“Fear and Our Future,” Duffett’s University-Wide Gathering Address

It is undoubtedly difficult to relay staff changes to a community, especially when such changes promise to alter immediately the future direction of the community. But staff change was the precise subject of President Duffett’s 2015 address to faculty and staff regarding the state of the university. In times of crisis, Duffett began, faculty and staff need to come together to form a better learning environment. He encouraged the faculty and staff to be great representatives to the students, stressing that the actions of the faculty will affect the student body’s interpretation of Eastern’s motto of faith, reason, and justice. Duffett emphasized that he has great hopes for the future of Eastern University.

 However, the notes of hope were accompanied by honesty regarding the changes the university will need to make to relieve financial tensions. He referred to the faculty handbook, which says that if student attendance drops by ten percent over several years, the current president will have the right “to take measures to ensure the financial viability and well-being of the University.” Unfortunately, said Duffett, the population of students has decreased by 11%. he earnestly announced that he had proposed a financial plan to the Board of Trustees that included the downsizing of staff and personnel.

After reviewing the plan, said Duffett, the board unanimously agreed that it was what the school needed to flourish. Immediately after its approval, Duffett reported that he gathered a task force of faculty and staff members to create an initial sketch. Since then, the committee has been reviewing every detail of the school’s financial information and is projected to finalize the downsizing plan in November. President Duffett informed the audience that this has been an incredibly tough decision.

Over murmurs in the crowd, Duffett reminded the audience of the new facilities and innovations to be brought about in the ten-year master plan. He mentioned the renovation of the fitness center several times, but it was not enough to calm the murmurs in the audience in response to the announcement of the plan to downsize. Nonetheless, it does confirm the president’s desire to improve Eastern over the next decade.

After his speech, a staff-wide communion service was planned. Unfortunately, President Duffett was slated to attend his daughter’s graduation, so he quickly apologized to the audience in the hopes that they would understand his circumstances. Immediately after, he rushed out and the staff-wide communion started. Although these large institutional changes will be difficult, Dr. Duffett hopes that there will be an increase of 1000 students in the coming years.

Excerpt From President Duffett’s University-Wide Gathering Address

Based on the success of our strategic planning, master planning, and significant work in marketing and recruiting, we now know so much more about ourselves and what we need to do to better compete and successfully recruit students and upgrade academic quality. But information and study is only as good as action and implementation. To that end, I formed a task force to evaluate and make recommendations to me on how we may become more efficient and effective in our leadership and organizational structure, and more effective in our educational programs. I asked this task force to evaluate all aspects of the university; administrative, student development, and all academic units…

For years, higher education has largely been insulated from downsizing and layoffs, as compared to the for-profit sector. But in recent years, the same economic forces have visited higher education.

I want to say this as sensitively as I am able. We cannot restore the financial condition of the university to where it needs to be for a brighter future without some job loss among us. We have tried to keep the ship afloat by cutting budgets, deferring maintenance, no pay raises — again, while keeping needed positions open — yet water keeps filling the hold of the Good Ship Eastern University.

And, with the authority and responsibility given to me as President and, with as much due process and faculty and staff consultation as possible, I am taking action to try to fix this systemic problem. As I see it, the riskiest strategy before us is to ignore the rising water and do nothing. Simply put, I am taking these actions for the possibility of a more positive future.

Our goal is not merely to reduce expenses and people, but to reallocate dollars to areas like salaries, marketing, admissions, and academic programs so that we have a shot to flourish. When we get through this process, the overwhelming majority of you in this room will still have a job. But I recognize this is little comfort to those whose jobs will be lost.

Also, the task force and I recognize the communal angst and the desire to know what is going to happen and when. Task force members report losing sleep as they turn over in their minds at 3 AM what is best for Eastern University. I will trade heightened anxiety for longer deliberation and careful decision-making. I am shaped in my thinking by the great political conservative and member of Parliament during the American War of Independence, Edmund Burke, who said of war, and I apply this to us, “Conscientious men and women are cautious on how they deal with people’s lives.” This is about our people, our friends and our colleagues, and I want to be so very cautious with the vocational part of those we love.

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