Convocation, Fall 2009

Friday, October 2, 2009

I know that in comparison to some of you in the audience today I am still a mere newcomer to UNF. But as I am now starting my seventeenth year here, and have occupied almost as many administrative positions as my erstwhile colleague Hank Camp, I can claim to have achieved a reasonably informed perspective on the evolving state and circumstances of our university. What I can say in all honesty is that I have never felt more optimistic about the future of the university than I do at the current time. 


I am not blind, of course, to our economic circumstances, and it is certainly true that before the country, the state, and the university were so negatively impacted by the economic downturn UNF seemed to be growing in a very exciting and positive way. But as exciting as that growth may have been, and as cautious as we might need to be as our growth resumes in the future, that future looks particularly bright to me because I believe we have, at long last, a clearly delineated destination and a means for determining how to get there. I am referring to our aspiration that the president alluded to earlier—to become a university that serves its region, and thus the world beyond that region, at a level of national quality—and to the strategic planning process that many of us have been working on for the past two years, and that is now  close to implementation. Whether we are fortunate to receive the plenitudinous funding that the president is seeking or whether we have to make do with far more measured resources, we nevertheless have a plan which, if we follow it with discipline, should move UNF inexorably towards becoming the institution we so much want it to be. 


Our fiscal discipline will be crucial. We all will need to accept that to achieve institutional excellence we will need to focus our resources on the fewest number of priorities possible in order to produce the greatest thrust in advancing the quality and reputation of the university. I have my own candidates for this list. They include faculty and staff salaries, strengthening our academic infrastructure to support student success, deepening our strongest academic programs where we have a realistic opportunity to excel, and adding master’s and doctoral programs in those areas—supply-chain management, deaf education, music, and materials science are possibilities that come to mind —where we have an existing foundation for development and where we can clearly document community need. Those four priorities would constitute my entire list, and to treat them as priorities would mean that other, arguably equally compelling needs, would have to be deferred. But that is the price we will need to be prepared to pay if we are to enjoy purposeful growth rather than mere expansion. 


UNF is an institution that has committed itself to transforming the students who seek to acquire an education here. We are at a juncture where, under the leadership of President Delaney and with the strong support of our Board of Trustees, our Foundation Board and, at long last, growing support from the Board of Governors and legislature, we can transform not only our students but UNF itself. Even without the competition for resources within the SUS and the emergence of a new state college system, we owe it to the citizens whom we serve and we certainly owe it to ourselves to make UNF as distinctive as it can possibly be, a university in the fullest and richest sense of that term that students are proud to attend and where its faculty and staff are proud to work. 


I hasten to add, and will do so in closing, that given the caliber of the fine faculty and staff exemplified by those of you whom we are here to honor today, I for one am already proud to work with so many fine colleagues. It is my pleasure to congratulate you on your accomplishments and to express my gratitude to you for your dedication to our students, to your disciplines, and to our institution.