2011 Fall Convocation Ceremony

Uploaded by southernmissmedia on 12.09.2011

Will you all please rise and join us in the reciting of the pledge of allegiance and the
hearing of our national anthem. I Pledge Allegiance to the flag of the United
States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God,
indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, for purple mountain majesties
above the fruited plain! America! America! God shed his grace on thee and crown thy good
with brotherhood from sea to shining sea! O beautiful for patriot
dream that sees beyond the years Thine alabaster cities gleam Undimmed by human tears! America!
America! God shed his grace on thee and crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining
sea! This time last year, our university was bracing
for a third staggering round of budget cuts. We were in the midst of a prioritization process
that had consumed hundreds of hours on the part of campus representatives as we attempted
to establish a new way of looking at and distributing our resources. We were staring at proposed
program closures, layoffs and possible furloughs. To be sure, things looked grim. I think it’s
safe to say we learned a lot about ourselves. That happens during trying times. But troubles
have a way of bringing out the best in people. We revealed our true selves. We were worried…but
we were not afraid. We disagreed on some things…but we were not divided. We were tired but we
did not fall. We held fast. We weathered the storm. More importantly, we learned how to
change. As a result, we can point to a number of positive
outcomes. We found $7.5 million in permanent cost savings. Then, when the state appropriation
reduction turned out to be less than we expected, we were able to convert those savings into
much needed reserves, repairs & renovations and raises.
So we have much to celebrate today. In spite of one of the worst economic climates any
of us can remember, Southern Miss has continued to grow in size, accomplishment and prestige.
This academic year we have welcomed another record enrollment, including another record
freshmen class that is also our most academically talented.
As we continue to enrich our climate for academic success we can point to myriad accomplishments
of our students, our faculty and our staff. Our students are winning prestigious awards
and recognition. Over the past year: Marie Holowach was named a Truman scholar
(only the second in university history) Tori Bowie became the university’s first
NCAA champion. Construction Student, Garrett Wright, became
one of only 20 students in the country honored as Pearson Prize National Fellows for his
community service. The university won the Halbrook award for
academic achievement in athletics (six years in a row). For those of you who may lurk about
sports message boards let me make something clear for the record. Great public universities
deserve great athletic programs. The Golden Eagle fan base should be assured that Southern
Miss is doing all that it can to play at the highest level. Any university seeking to move
up must BRING VALUE to the table. That includes a winning tradition (we have that), integrity
(check), facilities (check) and a fan base that buys tickets and fills stadiums (we have
a plan.) AND we are doing it with athletes who will actually graduate!
Our faculty had another strong year in research. The Vice President for Research has organized
a mentoring program to assist faculty in finding new sources of support. Our deans are also
working with the Vice President to identify promising areas where Southern Miss can take
a leadership role in conducting research relevant to State and national needs. One of those
opportunities appeared in our own back yard. Our faculty and staff were at the forefront
of research related to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. We have received $2.2 million in
funding so far and I am pleased to announce that we will be receiving $6.0 million over
the next three years from the BP Gulf Research Initiative for our Marine Science faculty
to continue these studies. Faculty members are also working to make the
next oil spill less catastrophic. Dr. Robert Lochhead, Dr. Sarah Morgan and Dr. Daniel
Savin have developed a new biodegradable dispersant that could make future oil spills a lot less
harmful to birds and other sea creatures. A patent application has been filed on this
new dispersant and Dr. Lochhead has obtained funding from the National Science Foundation
to develop a working prototype for environmental testing.
One positive outcome of the spill has been that Dr. Louis Kyriakoudes in our Center for
Oral History and Cultural Heritage won a $200,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration for the “Development of Well-being Indicators and Collection of Oral Histories”
related to the oil spill. This grant was the largest competitive grant received by the
Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage in a decade and the largest competitive grant
received by the College and Arts and Letters last year.
I would be remiss if I did not note that the College of Health increased research awards
last year to over $12 million, a 23% increase. The Affordable Health Care Act passed by Congress
last year places an emphasis on disease prevention and healthier life styles to reduce medical
costs. As our College of Health is strong in the area of Public Health, there are significant
opportunities for the faculty to take a leadership role in making Mississippians healthier. I
look forward to their continued success. Our College of Business was nationally ranked
by US News & World Report for the first time. All educational licensure programs at Southern
Miss were nationally recognized by their respective specialized professional associations through
a review conducted in spring 2011. This is the first time USM has received that distinction.
We are removing financial barriers to our students’ success by providing more scholarships.
I note the Centennial scholarship exceeded $4 million with 2500 different contributors.
We have renegotiated our contract with Barnes & Noble to include a much-needed textbook
rental program to assist our students in reducing cost.
Our visibility grew as the rest of the country and the world has learned just how marvelous
we are. Over the past year, total media hits were up 22 percent – national media hits
up 48% -- trade media up 79%. (Note, does not include athletics.) We were named one
of the Top 20 most popular universities by U.S. News & World Reports and won a coveted
silver anvil award from PRSA for very effective Centennial campaign.
