(An Inaugural Address for Bowie State University)
Chancellor Kirwan, Chairman Cliff Kendall and other members of the Board of Regents, Platform Participants, Official Delegates and Representatives of Learned Societies, Faculty, Staff, Students, and Alumni of Bowie State University, Bowie State University Foundation Board Members, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Today is a very, very special day! Yes, it is special for me since I am being ceremonially invested with the trappings and responsibilities as the ninth President of what is now Bowie State University. The opportunity to serve this fine historic institution is both a deep honor and a high privilege and I am very thankful for it!
As I see it, however, the real significance of today is one of history and celebration for this venerable institution which we know today as Bowie State University. Secretary Lyons, on Wednesday, gave the occasion for our Faculty Symposium, and he very eloquently described how an inauguration should be a celebration of what a university stands for and what it has accomplished. It is also a time for the university to strengthen its connections to the larger academic community and to reach out to our other partners and publics! So yes, today is a day of celebration. I must begin by celebrating one of our most significant accomplishments during my first thirteen months: we met and exceeded our enrollment target for this fall! Our target was 5,386 and we enrolled 5,404! This reverses a three-year slide in enrollment for BSU and we achieved it because of the efforts of a lot of faculty, staff, alumni and other supporters. I want to publicly thank my cabinet for leadership in this effort, and the faculty, staff, and all who made this happen for your efforts and say congratulations!!
As we celebrate this university, we must be reminded of its long and glorious history. Its origins date back to 1865 when the Baltimore Association for the Moral and Educational Improvement of Colored People founded the Baltimore Free School No. 1.
Being the oldest institution in Maryland founded to provide education for recently emancipated slaves and their children, Bowie State University's history is full of change, growth, and development. For the first two years, Baltimore Free School No. 1 operated as a Grammar School, and then from 1867 to 1893, it operated as a Grammar School and Normal School. "[I]n 1893, the Grammar School was eliminated and the Normal School operated exclusively for the training of Black teachers" until 1911 when the school was relocated from Baltimore to Bowie.  In 1938, the first four-year teacher preparation program was implemented and the institution became known as State Teachers College at Bowie.  The institution added a Liberal Arts program in 1963 and then became known as Bowie State College. This marked significant change for the institution because students now had a wider choice of subjects and "a fresh crop of highly qualified teachers trained in the humanities, the social sciences and the hard sciences."  The institution achieved "University Status" on July 1, 1998, and now offers an array of some 19 degree programs at the baccalaureate level, 20 programs at the master's level, and 2 programs at the doctoral level.
That is a very brief and modest description of the history of the university. That history encompasses our inaugural theme-"Excellence in Education and Service." It points to the growth, change, and development of the institution over 142 years. I am privileged to follow eight outstanding leaders who brought the university to the point of my tenure. Two of them, Dr. Rufus Barfield and Dr. James Lyons, Sr., are present today. I salute you gentlemen and thank you for your contributions in laying the foundation on which we will now build!
We take great pride in that history . . . but our focus now is on the future! Over the course of the past year, our faculty, staff, and students have engaged in a rather protracted dialogue regarding the future of Bowie State University. What do we want it to look like in 5, 10, or 15 years? What change should we be initiating now? What will enable us to better serve our students? Indeed, who will be our students? Through this broad-based process, we developed a shared vision of the future of Bowie State University. We are in agreement that
This vision statement links our proud past to the future that we will build! We will remain true to our historic mission of serving the educational needs of black Marylanders and we will seek to serve more non-African American students, including those from Latino backgrounds, Caucasians, and international students. We will do so with the guidance of our strong core values-Excellence, Integrity, Civility, Diversity, and Accountability. Yes, ours will be a future of excellence in education and service! Excellence will be the hallmark for everything that we do-teaching, advising, budgeting, purchasing, counseling, mowing, researching, writing, thinking, learning, serving, and so on. We will build and maintain our relationships with integrity. We will be honest and truthful and we will do what we say! We will be civil in our speech and actions towards members of our university community as well as those outside! We will listen to others' thoughts and ideas and validate them even when we disagree with them. We will value diversity in our academic community. We will recognize and embrace persons who come from different socioeconomic, ethnic, religious, and racial backgrounds. Our entire community will be enriched by its diversity. Finally, we will hold ourselves and each other accountable for observing and abiding by the other four values! Excellence, Integrity, Civility, Diversity, and Accountability-these are our core values!
This vision and our values align with the important higher education issues of the day! The Spellings Commission, for example, found that "access to American higher education is unduly limited by the complex interplay of inadequate preparation, lack of information about college opportunities, and persistent financial barriers." (A Test of Leadership: Charting the Future of U. S. Higher Education, 2006) Access has always been at the core of the institution's mission-first for emancipated slaves and now for all who want a great higher educational value. We provide access for those from the most privileged circumstances as well as those from more challenged backgrounds who have the potential and the desire to earn a college education!
The Spellings Commission also reported a "troubling and persistent gap" between college attendance and graduation rates of low income Americans and their more affluent peers and between the nation's growing minority population and white Americans. Regarding this finding, the Commission concluded that ". . . admitted students and colleges themselves must jointly take responsibility for academic success." The Bowie State University shared vision reflects our commitment to address this problem through more effective recruitment of new students and improved retention and graduation rates! We intend for the 21st century to be one of Excellence in Education and Service for Bowie State University!
