Fall Convocation 2012 | Webster University

"What's Next?"

Fall Convocation 2012
August 16, 2012

[President Elizabeth J. Stroble]

Good afternoon and welcome to Fall Convocation 2012. Over the three years that I’ve been here, and as we added Spring Convocation, I think like all university people we tend to think of years starting now, heading into the academic year and wrapping up around May with Commencement, followed by a sort of in-between time during the summer.

What I’m going to suggest we do today is look at this as the second Convocation of 2012. And you’re going to see why in a moment. Back in January, Dr. Schuster and I formally introduced the idea of stretch goals. Meaning that by 2015 we would have measured ways of quantifying and assessing how we match up with our external environment and what most compels our attention. As we thought about the stretch goals, we thought about what is it that we must pay attention to, outside and inside, to cause us to accomplish our mission.

Let’s remind ourselves of that vision, straight from the Vision 2020 Strategic Plan. And following on that, our mission. We have our goal in mind—we have defined Webster’s success in terms of being a premier university, setting a distinct standard for global education, based on values of putting students first. We have chosen our destiny.

To help focus our sense of teamwork and community and hearten us for what is admittedly hard work ahead to achieve those 2015 stretch goals -- and realize what it means to be a premier university, setting a distinct standard for global education -- I invite you to recall some of the great moments from the recent summer Olympics.

In particular I ask you to recall the story of the U.S. women’s relay team, which won the gold medal that had eluded them for 16 years in race after race as they fumbled their baton exchange. This year, finally, they got that baton handoff right – and we saw the inspirational success that resulted.

They showed us the power of teamwork in the relay—every move that is made, every handoff and pick up, every action by every individual coming to a successful result. The sheer joy the U.S. women felt from their collective success built on individual success made a great story to cap the Summer Games.

How is their story, and the relay event itself appropriate for us to consider today? Let’s look at the stretch goals to illustrate.

What are stretch goals? I can tell you what they are not. They are not about accepting status quo. They are not about accepting what no longer works. They are the tangible answer to the question: what does it mean to take Webster to the next level? How will we know when we have set a distinct standard in global education, functioned as a premier university in meeting students’ unmet needs and putting them first?

We are at what I have called a defining moment in our history – much like Webster was in 1967 when the decision was made to become a Lay board governed institution. We have been building momentum and are now approaching a tipping point. Like any tipping point, we can tip positive…or we can tip negative. We can hand off the baton successfully or we can drop it.

As we mark progress toward our stretch goals today, I ask you to think of the teamwork required from all of us, every day, to meet those goals: from recruiting students, to admitting and enrolling them, to retaining them to degree completion, and then handing off the baton to them in the form of a diploma so they join us in the race to recruit and enroll another generation of increasingly strong and diverse students.

[update on stretch goals progress, with the bullets below referring to goals displayed on screen]

  • $100 million is a significant milestone to strive for - and we are well on our way, reaching $86.4 million in May 2012.
  • I’m happy to say you’ll see the new Vienna location later in this presentation.
  • We have some exciting news to share with you – and yes, we are expanding to a new continent.
  • Current retention is at 81%. Graduation rate is almost 61%.
  • Our annual revenue is up to $214 million, and we have been able to maintain the necessary 5.5% operating margin.
  • We continue implementation of the recommendations to ensure our salaries are competitive. We are on target to complete this project by 2015, though of course implementation is also dependent on available revenue, which is largely dependent on enrollment at a tuition-driven institution.
  • Increasing Webster Groves undergraduate alumni giving is an on-going challenge, but we achieved 5.1% in 2011-12, up from 4.7% the previous year.
  • A new Interdisciplinary Sciences Building is a priority initiative in the new Master Plan, which is in its final phase.
  • We are happy to have continued a decade of performance in the top tier of U.S. News & World Report rankings, but our goal remains to be in the top 25 in our category. This past year we were ranked number 28.
  • We are really looking to align our structure and resources to increase our capacity to create market-responsive programs that address student needs.
  • The important work of infusing global content and outcomes in every program will result from the Internationalization Laboratory, a two-year project now in its second year.

