Welcome Back... And Looking Ahead

I want to welcome everyone back for C-Term and to wish you a productive, pleasant, and very happy new year. Despite the challenges of 2010, overall this was a year of great progress for WPI. I am confident that we are on a positive path, and that in 2011 we will continue our momentum.

from the President's Corner

I want to welcome everyone back for C-Term and to wish you a productive, pleasant, and very happy new year.  Despite the challenges of 2010, overall this was a year of great progress for WPI.  I am confident that we are on a positive path, and that in  2011 we will continue our momentum.

Before commenting further, it is important to acknowledge the terrible tragedy that occurred in Arizona last week. Blame is pointless, I believe, but respect and support for the good work that so many do to advance our society through government and public service, higher education, our K-12 schools, community service, religious and civic organizations, etc., must be maintained, as well as our active commitment to public safety, effective social service programs, and the rule of law.  Our hearts go out those who were injured, and to the families and friends of those lost in this tragedy.

It is, I think, important to counterbalance such disturbing events with reminders of the selfless and important work that takes place every day by people across our country and our campus, and so I turn to recognize and applaud the good efforts of so many members of the WPI community.  There are multiple examples I could cite, but I want especially to note that, over the holiday break, some 60 members of our Engineers Without Borders organization traveled to Louisiana to participate in home construction with Habitat for Humanity.  They worked hard to raise money to support their trip, and I’m sure they worked just as hard once they arrived in Louisiana.

The WPI varsity sports teams were hard at play over the break as well, and it is a pleasure to congratulate the women’s basketball team and head coach Cherise Galasso on their recent victory over Wheaton College, which was Coach Galasso’s 200th career victory.

We also continued to make progress on the recreation center, despite the cold weather.  This project remains on budget and slightly ahead of schedule for an early-summer opening in 2012. We have recently confirmed that, even with the ongoing construction, we will be able to hold the 2011 Commencement on the quad, weather permitting, with only a minimal loss of space needed for that ceremony.  Headway was also made on the development of Gateway II over the holidays, and I will be able to provide the community with additional details on that front the coming weeks.

Much of the work of the administration before and during the holidays was in developing the operating and capital budgets for fiscal year 2012, the main parameters of which will be presented to the Board of Trustees for approval at its February meeting. We expect to be able to maintain our dual commitment to limiting tuition increases to the low end of national practices in higher ed, while moving our faculty and staff significantly ahead in well-deserved compensation. One difficult factor (with which all organizations are struggling) is the rapidly rising cost of health insurance, which is predicted to be approximately 15 percent for WPI this year. We will keep the faculty Committee on Administrative and Financial Policies (FAP) - and all of you - apprised as developments unfold. Fortunately, our numbers on freshmen applications, student retention, graduation rates, external funding for research, and development all continue to look very positive.

This will be a year of significant development (some would say change) at WPI:

  • Our three new academic deans are all now in place—Selçuk Güçeri in Engineering, Karen Oates in Arts and Sciences, and Mark Rice in Business. They will bring important new leadership and support to their respective divisions.
  • The results of the extensive research that has been done to position WPI more prominently to its multiple constituents in the marketplace will soon be shared, and will lay the groundwork for the next phase of creative work.  Sandra King, interim Vice President for Marketing and Communications, and her team will be critical to a successful outcome, as will the work of the campus-wide Task Force on Strategic and Campaign Planning.
  • Finally, the Division of Development and Alumni Relations, under Vice President Dexter Bailey, continues to gear up for the launch of the public phase of the “if . . .” capital campaign.

All of these represent significant investments and collective efforts so central to the successful long-term development of WPI, just as does the steady stream of new faculty appointments we have made despite economic challenges of recent years. I realize that change is often difficult, and yet we need only turn to the 146 year history of this institution to recognize that there has always been creative tension of one form or another in the continuing evolution and implementation of its vision and mission (I was reminded of this most vividly when rereading Mildred Tymeson’s Two Towers, the epic story of WPI’s first 100 years, over the holiday break—just as I am always reminded in conversations with Bill Grogan!) The work of the Board of Trustees and of the President, in collaboration with faculty, must be very much about the future of the Institute.  I assure you that this remains the Board’s and my highest commitment. I thank all of you for your continuing loyalty to WPI, and for your hard work in support of our students, faculty, colleagues, and the timely idea and mission of our institution.

I write this from San Diego, where Cathy and I are attending the annual meeting of the Association of Independent Technical Universities (why not another acronym—AITU!). This is essentially a meeting of the presidents of the nation’s technological universities. We spend most of our time reporting out to each other on recent developments at our home institutions and discussing common aspirations and concerns. This group is always interested to hear about our progress at WPI and, especially in recent years, is quite envious of us.

We managed to escape the blizzard by advancing our departure date by one day, and I am grateful to the campus facilities crew for their good work in the cleanup despite my absence. As is customary for these trips, Cathy and I will be meeting with alumni and development prospects, and presenting Imagine and Achieve, the president’s slide show and town hall discussion with groups of alumni. From here we move on to Las Vegas and then to Dallas before returning to Worcester later next week. While I often worry about my extensive absences from the campus, there are, no doubt, some (many?) who rejoice, and others who do their usual  superb job of running the Institute whether Boynton Hall is fully occupied or not!  I extend my best wishes and continuing gratitude to all.  Keep up the great work and I look forward to seeing you on campus.


January 14, 2011

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