On a mission: Catching up with President Hynd

By Oona Goodin-Smith

“To me, it’s been an exhilarating seven months,” said President George Hynd of his time at Oakland thus far. “My perceptions of OU before I came here have been validated in so many ways.”

After a summer of searching for Oakland University’s next leader, Hynd stepped into the spotlight and office at the start of the school year and will be officially inaugurated on  Wednesday, April 29.

We sat down with the university’s sixth president to talk campus, tuition and the future of OU.

 

We last talked during your first seven days of presidency. Seven months later, how are you settling in?

I’ve been pleasantly surprised about how well-developed we have been as an institution in terms of the programs we have, the quality of the support services and even more so with the quality of the students and faculty. We really have some great students here who are accomplishing great things. Frankly, we have wonderful data that documents that. I just got through surveying graduates and 88 percent of business graduates, when they graduate, already have a pending job offer or have accepted a job offer. We are an incredible workforce developer for southeast Michigan.

 

In your first days as president, we discussed your top three goals, which included getting to know the students, knowing what attracts them to OU, and building a relationship with the surrounding community. Are these still on the list?

I would like to be viewed as very accessible to the students. I think we’ve done a pretty good job in that direction…but there’s always more to do. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of reaching out to the larger community, Pontiac and Mayor Waterman being a good example. 

We now have a strategic plan that is both aspirational and acknowledges who the faculty and I think we really are – that’s important to me. I think it is telling that when I got here our mission statement was two pages long, small print and single-spaced and is now down to one, four-sentence PowerPoint slide.

The first sentence of our mission statement says it all: “Oakland University is a preeminent metropolitan university that is recognized as a student-centered, doctoral research institution with a global perspective.”

It’s three, very short, very pointed goals that provide structure for our deans and other leaders on campus to develop their own objectives. To me, that’s a huge accomplishment. It lays the foundation for the next five years.

We’ve also created a list of near-term goals which we’d like to accomplish within the next twelve months as well as “on the horizon” goals, or things we’d like to achieve in the next four to five years. [Editor’s note: the complete list of objectives can be found here.]

 

What do you consider to be your biggest accomplishments since your start?

 Getting to know the university better, getting to know the community better and being out in the community and getting connected, and getting the strategic plan approved by the board of trustees.

 

Have there been any disappointments along the way?

The lack of investment in higher education. 

 

You were in Lansing in February to discuss this with the state legislature and other Michigan university presidents. Care to elaborate?

I think the governor is trying to reinstate some support for higher education in the state, but the de-investment in public higher education has had consequences that are impacting the students like increased student debt. It’s not that the universities are trying to gouge students; we’re just trying to make up the difference in revenue that the state cut from us.  If you go back  twenty or thirty years ago, the state funded 70 to 75 percent of everything on campus. Then they cut the budget  for our institution down to 18 percent from the state and that’s actually better than some.

The concern I have is that the legislature’s going to essentially not invest in higher education, in which case they should not regulate us. But what’s happening is that the use of performance indicators as a vehicle to fund us – which I don’t have a problem with, actually – and the tuition cap that the governor places on us are ways of regulating how we go about our business. We have less investment with more regulation – there is not much room to maneuver. So, one would hope as you lower support, you’d lower regulation and let the market take care of it. Our enrollment has increased for 17 years, so our market value must be relatively high. Let us bank on that as we go further.

 

Is your administration doing anything differently from its predecessor?

I’m going through and taking a tour of each of the schools and colleges. I first meet with dean to get an idea of what the dean’s ambitions are, then meet with the associate deans and leadership team. Then I meet with the new faculty  to find out what kind of support they’re getting and their frustrations, and then undergrad and grad students. 

Then I make a presentation to the faculty about  the strategic plan and what we’re doing. It usually takes about three to four hours and we’ve visited about half the schools now.

I’ve learned that our deans, by and large, are doing a really good job supporting our faculty. Our deans and provost really want to see them succeed.

 

Do you still have the vision of keeping OU moderately-sized?

We’re kind of in the “Goldilocks zone” – one thing that we can talk about with pride is that you’re not a number here. Here, you will have an opportunity to work with your professor. We want to stay large enough that we have the quality programs, but small enough that we can keep that individual student contact.

That’s really important because if we grow any larger we will lose that. Slow incremental growth is okay but we have no aspirations to be a big institution.

 

Are you excited to finally be inaugurated?

Yes. It will be an extremely busy time – however, it’s my opportunity to talk about Oakland University and my vision for the future. Like our deans and provost being very ambitious for the university, I’m also very ambitious. We have Wayne State, Michigan, Michigan State – we don’t want to be like them. But there are 12 other institutions in this state. I would like Oakland University to be in the top tier of those colleges. I want OU to be the first choice for students in the metro-Detroit area.

 

What will you be doing to relax when it’s over?

Playing golf, hopefully.

 

 President Hynd’s student celebration will take place at noon in Pioneer Food Court on Mon., April 20. His formal inauguration will be on Wed., April 29 in the O’Rena. 

He will be hosting a Twitter chat on Tuesday, April 14 from 10:15-11:00 a.m. Join the conversation by tweeting @oaklandu with the hashtag #AskHynd.


The plan

President Hynd’s top four goals for the next 12 months:

  • Live up – “We need to live up to our own expectations that we say in the strategic plan. If we can do that and live up to who we say we are, then we’ve accomplished a great deal.
  • Boost numbers – “I want to increase the number of students living on campus and the retention rate.”
  • Research – “Double the research funding that faculty brings in.”
  • Fundraise – “Launch a successful fundraising campaign.”

 

The man

Did you know President Hynd once opened for the Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones?

“We were a garage band called ‘Six Pack,'” he said. “There were six of us. I played bass guitar and no, I don’t still play.”