Welcome! I am so glad to be here today with all of you. This semester has certainly been full of achievements and momentum, but we have also faced some great challenges — and I want to talk about both aspects today.
What strikes me most as I am completing my second year as chancellor is how the University of Mississippi community always comes together — whether in times of celebration or in the face of adversity.
Let me take a moment to recap some of the highlights of the semester:
- We have the largest overall enrollment in Mississippi.
- We were 10th fastest growing public doctoral institution in U.S. according to the Chronicle of Higher Ed’s 2017 Almanac.
- This year’s freshman class had the highest ever entering GPA of 3.59.
- We were named a “Great College to Work For” by the Chronicle of Higher Ed for the 9th consecutive year.
- We surpassed $100 million in private giving for the 6th year in a row; we just completed our two best years ever.
- We’re investing $1 billion in our infrastructure on all campuses, including $400 million here on the Oxford campus alone (excluding athletics) to improve our physical infrastructure in support of academics and student life.
- Our biggest-ever project on the Oxford campus — our new science building — will be a game changer and begin construction this coming year.
- And we continue to create events and opportunities to showcase you, our students, our impact, and our vision for the future — all aimed at generating support for your work in discovery, learning, and engagement.
One such event is the 2nd Annual Tech Summit we hosted in August with industry, government, and academic leaders. This event aligns perfectly with our focus upon stimulating world-class research that drives innovation as well as preparing the next generation of students as lifelong learners who will make an impact in a technology-driven world.
We were very honored to have Silicon Valley icon Jim Clarke as our featured speaker. And as part of a new Center for Global Communications, Globalstar’s CEO Jay Monroe announced that they would install a satellite base station here on campus, one of only two for them in the nation, which will provide opportunities for research and education and attract new corporate partners. We’re seeing tangible outcomes from just the first two of these summits and expect to see many more long-term partnerships develop and flourish going forward.
In October, we held our second annual Town Hall meeting, with hundreds of faculty, staff, and students participating. One of the significant activities there included the unveiling of our new Strategic Plan, Flagship Forward. I urge you to get your very own copy — they are in high demand and we can barely keep them in stock! Very hot commodity for your coffee table collection! We have a sign-up sheet in the back for you to receive a copy.
Let me take a moment to thank Noel Wilkin and the Strategic Planning Council for their leadership spearheading that effort. While this plan is for the Oxford and regional campuses, what I am most excited about are its university-wide elements — including for the first time ever, a mission and vision for entire university. This new strategic plan envisions a future made possible by synergies across the entire university.
The plan is supported by four pillars:
- Academic excellence
- Building healthy and vibrant communities
- People, Places, and Resources
- Athletics excellence
The first three pillars highlight a major university-wide transformative initiative. For academic excellence, the transformative initiative is about Flagship Constellations. In November, we held the debut of our first four Flagship Constellations:
- Community Wellbeing
- Disaster Resilience
- Brain Wellness
- Big Data
It was an exceptional event that included an announcement of a $1 million seed gift from Tommy and Jim Duff to create the Ernest R. Duff Flagship Constellation Fund in honor of their father, a former ASB president. The Duff gift reflects how this concept resonates with people — multidisciplinary teams working together to solve grand challenges. It will be a great recruiting mechanism and fundraising vehicle that will lead to many exciting developments and reaffirm our status as a Carnegie R1 institution.
For the pillar on building healthy and vibrant communities, the transformative initiative we will launch in early 2018 is M Partner. We are looking forward to announcing the initial pilot communities who will be our partners. It will be an opportunity for faculty, staff, and students across all the fields of the entire university to collaborate with community leaders and create a vibrant and sustainable community.
These two transformative initiatives are great examples of how — working together — we can capitalize upon the synergy across all of our campuses and position ourselves for greater success and impact as a Carnegie R1 institution. Imagine what we can do!
Our strategic plan states very clearly that we can only achieve what we imagine if we have great people, and the key to having great people is to have a diverse environment where people feel a sense of community and common purpose.
To accomplish our goals requires that we work as a team, as a community, and that we recognize and value that diversity of opinion and perspective. To accomplish “all that we imagine” also means that there may be disagreement on how to accomplish some of our goals or that there may be disagreement on how to measure success. There may even be disagreement on some of the goals themselves.
But to be clear, we do not and will not disagree on these key principles: that everyone is important, every voice matters, every person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, and every conversation — even arguments and disagreements — should be civil and respectful.
As a great flagship university, we have both the opportunity and the responsibility to model respect and civil dialogue on the important issues of our time. We must avoid the destructive partisan bickering we see far too often on TV and around our country and world.
Wouldn’t it be great if our graduates modeled how to work effectively together; if they set an example of how to find commonalities that move society forward, not divide people, which sets us backwards. Commonalities and mutual respect are what will ensure lasting solutions to our shared challenges. It all begins with us and our commitment to work together with civility and respect.
