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Delta State University’s President William N. LaForge delivered his first State of the University address during opening convocation today at the Bologna Performing Arts Center on campus.
The address was titled “Building Quality and Excellence” and began with a welcome to faculty and staff at the start of Delta State’s 88th academic year.
LaForge, who became the university’s eighth president in April, was honored to present his statement for the first time.
“It is particularly exciting for me, as your new president, to address the university community — my friends and colleagues — in this convocation for the very first time,” said LaForge. “It is an honor and a privilege for me to be able to hold this position of trust and to be your colleague.”
“My first four months have been an incredible ride — a busy time packed with every aspect of activity and enterprise Delta State and the Delta have to offer. I have been baptized by fire, and I actually enjoyed it. I love being at Delta State, and I am honored to be working with all of you to take Delta State to new levels of quality and excellence.”
LaForge characterized the state of the university as “stable, well managed, re-energized, properly directed toward fulfilling its mission, and poised for many successes that will underpin our overarching goals of building quality and locking into a tradition of excellence.”
He stressed early in his speech that the academic integrity of the university would be of utmost importance.
“During my tenure, the academic standards at this university will never be diminished,” he said. “On the contrary, they will be enhanced as we move forward with quality instruction, professors, staff support, campus activities, program requirements, and most notably, students who gain from us wisdom, knowledge and lessons that set them well on their career paths.”
The president then credited his dedicated cabinet members for providing quality leadership in this time of transition, stating, “my cabinet has come together and delivered results time and time again in an outstanding manner, frequently operating as a think-tank to analyze issues and strategize.”
A great deal of time has been spent on what the leadership team has dubbed twin-challenge issues — budget constraints and enrollment. “We are diligent in minding the business side of the house to ensure our fiduciary duties are met and this university is governed and managed with the utmost attention to financial integrity and good practices,” he said.
“Similarly, we are addressing our enrollment challenges head-on. We need more good students at Delta State — please note, quality and quantity. We are working hard to develop strategies to bolster our recruiting practices and to keep the students who come here for their education.”
To bolster enrollment, the president said it would take a collaborative and all-inclusive commitment to carry out a three-year strategic direction recruitment and retention plan.
“Today, I enlist each of you individually and through your department to join the effort to bring new students to this university and to help us keep and guide those students through to graduation,” said LaForge. “Recruitment and retention are the responsibility of all of us.”
To show that the success of the university depends on shared governance, LaForge also announced that the president of the Student Government Association, Sydney Hodnett, was added to the cabinet as a permanent non-voting advisor and observer who will be invited to, and included in, all cabinet sessions.
And to provide greater staff representation, LaForge revealed the chair of the Staff Council, Robin Boyles, will now serve as an official, full-voting member of the cabinet.
The president continued his address by going over an extensive list of the accomplishments of the previous year, stating, “I have come to describe Delta State as a university of champions — in the classroom and our academic programs, in extracurricular activities, and in intercollegiate athletics. Our achievements and successes across the academy and throughout campus programs are numerous and notable.”
LaForge also discussed a number of ongoing projects, many of which he discussed in his candidacy for president. Some of these include: hosting a major conference on race relations in the spring of 2014; establishing international exchange programs with universities in Russia, Bulgaria and Poland; forming an international academic conference on the blues; and developing a new student-business co-op program that will allow students to be employed by local businesses.
LaForge concluded his speech by asking faculty and staff to unite in a common vision as the university strives for excellence.
“I am here to tell you today that we will not fall short of our goals and aspirations for lack of maximum effort and energy,” he said.
“Ladies and gentlemen, going forward, we will truly be about the business of building quality and excellence. As you leave this convocation today, I challenge you — all of us together — to re-double your efforts to make the outside world see us as we really are — a truly outstanding public university of national distinction.”