Convocation Focuses on the Future


In his fall convocation address, Les Wong briefly recapped his “rookie year” as NMU president, but he spent most of the time focusing on four short-term activities the university will undertake now to shape its future.

These include developing an off-campus enrollment base; formulating a strategy to reduce semester credit-hour production per full-time teaching faculty; ramping up the areas of continuing education, online course development, grants and enhanced gifts; and implementing recommendations made by the Internationalization and Superior Edge task forces.


Wong said it is critical for Northern to find new and creative ways to reach audiences who can’t come to campus.


“I will ask the provost and academic deans, faculty and staff to begin the process that will set realistic targets for off-campus enrollments,” he said. “I will also ask for union input on how we might do so within the parameters of the master agreement while also providing departments the flexibility they need to be more entrepreneurial and to benefit more directly from entrepreneurial behavior. We are fighting against a demographic curve that is telling us that fewer and fewer traditional-age students will come to us from the U.P.”


Wong said credit-hour production per faculty member has been an issue recognized by the NMU Board of Trustees before and since his arrival.


“One cannot continue to speak of higher levels of excellence as classes get larger, more students arrive on campus, the cycle of class offerings gets longer, and the state continues to reduce its financial commitment to higher education. The simple answer is, ‘Les, get more faculty here.’ But hiring more full-time faculty doesn’t answer the issue. We must put our thinking to the question of managing enrollment, reducing costs and remaining affordable.”


On a related note, Wong said Northern’s future will be shaped by how much higher the intellectual and social capital on campus can be developed and measured. He said teaching must be sharp and up-to-date, with assessment methods to support it.


“This requires us to demand excellence in the classroom, reward risk taking, and encourage learning,” Wong added. “It compels us to correct complacency and not tolerate mediocre work in students, in our colleagues and from one another. This is why the AQIP assessment process is so important. The potential of that intellectual fervor is on campus, but we don’t do enough to gather the data that will tell us and our public just how effective we are.”


Despite the strained economic climate, Wong said the university will move forward with two initiatives that will be part of Northern’s “Curriculum for the 21 st Century.” Internationalization will ensure a study-abroad experience for each student pursuing a bachelor’s degree. The Superior Edge will distinguish students who complete required hours of leadership, diversity, community service and “real world” experiences.


Higher education funding in Michigan – particularly House and Senate proposals to significantly cut Northern’s state appropriation – have made it a challenging first year for Wong. While the hard-line positions have softened and state revenues will be higher than projected, he said the so-called “funding gap” and formula funding issues will force Northern into a fight every year during the legislative budget process. Efforts to address these problems will be discussed at upcoming university forums.

For the full text of Wong's speech, go to Convocation.


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Updated: October 26, 2005

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