President Hurwitz Addresses Challenges Ahead in Reshaping the University

In his January 28 State of the University address, “Reshaping the University,” President T. Alan Hurwitz congratulated the University community for the many achievements they have worked on together that have benefited Gallaudet students, but he urged them “not to be lulled into a false sense of security, the kind that results in mediocrity.”

The president noted that 2014 began without 66 long-time faculty, teachers, and staff who left the University as a result of the Voluntary Retirement Incentive Program (VRIP), one of Gallaudet’s initiatives to meeting budgetary challenges. “We should thank them for their contributions and many years of service to Gallaudet,” he said. Dr. Hurwitz praised the community for banding together to cover the duties of these newly retired individuals to ensure that all classes are taught, that students’ progress toward graduation stays on track, and that any initial gaps created in various campus units are resolved.

Looking ahead, the VRIP presents Gallaudet the opportunity to realign its resources to effectively and efficiently meet the needs of its students. “I am confident in our ability to adapt, innovate, and reshape Gallaudet University in ways that will allow us to be responsive to the needs of our community,” he said, “but this will require us to continue to learn, grow, and work together.”

The recent appropriation legislation signed into law by President Obama has restored Gallaudet’s funding to its pre-sequestration level, and therefore enabled the University to award a general base pay increase to all eligible faculty, teachers, and staff. This was a necessary step to retain and attract quality employees, said Hurwitz. But because the future of Gallaudet’s federal appropriation is unsure, it is critical for faculty, teachers, and staff to continue taking measures that ensure the fiscal health of the University by containing costs and to generating revenue.

Being ever vigilant in conserving resources while striving to improve tends to overshadow Gallaudet’s successes, said Hurwitz. “I am so proud of the work we are doing and extend my sincere appreciation to the University community for its involvement and commitment to this important work-work that is bound by a common theme-the success of our students!” he said.

He gave a few examples of these successes: an increase in graduation rates that reached 49 percent last year, recent survey data showing that 95 percent of Gallaudet graduates either join the workforce or continue their education, Gallaudet’s continuing accreditation status with the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, and the Clerc Center accomplishing the goals in its strategic plan. “And finally, the celebration of 150 years of Visionary Leadership!” Hurwitz added.

While it is important for the University to celebrate achievements such as these, Hurwitz cautioned, “We should not and cannot be lulled into a false sense of security, the kind that results in mediocrity.” The time has come, he said, to adapt a more focused approach upon Gallaudet’s current strategic goals that will incorporate a smaller number of high impact strategies. Hurwitz said he will assemble an internal team to lead the development, implementation, and oversight for this work in collaboration with the President’s Cabinet and governance groups, noting that “we all share accountability for the outcomes.” In addition to the strategic plan, the Board of Trustees has identified Leadership, Enrollment, Climate, and Fundraising as critical areas in reshaping the University.

The president also offered his views on another priority that is essential for Gallaudet’s continued success: campus climate. “Climate has an impact on everything we do at the University,” said Hurwitz. “Climate can impact our enrollment. Climate can impact our ability to effectively fundraise. And most important, climate can impact our ability to work together.”

Positive change and growth for the University requires a safe and supportive environment for people to express ideas. “I will work with the leadership of this university, as well as the governance groups, to establish a plan to improve our climate,” said Hurwitz” “I intend to initiate a review of all of our policies to ensure zero tolerance on bullying, discrimination, and harassment.  

In closing, Hurwitz said he looks forward to hosting a series of small group discussions among campus constituencies “to allow for the sharing of ideas and the opportunity to work together to create a different tomorrow for our students. I am confident that our many successes and accomplishments can propel us forward as we look to our next 150 years.”

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