In a Sept. 9, 2014 briefing, Chancellor Donald Reaves reflected on his seven years at Winston-Salem State University. We share those remarks here in four days of blog posts.
Day Four: Raising Expectations
As I’m sure you know, not all of the decisions that I have made over the past seven years have been universally popular. Luckily, popularity was not one of my concerns.
But from the day that I set foot on this campus, my primary goal has been improved student outcomes – student success. I have not wavered from that and I have empowered those on my team to do what is necessary to ensure that our students can fulfill the vision we stated in our Strategic Plan – that the university develops graduates of distinction known for leadership and service in their professions and communities.
That vision is important to our graduates – it is important to this community, to this state, and to the nation. The vast majority of our students are from North Carolina and the majority of our graduates stay in this state or return here when they are ready to raise a family.
Our graduates work at medical centers across North Carolina. They are managers at banks in Winston-Salem, Charlotte and Raleigh, and in small towns across the state. They are attending graduate schools, becoming lawyers, getting Ph.Ds.
At the beginning I mentioned relevancy and I mention it again. It is important that we perform at a high level because it is critically important that WSSU and other HBCUs survive. I believe that they are as relevant today as they were in the 19thcentury when many of them were founded.
Here is why I say that. HBCUs represent only 3% of the colleges and universities in this country, yet they enroll 12% of the African-American college population.
HBCUs produce 23% of all African-American college graduates and confer 40% of the degrees earned by African-Americans in the STEM areas – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. They educate 50% of the country’s African-American teachers and 40% of all African-American health professionals.
But beyond the statistics, HBCUs like Winston-Salem State hire faculty and staff who contribute to the economic health of the communities where they are located. They buy goods; they buy services. And they provide an educated workforce for businesses and nonprofits.
That’s what we do. We educate young people and they impact the social and economic well-being of the communities where they live and where they work.
There is one last point that I want to make and it has to do with something that I said in that installation speech in April of 2008. I commented that since my arrival at the university I was experiencing a clash of culture. That’s the comment that pissed folks off the most. The clash of cultures, I said, had to do with low expectations. I had come from very different places where expectations for everything were through the roof, and I had arrived at WSSU where expectations were low. I said that the faculty held low expectations for the students’ ability to learn; that the community had low expectations for our graduates; that alums sent underprepared students to WSSU because our low admissions standards created low expectations for the institution. After we first raised admission standards, I even received a letter from the Student Government Association president who urged me to lower the standards because, quote, “WSSU is for Black people.”
Among all of the challenges that I faced, I knew that the problem of expectations would be the toughest to solve. So today, I take great pride when I move among this community and I hear people talk about WSSU much more favorably and talk about what our students are doing, and when students come to me and tell me that they are not being challenged or when they ask that the library hours of operation be extended, that’s when I know that progress has been achieved.
I am proud of what has been accomplished at Winston-Salem State over the past seven years. I believe we have strengthened this institution and positioned it for a very bright future. I have enjoyed thoroughly the times we have spent together over the past several years and appreciate your support for me and for the university. Thank you so much.
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