Q&A with SVSU President Donald Bachand

Donald Bachand has served as Saginaw Valley State University’s president since 2014. He’s been with the university since 1978, though, serving as an assistant professor of criminal justice, vice president for Academic Affairs, provost, and dean of the College of Arts and Behavioral Sciences. Before joining the university, he served 10 years with the Detroit Police Department.

Additionally, Bachand is involved in a variety of professional and community services organizations including the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance, Michigan Baseball Foundation, Saginaw Future, Midland Center for the Arts, and the Citizens Research Council of Michigan.

We caught up with Bachand on what employers today are looking for, the university's sustainability practices and more.

Q: What would your state of the university be in three minutes?

A: The budgets are balanced, reserves are in place, bond ratings are five-star. We’ve gone through some downsizing because of demographics in the State of Michigan. We’ve made the tough decisions along the way to make the kind of financial cuts you need to make when you don’t have the same level of revenue from the state or from students. We’ve done it systematically over the last six years, mostly through attrition. If (staff members) retired in areas where we had a little excess capacity, we were able to save the kind of money we needed to maintain a very strong financial position.

We’re just finished putting the final touches on our business school addition to Curtiss Hall. It’s a spectacular, efficient project; it’s not a big, gigantic place. It’s designed for the size of the business school that we have. We’ve raised $15 million in private money to actually pay for the building.

Q: What are the things employers are looking for in graduates today?

A: They’re looking for students who have degrees, communication skills, critical thinking, work skills, and they’re looking for that work ethic. And the thing they like about our graduates, especially in this region, is so many of the students who attend regional universities develop an affinity to the region.

Q: What kinds of things maybe keep you awark at night – the big funding issues that you worry about – the stretching?

A: We’re in a constant state of trying to determine more efficient ways to run the university. We’ve made investments in energy-efficient lighting, heating. On a per-square-foot basis, of all the universities in the State of Michigan, we have the lowest consumption of energy per square foot of any of them – which saves the university hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars on an annual basis.

Q: What kind of program changes might be coming?

A: We’ve added two graduate programs in the last couple of years that have been enormously successful. Our Master degree in Social Work went to maximum capacity in 12 months. We also created a master program in public health, which has been very successful.

Q: Are there staffing changes that you expect on the horizon?

A: When a nursing faculty retires, we replace all nursing faculty. It’s one of our major programs. We still do a lot of hiring in a lot of these programs In the Master of Social Work, we added three faculty members when we created that program. The same with the Master in Public Health and the computer science graduate program. I’m really hopeful we’re going to be adding positions in the business school.  We’re looking at 15 percent growth in the business school enrollment.

Q: What are the biggest changes in the lives of the students that you’ve seen in the past few decades?

A: Thirty-five or forty years ago, the students had a pretty good sense of what they wanted to do long term. Now, we spend a lot of time preparing students for a professional life that’s probably going to include a lot of changes and transitions. It was almost unheard of to work from home in 1978. There are so many graduates and professional people that work from home in high-level positions or travel. You see them at MBS International Airport, if you leave on Monday, they’re getting on a plane to do three days of traveling, four days of traveling, then come home on the weekend. You have to produce graduates who have the capacity to change in a very rapidly changing work environment. Employers are looking for people who are creative, who have some adaptability, a willingness to change.

Q: How might they have to change?

A: They have to be very flexible. They have to be open minded, they have to be adaptable, they have to be willing and have the capacity to deal with changing technology. In the business school, we’re trying to replicate the high-tech business environment that our graduates are going to be exposed to.

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