Those are stretch goals where we are on target or at least have made considerable progress. They represent a lot of hard work that must continue.

Now we will turn our attention to areas where we have stalled or fallen well behind the pace we need to set realize our mission. It is imperative that we bring up the numbers in our undergraduate enrollment while not jeopardizing our graduate enrollment numbers. This year our actual enrollment numbers are down, and you will hear more about what we need to do to address this later as Julian and I speak.

Likewise, as most of you know, the graduate numbers have remained fairly flat and are trending down in some areas. This too will have to be turned around to have a sustainable future. So that’s a brief overview of where we are toward achieving our stretch goals. Clearly we are doing many things well – but just as clearly in the crucial area of enrollment, there is a long way to go. I can’t emphasize enough how this will require optimal teamwork and dedication from each and every one of us.

To talk about some of these areas of critical focus, please welcome Webster’s Provost and Senior Vice President, our Chief Operating Officer and my partner in leadership, Dr. Julian Schuster.

[Provost and Senior Vice President Julian Z. Schuster]

Thank you, Dr. Stroble. Colleagues, faculty, staff, students and distinguished guests, we are and have been in the midst of change. Not change for the sake of change’s sake – but change to ensure that the Webster of the future remains the vital and vibrant University that it is today and has been in the past Around us, change is swirling.

The new catchphrase for education is “disruption”: disruptive innovation, disruptive technology, disruptive competitors, disruptive adaptation – books, articles, conferences and speeches warn us that “disruptive forces” are shaking the foundations of higher education – of learning – as it has traditionally been delivered – by nonprofit universities and colleges with missions rooted in valuing learning.

It is true, the world is changing, and higher education is not immune to that change. Nonetheless, we need to remember the unique place of the university in our society. The university stands, as E.M. Forster once described the Greek poet Cavafy, “at a slight angle to the universe.” The university is a distinct institution, open to ideas of all kinds, nonpartisan, independent – and, as William Bowen has described, “different from government agencies, churches, business organizations, labor organizations, political parties, philanthropies, and social clubs.” The purpose of a university, Bowen maintains, is “not to indoctrinate but to educate – and in that process to encourage “a hundred flowers to bloom.”

Those 100 flowers can be 100 ideas – 100 viewpoints – 100 opinions – 100 cultures. And because we are Webster University, with our global reach and diversity of thought, let’s double that – 200 flowers. To be able to hold and respect this diversity of thought, we need to embrace critical thinking and meaningful debate as ways to develop new ideas, correct imperfections, an pursue excellence. To be the best – to say that we value academic excellence – we need to explore ideas of every kind. That is essential to the mission of an academic institution.

I am not one to quote the so-called “leadership gurus”, many of whom offer “easy fixes” to challenges faced by organizations. But every so often, there is someone whose advice proves to be timeless.

Almost 25 years ago, Peter Drucker wrote about the challenges of managing nonprofit institutions – institutions distinguished from the for-profit by their adherence to a mission which serves not shareholders, but stakeholders. Stakeholders – constituents – of a nonprofit are myriad – for universities, it is students, alumni, parents, board members, community, partner organizations, high schools, government, and so on Drucker noted that nonprofits – in our case, universities – are “prone to become inward-looking.

People are so convinced that they are doing the right thing, and are so committed to their cause, that they see the institution as an end in itself. But that’s a bureaucracy. Soon people in the organization no longer ask: Does it service our mission? They ask: Does it fit our rules? And that not only inhibits performance, it destroys vision and dedication.”

“In every move, in every decision, in every policy, the non-profit institution needs to start out by asking, Will this advance our capacity to carry out our mission? It should start with the end result, should focus outside-in rather than inside-out.”

We, at Webster, need to focus on mission – to stop looking in first, and to look out. Dissent is accepted – even welcomed. But turf wars and feuding are not. Such actions destroy the spirit of the organization. That’s a sign, says Drucker, that you’d better look at your organization.

