Agent for Change
Written by Yvonne Schroeder
Dr. Earl D. Brooks II joined TSU in 2000 as the state’s youngest college president. Following the retirement of John Reynolds, TSU’s 15th president, the university’s board sought a talented fund-raiser, visionary, and turnaround man who could bring financial security, enhance the campus esthetically, increase enrollment and endowment, and take the university to a new level of excellence academically and experientially.
A proven fund-raiser and administrator at two other large institutions of higher learning, Dr. Brooks’ 15 Points of Focus address on Aug. 14, 2000, provided the impetus for the transformation of the
Putting First Things First
Sensing what he today describes as an instantaneous connection with the TSU board, Dr. Brooks introduced his 15-point plan of action as his first fall semester neared.
Announcing a five-year plan for campus planning and assessment, he appointed a 15-member committee to develop a master plan for campus facilities, determine optimum size and rate of growth, and assess non-academic and academic operations.
He followed that with a plan for the most ambitious capital campaign ever—$35 million—with 80 percent allotted to endowment to decrease dependency on tuition.
Then enrollment management hit the radar, with an emphasis on lowering the discounted tuition rate while improving student retention.
Marketing TSU as a comprehensive institution with tremendous cultural and recreational resources became another goal. A redesign of the Web site would offer more information, regular updates, and online admission. Branch campus opportunities would be explored, and TSU would expand.
Graduate programs in TSU’s renowned engineering school and other areas would be explored. Athletics—another student magnet—would take strong programs to the NCAA arena.
Deferred maintenance would become a focus, along with renovated residence halls.
Expanded accreditation, especially National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education for the Franks School of Education, would be sought.
Another deficiency—the great need for a student center and improved student services, activities, intramural offerings, and residence hall lounges and rooms—would be remedied.
To support strong academics, terminal degree completion, continuing education, conferences, workshops, and sabbaticals would be encouraged for faculty.
Strengthening partnerships across the state would provide innovative ways to share resources, reach out to new
Finally, the university would investigate ways to strengthen its financial position. Fund-raising would be a principal means to improve the physical plant and grow the endowment.
How are we doing?
If you ask Dr. Brooks today his initial impression of TSU, he gives a kind, yet analytical, assessment. “I saw an institution with tremendous potential and ripe with unrealized opportunity,” he said from his third-floor office in the newly restored C.W. Sponsel Administration Center.
Two physical features immediately detracted from TSU’s appeal and mission—Forman Hall and the closed Sniff Administration Building. “Forman Hall had a flat face with an ATM machine standing against it. The Office of Admission and 25 arts and sciences faculty and staff were in there, with a small reception area. That was your first impression, and then you looked at this closed building next to it. That’s the wrong first impression, and we had to do something to increase our curb appeal,” he said.
Today, a tree-lined boulevard sweeps uphill to the elegant Trine Welcome Center and the beautifully renovated Sniff Hall, which houses the Sponsel Administration Center. The welcome center invites visitors into Forman Hall through a spacious reception area with furnishings, rugs, artwork, and cabinet displays of memorabilia from the Tri-State College days. Offices occupy redecorated upper and lower levels, while Centennial Station, a sports-themed coffee shop, offers an attractive and convenient gathering point below.
The two-year restoration of Sniff Hall to house the beautiful Sponsel Administration Center brought back the lines of the charming brick building while creating gracious space for the luxuriously furnished Franks Executive Conference Suite, the executive suite, the Office of Alumni & Development and marketing department.
Initial economics told a different story. “The financial condition on my arrival was not very bright,” Brooks said. “There was not good control of the finances or amount of debt, and frankly, the budget could not be balanced without borrowing. The first year or so meant putting a pretty strong business model in place to get a handle on the debt and balance the budget.” Working with key players in the university’s business office, the board of trustees and implementing sound process and procedures, the budget has been balanced, with positive cash flows for six consecutive years.
Momentum gathered through board support. “Many of the big leaders are still on board. Larry Franks was chairman, and John Pittman served then, too. And the Trines—you can’t look anywhere without seeing their impact. There are great guys like Bob Jannen, John McKetta, and Jerry Allen. I felt and still feel we have been change agents together. You can’t do this alone. They supported change 100 percent,” he said.
The board made some changes of its own. “They transformed their by-laws and changed their committees to be more effective,” Brooks said. “They became a good mix of professional leaders who brought with them business partnerships and a network of contacts. That made internships, new majors, and new markets more accessible because of their diverse mix and their support of our vision.”
He takes great pride in the Vision for the Future capital campaign, now standing at $70 million of a $90 million goal after a giant boost from the Lilly Endowment. Powered by three Lilly matching opportunities of $1 million, $3 million, and $4.5 million, the Office of Alumni & Development re-engaged TSU alumni with a chance for the doubling of their contributions. “That gave us the momentum to begin changing the whole landscape of the university,” Brooks said.
A leaner operation also provides more money to enhance the campus and programs. “We have good people with experience, and good managers and supervisors who empower people to do their jobs,” he said. “They are excited to be here and bring with them new ideas and fresh thinking.” This year brings the highest-ever cash flow projection, with debt reduced by 50 percent.
The rapid transformation surprises even him. “Higher education moves at a slower pace than business, but this has been fast,” he said. “The last three to four years we have really been coming on in endowment and enrollment. These years are one of the best success stories in higher education across the country.”
People in leadership roles help make it happen. “I’m on the road 60 percent of the time, and I don’t worry one minute about things internally. It frees me to travel and make important connections for the university,” Brooks said.
The Next Five Years
Buoyed by momentum and success, Dr. Brooks envisions an expanded capital campaign with even greater benefits to the campus, programs, and employees as the university heads into its first semester as Trine University in August.
He makes some confident projections. By 2012, the Vision for the Future campaign will expand to a minimum $110 million, while main campus enrollment will swell to 1,600 students, 1,200 of them residential. Total enrollment will reach the 2,400 range.
“As the plan unfolds, new construction will slow. But we’ll renovate the Ford building and Shambaugh Hall, while building our endowment, which has doubled and needs to again,” he said. “We need to continue improving salaries and benefits for faculty and staff. We will eliminate debt entirely. We know we can, because we’ve cut our debt from $13 million to $6 million in only five years.”
The academic horizon will also continue to broaden. “Health care is a good fit for us,” he said. “We have strong programs in engineering, business, education—it’s a natural progression. We could begin master’s programs in movement sciences and biomedical engineering. We’ll continue to look at the arts as well. A music major and center for performing arts are both soon to become realities.”