In a lot of ways, Central Michigan University President George Ross’ State of the University address last week was structured like a U.S. president’s State of the Union speech usually is.
It was a fluffy speech, designed to reassure the audience that things aren’t as bad as they might seem. But anyone who watched the speech looking for a bold vision of where CMU is heading in the wake of an enrollment crisis was left sorely disappointed. And yes, it is a crisis, despite what Ross said in his speech.
Ross had a grand opportunity to rally the university behind a strategy that specifically confronts the enrollment and budget issues head-on, but he botched the opportunity, failing to provide specificity on any of the very real issues facing CMU this year.
Within the first few minutes of the speech, Ross had already mentioned the newly-planned Biosciences building and CMU’s crown jewel, the College of Medicine. Instead of speaking directly to the concerns of his constituents, he made the decision to tout some of the university’s largest expenditures (including a particularly expensive “living wall” addition to the Biosciences building).
Then came the boldest statement of the afternoon.
“I honestly believe that our enrollment challenge has made our campus more cohesive and energized than it’s been in a long time,” he said to the full auditorium.
It’s one thing to recognize a problem, but it’s another to try to spin into positivity. While Ross recognized some issues, he didn’t speak much on clearcut solutions and planning for the future.
He simply said that planning and the budget needed collective restructuring – an obvious answer to a more complicated problem.
Ross played two video presentations for the audience, quoted former university presidents, called CMU a first-choice university, and referenced John F. Kennedy.
He even established a two-pronged solution toward the end of the speech: Student support and bold-decision making.
However, after leaving the speech, it’s still unclear on what exactly Ross plans to do. Although the hour-long address spoke to several issues impacting campus, specifics were a scarcity.
Make no mistake, Ross is well-intentioned and is no doubt working hard behind the scenes, but his address left us desiring more. It left much of those who watched struggling to see what kind of future Ross envisions for CMU. It sends the message that the president, ultimately, is unsure of where to go next.