Convocation, Fall 2007

Friday, September 7, 2007

 I would like to begin by thanking both President Delaney and the chair of our dedicated Board of Trustees, Dr. Bruce Taylor, for endorsing the exciting initiative that we are about to embark upon, and for committing themselves to embracing what I trust will be the percipient and farsighted recommendations that should emanate from the work of the special task force. I am honored to lead this important effort; I do so with the conviction that, working together, we have an opportunity to focus the university’s energy for years to come.

That the university abounds with energy is readily apparent. It certainly is attested to by the accomplishments of the faculty whom we are here to honor today. Our distinguished professor, Louise Freshman Brown, as a professional artist, a professional educator, and a tireless servant of the university, has established a record of achievement in which we can all take great pride. Others of our colleagues soon will be recognized for their truly exemplary accomplishments as undergraduate and graduate teachers, scholars, advisors, and for institutional and international service and leadership. The energy of the university manifests itself in myriad other ways as well. Transformational learning opportunities are infusing curricular and extra-curricular programs throughout the university. Our students, with their thirst for knowledge and culture and experience, keep the pulse of the university beating at a very high rate. New programs, including graduate programs in nursing practice, physical therapy, and civil, electrical, and mechanical engineering, are either now or soon will be available to our students. Buildings are going up at a pace all that much more noteworthy in light of the budget constraints described by the president. And, in a sight that many of us find amazing to behold, our newly far-flung campus has been knit together by the presence of a shuttle service.

Nor is it the case that all this activity is taking place in a university that does not know what it is about or where it is headed. UNF, from its inception, has been committed first and foremost to providing its students, whether they be undergraduate or graduate students, with a first-class education in an environment conducive to the development of personal relationships between them and their dedicated faculty. The faculty themselves have been committed alike to their inextricable roles as teachers and scholars. And the university has always taken its bearings from its presence in north Florida, a location not coincidentally inscribed in its very name.

And yet, as we look to the future, it is very clear that the university has the potential to build upon its strong foundation to become an institution of true distinction. We can do so, I would suggest, not by radically redefining our values or priorities, but in fact by further intensifying our commitment to those that have guided us thus far, by being bolder in our reach and more strategic in our advancement towards our goals. Where we might previously have regarded UNF as a regional institution, it is time to acknowledge that our region has itself grown into a far more cosmopolitan area with a correspondingly complex range of educational and professional needs which are the responsibility of this institution to address through the generation of knowledge, intellectual capital, and civic-minded graduates. And where previously we have always sought excellence in our programs and our people, the time has come to advance to a level of national quality throughout every aspect of the university.

I offer my own view of the university’s future—as a metropolitan university of national quality--only as a place where the task force can start its conversation, not necessarily as the place where its deliberations will conclude. Indeed, the first responsibility the task force must engage with will be to clarify the vision which should guide UNF’s progress and to translate this vision into a mission statement to which we can all subscribe. Secondly, I will ask the task force to give consideration to the consequences of the institutional mission for the university’s academic programs, broadly construed. And thirdly, I will ask the task force to make some recommendations about the kinds of resources that would be necessary to advance the university towards the goal of national quality and to define benchmarks by which we might measure progress toward that goal.

The conversation that awaits promises to be rich and stimulating, and that much more so to the extent that participation in this conversation is broad and inclusive. I hope you will avail yourselves of opportunities to join in. Collectively, and with the support of our president and board, I am optimistic that we can make a critical difference in the compass and quality of UNF.