WSSU Chancellor Delivers Address to Brown Alumni Chapter

Chancellor Donald J. Reaves
March 21, 2011

Chancellor Donald J. Reaves address to WSSU Brown Alumni Chapter

during 60th Anniversary  Celebration

McNeil Ballroom, Anderson Center

Friday, March 18, 2011 - 7:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m.



Good evening and thank you for that wonderful introduction and thank you very much for inviting me to speak to you this evening.  I bring you greetings from the faculty, staff and students of the University – and Deborah and I are delighted to be able to share this evening with you.

You are certainly to be congratulated for your 60 years of service to Winston-Salem State.  I think it is only fitting that your theme for tonight’s celebration includes the words “legacy,” “service” and “loyalty.”  The Brown Alumni Chapter has developed a strong legacy of service to the university and the loyalty you have shown is to be commended.

I think it is a tribute to that loyalty that the chapter has been able not only to last for 60 years, but to grow over time.  Those first eight charter members were determined to continue a relationship with their beloved Winston-Salem Teachers College. Through the years, the group has been able to reach out and bring in new alumni and to increase the numerous ways that it supports the university – the university that you love so much. 

As Chancellor, I understand the importance of alumni to any college or university.  All colleges and universities depend upon their alumni to be ambassadors, and the Brown Alumni Chapter has certainly done an outstanding job in representing the university in the workplace, in the community and across the country.   You also represent us very well in the local community and across the State, as is the case with some of our elected officials who are with us this evening.  And perhaps most important, you continue to help us grow through your efforts to recruit students to our campus.  And last but not least, you help us financially with the gifts that you provide. 

The ways that you help us are numerous and I like to think about alumni such as yourself in terms of what I call the "three Ws".   You provide us with your work, your wealth and your wisdom – and all three are important to the future of WSSU. 

The fruits of your labor on behalf of the university are obvious in so many ways, from your support of students on financial aid to the awards that individual members and the chapter have been able to celebrate.

From Doris Hartsfield, a charter member who is being honored tonight, to  Barbara Puryear who has chaired the National Scholarship Committee and received recognition for her work with the chapter and in the community -- these are just two examples of the legacy of service that this chapter has provided. 

Through the years, the Brown Alumni Chapter has also sponsored many candidates for the title of Miss Alumni and used those efforts to provide funding for the university. 

And the Chapter’s recognition last year with the Bronze Trophy at the STAR recognition banquet also illustrated the efforts shown by your members.

I could go on and on – there are so many examples of your generosity that I could cite, but I want to turn to the topic that I want to talk about tonight, and that’s the future of WSSU. 

As we gather this evening to celebrate your 60-year history and the Chapter’s many, many accomplishments, I want to spend some time talking with you about where we are headed as a university. 

Since your chapter began in 1951, the tremendous social and political changes that we have seen have made quite a difference in all of our lives.  Those changes have also affected Winston-Salem State University – and all of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities in this Nation, of which there are 105.

In 1951 the choices that African American students had as to where they might attend college were much more limited than they are today, and those limitations are reflected in the statistics that I am going to provide.  In 1971, 20 years after the formation of this alumni chapter, 83 percent of the African American students who attended the UNC were enrolled at one of the five HBCUs.  Today, African American students have many choices as to where they attend college, and the percentage of African American students at the five North Carolina HBCUs has declined to about 55 percent.  So what does that mean for the North Carolina HBCUs, for Winston-Salem State and for all of the others? 

The first thing that it means is that we must now compete – we must compete with the other HBCUs and with the majority institutions for the best students.  The monopoly over Black talent that was once enjoyed by HBCUs has all but disappeared, and we must offer our students a quality education that is on par with other schools if we are to remain relevant in the minds of prospective students and their parents.  Providing a quality education is our absolute highest priority, and we must ensure that our students are prepared when they graduate to compete successfully for the best jobs and for admission to the best graduate and professional schools. 

But our job does not stop there.  At the same time we also must keep our commitment to provide access to a college education for the students, many of them first generation, who otherwise might not attend college were it not for the likes of a WSSU or some other HBCU. 

Balancing these two often competing demands is a difficult task and we along with our colleagues at other similar institutions must remain mindful of the importance of the tremendous responsibility that we have to the next generation of African American students – mindful of both the issues of access and quality. 

Times have changed since this Chapter was formed, and times have changed since the time that you became a member, regardless of when that was.  We see change everywhere we go and in everything that we do.  And the simple fact of the matter with regard to the university is that if it is going to remain relevant in the increasingly competitive world of higher education, then it too must change. 

As your chancellor now for almost four years, that is what I have brought to the table – a recipe for change that is grounded solidly in the belief that we have a firm responsibility to offer our students the best possible education that we can provide.  So what does that mean?

It means it is necessary to make changes in what we teach and how we teach it if we are to meet the educational needs of students with varying levels of preparedness.  We must provide a quality education and we must offer the support necessary to retain and graduate our students.

But there is something more important than just graduating our students.  We are also concerned about post-graduation outcomes, about how well are students are prepared to compete.  And in order to compete in today’s knowledge-based global economy our students must be more than subject-matter experts. 

In addition to understanding a body of knowledge, they must be able to think critically and analytically, they must be able to communicate effectively – they must be fluent in the language, more than one if possible, they must be able to write skillfully, they must be able to work in diverse groups and compete with equally talented people, they must be able to deal with constant change in technology, science, society and the international community.  They must also be strategic in the way that they think about the world and how they see themselves.  They need a plan for where they are going.  I could go on and on.  But where this is leading is to the conclusion that we need to change how we educate students today.

