There has been much activity at the University since the last regular meeting of the Board of Regents. Many at the institution are focused on the future and participating in conversations about moving forward.
The planning committee sanctioned by the Board did an excellent job preparing the recent series of inaugural events, carried out appropriately with an academic thrust and as a celebration for the institution as a whole. Several features of the inaugural set the stage for strategic planning, including the addresses and the symposium on the future of higher education. And, we are now fully engagedóthe University Strategic Planning Committee is meeting weekly to craft an initial planning statement of key institutional directions; a special expanded subcommittee is developing an environmental scan; hundreds, internal and external to the University, are participating in at least three forums to contemplate our range of stakeholders and assess our strengths, challenges, opportunities and threats; and shortly we will launch a speaker series for key administrators and faculty and student leaders to inform us about critical trends and issues linked to our collective future in higher education.
As these more general activities have taken place, we have also focused on a pressing matter for the University that needs immediate attentionóinformation and communications technology. With the assistance of an external facilitator, Dr. Donald Norris, we now have a much better grasp of our information technology strengths and weaknesses, and we have moved swiftly to address a series of issues. Many people with expertise are now working together, some for the first time, to address "enterprise-wide" solutions. Three work groups are focusing on the network, the applications software layer, and e-learning. A much larger set of participants recently spent a day collaborating in a "Portal Symposium" to help focus our attention on more creative and effective uses of our website and the internet to serve a great variety of our internal and external stakeholders. Participation in these varied planning activities is deeply appreciated.
As the Board agenda today reflects, we have devoted considerable effort to developing a budget request to the State within tight time parametersóa process that has involved all the areas represented by the Cabinet and has been further informed by last Spring's above-base budget exercise and the special work we are doing now in information and communications technology. In future years, this process will be informed primarily by strategic planning. In a departure from the past, we have not only presented a robust proposal to address real needs, but we have done so thematicallyófocusing on programs that fit the strengths of EMU and meet the needs of the State, our largest donor. These include such areas as new student recruitment and success initiatives, new marketing and outreach programs to support our public engagement mission, professional programs in high demand in Michigan, and information and communications technology.
The newest feature is our proposed official recognition and funding for the Ph.D. in technology, which addresses national needs on university campuses across the country as well as the workforce and economic development needs of Michigan in an information-age economy. I am pleased to report that the proposal has received an initially favorable reaction from most of the chief academic officers of the public universities in the state and that we have been successful in recruiting a new dean with doctoral program experienceóDr. John Dugger of Iowa State University will join us in January.
Our state appropriation request also seeks funding for relatively fixed costs associated with our human resources contracts, operating budgets and utilities. The latter poses a substantial challenge for us as the expiring natural gas contract will lead to gas purchases at more than double current costsóthis budget hit alone exceeds $2 million and is the most critical factor that has driven our base budget request to just under the double-digit level. In addition, we are again submitting a supplemental appropriation request for one-time funds, focusing on information and communications technology, with a small component devoted to energy monitoring and conservation initiatives to reduce our future vulnerability to rapid utility cost increases. As unglamorous as it sounds, EMU's cost pressures are the same as the average American'sórising health care and gas prices.
Finally, our budget request package includes a bold capital outlay request to seek support for two important projectsóthe completion of Pray-Harrold renovations, including the development of "smarter" classrooms in this largest instructional facility on campus, and progress on a reconfigured science complex. Both of these projects are important, but they will be a challenge to achieve as the state nears its bonding capacity, as there is weak support for capital projects in any area of state government, as we compete for very limited dollars, and as the required capital match continues to discriminate against historically underfunded institutions. We are at least heading into this storm with a positive financial picture given the recent Moody's upgrade in our debt rating from A3 to A2, reflecting our debt situation locally and the prospects for enrollment growth and mission focus through strategic planning.
During the inaugural, I mentioned that EMU has been accepted as a new member of two important groups of universities relevant to our diverse missionóthe Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities, which focuses on institutions in more rapidly developing urban and suburban areas where outreach, economic development, service learning, school collaboration and applied research are important, and the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC), which consists of the nation's major state doctoral-granting and land-grant universities. These complement our historic membership in the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), which is comprised of primarily regional public universities with normal school roots. All of these groups provide new opportunities for shared learning, professional development, benchmarking, visibility and networking, and further reflect the important "hybrid" characteristics of EMU.
One of the greatest strengths of the University is its values and how they are manifested. Several recent illustrations are important. Today the Board considers a statement on campus violence which has been discussed thoroughly and is a timely reflection of our commitment, especially as we build a more diverse campus. That diversity is also seen in our celebration of International Week, which began yesterday and includes a series of events to highlight international understanding and the importance of international competency for our students. Our values also show in how we, as a community, provided support to students and grieved the recent loss of a freshman, successfully implemented the drug and alcohol parental notification policy under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, and in how we are giving of ourselves through the United Way campaign and faculty and staff annual fund drive.
These are all good reasons for being at EMU and for taking pride in our accomplishments as we prepare to celebrate the first year of the new millennium.
In-as-much as the Board will not meet next month, I want to recognize two regents whose terms will expire December 31, 2000.
Regent Colonel William J. Stephens was appointed to the Board June 27, 1996, to fill the remaining term of Fredrick Blackmon. Colonel Stephens has been one of the most visible and supportive friends the University could have. Through his role as chair of the Student Affairs Committee of the Board, and chair of the Michigan Association of Governing Boards, he has served the University with distinction.
Jan Brandon was appointed in June 2000, to complete the term vacated by Regent Carl Pursell. In the past few months, she has worked diligently to learn about the University and her role as a regent.
While we certainly hope the governor would choose to reappoint both Bill and Jan, it is important at this time to recognize them for their service, thank them for their commitment to Eastern Michigan University, and to extend our best wishes for whatever the future may hold.