For a year, he’s been getting to know campus and the campus has been getting to know him. As The W installed its 14th president Feb. 15, it was apparent we’ve all learned a lot together. Here’s a snapshot of Dr. Jim Borsig.
Right where he belongs
He loves to laugh.
He doesn’t mind admitting he doesn’t know it all.
He doesn’t take himself so seriously that he’s afraid to join a game of mud volleyball and get really dirty.
But make no mistake: Borsig takes his mission as leader of the nation’s first publicly chartered college for women very seriously.
“I’m in love with the future of The W,” he said. “This is a great institution with great potential, and I’m proud to be here at this time in its history.”
As he prepared to be formally inaugurated, Borsig could look back over the previous year and admit being somewhat awed by what The W family had accomplished and embraced.
“It’s been a busy, productive and incredible year with wonderful support from our faculty, students, staff, alumni and our surrounding community,” he said. “There’s a great foundation for the work ahead.”
Show him the data
He believes that to plan, you first need to understand. He’s known for being data-driven and asking for the statistics and facts that provide information on which to base strategic goals. In his first year, both he and the campus have developed a better understanding of enrollment trends, student profiles, growth in particular fields and needs for resource allocation.
And he believes that sometimes you call in the experts for a detailed analysis. Under the leadership of a campus-wide enrollment management task force led by Dr. Jennifer Miles, vice president for student affairs, the university contracted with Noel-Levitz, a nationally recognized enrollment consulting firm, to provide an analysis of The W’s current efforts and to offer guidance on refining them. That work will be going forward to use resources and student data strategically, with a goal of reaching those students best suited for The W experience.
To understand constituency views about the university, he brought to campus idgroup, a respected communication and branding firm based in Pensacola, Fla. In dialogue sessions with nearly 180 constituents, the group distilled common themes, dreams and desires for the future of The W. Their January presentation affirmed that the story of The W is that of “One Long Blue Line” [see related story].
“The idgroup experience told us that we have many common goals and a very strong thread that connects all generations of W grads,” Borsig said. “Throughout our history, we have embraced our challenges and found creative solutions. We have adapted and matured.”
But if Borsig believes in gathering data and analyzing it, he also believes in action. In the past year, the university has moved ahead on a complete overhaul of its web presence, with a focus on supporting student recruitment and the student experience. With guidance from a campus advisory group and the assistance of Colorado-based Educational Marketing Group, University Relations provided the in-house expertise to launch web3.muw.edu in January.
Borsig also put into place new members of his administrative team, including Provost Dan Heimmermann, formerly of The University of Texas at Brownsville; Executive Director of University Relations Maridith Geuder, a 22-year veteran of Mississippi State University; as well as naming Dr. Scott Tollison the dean of the College of Business and Professional Studies.
With private fundraising becoming increasingly important to public institutions, the university contracted with Dr. Patty Cormier, a former college president who now is coordinator of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities New Presidents Academy, to review The W’s advancement structure.
Based on her assessment, the development and alumni offices were reorganized for greater efficiency and synergy. Cormier now has begun a year-long process to strengthen the capability of the Foundation and Alumni Boards of Directors and volunteers in support of the university’s mission.
Under the leadership of Perry Sansing, assistant to the president and legal counsel, Borsig launched a study of the feasibility of returning athletics to campus. An external advisory group has completed its report, and the next phase, an internal assessment that will lead to recommendations, is under way.
Improving campus services
With student input, a re-evaluation of on-campus dining, led by Senior Vice President for Administration and Chief Financial Officer Nora Miller and chaired by Dave Haffly, resulted in a new dining services contract. Students, faculty and staff now enjoy longer dining hours, new menu options, and a Subway café, all conveniently located in Hogarth. A grab-and-go food option was added in Parkinson.
“In addition to the longer hours the cafeteria is open, another change is that students have ‘unlimited’ dining privileges,” Miller said. “They can drop in whenever they like, as many times as they like, grab a snack, a piece of fruit and be on their way.”
Students also led the effort in designing a new logo that branded MUW Dining, she said.
Also under Miller’s oversight, Haffly chaired an effort to re-evaluate the campus bookstore contract. With input from a campus committee, Barnes & Noble was selected to expand both textbook and trade offerings, as well as W merchandise.
Self-study and accreditation
Broad campus participation in a required self-study leading to reaffirmation of accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges in 2014 also is under way. Campus leadership for the review of all aspects of The W include Dr. Martin Hatton, associate vice president for academic affairs, SACSCOC liaison; and Dr. Tom Richardson, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, Quality Enhancement Plan team leader and also chair of the Editorial Committee.
Other self-study leadership includes Borsig; Dr. Dan Heimmermann, provost and vice president for academic affairs; Miller; Richardson; Carla Lowery, director of institutional research; Hatton; and subcommittee chairs Dr. Kendall Dunkelberg, Dr. Sheila Adams, Dr. Brian Anderson, Dr. Debbie Miranda, Dr. Monica Riley, Jennifer Moore, Gail Gunter, Dr. Jennifer Miles and Dr. Marty Brock.
