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State of the University Address | Spring 2011

It is good to be together again. The start of a new year and a new semester always holds the potential of a fresh beginning. To that end, I would like to frame the discussion today as an invitation for you to participate in the ongoing discussion and decisions that will take us into the future.

 When I spoke with you last semester, my goal was to close the book on 2009-2010 and begin the conversation about our vision for Baker’s future by introducing BAKER 2012 and Beyond. Today, I would like to expand on that vision so we can take the next steps necessary for growth. Growth that is an extension of our capabilities united with a robust Strategic Plan to take us forward through this century.

Framing the Future

The lessons of the 21st century announced themselves quickly to the world - 9/11, two wars, the collapse of the economy, the senseless shootings in Tucson and even the shots fired into the front door of Irwin last month have made us question old assumptions.

These difficult events both off and on our campus have been a call to redefine our identity as citizens of the world in an increasingly complex and interconnected age. The skills necessary to navigate, communicate and solve society’s pressing problems are very different from just 10 years ago.

If there is one thing we are learning, it is that we cannot go back to doing business as usual. Baker, along with many other universities and businesses, had to learn some hard lessons over the last two years. In order to bring financial strength back to our campuses, we had to stretch emotionally and adapt to new fiscal realities.

Recently, the local papers had several articles about cuts in funding and potential layoffs at regional colleges and universities. In an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Scott Carlson wrote about the latest outlook report from Moody’s Investors Service that “smaller private colleges would be under the most intense pressure among higher education institutions, [But] it [also] notes that the best-managed institutions have opportunities to thrive in the current market. These organizations tend to be more nimble and entrepreneurial than is generally realized and some are adapting new technology, entering new partnerships, expanding into new markets and encouraging faculty to be more productive.”

I believe Baker can be the kind of institution that not only survives but also thrives and flourishes in the future. We are becoming more entrepreneurial, adopting new technologies, adding strategic partnerships, expanding into new markets and have an extremely productive faculty.

 Even though we will continue to be cautious in our financial outlook, we will not be standing still.

 Last semester, I discussed a more focused vision to set the stage for our Strategic Planning process: Building on its heritage, Baker University will expand its academic presence as a first choice institution by inspiring students to gain knowledge, perspective and compassion so they may contribute meaningfully to an increasingly complex, interdependent and global society.

A Shared Vision: Transformative Education

My primary objective is to support Baker’s academic mission to become the first choice institution for students at every stage of their journey; for the 17 year old wondering who they will become; for the adult who wants to broaden their knowledge by earning a bachelor’s degree or MBA; a first choice for teachers who aspire to become school administrators by earning a masters or doctorate, and then for that dedicated individual who wants to be of service as a nurse. I want Baker to be top of mind, top of rankings, top of lists—first choice.

How will we accomplish this? I believe we will accomplish this by formulating our long-term “transformational” goals through the Strategic Planning process and aligning them with a solid financial plan for ensuring their success. The Strategic Plan will be our road map.

How did Baker respond to change at the turn of the last century? A visionary faculty member, William H. Bauer, saw the potential of electricity to shed light and move our local community towards greater independence and progress. By creating the infrastructure for an electrical network to connect colleagues, neighbors and businesses across Baldwin City, Bauer ignited change. He realized the potential of what would become the engine driving innovation in the 20th century and inspired a generation of students to make valuable contributions to society. At the turn of the last century, we were already moving Baker students from local concerns to global endeavors.

Fast forward to 2006 when Geoff Coventry graduated from Baker with a BBA. Geoff has developed one of the largest independent wind project companies in the country and is the only wind energy project developer in the Kansas City area. His goal is to combine intelligent business practices with goals that benefit society. He told us, “We are making a positive impact and helping the environment by making the energy cleaner and more sustainable.” Baker could become such a model - sound business practices joined with innovative programs and strong values that inspire our students to do meaningful work in the world.

From visionary thinkers like William H. Bauer to Geoff Coventry, I see the promise of a new vision lighting up across our campuses today.

Six years ago, a small group of CAS faculty undertook the difficult responsibility of transforming the general education program. They carried out the necessary research, held many courageous conversations with colleagues and collectively developed the new Liberal Studies program that incorporates many of the changes influencing our society. This program will provide the creative, experiential, technical and critical thinking tools necessary for preparing our next generation of graduates to meet any of life’s challenges. Truly a program that will inspire students to gain knowledge, perspective and compassion so they may contribute meaningfully to an increasingly complex, interdependent and global society.

