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State of the University Address 2015

FSU President John Thrasher


2015 State of the University Address and Faculty Senate Meeting

Good afternoon! I appreciate this opportunity to be here today to present my first State of the University Address.

I’m pleased that my wife Jean is here this afternoon. I’d also like to recognize Faculty Senate President and FSU Trustee Susan Fiorito and thank her and the entire Faculty Senate for inviting me here today.

I’m also thrilled that Dr. Sally McRorie is here as our new provost. As you know, Sally has served as interim provost — twice — over the past year and a half, and no one is more deserving of this role. Her knowledge and passion for FSU runs deep, and she will be a terrific partner in moving this university forward.

I’d like to thank all of you for the very active role you played in the provost’s search.

I’d also like to thank you for your support during the past year. I recently told a reporter that being president of FSU is the job of a lifetime, and it truly is.

I have such an appreciation for the work that you do. Not only are you shaping the intellectual lives of our students, you are preparing them for today’s complex world.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the role of universities in that context. It used to be that people thought universities were somehow protected from the real world. We know that is no longer true — if it ever was.

Just a few weeks ago, the world was shaken by the terrorist attacks in Paris. We had no students studying there this semester, but we did have a handful of students there for the weekend on independent travel. Thankfully they were unharmed.

But the news has undoubtedly weighed heavily on the 40 French citizens who are students here on campus, as well as four visiting research scholars and several faculty and staff members. We are family at FSU, and we are here to support them as we grieve with them.

We have seen racial tensions across the country and at the University of Missouri and other college campuses. As these events unfold, I want to assure you that addressing diversity and inclusion on this campus is a top priority of mine.

We have made strides in improving the diversity of our student body, as well as our faculty, staff and administration, but it’s clear that we have more work to do.

This campus also is not immune to isolated acts of racism and bigotry. Unfortunately, in recent weeks there were two separate incidents of vandalism here at FSU that involved swastikas.

I condemn these shameful acts, and I want you to know that I understand the pain and anguish that this hateful symbol causes. These are gross violations of this university’s values.

Our police department took these incidents seriously and have already identified the suspects. The alleged perpetrators in both cases were not FSU students, but people who were visiting campus.

We have no tolerance for racism or discrimination at FSU, and I am proud of our long tradition of nurturing a campus culture that emphasizes dignity, responsibility and inclusion.

We also have seen gun violence in America. That came home to us, too. A year ago, we had a shooting at Strozier Library in the very heart of this campus.

It was a senseless act of violence, but the FSU and Tallahassee police departments acted quickly and decisively, preventing further tragedy.

You — our faculty and staff — ensured that our students were cared for and the university bravely carried on.

The shooting at Strozier was certainly the biggest challenge of my first year in office, but together we have accomplished so much.

When I accepted the presidency, my overall objectives for the first year were to:

  • focus on our goal of rising in national rankings
  • increase faculty salaries
  • make strategic investments in expanding research
  • and raise funds for our capital campaign

I’m pleased that with the hard work and support of the entire Florida State University community, we have made significant progress on all of these goals.

Our accomplishments this past year have laid the foundation for what I think will be a truly transformational year ahead.

RANKINGS

Let’s start with rankings. In September, U.S. News and World Report ranked Florida State University No. 43 among public universities. That’s pretty good, but it’s not good enough.

I think all of you know that FSU aspires to be ranked among the nation’s Top 25. That’s because, in truth, we think that is a more accurate reflection of the education we offer. In terms of the quality of our students, we are already there.

A particular point of pride is our outstanding graduation and retention rates. Our retention rate is 93 percent, and our 6-year graduation rate is 79 percent. To give you some perspective, that’s 9 percentage points above the graduation rate that U.S. News predicted for that cohort. Only three institutions in the Top 100 exceeded their predicted rate by more than FSU did, and that is a tribute to you, our faculty.

We have made significant gains as we pursue even higher levels of excellence, but moving up in these rankings will take time.

In particular, we need to continue to make sure that our peer institutions across the country, as well as high school guidance counselors, know how good we are. These are completely subjective assessments, but they are key to improving in these rankings.

We are addressing this issue, and we are asking for your help in spreading the word to your peers about the excellence of this university.

