Just more than a year into his presidency at Central Michigan University, Bob Davies has embarked on an ambitious 10-year strategic plan that outlines the vision for where the school needs to be by 2030. He said he initiated the effort in response to challenges CMU and other universities face in the current social, political and economic landscape. Davies sat down with MiBiz to talk about his time with the university thus far, how its students fit into the workforce and his goals for the future sustainability of CMU.
You just passed the one-year mark at CMU. How’s it going?
The faculty, the staff, the students, the alumni, the community at large have just been very welcoming to me and my family. From day one, we felt like part of the community and part of the family. The past year, the first six months, specifically, was a listening and learning tour on campus as well as throughout the greater region, throughout the state, talking with all the stakeholders so I could get a perspective from CMU on our opportunities, challenges and understand our history and traditions.
How would you describe your leadership style?
My view of leadership is to be approachable and to tear down the artificial boundaries between the individuals that I serve. That communication is essential. The acknowledgement that my job is to serve students, my job is to serve faculty and staff, is paramount and that approachability is essential. I believe in a real strong sense of sharing ideas. I look at it from my perspective, but I want to hear what other people think about. Through those constant conversations, you develop better decision making because you get better perspectives, get better paradigms about those different opportunities and so that’s another reason I want to be approachable.
How is CMU prepping the next generation of workers in Michigan?
As we look at the talent pipeline, what we want to do through our educational efforts is to focus in on rigorous, relevance and excellence. When we talk about rigorous and relevant, we want to make sure that we are imparting the ethic to our students and to our graduates that they have to be lifelong learners, that they can be critical thinkers, that they have the ability to communicate effectively well across dimensions. They understand that we live in a global society that is interconnected and interdependent and so we understand the different cultures and different abilities. Where we also focus in on is that any major could lead to a position, to a verifiable employment opportunity. Nearly 93 percent of our graduates on the day of graduation have a job and/or have been accepted into graduate school.
As enrollment at CMU is projected to continue declining, what are your plans to fill that space?
Are we in the business of granting degrees and credit hours or are we in the business of applying, disseminating and creating knowledge? We’re much more in the latter area and so, yes, we still will concentrate on the traditional business line of first-time freshmen. But we also know that that’s a declining market, so we need to: A. Increase our market share. B. We need to be more proactive and aggressive in those areas. C. We also need to increase the geographic spread of Central Michigan University. Right now, roughly around 90 percent of our freshman class comes from Michigan. We need to be looking at Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, New York, and then also start to spread beyond that as well.
What about enrollment at CMU’s satellite campuses?
There’s a plethora of individuals and it’s the largest segment, to be honest. In Michigan, around 6 million people have earned college credits but not a college degree, so (we’re) serving that market through our campus based in Mount Pleasant, but also throughout our satellite areas and online throughout the state and beyond. That’s a pathway in our strategic visioning process — looking at new student markets and how we serve them. A new freshman comes up with a whole different set of needs. (We need to ensure) that we’re providing the services for them and then also changing our business model to be not just degree-granting but to be knowledge-imparting.
You’ve emphasized diversity and inclusion many times during your tenure so far. Why is this important to you?
(Part of the 2030 plan) is that we will be an equitable and inclusive marketplace of ideas and actions. We want to be that area, that cauldron of ideas and debate — civil and civic debate — and allow individuals to present their ideas. When they present their ideas, they need to be well-researched, they need to be well thought out, they need to be articulate. That’s when better decisions, better ideas come out.
Sum up what your mission is over the next few years.
It is all about positioning Central Michigan University to be the right university in 2030 to meet where the students and the owner’s demands will be at that particular time.