'Shared governance with shared responsibility'

TSU President Glenda Glover reviews first year, looks to boost marketing and complete campus master plan

Dr. Glenda Glover recently completed her first 12 months as president of Tennessee State University.

Post Managing Editor William Williams recently chatted with Glover to gauge her take on her experience to date and on the challenges and opportunities she faces.

WW: What has been the greatest challenge during your first 12 months?

GG: My greatest challenge was ensuring that the campus family — students, faculty and staff — understood that I value their opinions and input and that this administration would operate with a participatory manner with the expectation of a higher level of accountability. We truly embrace shared governance with shared responsibility.

On an external basis, the greatest challenge was the revised rules pertaining to parent PLUS loans. The criteria for “credit worthiness” was redefined by the U.S. Department of Education without the usual public knowledge or input. It has had a devastating effect on many universities, particularly HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities). It has been so dramatic that I, along with a group presidents of HBCUs, met with Secretary Arnie Duncan (with the  U.S. Department of Education) about fashioning a remedy. We are optimistic that changes will be made that will lessen the effect on universities.

WW: Relatedly, what has been the main surprise?

GG: Not necessarily a surprise, but I am so appreciative of the extremely talented faculty and staff, which makes my job less difficult. This is coupled by outpouring of support from the alumni and the community.

WW: What would you say have been your primary successes?

GG: A united TSU campus community where we believe in each other and have demonstrated that we all have the same goal, a more advanced and productive TSU, and the manner in which TSU alumni have provided support. Indeed, an excited and engaged alumni [base] is an absolute blessing.

We mounted an SOS — Save our Students — campaign and were able to raise enough financial resources from the alumni and the corporate community to keep any student from being purged from the university for financial reasons.

There has been an overall increase and strategies for institutional advancement and fund-raising, as well as new business relationships.

In general, we made a concerted effort to excite and energize our alumni base. Alumni contributions have more than tripled from $450,000 in 2012 to over $1.7 million in 2013. I issued a challenge to TSU alumni chapters to match my initial contribution made last year. As of this date, several chapters have either matched that contribution or are very close. Corporate contributions also have increased substantially, as have the number of new partnerships that have been formed.

This support from alumni and the community allowed TSU to overcome one of its most significant challenges of 2013. During the fall of 2013, the university faced the difficulty of 352 students being purged for financial reasons. We issued the SOS initiative, and the response was phenomenal. It was the support from the entire TSU family and community that allowed each student to remain in school, and no one had to withdraw from the university during the 2013 fall semester.

WW: Similarly, have you experienced some frustrations and/or failures?

GG: No, not all. In any leadership position you will experience challenges. Problem solving and consensus-building are essential skills to help address and eliminate those challenges.

You had five goals when you started the job. Where do you stand with those?

GG: (1.) Student success and customer service; (2.) fundraising and partnerships; (3.) diversity and inclusion; (4.) shared governance; and (5.) community outreach.

There were notable successes in each of these areas that will serve as a blueprint for continued strategies and for planning for the overall growth and development of TSU. We began by improving customer service for our students and community, and ensuring that the campus understood our strategic focus of improving retention and graduation rates.

Our purpose at this university is educating, graduating and enhancing the lives of our students. The five goals foster an environment of all we do. We have made improvements in customer service, especially with registration and the financial aid process. While we have not reached the goal of perfect customer service, the process has improved in the short year and student complaints are down.

The focus of student recruitment and retention has resulted in a new recruitment strategy with a shift toward magnet schools and community colleges. Not only are we reaching into new areas, we are also increasing our contact with potential students and increasing our outreach to non-traditional students while promoting online learning.

WW: TSU continues to frequently land federal grants related to research. Most recently, a team of TSU researchers received a $1.93 million federal grant to study the development, discovery and integration of war fighting technologies to support air, space and cyberspace forces with the U.S. Department of Defense. Last October, the university announced the National Science Foundation awarded TSU a $2.5 million grant related to efforts involving STEM (students in science, technology, engineering and math). What is the significance of these grants?

GG: These grants are significant because they help to continue to solidify the university's reputation as a premiere institution offering groundbreaking research that benefits the greater community and beyond. The awards also speak to the caliber of faculty and students that we have and the innovative work being done on our campus. 

As an undergraduate math major — and even now — I am a strong proponent of the STEM disciplines and have charged our College of Education to create a STEM curriculum for our future teachers as well as creating a pilot community program that will engage students at an earlier age, beginning in pre-K, in these areas. Better-educated students in the STEM courses will prepare them for the global marketplace. I'm pleased that TSU is leading the charge to change the lives of Tennessee’s children and ultimately their families by providing them a quality education based on the shift toward technology and innovation. We have completely embraced Gov. Bill Haslam's Drive to 55 graduation initiative to help students graduate in higher numbers and improve the number of workforce-ready employees.

WW: The TSU Agriculture Research Building will be finished soon. Your thoughts?

GG: We are excited that the new Biotechnology Research Building on the university’s main campus will be dedicated in the early part of April. It is a 25,000-square-foot, $8 million USDA-funded, state-of-the-art research facility that will provide laboratory space for more than 10 new Ph.D.-level scientists, research rooms for graduate students and high-efficiency HVAC systems and laboratories. We appreciate the partnership that TSU has with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the remarkable investment that USDA has made in the institution and our students.

WW: For the spring semester, TSU had 6,749 undergraduate students and 2,067 grad students. Are these healthy numbers?

GG: These are steady numbers. We did not experience a decline in enrollment for this Spring 2014 semester. In fact, TSU is the only four-year TBR institution that witnessed an increase last fall, even though it was minimal. Our strategy is shifting toward completion, i.e. increased retention and graduation rates. I believe each student we recruit to TSU should have the support and the opportunity to graduate.

