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December 2016

State of the University Address

President John Thrasher delivers his annual State of the University address to the FSU Faculty Senate Wednesday, Dec. 7.


View the archived webcast of the State of the University address

Good afternoon! I’m so pleased to be here, along with my wife, Jean, to present my second State of the University Address.

I’d like to thank the Faculty Senate for inviting me to speak about all that we have accomplished together, and all that we have to look forward to.

It’s hard to believe that 2016 will be coming to a close in just a few weeks. Last December when I delivered my first State of the University, I said that Florida State was on the verge of a major transformation. And what a transformative year it has been!

Let’s take a look.

So we had quite a year.

FUNDRAISING

In truth, I had a little hint when I spoke to you at last year’s State of the University that a major announcement was forthcoming.

Just two weeks later, we announced the $100 million gift from Mrs. Jan Moran and the Jim Moran Foundation to establish the Jim Moran School of Entrepreneurship. This school will really change the face of entrepreneurial education in America.

The Moran gift was the largest in our history, and it’s believed to be the largest gift to any public university in the state.

You know what’s really amazing? Even without the $100 million gift, FSU would have had one of its best fundraising years ever. That’s why our “Raise the Torch” campaign is set to reach its $1 billion goal well before the campaign end date.

Donors want to invest in FSU because they see a university that is transforming the lives of young people and making a difference in our state, in our nation and around the world.

RANKINGS

We also saw FSU rise in the national rankings. U.S. News & World Report said we are the 38th best public university in the nation! That’s a jump of five places from last year — the greatest gain of all the public universities in the Top 50.

Listen, I think we all know that it’s hard to put a number on what we do. For one thing, rankings don’t capture the true experience of a student-centered university like FSU.

But rankings are important to parents and prospective students, and they give employers an idea of the quality of graduates we produce. They are also important to our governor and legislators.

And for a long time, Florida State did not get the recognition it deserved. I’m glad to see us moving closer to our goal of being ranked among the Top 25 public universities in the nation.

This tells me that people all over the country are beginning to pay attention to the strides we have made in our pursuit of higher levels of academic excellence.

And it says a lot about the quality of students we are admitting, the excellent education you — our faculty — are providing them, and the exceptional support they receive from our staff.

This year’s freshman class is one of the brightest and most diverse classes in our history.

The quality of our students is the reason why we have one of the highest freshman retention rates in the United States — 93 percent — and a graduation rate of 80 percent — that’s 20 percentage points higher than the national average!

And I’m pleased to tell you that FSU’s efforts to support our student-veterans and help them graduate and move on to successful careers is really paying off. Their graduation rate is now 91 percent! That’s pretty impressive.

RESEARCH

You also enhance the university’s reputation every day through your groundbreaking research, original scholarship and creative activities. Just look at a few of the breakthroughs we have made:

  • Biological Science Professor Hengli Tang was part of a team that discovered the Zika virus directly targets brain development cells, causing catastrophic birth defects. Their findings made national headlines.
  • Assistant Professor of Anthropology Professor Jessi Halligan’s discovery of stone tools alongside mastodon bones in the Aucilla River — about 45 minutes from Tallahassee — provided evidence that humans settled the southeastern United States as much as 1,500 years earlier than scientists previously thought.
  • Gary Taylor, a Distinguished Research Professor in the English Department, made news around the world when his team of researchers determined 16th century playwright Christopher Marlowe should get credit for co-writing William Shakespeare’s Henry the Sixth plays.

You’re also winning state and federal grants to pursue your work and address society’s most pressing needs.

For example, The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded us $10 million to create a new Energy Frontier Research Center that will focus on accelerating scientific efforts needed to support nuclear waste cleanup. The center will be led by Professor Thomas Albrecht-Schmitt in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

In fact, federal research funding for the first quarter of this fiscal year was $19 million more than the first quarter of last year and represents one of our best quarters ever in terms of research funding.

PROGRAMS AND FACILITIES

We also unveiled new academic programs and broke ground on new facilities.

  • We launched a new undergraduate Interdisciplinary Medical Sciences degree — the first program of its kind in the country.
  • We dedicated a new Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Machine — the most advanced MRI in the state — so that students and faculty from disciplines across campus can conduct complex research on how the brain works.
  • We broke ground on a building for our nationally recognized Earth, Ocean, Atmospheric Science department.

DIVERSITY

Just as the face of the campus is changing, we are also spending more time reflecting on the way we think about ourselves, our community and our values.

I’ve talked a lot over the past two years about diversity and inclusion, so I think you all know that this is a priority for me. In fact, a few people have said to me “Yeah, diversity, we get it. So what?”

Well, these are not buzz words to me. They reflect the values of Florida State University — a place that offered me an education and opportunities I never would have had otherwise.

I want nothing more than for FSU to be a place that offers these same opportunities to academically talented students no matter what their age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.

But it’s even more than that. A multicultural environment enhances the educational experience for everyone and prepares our students to work in an increasingly global economy.

Last month — you might recall — we had a presidential election. The results prompted strong reactions across the country from people all along the political spectrum who are passionate about what they believe is best for this country.

Inam Sakinah, a junior Presidential Scholar here at FSU, is one of those passionate people. So is Derek Silver, an FSU law student.

Inam describes herself as an Asian, Muslim Democrat. Derek is a white, Jewish Republican. You might think these two disagree on a lot of things. And they do!

President Thrasher said FSU is requesting $70 million from the Legislature to hire more faculty — especially in strategic research areas — to improve student-faculty ratio and retain current faculty.


