Address to the Faculty
Good afternoon and welcome to the annual fall faculty meeting, marking the beginning of our 161st academic year. It is my privilege to serve with you in my first year as the 16th chancellor of the University of Mississippi.
Fourteen years ago under the visionary leadership of Chancellor Robert Khayat, the faculty adopted a set of goals that included sheltering a Phi Beta Kappa chapter, establishing an honors college, enhancing the environment for research productivity, increasing opportunities for faculty development, and establishing a leadership institute.
All of these goals were geared toward creating a great American public university. Many of these goals have been met, and you should be very proud of your accomplishments. These achievements reflect a deeply committed, talented and resourceful faculty. Given the resources available to you, you are over-achieving in many ways. Compared to peer universities, this university has had below average per-student funding, and the faculty has experienced below average compensation for some time. Many students who come to you for instruction, come with academic preparation below regional and national average academic standards. In spite of these challenges, many of you participate in or lead nationally recognized programs, and indeed, the university as a whole has achieved remarkable national rankings for academic performance. I am proud to be associated with this faculty for these reasons and for more personal ones. I've enjoyed getting to know many of you and am fascinated by your life stories and your professional stories. I see evidence of a love for students and for teaching, a thirst for new knowledge and a desire to reach a better understanding of the world through our research programs.
My Academic Pathway
Just as I want to know and understand your story and your pathway in order to know who you are, I'll take a few moments here to share a bit of my academic pathway. I do this recognizing there is some risk in talking about myself, but I hope that if you understand my pathway in academics, that knowledge may facilitate a healthy relationship among us. Though I served as an administrator for the university for a number of years, I still think of myself first and foremost as a teacher and as a faculty member.
I first engaged with the University of Mississippi in 1971 as a first-year medical student. I enjoyed my days as a student and as a resident in internal medicine. At that time in my life, I had a keen interest in teaching but no real interest in research. Because I perceived the academic environment in medicine to be an environment filled with intimidation, I chose not to pursue an academic career training pathway. I did not pursue fellowship training or a Ph.D., but began my professional life as a practitioner. After serving seven years as a clinician in Laurel, Mississippi, our family moved to South Korea where I worked for a time in a mission hospital. Interestingly in that environment, I had opportunities not only for teaching medical students and residents but to experience a set of circumstances that drove me to begin a career in research. During my time as a practitioner in Mississippi, I noted substantial racial differences in health outcomes in my patients, particularly as they related to major illnesses like cardiovascular disease. In my own practice, I noticed that I was treating African American patients for heart attacks and stroke at a much younger age than their white counterparts. In my early days in Korea, I was struck by the ethnic, racial, and geographic differences in the health patterns of my Asian patients and my American patients. Particularly I noted the Asian patients rarely experienced heart disease but frequently experienced stroke especially at a young age. After months of reading all that I could find on this complex topic, I was disturbed to find that full and clear explanations for these differences did not exist. My personal curiosity and my desire to understand these racial, ethnic and geographic differences and my desire to help my patients drove me to participate in research projects to explore answers for these important questions. After a few years of this work in Korea, it became clear to me that if I were to remain engaged in this scientific pursuit, I would need to sharpen my research skills. This was part of what brought me back to the University of Mississippi as a faculty member in 1992.
Those early years on the faculty were in many ways the most fulfilling of my career. I enjoyed learning new research skills, fulfilling my teaching responsibilities, and serving my patients. This university provided me wonderful opportunities to achieve many of the goals that I had as a faculty member. Eventually the university began calling on me for administrative responsibilities. Through this transition into increasing administrative roles, I gave up a number of faculty responsibilities along the way including direct patient care, direct involvement in research and much of my teaching load. I managed to hold onto some small teaching responsibilities which I hope keep me somewhat grounded in the fundamental elements of being a faculty member. I continue to write in my field, present technical and policy papers, and review manuscripts for selected journals. I'm grateful to those of you who have already reached out to me for interaction with students, and I welcome the opportunity to teach and to be a member of this faculty.
The Conversation Ahead
In my early days as your chancellor, I've publicly committed to listening to the stakeholders of the university. The two critical stakeholder groups for any university are the students and the faculty. While I have already begun this process both formally and informally, in the coming weeks and months, Provost Stocks and your deans will work with me to schedule time in every college, school, department, center, institute and program. I am looking forward to listening and learning from you. We enjoy the luxury of having a well functioning university during this time of leadership transition. This allows time to engage in meaningful conversation to evaluate where we are, ask critical questions, and restructure our priorities.
