Interim President Rich Kendell welcomed faculty and staff in a special assembly at Southern Utah University, greeting employees new and old and setting a course for the 2013-2014 academic year.
A special welcome was extended to the University’s new employees, including 19 new faculty and 64 new staff members.
“I see nothing but a fabulous future for Southern Utah University,” Kendell said to the hundreds of faculty and staff in attendance, poised for direction as fall semester quickly approaches.
After highlighting many outstanding achievements of the past year, Kendell’s address outlined a number of institutional objectives, culminating in a challenge to increase student enrollment and improve retention rates.
Kendell put forth the following two-part challenge: in the next five years, increase student enrollment to 10,000 and establish the highest rates of retention and graduation in the state.
While lofty goals, Kendell believes both are well within reach and most importantly, are vital to the sustainment of the University.
“Tuition and fees will be the most reliable and consistent source of revenue in the short term,” Kendell said, noting that funding for higher ed. from the Utah Legislature has perpetually decreased. Because SUU does not have other routine funding sources, Kendell views enrollment income as the University’s proverbial bread and butter.
According to projections by SUU and the Utah Board of Regents, population growth alone is expected to raise enrollment numbers to 10,124 by the year 2022. Kendell’s challenge to reach that mark within five years would place SUU ahead of the curve, bringing in an additional $6 million annually from tuition and fees.
“Growth without losing our vision and the qualities that have made this place great will be the real trick,” Kendell said. “Planning will be an important part of the culture of this University in order to get us where we need to be in five years.”
Kendell’s outlook is a pragmatic one and given his extensive background in higher education, having served as commissioner of the Utah System of Higher Education and in numerous other posts, his vision and insight are invaluable as SUU begins a new chapter in its history.
Following an expression of gratitude to the recently departed Michael T. Benson, Kendell acknowledged that the University is in a state of transition but reassured all that great things are in store. “Don’t worry, be happy,” he quoted. “Everything will be alright.”
As the search for SUU’s new president continues, Kendell encouraged faculty and staff members to carry on as usual, maintaining momentum and building on the progress of the last administration.
“There is no need to slow down during this period of change,” Kendell said. “Do not pause, keep going. Bring your issues to me. I am your friend and ally in this process.”
As for the presidential search, Kendell reported that the Utah Board of Regents has identified several outstanding candidates and that every possible consideration will be taken into account. “I am confident that your new president will be remarkable,” Kendell said.
As SUU looks toward a new future, Kendell issued another challenge—increased engagement. “How many young lives can we touch over the course of a decade?” he asked.
Kendell added, “Engagement is a big part of our accreditation. And, while we are in the middle of a tremendous transformation in our economy and workforce, engagement becomes incredibly important.”
To the credit of faculty and staff, Kendell believes that on this point, SUU is doing a lot of things right. “I love our engaged learning,” he said. “We deliver on the promise here at SUU. But, as the University continues to grow, so must its engagement endeavors.”
In a broader sense, Kendell spoke to the need for increased support of higher education, noting the role that SUU employees must play. “In Utah, we do not have enough true believers in the power of education,” he said. “The value of a university education is not self-evident; it has to be explained, articulated, illustrated in some way. Somehow, we have to bridge that gap.”
As indicated by a lengthy list of accomplishments from the 2012-2013 academic year, Kendell believes there is much to be proud of at SUU and credits those successes, in large part, to the tireless efforts of faculty and staff.
“I love how people here play up to the next level,” he said, specifically referencing the University’s move to the Big Sky Conference and the artistic courage of the Utah Shakespeare Festival. “Our employees have truly committed themselves to the University and it shows.”
Kendell went on to explain that that commitment is evidenced by the financial support that, year after year, SUU faculty and staff generously provide. Compared with other schools in the nation where roughly 20 percent of employees give back, 70 percent of SUU employees make financial contributions each year.
Not the least of SUU’s successes, Kendell noted, is its unprecedented fundraising campaign that has ensured construction of the Southern Utah Museum of Art (SUMA) –set to break ground this year – and a major expansion of Utah Shakespeare Festival facilities.
“SUU has a tremendous sense of place,” Kendell said. “We’ve got so much going for us here. I can’t think of a better place.”