Are you organized for yesterday rather than today? Are you organization for the kind of small, cozy family operation you were, and now you’ve grown from a four-room boardinghouse into a 600- room hotel without any change? If that’s the case, you need a change in your structure. Structures should be built around communication rather than around hierarchy.

Everyone in the organization should ask two questions: What information do I need to do my job – from whom, when, how? And: What information do I owe others so that they can do their job, in what form, and when? Drucker states that people should know what their institution stands for – at Webster, we do. But to achieve results, we need to understand that there are not results inside an institution – inside, there are only costs.

To make a difference, we cannot insulate ourselves from reality. We need to look outside – to see what is happening in the world, to discuss with each other ways that we can deal the changes, and to come to agreement – through honest debate and discourse – on our next steps.

[President Elizabeth J. Stroble]

Thank you, Dr. Schuster. 

We will look at further updates today in the context of the strategic prism. That means we will look at some areas of concern and some areas of impressive accomplishments thanks to smart, hard work. In particular we will call out a few examples that show how every move has a purpose—those that illustrate how we can take actions that result in reaching our stretch goals in relation to the strategic prism. I refer to these in every update, so I hope you know them. But if you need a review, you can find the Strategic Plan, the Strategic Prism or the Stretch Goals, they are visible at any time on my website.

We’ll start with Serving Students – the foundation from which all of our focus springs forth. I am happy to say our incoming 2012 freshman class is the most diverse in our history. This indicates that we are really creating the welcoming and inclusive environment that we talk about for our faculty, staff and students. And we are recruiting quality undergraduate students and must continue to do so.

The challenge, as you can see, is in the number of these great students we are enrolling. Enrollment is down for fall freshmen and flat for transfers. Our stretch goal for 2015 is to reach 1,000 incoming freshmen and transfer students. Even when we consider that we expect continue our trend of adding transfers and new freshmen in the spring semester, this year is a step back and we must turn this around quickly.

Now let’s take a look at other enrollment numbers. You see our graduate enrollment trend lines are not headed where we need. The line at the bottom is international enrollment. Flat and going down. The red line is St. Louis Metro – going down. The purple line is Military – almost flat. And the Metro line in green is definitely trending down. The only line going up…online enrollment.

I have to tell you these downward trends are very disturbing to me – and they should be to you, too. This is our purpose – this is what we do – we educate students. As of this summer, we are showing a $1.6 million shortfall for next year. That means we all have to embrace the success of serving students as not only a job responsibility but as a personal duty and imperative. Each of us must participate in recruiting students, helping to assure they enroll, and then supporting their successful degree completion.

It really does take an entire university community to attract and retain talented students. For our mission, it’s critical. For the financial health of the institution, it’s critical. For our own professional pride, it’s critical.

Current retention is at 81%. As you can see, this is only a slight increase. This is why it is so important to realize that it simply cannot be business as usual anymore. It’s not ok to lose 20 percent of our students after the freshman year. It’s not ok to lose 40 percent of our students before graduation. Failing to retain students and support their success hurts us – and it’s no good for our students to leave without a degree and in debt.

Let’s remember to keep our focus on who we’re here for: Our students. Here are just a few stories that exhibit our students’ great achievements and exceptional teamwork:

Our NCAA Division III Gorloks won the NCAA regional championship and made it to the World Series for the first time in Gorlok history, and finished ranked 8th in the nation. Congratulations to our Gorlok scholars and athletes!

Webster University’s Forensic and Debate program continues its remarkable success in this exciting hybrid of academic and extracurricular skills. In March they continued a streak of success that goes all the way back to 2000: finishing in the top 10 overall at the Pi Kappa Delta National Tournament, and two members also won Missouri state championships.

