect several years of declining or at best flat budgets from the state. Second, evolving technology has led to new competition as free access to course content from around the world is available on the Internet. Changing the ways knowledge is acquired and distributed, technology could lead to substantive, fundamental and ultimately productive changes in teaching and learning. Finally, we face increasing political and societal pressure to provide access to higher education for more students with less funding and to demonstrate more clearly how we add value to students' lives. Bottom line, we are increasingly told to do even more with less, but we also need to find ways to do things differently, so that we maintain quality and serve an increasingly diverse student body within this environment of shrinking resources and rapid change.

While I have only been at UMD for one month, I have been listening, and I have learned from many of you about the substantial cuts that have been made. We are all feeling the pain of the reduced funding levels. While you have received a 2 percent raise this summer, you are all facing the mandatory three-day furlough in December. It is not easy, and I appreciate the sacrifices that you are making. While these funding measures have helped to balance this year's university budget, the state financial outlook continues to be bleak. We have to expect and prepare ourselves for the possibility of future reductions in the state budget for the next few years.

It is time that we look at new ways to continue delivering a quality education. It is time for us to take a close look at our strengths and opportunities. We need to work together to make sure that we are focused on a vision and mission that serves us well now and in the future.

That's where I need your help. By the end of September, you will hear the details of a new strategic planning process that will help us craft a new vision for UMD and help us meet the challenges of this new higher education environment, the "New Normal" as it's often been called. I am here to listen, to learn and to work with you and your colleagues to ensure that UMD continues to be a strong leader in providing higher education opportunities that our students deserve and expect. By listening to you and gathering opinions from across the campus and with our external stakeholders we can think creatively and examine how we deliver instruction and how we will use our budgets and other financial resources to make UMD even stronger.

While we do face serious challenges, I want to close by again thanking you for your dedication to UMD. It matters, it shows, and it is appreciated. Although we have many challenges in front of us, I look forward to being your partner as we discover ways to meet these challenges and as a result be even stronger.

Thank you.

Chancellor Lendley C. Black