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AN INTERVIEW WITH PRESIDENT DAVID L. DUNLOP
Q. What accomplishment are you most proud of during your tenure at Shepherd?
A. In a word, "progress." The campus of 2007 is dramatically different from the campus of 1995. Some of the changes would have likely taken place no matter who the president had been; however, I believe that there are three areas in particular where my staff and I have made significant efforts to achieve the changes so evident today.
First, and possibly most significant in the long term, is our shift from Shepherd College to Shepherd University. This is important because it represents the next logical step in the evolution and maturation of Shepherd. All of our two-year programs were transferred to Blue Ridge Community and Technical College in Martinsburg, and in their place we initiated several graduate programs at the master's level. Of course, four-year baccalaureate degree programs with a strong foundation in the liberal arts continue to be the core of our educational mission.
Curricular developments, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels, represent a second area where progress has been noteworthy. In the past 10 years we have initiated seven new degrees, six new majors/minors, and 19 new concentrations. Several of these new programs such as the environmental engineering concentration, networking and data communications concentration, and the technical communications minor reflect our responsiveness to the changing workplace. And, as part of our commitment to our academic excellence, we have also enhanced academic support programs which, in turn, have further improved our retention and graduation rates placing us among the top institutions in West Virginia.
Improvements to the physical plant of the campus characterize the third area of planned progress. It is within this area where growth may be the most visible and dramatic. Over the past decade we have invested more than $100 million in new construction on campus, with a majority of the projects being funded without the campus incurring additional debt.
The construction has included both academic and non-academic structures. On the academic side of the ledger you will find a science building, an addition to the Frank Center that provides state-of-the-art practice and rehearsal space for our music majors, an academic building that will house the Nursing Department, the renovation of historic Reynolds Hall, a tripling of the library space to include the Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies, and Phase I of the Center for Contemporary Arts that will become home to the art and theater programs of Shepherd University, as well as the home for the Contemporary American Theater Festival.
Other improvements include restoration of McMurran Hall, an addition to the administration building, total interior renovation of two residence halls, the construction of two apartment buildings with fully equipped kitchens, the expansion of Ram Stadium to include the Boone Field House, and later this year ground will be broken for a multi-purpose wellness center. We will also have six new tennis courts and two large intramural fields coming on line for next fall.
As part of our campus plan, we have addressed several ADA-related issues through the addition of elevators, curbing, doors, and fire alarm systems. These and other improvements to our infrastructure provide the students with an added value to their education and will allow the University to continue to be an attractive option for students throughout the region.
Q. What aspect of your presidency did you enjoy the most?
A. There are so many enjoyable aspects that it is difficult to single one out. But I think that the broad category of interactions with people would include some of my most enjoyable moments. For example, every few weeks I invite two students to go to lunch with me, and I do not recall ever having had anything but a delightful conversation. Our students are really great--and great in so many different ways. It is always a pleasure to hear our students describe their experiences and many successes--even at this early point in their lives.
Living in Shepherdstown is a special bonus. During the time that I've been at the University, my wife and I have had the opportunity to meet literally hundreds of interesting people in various social settings. Interactions with these people are invariably an enjoyable and pleasant experience.
Being a catalyst for worthwhile projects has also been a very enjoyable part of my working day. It is difficult not to "puff up" when I see the faculty, staff, or students bring to closure a successful project or event that I encouraged, initiated, or supported.
Q. What was your least favorite task?
A. Frequent trips to Charleston have consistently been my least favorite task! I believe that during my second year at Shepherd, I averaged almost one trip per week for the entire year. Not only is it a long drive (more than 600 miles round trip), but it takes me away from campus more frequently than I would prefer. During the past couple of years, the frequency of trips to Charleston has declined somewhat due, in part, to greater utilization of video and audio teleconferencing and fewer meetings which demand my attendance.
Q. Did your 11 years at Shepherd's helm turn out the way you'd imagined when you first accepted the job?
A. In a general sense, yes; however, there have been some surprises. For example, the separation, by the Legislature, of the community and technical college from Shepherd University was not foreseen in 1996--at least not by me.
I have been pleasantly surprised at our ability to further increase the quality of our student body while at the same time increasing the enrollment. During the time that I've been here, we have increased our enrollment by approximately 35 percent, and that takes into account the loss of almost 1,500 students that were in two-year or other programs at the community and technical college in Martinsburg. Accompanying our growth has been a boost in the quality of Shepherd's student body, as measured by traditional national test scores. I am proud to report that we are now among the top schools in West Virginia, and we are competitive nationally. Athletics is another enjoyable surprise. I knew at the time of my hire that student athletes at Shepherd had a long history of success in several different sports; however, who could have predicted that the Shepherd University football team would put together two back-to-back undefeated seasons and be nationally ranked and recognized!
And football is not the only athletic program at Shepherd University that has experienced success--many teams have demonstrated winning seasons, conference championships, and post season competition. In fact, for the first time in memory, Shepherd University has won the WVIAC Presidents' Cup--not just last year, but the previous year, as well. This award recognizes the top campus within the athletic conference based on team finishes in the regular season of each sport for that academic year. Last year, in winning the cup, Shepherd University was the only public school placing in the top five within the conference.
Q. What happened during your tenure that you did not anticipate?
A. On a macro scale much of what happened was either planned or anticipated. Of course, the separation of the community and technical college was a notable exception to this statement.
