Opening Day remarks by CCRI union leaders

Opening Day, Sept. 8, 2009

State of the College Report by President Ray Di Pasquale

A very warm welcome to each of you as we begin our 45th academic year at the Community College of Rhode Island. This Opening Day convocation is a time-honored tradition that brings us together to launch the academic year as well as give me an opportunity to talk about where we are and where we want to go over the next few months.

I hope that you have used the coffee hour to share stories of how you spent your summer and other exciting things that have happened since we last got together at commencement. In just a few minutes I will share with you a few brief stories of how some of our colleagues spent their summer.

I know many of you are concerned about news reports that are forecasting a tough season ahead for the flu and that higher education is very vulnerable. Vice President Morgan will provide details on what we are doing to inform our college community about the steps we are taking.

As you entered the theater this morning, you heard the music of Bobby Hackett, for whom this theater was named. For those of you not familiar with him, he was born in Providence and, from 1932 until his death in 1976, he played cornet and other instruments with the likes of the Glenn Miller and Glen Gray orchestras. In 1954, he was a featured performer at the opening of the Newport Jazz Festival.

The reason I mentioned this is that if our plans come to fruition, this theater will become a showcase for performing artists in the years ahead. But more on that later.

Opening Day is always a day of excitement and anticipation as we get ready to welcome thousands of students to our campuses. It is also a time for us to celebrate the commitment of the CCRI family who continue to provide a great education to our students.

The state economy continues its difficulties which is having a profound impact on college operations. However, as you will hear, we are managing the situation. Through a combination of sound management practices introduced two years ago, and support from the private sector, we are not only coping but moving forward in several critical areas.

This year, the theme of my presentation is “attitude.”

In nearly every article I read or in nearly every story that is told to me about overcoming obstacles, “attitude” is always pointed to as being of immense help in removing these obstacles. It is clear that a “can do” attitude often helps overcome these barriers.

As you know, I am often called upon to talk about the challenges of the community college in our state, and folks often remark about how upbeat I am, even when facing serious obstacles. I have learned that over many years of working in higher education, I have found that if a solution isn’t easy, many people give up. In studying the value of attitude, I have found that a positive attitude often leads to a creative approach to overcoming an obstacle.

As a demonstration of attitude, we need to look no further than our students, many of whom have overcome tremendous obstacles to realize their educational dreams. Each year we canvass our students and we find stories of perseverance that can only be fueled by a positive attitude. Some recent examples: a student who fled Iraq with her family to avoid being killed by Sadam Hussein’s henchmen; a mother who kept her family together as her husband faced a terminal illness; a survivor of civil war and genocide in Liberia; and a young man who removed himself from the influence of street gangs in Providence. It can only be this “can do” attitude that drove these students to succeed.

And that is the theme of my message today. As we begin this new year, let us all resolve to keep an open mind and to seek creative solutions to the obstacles that surely lie ahead. In the words of Winston Churchill, “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.”

I now want to draw your attention to the screen where we have listed the names of new employees who have joined the college since last Opening Day.

I extend my very best wishes for a long and distinguished career at the Community College of Rhode Island.

I want to draw your attention to the screen once again where we have listed the names of employees who have retired since Opening Day one year ago.

I’m sad to note that one of our retirees, math professor Walter Wing, passed away last month.

I want to take this opportunity to commend and recognize our esteemed retirees who have provided such valuable service to the Community College of Rhode Island.

How about this statistic ... this group of retirees has provided 533 years of service to the community college!

Another busy summer has come to a close and we are ready to take on the challenges of the new academic year. But first, I’d like to spend a few minutes re-living how we spent our summer. We recently asked the college community to share highlights of their accomplishments and received stories of success in professional pursuits – such as presenting at conferences and having work published – and personal interests – including earning a motorcycle license and teaching a workshop in wand-making at a Harry Potter academic conference! While I’d love to share all of your stories, I will read just a few. These and the rest are in your program and will be available on the Office of the President’s website.

Congratulations to everyone who submitted stories and thank you for sharing these wonderful summer accomplishments.

EDUCATION EXPO

The summer was anything but quiet on our campuses. Not long after commencement, we began planning Education Expo: Showcasing the Tools to Change Your Life – an event geared toward adult learners and nontraditional students who have been away from the educational environment or need new skills for career advancement.