U.S. News and World Report is just one source of rankings. I know that other organizations have ranked many of our colleges and programs in the Top 10 in the nation when it comes to faculty productivity, graduate programs, online programs and more.

Recently we received good news about another ranking. We were ranked No. 32 among public universities in the United States in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings.

This ranking looks at teaching, research, citations, international outlook and industry income. Our high ranking really is a credit to all of you — the faculty.

FACULTY SALARIES

When I was hired as president, one of my top priorities was to address salary compression and the market inequities of faculty pay.

I’m pleased that I was able to begin to accomplish that goal by working with you and our friends in the faculty union to implement performance, merit and market equity increases for eligible faculty.

In my view, you have distinguished yourselves in many disciplines and have gained the high regard of peers around the world. Your pay needed to reflect your preeminence.

RESEARCH

This past year, our friends and donors contributed more than $100 million to our capital campaign.

But what’s more impressive is that you — our faculty researchers — brought in double that amount — more than $200 million last year — in research funding from federal, state and other sources.

In addition to teaching, service and other academic responsibilities, you are actively competing for outside grants to support your work.

In fact, we hit a significant milestone at the close of this past fiscal year: Our 5-year aggregate total of research grants and contracts awarded to FSU exceeded $1 billion dollars for the first time. That is more than $560,000 a day for 5 years including weekends and holidays!!

You are the reason why we are recognized as a preeminent university and one of the nation’s top research institutions. This is also why we have made it a priority to retain our very best and to recruit rising stars in their respective fields.

The reputation of a preeminent research university also is due to the success of its graduate students. In the coming year, we will be looking for ways to increase our graduate student enrollment to further our goals.

We hear a lot about the importance of the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — and we agree. But, of course, at FSU we also have very highly ranked arts programs in film, theater, dance and music.

Let me assure you that we will continue to invest in these areas and leverage them to increase our national reputation.

There is a national trend to incorporate the arts into the STEM fields — STEAM. FSU is committed to this kind of interdisciplinary approach as we invest in more opportunities for collaboration among disciplines.

STUDENT DIVERSITY

Students are always at the center of our academic mission. In August, we welcomed another stellar group of freshmen. Those accepted into the fall class had an average GPA of 4.0 and an average SAT score of 1856. That’s pretty impressive!

But, as I mentioned earlier, we need to do a better job of increasing access to the university and improving the diversity of our student body. This is a priority for me.

That’s why I provided more funding to the Center for Academic Retention and Enhancement. CARE has a long and successful track record of providing opportunities to promising students who would be the first in their families to attend college.

It’s a phenomenal program that serves these students from the time they arrive as freshmen through graduation — that’s about 1,350 students right now. In fact, the graduation rate for CARE students is 81 percent, slightly higher than that of our general population.

CARE has received national attention for its role in FSU’s success in graduating African-American students and other traditionally underrepresented students. So it makes sense to invest in programs like this that are working.

The additional funding allowed us to admit almost 100 more first-generation college students this past summer for a record of 400 new CARE students. And their retention rate from summer to fall was 99 percent!

Tadarrayl Starke does a great job leading this program. He and some of our CARE students are with us today, and I’d like to ask them to stand and be recognized.

STUDENT EXPERIENCE

Just as important as recruiting a diverse and top-quality student body is the experience we offer all of our students once they get here. We offer them a wide range of research, creative and engagement opportunities so they can have the best student experience possible.

Recently, the Council on Undergraduate Research named FSU one of the top schools in the country for undergraduate research. More than 25 percent of our students conduct research at the undergraduate level.

Thank you for working with these students. You have opened up your labs, shared your notes and served as mentors. The benefits for these students are clear: Students who conduct undergraduate research have higher GPAs, graduation rates and rates of admission to graduate schools than those who do not conduct research.

Our students are also winning top national scholarships, studying overseas, working amazing internships and volunteering in the community and around the world. Not only are we preparing career-ready college graduates, we are producing good citizens who care about making the world a better place — students like Jason McIntosh and Mitch Nelson.

ENTREPRENEURIAL CAMPUS

Jason and Mitch are two entrepreneurship majors who started a business as part of their sophomore experience program. But they didn’t just want to make money — they wanted to give something back to the community.

