The following are the remarks of Chancellor Donald J. Reaves to the Congregation of United Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church on Sunday, April 10, 2011. Special music was provided by The Winston-Salem State University Choir under the direction of D’Walla Simmons Burke
Good morning everyone. Deborah and I are absolutely delighted to join you this morning. This church and its congregation have a long and deep and meaningful connection to Winston-Salem State University, and it is always an honor when I am allowed to speak before you. Our thanks go out to all of you and particularly to Reverend and Mrs. Rivers.
Each year I look forward to WSSU Day at United Metropolitan Baptist Church, and I am delighted to bring you greetings from the faculty, students and staff of the University.
Being here affords me the opportunity to connect with so many members of the community, especially those who are not on the campus and don’t hear about what’s going on at WSSU. It is also an opportunity to showcase our wonderful choir under the leadership of D ‘Walla Burke – aren’t they wonderful ladies and gentlemen? But most importantly, it is an opportunity for me to say thank you for the support that you have provided over the years. The financial support that you provide is sorely needed, and we are truly grateful for it, but so too is the spiritual and moral support that our faculty, students and staff derive from their affiliation with this church.
Both the church and the University benefit tremendously from the kind of dual citizenship relationship that exists between the two entities and the service that Dr. Haywood Wilson provided to the two organizations is a case in point.
I know that Dr. Wilson made a tremendous difference with his service to United Metropolitan, and through his service to the University he made significant and lasting contributions.
It is fitting, therefore, that Rosa Tribble Wilson established the Haywood L. Wilson, Jr. Memorial Endowed Scholarship, and the University is honored to be its recipient. We are also grateful that this congregation has seen fit to continue to honor a beloved member with its on-going support of this wonderful gift — a gift that keeps giving and has benefited so many students. Through this endowed scholarship — and your prayers and your support — you are really making a difference in the lives of our students.
As you know, many of the young people who come to Winston-Salem State are first generation college students, and more than 80 percent of them receive some type of financial support. So scholarships make a big difference in many students being able to pursue an education. And given the economic conditions that we are facing these scholarships dollars are becoming even more important.
As you know the N C Legislature is working on the budget for next fiscal year. And while we don’t know how big the reduction in our state allocation will be, we do know that it could be more than $10 million, and will come on top of the $21 million in reductions that we have sustained since 2008.
We also are painfully aware that we will probably be faced with increasing tuition, yet again, by a significant amount, in an effort to close the budget gap. Without a doubt this will increase the need for financial aid for many of our students — particularly since we know that federal support through Pell Grants will not keep pace with the increases. Our biggest fear is that we don’t lose students who when faced with the increased costs of attendance and a potential reduction in Federal and State support, come to the conclusion that a college education is beyond their financial means, and simply drop-out of the University. So, never before has your support of this endowed scholarship been more important.
Last week was perhaps the most challenging that I have faced in my almost four years at WSSU – and that’s saying something given the uproar over some athletic decisions that I made. But informing an employee that they are going to lose their job because we don’t have the money to keep them is repugnant to everything that an institution of higher education stands for. But that is exactly what is happening, not just at WSSU, but at other institutions within the UNC system. The current fiscal crisis is forcing the chancellors to make very difficult decisions about what gets funded on their campuses– forcing them to choose between people and programs, between keeping staff and providing essential academic and student support. And while the choices are clear – we are a university and we must allocate our scarce resources to the core missions of teaching, research and service — the decisions are painful because we know that they affect not only these employees, but their families, friends and co-workers. It has indeed been a sad time on our campus.
We do, however, have to make decisions and make changes that are designed for only one reason — and that is to improve the academic outcomes for our students.
The most important work being done on the campus has to do with the implementation of our strategic plan that focuses on student success. And regardless of the fiscal challenges we may face, we must remain committed to achieving student outcomes that produce college graduates who are prepared to compete successfully in a knowledge-based global economy.
From time-to-time organizations find themselves engaged in activities that will define their very existence for the foreseeable future. I call them big decisions. Your “Beyond the Sanctuary” effort is a case in point. On university campuses the big decisions are usually about buildings, the tenure policy and the curriculum. They are monumental undertakings and they have implications for generations of students. We are currently involved in one such effort, that being the reform of the curriculum.
We are in the process of reforming our curriculum to provide our students with the skills they need to compete successfully against students from colleges and universities where resources are in far greater abundance. The curriculum reform effort is recognition that we must change the way that we educate students. It’s recognition that content and subject matter expertise is no longer sufficient to ensure success in the workplace. In the past we have taught students a subject matter, training them to do this, that or the other. And they did this, that or the other for the rest of their lives. But college graduates of today, those who are trained broadly in the tradition of the liberal arts, have a smorgasbord of opportunities from which to choose, and it is our responsibility to prepare them to compete for such opportunities. So what skills do they need?
Today’s students must have the ability to think critically, to be analytical, to work in diverse groups to solve problems and to communicate effectively. And they need to know how to think. And when armed with these thinking skills, they can do virtually anything that they may choose.
Obviously, against the backdrop of State budget cuts, making substantial change is much more difficult, and will force us to make choices – to choose between competing priorities. Yet, we must make those choices if our students are going to be able to secure jobs in their chosen professions or to gain admission to the best graduate schools. In today’s global economy, the competition is fierce and we want our students to be able to hold their own — and we want them to be successful in their careers and in their communities.
As I’m sure most of you know, the motto at Winston-Salem State is “Enter to Learn, Depart to Serve.” That philosophy is one thing that we will not abandon. In fact, our efforts at curriculum reform will, I am convinced, better prepare our students to serve by providing them with a 21st century skill set that they can call upon in virtually any situation that they might find themselves.
We are excited. The students are excited and the support among the faculty, while not universal – it never will be — is very strong. But there is no illusion that what we are trying to accomplish will be easy. It won’t be – we understand that. But it’s worth the effort. We also understand that we can’t do this alone. We need the support of others – others like all of you.
The financial support that you provide through the Haywood Wilson Scholarship covers some of the costs of educating these young people. But just as important as the money is the message that providing it sends. It says that we support you, and there is no better way to honor Dr. Wilson and what he stood for than by being a part of this effort to provide a young person with the opportunity to learn, to grow, and to reach his or her potential.
So, again, I thank you for all of your support — we appreciate all you do for Winston-Salem State. And again, I want to thank Rev. Rivers for the invitation to join you this morning and for all he and this church do for the university.