LaForge guides Leadership Mississippi group

Participants in 2014’s Leadership Mississippi (LM) from the Mississippi Economic Council received guidance yesterday from a special alumnus of the program during the group’s visit to Cleveland and Delta State.

Delta State University President William N. LaForge is a graduate of LM’s inaugural class, a program that began 40 years ago. He spoke with this year’s group during their visit to campus, Cleveland and several nearby landmarks.

“Leadership Mississippi was an inspirational opportunity for me,” said LaForge. “One of the biggest benefits of this experience for you will be the networking. It will likely be as valuable to you as the leadership lessons you’ll take away from this.”

LM is an annual program of the MEC conducted by the M.B. Swayze Foundation. Participants, selected by a committee of LM alumni, work together in a training program that combines individual study, group sessions and project experience in using leadership skills.

With sessions across the state, the program presents exciting opportunities where the class can see the strategic, long-range planning and changes that are occurring in Mississippi.

LaForge explained he got his foot in the door with the program thanks to Delta State’s fourth president, Dr. Aubrey Lucas, who was asked to chair the first class.

LaForge’s connection with Lucas formed in 1971 when he became Delta State’s new president, the same time at which LaForge, a student at the time, was the university’s student body president.

“Leadership was something I began to value as a student, and I learned a lot of valuable lessons here at Delta State,” added LaForge. “I’m thankful that Dr. Lucas and Leadership Mississippi allowed me to be part of the first class, enlarge my views about leadership and rub elbows with the pros. The experience has come full circle.”

It truly did come full circle for LaForge, 40 years later when he interviewed to become Delta State’s eighth president. The chair of his interview committee — Alan Perry —was a colleague of LaForge in the inaugural LM class.

“There will be some symmetry in life for what you current leaders are doing today, and what you will be doing later in your careers,” said LaForge.

The president closed his remarks by passing down leadership wisdom he’s learned throughout his distinguished career.

“Don’t let leadership be something you take for granted or leave to guess work,” he said. “What you are doing today is helping to nourish, cultivate and develop your own leadership — especially at this stage in your career.

“Many people think you close the books when you’re through with school and you don’t ever learn things anymore. Constant learning is really important for life.”

One of Delta State’s current staff members can speak first hand about the life lessons learned in LM. Robin Boyles, director of the Office of Institutional Grants, is one of four Clevelanders taking part in this year’s training.

“It’s an honor to have been selected to participate in the 40th Leadership Mississippi class and represent Delta State this year,” said Boyles. “Having President LaForge talk with the class about his experience in the first class 40 years ago exemplifies the long-lasting opportunities that it can bring.

“It’s great to have Delta State’s leader be an alumnus of Leadership Mississippi and show how our university has ties with such a meaningful program.”

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Budget restructuring to bolster Delta State’s future

President William N. LaForge and his cabinet addressed faculty and staff in two separate forums Thursday to discuss recent reductions in Delta State University's budget.

President William N. LaForge and his cabinet addressed faculty and staff in two separate forums Thursday to discuss recent reductions in Delta State University’s budget.

In President William N. LaForge’s State of the University address in August, Delta State University’s leader explained the need to identify and achieve permanent expenditure savings totaling at least $1 million to help put institutional finances in order.

On Wednesday, LaForge released a campus-wide statement outlining the official Budget Reduction Plan. In his consistent effort to remain a transparent captain, he hosted open forums today for both faculty and staff, where he, vice presidents and the President’s Cabinet provided additional information and conducted Q&A sessions.

University administrators remain steadfast on achieving the $1 million mark.

“Beginning with discussions at the Cabinet’s summer retreat, we focused first on defining a vision for the university that is realistic and affordable, yet futuristic and imaginative,” said LaForge. “Hours of very positive deliberations resulted in our identifying and reaffirming the critical missions of the university that must be supported with all of the resources we can muster.”

Through an exhaustive process over the past three months, the Cabinet identified potential areas for expense reduction.

“We looked carefully at all program areas of the campus to evaluate our priorities, and identified specific programs and services that are no longer meeting the needs of students or are no longer affordable,” said LaForge.

The finalized plan, approved unanimously by the Cabinet, makes $1,002,360 in permanent cuts. These savings will not occur immediately but will be incrementally realized over the next year or so.

Of the total reductions, $457,560 or 46 percent, are in academic areas. Additionally, $544,800 or 54 percent are in non-academic areas. A total of 24 positions will be eliminated — eight in academics and 16 in nonacademic functions.

Five undergraduate programs will be eliminated for a total savings of $418,733. These programs include:

* Athletic Training — Bachelor of Science
* Communication Studies and Theatre Arts — Bachelor of Arts
* Insurance and Real Estate — Bachelor of Business Administration
* Journalism — Bachelor of Arts
* Modern Foreign Languages — Bachelor of Arts

The elimination of the five academic programs came as a result of a review of all programs to identify those with extremely low enrollment. Among the eliminated programs, there is a total of approximately 40 enrolled students, all of whom will be allowed to finish their academic programs. However, effective immediately, no new students will be admitted to the eliminated programs.

“As directed by our governing board and as required by our (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) accreditation evaluators, these savings are vital to restoring our budget to a sound and necessary condition,” added LaForge. “It is also the first of three steps to assist us in achieving our goal of providing faculty and staff salary increases.”

Additional steps include continuing to minimize expenses, as well as receiving significant state dollars in the next funding cycle. LaForge said these cuts will be difficult for many, but they should ultimately help capitalize on the university’s strengths and successes to ensure wise spending.

In the president’s statement, he urged the campus to consider the many positive things going on at Delta State — the first enrollment increase in eight years; improved, hard-hitting retention and student success strategies, and a $1.6 million “First in the World” grant to support those activities; the first international student and faculty exchange group from Russia; successful blues and race relations conferences; increased private funding from alumni, corporations and foundations; a healthy lifestyle program that is oversubscribed; reaffirmation of accreditation for the university and for many academic programs; and exciting and winning seasons for many Delta State athletic teams.

LaForge remains hopeful the changes will continue to advance Delta State’s path toward international distinction.

“Delta State University remains a strong and vibrant university that will continue to serve our students and region well,” said LaForge.