State of the University Address at the University Conference

Below is President Glasser's State of the University Address from the University Conference on August 17, 2010.

I am so happy to see all of you and to welcome you back from a summer that will be memorable for its heat, its rain, its corruption, its politicians and its oil.

Now in the tradition of puzzlemaster Will Shortz, I will ask you to get out your pencils. Take the first letter of each of those words – heat, rain, corruption, politicians, oil – and combine them so as to create an appropriate word. Anyone got it? Yes, it’s “porch.” If you sat out this summer on your front porch, I do understand. But I think I know you better than that. And I suspect that most of you were busy preparing lectures, studying, teaching, planning and doing all you do to make Bradley the wonderful school that it is. Most importantly, I hope you all got some well-deserved rest and relaxation.

Sadly, as you know, something else marked this summer, something that makes our return bittersweet. I refer to the untimely passing from cancer of Dr. Sam Fan. We will miss his skills and his intellect in the classroom, his gentle manner – and his running shoes. Our hearts go out to Lori, who will miss him most of all. I know you will want to share with me a moment of silence as we reflect upon the man Sam was. He may be gone, but he will not be forgotten. Pause for a moment of silence.

I’m pleased to officially welcome to the hilltop our new Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. David Glassman, who joined us on July 1. He has been busy getting to know the campus and the Peoria community and is anxiously awaiting the start of the academic year.

As we approach another school year, it is good to be able to say that Bradley University is doing very, very well.

Bradley’s freshman class will be among the largest and best in our history. Put the 1,140 freshmen currently enrolled together with last year’s class of 1,106, and you have two of the largest consecutive entering classes in anyone’s memory. We will also be enrolling a fall transfer class of 325. Our total undergraduate enrollment should be around 5,060 – more than last year, more than the year before.

Of course, bigger isn’t always better, but in this case it promises to be. We’re looking at an average freshman ACT score of 25.25. We don’t believe any entering Bradley class has ever done better.

In spite of a very challenging economy and an extremely competitive recruiting environment, we will meet or exceed our enrollment goals.

These numbers clearly demonstrate the value of a Bradley education. Credit for this goes well beyond the admissions office, to the ensemble that is required to keep our small city smart and good. It goes to everyone here, and you do have my deepest thanks.

But where are we going to put this entering throng? Well, all of our residence halls will be full, as will the St. James complex and most fraternity and sorority houses. While we could house everyone this year in existing buildings, that won’t be true next fall if these trends continue. So Main Street Commons, to be built at Main and Bourland, is not just an exciting project but a necessary one. This upscale residential suite complex will house 184 students in two-bedroom, two-bathroom, state-of-the-art apartments. When they’re not studying or sleeping, they’ll be able to swim in the outdoor pool. But probably not in January. Main Street Commons will greatly enhance the safety and appearance of the Bradley neighborhood.

One of the things I am most pleased to report is that our comprehensive alcohol action plan, which took effect two summers ago, has made a real difference. The level of alcohol consumption in our students, as measured by blood-alcohol content, has been significantly reduced, and attendance at Late Night BU has been most impressive. More than 15,000 Bradley students have attended these events the last two years. In the 2008-2009 school year, the average attendance over seven programs was 900; last year, eight events typically drew more than 1,100 per night. More than 75 percent of all BU students attended a Late Night BU program in 2009-2010. It seems obvious, doesn’t it, that students want and enjoy venues, which are fun and alcohol free. And so it also seems obvious that we should plan two additional Late Nights in the coming school year — 10 in all. I invite each of you to attend; I know you will have a good time.

There are two more events I hope you will consider attending.

The first is Freshman Convocation, returning after a long absence. You may be aware that many of the nation’s finest universities host Freshman Convocations in the belief that they help provide freshmen a sense of, and a feeling for, the university. Dr. Robert Fuller, Caterpillar Professor of religious studies, will be the keynote speaker. Nick Swiatkowski, our student body president; Provost Glassman; and I will welcome the class. I hope this sounds as stimulating to you as it does to me, and I hope you will set aside 8 p.m. Aug. 24 to attend. It will be – of course – in our new arena.

