The Age of the Unthinkable: President Hammond sets theme for new year, names FHSU's 2010-2011 distinguished scholar

Dr. Edward H. Hammond, president of Fort Hays State University, unveiled "The Age of the Unthinkable" as the theme for the 2010-2011 academic year during his address today at the annual Fall Convocation. He insisted that despite the unthinkable challenges that lie ahead, faculty and staff have it within their power to create a hopeful future.

Another highlight of Fall Convocation was the introduction of winners of the highest university honors for faculty -- the Faculty Member of the Year Award, the Edmund Shearer Advisor of the Year Award and, the university's highest honor, the President's Distinguished Scholar Award.

The President's Distinguished Scholar, who receives a medallion and a $1,500 cash award, is selected by President Hammond from recommendations forwarded to him by an evaluation committee of previous presidential scholars. The committee is chaired by the FHSU provost, Dr. Larry Gould.

Dr. Greg Farley, professor of biological sciences, was named this year's President's Distinguished Scholar. Dr. Gavin Buffington, professor of physics, was named the Faculty Member of the Year for 2010, and Dr. Jeff Burnett, associate professor of health and human performance, was named the Shearer Advisor of the Year.

In his address to the nearly 500 assembled faculty and staff, President Hammond described the Age of the Unthinkable as "an extraordinary, inconceivable and fantastic time." He said: "Change is going to be a contagious force in our lives. It is truly unthinkable to use the old educational models to dream about our future."

Recalling his first Fall Convocation address, the president said there were more unknowns to deal with than at any time in his previous 20-plus years. He said that given changes in state leadership, including a new governor, it would be impossible to know exactly what to expect.

However, he added: "Any one of us, I believe, can unleash powerful and permanent change. It's your job to deliver a high-quality education to the students of FHSU. Some of this change will be simple, but far more of the change will be complex and difficult."

He said the speed of change in society was driving change in the lives of individuals. He recalled that civilization had seen five ages: Hunting and Gathering, which began about 100,000 B.C.; Agriculture, which began about 8000 B.C.; Industrial, which began about 1760; Information, which began about 1960; and, currently, Bio-Engineering, which has just begun. He said that next, perhaps by 2030, we would enter the Age of Unlimited Energy.

"Through these ages, population growth and the expansion of information have increased exponentially," the president said. "In 1760, information was delivered by horseback at the rate, in modern terms, of .003 bits per second. By 1960, information was delivered over copper wires at the rate of 300 bps. Now information is delivered over fiber lines at billions of bps. The speed of our environment has tremendously increased."

He said that how a person views the future determines his actions today. "Your actions today shape tomorrow and your future," he explained. "We must have a revolutionary architecture for financial, environmental and educational activities. The old systems are not going to work."

President Hammond noted that FHSU had successfully made changes in the past. "In the year 2000, when our enrollment was just over 5,000, we said we would grow to 10,000 by the year 2010," he said. "People laughed, but this fall we will serve more than 12,000 students."

Likewise, the president said FHSU had developed a revolutionary plan, called "A Duty to Dream," for preparing graduates who are forward thinking and world ready. He said the FHSU plan anticipated elements of a new plan that will be unveiled in coming days by the Kansas Board of Regents.

President Hammond outlined some of the unthinkable challenges facing FHSU. "They include no new investment in our institution by the state of Kansas," he said. "We're not going to get any additional state money, but our growth and your hard work have allowed us to cope with reduced funding and do things other universities have not been able to do."

He said another major challenge would be to find a way to provide salary increases for faculty and staff, who have endured two years without raises. He said FHSU must be more effective in recruiting out-of-state students to the campus, must support faculty in creating new courses and updating existing courses, needs to do a better job of documenting learner outcomes, and must improve sustainability.

"For example, we need approval from the city of Hays to construct wind turbines," he said. "It's the right thing to do, and it will save us $800,000. By addressing these challenges, we can be successful this year."

The president exhorted faculty and staff to believe they can change the university. "Picken Hall, the oldest building on campus, stands as an example," he said. "We not only renovated it but re-purposed it to meet new needs. We turned that old lady into a young teenager to last another 100 years."

The president concluded with a final, strong word of encouragement. "The power of the individual has never been greater," he declared.

The Fall Convocation, held in the Beach/Schmidt Performing Arts Center, also features introductions of new faculty and staff and presentations by Provost Gould and by Faculty Senate President Rita Hauck, associate professor of technology studies.

Other awards included the Faculty Member of the Year, chosen from among the previous academic year's winners of the Research Award, Service Award and Outstanding Teaching Award.

Dr. Amy Finch, professor of communication disorders and chair of the department, and Dr. Keyu Jiang, associate professor of informatics, were the fall 2009 and spring 2010 Research Award winners. Marla Staab, clinical coordinator in communication disorders, and Natalie Unruh, instructor of teacher education, were the 2009-2010 Service Award winners. Buffington and Dr. David Fitzhugh, assistant professor of health and human performance, were the Outstanding Teaching Award winners. Each of those awards carries a $500 cash benefit.

Buffington, as Faculty Member of the Year, also receives a $1,000 award.

Award money for the Faculty Member of the Year, research, service and teaching awards is provided Tom Thomas, president of Commerce Bank, and the membership of the Provost's Council.

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