This is the kind of thinking and action we need as we plan for the future.

Over the last 10 years, we have also focused on developing superior online course delivery. The next generation of students will be seeking diversified educational opportunities through distance learning, collaborative practices, and international skills delivered through virtual, traditional or residential classroom experiences. Baker University can and does provide all of these opportunities. Within the last few months, two new degrees have been added on-line: MAED and MLA. This certainly speaks to the Moody’s report sited earlier - to thrive, institutions are going to need to adopt innovative technology and expand into new markets.

Our visionary thinking has included increased partnerships within and outside the university:

  • At CAS, we have an ongoing relationship with Harlexton that benefits both students and faculty. John Richards just spent a semester there and has returned with an interesting idea for a summer internship program at an archeological dig near the manor.
  • In the Blue Valley school district, we are looking at ways to work with their Center for Advanced Professional Studies program to better prepare high school students for their secondary education experience.
  • The Music and Theatre Departments continue outreach to local elementary and high school choirs to foster positive community relationships.
  • We are deepening our affiliations with organizations like the Kauffman Scholars program to encourage student diversity. A five-week, Summer bridge program developed by Dr. Carrie Cowart Bucher is an outstanding idea.
  • Our collaboration with community colleges is increasing across Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma.
  • Michelle Case, from our Wichita campus, has an exciting idea about bringing our online learning and expertise to area companies that are relocating some of their operations to Mexico.

This is the kind of thinking and action we need as we plan we for the future.

I also see evidence of the University moving in a more interconnected and collaborative environment with local and global links:

  • Dan Falvey, chair of the MBA program, is working with colleagues to weave a global vision into the MBA curriculum. Dan recently worked with a military student stationed in Qatar.
  • School of Nursing students and faculty have teamed up with two graduates from Kenya to help build a network of medical clinics in Kenya.
  • School of Education faculty has invited Islamic and Hispanic speakers to local schools to help schools and families better understand diverse cultural traditions.

On the Baldwin City campus, the new History, Culture and Society department at CAS is an exciting laboratory for the interchange of ideas between academic fields. By pooling the knowledge and experience of diverse disciplines, we will become a model for the style of learning we want to produce in our students. For example, if we approached the big questions of religious experience through the unique lens of history, culture, communication, and sociology, our students could begin to approach problems with an increased level of compassion and understanding. I get energized thinking about the confident contributors we will be sending out into the world.

This is the kind of thinking and action we need as we plan we for the future.

One of our MBA graduates, Ed Ziembinski, was stationed in Afghanistan while he was completing his degree. He told us that our program taught him so much about critical thinking and about “really examining a problem, not just coming up with solutions.” He said, “I found that invaluable in Afghanistan because everybody always has an opinion or a solution to all the problems we have over there. People don’t spend a lot of time thinking - what is the real problem, not just the symptoms, what’s the real issue here? We used that over there, it helped me, it helped me a lot with making decisions.”

Not only did we help Ed continue his education outside the United States, he actively applied his knowledge directly to his work as a soldier on the front lines. Online learning, global reach, collaboration, and personal attention. If this is what Baker can accomplish now - just imagine what we will be doing in the future.

There is an important requirement for these new cross-disciplinary departments, for developing new partners, for promoting the Liberal Studies program, for global thinking and for launching new innovative and creative opportunities. The requirement is an environment that supports risk-taking and encourages big ideas. For some, change is uncomfortable. So is risk. But, thinking of our current students and our future possibilities, can we do anything less? My goal is to continue to find ways to support and encourage our progress in these vital new areas.

Putting Our Thinking Into Action

In September, I initiated a Micro Grants fund to provide seed funding for projects that represent Baker University’s mission of inspiring students to contribute meaningfully to an interdependent and global society. To date, we have funded seven grants and applaud those individuals who are thinking in a visionary manner and applied for a grant. The funded projects were designed to promote growth, enhance retention, increase partnerships, and explore new programs. Through the grants, we have engaged consultants, improved partnerships in the school districts and community colleges, enhanced our diversity effort, sent our students to conferences, and initiated planning for new programs. Today however, I would like to present a deeper challenge through this fund.

