Abbott: University exists for students

Abbott: University exists for students by M. Jill Sundstrom As James W. Abbott views his first year as president of The University of South Dakota, loyalty to his alma mater is reflected in what has been accomplished, what is in the works and what is planned for the future of USD.

Abbott, who received his bachelor of arts degree in political science and juris doctorate from USD, was inaugurated as president in October, 1997. In his inaugural address, Abbott noted his appreciation of �the many challenges that we have before us,� and one of those challenges was to increase enrollment, especially on the freshman end of the spectrum.

�One of my very first goals was to work on getting freshman numbers up,� Abbott said. �That�s important to me.�

Success in freshman recruitment is measurable this year, he added.

�We expect that the freshman class will be up 40 to 60 students over last year,� Abbott said.

Implementing a long-term planning process is another goal Abbott envisioned, �and committees are working on that as we speak,� he said. �We may not always be able to chart our own course, but someone must always be taking stock of our weaknesses and strengths as we look to the future of this university.�

USD�s future also rests with its students� ability to attend, which often depends on scholarships and financial aid. In the past year, Abbott has seen several examples of USD�s willingness to assist its students in enrolling.

With the support of friends and alumni of USD, the USD Scholars �98 fund raising campaign, administered through the USD Foundation, increased three prestigious scholarships and established two other freshman scholarship awards.

�A strong Foundation leadership and the fact that alumni have stepped up to the plate with their donations have given many students the opportunity to attend USD,� Abbott said.

In addition, special financial assistance, conducted by the USD Financial Aid Office and the USD Foundation, is helping students whose loans were delayed this year.

The above programs are just a part of Abbott�s vision of a more �student-friendly� campus.

�It�s one thing to say that�s what we are,� he said. �But it�s another thing to reinforce it.�

The Coyote Card, a charge card for students to use on campus, and the Student Success Committee that works with student retention, are two other student-friendly programs recently initiated.

�We must also make sure everyone teaches as well as they can,� Abbott said. �And we�re constantly revisiting that issue to make sure that�s the case.�

Another student-friendly aspect of USD is instilling tradition and increasing student awareness of the importance of USD traditions.

�Refurbishing Old Main falls into line with a student-friendly campus,� Abbott said. �It was not made into offices. It�s there for the students to use.�

Building awareness among new students about traditions at USD will also be the focus of a new-student convocation on Monday, Sept. 21.

Abbott also maintains �open office hours� twice a month for students to share compliments and complaints.

�I don�t always like to hear the complaints,� Abbott said. �And I can�t guarantee to the students that things will be fixed right away. But I do take their complaints seriously.�

The renovation of residence halls benefit students as well. But other buildings on the USD campus need attention, too, Abbott said.

�Indeed, USD needs a new or remodeled Lee Medical Center, followed in short order by a new or renovated business school,� he said. �It�s also important that we redo the Old Armory west of Old Main, which is now being used for the shop. I can see it as a place for students ? the Dean of Students office, Financial Aid, Admissions, Counseling, Residential Services ? all in one place.�

The future also bodes well for the DakotaDome, as financial plans are being set in place to replace its roof. Salary augmentation for faculty and staff, one of the points Abbott made in his inaugural address, is also being studied.

�The salary augmentation plan will be a part of the next USD Foundation fund drive,� he said.

As Governor William Janklow described Abbott on the day of his inauguration, one word constantly emerged: passion. A year later, the passion is still there, Abbott said.

�I have really enjoyed my first year,� he said. �It has been tremendous to be able to come back to a place that has been so important to me. I can�t think of anything better to do than to be president of the university I attended. It gives me the opportunity to help shape its future.

�We exist for the students,� Abbott continued. �With that in mind, we must work to be deserving of their loyalty. We hope that after they leave, they can say they had a wonderful experience at USD, both socially and educationally. We want them to be able to say it was a nice place ? a nice experience.�

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