After doing some research, they learned that homeless shelters have a huge need for clean socks. With that discovery, a business was born.

Divvy Up sells designer socks with a mission of giving one pair of socks to a shelter for every pair sold. Jason and Mitch are now seniors who have given more than 3,500 pairs of socks to homeless shelters in Tallahassee, Tampa and Fort Lauderdale.

Recently, Governor Rick Scott presented them with the Governor’s Young Entrepreneurship Award. Jason and Mitch are here today, along with their professor Jim Dever, who is one of our entrepreneurs-in-residence. I’d like to ask them to stand to be recognized.

Jason and Mitch happen to be in the College of Business. But students in any major can take advantage of this entrepreneurial culture on campus.

We have 25 entrepreneurs-in-residence working in colleges across campus to teach our students how to turn their ideas and innovations into practical enterprises.

CAPITAL CAMPAIGN

Just a few weeks before I took office, we launched the public phase of our billion-dollar capital campaign called “Raise The Torch.” Back then, we had $610 million in gift commitments.

In the past year, I’ve traveled across the country to meet with alumni, boosters and friends. Everyone I meet is excited to make a difference in the future of Florida State University.

I’m pleased to tell you that we have raised more than $100 million in the past year for a total of nearly $725 million. And we have a couple of very large, transformational gifts in the works that will will take our total even higher before the year comes to a close.

LEGISLATIVE SESSION

We are now preparing for the legislative session, which will begin in January.

As you know, FSU is already recognized as a preeminent university for meeting all 12 rigorous standards of excellence. That means the Legislature supplements the university’s annual budget with $25 million in preeminence funding.

We are asking for an additional $10 million to allow FSU to stay nationally competitive in its efforts to hire top tier faculty and move into the nation’s Top 25 public universities.

We are also asking for funds for three facilities that are important to advance our academic mission.

Kathleen Daly will be giving you a legislative update shortly, so I won’t go into further detail about our priorities.

But I want you to know that we will be closely tracking a bill that would allow people to carry guns on college campuses. This “campus concealed carry” bill stalled last year, and I am hoping that it will meet the same fate again this year.

I have opposed this bill since it first surfaced in 2011. Five years ago, an FSU student who was the daughter of longtime friends of mine was killed at a fraternity house when another student was showing off his semiautomatic weapon.

I have witnessed firsthand this family’s ongoing grief. The shooting at Strozier last year further strengthened my resolve against guns on campus. Guns have no place here.

This is not just personal to me. I’ve done my research. Law enforcement officials, including our own police department, other university presidents and members of the state university system are in 100 percent agreement that having more guns on college campuses does not make them safer.

I appreciate your support in opposition to this bill.

FUTURE

As we move forward, I think it is important to reflect on this past year. We have made significant gains in the areas of fundraising, faculty salaries, research and rankings.

Our students are among the most academically talented this university has ever seen, and we are making efforts to afford more students the opportunity to study at FSU and increase diversity. We also are working to increase the diversity of our faculty and staff in the coming year.

We have national searches under way for several key positions, including deans for our colleges of business, engineering and law. New leadership in these colleges offers new opportunities to advance our academic mission.

We are well poised for a truly transformative 2016. How do I know? Well, as President Lincoln said, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.”

That’s why we are in the middle of developing a strategic plan that will identify our academic priorities and goals.

We are engaging all of the university’s stakeholders in developing the plan. This process is a critical piece of our ongoing accreditation and will help us shape our initiatives for the next five years.

We hope to have a final plan in May, and we will then work to implement our goals. I assure you I have no intention of allowing this plan to sit on a shelf.

That’s because — while I believe the current state of the university is excellent — I know that working together with a common vision we can transform Florida State University and make it everything we know it can be.

This is our university — it belongs to you, our outstanding faculty; our dedicated staff; our accomplished alumni; and the 42,000 students who are pursuing their academic dreams at Florida State.

I believe we are on the threshold of a new era, and we all have a role to play as this university continues to reach even higher. Thank you for the work you are doing today and every day in creating our future.

Watch the 2015 State of the University Address and Faculty Senate Meeting