The Southern Arkansas University System Board of Trustees met virtually in a regularly scheduled session Thursday, February 3. Dr. Trey Berry, SAU president, opened the meeting by welcoming new board member Jason Sullivan. Sullivan graduated from SAU in 1995 and most recently served on the SAU Foundation Board of Governors. He resides in Mena, where he is the vice president of lending at Union Bank. Sullivan expressed his enthusiasm to serve SAU in this capacity.
The annual election of officers was the first order of business for the meeting. Monty Harrington was reaffirmed as board chair, with Erica Woods named vice-chair and Laura Winning named secretary.
Trustees heard campus reports from Dr. Berry and SAU Tech Chancellor Dr. Jason Morrison. Berry reported on a new SAU initiative, Finish the Ride, which focuses on students who left the Institution without obtaining a degree. Finish the Ride launched Feb. 1 and assists returning students with the reapplication, financial aid, and advising processes. “We have a lot of great people working on this,” Berry said, noting Dr. Jennifer Rowsam’s role in program development and the appointment of Amy Womack as degree completion coordinator to lead the program. “This is one more way we can fulfill our mission,” stated Berry.
SAU alumni and friends’ generosity is evident in the University Advancement 2021 year-end giving report. The report cited more than $6 million in gifts for the second year in a row, increased donor retention, increased alumni giving, and a 29% increase in the number of gifts received over 2020 numbers. “This is such a testament to our alumni and friends,” Berry said.
In his final statements, Berry reported on campus improvements, such as updates to the Alumni Center and the completion of the Dawson Athletic Complex. Other improvements included upgrades to W.T. Watson Gymnasium, enhancements to the campus entrance at Wilkins Stadium, and the upcoming construction of a new facility to house the Mulerider golf and tennis programs.
Dr. Jason Morrison reported that spring enrollment is up at SAU Tech despite the challenges presented by the pandemic. Credit production has also increased at Tech, signaling the increased focus on student retention is paying dividends.
To support the launch of Rocket baseball, SAU Tech recently initiated a campaign to fund the construction of a baseball complex on campus. The Diamond Club contains multiple levels for donor recognition designed around a baseball theme, such as Hall of Fame, All-Star, and Grand Slam. Dr. Morrison acknowledged support from Tech alum Doug Wasson, who provided the lead gift for the campaign. Morrison noted that thanks to generous donors, Tech has reached 60% of the campaign goal, with hopes to break ground on the complex in June.
During his closing remarks, Morrison reported that SAU Tech continues to build and strengthen the SAU Tech Foundation, with the addition of Jeff Avant and Rich Robertson to the Foundation Board.
Dr. Valerie Wilson, SAU Tech vice-chancellor for academics, presented the request for a new program, Medical Diagnostic Sonography. Dr. Wilson noted that this program is a significant academic enhancement for the region and the only program in the state.
Dr. David Lanoue, SAU provost and vice president for academic affairs, made three requests for academic program changes. The first was the addition of a new minor in finance for non-business majors. Another was a new certificate in World War II and Holocaust studies, which Lanoue described as an important academic area, particularly for high school teachers. A third was the addition of a standalone mechanical engineering program. Mechanical engineering is currently part of the broader general engineering program. Trustees approved all academic change requests from Lanoue and Wilson.
Financial reports provided by Shawana Reed, SAU vice president for finance, and Gaye Manning, SAU Tech vice chancellor for finance and administration, reflected favorably on the System. Trustees approved certificates of solvency for both institutions, as well as the 2019-2020 audit reports. Trustees commended Reed and Manning for their work to maintain fiscal stability.
Trustees approved the execution of a bond refund, which will save $7 million over the life of the bonds and result in the ownership transfer of Magnolia, Columbia, and Arkansas Halls from the Alumni Association to the Alumni Association University.
The next regularly scheduled meeting of the Board of Trustees will be June 16, 2022.