But amid all the noise following the election, the voices of these two students rose high above the clamor with a message of hope. In an op-ed published in the Tampa Bay Times, they addressed the partisan polarization in this country and what they called the dangerous consequences of insular social experiences.

They said they are terrified to see what seems to be two factions of America, but they are determined to do something about it. Let me quote from their article: “It galvanizes us to engage across our differences. To create shared spaces that foster spirited civil discourse between those who disagree, rather than spaces safe from opposing viewpoints. To not smother the voices of bigotry but refute and reverse them with the strength of our own.”

Their words demonstrate why a diverse and inclusive campus is so important. It’s so that students like Inam and Derek can get to know each other, learn from each other, and work together to solve complex societal problems.

Think of how much our great nation could accomplish with leaders like Inam and Derek in charge. Think of the difference they could make in the world.

Inam and Derek are here today and I’d like to ask them to stand and be recognized.

Inam is chair of the Student Diversity and Inclusion Council, and she is heading up a student-driven campaign called the Power of We. There are several members of that committee here today, and I’d like to ask them to stand and be recognized as well. They are true role models for all of us.

During this time of political transition and uncertainty about immigration and other issues, I want to ensure all of our students feel safe and welcome on our campus.

I have joined with higher education leaders across the nation in asking President-elect Trump to keep President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — or DACA — which allows some undocumented students who arrived in this country as children to be spared from deportation and makes them eligible for two-year renewable work permits.

I think it’s the right thing to do, and it will help these students — who are already here — find a path toward a better future. We also will try to facilitate legal resources and provide other services for these students.

So, 2016 has been truly a transformative year. We saw a fundraising record; a rise in the national rankings; breakthroughs in research, scholarship and creative activity; new academic programs and facilities; and recognition for our diversity efforts.

We accomplished all of these goals by working together, fueled by a passion for Florida State and a vision of what we can become. Every member of our community — including our incredible students and amazing staff — played a role in our success.

I’d like to take a moment to thank my senior leadership team for leading the way. And I’d like to thank you — the deans and faculty — for the work that you do every day to educate our students and help them realize their greatest potential.

You are the heart and soul of this campus, and what you do matters to the lives of our students and the future of our state. That’s why I will continue to let our legislators know how much you do every day and how invested you are in our students’ success.

I want to offer a personal thanks to all of you who have taken the time to reach out to me since I took office two years ago. You have offered me advice and encouragement, weighed in on important initiatives and provided valuable feedback. You’ve told me about your professional accomplishments, described your research, and shared news about your families and personal lives.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting to know you, and I appreciate your support.

The collaborative spirit we enjoy is why I know that FSU will continue its transformation as we reach even higher in 2017. In the coming year, we will:

  • Implement our five-year strategic plan that builds on our strengths and points us in the right direction as we move forward.
  • Improve metrics that are key to performance and preeminence funding and national rankings.
  • Recruit top faculty and staff, and continue our efforts to bring salaries up to market levels.
  • Promote our “Take 15” effort to encourage undergrads to progress toward a more timely graduation.
  • Update our campus master plan to reflect future growth and proposed new campus facilities.
  • Break ground on our new Black Student Union.
  • Build on our diversity and inclusion efforts.
  • Continue to raise money for the Raise the Torch campaign.

LEGISLATIVE SESSION

We are now preparing for the Legislative session, which will begin in March, and our budget requests reflect the priorities I have just outlined.

We are requesting $70 million from the Legislature to hire more faculty — especially in strategic research areas — to improve student-faculty ratio and retain current faculty.

I think you’ll agree that hiring more faculty and retaining the ones we have enhances the learning experience for both students AND faculty.

Additional faculty also will allow us to grow our graduate enrollment — another characteristic of a top research university.

In the past, we have focused heavily on undergraduate student success, and those investments have really paid off for us.

We will always put our undergrads at the center of our academic mission, but in the coming years, you will see an increasing focus on our graduate students and postdocs.

We have a smaller percentage of grad students compared to our undergrad population than most major research institutions, and we need to address this as we continue to move forward on our path to the Top 25.

We are working on a number of recruiting strategies to attract more high caliber graduate students and boost graduate enrollment, and we’re asking the Legislature for funds that will allow us to increase stipends.

These grad students and postdocs will enhance our research profile, particularly in the interdisciplinary areas we have targeted for growth:

  • brain health
  • materials science
  • coastal and marine research

With the legislative leadership signaling their interest in lifting up higher ed in Florida, I feel optimistic about the upcoming Session. I think we will have support in reaching our goals.

But I do want you to know the Legislature is again considering a bill that would allow people to carry guns on college campuses. I have opposed this bill since it first surfaced in 2011, and I am still opposed to it.

Law enforcement officials, including our own police department, other university presidents and members of the state university system are in agreement that having more guns on college campuses does not make them safer.

Clearly, these are complicated times, but we will be vigilant in advocating for the kind of academic community that we want to have — a dynamic and vibrant place to work and learn. A place where every member of our community feels valued and safe and ideas can flourish.

Our diversity is our strength. When I think of all the talent, intelligence, hard work, creativity and innovation that exist on this campus, I know there is no problem we can’t solve, no dream we can’t achieve.

We have set a goal to be a Top 25 public university, and we have charted a course to get there. I believe we can do it because I believe in Florida State. And I know you do, too. So let’s take these steps toward our future — together.

View the archived webcast of the State of the University address