Chancellor's Speech to Two-Year Presidents Focuses on Mission and Character

Orange Beach, Ala., June 26, 2007 -  The presidents of the two-year college system heard from Chancellor Bradley Byrne on Monday and the new head of the postsecndary system emphasized the missions of the two-year college system - workforce develpment, adult education, and the junior college transfer function.  He then asked the presidents to think about four things over the next few months - staying focused, quality, transparency and integrity.  Byrne believes the time is now to make a difference in the lives of thousands of Alabama's citizens.

Byrne following up on what Dr. Paul Hubbert had said to the presidents the night before started by saying, "The real story of Alabama here in the 21st century is the transformative power of this very dynamic economy we're living in right now."

He then went on to describe the turnaround in the Alabama economy.   "A lot of local chambers of commerce and local economic development officials working with many of you were out there doing the hard  work day in and day out, work to create an environment in which companies that were already here could grow, but also so new companies could come here.  And, by the way, these new jobs that were coming in were jobs that required higher skills, but also were paying higher wages."

Byrne told the presidents there was a lot "to be thankful for.  But, because of all that, we're now in this unpredicted,  but certainly welcome economic climate for our state.  We literally have thousands and thousands of new jobs that are coming to Alabama over the next two to three to four years that are going to be paying wages that are substantially higher and have benefits that are substantially better for many of the people that will be able to take advantage of those jobs..."

Going back to the transformative nature of what is happening in the state, Byrne turned again to the difference the changes mean to people's lives.

"These are exciting times, but perhaps the most exciting part of it is when you think about taking somebody who's used to making between $25,000 and $30,000 a year with questionable benefits to the point where they can make $50,000 or $60,000 with good benefits, you're not just changing the local economy, you're changing hundreds if not thousands of lives.  The quality of their life goes up and when the quality of life goes up for people in our community, the quality of life goes up for everybody in the State of Alabama.

The new chancellor added a note of caution however.  "None of that's going to take place if we don't have the trained workforce to do it.  Without the workers to take those jobs, then the industry that comes here will not feel like they've gotten  a good bargain.  We will not have a good image or a good reputation and all that economic development good stuff will stop.  Because, believe me, the governor is still out there talking to people finding more jobs to come to the state, but if  the word gets out there that Alabama can't deliver our workforce, it's over and some of our sister Southern states will be the beneficiary."

Byrne then asked the presidents to step up and lead the way and reiterated what he sees as the mission of the two-year system.  "In order for us in Alabama to take advantage of what's been created out there.  We, this system, have to lead the way.  You have to lead the way.  But this is not something new and different for you.  Because if you think about our three- part mission, it falls squarely within what needs to happen here."

Number one is workforce development.  "...I was up at Northwest Shoals...last week...that's just one part of the state where we have incredible opportunities to deliver workforce training skills to people.  I can go all over this state.  I can go to the Chatahootchee Valley and talk about what's going on in Phenix City.  I can talk about some things that are happening in the Decatur/Huntsville area.  I can talk about things that are happening in Cullman, etc."

"We have got to focus and focus hard on workforce development.  The governor and I had a great talk about how we can begin to think out of the box to try and deliver this in a fashion that's both timely and has the quality in it that all of us know we have to have.  That's the first thing.  The first part of our mission is workforce development."

Byrne told the system's leaders the next part of the mission is adult education and it's time Byrne says to expand the thinking on this issue and include people from outside the system to help come up with solutions for a big problem.

"When I left the Board in 2002 to run for the Senate that was the point in time adult education was transitioning to postsecondary.  I tell you I didn't know a whole lot about adult education.  I can't tell you I'm an expert in that.  But when you find out that 25% of the adults in this state don't have basic literacy skills and you think about the economy that we're operating in.  You see how very, very important adult education is."

The final part of the sytem's mission says the chancellor is the junior college transfer function.

"I've run into more and more people now who have recognized that their children need to start off their first year or even their first or second year at a two-year college because they're not sure enough they're ready to go off and live by themselves, which I probably  wasn't when I was 18, many of them don't have the money to be able to go to these four-year colleges."

"Maybe they need some extra academic help or maybe the parent would just feel better that that child would probably do better in a smaller classroom, with an instructor whose real mission in life is to teach, not to do research and they can get the individual attention that they will thrive on and be so much more successful as they move through their  college careers."