Some of you may ask, “Why change what seems to be working?” Let me offer an analogy from one of my favorite athletes, the golfer, Tiger Woods. Tiger is the best golfer of our time, and many believe, likely the best ever. His golf swing is perfect. To the untrained eye, Tiger's swing has not changed over the course of his career, but in reality, Tiger has made several small but transformational adjustments to his swing.
The First Adjustment
The first major change occurred a few years ago after Tiger had enjoyed his best stretch of golf ever. He won several major championships in a row, including the Masters. After this stretch of success he announced he would revise his swing. He decided to change his swing because he anticipated two major changes: one, that his body was maturing and because of that, the physics of his swing would dictate a need for change. And two, he noted that his environment would be changing. Somewhat because of his success, golf course designers were in the process of lengthening many of the major courses where major championships took place. Tiger noted that his priority was shifting from simply winning championships to winning major championships. Tiger changed his swing because he was changing, because the environment was changing, and because his priorities were changing.
Even the best, seemingly perfect ways of doing things need adjusting as change occurs. The University of Mississippi can be sure that change is occurring here as well. Our student body is constantly renewed; new faculty join our ranks; and there are transitions in leadership. Our economy is uncertain, and our academic and research environment is changing. The wonderfully fluid body of knowledge that renews our world daily---new discoveries, devices, methods, translations--- dictates not only what we teach but also how we teach. In recent years, we have also reshaped our priorities. To continue the Tiger Woods analogy, we now want to win major championships.
The Second Adjustment
Tiger made his next swing revision in response to a knee injury. Those changes allowed him to accommodate for a severely injured knee and heroically win the 2008 U. S. Open in a playoff. Playing in pain, he adjusted his beautiful swing to relieve the pressure on the vulnerable knee.
Though healthy in many ways, we have some vulnerabilities of our own that will require adjustment of strategies in the future. Tiger has always been conscious that the swing that brings victory this year may not be the swing that brings the desired result in the coming season. Though we are a healthy and strong university, we must continue to reevaluate and adjust our priorities and our strategies in light of our vulnerabilities and our changing environment.
In that spirit, let me offer what I think are important questions to consider together during this transition in our leadership.
First, What does it mean to be a great public university in a poor state? Mississippi is a beautiful, complex and wonderful place, and I am glad to be a Mississippian. Yet, we live among some of the poorest people in the nation, and we have the lowest educational achievement and the worst health indicators of any state. What does this mean for us as a flagship university? What implications are there for our school of education, our schools of medicine, nursing, dentistry, pharmacy, and our school of business? Indeed, what does this mean for our entire faculty and administration?
In the past some have considered the role of the university to be limited to generating new knowledge and passing that knowledge on to selected individuals in society. One of the great accomplishments of higher education is the transformation of individual lives by the passing on of this knowledge base.
But, I believe we live in an era where there is an opportunity and a responsibility for public universities to be transformative not just to individuals, but to our communities. Our community extends beyond the geographic confines of north Mississippi into the entire state, the nation and the world. Should our educational programs not be accountable for providing leadership on the critical issues mentioned above: educating K-12, healthcare, and economic development?
The second major question I ask is: How does the current economic climate impact our priorities? Nationally, we are in the midst of a deep recession. Our state has experienced this recession with declining tax revenues, reductions in appropriations to state agencies including the institutions of higher learning, mid-year cuts in budgets, and necessary planning for further reductions in appropriations for the future.
Uncertainty about the duration and depth of the recession and how it might impact your department or you individually can create real anxiety. I hope we can deal with this anxiety through candid discussion and robust planning.
Thus far, we have weathered the impact of the recession better than some. We've been fortunate to have a productive faculty, strong financial leadership, good planning by our entire leadership team, continued strong private support, and increases in enrollment that enhance revenue.
Our state appropriation makes up 25% to 30% of our total support. During the 2009 fiscal year we lost about 5% of the state appropriated budget in a mid-year cut. Most of that was restored for our 2010 state budget with federal stimulus funds. But because of a continuing shortfall in state tax revenues in July and August of this year we can anticipate at least a 5% reduction of that state budget in the near future. Your administrative team has anticipated this cut and has built our current year budgets to absorb this without a direct impact on academic programs. However, stimulus funding will likely be less for the next fiscal year and likely absent in 2012. The potential for less state funding for the next 1 to 3 years is a real possibility.
