Dr. Trey Berry, president of Southern Arkansas University, paid tribute to a retiring Board member, welcomed an incoming member, and updated the Board of Trustees on SAU’s fall semester. Trustees also approved a new slate of officers during their virtual meeting on Thursday, Jan. 28.
Monty Harrington was named chairman, Therral Story was named vice-chair, and Erica Woods was named secretary. Laura Winning of Little Rock was welcomed as the newest Board member.
Lawrence Bearden, who served on the Board since 2016, was thanked by Berry and the Board at the opening of the meeting. Bearden served during a tremendous period of growth, including the construction of new residence halls and the Presidential Home, renovation of the Alumni Center, construction of the new Poultry Science Center, and other milestones at SAU and SAU Tech.
“We see your fingerprints all over this campus,” said Berry. “Thank you for your amazing work.” The Board adopted a resolution honoring Bearden for his service to the SAU System.
In his report, Berry said SAU had a successful fall semester despite the pandemic, and he looks to a successful spring. He applauded SAU’s faculty and staff, as well as SAU Tech, for “keeping the virus at bay.”
About 100 members of the SAU community have already received a vaccination shot. “We’ve had our first round of inoculations,” Berry reported, “and we will get to everyone who would like to have one.”
SAU saw its graduate school enrollment spike 14 percent in the fall despite an overall two percent decline in undergraduate numbers. “That is the highest jump ever in our graduate school programs,” Berry said, stressing the rise occurred in the midst of the pandemic. Berry noted that SAU and all other universities are experiencing the challenge of a national birth rate decline. “We are going to do new, innovative things that will help us recruit during this time.”
SAU was able to have a successful intersession in December, allowing students who took advantage of the programs to improve their academic record. Discussions will be held to decide on having another intersession next fall.
In other academic news, Berry informed the Board that SAU’s MBA program has been named the most affordable in the state, and the 2020 nursing class has achieved a 100-percent NCLEX pass rate. “These programs are rocking and rolling,” enthused Berry.
Expansion of the Oliver Band Hall is nearing completion, and construction of the new Education Building on North Jackson is also expected to end in March. Berry said the Board will be able to tour the new facilities at its next regular meeting.
Turning to fund-raising, Berry said that despite the pandemic, SAU has experienced its greatest year. Josh Kee, vice president for advancement, and his team worked tremendously hard to raise more than $6 million in 2020. Berry thanked the Advancement team for their efforts, pointing out the Endowment fund also reached a new milestone of $46 million. SAU now boasts 17 endowed faculty positions and 926 donor-established endowments.
SAU Athletics will return this semester with shortened seasons and limited spectator seating. GAC rankings show early promise for all Mulerider spring teams. Berry also shared that, thanks to an outpouring of giving, a new indoor practice facility will be constructed behind Wilkins Stadium for the use of all SAU sports teams and the Magnolia community. Berry promised more details to come on this project.
In conclusion, Berry announced SAU’s Candle of Hope will remain lighted throughout 2021, or until the coronavirus has been defeated. “It is a reminder that we are all together in the battle against this invisible enemy,” he said.
Dr. Jason Morrison, chancellor of SAU Tech, reported a successful fall, with “very little disruption” on the campus due to COVID. “That is a testament to the work of our Task Force and faculty members,” Morrison said. “We hit the ground running.”
Regarding enrollment, Morrison said a 6.5 percent increase in the “college core” of freshmen and sophomore courses was “absolutely tremendous” in the age of the pandemic. Tech also experienced a strong 10.6 percent rise in credit production for the semester.
Morrison introduced Dr. Edward Rice as the new vice chancellor for Student Services, noting that improvements have already been made in several areas of operation that will continue Tech’s growth and success.
He informed the Board of several new grants that will have an impact on academics and facilities and that spring sports will be held on a limited basis. “We are doing everything we can to give our students the full college experience,” he said.
In other business, Dr. David Lanoue, SAU’s provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, presented a slate of academic changes for the Board’s approval. These included changing the name of the College of Education to the College of Education and Human Performance. This reflects the contribution of the Health, Kinesiology and Recreation (HKR) department to the success of the college.
Trustees unanimously approved a new business track, the BBA in Health Care Administration, which will meet the need for homegrown health care personnel in South Arkansas and revisions to the University’s superintendent licensure program, staying current with state requirements.
Valerie Wilson, SAU Tech’s vice chancellor for Academics and Planning, also recommended three changes for consideration. Her slate of academic changes received unanimous approval. These included the addition of a certificate of proficiency in cyber security.
Roger Giles, SAU’s vice president for Administration, recommended trustees pass a resolution authorizing reimbursement for Board travel and other expenses incurred on University business. The resolution was unanimously approved.
After executive session, trustees approved recommended personnel changes. The meeting then adjourned, with Harrington thanking Berry and all faculty and staff for their hard work during the pandemic.