Our newest competitive sports team – the Webster University Chess Team – we welcomed them this summer as the number one-ranked college chess team in the U.S. Five members of this team (all representing different home countries, including the U.S.) will soon head to the World Chess Olympiad in Istanbul. And three of our students on the chess team swept all three categories at the recent U.S. Open championship in Vancouver -- the first time in history that all three U.S. Open titles were won by students from the same university. This summer, 48 girls competed in the Susan Polgar Foundation 9th Annual Girls’ Invitational held here, drawing girls from across the country.

Two years ago, we asked you, our faculty and staff, in a survey what it would take to be first choice for the Military. You told us and we listened. Scholarships are important to Military dependents, as well as to the Military Service Members. The Proud to Serve Scholarship program, launched last year, shows that we are committed to Military servicemen & women and their dependents.

Also this past summer, Webster was the exclusive higher education sponsor of Fair St. Louis – St. Louis’ annual 4th of July celebration. I’d like to show you the video that we aired to an audience of brave men and women who endured the 100-degree + heat to recognize those active and retired service members.

[video is played]

Thank you. I can tell you that the sense of pride was palpable that evening as Webster demonstrated our commitment to serving our Military and our veterans. Those examples, they do cut across areas of the prism. They are good examples of how we can focus our energies in ways to serve students, build partnerships, create opportunity for fiscal health, and enhance Webster’s reputation all at the same time.

Now I’d like to invite Provost Julian Schuster back to discuss where we are in aligning Academics with Operations for academic and operational excellence worldwide.

[Provost and Senior Vice President Julian Z. Schuster]

Thank you, Dr. Stroble. Just as Serving Students is the goal around which all other goals follow, so too is Strengthening Academic Programs. A University is empty without its faculty leading the development of strong academic programs. They are often what our students remember most - long after they have transitioned from inquisitive Webster students to proud Webster alumni.

That is why it is so important that the faculty have come together to forge the new Global Citizenship Program. When we set out to set a distinct standard for global education, we asked for your ideas and you provided them – a lot of them.

One of them begins to come to life this fall. Our freshmen this year are enrolling under the new general education curriculum – the Global Citizenship Program. This is an idea that came to us from our faculty. We know there is much more work to come in the future for the Global Citizenship Program. But for now, let’s give special thanks to our entire faculty for your dedication, support and development of the Global Citizenship Program.

The Undergraduate Curriculum Committee and the Graduate Council had a productive year because of the hard work of our faculty members who brought 15 new academic programs for their approval for fall. This is not a small endeavor, and I thank you for your efforts.

This and the Global Citizenship Program are important achievements. This past year, faculty, department chairs and deans conducted academic program review and prioritization to more effectively align our academic programs with our vision, mission and goals. Through that process, we are honing in on identifying academic programs that are responsive to our markets and our communities.

We also know that new programs will be needed, and the schools and colleges have begun work already on new programs for the following academic year. Along with academic programs, we are actively assessing alternative modes of instructional delivery – the success of our online programs provides one solid way to advance our offerings. This is one way we will work together to overcome the $1.6 million revenue shortfall that Dr. Stroble indicated.

We are also reviewing our extended campus locations – domestic and international. We must ensure that we are providing a consistent environment on each campus location that leads to academic and operational excellence – and provides our students with the environment they need to succeed.

It is not about survival. It’s about creating a sustainable future for Webster that goes well into our next hundred years and beyond. We need systematic, university-wide collaboration that works beyond silos, tackling projects that address multiple prism focus areas and target multiple strategic goals at once. This will ensure a sustainable future for Webster.

Our colleges and schools are aware of their responsibility – to introduce competitive academic programs that meet the needs of our communities here in the St. Louis region and around the world. Other units are now essential for the success of the colleges and schools – academic support services, student life, admissions, financial aid, the Registrar to name only a few. We all need to be “on deck,” ready to accept the hand-off, to carry the baton, to help our students succeed and inspire them toward their futures.

Last July, we engaged Sasaki & Associates to work with us as we develop our Webster Groves campus master plan, which will guide us for the next 15 years and beyond. The project is in its final stage of completion. I am grateful to all of you who participated in providing us feedback about the plan.

