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President: Responsibility, Vigilance Keys to Maintaining Safe Community

(The following is drawn from remarks by Davie Jane Gilmour, Pennsylvania College of Technology president, during a Jan. 11 all-college meeting to open the Spring 2008 semester.)

Good morning and Happy New Year.

Any time I prepare for an all-college meeting, there are a few things I routinely do.

I ask those people I work closely with if there is anything for me to announce, highlight, etc.

I often take time and reflect finding a quiet place where I can consider what we accomplished last year/semester and what lies ahead of us this year/semester. This is the “challenges and opportunities” part, where I need to remind myself and all of you that we can face anything and be successful when we act as a community focused on our mission.

I am often touched by a message, quote or story that reminds me we are fortunate and I should be grateful for our time and place.

Then I sit down to the computer and begin the task of writing the message, keeping two cardinal rules in mind: First, you do not want to be here all day, and, second, reminding myself not to forget to thank anyone.

This year was different.

Yes, I did ask for input, and, no, there was no time to reflect.

That time was taken away from me and us this year by the senseless crime and violence in our neighborhood.

Since Dec. 13, 14 burglaries have happened in the immediate area around campus and many of those affected our off-campus students.

Yes, some individuals were caught in the act and we have learned valuable information.

They are not the only “group” breaking into apartments, houses, and rooms “¦ and they are individuals who know our students, party with them and “hang out” with them. They knew when they would be away and when the properties would be vacant.

Totally unrelated to the break-ins came the shootings of nearly a week ago.

While not on campus, these events are too close for comfort and have made the mainstream news media.

Who will want their son or daughter to attend a college in a community with these acts of crime?

We cannot and will not stand by and allow these criminal acts to erode our reputation, our investment and our future.

This calls for unprecedented action. We need to get the attention of our students.

To that end, I am suspending what few classes are held on Tuesday, Jan. 15, from 3:30-4:30 p.m. for an all-student meeting.

We will hold that meeting in this room (the Klump Academic Center Auditorium) and are prepared to move to the gymnasium. I hope we have to move.

(Police) Chief (Chris) Miller and I will be addressing the students. They must recognize the need to be aware of their surroundings, their friends and their habits.

The chief and I have met with student leaders, I have sent a letter to the parents of all students and now I need to ask you to participate in paying attention to the neighborhood and making sure we provide a safe and secure environment where our students can live, learn and socialize, allowing us to thrive.

We are doubling off-campus patrols by Penn College Police. We are adding foot patrols to the perimeter of campus.

We will do this for the foreseeable future. Any suspicious behavior or individuals should be reported to the Penn College Police Department immediately.

Policing and protecting students is the responsibility of our police department, a department whose members are known to our students, who are available and able to assist 24/7 a department worthy of our praise and pride.

I have full confidence in them as they conduct themselves in a professional and appropriate manner. I also know that our officers and leadership will continue to work cooperatively with the City of Williamsport Police Department.

But we as a community need to come together we all need to participate.

Remind students to attend Tuesday’s meeting, lock your office when you depart , get to know the neighborhood.

Last year, a student lab assistant stopped (Senior Vice President) Bill Martin and me as we were exiting the building. He saw three suspicious individuals and wanted us to alert us. Within minutes, the Penn College Police apprehended the individuals, none of whom had a purpose on campus and one of whom was wanted by local authorities.

This student is an example to all of us.

I am not afraid I will repeat that I am not afraid to be on campus, around campus, downtown. I will not allow these acts to disrupt my work and leisure life.

I walk to my car in the dark, but I pay attention. I have my keys ready. I will not assume “someone else” will see or report something. I will do it myself if I encounter anything that does not look, feel or seem right.

My only request is that you do the same.

In the coming days and weeks, we will offer more programming for students, continue communication with our landlords and work with community officials to do what needs to be done for the safety and security of our students and campus.

There is more to our story: I will not and I ask you not to let this behavior overshadow what will be a great year for Penn College.

