To: Nicholls State University Faculty and Staff
From: Stephen T. Hulbert, President
The opening of the Fall Semester 2006 marks the beginning of my fourth year at Nicholls State University. During my first three years at the University, I have spent much time getting to know the character of Nicholls while seeking to provide leadership to the campus through some unique and sometimes trying circumstances. Since 2003, we have experienced turmoil with budget cuts and visits from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, a challenge to academic integrity with the NCAA investigation, proud moments with the SACS, AACSB, NCATE, Nursing and Mass Communication reaffirmations of accreditations among others, and the move to more selective admissions standards.
This year, Nicholls faces another serious challenge to institutional integrity through a potentially significant decline in enrollment. New academic criteria, the economy, mother nature . . . all of these factors have played a part in what could well be upwards of an 8 percent or 400 FTF reduction in enrollment for this University. Thus, student recruitment and retention remain my primary focus of attention for the next three years; however, student retention is everyone’s responsibility. Nicholls is enrolling better-prepared students and our retention rates should reflect this fact. The success rates of our students must be improved, particularly in our first year general education classes. This must become a major concern for faculty, and faculty must take the initiative to enhance student learning and retention. The opportunities afforded by the Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) and implementation of the Center for the Advancement of Faculty Engagement (CAFÉ) should be seen by all as the means to enhance skills supportive of teaching and learning.
A second major area of focus involves strengthening the University’s new status as a Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) Four-year-4 category institution. We have much to do here to maintain this new classification. First and foremost, faculty salaries must be compared to this higher classification level and steps must continue to be taken to make those salaries more competitive. Additionally, our current graduate programs must be enhanced, and we must maintain the minimum number of graduates required for the Four-year-4 category. Thus, we look forward to supporting efforts by the College of Business Administration to develop its Executive MBA program, but we must also enhance other programs and seriously consider adding additional graduate initiatives. All of this occurs at a time of competing needs and scarce resources.
A third area of focus and effort involves attention to campus facilities, both in support of the academic program and that for student life. Work is well underway for road and parking lot improvements, renovation of the student union and cafeteria, and for the purchase of land in support of a new student recreation center. The University now looks forward to undertaking major renovations in Beauregard Hall. It is my goal to undertake planning for new facilities for the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute and the College of Business Administration, and to propose substantial renovations to Peltier Hall. Finally, a request for proposals has been released to undertake a comprehensive renovation of student housing with initial new facilities becoming available by January 2008.
Several other areas that will receive my attention involve emergency preparedness planning, shared governance, and service learning. Our shared experiences this past year have opened everyone’s eyes to the importance of being able to continue instruction despite the disasters that come our way. There is a growing national concern regarding pandemics and much talk of the need for “social distancing” or, more specifically, the closing of schools at all levels should an outbreak occur. One solution in response to weather and health related disasters involves the use of web instruction. Blackboard is no stranger to many of us on this campus, and this year I will encourage faculty and administrators alike to become familiar with the uses and benefits of this program. Faculty, at a minimum, should have syllabi and grades available to students on Blackboard. It is also imperative that the University be able to make coursework available through this communication vehicle should a disaster occur. To that end, faculty must make certain our students are educated on how Blackboard will be used to help them continue to progress toward their degrees even if they cannot physically be on campus.
From the outset of my presidency, it has always been my goal to promote and encourage shared governance on this campus. Although some faculty and staff seem hesitant to truly engage in this process, I have seen progress over each of the past three years. My goal remains to continue to encourage interaction and input as decisions are made in order to advance this University.
Finally, this faculty has made considerable strides in the area of service learning over the past three to five years. Together, this year, we will continue that effort with considerable attention given to a partnership with the University of Louisiana System Office and its grant funded initiatives with the Corporation for National and Community Service in Washington, D.C.
My best wishes to each of you for a highly productive and hopefully a “normal” school year. I genuinely appreciate everything that each of you does for Nicholls and its students.