Improving our IT infrastructure is not an easy task. While the global Wide Area Network project you have heard about is just beginning, another major IT project is making great progress: The new University website. This project is an example of a successful collaboration between IT, Global Marketing & Communications, and eventually every college, school and location as we come together as one Webster in the digital world. Scheduled to launch in late October, the new website will offer cutting edge design and functionality. Most importantly, it will better serve students and visitors while enhancing our reputation.

We can’t mention the past year’s accomplishments without celebrating the close of our $55 million comprehensive capital campaign, Webster Works - raising $56.5 million in one of the most challenging economic times in history. This reflects the loyal commitment of our donors and supporters and their strong belief in Webster. It also reflects the diligent work of all of us – led by Development but touching and involving all faculty and staff.

You might have noticed construction of the new Garden Plaza and Compass Plaza, which should be completed in October. The Garden Avenue project was designed to help create a new front door to the University entering from Garden Ave. consistent with the long-term landscape plans envisioned in the Webster University Master Plan.

As part of the plaza design, we will recognize those Webster Works comprehensive campaign donors who made cumulative gifts of $25,000 and above. The Compass Plaza project is a gift from a donor. Our donors are committed to us and they are helping to make big things happen. We must honor their generosity with the same passionate commitment to Webster in our daily work.

As we rightly aspire to be nationally known for the high quality of our academic programs, the only way we can meet those aspirations is if we all work together – and work hard – toward achieving them through positive initiatives and not being afraid of making tough choices.

Now, Dr. Stroble will continue as we look at other areas of the strategic prism. Thank you.

[President Elizabeth J. Stroble]

Thank you, Julian.

We are committed to investing in and developing our people at Webster. And this slide makes a big statement. We are delighted to have been ranked for five years in a row as one of the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Best Colleges to Work For. We are one of only 13 four-year U.S. institutions to establish this record. This year, we were particularly recognized by our employees in the categories of compensation and benefits, respect and appreciation, and work/life balance.

This past year, we also saw the successful launch of the Global Leadership Academy, an employee leadership development program launched to invest in our employees and develop internal talent and leadership. Sixteen participants made up the inaugural class of fellows, and the primary message is lead from where you are: One of these photos shows them visiting the Kansas City campus and another is of the group in front of the Buffalo Soldier monument at Fort Leavenworth, which honors the first all-black peacetime unit in the U.S. Army.

I encourage each of you to consider applying for the 2013 GLA cohort. Applications are being accepted on the GLA website until Oct. 1, 2012.

Earlier on the screen, you saw the names of new faculty and staff who have joined us in the past year, and we welcome you.

As we discuss enhancing partnerships, I’d like to focus on our academic partnerships being forged that meet multiple areas of strategic engagement. New cohort programs are being developed in the Denver market that both build graduate enrollment while serving the local needs of the area in creative collaborations with Chambers of Commerce and local businesses.

Here in St. Louis, the Office of Corporate Partnerships fostered two powerful cohort relationships – one with BJC Healthcare which expanded an existing relationship and made it stronger and the other is a cohort program with SSM Healthcare.

Webster’s global outreach and engagement is international as well. New agreements have been signed in Uzbekistan, Eastern Europe, Brazil, and China and we are close to signing agreements in Indonesia.

This summer, we identified a new location for the Vienna campus and are in final negotiations on the location – which will be much more prominent in Vienna and more convenient for our students. It also offers student housing – making it easier for students to live and learn at Webster University. It will build the capacity to help us reach a long-term stretch goal for the Vienna campus of enrolling 1,000 students.

I’m delighted to report that we are actively working to pursue opening a new Webster University campus location in Ghana, one of the fastest growing countries in Africa. A new director has been hired and we are in final negotiations to determine the location and building. If all goes well, we expect to open in the 2013-2014 academic year.

These are important steps about taking education to where it’s needed … and taking education where it is needed includes the lone star state! In the U.S., a new Metro location will open in San Antonio, Texas, where we have long operated military installations. The new site will offer a variety of masters programs, and Business and Management undergraduate degree completion programs starting this next year.

