JSU Newswire
Jacksonville, Alabama

Text of President's
Annual Meeting Speech

AUGUST 26, 2002
William A. Meehan

Today's theme is "Celebrate JSU." I want to thank Dr. Turner and Dr. Cusimano for all the hard work they have done. I also want to thank Dr. Friery and Dr. Nelson for that wonderful video that celebrates America and our freedoms. I appreciate the cadets of JSU's ROTC presenting the colors this morning and Rev. Penny Ford for our invocation and benediction. And thank you, Mr. Greenwood, for speaking to us about United Way. I think the theme that Dr.Turner and Dr. Cusimano chose is right. It is right that we celebrate the University, after all the work that is reflected in your annual reports from preparation for the University's reaffirmation of accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, to keeping our campus beautiful, to providing instruction for the highest enrollment the University has known, to keeping our business affairs in such good order that we are acknowledged with unqualified audits and excellent ratings, to fielding competitive athletic teams, to providing services for our students from financial aid to career placement, to having our residence halls clean and ready for our new students who have been moving in this weekend--you have been celebrating this University all year long. But what is it that we truly celebrate? Is it the physical facilities? Is it our programs? Is it? What we are truly "celebrating " are the people of JSU."

With all the beautiful buildings we have, with all the improvements and changes we have made, looking at our scenic location, considering the thousands of books in the library, the computers, the laboratory equipment, everything, we have a lot to celebrate. But it is the people--you--that we celebrate the most. The fact is, all of our other blessings would be useless without you and you the person sitting next to you, and even those people hiding way back there in the back. Buildings, books, beakers and Petri dishes do not define the culture of this University. It is each individual, combined with another, that as whole makes us greater then what we would be separately. That is what we celebrate! The people of our University.

As we begin this new academic year, I want to take just a moment to share an observation. An obvious one, perhaps, but it's a thought I want you to carry with you into this new academic year. Our culture at JSU is not static. That is, we fight stasis--stagnation--by understanding and welcoming change. My observation is this: You, the faculty and staff of JSU, are living proof that change is good for us; that we only grow when we change. Nothing you accomplish personally or professionally, whether it's getting our campus in shape for our new students or doing your part to ensure SACS reaccredidation, none of that comes about without your personal commitment. Those forces are inherent in anything you set out to do. And one of the things I value most--and celebrate--is the way you meet the challenge of change and thrive! And because you do it as individuals working together, you energize and enliven our entire university. Thank you!

Last year we witnessed one of the most tragic moments in history, September 11th. The images we saw that morning, the World Trade Center's towers, the Pentagon, and until then a little known field in western Pennsylvania, will haunt us forever. It has changed us in many ways, touched JSU personally, and many of you feel less secure, less certain about the future. But I celebrate the way you picked up and carried on. You contributed, helped others in numerous, meaningful ways. The word "normal" has been tossed around a lot since last September 11th, but you have done your best to make life normal once again, and I appreciate all you have done. We have changed since that day, but we have learned to embrace what we have. As a nation we've been reminded our way of life is worth fighting for, and for some people that fight carries a high price, and of course I'm thinking of Major Dwayne Williams and Johnny Michael Spann.

Cervantes wrote that "liberty is one of the most valuable blessings that heaven has bestowed on mankind." The liberties that we have here in America and at JSU are something to be celebrated. Once again this fall our classrooms will be filled with students--regardless of race, gender, age, disability or religion. No one is denied an education because of who they are.

Daily at JSU we see people working in their fields of expertise to preserve our blessings. For example, during the past year we established the Institute for Emergency Preparedness and Jacksonville State University became a national player in the arena of emergency management education and disaster research. This new program, made available through distance learning, continues to realize the growing state-wide, regional and national need in emergency management. Well over 300 students are actively engaged in this academic program and its faculty have brought in thousands of dollars in contracts and grants from the National Science Foundation, the Emergency Management Agency and other universities.

There are many other areas to celebrate:

A dozen students from the drama department played their parts by acting in training film scenes for the Center of Domestic Preparedness. The training film will be seen annually by the thousands of trainees who attend the Center at McClellan.

In the Department of History and Foreign Language our faculty created an online course to teach Spanish to public safety personnel. Communication should not be a barrier to safety.