At the June 27 event, we staffed more than 25 tables with students, administrators, faculty and staff members who volunteered their time to share their CCRI experiences with Expo attendees. External agency partners assisted adult learners with financial planning, job training awareness and career opportunities. Four workshops covered topics from admissions and financial aid to how to conduct a career search and more. And we learned that people came that day ready to take action – our staff processed 83 applications for enrollment from the event!

My thanks to all who participated in the Expo! We plan to make this an annual event for students of all ages and backgrounds.

CAMPUS IMPROVEMENTS/CAMPAIGN

That’s not all that went on here this summer! When you drove in today, many of you probably noticed the newly paved student parking lot here at the Knight Campus. Those of you returning to the Lincoln campus also will find newly paved lots. As you might have seen this morning, the tables and chairs in the Great Hall have been replaced and there is new, energy-efficient lighting. Other improvements include new cafeteria furniture and conference room tables and chairs in Lincoln; new desks and more soft seating in Providence, Lincoln and Warwick; and new lighting on the ground floor of the round building here in Warwick.

We are really excited about two projects in particular – a complete renovation of the Knight Campus Library and the Dental Assisting Lab at the Flanagan Campus – both made possible with money raised through the college’s capital campaign, “Imagine: The Campaign for Endless Possibilities.”

Using $500,000 in funds, the Knight Campus Library has been transformed into a space with upgraded technology and improved lighting and seating for instruction and study. Over in Lincoln, as part of our $1.5 million campaign commitment to Allied Health programs, we have replaced outdated equipment with new, advanced technology in the Dental Assisting Lab.

I am proud to report on the progress of the capital campaign to date. As of September, more than $3.3 million has been raised for the college’s capital campaign initiatives with the potential of an additional $1.4 million by the end of the year. In this time of economic downturn, it really says something about the college that so many have been so eager to help fund the college’s initiatives. This fall, we have begun a second search process to hire a new dean of Institutional Advancement to lead the campaign.

The effects of this campaign will be far-reaching. For example, look around you; this space is showing its age! While we replaced the partition walls in here this summer, more work is planned to renovate this theater as part of the Imagine campaign. We may have some exciting announcements soon about additional donations!

BUDGET UPDATE

I’m glad we have so much good news to report, because we’ve all been hearing about the state’s budget woes, and many of you are wondering how they will affect us here at the college. Last Thursday, after the Supreme Court granted a temporary stay on the Governor’s plan for 12 shutdown days, Governor Carcieri then announced the impending layoffs of 1,000 state workers.

On the subject of shutdown days, it has long been my position and the position of the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education that we cannot afford to shut down our institution for even one day and deprive our students of the full benefits of an education that they are paying for. So, with the cooperation of state budget officials aimed at avoiding college shutdown days, we will share a budget cut with the University of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College that will mean an additional loss of about $1.5 million from our existing budget. For this purpose, another $500,000 has been cut from the operating budget.

We have already managed a series of budget cuts over the last two years by implementing sound management practices with the help of faculty and staff. We have had up to 127 frozen positions and enrolled near-record numbers of students, who now contribute about 50 percent of our budget in tuition and fees.

In fact, let’s take a look at the effect of these cuts on our budget over the past two years:

State appropriation

Our state appropriation has gone from 56 percent of our unrestricted budget in 2008 to 48 percent in the fiscal year 2010 budget. Following this cut, you can see that tuition has risen $900 – a 41 percent increase – since 2006.

Enrollment

There is no doubt that this will continue to be a challenging year for us.

FALL ENROLLMENT

I have often said that enrollment is the key to overcoming budget cuts and the enrollment numbers are somewhat disappointing. As of this morning:

I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone in Advising and Counseling and in the Office of Enrollment Services, as well as folks in other areas of student services, who have been extremely busy enrolling students during the late period this year. Congratulations to all!

INSTITUTIONAL INITIATIVES

Institutionally, we have taken some major steps forward over the last year. We submitted our Five-Year Interim Report to NEASC by the January deadline and NEASC not only approved and accepted the plan, but also commended it for successfully addressing the issues identified in the previous focus visit.

The Governance Councils – College Coordinating, Academic, Business, Facilities, Institutional Planning, Student Affairs and Technology – have been elected and are now meeting.