Here’s another date to set aside: 8 p.m. Sept. 25. That’s when Weezer – no, not geezer, I said Weezer – will perform. Weezer is a Grammy award-winning international rock band that is very, very popular among college students. You should have seen how excited those of ours on campus were when the announcement was made. I am reminded of how I might have responded to the news that the Beach Boys or the Stones were coming to my university when I was a student, which was approximately 100 years or so ago. We hope to have a sell-out arena-opening crowd.

You don’t have to hear it from me – all you have to do is walk across campus without texting – to appreciate how much Bradley continues to change. The Markin Center and the Main Street deck are now joined by the newest project, our arena, completing over $100 million in facility improvements. About the arena, Dave Reynolds of the Journal Star, said, “Peorians are in for a big treat” when it opens. That includes you.

Before our eyes, the $12 million Hayden-Clark Alumni Center is developing. I am pleased to report that the building should be substantially constructed by next spring and efforts to develop the first floor “Hall of Pride” are well underway. This area will be a real campus resource, full of high-end displays that will trigger decades of remembering for our alumni while inspiring our students. There will be a small theater in the building, a campus map, electronic stations where alums can find out whatever happened to their first roommate – or that freshman-year romance. This donor-supported facility will overlook the new very green Alumni Quad. Concepts for the quad are in the process of review, but I can assure you that it will equal or exceed the other campus additions. Haussler Hall will be a memory soon (it’s scheduled for demolition in the spring), and that will open a new vista to the west.

Of course, we can’t forget the renovation and expansion of Westlake Hall. The faculty and staff previously in Westlake have been commandeered over to Campustown and already are enjoying the improved space. That alone suggests why this project is so necessary. Almost half of the $22 million cost has been bid to date, and we are well on our way for completion before fall 2012. Westlake will have greatly enhanced labs, classrooms and office space in support of the college as well as provide a high-quality home for our Institute of Principled Leadership. I suspect there will be other surprises when time arrives for dedication.

Thanks to many of you and your collective stewardship, we did balance our budget last year. It was a team effort and no small task, given the challenges in our economy, their effect on our donors and the fallout from high unemployment. In spite of these challenges, our endowment has outperformed our benchmarks, and our financial profile continues to be good — not great, but good. While we have experienced changes in employment levels during the last two years, I am most pleased to say that no one here has lost a job because of economic issues. Yes, there have been some job changes, but we’ve also been able to create new positions to best serve our students and our markets.

As I speak, our endowment is approximately $210 million. While it’s not back to what it once was in the fall of 2008, it has recovered nicely. You can probably say the same about your retirement savings account.

Economics and a very tough job market have also created uncertainties in our community, some of which have resulted in security concerns. As a result, we have engaged a nationally recognized security consultant to review our routines, our facilities and our collective efforts with other law enforcement agencies very soon. That review will happen as soon as classes begin. In addition to feedback from our consultant, we invite and welcome observations from you. The security of our faculty, students and staff remains a top priority for me, and I will continue to give it my careful attention.

Almost all of you not new to the University have experienced at least one change in our employee health care program over the years. Health care is among the most personal and meaningful of all benefits, and I appreciate that any change can be difficult. You may remember last year we were able to expand your hospital choices and allow options that effectively encompass choice among our downtown hospitals. This year we look to maintain the plan in almost the same form, and I’m pleased to indicate that the premium increase is scheduled to be 2 percent—we are most pleased with this given what many health care providers are doing. The plan will effectively remain the same—except for national health care provisions…the most notable of which include increasing dependent care coverages until age 26 as well as removal of lifetime catastrophic coverage limits (which were previously $2 million in our plan). Your book of options and explanatory comments are being assembled and will be sent to you very shortly.

Here’s a change that should please those of you with AT&T service: the company finally has upgraded, and you should no longer have to agonize over campus signals!  Consider this icing on our start-up “cake.”

Last, but not least, as our students return to campus, our residential hall system, including St. James, has fully renewed wireless systems in place. As a result, I am quite certain all homework will be submitted on time.

To be sure, our building projects would not be taking place if the Campaign for a Bradley Renaissance were doing poorly. It is doing well. The campaign has secured more than $140 million in private support toward our overall goal of $150 million. We are nearing the finish line – and that’s always the most challenging phase. The remaining $10 million will not come easy, but we are confident that our alumni and our friends, our faculty and our staff will respond to the challenge of helping us exceed our goal by the end of this fiscal year.