I see before me today members of the freshman class. During our recent fall convocation, Provost Ramsey referred to you as members of the class of 2011, implying that you will graduate in the spring of 2011. Let me note that we would like to see every one of you march across the commencement platform that day, for that would be a joyous day of celebration for us all. You should know, however, that in recent years fewer than one in five freshmen graduated in four years. There are some things that we---the administration, faculty, and staff can do to help see that more freshmen can graduate in four years. We can and we will provide better counseling, advising, and other student services, more effective teaching, and a richer total student life experience. We will also raise more money for scholarships and grants for you. But as the Spellings Commission noted, ". . . students and colleges . . . must jointly take responsibility for academic success." BSU freshmen of 2007, today I want you to give me your word that you will set as your goal graduation in four years! And that you will work diligently and purposefully toward that goal, and will not let "haters," dream-killers, or the lack of long dough stop you! That way, even if you don't do it in 4, four and a half or five will be a cinch! I want you to be the class that led a dramatic increase in graduation rates at Bowie State University! Word?
Our vision of excellence for the future also aligns with the strategic priorities of the USM Board of Regents. "Access, Success, and Affordability" is one of the Regents' strategic initiatives. Our BSU shared vision encompasses all of these components. We intend to do our part to increase the college-going rate, particularly for minority students and significantly increase our retention and graduation rates while keeping our tuition and fees as low as practicable.
The Board of Regents' Strategic Plan also focuses on the state's workforce and healthcare needs. Our vision of increasing strength in the STEM disciplines, nursing, and business fittingly complements that strategic initiative!
Our theme today is "Excellence in Education and Service." "Excellence" is a much used word. In using it today, I want to be clear about what I mean by it. The late John W. Gardner thought much about excellence, and he wrote, "There is a way of measuring excellence that involves comparison between people-some are musical geniuses and some are not; and there is another that involves comparison between myself at my best and myself at my worst."  Gardner then went on to say, "It is this latter comparison which enables me to assert that I am being true to the best that is in me-or forces me to confess that I am not."  Tom Peters wrote, "Excellent firms don't believe in excellence--only in constant improvement and constant change." Another writer, Ralph Marston, wrote, "Excellence is not a skill. It is an attitude." For us Excellence in Education and Service means an attitude of constant improvement! Faculty, by your embrace of this vision, you are committing to being excellent at teaching and scholarly production. Students, you are committing to excellence in learning. At BSU, we will work continuously at being the best at taking those students that we admit, encouraging, nurturing, and supporting them, and retaining them until graduation! Education is our mission and service is how we do it! Hence, excellence in education means excellence in teaching and learning. Similarly, excellence in service means, for us, an attitude of continuous improvement in financial aid packaging, residential life management, managing our fiscal accounts, advising, counseling, and all that we do in our interactions with students and others to assist them in meeting their objectives.
Now excellence in education, for us, speaks to more than what we say but also what we do, for we know that what we do speaks louder than what we say. Hence, our vision of excellence also means modeling environmentally responsible behavior. We will systematically and intentionally work to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and to foster sustainability. All of mankind is responsible for the well-being of our planet and we at Bowie State intend to do our part to take better care of it!
In closing, I note that we at Bowie State University will be able to advance only with the support of people of goodwill who see the merit of our vision. Certainly, we need the support of our faculty, staff, students, and alumni. We will also need the support of legislators and officials of city, county, state, and federal government. Our reach for partnerships and collaborations will also extend to the business community, foundations, community colleges, sister colleges and universities, and public schools. We all want vibrant communities with rich economic and social opportunities and the active civic participation of a well-educated citizenry. Excellence, for us, means that we will extend our hands in partnership with all of you to help bring our vision to fruition!
The realization of our vision for the future will be greatly aided by adequate funding from the State of Maryland; hence, we strongly urge the Commission to Develop the Maryland Model for Funding Higher Education to embrace and support comparable and competitive funding for the HBIs! Our needs for more faculty, improved facilities, and state-of-the-art equipment and technology are great! Furthermore, it is ironic that in one of the wealthiest nations on earth, one of the greatest obstacles to a college education for many of our citizens is the lack of adequate financial resources. This is the principal barrier to higher college-going rates, persistence rates, and graduation rates! We urge the Governor and the General Assembly, therefore, to increase funding for need-based financial aid!
All of these things cost money and the state of Maryland is in a terrible financial bind. Currently we face a $1.7 billion budget shortfall for FY2009. To achieve the constitutionally mandated balanced budget, the Governor and the legislature will have to reduce expenditures, increase revenues, or some combination of the two. From the standpoint of this university, additional budget cuts would only further limit our ability to serve our mission and pursue our shared vision. Absorbing additional budget cuts would very likely mean laying off people, eliminating class sections, and curtailing important student services like counseling and academic advising. It would also likely mean further delaying needed improvements to our physical plant and delaying additional needed upgrades in our campus security program. I urge all of you, therefore, to support Governor O'Malley's efforts to generate additional revenue for Maryland! He has taken a responsible and courageous step to propose a reasonable solution to the state's fiscal problems. Among other things, it would mean more financial support for Bowie State University and public higher education in Maryland. Yes, some people will pay more taxes, and I expect to be one of them. What we need to consider, however, is whether the benefits to the state that will be generated by this revenue will exceed the costs of slightly higher taxes. To me, with respect to those revenues and costs associated with higher education, the answer is an unqualified yes. The state of Maryland would be made better off!
So yes, today we celebrate the opening of a new chapter in the history of Bowie State University. Our campus community has developed a shared vision of our future which calls for us to remain true to our past while expanding our reach into the future. We will be a first-rate comprehensive university that provides outstanding higher education value to all qualified seekers. We will prepare our students for enlightened leadership and self-less service to our community, our state, our nation, and our world! We will provide Excellence in Education and Service!
Mickey L. Burnim
October 5, 2007