Transformation Through Service
Inaugural Address - April 9, 2010
Daniel W. Jones, MD
President Ross, Commissioner Bounds, and Members of the Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning, with humility and gratitude, I accept the mantle of responsibility for leadership of the University of Mississippi. I am grateful for your trust and confidence and pledge my utmost effort in fulfilling this leadership role.
Governor Barbour, Senator Wicker, Congressman Childers, other elected officials, Ambassador Han, Counselor Pak, Chancellor Emeritus Khayat, other honored guests, members of the faculty, staff, and students; thank you for your presence on this special occasion. Today, we formally transfer leadership of the University to a new Chancellor. I am grateful for your presence and for your support.
This is a significant occasion for our University and certainly, a defining moment in my life. There are many who have assisted me along the journey leading here. Like many of you, faith is a central element in my life, so I first express appreciation to the God who loves us all and provides grace and mercy in our lives. I thank my family, especially Lydia, for the support you provide. Robert Khayat provided me the opportunity for leadership at the health science campus, encouraged my leadership here as Chancellor, and continues to assist and advise for the great benefit of the University. And he's done all this with the graciousness that typified his remarkable period of leadership here. To Wally Conerly and other mentors, I express my appreciation. I am grateful to Jimmy Keeton for accepting leadership of our health science campus. I thank the entire university leadership team, faculty, staff, students, and alumni for your encouragement and support during my initial days in this new role.
The University of Mississippi, as all universities, has a great and noble mission centered on knowledge. Our university community is focused on transfer of knowledge through our programs of education; creation of new knowledge through research and the cultivation of new ideas through the arts and humanities; and the use of knowledge to transform through our service mission.
For centuries, societies have organized to educate the next generation. Aristotle noted that "all who have meditated on the art of governing mankind have been convinced that the fate of empires depends on the education of youth." Speaking on the importance of education, Abraham Lincoln quipped "give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe." He understood the value of taking time to educate oneself and he understood the importance to our nation of investing in education. When Commissioner Hank Bounds was asked a question about our economy he responded, "The answer to every question is education."
Indeed, education has been the driving force behind the success of our great nation. No other society has utilized an educated people for the benefit of society at large as well as ours. This nation's commitment to the value of education has been a tool for the transformation of lives. That commitment to education, blended with the principles of democracy, the richness of cultural diversity facilitated by progressive immigration policy and civil rights reform have made our nation the envy of the world.
The opportunity to live outside this country for a few years provided my family and me a unique perspective and deeper appreciation for our uniqueness. In 1991, I experienced a series of events that indelibly imprinted on my brain what matters most about our nation and society. Within a span of a few months that year, I had the opportunity to visit four great cities of the world: Beijing, Moscow, Tehran, and New York – four very different cities with four very different histories and cultures. Though some of these cities and their associated nations are moving through rapid change these days, we saw symbols reflecting some of the history of each of the four cities: just outside Beijing, I viewed a portion of the Great Wall of China; in Moscow, the great Kremlin Wall, and In Tehran, one of the great walled mosques. In New York on the last leg of a long journey, we experienced what is no longer possible post 9/11. Our plane approached its landing headed directly over Manhattan, giving us a terrific view of the Statue of Liberty, our country's symbol of welcome to the entire world. Memories of our recent visit to those great walls - historically designed to limit access and keep some out flooded over me. And I was grateful for the attitude of our nation in providing opportunities for transformation to any who are a part of this nation, regardless of country of origin, religious faith, or the economic status of their family.
On that great statue the words of the poet Emma Lazarus express that sentiment this way: "Give me your tired your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…" that great stanza ends with the words: "I lift my lamp beside the golden door".
Most of us in this room have family roots that began on another continent. And for most of our families, somewhere along the way, higher education became the "lamp beside the golden door" that transformed opportunity for our family and ultimately for us. For some of you, those opportunities for your family began generations ago. For many of us in this great state of Mississippi, like me, that family transformation through higher education began only one generation ago or with your generation. The opportunity for higher education helps transform our families, our communities, our nation, and has helped us be leaders in the world.