"When you think about those three parts of our plan - workforce development, adult education, and the junior college transfer function that is what we've got to do - me, you , the State Board of Education, the governor and his folks.  There's stuff that we've got to do to take advantage of this economic miracle that's happening around us."

Byrne told his presidents that they could not let other things they were doing come ahead of their main mission.

"I'm well aware of the fact that many of you, in addition to those three things, participate in some existing ways in the cultural, civic and athletic life of your community.  I'm not saying for one second that there's anything wrong or inappropriate about that - to the contrary, I think that is very important  Some of the communities in which you operate there would be no cultural life without that college.  I want you to be a part of that."

"But sometimes we need to make sure, that is a part of what we do but that is not the main three-part mission that we have.  It's a very important mission that we have and we need to stay completely focused on that. "

"So, there are four things that I want you to think about as we go through the next several months. "

"The first thing is to stay focused.  I know it's easy to lose your focus when other things are happening outside.  It's hard not to be diverted from what is your main goal and job.  The truth of the matter is that what you're doing is too important for you to be anything other than completely focused.  Focus on that three-part mission.  Focus, focus, focus."

The second thing is quality.  If it's not quality, we should not be doing it.  I don't care what it is.  If it's a two-year college transfer course, adult education program that reaches out to prisoners, a workforce training program that provides for a specific industry, we need to be sure that we are quality in everything that we do.  I've been bragging to people around the State of Alabama about the quality of our programs because I believe that's a selling point in and of itself...Quality is not something we do on the way to something else, quality is something we have to wake up and make sure it happens - every day.  Quality is what we're all about."

"So I would ask you as you focus on your mission, keep in mind that if we can't deliver quality, let's not do it."

The third thing - transparency.  "Now I understand from being at the program this morning transparency poses some challenges for you because we have to do some things taking away from those missions that we're supposed to be so focused on."

"But we are a public system and you are significant parts of your community.  And I can tell you, from reading and going through the poll that Gerald Thompson did on our system, that people across Alabama feel a strong connection between their community and their local college.  You are part of that community. You are part of the state.  And so being transparent, once you get into the rhythm of it, I guarantee you it will not be that hard.  The truth of the matter is the transparency will show all the good that we're doing.  We're doing a lot of good things for the state."

Byrne finished his four pillars of wisdom talking about integrity.

"...Here's how SACS defines integrity.  "It is a relationship  in which all parties agree to deal honestly and openly with their constituencies and with one another...The Commission on Colleges expects integrity to govern the operation of institutions and for institutions to make reasonable and responsible decisions consistent with the spirit of  integrity...."

"Obviously we have to adhere to that because if we don't it could affect our accreditation.  But I was hoping that we'd want to adhere to that because that's the way we should govern ourselves in life period.  And I know y'all agree with that."

"And you probably sometimes wonder, why do we have to go over something so elementary.  Well the truth of the matter is that there are certain lessons in life you can never hear or learn too often or too much.  I had a preacher one time that I said something to one time about preaching to the choir and he said, "Son, the choir needs to be preached to."  That's true about all of us. "

"You can never hear the message that pins the great moral foundation documents of civilization, whether it's the 10 Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, the great moral precepts of Plato or Aristotle, it doesn't matter, you can never hear them enough."

"When I was in high school over in Mobile - in military school.  We had an honor code and every year we had to sign that honor code.  And then on every test we had to sign the honor pledge, "On my honor as I gentleman I have neither given nor received help on this test."  Over and over and over again.  The reason they did that was because the mere repetition of it beat it into our young, thick heads.  To the point where I've gotten to today where I can't even  think, it's so foreign for me to think of somebody who would cheat or somebody who would steal or somebody who would lie, because it's just anathema, because of that repetition over and over.  We can never hear it too much.  Whether we've been completely blameless in our lives, people of high integrity or not, you can never hear it too much."

Byrne finished his talk to the prsidents emphasizing integrity once again.

"The Alabama College System is a group of people who are committed to integrity -integrity, fundamental integrity that all human beings should live up to.   So remember our mission - workforce development, adult education, quality of our junior college transfer function."

Reported by:  Helen Hammons