Addressing the campus community Thursday, Murray State University President Dr. Bob Davies touted department, faculty and staff accolades and touched on how the university plans on navigating through sociopolitical and economic challenges. Davies delivered his State of the University Address, titled "Lofty Aims and High Aspirations: Our Most Significant Fortune" at Wrather Museum.
"At the Apex"
Hearkening back to former Murray State President Dr. Ralph Woods, who served for 23 years during the 40s, 50s and 60s, Davies said, "We too are at the apex, the point of significant change and we must adapt to the altering landscape and build upon our tradition of excellence." Davies said a strategic plan implemented over the past two years has yielded a higher achieving, albeit smaller, freshmen class.
The official enrollment for this academic year is 10,496 (1,502 new first-time freshmen and 605 new transfer students). There are 8,887 undergraduates and 1,608 graduate students. The total is down around 4%, or 500 students.
Though the number is down, the university has a goal of not being the 'biggest' in terms of student population, but improving graduation rates. "Getting new students is just part of the equation—we must see them to graduation. We are continually evaluating our retention efforts and are in the process of expanding these efforts beyond just the first year," Davies said.
The goal, per strategic plan, is to achieve a graduation rate of 58%, with an increase in STEM-H degrees (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics - Health). Davies said last academic year, Murray State graduated 1,036 STEM-H degrees, an increase of 25.6% over the previous year - and told WKMS this was the highest per capita among public universities in Kentucky.
"We must be willing to put some resources at risk"
Addressing a reduction in state appropriation to higher ed funding, Davies said an increase in tuition is not feasible and that a new business model must be developed. In doing so, the university will seek new ways to generate revenue. This includes expanding the 'footprint' of Murray State around the region and developing more open pathways for transfer students. Davies said there are 133 'active articulation agreements' with community colleges.
Davies said he has asked university leaders to identify and remove barriers for entrepreneurial opportunities by the end of the semester. "We must be willing to put some resources at risk for new ideas and I am formulating plans to do just that," Davies said.
Davies told WKMS there may be 'well-meaning policies' that have been in existence for 20 years that may prevent entrepreneurialism moving forward. "Sometimes organizations get a mindset of 'I really see this opportunity but it's a little bit risky.' And we need to say that with risk comes the possibility of failure and we need to accept that not all ventures will bear fruit," he said.
As example, Davies said the university has already awarded 18 strategic planning grants this year totaling $125,000, which have proven successful. "We cannot simply continue our current and past practices," he said.
Other financial matters include touting nearly $6 million in private gifts in the past fiscal year (a 47% increase from the previous year) and a reminder that state appropriation performance funding of at least 5% begins in July 2017, with the possibility of a percentage increase in years ahead (to 25% or 100%).
"Tension that has permeated the political season"
As political tension continues to mount after the results of the General Election and President-Elect Donald Trump, including protests in cities around the country and a student protest this week at Murray State, Davies said reinforcing higher education as a 'Marketplace of Ideas' is a "critical initiative."
"There is an air of mistrust and blame, of laying fault on others. Through this process, hope is replaced by despair, and truth, fairness and justice in debate and dialogue is being replaced by the loudest voices in the room. We must take this moment and question, and ask, how do we build trust, safety and security for ALL members of our community. We cannot tolerate to have members of our community walk on our campus be fearful, to be ashamed, for who they are and what they believe in," Davies said.
Davies encouraged discussions about race, color, national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, disabilities, and political leanings. He told WKMS the results of a recent 'Marketplace of Ideas' survey to the campus community are being analyzed. Some of the viable suggestions include a university-wide reading program and forums with guest speakers. He said after the address he'd attend a student discussion about fears resulting from recent elections. He also said an effort is underway to recruit and retain diverse faculty and staff.
Addressing questions and holding discussions are not easy or comfortable, he said, but "necessary." Concluding his speech, Davies told the room to "go forward and be kind, be generous to one another."
Watch the address: