August 29, 2016, 3 p.m.
The Inn at Ole Miss
Welcome and thank you for coming.
Today marks my 242nd day on the job as your Chancellor. And, if I wanted to do a traditional “State of the University” today, I could provide a one-line summary: the University of Mississippi is a great institution!
Over the last eight months, I have learned that fact from all of you. During the Flagship Forum in the spring, I spent 100 days in over 200 group interactions. I saw firsthand the amazing things we do at Ole Miss and that we truly are a great university.
All great institutions share one thing in common: a drive and will to get even better. Or else they wouldn’t be great. And so during the Flagship Forum, I asked these questions:
- What does it take for our university to go to the next level of excellence?
- To go from great to greater?
- What should we preserve about the essence of the university that is important for excellence?
I have distilled what I heard about going from great to greater into four themes:
- Academic excellence
- Healthy and vibrant communities — local and global
- People, places, and resources
- Athletics excellence
You will also see those four themes posted on the boards around the outer edge of this room.
We’re here today to expand our conversations and start developing a shared vision for a greater UM. Today is an important step in the ultimate process to create a strategic plan — a roadmap for how to achieve our vision.
The first way we’ll discuss of going from great to greater is through academic excellence. Our academic excellence is evident across all of our campuses:
- Nationally ranked and innovative degree programs that are in heavy demand.
- Enrollment and quality of students continue to rise.
- The value of our degrees is increasing.
- In February, we attained Carnegie R1 research status, placing us in the top 2.5% of U.S. universities.
To be greater we have to ask important questions like:
- How do we provide the very best learning environment and experiences?
- What new pedagogies and technologies can enhance the learning process?
- What do we need to do to not only maintain that R1 status, but to enhance it, with strong research and thriving graduate programs?
More than ever, higher education has a crucial role to play to break the cycle of poverty and violence in parts of society. There is no better way than education to provide people the capabilities to lift themselves up and realize rewarding lives. How can we provide those life-changing educational opportunities?
The second way from great to greater is building healthy and vibrant communities. Our university community is deeply committed to serving others — to undertake programs and activities that have both local and global impact.
Our UM Medical Center — Mississippi’s only academic medical center — has more than one million patient visits each year. With major new facilities opening in the next year, there is great potential in expanding clinical trials and translational research. These efforts can bring innovations into practice to save lives and improve people’s quality of life.
Scholarly engagement brings the creativity of our faculty, staff, and students to our partner communities across the state, nation, and world to solve important problems of the day.
And we want to do more. We must do more. In June, we held a universitywide leadership meeting with teams from the Oxford campus and medical center campus. The teams developed an exciting concept we’re calling the “Big Idea”.
- What if we, as a university — our entire university — partnered with a town or small city to enhance and improve all parts of their community life?
- What if we, as a university, could bring to such a partnership, simultaneously, the full range of our talents in health, education, the arts, entrepreneurship, business, and law?
- Couldn’t we — shouldn’t we — work in partnership to help lift and transform every facet of our partner community?
And we will engage both locally and globally. We are living in an increasingly global environment. To be successful, our students need to gain an appreciation for other cultures and perspectives — both by studying abroad as well as by experiencing a more diverse, international environment here on campus in Mississippi.
How can we best provide those experiences?
The third way to go from great to greater involves these important enablers: People, places, and resources.
They enable the previous themes. The people of our university are what makes Ole Miss great — exceptional people with a rich diversity of talents and backgrounds. How can we enhance our ability to attract the best and brightest into MS and to keep the best and brightest in MS?
I know from personal experience — as I talked about during my interviews for chancellor — that if done right, which is the key, we can build excellence and diversity simultaneously. Diversity and excellence are mutually reinforcing.
Our alumni and friends are passionate and positive about this special place. This past 2015–2016 year, we broke — no, shattered — our record for private giving. Our endowment currently sits at $600 million. One of my goals is to take it to $1 billion. We need to acquire additional resources. On the other side of the coin, we need to be creative as a community in finding ways we can utilize our resources more effectively.
There is great energy — and need — for developing our infrastructure to support bold academic goals on all our campuses. On all our campuses, we are building hundreds of millions of dollars of new infrastructure. Enhancements to our facilities promote academic goals, help us extend our reach and impact, and attract and keep the best people.
A project we are undertaking on selected physical buildings and spaces is led by the newly formed Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on History and Context. Their charge is to better explain the environments in which the sites were created or named and how those environments compare to our core institutional values. They are presently seeking public input through an online web form at the web site context.OleMiss.edu, due Friday, September 9. Please get involved. Read their charge and follow their work.
The final theme identified during the Forum was the important enabler of athletics excellence. Athletics is often called the “front porch” of a university. The integrity and competitiveness of our athletics program has played a big role in elevating the Ole Miss name and brand to its strongest point in school history. Through athletics, we capture the hearts of people in MS and around the country. Athletics brings them to campus, where they can experience the full richness of our great university. There can be little argument that the overall success of our athletics program is an integral part of our growth, our visibility, our ability to raise money, and ultimately our success.
So, by every measure, I submit that the University of Mississippi is a great university with enormous momentum, poised to go to that next level of excellence.
In my June 10, 2016, letter to the UM Community, I emphasized that we are and will proudly continue to be Ole Miss Rebels. Our brand — the Ole Miss Rebels — is known throughout the country for all the positive attributes of our university: leadership, opportunity, teamwork, innovation, creativity, commitment, integrity….
It is time now for all of us to talk about big bold ideas that will take us from great to greater. Let us identify and focus upon the most important ways forward:
- What are our biggest and most important opportunities to advance in all four areas?
- What should we strive for?
- What “could be”?
- and how do we get there?
- What barriers do we have to remove and blast through?
I have said many times in the last eight months that every voice matters. Now, with tremendous momentum at our backs, we need the earnest effort of everyone in our community to help us develop a shared vision and roadmap for going from great to greater. Today is the next step.
So now it’s your turn to take the pen and help write our next chapter. Let’s start right now.