In the Department of Criminal Justice, strengthening ties with local and national law enforcement agencies is building better opportunities for our graduates. We are educating the future protectors of our liberties. Already, this criminal justice community liaison has put together internship programs with the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Secret Service.

We're also proud that the Department of Military Science commissioned a total of 10 second lieutenants into the United States Army during December, May and August.

Although we have avoided proration during this fiscal year, for our new faculty and staff, that is synonymous to budget reductions from the state, we must remember that the 2001-2002 state appropriation was more than 3% below the 2000 -2001 prorated budget. This year's state appropriation represents a 2.56 % increase over last year. Not enough to match the 3% raise that the legislature has approved for K-12 teachers. But I will recommend to the Board of Trustees that they approve a budget that will increase all classified and non-classified positions by 3% for individuals and positions in place as of July 1 of this year. In addition, I will request funds for step raises for classified staff; and funds for promotion of faculty in rank in accordance with criteria in the Faculty Handbook.

In order to continue our long range plan that addresses salary and compensation issues across the University, we will again set aside a pool of funds to help move JSU to the regional average for faculty and staff. All of our plans threaten to come to a halt when proration is declared. We must continue to do as you've so eloquently done in past years--fight for better funding. Through your membership in the Higher Education Partnership, we have made great strides. Thanks to your support the Alabama Education Trust Fund now has a rainy day fund. I urge you to listen carefully to all candidates for local, state, and federal office this November. Alabama needs many things; among these are: state constitutional reform, and an equitable and fair tax system that supports education--kindergarten - graduate school. We can not continue to rely on the rhetoric of "no new taxes" and expect that education can be the economic engine that will pull our state into the first decade of the 21st Century. Fortunately, we were able to see some small improvements, though much greater action is needed in Montgomery before we can end the tight budget constraints. That action starts with you at the polls this November.

As we mark progress toward a student population of 10,000, I can't help but note the growing pains. As I read through the annual reports, I see the problems--not enough space, not enough faculty, not enough staff. We are victims of our own success. As our University grows, as we continue to develop and publicize our well-deserved reputation as a quality institution, we attract more and higher caliber students.

Enrollment is up; more than 300 students confirmed their pre-registration than last fall. Application counts show the highest increase in over a decade ago. Preview day attendance was the highest it's been since 1995.

I am also proud to note that the people of Jacksonville State University consistently reach out to the community. Students from the College of Commerce and Business Administration's Students In Free Enterprise program reached out to educate students from kindergarten to high school. They led discussions and exercises on money, goods and services at local schools in a way that primary school kids can understand. Third through 6th graders learned the difference between wants and need. And high school students were presented a program entitled "welcome to the real world" in conjunction with the Calhoun County Extension Service. The program was designed to teach students what life is like once they graduate, and it reached 172 students in Calhoun County. The extension service won a state award and received $800 based on our students' great work.

I also celebrate your giving. This past year, you, the faculty and staff of JSU, as a whole, gave a record amount to the United Way. The amount--$10,341--was 62 % more than the previous year. This means that, on average, you gave twice as much as you did the last year. Your work at the Girl Scout's Camp Cottaquilla on the recent United Way "Day of Caring" also spoke volumes about your willingness to give outside the boundaries of our campus.

We also celebrate the future. This fall, when the Joe M. Ford center for economic development holds its ribbon cutting ceremony, it will be the last step in a building phase that began as a dream between two institutions. The late state representative Joe Ford had a deep love for JSU and Gadsden State Community College that helped to bring this unique, partnership project to life. It was Ford's final legacy to the alma mater he held dear to his heart.

Here on campus, as you've noticed, the renovations are nearly complete on the Houston Cole Library, giving it the solid, stable look and structure it deserves. Our library faculty and staff have been working just as hard, if not harder, than those on the outside. Recently, our library provided the most book loans of any academic library in the State of Alabama. Considering all criteria for academic libraries, JSU's Houston Cole Library was ranked second in the state. By the way, I'm told that the library's home page gets more hits then any other page on the JSU web site.