WW: If you want growth, you will — at the minimum — need some new residence halls. What is your strategy for this?

GG: My first strategy was to understand the problems that exist in our residence halls. One of the first things I did was to spend the night in one of the residence halls to receive my own firsthand view. I had to agree with the students who complained of certain noise and certain aesthetics in the residence facilities. This helped to enhance our strategy regarding the residence halls.

We are currently working on a campus master plan that includes addressing the residence halls. When it is approved, we can have a further discussion on the details of the master plan. We are making renovations and will continue this process that we began during the summer of bringing selected residence halls offline for repairs and renovations. Quality room and board facilities are mainstays to the recruitment of talented students.

WW: TSU is an HBCU and many folks don’t realize the nation’s HBCUs have for years embraced diversity. You are trying to make the university as diverse and inclusive as possible. What is our overall vision regarding this?

GG: Given the makeup of our student body, TSU embraces diversity broadly from all aspects. We view diversity as a total process that will lead to inclusion and tolerance; as diverse views bring about greater acceptance. In addition to the common standards of ethnic and gender diversity, we embrace diverse thinking, diverse cultures and diverse values. This promotes inclusion and tolerance and promotes a greater level of acceptance and tolerance. We believe a diverse student body is a well-rounded student body and is important for sustaining a university. As it relates to being an HBCU, diversity makes us stronger and in no way will compromise our HBCU status — or destroy our influential history or our powerful legacy.

WW: TSU is the city’s only four-year public university. What does the school provide that other Nashville-based universities perhaps can’t?

GG: As a public university, vs. a private, of course we are more affordable. We offer affordability that yields a solid, quality education. However, TSU does not focus on the differences that may exist between us and other universities in the city, but rather see ourselves as among a continuum of colleges and universities committed to excellence in preparing students to meet the demands of the workforce and to engage in civic and community leadership. At TSU we do this through our core values, and our motto: Think. Work. Serve.

WW: Relatedly, there are some academic programs that no Nashville-based university, including TSU, offers. These programs involve, among many others, the disciplines of architecture, popular culture, turfgrass science and zoology. Could TSU — perhaps in a way to further differentiate itself from other local universities — unveil some new degree programs within the next few years?

GG: Expanding educational options that meet the needs of our students are always on the table. We are mindful of our budget constraints and cannot always move as quickly as we would like. The workforce demand dictates programs of need for the area and for the nation.

Our Office of Academic Affairs is currently conducting a comprehensive review of all academic programs. The goal is to improve or enhance our degree offerings. That review commenced late last fall and is faculty-driven.

WW: Your graduate nursing program is quite strong. However, you might want to strengthen it more so. Your thoughts?

GG: The TSU College of Health Science's nursing program is one of several flagship programs we offer. Right now, we have a waiting list of students and I am not happy with that. Our accreditation bodies strictly require specific student-teacher ratios, which cause us not to admit many of the quality applicants that apply to TSU each year. We are carefully reviewing this with the accreditation agencies and seeking to expand our nursing faculty in order to reduce this problem. Our first step is to raise the funds to move in that direction.

WW: The Lumina Foundation has provided to the State of Tennessee a grant (via the Tennessee Transfer Pathway Program) to help students with two-year degrees transition to four-year degree programs. What is your take on this?

GG: This is a great program and TSU is poised to recruit these students. We have increased our internal focus on the community college initiative, and we are currently coordinating with several of the state’s community colleges to enhance TSU’s position as one of choice for these potential students. TSU has embraced the community college initiative that the Tennessee Board of Regents has established to provide ongoing education, or to complement and/or offer courses that help fulfill the associate degree.

WW: Let’s transition to TSU sports. The football team enjoyed a strong year. Of note, the Tigers played a home game on campus. Could we see more on-campus games?

GG: We are elated about our football season and being named the top HBCU football program in the nation. And to win our first playoff game was a big win for the Big Blue. Coach Rod Reed and his staff did a tremendous job. It proves that students can excel in both academic and athletic settings at TSU.

It was so exciting to see all the game day activity on campus during the one football game we enjoyed at Hale Stadium. As we look at upgrades and renovations to the stadium, students and alumni can expect to have more games at Hale.

WW: Both the men’s and women’s basketball teams have struggled at times this season. Are you concerned?

GG: Both teams are very young and I believe will make tremendous strides before the season ends. I only look for the season to improve as the teams build on their experiences. 

WW: What is your approach regarding communication with alumni?

GG: The year 2013 was phenomenal as it pertains to our alumni. We have engaged in several outreach efforts, and I have personally visited many of the chapters around the nation and presented the vision of this administration. I am truly excited about the alumni engagement and support. In addition to visiting alumni chapters, we have increased other communication efforts with alumni over the past year and have fashioned a strategy for connecting with alumni. We are so pleased that alumni have not only provided financial support but have helped us to recruit talented students and have assisted us in accessing corporate America. We will continue to keep our alumni informed and engaged and advance an even stronger communication program.

WW: What is your main goal for Year Two?

GG: We will to continue to build upon our five-point vision plan that calls for increased student success and the development of partnerships that yield much-needed resources, including financial support and employment opportunities for students. We are aggressively addressing student enrollment and retention with a detailed plan and focus on community colleges. Over the past year, our Division of Academic Affairs has worked on establishing a seamless process for community college students to transfer to TSU. This includes re-establishing relationships with the respective academic divisions for a wider acceptance of credit hours.

We also need to create a more comprehensive marketing plan for the individual colleges and units as well as the university itself. It's no secret that TSU is an excellent school with great academic offerings and that, most importantly, we are affordable. Additionally, we will continue to increase business and community outreach, and to ensure that our alumni remain engaged and knowledgeable about the good things happening at their university.