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August 7, 2012

How VSU’s new president plans to adapt for change

QUITMAN — Change is coming to Valdosta State University and new president Dr. William McKinney isn’t just embracing it — he’s commanding it.

“We can create the conditions to create a more innovative and engaged VSU,” said McKinney to a crowd of the university’s faculty and staff during Monday morning’s convocation in Whitehead Auditorium.

Watching McKinney from the audience were former VSU presidents Dr. Louis Levy and Dr. Ronald Zaccari. Their presence was fitting since VSU’s continued success not only depends on the vision of a new president, but also on the past successes of previous university leaders.

“There will come a time in 100 years hence where there will be a new president ... they will be looking back at the previous 100 years,” said McKinney. “What will they say about us?”

In 1913, VSU was at the dawn of its existence as the school admitted its first students. Now approaching 2013, VSU is on the dawn of a new and even greater existence. Changes in technology, economy and higher education as a whole have molded, challenged and assisted the university to prevail as what McKinney hopes to become a premier model in higher education not just for the state, but for the nation.

“What we have to do is dedicate ourselves to doing more differently,” said McKinney.

Speaker Tracy Woodard-Meyers, VSU Women and Gender Studies director and faculty senate president, is an embodiment of doing things differently.

“Change can lead to progress,” said Woodard-Meyers.

Not only is she a known advocate for civil and women’s rights that in years past and even more recently have been resisted, protested and feared, she is head of a new faculty senate structure that will allow faculty to be active participants in enacting change.

“We all have a chance and a choice to have our voices heard,” said Woodard-Meyers.

She read a quote from Apple Computers: “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The trouble-makers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status-quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify, or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world — are the ones who do!”

Woodard-Meyers extended a welcome to McKinney and his wife, Dacia Charlesworth, but most of all, extended her blessing to McKinney’s ideas of change.

“I look forward to being labeled a crazy misfit with the both of you,” said Woodard-Meyers.

While change can be good, it also poses new challenges.

“We live in ever-changing, challenging times in higher education,” said McKinney.

Prior to 2008, the budget model for an institution of higher learning was different. Now VSU functions much like a private university receiving little money from the state and more from tuition, fees and private donations.

“We’re not ever going back to the way things were in 2008,” said McKinney. “For the first time in our history, we are now really tuition dependent.”

However, McKinney added that things weren’t that great prior to 2008 and this new economic model, while it comes with a new breed of challenges, will have great benefits as well.

“There’s no better time than now for VSU to control its own destiny,” said McKinney. “At every turn, we will protect and continue to protect the core academic mission of this university.”

He said VSU’s future is in the hands of the faculty and staff that have and will continue to drive the university forward.

“We become the agents of change, or the environment will change us,” said McKinney.

Above all else, McKinney feels his primary responsibility is to create an environment where VSU’s faculty and staff can thrive.

“We will create together the conditions of a changed VSU,” said McKinney.

The president plans to create change through a process he calls transparent transition. This will establish a new planning process where open participation is encouraged and required to build a stronger future. A new strategic plan will set the foundation for a new master plan. A new presidential website portal will soon go live and track progress and keep all stake holders up to date. McKinney also aims to obtain an optional engaged university designation through the Carnegie Foundation by 2015.

“So I ask you this morning, what will our successors say of us again in the next 100 years?” McKinney asked. “That’s up to us.”

According to McKinney, through innovative growth and change, VSU will be a leader among American universities just as it is now.

“Let’s have a great year,” said McKinney.

Award winners

VSU’s vice president for academic affairs Dr. Karla Hull named the recipients of the 2012 Faculty Excellence Awards. Gardener Rogers of the Department of English received the Excellence in Teaching award and Dr. Gretchen Bielmyer of the Department of Biology received the Excellence in Professional Activity Award.

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