On a micro scale many things were not anticipated by me in 1996. Having come from a campus that experienced more than 200 inches of snow the previous winter, I did not anticipate the disruption that 1 to 3 inches of snow could cause in the Eastern Panhandle. It was a surprise to me that so many people wanted to hear my perspective on topics that I was totally unqualified to discuss; it was a pleasant surprise to learn how active the Shepherd students were in planning events and participating in community service activities; and maybe most of all, I did not anticipate how wonderfully supportive and helpful so many different people would have been to me and to the institution during my tenure as president of Shepherd University.
Q. To what do you attribute your long and successful run at Shepherd?
A. I attribute my long and successful run at Shepherd to shared responsibility. As you may be aware, the average tenure in the U.S. for a university president in today's environment is around five years. Thus, the completion of 11 successful years at one campus represents an excellent track record. But my relatively long tenure at Shepherd University is not attributable to me alone, and must be shared by others.
First in the list I would recognize my family--especially my wife Cathy. Without extensive support and sacrifices from one's family, a campus president would almost certainly be ineffective. My family has been very supportive and Cathy has done an excellent job of walking a narrow path and balancing her role as the first lady of Shepherd with her career as an educator in the Washington County (Maryland) Public Schools. Although Cathy is not an employee of Shepherd, she is sometimes viewed as one so she needs to act accordingly; this she does with grace and dignity. She is also very helpful to me personally and to the institution generally by serving as a congenial hostess at innumerable social events both at Popodicon and elsewhere. And behind the scenes she is often busy weeding the flower garden, washing windows, sending thank you notes, making phone calls, and doing all of those miscellaneous tasks that need to be done that, somehow, nobody else can find time to do.
The second group of people that need to share whatever success that I have enjoyed are the employees of the University--especially my executive staff. The fact is, no campus president of an institution the size of Shepherd can be personally up to speed on every little thing that is happening on campus. But if something goes wrong, it is often the president that takes the blame--even if he/she did not know that the event had taken place. Accordingly, a long-serving president must be fortunate enough to be on a campus populated with competent employees who do most things correctly, thus minimizing the number of times that the rest of the world is upset with the president. To every person on campus who has done his or her job well I owe part of my success, and I wish to express my personal thanks and heart-felt appreciation to them at this time.
The list continues with an outstanding Board of Governors, cooperative community members, an active Foundation, supportive legislators, loyal alumni, personal and institutional friends, and sometimes even a complete stranger. Finally, I would be less than accurate if I did not add Lady Luck to my list of attributes for success.
Q. What will you miss about Shepherd?
A. Probably everything! But some things will be missed more than others. I expect that I will miss the excitement and vitality that is integral to this campus and the regional community. There is so much happening, and I enjoy being part of it. It is likely that I will miss being viewed as the lead cheerleader for Shepherd, and I will probably miss having the opportunity to brag about the campus, its students, and its employees. I suppose that I will miss hearing the concerts, seeing the art exhibits, attending the plays, reading the Picket, and watching Ram athletes compete. But most of all, I know that I will miss the people whom I've met over the years. I'll miss their stories, ideas, friendship, suggestions and yes, over time, I'll probably even miss their constructive criticism. I've been told by some of those who are traveling life's road just ahead of me that, once I'm retired, it will only take a few months to forget my life at Shepherd--but I really don't believe that, and you would do well to not bet on that. In any event, ask me this question again in a few years and I'll be able to be more accurate with my answer.
Q. What are your predictions for Shepherd 10 years from now?
A. Continuing success. My best guess is that Shepherd will, to the extent possible, follow the Campus Master Plan and do all that is possible to keep this beautiful campus as the best venue for higher education in the region.
I think that there will be opportunities to begin the development of the Tabler Farm, thus opening up our "back 40." Initially, some of that development may not be directly connected to the instructional mission of the institution, but rather, to its research and/or service missions.
Given the population growth in this region and our responsiveness to the educational needs of the regional community, I would predict that the student enrollment at the University would also continue to increase--even in the face of ever increasing competition.
Before too many more years pass, I would hope that the students at Shepherd University are enjoying the benefits of a new Student Center and that we will have built a parking garage large enough to serve local needs.
New degrees will become available especially at the graduate level, and enrollments in master level courses will continue to grow.
I expect that the percentage of our student body living on campus will increase as we build new residence halls, thus moving us closer to being primarily a residential campus. And even though I see the residential campus population increasing, the faculty and administration will likely need to revisit the role that distance education will play in a Shepherd University degree.
I fear that 10 years from now under-funding will continue to be an issue for all of the campuses in West Virginia; however, if permitted by the political process, Shepherd University will be able to mitigate this problem through campus-specific initiatives and pricing policies.
Q. In your opinion, what does Shepherd need in order to move forward?
A. Shepherd needs flexibility which can be provided by a few legislative tweaks, a budget comparable to the average budget of its national peers, and continuing cooperation among the many varied groups and individuals who support the University.
When I arrived at Shepherd almost 11 years ago, I said that Shepherd was lucky because all it needed to solve its problems was money. Some thought that I was making a joke, but I was serious. There are campuses that, for whatever reason, are inherently so badly positioned or have such a poisoned work environment that no reasonable sum of money could fix the problem. On the other hand, Shepherd University is fundamentally sound. It has outstanding people, a great geography, desirable work environment, favorable demographics locally, and a verifiable history of success.
Q. Do you have any words of wisdom for your successor?
A. It is probable that Shepherd and its culture are unlike what you may have experienced at other universities, so don't attempt to transfer every idea from your last institution to Shepherd University. Instead, build your base at Shepherd and learn to recognize the vast array of talent within this campus community and utilize that talent to help you work through difficult decisions and to assist in the solving of problems.
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