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Ushering in a 'new era,' CSU president says

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Clayton State University President Thomas K. Harden proclaimed the beginning of a new era on Thursday during his "State of the University" address.

CSU, which opened its doors in 1969, recently built its first student housing complex and a student activity center. Officials purchased the 12-acre Morrow campus of Atlanta Bible College in March. A new, $30 million science building, and more student housing are being planned.

"For 40 years, Clayton State has been building, piece-by-piece, a future for itself," said Harden. "We are now in a period of transition, and a new era is about to begin at the university. The question we have to answer now is, 'What does the next six to seven years bring?'"

The path toward the future will begin with the development of a new strategic plan for Clayton State, to replace the one developed in 2001. Harden will visit with faculty members in each of the academic departments to find out what professors believe should be addressed.

The current strategic plan is guided by several themes: Student success; positioning as a comprehensive metropolitan university; development and enhancement of undergraduate and graduate academic programs; resource development, acquisition, and management; providing a stronger sense of community for students, faculty, and staff through campus life programming; outreach and economic development.

Harden said he expects to have a new strategic plan developed by March 2009. Growth and housing are two issues which will help shape the new plan. Clayton State is facing a space crunch as open land on its Morrow campus disappears, and the school continues to deal with a need for more classroom and office space.

University officials opened a satellite campus in Peachtree City earlier this year. They also paid $2.32 million for the Morrow campus of Atlanta Bible College, which is in the process of moving to a new location. Clayton State officials expect to take over the property in January 2009, after Atlanta Bible College completes its move.

Atlanta Bible College's 12-acre campus will give CSU space to meet pressing needs, Harden said. "We'll be dealing with what to do with that land over the next year."

Another issue is phase two of the school's housing plan, which calls for housing for sophomores. The opening of Laker Hall, the university's only housing complex, last month, gave CSU a place to house first-year students, mainly freshmen.

Harden said the university has "a number of options" for sophomore housing, and officials have a preferred option, but the university president is declining to discuss it right now, out of fear that publicity "could spoil everything." Harden added that he and other university officials want sophomore housing available by the beginning of the 2009-10 school year. It took a little over a year to build Laker Hall.

Another project Harden declined to discuss in detail is an upcoming capital projects campaign, which university officials will address in detail at a later date. Harden said it will be Clayton State's first major capital projects campaign since Spivey Hall was built in the early 1990s.

As the university community looks toward the future, officials have to be mindful of budget cuts, which may come along as well. Harden said state revenues during the first two months of Fiscal Year 2009 were down nearly 7 percent from a year ago as the economy falters and colleges and universities across the United States are forced to tighten their belts.

Harden said university presidents across the state have been told to expect at least a 6 percent budget cut this year as a result, but anything higher than that would hurt Clayton State. He later added that the long term effects of higher budget cuts would be devastating, because "Clayton State has no fat left to cut."

"We've been able to remain very efficient with 6 percent cuts, but I'm not sure we'd be able to remain that way if the cuts went up," Harden said. "We're not funded as high as many other institutions in this state ... So cuts here are very hurtful."