Good afternoon! I am so pleased to be ushering in another academic year. It is truly an honor to serve as your chancellor and as a faculty colleague. Last Friday, I had the opportunity to welcome our new faculty members, but let me extend my welcome again as they join us today for their first full faculty meeting. And I am also particularly pleased to welcome back all our veteran faculty.
Finally, I would like to take a moment to commend all faculty members who have been promoted or awarded tenure. Congratulations! Your commitment and accomplishments are deeply appreciated.
First, I’d like to tell you about a few new programs and upcoming events. One very exciting initiative I’m happy to announce is our Flagship Constellations program. The Flagship Constellations are four research clusters that include collaborators from our Oxford campus and the Medical Center. You’ll be hearing a great deal more about this initiative this semester.
The goal of the program is to accelerate and inspire solutions to some of the world’s most complex challenges — where no one field has all the answers, and it’s important to bring together people from many different academic backgrounds. We are doing so by forming innovative, cross-disciplinary research clusters — called Flagship Constellations. These are open for anyone can join. Let me repeat for emphasis: These are open invitation groups and anyone can join. In fact, I encourage all of you to learn more about the Flagship Constellations and see if there is one you might like to be involved in:
- Community Vitality
- Disaster Resilience
- Brain Wellness
- Big Data
For new faculty, this is a superb way to meet colleagues, gain new insights that may apply to your field, to be inspired, and to inspire others. For faculty who have been around a bit longer, this is a way to bring your expertise to a problem and explore new perspectives. The Flagship Constellations are already underway, and we’re planning a big event to highlight them on Friday, November 17. Be on the lookout for more details.
On the topic of research, I encourage you to attend the Research Reception immediately following this meeting. The reception will be held right after this Faculty Meeting in the Studio Theater in this building. I encourage you take advantage of an opportunity to mingle with your colleagues and learn more about the outstanding research enterprise that has earned us CarnegieR-1 highest research activity status.
A big event coming up next week is our 2nd Annual Technology Summit. This-coming Wednesday, August 30, the Tech Summit will bring together leaders from government, business, and higher education to explore trends in technology and to stimulate discussions about technology-related needs in industry and education. Last year’s event led to the Flagship Constellation on Big Data.
I encourage you to come and listen to the conversations. We’ll have some very exciting technology leaders joining us, including:
- Keynote Speaker Jim Clark, Founder of Silicon Graphics and an icon in Silicon Valley,
- Guest Speaker Nicholas Degani, Senior Counsel at the FCC,
- Our own U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, Chair of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, and
- Jim Barksdale, a technology business leader and visionary, and a major supporter of the university and champion for education in the state.
Another event I’d like to mention is our second annual Town Hall, to be held later this semester on October 11. At the Town Hall, we’ll unroll our UM-Oxford detailed strategic plan. For those of you that participated in last year’s Town Hall, the strategic plan was greatly informed by the more than 550 ideas you shared with us — thank you! The Strategic Planning Council has been hard at work to set strategic goals and identify initiatives that will contribute to our mission of transforming lives, communities, and the world.
I encourage you to attend this year’s Town Hall, interact with other members of our university community, and lend your voice to the dynamic, interactive conversations. At the Town Hall, you will also hear about our strategic planning on two key goals:
- Achieving ever-greater academic excellence,
- Building healthy and vibrant communities — here in Mississippi, in the U.S., and around the world.
We can reach these goals with the help of two key enabler goals:
- People, place, and resources, such as ensuring we can recruit and retain the very best people to be a part of our UM community.
- Athletics excellence, which creates a national brand and brings people to Ole Miss.
It is vitally important that we offer opportunities to engage in ways to move forward toward our vision as a flagship public international research university. Please participate in these important conversations and encourage your staff, colleagues, and students to do so as well.
Let me also tell you about another new initiative — this one focused on fulfilling our flagship responsibility for transforming communities through scholarly engagement. Our MPartner initiative is going to channel the talents of the entire university and partner with towns and cities around our state — one at a time — to enhance every aspect of community life. We will collaborate with communities and partners on joint projects — harnessing the full range of our university’s talents, expertise, and strengths. MPartner is currently in the initial planning stages with an expected launch in January, so you’ll hear more about it this fall.
Let me share about some of the construction projects on the Oxford campus.
- The Chucky Mullins roundabout, which will improve traffic flow on the south side of campus was completed last week.
- The new portion of the Student Union project with the new dining services area will be open very, very soon.
- A year from now, the original part of the Student Union will open, and it will actually look nice.
- The seven-level North parking garage located behind Kinard Hall will provide 1,300 additional parking spaces;
- The recent purchase of the Baptist Memorial Hospital–North Mississippi property will be a major help in handling future growth. It will free up space on our main campus, house support units that serve external constituencies, and provide swing space during renovations.
I also want to share information about our new STEM Building. It’s our largest building projects to date on the Oxford campus and it’s coming soon. The Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Building will be located in the science district of campus. The building will provide some 207K sq ft — that’s massive! — focused upon state of the art teaching methodologies in active learning. Construction is scheduled to start later this year, with project completion expected in the 2018-2019 academic year. It will play a key role in preparing the next generation of students who will make an impact in a technology-driven world.