Some of the recent challenges we’ve been working on include the tax bill, DACA, Title IX, and race relations. As an example, we have been working diligently with our Federal delegation to reverse provisions in the tax bill that would negatively impact higher education and our students. We hosted 50 staffers from our Federal delegation here in Oxford a few weeks ago. We have even helped the rest of the broader higher education community in the U.S. by assisting the APLU in its lobbying efforts.
Fortunately, the Senate version of the bill maintains several provisions in the tax code that are favorable to higher education and to our students, including tuition waivers, employer-provided tuition assistance, Lifetime Learning Credit, and Student Loan Interest Deduction.
As the bill goes to conference, we will continue to monitor it and to communicate with our delegation the importance of addressing the provisions that affect us and our students.
We have also communicated to our Federal delegation our concerns related to proposed or implemented changes to DACA and Title IX. Our government relations team will continue to monitor proposed legislation and communicate any concerns we have to the appropriate staff. Our Title IX efforts here at UM are regarded by state legislative groups as a model statewide.
Our approach is to focus on the outcomes we hope to achieve, not on being recognized publicly for the effort. That means that often the work is personal, face-to-face — not making public proclamations.
As chancellor of this great university, one of my major personal goals is to create a welcoming and supportive environment. We must promote strategies and actions that are ultimately best for the entire university community of faculty, staff, students, and alumni. A key component is a culture of inclusion, respect, and civility.
Our university has made great strides — perhaps more than any other institution because of how far we’ve had to come. We recognize the problems of our past and use them as teaching moments to bring forward our entire community and uphold a welcoming campus.
I am personally committed to the principles of inclusion, respect, and civility, and as chancellor I will ensure these are our institutional values as well. Let me be clear — this means that no legislation — whether it is HB1523 or anything else — will shake our resolve to provide the full support, love, and respect every member of our community deserves. No hate groups will divide us. No issue will sway us from our mission to educate. And no challenge will be too big for us to face — as long as we face it together.
We have several events coming up that will help us accomplish our goal of upholding a welcoming and caring culture. Earlier this week, we announced that we are hosting a celebration of our contextualization efforts on March 2, at the conclusion of Black History Month. This event is aimed at providing the broad university community and the public the opportunity to honor and celebrate the tremendous results of the work of the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on History and Context. And the very next week, on March 8, Dr. Katrina Caldwell, our vice chancellor for diversity & community engagement, will host a diversity summit on campus.
When I interviewed for chancellor two years ago, I emphasized a way to enhance diversity in our faculty and staff by focusing on excellence, through a program we called “Hiring for Excellence.” Diversity and excellence go hand in hand. By hiring the very best people, we can increase our diversity.
I’m happy to say that we will have an expert on the topic here in the coming calendar year to hold workshops and jumpstart our efforts. When we foster a supportive, empowering diverse environment, it results in a more vibrant, dynamic, and successful university. Diversity makes us stronger as a community. Diversity makes our ideas better and our approaches more effective. And diversity makes our results more robust and our relationships deeper.
Another key goal for diversity, especially in today’s global society, is to increase our global presence and enhance cultural understanding. We are committed to increasing study abroad rates, and on this campus we will increase the international flavor by doubling our international student enrollment. The many members of our international community enrich our Flagship university and add great value.
To this end, the IHL recently approved an exciting agreement with Shorelight Education to work with our Office of Global Engagement and the Office of the Provost to support the recruitment, retention, and success of international students at UM, as well as elevate the global presence of the university.
I also want to share that we must continue to strengthen our connection and synergy with our Medical Center — it makes us a stronger university. Flagship Constellations and M Partner are good examples. Because of our strengthened position as one university and our solid relationship with the IHL and the legislature, we have reaped important benefits such as Carnegie R1 status, the Health Care Collaboration Act, Children’s Hospital expansion, and State bond funding. Together, we are stronger. Together, our outcomes are better. And together, our transformational impact is more powerful.
As I come to a close, I want to state that we are committed to these key initiatives, as well managing our resources prudently and building financial stability in a time of declining state funding. Enhancing our resources and financial stability is particularly important in supporting faculty & graduate students to build upon our Carnegie R1 status, increasing research across all campuses, and providing exceptional educational opportunities for our students. We will undertake a major fundraising effort to increase the resources we need to be successful and achieve the transformative impact we envision.
We have come a long way and have tremendous momentum — and yet we still have so much more to accomplish! And accomplish it we will. We’ll keep working hard, being entrepreneurial, and seeking to bring people together.
At this time of year, in that regard, I’m especially thankful for each and every one of you and the impact of your work, for our community as a whole, and for our drive to excel. I wish each of you a peaceful and restful holiday season!