After a series of open workshops this spring for feedback from the college community, the Strategic Plan received the Board of Governors for Higher Education’s approval at its May meeting. This plan will guide us as we move forward and we will measure our results against its indicators to gauge our institution’s performance.

Two of our preschools will serve as demonstration projects that could set the trend statewide for pre-kindergarten programs. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education chose a total of seven programs, including Imagine Preschool here at the Knight Campus and Ready to Learn at the Liston Campus in Providence, that will be the sites for the Rhode Island Prekindergarten Demonstration Project this fall. The project is the first state-supported program offering high-quality early-childhood education for 4-year-old children.

MORE INSTITUTIONAL INITIATIVES

We have made several upgrades to technology this summer, including converting all faculty and staff e-mail accounts to Microsoft Exchange, a new e-mail system that is the standard for higher education e-mail systems. It will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our electronic communications and offers improved features for calendar sharing, collaboration, meeting accommodations and more. Our Information Technology Department is ready to assist you with making the change; there are 22 people dedicated to resolving any issues you may have. There is also an IT Exchange hot-line set up at 825-2030.

We appreciate your patience as you and your colleagues make the switch over to Exchange.

Late this spring, we created an ADA Committee to raise institutional awareness of disability and accessibility issues and promote a welcoming, inclusive environment for all of our students. Co-chaired by Tracy Karasinski and Sheri Norton, the committee has representation across all campuses and all divisions and already has met several times. A new website includes a “suggestion/feedback box” that anyone who has an accessibility question or concern can use. Additionally, Martha Vigneault’s Physical Therapy class will conduct an accessibility audit at the Warwick campus this fall to help inform future work. Accessibility is an institutional responsibility that we all share. Thank you to the committee for your important work.

This year I have decided to include the college in an exciting and transformational new initiative, Foundations of Excellence. This is not required for accreditation or by any other party – it is something we have chosen to do. Developed by John Gardner and grounded in more than three decades of research, the program is based on the premise that a student’s first year at college lays the foundation for his or her entire academic career and that a successful first year will lead to a more successful undergraduate experience – whether that is completing a certificate, graduating with an associate degree or transferring to another institution.

By taking an intentional and comprehensive approach to this important topic, the college can focus the retention conversation on institutional quality because it will include all college departments. Our hope is that, by the end of the process, CCRI will have a new vision for enhanced learning and retention of first-year students. But we need your help.

For more information about Foundations of Excellence, please speak with either Ruth Sullivan or Michael Cunningham. Information about a website and a video about Foundations of Excellence will be coming soon.

This is surely an uncertain fiscal time, but it is also time of great opportunity and unprecedented attention for community colleges. President Obama’s proposed $12 billion in funding geared specifically for community colleges has raised the profile of institutions like ours across the country. As we have seen throughout this recession, more and more, we are being asked to come to the table as our role as a major player in the future economic health of our state is recognized.

This spring, the college and the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation announced the formation of the CCRI 21st Century Workforce Commission, charged with recommending specific actions to strengthen our position as a key institution in the state’s effort to create a 21st century work force prepared for the high-wage jobs of today’s knowledge-based economy. Vice President Shea represents the college on this impressive roster of local and regional experts led by our alumna, Armeather Gibbs, chief operating officer of United Way.

We are consistently looking for ways to better serve the residents of Rhode Island and give them the skills they need to meet their career goals. Besides initiatives such as the Expo, we are offering more green training programs through our Center for Workforce and Community Education, increasing our online offerings and creating some new certificate programs that have been designed so that most students can complete them in one semester. Of the nine new certificates the Board of Governors approved this spring, we are starting by offering two – Introduction to Design Drafting and Introduction to Computer and Networking – this fall.

As we continue to hear news of the state’s unemployment rate, budget shortfalls and deficits, it is sometimes hard to keep our chins up. But, as I mentioned when we began today, attitude is the key. Last year we spoke about weathering the storm. This year, I have another boating reference for you: the old adage that “You can’t change the wind, but you can adjust your sails.” We may not be able to control what happens around us, but we certainly can control the way we react to it.

I look around here today and see a great team – Team CCRI – and I know that we can face the challenges of the upcoming year together. There is no question that we are doing good work here, and I look forward to another successful academic year with you.

A last thought that I want to leave you with today is one of my favorite quotes. It is from American poet and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson. “Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage.” Thank you, and have a great semester.

Go to top of page