As IUP enters its 138th academic year, the university’s chief academic officer challenged faculty and staff to be bold and unbounded when it comes to thinking about how to make the institution a better place.
“Let’s enter the new academic year with a new set of permissions. Let’s give ourselves the freedom to think boldly. Let’s be entrepreneurial. Let’s put big steps on the table. Let’s change what isn’t working and improve what isn’t working well,” said Provost Timothy Moerland, speaking during the university’s opening convocation on Friday morning.
The annual assembly of faculty, staff, students and administrators, which took place in Fisher Auditorium on campus, is held to mark the beginning of a new year.
In his speech, Moerland said that among the areas in which the university should think creatively is its incorporation of technology, pointing out that the students in this year’s freshman class represent the earliest of the second generation of digital natives.
“Have we embraced the digital reality in our classes and in our curriculum?” he asked.
Although there are many examples showing they have, he said, there are opportunities to go further.
“Let’s go there,” he said.
He and others said there will be much thinking and planning ahead as IUP looks to remain vibrant in an era of rapid changes in higher education, changes that include decreasing taxpayer support and a shallower pool of high school graduates from which to recruit. IUP, in fact, already is seeing the effects of changing demographics — this fall’s enrollment is projected to be down nearly 4 percent from last year.
But the university has some momentum in other areas, said President Dr. Michael Driscoll.
For one, the university saw its grant awards rise by more than $1 million, more than one-third of the increase being from federal agencies. He said it’s an outside affirmation that speaks volumes about the quality of IUP’s academics.
Driscoll also said that for the first time in six years, the university saw an increase in the number of alumni that gave to the university, bucking a national trend to the contrary.
Driscoll and Moerland called attention to three planning and review projects that are or will be under way soon, the strategic vision, the strategic plan and a self-review for its Middle States reaccreditation.
“Collectively these interconnected projects … will in effect set the switches for the IUP of 2015 and the IUP of 2025,” Moerland said. “They will shape how we move ahead and move us in a way that is faithful to our traditions and the things that make IUP a special place.”
The audience also heard from faculty union president Mark Staszkiewicz, who said that for the first time in recent years, the university is beginning a new year with certainty in leadership — there is now a permanent provost and permanent deans for each of the academic divisions.
He reaffirmed the faculty’s commitment to working amicably with those leaders.
Staszkiewicz said the university needs to be resolved in shaping its own future, a future that has to be arrived at collectively. He encouraged his colleagues to work together, set aside difference and participate in the planning and review projects.
“If we don’t change, higher education will certainly change around us. If we do, I know we’ll find that proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. And I can only hope that the light won’t be turned off due to budget cuts,” Staszkiewicz said.