Delta State opens year with general convocation
by Anne Hart Preus
Aug 17, 2014 | 2615 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The official start for the 2014-15 academic year for Delta State University began with a general convocation at the Bologna Performing Arts Center Friday.

Dr. Wayne Blansett, vice president for student affairs, introduced new provost and vice president for academic affairs, Dr. Charles A. McAdams, as the master of ceremonies for the morning's event.

McAdams recognized special guests: Nancy LaForge, Dr. Kent Wyatt, Billy and Becky Nowell, and Judson Thigpen. He also thanked the Cleveland-Bolivar County Chamber of Commerce and sponsors for the welcome back party for faculty and staff.

McAdams said, "I am so pleased to be here. The Mississippi Delta is an incredible place and Delta State has a unique role in the region. Our role is to make a positive difference in students' lives."

His outlined some of the strategies for recruitment and retention that the university is initiating and reiterated that standards would not be lowered because students deserved a quality education.

Michael Aguzzi, president of the Cleveland-Bolivar County Chamber of Commerce, made a brief welcome on behalf of the chamber. "I thank you for your dedication to higher education whether you are here for the first time or a seasoned pro. Our relationship with Delta State is strong. We are united in green."

Lucy Janoush, president of the Cleveland Music Foundation, Inc. showed the audience a video of how Cleveland got the Grammy Museum.

"The 28,000 square foot building costs 18 million dollars which came from the state and federal levels, Cleveland, Bolivar County, and private donations. It will be the most technologically advanced museum," said Janoush.

Blansett introduced the Student Government Association officers and recognized their academic accomplishments.

Dr. David Hebert, faculty senate president, introduced new faculty and Marilyn Read, staff council chair, introduced new staff.

McAdams introduced Dr. William N. LaForge, president of Delta State, who gave his state of the university address.

LaForge outlined his vision for the new academic year, which was titled, " Building Quality and Excellence-a Work in Progress" by quoting Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities." "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us; we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going the other way."

"For Delta State, it is neither the best nor worst," said LaForge.

He welcomed community leaders and cited Delta State's long -standing relationship with Cleveland and towns across the Delta.

LaForge reflected on the past year as an incredible year of learning. "We dealt with issues and challenges, and we are making progress. We have planted seeds of renewed emphasis on academic success and stabilizing enrollment and the budget," he said.

Five areas of concentration comprised LaForge's address: enrollment, budget, compensation, capital improvements, and a vision for growth and excellence.

"Enrollment has increased for the first time in 8 years," said LaForge as he emphasized the need for recruitment efforts to continue.

"There are new retention efforts with academic assistance to keep students on track," said LaForge.

Marketing efforts are being stepped up in Memphis, Jackson, and the coast and the legacy program is planting seeds for the future.

LaForge cited the off campus work-study program for students as an opportunity for students to gain work experience and get paid.

"The budget is a serious challenge and we continue to stabilize our financial situation. Departments have adequate but limited budgets. Recruitment and retention are our path to budget stabilization," said LaForge.

He noted that continued spending reduction exercises would pay off in the future. New budget information will be provided to faculty and staff next week. One example of the belt-tightening was the decision not to have the traditional lunch after the convocation saving around $6500.00.

"We will win the battle of the budget," he said.

Talk of the budget was a segue into a discussion of compensation for employees. "I know and understand the needs," said LaForge. "It is a matter of when, not if. We plan to have a raise next year. We will address those with minimum wages first because we need this year to restore order and stability to our finances."

Expense management, additional revenue and increased enrollment will help make raises a reality.

Capital improvements are a focus. Several buildings are targeted for renovation and $14.5 million from the state of Mississippi will help with improvements to the music hall, science/math hall, and dining hall, as well as repaving streets.

LaForge outlined a bright future with his vision of excellence and growth. A new athletic director, provost and others provide a strong leadership team. A 3.1 million dollar gift from the Robert E. Smith estate to transform health care in the Delta, a capital campaign raising over 40 million dollars and a commitment to diversity are the stimulus for that vision.

"We have a commitment to diversity here," said LaForge, "by establishing a diversity chair. We expect a collegial environment that is respectful, and supportive with no room for incivility. We must have hospitality to all and must demonstrate that our doors are open and friendly to all which applies to the LGBT community."

Indicating the reality of LaForge's vision are: the International Conference on the Blues scheduled for October 6-7; athletic programs: and the people who make Delta State special like Margaret Wade, Lucy Harris Stewart, Boo Farris, Crystal Hardy, James Donald Cooper, Lloyd Clark and Kent Wyatt.

Laforge reiterated that Delta State would build and maintain a high standard of excellence and that recruitment and retention were key. He closed by quoting again from "A Tale of Two Cities": 'It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.

"I am honored to serve and I pledge you my best in our journey to excellence. Together we can do—our DSU," said LaForge.