Many of you have heard me use the word “imagine” when thinking about our future. While there remains plenty left to accomplish, the reality of what was originally “imagined” is taking shape and it is truly spectacular. Thank you for all you have done to help position the Renaissance Campaign for success. What we have accomplished will resonate for decades and shape the Bradley Experience for tens of thousands of students.

Speaking of the Bradley Experience, doesn’t this seem like a good time to talk about … athletics?

Bradley’s athletic teams achieved significant success throughout the year with numerous Missouri Valley conference academic honors and nearly 120 student athletes achieving a 3.0 GPA or higher. Competitively, the Braves achieved modest success and are striving higher every day.

The Department of Athletics also went through a year of transition, preparation and anticipation. Dr. Michael Cross assumed his duties as athletic director in January and immediately went to work assessing the department and digging into the details related to arena opening. The campus community will see the results of countless hours of planning and preparation on Aug. 27, when the arena hosts its first intercollegiate competition – women’s volleyball – against Western Illinois University. The school year promises to be one of inaugural events, dedications, openings and an increased energy and spirit, with the arena a focal point of campus activity.

We will officially christen it on Oct. 15. Jay Leno will appear as part of homecoming festivities, and our men’s and women’s basketball teams will host a Midnight Madness event. Prizes and giveaways will be part of an entertaining night, and I know that all of you will want to stay up for every minute of it.

The arrival of basketball season will feature our women’s team playing Butler in their first game in the arena, followed by a full slate of games in this marvelous facility. Our men will face a challenging schedule, including a game against defending national champion Duke in December.

Bradley athletics will begin our accreditation process with the NCAA certification self study, certifying compliance with its operating principles this fall. You’ll hear more about this campus-wide endeavor in the coming months.

So I’ll say it again. Bradley University is doing very, very well. Not every private University can say that, especially in these tough times. I’ve asked myself why, and I want to share my thoughts with you.

I believe that Bradley is doing well because it offers a personalized, customized academic experience that prospective students see the day they first walk on campus and prospective graduates see until the day they walk out, heads full of knowledge, hearts full of memories.

Recently the New York Times wrote about the growing number of universities permitting students to come to school with book bags on their backs and pets in their arms. Some are building dormitories tailored to accommodate four-legged creatures alongside the two-legged. The explanation has something to do with helicopter parenting and the tough time so many of today’s 18 year olds have leaving home. Since they can’t take mom or dad with them to college, they want to bring Fido.

Now I don’t want to say that Bradley will never install kennels in Geisert Hall, but I see no evidence that students here need furry companions to feel at home. In a world where so much interaction is faceless, Bradley manages to put a face and a smile on its faculty, staff, and its students. I know that all of you – executive staff, deans, chairs, professors, administrative assistants, police officers, groundskeepers, custodians, cooks, librarians, who have I missed? – show our students that they care. How do I know that? Because I’ve seen you do it.

The ability to deliver a personalized, customized educational experience is Bradley’s niche. It works. And how do I know that? Because our students tell us. Beginning with orientation.

Dr. Galsky says he always gets good feedback from students and parents after their traditional summer visit, but never more so than this year. This time around he says he heard over and over again that Bradley is a school which cares about students. I want to share some of that feedback with you.

“We have two other daughters who went through a freshman college process, and I have to say your staff kicked ….. Butt,” wrote one parent.

“I want to give your student aides a big thank you for spending time with our son and all the other sons and daughters who attended. Their first-hand experiences are priceless, and I have to say how professional and talented they all are,” said another.

“The passion of all the Bradley staff and students was very impressive,” wrote a third.

And here’s my favorite: “Awesome, very comprehensive! The only downside is that you’ve raised my expectations so much for my next two college-bound.”

I want you to know that this isn’t just a one-time show. It’s something we hear again and again from our students and our alums. Some of you may be aware that our Office of Student Affairs surveys our seniors each year to learn what works at Bradley and what might be improved. As our seniors have for more than a decade, the class of 2010 said personal attention to individual students and small class sizes – the hallmarks of a personalized, customized education – were most integral to their satisfaction with Bradley. They also expressed a high level of satisfaction with opportunities for leadership. I believe that’s because Bradley is small enough to make room for individuals wanting to lead, yet big enough to provide a comprehensive array of organizations in which to do that.