When I began my presidency in 2009, I talked about finding our identity – who and what Webster University is, what defines us as a university community, and what values and aspirations will guide us. I’m proud to say we are making great progress in developing the collective language to describe who we are. We are one Webster.

In the past year, Webster was seen around the world with over 8,000 media placements. These are local, regional and national and international media – all covering Webster stories.

Just think what we will be able to do when we launch the new website in October, the culmination of a project that involved so many of you and benefitted from your feedback. Here is a sneak peek at the new brand creative that will roll out with the new website in October. The look and messaging of both will be aligned, reinforcing the message that we truly are one Webster.

This past year, Webster was recognized locally, regionally, nationally and internationally for the quality of our academic programs and service to students. As you can see, we are moving forward with purpose and we will continue to do so.

I had to make sure we showed this photo, because I know our colleagues in Vienna stand ready for each leg of this relay. Here are four faculty and staff members who form a team each year to complete the Vienna marathon.

Colleagues, there are many things that we are doing well and I thank you for your hard work. And as you have seen, there are areas where we need improvement – and we need it fast. To this end, I invite Julian up one last time to discuss our important next steps for this academic year. This is the hand-off. Julian…

[Provost and Senior Vice President Julian Z. Schuster]

Thank you, Beth. With that, here is our charge.

The University can choose a different path if it prepares itself now, by defining a compelling value proposition and then strategically enabling the institution to deliver that value. Let us define those values. Let us not focus on who is above us or below us, but on what we ourselves are capable of. Let us not focus on what differentiates us from others. Let us establish our own personal brand. In establishing our own brand, let us not romanticize our weaknesses. We have to be open to new ideas and have the courage to pursue them. Let us define our own measures of success.

This next academic year, we will be forming leadership groups to tackle some of our most perplexing issues. These work groups will examine best practices and put in place long-term strategic improvements while implementing rapid-response techniques and ideas to improve enrollment for fall 2 and beyond.

Chairs for these working groups will be appointed and then you – each of you across the Webster network – will have the opportunity to volunteer on the workgroup of your choice. The Chairs will then select diverse committee members to begin examining the issues.

Working groups will be:

1. Recruitment, enrollment and retention. This one needs no further explanation. You all know what this means.
2. Organizational realignment. This is an opportunity to ensure that Webster is aligned organizationally for long-term sustainability. The higher education landscape is going through monumental changes and only the strong will survive. Structural realignment will be an important part of our foundation.
3. STEMM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, and Medicine. This working group will discuss the approach for enhancing Webster’s space in this critical arena of worldwide importance and demand.
4. Diversity of new hires. As a collective Webster University community, we are only as diverse as the people we hire…faculty, staff, all around the world at each location. We know that diverse students follow diverse faculty. This group will help to ensure that we are as inclusive as we need to be to make monumental gains in inclusivity.
5. External outreach and engagement. To be a great global university, we must be great locally. This group will examine best practices in the important areas of outreach and engaging our constituents at all levels.
6. Policies and Procedures/Shared Governance. Faculty and staff working together are the backbone of this university. Only by working together in a collaborative manner will we accomplish our stretch goals and take Webster to new heights. This group will work to ensure that we have the policy and procedure infrastructure in place that most effectively supports shared governance.

So that, my colleagues, is your charge for this new academic year. Within the next week, we will send out an update in Webster Today driving you to a website where I expect you to commit to participating in a work group of your choice.

You will make the case for why you will be a good participant on this work group. Each and every one of you should be ready to step up. Accept the charge. Accept the baton. The more faculty and staff members who sign up with expressions of interest, the better – and it will help us gauge your enthusiasm for the various work group topics presented here today. And yes, part-time faculty and staff are welcome and encouraged to contribute.

Now, I hand off the baton to you. Together, we will show true teamwork—where every move that is made relates to stretch goals, where every handoff and pick up is executed with precision and skill and intent to achieve great things.

Thank you.