Thank you to all who worked hard over the holiday closure to get the semester started this coming Monday. We are truly grateful.

Congratulations to Tom Gregory (dean of construction and design technologies), Diana Kuhns (assistant professor of mathematics) and the Middle States Steering Committee for another job well-done. We were fully reaccredited and commended for the quality of our Periodic Review Report. I am most grateful to all who worked so hard to make this happen.

One of my temporary responsibilities is professional development, and I am thankful to Sue Mahaffey (secretary to the associate vice president for academic affairs) for her coordination of this important area.

I am pleased to tell you that, with the development of the myPCT Portal, several departments have begun moving their employee-related content from the public Web site to the portal. The Professional Development portal site will allow employees to find a complete listing of offerings on one page, to easily see which courses are full and to register electronically.

As a result of this improved access to updated course information, Professional Development will no longer produce a paper catalog of courses. Employees are encouraged to visit the Professional Development portal site frequently.

The selection of courses continues to grow as more of our talented staff and faculty step forward to share their skills and knowledge.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education is looking at statewide 2+2+2 articulation in a large number of programs.

This is important to us, as any institution getting Carl Perkins funding will have an obligation to participate. We can expect calls from across the commonwealth for our faculty expertise, and I encourage you to respond to the request for participation should you be asked.

New for 2008 will be a number of things.

A new budgeting process “base budgeting” and all are asked to be very cost-aware when developing budgets. Please take time and look at actual budget history, and evaluate needs carefully. Financial Operations is ready and available to answer questions you may have.

Why are we doing this? To keep costs in check and tuition down for our students. Thank you in advance for your hard work.

We have outgrown the Community Arts Center for commencement. We considered three ceremonies in one day, but that is unfair to the Arts Center staff and volunteers, not to mention the provost and president.

We have added a Friday afternoon ceremony, followed by the Honors Ceremonies taking place that evening. We have broken the schools by graduate size and this is all done to allow our students to have enough tickets for their families to enjoy the celebration.

Friday afternoon at 3 p.m. will be Construction and Design Technologies and Transportation Technology.

Saturday morning will be Business and Computer Technologies, Health Sciences and Hospitality; Saturday afternoon will be Industrial and Engineering Technologies, Natural Resources Management and Integrated Studies.

And now to move on.

Our Stage X building program is moving along and we look to go to the bond market later this month.

We could use some stability in the financial markets, and are watching closely to be careful with our timing.

Stage X focuses almost exclusively on academic expansions and renovations, adding new student housing and a new dining facility. We eagerly await the next steps in our process and the new opportunities this set of projects will bring us.

(Associated Vice President for Academic Affairs) Henryk Marcinkiewicz left Penn College this past fall to work with ARAMCO.

Anytime someone departs, it is important to evaluate the structure of a department or division, and Liz Mullens (vice president for academic affairs/provost) and I have been doing just that. Liz has made Phase One changes, and I am pleased to announce that, effective March 3, (Student Life Director) Carolyn Strickland will assume a new position in Academic Affairs: assistant vice president for academic affairs.

This position will provide additional talent and leadership in academic affairs, and, while Carolyn does not begin officially until March, her transition will begin immediately.

This change does not impact the decentralization of those people previously reporting to Henryk, and Liz will address the remaining Academic Affairs structure Phase Two, if you will prior to the end of the fiscal year.

Carolyn’s departure from Student Affairs necessitates a change in Student Affairs. Ward Caldwell (special assistant to the president for student affairs) and I will be examining options over the next few weeks.

Welcome Weekend activities are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday as we prepare to begin classes on Monday. Thank you to those involved for your extra time and energy to welcome our new and returning students to campus.

College Information and Community Relations prepared a Penn College calendar for 2008. We have sent these to friends of the college, donors, etc., and they are available for you as you leave the auditorium today.

Attending classes at Penn College is a privilege not a right. Last fall, we had a few incidents of disruptive student behavior in classes or laboratories.

