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Convocation Address 2012
Mina Pekarek headshot

Mina Baliamoune-Lutz

Distinguished Professor

Professor Economics and Geography

Coggin College of Business

Some comments on how to enhance faculty retention and other remarks

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Thank you Dr. Pekarek for this kind introduction.

Thanks to all of you who have participated in the award selection and in the election. I thank Cindy, the Faculty Association Executive Secretary, for doing such a great job. Thank you Dr. Shapiro. I understand Steve was instrumental in the creation of this award. I thank Vicki Gipe who takes care of so many administrative tasks in our department with great efficiency and effectiveness, and thanks to all my colleagues in the Coggin College for their wonderful support.

I especially want to thank my students. Those who regularly excel in classes make my job interesting and fun. Those who needed help to get there make my job worth doing.

I guess I did not Know how popular I was until last year. There are so many UNF colleagues I would like to thank. I will need much more than half an hour to do that. So I will do it privately. Thank you all for being here and for giving me the opportunity to address you. I am humbled and honored by this award, and to be the first female economist and the first woman ever in the Coggin College to receive this award makes it even more special.

I must thank my family for their love and support. I would not be who I am today had it not been for the teachings of my number 1 teacher, my father, Sidi Ahmed Baliamoune El Haddaoui. I thank my husband, Dr. Stefan Lutz for this beautiful bond of unconditional support that we have for each other and for continuously raising the bar for intellectual thinking in our household. I am very grateful to my mother, Lalla Fatima Ould Lalla, my siblings, my uncles, and all other members of my family for always being there for me. Thanks to my nephews and nieces for the joys they bring to my life, and I would be even happier should they decide to major in economics!

Thanks to all my teachers, especially these three: my first grade teacher, Mr. Yayhaoui, my senior year math teacher in boarding school, Mademoiselle Nicholas, who thought I would go on to be a renown mathematician (sorry to disappoint her), and Dr. Jonathan Haughton, a great Irishman, who taught me not just economics courses (at Northeastern University) but also how to be an effective teacher and one who truly cares about students. I also thank my AFEA friends and colleagues, some of whom served as true mentors for me.

And I want to thank the Boston Red Sox for teaching me how to be patient and to never give up on the dream even it takes 86 years for the dream to come true!


Prior to writing these remarks, I read former awardees’ remarks and it was such an inspiring reading! My favorite was the one by Dr. Gerson Yessen (fall of 1998) who performed two piano pieces: Ballade in G Minor and the Revolutionary Etude.

Alas, my music skills are quite limited but I think I can present an interesting graph. So, first I thought I would discuss the level of my happiness during my tenure at UNF. Now, undoubtedly there is some subjectivity but happiness is a relative concept. I tried to be as objective as I could. Here is the story depicted in Exhibit 1.


 Exhibit1. Index of earnings and happiness (2001-12)

 Index of Happiness graph - text analysis below

An important point this graph shows is that real income during my tenure at UNF and happiness over the period covered here behaved differently. The association between the two variables is not very strong since the coefficient of correlation (not shown on the graph) is about 0.25. The behavior of real income seems to have a non-linear, almost inverted-U, form. Happiness went through (event) cycles, with periods of high happiness (peaks) caused by events such as tenure, promotion, awards and sabbatical leave.

Fortunately, the trend is upward; my happiness level while working at UNF seems to be higher as time goes by. Based on this ‘evidence’ (notwithstanding the small sample size), one can conclude that offering faculty sabbatical leave and awards, and providing an environment that enables faculty to do their best to be successful in getting tenure and promotion would enhance faculty happiness.

But why and how should a university do that? The answer to the ‘why’ is simple. A university that emphasizes teaching excellence as the main part of its mission needs satisfied (happy) faculty in order to fulfill the mission. The answer to the ‘how’ is somewhat more complex.

In order to address the question, I must provide a little background on what attracted me to UNF.
I have always wanted to be a teacher. When I was four years old, I would put my older sister’s dolls, other toys, and throw pillows on the sofa and pretend they were pupils and I was a teacher, and ask them to read what I am reading! So I consider myself very lucky to be doing what I always wanted to do.

I first learned about UNF from Dr. Adel El Ansary. Adel is an excellent, if not the best, UNF ambassador. You should see and hear Adel talk about UNF, the College of Business, and Jacksonville.

When I interviewed for a faculty position at UNF, I remember thinking, ‘this university focuses on excellence in teaching and wants to have strong international business and study-abroad programs; this is where I want to be’. However, I accepted the tenure-track position offer because of Dean Earle Traynham. I can honestly say that it is not easy to find college deans who have Earle’s qualities and vision and I can never thank him enough for what he did for faculty, especially junior faculty, and for his efforts, jointly with Jeff Steagall and Jeff Michelman, to create and enhance the International Business program. It is my belief that without those efforts (in the Coggin College and subsequently other colleges) to internationalize the curriculum, UNF would not have been as excellent as it is today.

It is clear that we live in a global world. To live in harmony with other parts of today’s world requires an understanding, acceptance and appreciation of other cultures, other races and other religions. Personally, I do not think that the question is to be or not to be global. That ship has already sailed. Globalization is everywhere and the relevant question is how to live in a globalized world and have a positive impact. This has major implications on how (and what) we teach, which in turn has important implications on the type of faculty a university should attract and how to retain such faculty.

I think most universities do a good job defining how and what to teach students taking the effects of globalization into account, and to a certain extent, do a good job hiring the right type of faculty. Unfortunately, many U.S. universities suffer from low faculty retention rates.

I care about education in the United States because US education benefited me as a student and as a professor. In what follows, I would like to make five suggestions or comments on how to improve the work environment in ways that, in my opinion, would improve faculty retention at the university level in the United States. As I said earlier, I truly care about the current state and future of higher education in our country.


  1. Universities should increase funding for international business, international studies, and other programs that foster faculty and student exchanges and study abroad courses. It would be useful if we could start a one semester or one-year faculty exchange program in all disciplines. In my opinion, students cannot be seriously exposed to internationalization if the professor has never spent significant time outside the U.S.
  2. Universities and colleges within universities should institute mechanisms to reward faculty who truly excel, such as giving named professorship to faculty who actually merit them and avoiding practices that may lead to a perception of discrimination, especially gender discrimination.
  3. Developments taking place today in certain parts of the world clearly show that when systems are too rigid they break down when real change becomes imminent. Retention rates could improve if we were to add more flexibility in course allocation and timing. Why should a U.S. university lose a valuable faculty member to a European or Asian university just because it cannot be as flexible as they are? I believe that more flexibility could actually lead to lower costs for the university.
  4. The race to attract the best talent has already started and either we have the right mechanisms to retain talented individuals or we lose them to the competition in the global market. When universities are unable to retain their most talented professors they should ask why? Business as usual cannot solve this problem. A university or college that has low retention rates should try to identify the reasons behind this and make a serious effort to address the problem.
  5. I would like to suggest that universities create an ‘Administrator of the Year Award’, to be given to a department chair, a program director, an associate dean, or dean, nominated and elected by faculty. There are administrators who are doing an outstanding job with a huge positive impact on faculty and they deserve to be recognized in a formal way.


I would like to end with a quote from a part of the world that is very dear to my heart and is the regional focus of my scholarly work.

    Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up.

    It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed.     

    Every morning a lion wakes up.

    It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death.     

    It doesn't matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle.

    When the sun comes up, you better start running.

(Cited as an African proverb) in Thomas Friedman, Ch. 2, ‘Flattener #6- Offshoring: Running with Gazelles, Eating with Lions’, p. 137 of the 2007 edition of the World is Flat, New York: Picador.)

Thank you.