The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff must pay greater attention to customer service in order to remain one of the top historically black universities in the nation, interim chancellor Calvin Johnson said during his Chancellor’s Fall Convocation address Tuesday morning.
Under the theme ‘Accountability and Efficiency: Gateways to the Future,’ Johnson told a crowd of students, faculty, staff and patrons assembled in the Kenneth L. Johnson Sr. HPER Complex arena that UAPB must not only get on the right track but also make progress once there.
“As Will Rogers used to say, even if you’re on the right track you’ll get run over if you just sit there,” Johnson said to chuckles from the audience.
Johnson said that in order to be successful an institution of higher learning must be accountable both to its governing bodies and accrediting agencies and to the students whom it serves.
“The 88th General Assembly of the Arkansas Legislature passed Act 1203, which ties funding to performance benchmarks that must be met,” Johnson said. “They look at rates of degree completion, student retention, student remediation rates and serving underserved groups in addition to other assessment tools. We are in a time of low funding in the field of higher education and instead of working cooperatively, too often colleges and universities begin to compete with one another.”
Johnson sought to allay any fears of imminent program cutbacks or budget freezes due to the drop in funding this year.
“In spite of the rumors there is no budget freeze in place and there have been no program cuts,” Johnson said. “But we are looking at ways to cut costs because we cannot complete the current school year with the budget we have in place. That is because we had a change in enrollment numbers.”
Johnson said the ratio of funding to productivity is looked at by the legislature to assess whether an institution is making satisfactory progress or not.
“Each academic department at UAPB is held accountable in a number of ways,” Johnson said. “This includes the Department of Higher Education, student performance on end-of-course exams, and the number of students graduating with degrees from that department.”
Johnson said the Arkansas Department of Higher Education is looking for improved accountability in the areas of graduation, retention, remediation and graduate job placement in in demand fields.
Johnson said UAPB must be more in tune with student requirements.
“We must meet the evolving and changing needs of our students,” Johnson said. “Customer service is critically important. I assure you that I am committed to this. We must be careful of how we make our students feel. We are in the midst of a re-imagining of this institution that is centered around our customers. Our customers are our students, our faculty, our staff, our alumni and our friends in the community. We are on the right path to transition from good to greatness.”
Johnson said the ultimate goal is to be the top historically black university in the United States.
“It is critical to our success that we continue to enhance student education through internships,” Johnson said. “Our financial aid services must be improved and we as faculty and staff must act quickly when needed. We must integrate new technology to communicate, manage and instruct.”
“Almost 47 years ago Chancellor Lawrence A. Davis, Sr. told a group of faculty that the school must be committed to the principle that academic achievement is the first work of the college and that the faculty must stay with each student until all deficiencies are solved,” Johnson said. “This is exactly the same charge that we have today.”
Johnson noted that Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe has warned that without an improvement in education the state’s economic development will be negatively affected.
“We recognize that you students have a choice in where you receive your education,” Johnson said. “We are all in this together. I ask you all to commit to excellence and to increase your standards.”