I want to personally reinforce that it is not appropriate for faculty, staff or fellow students to have to tolerate disrespectful or disruptive behavior.

We will be providing seminars, information and reviewing procedures this semester for all employees, and I hope you take advantage of the resources made available.

Under the leadership of Dennis Correll, the Financial Aid Office has adopted a new software program for the management of scholarship applications and matching applicants with available scholarships Scholar X.

More than 900 students have filed a scholarship application via the new software that will provide an automated matching of criteria to applicant. We are thrilled with this response as we work to get these resources in the hands of our students.

Quality Through Assessment and our Planning Review Committee are making significant progress, and I encourage you to avail yourself of the information they are producing. This work will position Penn College well for the future and for our students.

The members of the Matriculation Committee have worked collaboratively to improve the direct matriculation process and to be certain all offices involved are communicating in a collaborative and reinforcing way.

Mark Paternostro (associate vice president for academic services) and Academic Affairs continue to refine the student probation process and early indicators point to an improvement in our retention.

It is important to remember our door remains open for students who are willing to meet us halfway in the process, but is not revolving for those who are not.

I am optimistic about this work and the related activities are making a difference.

Before we depart today, Kathy Stahl (secretary to the president’s office) and I took time over the holiday break to clean out files, a cathartic and important task to tackle with regularity.

I confess when I saw the drawer with the “Speeches” heading, I was shocked many typewritten words and many pieces of paper.

One file was worth a review: Ten years ago, on Jan. 9, 1998, I made my first all-college meeting address. I confess I was very, very nervous.

For those veterans in the room, you will recall I was eight days as interim president. My opening remarks were addressed to my predecessor sitting in the audience sporting the sweatshirt of the new college he was about to lead.

I am not certain I will ever have that exact feeling again, and to review the message reminded me of a few things I confess I had forgotten.

I had asked three people to stand up that day and talk about how Penn College my quote was “under their leadership and supervision has made a very positive impact on the larger community in which we live.”

Brett Reasner, Kathie Morr and Monica Lanczak were those three people. Kathie (former dean of health sciences) is enjoying retirement. Brett and Monica (assistant dean of natural resources management and instructor of hospitality management/culinary arts, respectively), I hope you know how important that day was for all of us, and I thank you for your ongoing contributions to our community.

The Student of the Month parking spot was created on that afternoon, and I remarked how much I liked parking between Tom Gregory and Jim Logue (an associate profess of English who died in September 2004). Tom, I am grateful you continue to join me “¦ but I confess I never know what vehicle will be there. It is sad to note that Jim is not here to share my memory; I miss him his ties and his brisk walking style headed to this building.

I also announced the initiation of the Library Long Range Planning task force. None of us had a clue what our library of today would be.

My message talked about mission, community and making a difference. Today, the words ring true, as well. We need to validate our mission, stay true to our community and continue to make a difference in the lives of our students and each other.

No more history or looking back it is the future and the opportunity that we have before us that requires our attention.

I told you in my opening remarks I did a few things in preparation for this message the teacher in me will review for you I asked for announcements and I have made them, I shared what happened during my reflection time and I now want to end with that inspirational quote, story or saying that I suggested often influenced me.

All of us had at least one common challenge on Monday huge mail piles and I diligently went through mine and found a copy of Pennsylvania Business Central. Its motivational cover caught my eye; I would like to end with sharing these thoughts:

  • When you learn, teach. When you get, give.
  • If you don’t go out and make it happen, it won’t
  • Trust your gut
  • Always have a positive attitude in what you’re trying to accomplish
  • Education and hard work are the keys to success
  • You must have a goal. You must have persistence.
  • Find good people and let them do their jobs
  • Put first things first and then be ferocious in your execution
  • Leadership is servant-based in nature
  • Follow your instincts; they will usually lead you in the right direction
  • Patience, persistence and integrity build a reputation as a fair and honest individual and company