I invite each and every one of you to develop ideas for programs that are innovative, creative and collaborative with the vision to truly transform our future. Through the Micro Grants fund, we will be looking at proposals for programs that dissolve the walls between departments while engaging with local, regional and global community partners. If a proposal appears promising, we will then provide a seed grant to develop the ideas in more detail. Our next goal will be to talk to our friends and donors about investing in our vision for transformative programs. Moreover, I am allotting funds from the Hall Grant to help faculty develop methods for internationalizing the curriculum.

BAKER 2012 & Beyond

When I spoke in September about BAKER 2012 and Beyond, I indicated that our initiative for short-term planning was designed to refocus and reenergize the University. Our goal was to advance ideas for growth and improvement even if it is incremental, provide new infusions of capital, initiate recommitment to purpose and introduce projects that can improve us financially and psychologically.

I believe we have made some significant progress through this process. I thank each of the team leaders and Dr. Rob Flaherty for his overall leadership on this initiative. Here are a few highlights:

B – Buildings, Facilities, Grounds & Technology

Our residential campus plays a vital role in recruitment and alumni memories by providing a sense of home while instilling pride in our heritage. To that end, due to a significant gift from the Von Reison family, we are moving forward with the renovation of Denious as a one-stop shop in order to consolidate student services under one roof. Admissions and Financial Aid will be our first residents. Classroom and/or additional office space will be created from the vacated offices.

K – Key Focus: Serving Our Students & Supporting Each Other

CAS: Safety is one of the most important services we can give our students. The bullets fired into Irwin Hall’s door were deeply troubling and we have been working with Baldwin and State police in an ongoing investigation. Additional security personnel have been hired and we are in the process of getting an appraisal for further security measures such as remote cameras outside dormitories. It is hard to predict such events but we are doing our best to anticipate and make sure our emergency procedures are fine-tuned and current with our campus personnel and local police departments.

 E – Enrollment Growth


  • Omaha continues to grow with online students.
  • The Master of Science in Special Education program, approved fall 2010, started its first group of fifteen students in December 2010. We are working with the Higher Learning Commission (HLC, 312.263.0456, ncahlc.org) to finalize all paperwork.
  • The RN to BSN program will be submitted for Board of Trustees approval in February. Following all internal and external approvals, this program could start as early as summer.


Kevin Kropf, our new Director of Enrollment Management for CAS, has undertaken a thorough review of our enrollment processes. Over the next year we will be adding spring semester campus visits days, initiate a follow up program that will encourage prospective students to attend events, continue to provide departmental scholarships, increase the contact by counselors, faculty and staff with prospective students, streamline ASEM procedures and facilitate international student applications.

R – Resources

  • We were able to award a year-end bonus in 2010
  • The 2011-12 budget will include a salary increase for faculty & staff
  • Our fundraising goals will increase and in March and April, we will be on the road to achieving those goals
  • Establishment of a fund for development of staff to parallel faculty development

Beyond 2012 | Future Focus

I would like to end this talk by turning our attention to beyond 2012. Throughout the past 10 years, we have engaged in planning on both a strategic and tactical level. Strategic planning has been cited as a strength in our Higher Learning Commission visits. Our initiatives have included:

  • 2003 University Strategic Planning Goals
  • 2005 CAS Strategic Plan "Shaping the Future"
  • In 2006-07 “Forward Together” President Long
  • Mission, Vision, Values and Rebranding Initiative
  • 2008-10 Strategic Roadmap Key Performance Indicators and Operation Review: Administrative, Athletic, Academic
  • HLC Visit Preparation (Visit 11/11)
  • BAKER 2012 and Beyond implemented 09/10

The work we have done with the operations, athletics and academic reviews and the HLC self study have helped us gather information and will help to inform our direction as we move forward with the planning process.

I am excited about the process that is just beginning and will continue over the next 18 months. At the Board of Trustees committee meeting in October, we set the stage for the Strategic Planning process. Next week, the Trustees will participate in a visioning exercise using the liberal studies inquiry model to help draw connections and elicit high-order thinking.

I believe we have exercised great foresight in positioning ourselves for the future. As we begin our work on the new Strategic Plan, we will need the continued involvement and creative thinking of our entire community. Our Board of Trustees will provide the leadership toward building a strong institution through steady governance and support; our faculty members are working on new inspiring projects; students will provide insights on what they want and need; and our donors will lead with inspired philanthropy by helping us realize our vision for the University.

I invite you to join me in ‘looking up” toward the future with a new level of thinking, with renewed energy, with a commitment to Baker being the first choice institution. Together we can, together we will, together we begin.

Thank you.