Recently one of our new graduates spoke of “the unique Bradley atmosphere.” Asked what he meant, he said Bradley is a place where your professors know your name and where they care about what’s happening to you even outside of the classroom. It’s easy to shrug off the idea that “you’re part of the Bradley family,” he said, until you see it and feel it and learn that it’s true.

And at what other school, he asked, would you have the opportunity to hang out with a university vice president at a party at midnight? (He was referring to Alan Galsky and Late Night BU.)

Want more evidence of this unique atmosphere, this personalized, customized academic experience?

Abby Wilson, who graduated just last spring, saw it in the semester she opted to take nothing but English literature classes – something a more regimented school would not have allowed. And what did she learn? That it’s a really bad idea to take nothing but English literature classes in a single semester.

Abby also recalled the journalism class the dozen students so loved – largely because of the instructor -- that they signed up en masse for her next one. She saw this unique Bradley atmosphere in the professor – she taught a large lecture class – Abby and her boyfriend came to enjoy visiting with at Starbuck’s. One morning as the year drew to a close, the professor pulled out her camera and snapped a photo. The professor said she just wanted to have a picture of the two of them to keep – imagine that. And Abby sees it now as her former teachers e-mail her to ask how she’s doing and offer help in finding a job. Nameless and friendless at Bradley? I don’t think so.

Another recent graduate, Marcus Belin, said he’s visited fraternity brothers on other campuses and seen nothing like the faculty interaction that passes for routine at Bradley. He mentioned the professor he spotted at Wal-Mart saying hi to a couple of freshmen, by name, and asking about their weekend plans. There’s nothing extraordinary about that – except that it was September, and the freshmen were enrolled in a general ed class.

Remember how I said that whatever good transpires here reflects the work of the entire ensemble? When Marcus was an R.A., he was amazed to see students posting cheerful notes of thanks and good wishes for their custodians. Marcus said he came to look upon Bradley not just as a place to spend a few years but “as a home.”

Ben Koch, who is entering Teach for America, said he has many vivid mental pictures of “the personal connection from student to student and student to faculty.” One is of the night his professor invited his senior writing studio to his house, where they read their material aloud. As the professor shared his passion for teaching, Ben said he was struck by the fact that “he kept coming back for us, and we were coming back for him.”

Like Marcus, Ben found evidence of a special atmosphere of caring in a number of places at Bradley. He mentioned the English department secretary who “always wanted to support you in what you were doing, who wanted you to be the best so you would get the most out of life and you could give the most back.” Again, evidence that the credit for Bradley’s success goes well beyond – well beyond – any one office.

I am aware that friendliness, personalization and customization only go so far. Young people whose sole goal is to hang onto their warm and fuzzy feelings might as well stay home and cuddle up with Fido. Eighteen-year-olds come to college because they want and need a good education, and they come to Bradley because they believe we will deliver. In the same students survey that applauded our individual attention and small class sizes, our seniors also replied that what they wanted most out of Bradley was a good education in their major – and they believed they got it. As I hope I have made clear, there are a lot of exciting things going on around this campus – but there is no more exiting place than the space between the mind of the professor and the mind of the student. Nobody else can fill that space for you, and I am in awe of what you do.

Most of those who come to Bradley for the first time this fall will do what Bradley students have done for decades – study engineering or English, business or biology – and carry away diplomas that will help them get good jobs in a frighteningly competitive world. But some will strike out in one of the new majors we’ll launch this year – criminal justice, accelerated nursing, animation and visual effects, web design, game design. It doesn’t seem so long ago, does it, that designing games was something you did on the living room floor with an eye toward cooking the rules so you could beat your kid brother? Well, times have changed, and so has Bradley.

I’ve given a lot of thought this summer, my third on the Hilltop, to the question: what makes Bradley Bradley? I’ve turned to students and alums to help answer that question and shared some of those responses with you. But there’s one more point I want to make: you make Bradley Bradley. You are what distinguishes this University from all the others. Before much longer, you and I will have the opportunity to do it all over again.

Lucky you. Lucky me.