Just as Tiger has adjusted his swing as his environment changed, I ask that we engage in evaluating our current and future priorities in light of the changing economic environment. So the first two questions---what is our role as a public university in a poor state? and how does the current economic climate impact our mission?---lead me to this question: Should a weak economy be the primary driver of our priorities? As we delve into this question, let me offer a point of view. Even in a difficult economy, I believe we have the opportunity to build our priorities around the needs of our state, region, nation, and world. Historically, some state universities have allowed limited resources to lead to a limited mission to meet limited needs.
It would be my hope that even in a very difficult economy our university would work the other way. That we would identify needs, particularly needs in our own state; those needs would shape priorities and our mission, and we would take the responsibility to identify the appropriate resources in order to meet those priorities and fulfill that mission.
The third major question I pose is: How should the faculty be engaged in establishing our priorities? There are at least three important mechanisms in place for faculty to engage with the administration in decision-making: through the traditional faculty, chair, dean, provost, administrative chain-of-command, if you will, the faculty senate; and the university committee structure.
Allow me talk about the second mechanism, the faculty senate. I've been gratified to see during the past year the faculty senate engage in a meaningful way in planning priorities during the current recession. The faculty senate chair, Dr. Ken Sufka and I have had constructive conversations about how our faculty senate might enhance the opportunities for this collaborative discussion this year. Dr. Sufka proposed several ways the faculty senate might engage further in a constructive way in setting priorities for the university in a changing economic environment. Among these, Dr. Sufka proposed the faculty senate develop a set of “guiding principles” or a “statement of values” that serve as guideposts for priority decisions. This approach could be integrated into institutional planning for key issues such as enrollment size, faculty compensation and priority decisions during economic change. I strongly desire a healthy working relationship with the faculty through every possible mechanism including the faculty senate. I fully acknowledge the role of the faculty senate in holding me and others in the administration accountable.
The fourth major question is: What can we do to improve performance and mutual accountability? Every complex organization struggles with this issue, especially academic organizations. Independence for the individual faculty member is a critical foundational element in higher education, and I value and support that foundational principle. Within that context, we must explore pathways for mutual understanding of priorities and expectations and clear accountability measures consistent with today's environment---including changing expectations about finance, ethics and societal expectations for universities.
Expectations for the 2009-2010 Academic Year
In that spirit, let me outline some expectations for the coming months. I'm asking Provost Stocks to take responsibility for these expectations with a firm commitment of my personal engagement. Provost Stocks will work through all the accepted relationships including the deans and chairs, the faculty senate and any needed committees or task forces, standing or ad hoc. The time frame for all that I mention now is within this academic year. My expectations include:
- Working especially with the faculty senate, establish principles and a clear plan and timeline for achieving faculty compensation at the regional average.
- Also working with the faculty senate, as well as our CFO, our deans, other administrators, and faculty to explore establishing “guiding principles” or “statements of value” to be used in evaluating our priorities as the economic climate changes.
- Execute the plan for me to visit each and every college, school, department, program, center and institute in our university.
- Extend the existing work on evaluation of future enrollment plans including these issues: undergraduate enrollment goals, admission standards, in-state/out-of-state and international goals for enrollment, and a purposeful focus on our graduate enrollment. You will recognize that increased enrollment is a common strategy used in universities to enhance revenue. You're also aware that this strategy is highly dependent on faculty productivity. As we have this discussion, therefore, we must be careful not to adopt priorities and strategies that are centered solely upon enhancing revenue for the university during a stressed time.
- Work with our vice chancellor for research and others to explore reevaluating priorities and specific goals around research. Enhancing research efforts is another strategy that is commonly adopted to enhance revenue. Once again, we must take a long-term view of our research strategy to assure that it is in the best interest of our students, faculty and wider community. We have pockets of high productivity including a number of unique and nationally competitive research units. But as a university we do not have the depth and breadth of many research-intensive peer institutions.
- Finally, work with the executive management council, deans, faculty and others to explore specific opportunities to enhance existing programs and create new programs to address the major challenges of our state.
In closing, let me tell you again how happy and proud I am to be a part of the University of Mississippi and how grateful I am for the work of this faculty. We face some substantial challenges in the days ahead, but there is no other place I want to be, and I hope you feel the same. I hope this will be a happy, fulfilling and enlightening year for you as a faculty member. God bless our faculty, and God bless our university.