But we are aware that there are growing concerns of vulnerabilities in our state, nation, and world. We are all concerned about the situation with the economy. But we should be less concerned about the general state of the economy than about the growing disparity between those who have and those who have not. These disparities are seen in opportunities for education, health, and economic status. We are still the wealthiest country in the world, but these disparities are accelerating at an alarming rate. And I need not remind this audience that to see some of the starkest examples of these disparities, we need only look at our own doorstep.
So, what is the solution to these economic, health, and educational disparities? I agree with Dr. Bounds that the answer to all the issues lies in education. When Ellie Wiesel, the Noble Peace Prize recipient and Holocaust survivor spoke recently to students in the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, he noted that "education may not always be the only answer to any question, but it is always the best answer". Indeed, education is the answer to our greatest needs. And those of us privileged to be a part of a university community have an opportunity and most importantly a responsibility to make a difference – to transform lives – beginning with ourselves and with individual students.
Those of us who are a part of the Ole Miss community should be proud of this great public university. Much progress has been made in recent years through the visionary leadership of Robert Khayat, generous financial support from many of you, and the work of talented and remarkable faculty, staff, and students. Since 1848, this university has transformed the lives of the students who came here.
But, we must be reminded that we are a successful flagship liberal arts university in the poorest state in our nation. And as we continue our progress as a university, I call on this university community to be more keenly aware of the gap between our achievement as a university and the stark needs in the world around us. We must seek opportunities to fulfill our responsibility to transform not just individual lives, but to transform the world around us through our service.
So, how do we accomplish this? Let me offer three thoughts and hopes for us as a university community:
First, let us be purposeful about a spirit of service. Many come to this university to find themselves. Ghandi taught us that "the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others." The talented and dedicated faculty of our university give of themselves in service to our students day in and day out. Countless students, past and present, have recounted stories to me of life transformation because of a relationship with a faculty member – a relationship that went beyond the classroom lecture –a relationship that took a personal interest in that student's development as a person who could make a difference in the lives of others. That is the spirit of service that has been a distinguishing characteristic of this university for 162 years.
So I ask that we take this spirit of service that is already a strength and be more and more purposeful about the way we use it a tool for transformation at the community level. Much is already being done by our faculty, staff, and students. We've been reminded of that this week in the signs around campus that service is a part of our DNA – at the very core of our being. You are invited to visit our Inauguration website where you can see a remarkable listing of service provided through this university to improve our community at the broadest level. But, as long as there are large needs in our community, we must consider doing more. I ask our faculty to be purposeful about how we can improve the economic status of our state, the health of our citizens, and what role we need to play in improving educational opportunities for all.
For example, one way we can do that is to assure we are purposeful in providing the opportunity for this transformation through higher education to everyone in our state. Let's assure that we not allow barriers, real or perceived, which exclude any from this opportunity at the University of Mississippi. Earlier this year, we announced a new "needs based" scholarship program for our university, Ole Miss Opportunity. I commend our faculty and leadership team for supporting this important new access to higher education during a difficult economic time. Let this be a clear signal that The University of Mississippi has open arms and wishes to be that "lamp beside the golden door" for all.
Just as we have been purposeful in seeking to transform our community through our financial aid program, we should look at all we do, all the tools at our disposal, at each part of our mission to ask how we can transform our community through a spirit of service. Are there opportunities for shaping our research agenda around the large needs in our state? Are there opportunities for shaping our curricula to assure we infuse the spirit of service into the transformation of individual students?
My second hope for how our university can participate in transforming our community is to provide leadership for a spirit of service. Through our purpose, our words, and our actions, this flagship liberal arts university can provide encouragement to our students, our graduates, elected community and state leaders, and others to embrace a spirit of service. Through our teaching we should inspire others to the type of service promoted by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He taught us "an individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity."
In recent years, many have watched with appreciation as this university has placed a strong emphasis on these broader concerns of all humanity. For example, The William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation has provided much inspiration and leadership for us in this area. The Winter Institute is assisting communities and individuals in the struggle to find the right balance between individual rights promoted through our democratic ideals and the altruistic constraint of our own desires, thoughts, and traditions when there is a need to constrain those ideas for the sake of the larger good. This idea of making ourselves and our ideas subservient to the cause of the greater good is an idea promoted in every major religion of the world.
