Newsletter to Faculty & Staff

November 16, 2009

Welcome to the first edition of this newsletter which will appear at least twice each semester. In this communication I will be commenting on issues of interest to the CSU community and sharing my thoughts on University matters.

This issue will focus on the results from the CSU Stakeholders Survey.

Last September, at the beginning of my first full semester as President of Cleveland State University, I commissioned a survey of students, faculty and staff to gauge their attitudes about the university and to give me, as a recent arrival, some sense of the campus terrain.

The survey was conducted between September 4 and September 30. It was e-mailed and generated an impressive 1,510 responses. I was heartened by the high response rate because it showed people cared and believed their ideas could make a difference.

As I had hoped, the survey results offered valuable insights into how the various constituencies view the University, and I have studied them carefully. The most striking first impression is how positively every group feels about CSU. Faculty, staff and students agree that Cleveland State is on an upswing, has a diverse student population, has improved its reputation in recent years and has the opportunity to become a nationally recognized public institution.

There are also challenges reflected in the responses. Respondents across the board agreed that CSU needs to improve in becoming a school of choice, offer a more vibrant student life, and attract nationally recognized professors.

Of particular interest to me were the responses to several open-ended questions. Asked for ways to improve CSU, respondents had a wide array of suggestions, from more financial aid to expanding evening and summer course offerings to more and better dining options on campus. Improvements in parking were mentioned repeatedly, and a great many comments pleaded for football with escalating degrees of urgency. We are discussing most of the improvement issues mentioned and will communicate measures that we hope will address these areas.

Especially fascinating were the responses to the question: “What advice or suggestions do you have for me as the new President?” As I read through the open-ended responses we received, I was struck by the sincerity and candor of those sharing their thoughts. I could sense their genuine affection for CSU.

One recurrent theme revolved around the importance of communication. I agree this is one of the most important aspects of my job, and I would like to touch on it briefly here.

The idea was expressed in many ways:

  • “Listen to faculty/staff . . . Strongly support, represent CSU to public, city, region, legislators. Talk to unions.”
  • “Have an open-door policy.”
  • “Try to connect on a personal level with our students, faculty and staff. Develop new and creative ways to connect the University with Greater Cleveland and Ohio communities.”
  • “Get to know the staff – not just the director level. Improve communication between faculty departments and colleges.”
  • “Listen.”

These calls for me to maintain open lines of communication are not surprising. New leadership represents change, and people have an understandable desire to see it up close, to take its measure, to be touched personally. I appreciate that sentiment, am sensitive to it, and in fact, have been making every effort to maximize my visibility and accessibility since I first arrived on campus.

I am meeting with the faculty and staff of every college. At my request, all faculty were invited to an open forum at the first meeting of the Faculty Senate. Last week, SGA sponsored a well-attended and lively Town Hall meeting for all students. The newsletter you are reading is yet another attempt at communication. Plans are underway to hold a Town Hall meeting for staff. In addition, we are exploring new and different ways to open still more avenues between the President’s office and the rest of the University.

But internal communications are only half the story. Every college and university president today finds more and more of his or her time taken up with the various external constituencies that only the President can engage, such as state and local government officials, philanthropists, foundations, civic organizations and business leaders.

A new paradigm for public higher education is emerging. We no longer have publicly-supported institutions. We have publicly-subsidized institutions. The gap between what the state provides and what the University needs is growing steadily wider, and consequently, the President must devote much of his or her time to acting as an advocate for the University with the external constituencies that can help bridge that gap. The Chronicle of Higher Education recently asked university presidents how they allocate their time, and the ratios were as high as 80-20, external to internal.

This is a reality no university president can escape. I am learning every day how time-consuming the outside demands are, how relentlessly they pull me from the academic environment I love. But they are obligations I am bound to meet.

This is particularly important at an urban public university. One of Cleveland State’s great assets is our connection to the metropolitan area, and we must take full advantage of that by engaging with the government, business, arts, philanthropic and non-profit communities that surround us.

As I said in my Inaugural address: “Cleveland State is in and of this city, and the connections and bonds between the two must be strengthened.” To view the address, click here.


Ronald M. Berkman