In what could be his last State of the University Address at Murray State University Wednesday, MSU President Dr. Randy Dunn emphasized the strategic goals that he said would carry forward no matter who is in charge.
Dunn said every public university has been facing large budget cuts in every state since the Great Recession and financial crash of 2008, but that even before then, the trend of states providing universities with fewer appropriations than in the past had already begun. After Gov. Steve Beshear earlier this year proposed a cut for Kentucky’s public universities of 6.4 percent — amounting to $3.2 million for MSU — in the 2012-13 academic year, Dunn made plans to cushion the blow and get through the year with reserve funds while also forming planning teams to propose ways to deal with that recurring loss in years to come.
Dunn said that to deal with what could be a permanant reduction in state appropriations, MSU would have to focus on what it does best through program prioritization and a “mission-driven” budget. He referred to this changing in the way the university operates as a “pivot.”
“In trying to describe it or looking at a way to think about it, I kind of come to the term, ‘bringing us back to basics’ as a university,” Dunn said. “And this pivot isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I think it’s something that’s coming and we’re going to figure out a way to live with it, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing in total. I think if it is used to redefine us in a way that has us looking like every other tired and sleepy state university across the country, that’s a danger, and we can’t have that happen.
“But I think there’s a way that we can respond to this change — this shift in the winds that I definitely think is taking place and in some ways, has taken place — but still ensure that we don’t move far away from these initiatives, projects, events, means of doing outreach, ways of defining ourselves that have really put us in that top tier of institutions like ours in the country.”
Dunn stressed that while he thought MSU would have to take a “somewhat less expansive” approach compared to the past, this would not mean abandoning large projects that were already in progress. He said MSU needed to focus more on bringing in new students from its 18-county service region and also marketing its signature programs to a national audience.
In his opening statements, Dunn talked about the proverbial elephant in the room: The fact that he interviewed on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday for the presidency of Missouri State University. When talking about Murray State’s mission, he said he was proud of the many outreach and academic initiatives that were currently happening at MSU and that these would continue whether or not he remained in Murray.
After Dunn finished his address, he told the Ledger & Times that he was interested in the Missouri State job partly because of the scope of the institution and that it was in his “wheelhouse” of leading a strong, public regional university.
“But the most attractive thing for me in becoming a public candidate for that job is the fact that they’ve been given a statewide mission,” Dunn said. “They’re really poised to become for the state of Missouri an institution that truly is a state university for all of Missouri. It’s not going to turn itself into Mizzou (University of Missouri), but it is going to have a presence in every part of that state and really be the second jewel in the crown for the Missouri higher education system.
“Now, what that means is, if they do that — and I believe they’re committed to it; in fact, that was part of my temperature-taking over the past couple of days, to really seek out their committment to that approach and mission — and I’m convinced that they’re for it, they’re ready to support it, and if they can do that over the coming years, it’s going to put them in the top tier of mid-major universities in the country. They’re going to be mentioned with the names of some of the best mid-major public schools you’re going to find in the nation in that top echelon.”
Missouri State officials have said that they want to hire the next president by Nov. 1 or sooner. Dunn said that if he were hired, he would negotiate with Missouri State to determine when it would be best for him and for Murray State to begin the job.
“It would be important to me not to leave Murray State in the lurch and to ensure that we have a proper amount of time going forward for the university to have interim coverage and to get done what needs to get done.”