Welcome, or welcome back, to all of Tennessee Tech’s awesome faculty, staff, and students, both new and returning, and a special welcome to all of our new freshmen and transfer students. Congratulations on your decision to join the TTU family and for your prior accomplishments that have brought you here.

As you are finding out, Tennessee Tech University is a special place filled with good and wonderfully talented people – people who make it their daily goal to have a positive impact on the lives of others. That spirit is an essential part of the proud tradition of Tennessee Tech.

Isaac Newton famously remarked, “If I have seen a little further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” We have a lot to be proud of, but even more to look forward to as we continue this legacy.

There is a special rhythm to life on a university campus. Each season brings its own unique charm and excitement, but, to me, none is more exciting than Welcome Week and the start of the fall semester. It always brings a sense of renewal and optimism, highlighting the vast innate potential in each of us. This time of year reminds us that ultimately everything is about the students we serve and the futures they shape individually and collectively.

The expectations for higher education in today’s world are higher and more complex than ever before, and the challenges we face in meeting those expectations are many and significant. More will be said about those issues as time goes by, but today I am glad to note that Tennessee Tech is well positioned to face these challenges with financial stability, a strong academic reputation, a talented and dedicated faculty, an excellent student body and a growing enrollment.

I am delighted that this fall we will be able to provide significant and well-deserved salary raises to faculty and staff, pending TBR approval. This is an indication of the good fiscal management this campus has had in recent years and is a sign of our commitment to aggressively and consistently address faculty and staff compensation needs.

However, the pressures of reduced state support, increased tuition, higher expectations for efficiency of degree completion, and continued enrollment growth bring us to the inevitable conclusion that doing the same things in the same way is simply not an option. We are proud that the actual educational costs at TTU have decreased in recent years, and we were just listed as the 12th Most Affordable University nationally by Newsweek. But the cost burden is falling increasingly on students and their families. Now is not the time to be timid or hesitant. We must be creative, bold and very strategic in addressing fiscal and academic issues, with a conscious determination that our decisions will be in the best interests of our students.

To that point, we are in the process of selecting a consulting firm to assist us with a strategic gap analysis during the fall semester. This process will involve a relatively small but representative task force co-chaired by Drs. Mark Stephens and Claire Stinson. Their charge is to select an appropriate set of aspirational peer institutions, identify key metrics that best characterize those institutions, and analyze the current apparent gaps between TTU and those peers. We will use these data to refocus our strategic plan and to provide a clear and measureable roadmap for strategic progress. Time is critical. We simply cannot afford to get bogged down in a lengthy and overly laborious planning process. We aim to have the gap analysis and re-envisioned strategic plan ready for a public rollout in February. This will allow us to move expeditiously out of “strategic planning” and into “strategic doing.”

In the meantime, we will continue to implement a number of programmatic and campus improvements that have already been queued up and ready to go.

The strategic planning process will be compact and intense. Although the task force will be limited in size, we will solicit everyone’s input and participation to get the best thoughts and ideas on the table for consideration. To do that, timely, honest and effective communication is critical.

Given the diverse nature of a large college campus, communication is inherently complex. Most campuses struggle with good internal communication, but it is vital in the life of the campus community. There is no single, perfect means or form of communication, but this blog is one of several avenues, both high-tech and low-tech, I want to use to talk with the campus community and perhaps with others who care about TTU. We will experiment with this and find a mix of communication channels that work for us at TTU. We hope this will be a convenient way to keep in touch and to exchange ideas and information on a regular basis.

Best wishes to each of you for an enjoyable and productive 2012-13 academic year. Thank you for all that you do to make Tennessee Tech truly special.

GO EAGLES!