“Virtually everyone on our campus has had a role in this review,” Borsig said. “The self-study provides a significant opportunity to examine every function of our university, and the information we gather as a community will contribute to developing a stronger MUW and one that continues to be committed to excellence in its core mission of student learning.”
Engagement with the community also has been a priority, from hosting cultural events at the president’s home to welcoming the Decorative Arts and Preservation Forum to campus last November. “We’re closely tied to our community, and we want to support it and welcome our community partners to campus for events and cultural offerings,” Borsig said. The lighting of campus at Christmas drew much local attention, with plans to collaborate on expanding holiday observations in the future.
Under Borsig’s leadership, The W also has been paying closer attention to its “curb appeal,” with a goal of giving visitors a welcoming first look at what the university has to offer. Exterior fencing has been painted, welcome banners are now in place downtown, and there’s increased attention to landscaping and making The W shine.
In the spring of 2013, the first update in the campus master plan has begun under the leadership of Miller. The newly renovated Poindexter Hall has become a focal point for community/campus cultural events, and an expansion of Fant Library will provide both additional academic resources and a gathering place for students.
Inaugurating the future
In his comments at the Feb. 15 formal inauguration, Gov. Phil Bryant said Borsig “is the right man at the right time.”
And former University of Southern Mississippi President Aubrey Lucas, who has known Borsig since the undergraduate days when Borsig was student government president, said that Borsig never just came to him with a problem. “He came to tell me ‘here’s what I plan to do about it.’”
In his inaugural comments, Borsig addressed both the past and the future of The W and shared his plans for moving the institution forward.
The W today
“The W’s 1884 women’s mission—opportunity and access—remains central to who we are.” ~Dr. Jim Borsig's inaugural address
“The W’s 1884 women’s mission—opportunity and access—remains central to who we are,” he said, noting that as times change, the institution adapts and responds. “Today we are a coeducational institution. Make no mistake about this because this is part of who we are in the 21st century. We are also unapologetic about our women’s mission and remaining true to our historic purpose. Today our student body mirrors the state of Mississippi. Many first-generation students enroll and graduate here, 25 percent of our students are over the age of 25, and last year 43 percent of semester credit hours recorded were taught in classes where at least 50 percent of the content was online,” he said.
That, he told The W community, is the university of today.
“We remain true to our founding principles. We embrace, encourage and celebrate the unique gifts of each individual. Many students will succeed on this campus who will not find success on other campuses.”
A call to service
Laying out a vision for the future, Borsig said that The W is proud of its success as a teaching institution, and he called for a broadening of that vision, increased collaboration with community colleges and universities in the IHL system and a commitment to service from the university community.
“This semester I will call together appropriate faculty and staff to design a new approach to volunteerism for our entire university family; and, in particular, to place special emphasis on efforts to strengthen public schools, not only near the gates of this campus, but wherever you find members of The Long Blue Line,” he said.
A focus on leadership
Long known for activities such as the Hearin Leadership Program, The W will place additional emphasis on broadening leadership development for all students, he said. “We will work to intentionally weave leadership and development throughout our co-curricular activities, and I ask our faculty to review leadership offerings within the curriculum.”
This summer will see the launch of one such effort, NEW Leadership, in partnership with Starkville-based John C. Stennis Center for Public Service. Undergraduate women from around the state, led by Dr. Bridget Pieschel, with support from Kate Brown and Brother Rogers, the program will provide leadership opportunities for undergraduate women from around the state.
Reaching non-traditional students
Borsig said The W will continue to build on its success in innovative delivery of courses for non-traditional students, using emerging technologies. He cited The W’s highly successful RN to BSN Advancement Placement Option, which offers working nurses both an intensive classroom focus as well as the flexibility of online learning to accommodate work and family demands.
Enhancing on-campus student life
At the same time, he said, the university will put additional focus on enhancing the on-campus student life experience, including a consideration of a return to athletics, building and supporting learning communities and revitalizing residence halls—most of which are on The National Register of Historic Places.
“Many of these aspirations we can accomplish through the wise use of our existing resources, but not all,” he said. “To achieve our dreams will require substantial private giving by our graduates, friends and supporters.”
A promising future
Noting that the university community “doesn’t fear change and isn’t afraid of our future,” Borsig pointed out that the coeducational mission of The W today should not be interpreted as a conflict with its historic women’s mission.
“Embracing both will grow our enrollment and strengthen this university,” he said. “Our traditions are not at odds with each other; these are the ways we are bound together. We are One Long Blue Line.
“We celebrate the promise of each individual. We dare to doubt, dare to question and challenge, subscribing not to conformity but to Eudora Welty’s premise that ‘all serious daring starts from within.’”