Two other significant building projects I want to share with you are at our Medical Center in Jackson. We are opening two new buildings that will further our mission of creating a healthier Mississippi. We are especially excited to have just dedicated a brand new School of Medicine Building. This $74 million structure is the envy of any medical school in the world. It will enable us to grow our class size and produce more physicians so crucially needed for our state. The second building is our $64 million Translational Research Center, which houses our new John D. Bower School of Population Health (3rd of its kind in U.S.), Gertrude C. Ford MIND Research Center, neuroscience program, incubator space for startups, and a vivarium.
Let me turn for a moment to the budget. I think we have all followed the news over the last year about the current financial challenges of the State and the uncertainty of any near-term improvements. We continue to manage our university resources prudently and to closely monitor the appropriations outlook for the state. I have full confidence in our continued financial strength and our team that provides leadership in this area for the university.
My highest priority externally is to garner new resources for us to be successful as a top R1 flagship university. On the other side of the coin, we can also be creative as a community in finding ways we can utilize our resources more effectively. The fact that we currently receive about 12% of our total operating budget from state appropriations really underscores the importance of private giving to our pursuit of academic excellence.
So let me share that we have once again received tremendous support from our alumni and friends.
The figures for 2016–2017 are being finalized and will be released very shortly, but we notched our second highest year on record with more than $150 Million. Private support for UM has exceeded $100 million in each of the last six years and our total endowment now stands at $675M.
Now, let me briefly talk about athletics and give an update on football. Many of you may know that we will go before the NCAA Committee on Infractions panel the week of September 11. I want to thank Vice Chancellor Ross Bjork for his leadership and hard work in getting us ready and guiding us through this challenging time. All the information pertaining to the case is available online. We expect final results around early November and look forward to bringing closure and moving forward. I want to commend Coach Matt Luke and the football team for their outstanding response in the face of adversity. The team environment is truly better than ever, and I’m looking forward to a strong season.
Today, I also want give you updates on a few searches that have been completed, are underway, or being planned:
- We are pleased to announce that Charlotte Parks is joining us as the VC for Development.
Charlotte comes from the Univ of South Carolina and will be here on Sept. 1.
- We have hired new Chief Info Officer, Mr. Nishanth Rodrigues, who will be joining us on September 5.
- Candidates for the Provost position will be on campus over the next two weeks.
Please follow UM Today for future updates on these and other searches that will take place this fall.
I hope many of you attended Fall Convocation on Tuesday night. We had as our keynote speaker Bryan Stevenson, the author of Just Mercy, the book selected for this year’s Common Reading Experience. Mr. Stevenson was a remarkable speaker and truly inspiring. He shared his amazing story and how he believes we all have the capacity to change the world, and education is key. What a wonderful opportunity for our students to hear from him.
Finally, I would like to say a few words about the recent events in Charlottesville. When we look at the world around us and the many international and national tragedies of the past years, we recognize the challenges and responsibilities we face as educators in a university setting. As I stated many times — most recently on August 14 and again August 22 — the University of Mississippi emphatically condemns and rejects racism and bigotry. There is no place for violence and intolerance — not in our communities, not on our campuses, and not in our country.
Our highest priority is maintaining a safe and welcoming environment for all on our campuses. With that in mind, last week we as a university began rigorous, ongoing planning measures with the City of Oxford, Lafayette County, the State of Mississippi, and the Federal Government to prepare for any potential situation. We will ensure that we keep our community safe and that we turn away all those with violent or malevolent intent.
At the University of Mississippi, we do not shy away from difficult topics, and I’m pleased that we are taking many steps to face these challenges head-on. One way we recently worked to address these issues was through the comprehensive and deliberate efforts of the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on History and Context.
I hope you have read my July 6, 2017 letter to the university community, which outlines the results of the thorough 15-month long process. In fact, it was part of a larger study lasting more than four years that included the 2014 Action Plan, which urged the university to “offer more history, putting the past into context” and to do so “without attempts to erase history, even some difficult history.” The result of this process is that we are adding contextualization plaques and markers to nine additional sites on campus. Since one building’s namesake was judged to be exceptionally at odds with the values of the time, we will seek to rename it, and we are clarifying the name of another building.
As an educational institution, we were guided in this effort by our overriding responsibility to teach and foster learning, especially from parts of our history that are painful. Contextualization was determined to be the most effective approach to achieve this goal. I greatly appreciate the efforts of the academic and fact-focused committee, which included a number of your fellow faculty members. I also appreciate all the members of our university and broader community who took time to provide us their input, whether it was through our online portal or in person at our listening sessions. The process represents a committed effort to recognize our university’s history and learn from it.
I want to close with a reaffirmation of our core values. The UM Creed stresses our commitment to respect for the dignity of each person, fairness & civility, integrity, academic honesty, academic freedom, and being good stewards and role models. I hope it’s something you will emphasize with your students. These points may be more important now than ever. When we look at the unrest around the country, higher education has an important role in asking difficult questions and finding sustainable solutions to the challenges we face as a society. The UM Creed can guide us as we have the important and difficult conversations we must have to come together as a community. Students look to you for guidance, and I appreciate your commitment to those shared values in our UM Creed.
I want to close with a sneak preview of our national spot, which is what we call the 30 second public service announcement that most often is seen during televised athletic events — for example, halftime during football games. The major message is our commitment to excellence in all we do. And you will undoubtedly recognize the voice of Morgan Freeman, who graciously gave of his time to help convey to the world the impact of your good work.
Thank you again for all you do to make the University of Mississippi a world-class research university.
I wish you all a productive, rewarding, and exciting fall semester. This meeting is now adjourned and please enjoy the Research Reception in the room immediately next door.