Convocation Remarks

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Convocation Remarks
Catherine R. Gira
President, Frostburg State University
April 18, 2002
3:30 p.m.
PAC Drama Theatre

Our spring Convocation has always provided an occasion in which to look back upon the University's accomplishments during the past year and also to look ahead to the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. In many respects, it has been an excellent year, characterized by achievements and recognition of which we can all be justifiably proud. Although the prospects for next year are in many ways sobering, I would like to begin, as the saying goes, with the good news before addressing the not-so-good news.

The reputation of Frostburg State University is constantly increasing, thanks to the exceptional achievements of our faculty, staff, and students. This year, as you know, we were moved up a tier in the national rankings published by U.S. News and World Report, joining only 21 other public institutions ranked among the top 87 in the northeast. The rankings, it should be noted, are based in significant measure on the academic reputation of the institution.

Of the 399 public comprehensive master's institutions in the United States, Frostburg is one of only six that have been selected by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities as national models for civic and community service.

In earning NCATE accreditation this year, our education program became one of the first in the nation to meet the new, more rigorous, performance-based standards of the accrediting agency. The programs received glowing reviews by both NCATE and the Maryland Department of Education.

Our faculty have had a very good year. Dr. George Plitnik of our Physics department received a University System of Maryland Regents' award for his research achievements; Dr. Joyce Middleton was named Outstanding Educator by the Maryland Association of Certified Public Accountants; Dr. Trina Redmond, a new member of our Psychology department, was awarded a Henry C. Welcome fellowship; a composition by music professor Dr. Jon Bauman was performed by the Chamber Orchestra Kremlin; Professor Barbara Hurd has received a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship, one of 36 awarded this year from among 1300 applicants, and her book, Stirring the Mud, was named one of the best books of 2001 by the Los Angeles Times; Brad Barkley of our English department won the Balch prize for Best Fiction from the Virginia Quarterly Review, and he has been named one of the "Newcomer Writers to Watch in 2002." Brad's novel, Money, Love, continues to garner honors. (It will soon be translated into German, Japanese, and Portugese.) Cathy Ashley-Coutleur of the College of Business and one of her graduate students received the top prize in a national case study competition sponsored by the Small Business Institute Directors' Association; and Dr. Tom Hawk was named Outstanding Reviewer of the Year by Case Research Journal.

Our students have also distinguished themselves. A project designed by our mechanical engineering students earned fourth place in an international competition sponsored by the American Society of Mechanical Engineering; one of our social work majors has been selected as a book reviewer for the national publication, The New Social Worker; our local chapter of the National Broadcasting Society received an award at a national conference in Atlanta for community service and organizational leadership; our Society for the Advancement of Management placed second nationally in national case competition. (In that competition, two of our students received regional awards; one was selected as a national outstanding student; and Dr. Amit Shah was named outstanding faculty adviser.) Frostburg students who plan to enter careers in teaching have excelled on the prerequisite Praxis I and Praxis II examinations, surpassing the State average. Our athletic teams have also done very well this year. The cross country men captured their fourth Allegany Mountain Collegiate Conference title in the past five years, and the men's soccer team won its fifth straight regular season Conference crown. Randy Lowe was named men's Conference coach of the year. In November Frostburg won the coveted Regents' cup in our annual football match with Salisbury, and the men's basketball team posted its best-ever record in our Conference competition and the second best two-year win total in the program's
60-year history.

Other recognition went to our Police, who earned the Governor's Crime Prevention award for the twelfth consecutive year; to our advancement staff from the national Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) for the creative comic book titled Annual Fund Man; and to our publications office, also from CASE.

There is always a danger, of course, in cataloguing achievements such as those I have noted in missing others deserving of recognition. Please regard this list as representative of the fine work that goes on every day by faculty, staff, and students throughout this institution.

The physical improvements in the University are also exciting, as we watch our $33 million science center, due to open next June, take shape; as we prepare to bring a renovated Gunter Hall back on line; and as we look forward to the imminent ground-breaking for a new 403-bed residence hall to open in the fall of 2003.

One measure of the growing attractiveness of our institution in terms of both programs and facilities is the fact that freshmen applications are up almost 40% from last year; transfer applications are also up nearly 40%; and we now have a waiting list for the fall. At the same time, SAT scores have risen nearly 30 points over the past two years, and the average GPA of incoming freshmen has risen to 3.1. Thirty-four percent of last fall's entering class were in the top 25% of their graduating classes.

