Forum helps Southeast Missouri State set goals

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Southeast Missouri State University needs to better brand itself and do a better job of communicating its mission, participants in a strategic planning forum said Monday.

The forum was held as officials begin to formulate a three- to five-year plan for the university, determining goals and outlining priorities. About 130 people voiced their opinion about where the university currently stands, obstacles it has to overcome, visions for the future and steps to achieve targets.

Sufficiently coordinating non-academic programs, including athletics; cultivating alumni relationships; determining a sense of what must happen to facilities; providing professional development for professors and succession planning topped the lists of students, administrators and community members.

Repeatedly they said the university must define who it is and to whom it wants to promote itself.

"We can't be all things to all people," said Kathy Mangels, vice president of business and finance at Southeast.

The university walks a particularly fine line as it attempts to become a "university of first choice," balanced with its top priorities of remaining "affordable, accessible and available."

"We're moving from 'I couldn't go where I wanted to go but settled' to 'This is where I want to go,'" said Lincoln Scott, assistant to the president for equity and diversity issues.

Some questioned whether the university should become more selective. "Are we too open? Are we just letting anybody in?" art professor Louise Bodenheimer asked.

One group, assigned the task of defining student characteristics, said students are underprepared, provincial, rigid, intolerant, and frequently distracted by other responsibilities, such as work or family.

They said there need to be consistent, enforceable standards of classroom etiquette, a greater emphasis on international internships, more mentoring and greater collaboration between high school teachers and college professors.

While their view was negative, others said the university has positives that are not being conveyed. Board of Regents member Albert Spradling III said the university thrives on small class sizes, experienced faculty and providing a quality education, and that message must be sold.

Part of better branding means taking pride in the university, Spradling said.

Participants consistently voiced a desire for more school spirit and traditions, so alumni continue to feel connected to the university, particularly important as state funding for higher education is squeezed.

Continuing the existing culture might become difficult as large portions of faculty reach retirement age. Dr. Bill Weary, president of Fieldstone Consulting, who the university hired to help with strategic planning, questioned how well-structured and funded the university is to move forward as replacing faculty becomes necessary.

"Do we have any sense of what must happen for facilities?" he also asked.

One group assigned the task of evaluating facilities said positives are the arts, business and polytechnic buildings, the Show Me Center and the recreation center. Certain dorms, science labs, the Rhodes and McGill buildings, parking and Houck Stadium were listed as needing significant improvements. The group also said the attractiveness of many buildings' exteriors and interiors don't match.

University officials and a steering committee will use what was said Monday to formulate a strategic plan draft before the end of the semester. Additional forums will be held for community members to give their input on the draft.

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