Our connections with community are ever more strengthened:
Economic development – three new industries recruited to our area – Stion (1000 jobs),
GE Aviation (250 jobs), Bracco Technologies (50 jobs) -- in large part because of the
research we conduct and the connections we make to attract jobs to our region for our
students. Student volunteer hours and service learning
hours increased again. We had a successful United Way campaign and
look forward to another one this year. Our campus community is enjoying more green
space, a parking garage, progress on the restoration of the coast campus, and more visitors than
ever attending our arts and athletic events. We continue to embrace a culture of healthy
minds, bodies and campuses. We have a LEEDS gold certified residence hall, one of only
four in the country. Our recycling program is growing, and we have implemented plans
to become a smoke-free campus. I could go on and on…but I think you get
the point. Southern Miss is a great university. I have been president here for 4 years, 3
months and 21 days. That’s 1574 days, 37,776 hours or 2,266,560 minutes (give or take a
few). When I came onboard in 2007, you and I spent a lot of time talking about our hopes
and dreams for the university. As a new president I found a spirited, dedicated, persistent
group of employees, students and alumni. I also detected undercurrents of doubt. In spite
of our frequent references and shouts of Southern Miss to the Top, some of you did not, or perhaps
do not, believe we could get there…to the top. At the time, you pointed to inequities
within the IHL system. Some of you said we have never been sufficiently funded to do
the work we need to do as compared to our sister institutions. Some of you said we had
not enjoyed support from the legislature. Or from the IHL board.
While it is true that state appropriations are declining, we are receiving our fair share
of funding from an IHL board that has capable leadership. We have good relationships with
the legislature and all members of the board. We have enjoyed amazing support from our congressional
delegation. The state is bonding buildings for us for the first time since the mid-90s.
We are raising private money. Our researchers are winning highly competitive grants. Our
campus is more beautiful than ever. Our students are winning prestigious awards. And however
the November election turns out, the next governor of the state WILL BE Southern Miss
alum. If you think this university cannot get to the top you are wrong. And you are
out of excuses. Going forward, I have ten things for you to
think about. I call them the President’s 10 for ’12.
Let’s lead on quality. Academic quality is our best competitive tool. Let’s face
it – our students have choices. Public, private and proprietarily universities are
in fierce competition for these precious resources. But at the end of the day, the university
that prepares students best will win. Keep an eye on enrollment. We do not need
to be the biggest university in the state – but we do need to reach capacity. If not,
we are failing in our mission. At Southern Miss, we have a good enrollment plan that
will allow us to grow while continuing to provide good service.
We must recruit the brightest and best new employees, and we are competing with the rest
of the country for them. The future of the university depends on good hiring. Make this
a good place to work. Be patient with the new people and others who are doing two or
three jobs while we wait to fill positions. Our resources and our priorities need to match.
The development and implementation of an effective and consensual process for the enrichment
of our most productive academic programs is going to be key to making that happen.
We should embrace our diversity. Southern Miss enjoys high racial and gender diversity.
We also have students from 70 different countries. This diversity gives our students a priceless
opportunity to learn from other cultures and types. They will be better for it.
Remember that facilities do matter. We continue to strive for state of the art facilities,
but we must be good stewards. From this point on, we are committed to endowing our buildings.
Ten per cent of the cost of every new building will need to be raised privately and invested
in order to preserve and upgrade as needed. We will serve the needs of the Coast by providing
a stable inventory of programming. Students who begin their studies there should do so
with a reasonable expectation of completing them there without having to commute to another
campus. Know that the economic development of South
Mississippi is good for Southern Miss. Through the work that we support, we can close an
important loop by providing jobs for our talented graduates.
Think about service and how the work that we do benefits others.
Invest in Southern Miss. Recently, we received a significant gift from grateful alum, Chuck
Scianna, who understands and appreciates the value of the education he received here. One
of his comments stayed with me. He said that he and his family do not consider the $5 million
they gave us to be a gift. He said, instead, it is an investment. An investment in us and
in something he believes in. So as the poet, Mary Oliver said: “Tell
me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"
As we move into a brand, spanking new academic year with minutes to be filled, experiences
and experiments to be created and memories to be made I am asking you to invest in Southern
Miss and expect a favorable return. You can start by taking just a moment and
ask yourself, “Why am I here? What attracted me to this job? To this university?” I doubt
seriously if the answer will be “to make a lot of money.” Instead, we saw other riches.
For our students, it may have been the opportunity to learn from specific distinguished faculty
or to gain the skills necessary to fare well in a competitive workforce. If that’s the
case, invest in that. Students, the highest tribute you can give your teachers is to LEARN!
And build on the lessons gained in the classroom to be the best you can possibly be.
Employees may be here because of the opportunity to do meaningful work with people we like
in a community we enjoy. If that is true, invest in that. Do good work. Support your
colleagues by modeling a respectful, civil environment of meaningful discourse. Come
to university club events, athletic events, concerts and theater performances. Hang out!
Get out of your offices. Donate to good causes. The average salary of a Southern Miss employee
is 50% higher than that of the average Mississippian. We can afford to share. Volunteer in this
community. As one of the big three employers in the area, it is not unreasonable to expect
to see a Southern Miss Representative on every significant board in town. Share your strengths.
I came to this university first as a student. I had opportunities at other places but I
chose Southern Miss. I had big plans for my life at a time when there were very few opportunities
for women. This university embraced me and shaped me and encouraged me to have faith
in myself and to be brave. Now I’m back as your president – a good many years older
and at least a little bit wiser. I believe I have done good work in my time and I have
always done my best. But nothing has ever mattered to me the way that you matter. As
I enter my second term of service, I pledge to you, today, to invest all that I have to
give to Southern Miss for as long as I am here: my time, my strength, my money, my influence
and my heart. Let’s sing the alma mater.We sing to thee,
our Alma Mater, USM thy praises be. Southern mem’ries we shall cherish
Loyalty we pledge to thee. Spacious skies and land of sunshine, verdant trees and shelt’ring
walls. Now our hearts lift ever to thee as we praise
thy hallowed halls.