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September 2013
Board of Regents President Gregory W. Gray Colleagues,

With the start of each new academic year, I invariably reflect upon the time I spent as a faculty member teaching business management, theories of business leadership, and teacher education courses. For me, this principal activity of learning and teaching in and out of the classroom constitutes the very core of our educational mission and serves as a touchstone as we renew our commitment to learning each year. My first two months at ConnSCU invoke this same reinvigoration of the importance and excitement of education, and for me, the opportunity before us recalls an idea of Aristotle's:

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.

My first 60 days as President have been busy and eventful. Activities have been plentiful at all 17 ConnSCU campuses as well as the System Office, and I have eagerly engaged in field trips to each campus to learn more about the tremendous work of our students, faculty, and staff. The reception I uniformly received has been warm, gracious, and supportive. Faculty, staff, and students with whom I have spoken have been receptive of my message about the future of our system.

Since starting in July, I've gained much insight into the system and am avidly working to understand and synthesize issues of importance.

Because of the support I am receiving from the ConnSCU community, I have decided not to be shy about delivering my message concerning our collective future. I want our system of higher education to be great - not just good - and will do everything possible to achieve that goal. Therefore, my message for ConnSCU's future is one of energy, optimism, and excellence - concepts that are united by three broad themes:
  • People are important;
  • Planning is critical; and
  • Financial sustainability is essential
People are important. As a general proposition, this statement is universally true, but no more so than in institutions of higher education. Treating our employees (and each other) fairly and with respect is paramount. We all seek to go to work each day in an environment that is friendly, focused and productive. In the final analysis, the most important task we perform as an organization is the recruitment and selection of our personnel because it is they who are ultimately responsible for the quality of the educational experience we provide to our students and, in turn, their success. A lot of "sizzle" may not be associated with recruitment, but as noted by management guru Jim Collins, successful organizations "get the right people on the bus" and they get "the right people in the right seats."

Accordingly, I am pleased to announce that two vacancies on the ConnSCU management team have been filled. On Sept. 6, Juliet Manalan joins us as Director of Public Affairs and Marketing. Juliet spent the last three years as Governor Malloy's press secretary, and brings to us superb communication skills, coupled with a well-developed understanding of and commitment to the ConnSCU agenda. Also on Sept. 6, Liz Caswell begins as our Chief of Staff after more than 15 years of service with three home state insurance companies. Liz is a strategic thinker with an impressive track record in complex project management and organizational development. With respect to both Juliet and Liz, I am confident that we are getting the right people on the bus and in the right seats.

Even with these two hires, critical vacancies remain at the executive level in our organization and, as of this writing, open and competitive searches are in progress for a Chief Financial Officer, Chief Information Officer, and a Chief Academic Officer. I intend to keep you apprised of the status of these recruitments.

Planning is critical. As I traveled across the state and engaged in conversations with the ConnSCU community, I was encouraged to commence a comprehensive effort to plan for our future. Yvette Meléndez, acting chairwoman for the Board of Regents, is also enthusiastic about our vision for ConnSCU.

"We are excited for the future of the Connecticut State Colleges & Universities, and as a board, are committed to working with Dr. Gray in support of his vision for the students of our system," she said. "His approach will help shape ConnSCU's strategic priorities that include enhancing student success, affordability and workforce development."

In response, I have activated resources across our 17 campuses and the System Office to develop a blueprint - more specifically - a blueprint in which no issue is off limits.

For example, here are some of the matters to be considered:
  • What role should our community colleges play in training and developing the state's workforce?
  • How should academic specialties be developed in a coordinated fashion by our state universities so that each develops a preeminent reputation in a particular field or discipline?
  • How can the resources available through Charter Oak State College be leveraged in a way that materially advances online education in the state and addresses an important adult market?
  • To what extent could meaningful savings be realized in the consolidation activities that have come to be known as "backroom processing"?
  • How should philanthropy, fundraising from private donors, and advancement activities be conducted to generate maximum value for ConnSCU?
  • What will be the impact on student learning?
All of our campus presidents are participating in the development of ConnSCU's comprehensive plan for the future and in the upcoming weeks they will be sharing with you the status of our collective thinking in order to obtain your feedback. But there is no need for you to wait. One lesson I learned about ConnSCU in my first few days on the job is that our faculty and staff are extremely thoughtful, and no one seems the least bit reticent about expressing themself. I encourage you to reach out to your campus president and supply your best suggestions and ideas.

Financial Sustainability is Essential. Embedded within our planning efforts is the need to come to terms with ConnSCU's financial position. As we know, an annual trend of declining revenue and diminishing resources continues to exert considerable pressure on ConnSCU's capacity to deliver affordable, quality educational services. Out of financial necessity, these pressures have typically produced annual tuition increases and of great concern to me, no end is in sight. For a number of reasons, this trend is completely unacceptable and must be reversed because the capacity of our students to absorb tuition increases is nearing the breaking point.

The urgency of this issue has been highlighted over the past week by President Obama, who observed that "At a moment when higher education has never been more important, it has also never been more expensive." President Obama's plan calls for the establishment of a college rating system (different from a "ranking system") before the 2015 school year to promote transparency, as the rating system will focus on access and effectiveness. President Obama also calls for colleges and universities to innovate and use our reserves of intellectual capital to redesign ourselves to promote increased student learning and achievement. Finally, he calls for a way to structure repayment of student loans based on income so that students don't mortgage their future while they prepare themselves to compete in a global economy.

ConnSCU is well-positioned to take on these challenges. The assets of our system, properly supported by the state and balanced to optimize effectiveness, are a formidable engine for innovation. This summer, the Regents approved 19 metrics for initial monitoring of progress on strategic goals. ConnSCU institutions already offer the lowest tuition, highest value, and most access in Connecticut, and we look forward to making these facts better known as the Administration's rating system is developed and implemented.

Without significant attention, however, our ability to ensure access and to improve outcomes will erode. To address the need for financial reform, I plan to aggressively seek greater state support, explore greater system wide efficiency efforts and simply to begin asking people and companies for financial support.

In closing, it's now time to return to Aristotle. Why have my reflections at the start of the fall semester reconnected me to Aristotle? The answer lies in my assessment of ConnSCU - its students, faculty, staff, institutions, and traditions - all of which carry with them the potential for excellence. The essential elements are present but, as Aristotle notes, excellence is a habit learned over time. With our people and planning that is both mindful and judicious, we will together learn the habit of excellence. To that end, I ask that you join me as colleagues and - with a little encouragement from Aristotle - embark on our "Pathway to Excellence." Please accept my sincere wishes for a successful and productive academic year and I look forward to visiting with you during the fall semester!

Gregory W. Gray
Gregory W. Gray
Board of Regents for Higher Education
Connecticut State Colleges & Universities (ConnSCU)

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©2013 Connecticut Board of Regents for Higher Education