We have developed a strategic plan that will serve as our guide, and we are in the process of changing what we teach and how we teach it.  At the core of this effort is curriculum reform, and it is the most important activity taking place on the campus today.  The changes to the curriculum are recognition of the fact that the teaching methods of the past are no longer sufficient, and that a 21st century education must be grounded in active and experiential learning so that students are not just memorizing information, but are learning how to think.   That is the key to success – learning how to think. 

And once a student has mastered what seems like a simple task, but what is in reality is a very complex undertaking, he or she will be prepared for whatever they may choose to do.

The changes to the curriculum will also broaden a student’s exposure to diverse areas of study through the creation of new courses, through expanded opportunities to engage in research, and through an exposure to global issues.

As part of the plan, for example, we established a First Year Seminar Program that began last fall.  We offered small seminar classes that exposed students to a variety of topics and to an array of approaches to thinking about those topics.  Those courses provided students with a different environment for learning and sought to expand their thinking and reasoning skills.    

The plan also prescribes changes to improve the student experience – and that goes from the classrooms to the residence halls and all areas in between.  Improving the advising programs and expanding the concept of learning communities on campus are just two areas that fall into the academic experience.  We also want to increase support for leadership opportunities for our students.

We are very excited about what we are doing – the faculty is getting on board, the students who we have involved in the process are excited, and we are moving ahead at a rapid pace.  We know that it won’t be easy – it never is – its different and its new and it represents change, but the results that we anticipate will be tremendously beneficial for our graduates. 

Today, however, we are facing a situation that is making our work even more challenging.

I am sure you are aware of the budget situation facing North Carolina.  The state is dealing with a revenue problem that will affect all areas of state government, including the UNC.   Right now we don’t know for sure how we will be affected.  We do know, however, that there will be a reduction in state support for all of the campuses in the UNC system --- including WSSU.  Since the funds we receive from the state represent about one-half of our total revenue, any reduction will be significant – especially when you consider that we have already experienced a loss of more than $20 million in our budget since 2008.

Now, the challenge is doubly difficult -- how to deliver the quality educational services that our students are entitled to while operating within the constraints created by this ongoing financial crisis.

There is no doubt that we also will have to make some very difficult decisions over the next several months, and these decisions will affect people.  It is likely that the faculty will be asked to do more – to teach more.  Students have already been affected and asked to do more by way of the 27 percent increase in tuition that was implemented last year, and it is likely to rise yet again.  And some staff will likely be affected when we have to take further reductions to our workforce. 

We have already taken some steps to reduce costs.  We have instituted a hiring freeze for non-critical positions and have reduced purchasing for non-instructional materials and travel. 

I have also convened a Resource Allocation Advisory Committee comprised of representatives from all areas of our campus – faculty, staff and students. With substantially less money to work with we must ensure that our funds are spent on the highest priorities.  This committee will help me make those decisions. 

One last word about the budget and then I’ll move on.  Budget crisis come and go, and this one will pass as others have, and down the road we will be confronted, again, with similar challenges.  The important thing about these situations is that we not lose our focus --that we not lose our way.  Staying focused on the core business of the university, which is teaching, research and service is critically important, and that is exactly what we plan to do. 

That’s to say that despite the budget challenges we know we will confront, I pledge to you that we will not slow down our efforts to provide our students with the quality education they need to be successful. We will fund those activities that are mission-critical and discard those activities that are not.   

Now, let me conclude on a more positive note, one that places your 60th celebration in its proper context. 

As I noted earlier there are 105 HBCUs in this Nation, and WSSU is one of the oldest and one of the finest.  And these institutions have played a very significant role in American higher education, having provided an education to generations of African American who because of the color of their skin were denied the education to which they were entitled.    But out of one of the most blatant forms of discrimination, the denial of what is a basic human right -- the right to an education, the Nation’s HBCUs provided an education when there were no other options available, and they have done it consistently and with great successful for more than one hundred and fifty years. 

HBCUs occupy a very special niche’s in the American system of higher education and are responsible, in large part, for the educational attainment of African Americans in this country.  They are responsible, for example, for the emergence and growth of the Black middle class.  They are responsible for creating the wealth that enabled you to send your children to college, who in turn will send their children off to school.  The generational effect of these colleges and universities is tremendous.  Just try to imagine where we would be had they not existed.  Such a thought is a nightmare.   

And despite the loss of many of our students to majority institutions, the Nations’ HBCUs continue to provide a disproportionate share of college degrees to African American students. We can take pride in the fact that while HBCUs represent only about 4 percent of the colleges and universities in this nation, they produce more than 20 percent of all college degrees awarded to African American. 

I make these comments on the occasion of your 60th anniversary celebration because we can all take pride in the fact that WSSU is a part of this rich history and rich legacy.  What started, as we all know as the Slater Industrial academy and grew eventually into TC and later became WSSU, is an important part of the educational history of the African American people in this country.  And it is people like you, through organizations like the Brown Alumni Association that help sustain and maintain the important role that these colleges and universities continue to play. 

And so on the occasion of your 60th anniversary, take pride in the accomplishments that have been achieved, take pride in the role that you and others have played.  Your support and the support of alumni like yourselves, all across this country, contributes significantly to the ability of HBCUs to continue to provide our young people with a quality education. 

As your chancellor I am certainly proud of your efforts and all that you do for WSSU.  So in closing I want to congratulate you; I want to thank you; and I simply ask that you continue to support Winston-Salem State. 

Thank you very much. 

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