So I do not exaggerate when I say that we have had a very good year, despite two reductions in our budget along the way. And I think we need to celebrate our achievements, even as we look to and plan for the year ahead with caution and prudence.

One side of the handout (image 1 & image 2) you were given as you entered today shows that the State has invested significantly in our institution over the past ten years, when Maryland first began to come out of the recession of the early 90's. (Note trendline and investments.)

Now, what are the prospects for next year? Let me address what we know and what we do not know. If you will look at the reverse side of the handout, I can give you a sense of where we are with respect to the budget that takes effect July 1, with the caveat that there are still some things that we do not know and will probably not know for several more weeks.

The chart titled "FY2003 State Appropriations" outlines the various actions that have been taken since our current fiscal year began on July 1, 2001.

As you can see, we began the year with $29,072,588 in State appropriations. During the year, however, $412,886 was taken back through two recissions, leaving us with an actual base of $28,659,702. When we began to plan for the coming year, it was with the expectation that we would receive an increase in State appropriations, as recommended by the Governor. Our planning was based, therefore, on a projected appropriation of $29,364,407, or a slight increase over the original base for the current year and a more significant increase over the reduced, actual budget for this year.

During a highly politically charged General Assembly session, both the Senate and the House rejected the Governor's proposed level of funding for our System. At one point, the Senate suggested cutting $31 million from the Governor's recommended allocation, plus another $16.6 million from the reserve funds of the institutions in our System. The House restored the reserve funds and recommended a slight increase in funding. When the two sides met in conference committee, the final result is what you see before you: no reduction in reserve funds and a .3% increase from the reduced base for this year, but a reduction from the budget with which we began the year last July. As for planning ahead, we at Frostburg are now faced with a shortfall of $638,726 in terms of the working budget we were required to submit earlier this year.

Now, what do we not know about our resources for next year? The Regents will decide in June any additional increases in tuition and fees that might be used to offset some of the cuts, cognizant that students and their families should not be expected to carry an inordinate share of the burden. At the same time, we are being expected to serve an increasing number of students graduating from Maryland's high schools, and we must have in place the resources to serve those students well in terms of personnel, including faculty and support staff, and technological support.

Two other uncertainties that are especially troubling concern pin positions and a mandated set-aside that reduce even further our ability to manage ourselves. The first involves language written into the budget bill that will require anywhere from a 3% to an 8% reduction in pin positions, or a total of 20, 34, or 54 here at Frostburg. Those targets could not be met simply by freezing current vacancies. As we speak, efforts are being made to encourage the Department of Budget and Management to substitute a dollar figure for pin positions if further reductions are required, allowing us to make decisions internally based on our priorities. The budget also contains language setting aside $10 million in the System for possible modest bonuses to employees in January, if the economy of the State seems healthy. That money cannot be expended before January, and it cannot be spent for any other purpose. I would add that there is no provision for either a COLA or merit money for employees in this budget. If the economy is not deemed to be healthy, the $10 million will be reverted to the State. In any event, it cannot be spent on general needs.

The last charts (image 4) indicate some needs that we must meet in next year's budget, including purchasing equipment for Compton Hall that has a life expectancy of less than 15 years and that is not provided for in the capital budget; funding for the COLA that employees received this January but which is unfunded next year; and Academic Revenue Bond payments shared by all System institutions.


Conclusion: Those of us who weathered the recession of the early 90's, in which we lost 20% of our state support, can be grateful for the recent infusion of resources into our budgets and the growing respect for higher education by the Governor and the legislature that that infusion bespeaks. At the same time, we must face the reality that next year will be a difficult year to manage. (We cannot legally transfer money from capital improvements, by the way, to help with our operating budget.) Whatever we do, we must place as our highest priority preserving the quality of the educational experience offered to our students. We will be working closely with members of the Cabinet and the University community to help us make prudent use of what resources are available to us, focusing always on that priority.

In sum, it is not the best of times with regard to budgetary support, but it is by no means the worst of times. Let us resolve to see our way through the immediate challenge with our usual optimism and resourcefulness, attributes that have served us well in the past and will doubtless do so in the future.


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