August 27, 2001
Using a Dickensian reference, Dr. Sherry Hoppe pronounced Fall 2001 at Austin Peay as “the best of times, the worse of times” in her Convocation address on Aug. 20.
While the University celebrates accomplishments of grand proportions-the completion of the Sundquist Science Complex, the pending opening of the student center-the full glory of those accomplishments remains partially eclipsed by financial concerns.
Indecisive action on the part of the legislature in resolving the state's budget woes means another year with inadequate funding and possibly even deeper cuts.
While financial concerns might slow progress in some areas, it will not stop it, according to Hoppe. Austin Peay will continue to prepare for the upcoming SACs review, and visit. A special committee of faculty members will continue to consider how the University should distinguish itself as a liberal arts university. Fundraising efforts will go on and, in fact, will be given higher visibility with the completion of a feasibility study this week. Administrators will work on a new budget allocation model in which funding follows departmental growth.
Perhaps most important to faculty and staff, however, Hoppe will continue to pursue salary increases for all employees. In addition to the 2.5 percent increase that will show up in August paychecks, she is proposing that faculty and staff receive an additional 2 to 2.5 percent raise, with those making $25,000 and less getting the largest increase.
“If,” she said, “and I emphasize if the state approves, we'll propose that the raise be retroactive to July.” That suggestion was met with hearty applause from those in the packed music/mass communication building.
Hoppe did emphasize, however, that Austin Peay's bottom-of-the-totem-pole position in pay was not entirely the fault of the state.
“In some cases, it's because of the decisions we've made about the dollars we have.”
One culprit: too much faculty released time. “I said at our last gathering that we had to change that,” Hoppe said. “Well, we did. It went up!” Thirty-three faculty members had released time in 2000-2001, compared to 27 in 1999-2000.”
Low student credit hour production is also a problem, according to Hoppe. “We have 61 lower-division classes with nine or fewer students,” she said. “We have 41 upper-division sections with nine or fewer students.” The state's expectations are that the University have 21 and 14 students, respectively, in those courses.
Enrollment trends were part of Hoppe's address. Austin Peay enrollment has declined somewhat over the last five years, primarily because of a drop in Fort Campbell's numbers.
Community colleges also are increasingly aggressive competitors, she noted, showing ads for Nashville State Tech that ran in the local newspaper.
The growing availability of Web-based courses is another challenge. Fortunately, Austin Peay has made great strides in that arena. “I'm pleased and very proud to report that we now have 19 Web-based courses,” Hoppe said. “More than 430 students are enrolled in those courses for this fall.”
The growing acceptance of and demand for these courses is just one piece of the changing picture of higher education, Hoppe said. “We must ask, ‘What is the future of higher education going to look like?'”
Though the methods of education delivery may change, the University's mission has not, she said. It remains “to increase the education of those in our region so they can enjoy better lives. We will continue to do that.”
Are there problems to be overcome? Certainly. But it is our response to those problems, the perspective we choose, that will determine how successfully we meet the challenge, she said. “An adult looks at dandelions and sees weeds. A child looks at them and sees magical flowers with white wisps they can blow away. We look at puddles and see dirty shoes and dry cleaning bills. A child sees an opportunity to play.
“As we begin this term, I wish you dandelions and mud puddles.” View Slides