During the next year we will see more renovation to facilities on campus and at our buildings on the former Fort McClellan. A quick drive around campus will reveal the demolition of two former residence halls, Rowan and Weatherly. These two facilities contained asbestos and the cost of renovation was beyond the value of returning them to living facilities. The University's Master Plan calls for the long term return of this space as parking for surrounding buildings, Mason Hall, Pannell, Leone Cole Auditorium. In the short term the site will be graded and access to the existing parking will be made easier.

Ayers Hall will begin renovation as the home for the Departments of Psychology, Technology and Engineering, Academic Computing Services; and the faculty and staff of the Mathematical, Computing and Information Sciences will finally cease their nomadic wondering and have a home. Although completion will not be until 2004, this will allow other units such as Political Science, now in Curtiss Hall, to be moved to academic buildings, and Curtiss Hall will again be a residence hall.

This Spring the University's Child Development Center will open at McClellan providing a practicum for early childhood education students, social work students, nursing students, a research facility for education faculty, and an educational service for young children and their families in our area. Also the joint renovation between JSU and Gadsden State Community College of the former MP school on McClellan will begin. This facility will house the current Anniston branch of GSCC, and for JSU, we will have the Aerospace Development Center which recently acquired a 1.8 million dollar grant from NASA, the Northeast Alabama Police Academy, the Institute for Emergency Preparedness, In-Service Education, and other units now on campus.

We will also begin this year a three phase plan to renovate our athletic facilities. One of the highlights of the plan will be the new soccer field. The soccer team has been playing their home games on the softball field. Not only will this keep us in compliance with title IX, but it will bring JSU's athletic facilities up to Division I standards. The facilities will help attract additional student athletes to JSU. Over 50 percent of JSU student-athletes posted a 3.0 grade point average or higher last semester. Over 120 student-athletes finished the semester with a 3.0 gpa or higher, while 53 finished with a 3.5 gpa or better and 12 student-athletes finished the semester with a 4.0 gpa. The majority of athletic teams have average gpa's and graduation rates higher then the University averages.

All of this renovation will be paid for through a $15 million bond issue by Jacksonville State University. I wish I could tell you that the State of Alabama was paying for these capital expenses but unfortunately that is not the case. Our state desperately needs to fund more capital projects for education. Fortunately, your efforts in enrollment management, recruitment, business affairs, physical plant, housekeeping, academic affairs, student services, and institutional advancement have earned for the University an "A" bond rating from the Standard & Poors team that visited campus just a month ago. An "A" rating will mean for JSU a higher interest on our bonds, lower insurance premium, and lower attorney fees. The "A" rating is one that all institutions aspire to but few of our peers are able to achieve. It is another reason to celebrate!

Earlier I mentioned your efforts toward our re-affirmation of accreditation with the SACS. I want to thank each of you who have contributed to our institutional self-study. Our steering committee, Director, Dr. Martha Lavender and Co-Director, Dr. Louise Clark have done an outstanding job in compiling our self-study report. These JSU faculty and staff receive no extra pay for this multi-year effort; let me ask the members of the Self-Study Steering Committee, Dr. Lavender and Dr. Clark to stand and be recognized. Please give them your appreciation. The draft self-study will be available soon and campus wide open hearings will be held in October and our visiting team will arrive in February.

You will notice that the back of your program lists all the draft of our University Goals. These were developed through a broad base of input and are submitted for your review as part of our efforts toward institutional effectiveness. Just as you reviewed the University Mission Statement last year we are asking the you review these goals and submit comments to Mr. Tim Smith, Director of institutional effectiveness by September 16th so that we can present them to the Board of Trustees for approval in October.

Each division, each college, each department, each one of you offers something vital and important to someone else. I celebrate the fact that you, the people of JSU, serve by offering opportunity to our students who will in turn, shape the future. And I celebrate the fact that we do it with such dedicated people as we're blessed with in this room today. Beth and I want each of you to know that you are invited to join us at the president's home this evening for a "dinner on the grounds." Please dress casually and bring your families. We will begin serving at 5 p.m. and continue until 8 p.m. Our own JSU jazz band will provide entertainment.

It is now time to begin the new academic year; let me leave you with one last thought: William Butler Yeats is credited with the saying "Education is not just filling a pail, it's more like lighting a fire for a lifetime." I encourage you to go out and light some fires. Thank you and God bless you.


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