Those of you who were here may recall that over the last several years, as I have offered remarks at our fall convocations, I have often used literary or pop-culture references to serve as anchor points for my comments. I believe doing so helped provide a common reference point for a conversation about a shared set of circumstances. In those remarks, I've invoked Dickens, Tolkien, and even self-professed "change agent" experts.
However, I have to honestly confess that every year, as I've cited the "best of times and the worst of times," as I've asked "how has it come to this," and even as I have "moved your cheese," I have also secretly hoped and prayed that things would return to "normal" - in some small part because I was afraid I would exhaust my limited inventory of literary references, but mainly because, like most of you, I felt life was better when things were "normal."
Unfortunately, it is becoming more apparent all the time that where we are today really is the new "normal." Like many of you, I've strained to see a light at the end of the tunnel that didn't appear to be an oncoming train.
This fall, as we begin a new academic year, our financial support from the state of Louisiana has declined yet again, bringing the cumulative cuts to nearly $40 million since the beginning of the 2009 fiscal year. That's a decline by almost half - a huge reduction.
Despite drastic increases in our tuition and fees, which have placed an historic burden on our students and their families at a time of unprecedented economic challenge, we have far fewer resources, nearly $20 million less in fact, to operate our enterprise. Clearly, these are the most challenging financial times I have witnessed in my 26 year history with the university.
In the effort to continue to serve our students, despite fewer resources, we have prioritized programs, increased private fund raising, relentlessly pursued efficiencies, and significantly reduced employment levels.
We have reorganized and streamlined programs across every college, eliminating 19 academic degree programs and finding ways to continue to serve just as many students with fewer faculty and staff. I want to thank our leadership in academic affairs and all of our faculty and staff for their hard work and dedication.
Our Foundation and other affiliate organizations are raising more private money from donors, corporate sponsors, alumni and friends than ever before - funds that help us continue to offer professional development opportunities for faculty, scholarships for students, and support for programs like athletics and the arts. I want to thank our advancement staff for their hard work and success, but especially I want to thank our donors, alumni, friends and corporate and community partners for their continuing support.
One of the areas in which we have become increasingly efficient is the reduction of costs for fuel and energy - in large part due to the efforts of our Physical Plant staff, and I want to offer them my special thanks..
Our employee base is the lowest it has been since I have been involved in administration at Southeastern. To give you one shocking statistic, since the beginning of the 2009 fiscal year we have reduced the number of faculty and staff positions in our operating budget by 320, with almost half of that number representing positions occupied by former colleagues at the time of elimination.
All of these changes have not been easy and have not been fun. Your work loads have increased, and it has been years since there have been general pay increases.
And although it is certainly not about me, on a personal level, I have been sued, cussed, accused, censured and called more bad names than I ever dreamed possible since all of this started a few short years ago.
And yet - here we are, beaten up pretty badly in places, but still operating, still providing students with educational opportunities, and still, to date, meeting our GRAD Act performance targets. And it is all of you, our dedicated faculty and staff, who have made that possible, and on behalf of our students, I sincerely thank you.
So, as we face yet another year of challenges resulting from more budget cuts, I have truly struggled with what to say today. It's not that I haven't had inspirations. For example, like many of you, I grew up in the sixties - the era of Star Trek. And folks, I have to tell you that we have now truly come to understand what it means to, "go where no man has gone before." But I knew that some of my more intellectual academic colleagues would never stand for that. So I moved on.
And as I thought more about inspiration, it occurred to me, who could provide greater inspiration at a time of enormous challenge than the intellectual and stoic leader of Great Britain during WWII, Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill. Now some of my favorite Churchill quotes are great but not necessarily all that relevant for us today.
Like the infamous exchange between the Prime Minister and the fiery British politician Bessie Braddock, who said to Churchill, "Sir, you are drunk." To which Churchill replied, "Madam, you are ugly. In the morning, I shall be sober."
Or the equally pithy exchange between Churchill and the first female member of Parliament, Nancy Astor, who said to Churchill, "Sir, if you were my husband, I would give you poison." To which Churchill retorted, "If I were your husband I would take it."
Perhaps somewhat more in tune with our situation is Churchill's famous statement, "If you are going to go through hell - keep going."
Another famous Churchill quote that I think is relevant for us today goes like this - "To build may have to be the slow and laborious task of years. To destroy can be the thoughtless act of a single day."
As much as I enjoy all of these Churchill quotes, I knew it was still not quite what we needed to hear today.
So, again, I moved on. And then after much thought and contemplation, it hit me. I have always been inspired by the defiance and stoicism of the William Ernest Henley poem Invictus, which goes like this....
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
After thinking about that poem, and re-reading it several times after many years, I decided that just perhaps there is a Churchill quote after all that fits our circumstances -
"Never give in, never give in, never; never; never; never in nothing, great or small, large or petty never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense."
I suspect if people could choose how much hardship and adversity to face in life, none of us would ever face any. But, unfortunately, we do not get to choose how much hardship and adversity life will deal us. We do, however, get to choose how we face it.
I am very proud to serve with all of you, and I wish you the very best in this new academic year. Thank you.
- John Crain