Just this week, on this campus, the Winter Institute hosted a symposium on the issue of reconciliation in areas of conflict across racial, religious, and political lines. Guests for that symposium included my good friend Ambassador Han Song Ryol, Ambassador to the United Nations from the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, typically referred to as North Korea. Despite long-standing political conflict between our two governments, Ambassador Han and U.S. counterparts have facilitated strong and growing educational relationships between our university's health science campus and the leading medical school in North Korea. This week, symposium panelists spoke of the need for seeking pathways to reconciliation where there is conflict. I am so pleased that our university is offering leadership in reconciliation. We do so, not in the spirit that we have accomplished anything in the area of reconciliation, but in the spirit of inviting others to join us in our pilgrimage along the pathway of reconciliation.
Just as we are seeking to transform our communities and even the world in the area of reconciliation, we must ask how else we might lead. What other problems are in our line of opportunity and responsibility? How else might we be that "lamp beside the golden door" to lead the way to a better world?
And the third hope for how our university can participate in transformation of our larger community is to remain focused on what is most important about our mission. Alumnus, Jim Barksdale referred to this idea in his commencement address on our campus a few years ago, imploring us to "keep the main thing the main thing." We will only be effective in transformation of individuals and our community if we remain focused on what is most important. And in this university, as in every university, the main thing is education. And what makes education possible is that magical relationship between faculty and students. What will keep us on a pathway to being a great public university will be a great faculty and great students. At the University of Mississippi, the main thing is a great faculty and great students. And everything else either supports faculty and students and their relationship or distracts from the main thing.
If we as a university community can remain focused on support of this main thing, we will succeed. But, if we allow ourselves to be distracted, we risk failure. We must not allow changes in the economy and our own budget, nor differences of opinion about our priorities distract us from the main thing. As we make difficult decisions about managing our budget priorities, we must not lose our focus on education being the main thing for our university.
And we must not allow our passions around traditions or perceived traditions to distract us from the main thing. Budgets, buildings, landscaping, administrators, Chancellors, athletics, traditions – these are all only useful as they support our faculty and students in the educational process. If any of these become distractions from the main thing, they are not serving the university or helping the university serve others. This university community is blessed with so many who are very passionate about the university. When we unite our passions, great things happen like sheltering a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, hosting a Presidential debate, and winning back to back Cotton Bowls. When our passions are divided, they can distract our attention from the main thing. At a critical time in the life of this country, President Abraham Lincoln asked that men "not allow your passions to divide us." With deep appreciation for the love and passion so many in our university community share for Ole Miss, and with respect for those whose opinions differ, I ask that we not allow our passions to divide us; but rather, we stay focused on keeping the main thing the main thing.
In the spirit of focusing on our faculty and students, you should expect that much of our focus in managing financial resources in the next several years will be on faculty and students. In the past few years, with unprecedented support from the donor community, we have moved forward in so many ways. Today, I ask you to continue that support, especially in the area of our greatest need, financial support of our students through scholarship funds and support of our faculty through growth in our faculty endowment. Many of our fine faculty are here because of their love for this university. But, with a growing gap in faculty compensation between us and peer universities, recruitment and retention of the best faculty is an increasing challenge. Both for fairness and for strategic positioning, we must find a pathway for better faculty compensation if our academic programs are going to progress.
To support keeping the main thing the main thing, today I am announcing a goal of increasing the faculty support endowment by $100 million. This development goal along with other budget priority decisions should allow us to reach our goal of compensation parity with our peer universities as we emerge from this slow economy. From the depths of the current recession, this appears to be a challenging goal. But I am absolutely certain it is achievable if we keep our passions focused on the main thing.
In closing, let me reiterate how humbled and honored I am to have the privilege of being the 16th Chancellor of the University of Mississippi. The opportunity to work with the faculty, staff, students, and alumni to continue to transform lives and communities is, indeed, a great privilege.
This week, some student on this campus made an important life decision after an encounter with a faculty member. And somewhere in a small community in Mississippi, some young student in an elementary school had an aha moment - a breakthrough in reading at the foot of a University of Mississippi alumnus. And somewhere this week, literally, a life was saved at the hands of a University of Mississippi trained health care professional. And somewhere in a hall of government, one of our graduates was involved in a policy decision which made the world a better place. And somewhere in the world, a child was not hungry because of the service of one of the members of our university community. I am proud to be a part of this great public university transforming lives through service.
May God continue to bless the University of Mississippi and all who love her. Thank you.