President David Hodge discussed Miami University’s achievements, financial aid, university branding and change for the future during his annual address Tuesday afternoon. He spoke of the unexpected severity of the financial crisis. He said a year ago no one could have imagined the rapid decline in the economy or Miami’s budget deficit doubling.
Hodge admitted the process of dealing with the crisis would be painful and could get worse, with a definite possibility of more budget cuts.
Hodge spoke of the accomplishments and positive changes the university has undergone, such as the University Honors Program curriculum changes and Web site improvement. But he also was realistic about the difficult times. “We need to push ourselves to imagine and create a sustainable future that builds on our strengths,” Hodge said.
He also said to accomplish this “we must allocate and use our resources responsibly and carefully. It cannot be business as usual.” This eloquent quote leaves the editorial board of The Miami Student wondering what he really means. There is a lack of specifics in his wording. Students want to know what business is going to change and what the administration considers careful resource allocation.
The speech, although full of admirable goals such as improving graduation rate, tiptoed around the core questions of how Miami is going to decide the best way to allocate its limited resources and how those decisions will impact undergraduate education.
Administration said last year there were many unknowns in Miami’s financial future because the university was waiting for funding information from the state budget, which was approved in July after several weeks delay. There should now be more answers. Educated students and experienced faculty can read between the lines to infer what direction Miami will take, but they shouldn’t have to. Hodge and the administration must explicitly lay out plans to deal with Miami’s financial problems and be open to debate on those plans.
Hodge also commended the faculty for their accomplishments and said, “Creative and strategic thinking can move us forward under any circumstances.” This board wants to see the administration desire to listen to this creative thinking by finding ways to make budget cuts more transparent and give students and faculty a louder voice.
Hodge joked that presidents’ annual addresses in the past have lasted between two and three hours. Hodge’s speech lasted some 45 minutes, with no opportunity to pose questions. This board thinks Hodge should have used the extra time to address audience questions and concerns. Similarly to Associated Student Government’s town hall meetings, Hodge could do topic specific town hall meetings, where concerned students and faculty could ask questions. This would increase transparency and allow students direct access to administrators.
There is a power that resonates with the university president making predictions about the future and comments on the past. But as times have become more severe, the annual speech must change from an address to a dialogue. People need to believe the president wants to hear their questions and give them specific answers. There is so much uncertainty in the future and our president’s words must instill confidence in the Miami community and answer its questions, not create them.