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State of the University Address 2001

FSU President Talbot D’Alemberte

In 1993, when I was a candidate for the presidency, I was scheduled to be interviewed by the faculty Council for Research and Creativity. I approached this meeting with some sense of misgiving. After all, my experience with scientists was principally as a lawyer, called on to cross-examine expert witnesses, and I lacked the confidence that Winston Churchill expressed when he said, “I knew nothing about science, but I knew something about scientists, and had had much practice as a Minister in handling things I did not understand.”

Unlike Churchill, I feared that my lack of understanding would be fatal. To my great surprise, the members of CRC did not focus on laboratories or on contract and grant administration. They wanted to talk about a subject I never would have predicted – public relations.  Every member of the Council said that the thing FSU most needed was to be better known for the quality of its research and creative activity.

Since I have held this job, we have tried to do some things to address the concerns of CRC and other faculty who have expressed the same sentiment.  We have built a more sophisticated communications operation, started the Florida State Times and improved Research in Review, which we will soon begin distributing aggressively statewide with Florida Trend magazine. In addition, we have established regular features on public radio and television. We have greatly improved the way we collect and disseminate stories.

But we have not yet accomplished the goals that Vasken Hagopian and his colleagues set for us at that first meeting. I was reminded of that recently when I read an op-ed column authored by one of our students, Mollie Romano. She’s a junior who is jointly majoring in Asian studies and English.

Her piece was headlined, “FSU, like the nation, needs to reveal its true strengths.” She realizes that her perceptions of Florida State before arriving here were inaccurate, and she hopes that we can let the world know we are far more than is generally known about us.

“Maybe someday we will present a package of FSU that would advertise a professor of Chinese language patiently instructing his students—two dozen of them actively, eagerly, persistently engaged in learning this tongue. This image of FSU would contain professors of foreign descent sharing their rich knowledge of this world, and it would show young people listening with intense curiosity.

“It would tabulate the late hours spent in Strozier, Dirac and the law libraries. It would show a throng of students waiting after class to pose more questions.

“This package would not market what sells the quickest, but what is of paramount importance. It would show our football team in defeat with pride and class as well as in glorious victory. It would tell of our service organizations, describing students who build houses for those with none, who give words to those without any. It would present a collage of diversity as well as a monochromatic canvas of our similarities.”

It’s wonderful when our students can see so clearly. Mollie—please stand so we can recognize you. You’ll be glad to know that others have shared your thinking.

A few months ago, the Board of the Research Foundation developed a coordinated national advertising campaign to tell the story of FSU, and I want to talk about that.

The theme of this campaign is “Ideas that Move.”  Honestly, I did not like this very much when I first heard it. I thought it was a little too Madison Avenue–a theme that might be used by any dot-com company.

But, there was something to this…. “Ideas that Move.” At the core of this university are our colleagues who move ideas from one generation to the next, who care deeply about our students and their intellectual and moral lives, and who enrich those lives through their teaching, advising and guidance.

I know that the quality of our academic community depends on the daily activities and caring attitude of everyone at Florida State University. And for those activities and that attitude, I want to thank all of this very hard-working faculty and offer you just a few of the many examples of people with ideas that move:

Think about Jack Crow and his colleagues in physics and chemistry. They had the idea that FSU could compete with MIT for the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory.  With energy and imagination, they made it happen. Jack’s vision looked to the assembly of a great team of scientists, and today we have Hans Schneider-Montau, Bob Schrieffer, Alan Marshall, Jim Fernald and Zack Fisk, to name just a few.

Faculty and administrators going back at least as far as the early years of Bernie Sliger’s presidency advocated a medical school for Florida State University, but it was Myra Hurt who fashioned the mission of that school  — a mission to serve underserved areas, focused on primary care and the problems of the elderly. It was this idea that moved John Thrasher and the legislature. We have now recruited Dean Joe Scherger, Dr. Bob Brooks, Dr. Ocee Harris and a growing team of dedicated physicians, scientists and teachers. Our first class of students began their work last spring.

Because the quality of our students is so important, our Admissions Committee had the idea that we could improve the way we manage our enrollment. Our Enrollment Management team, headed by Pat Hayward, began to work with Admissions, Financial Aid, Housing, University Relations and other units of the university  — all agreeing on a common mission. They have brought us better students. More students apply to FSU than any other state university in Florida, and in each of the last four years the average SAT score for entering students has gone up in double digits. This fall it was over 1200.

In contravention of conventional wisdom, this Enrollment Management Group had the idea that we could, at the same time, recruit greater numbers of students, improve the average test and grade records and become more diverse. They have succeeded.

Last year at this time, I observed some of these accomplishments but noted, with regret, that we had dropped in our recruitment of National Merit, Achievement and Hispanic Scholars, falling from 129 to 63. John Barnhill, who serves this university so well, had the idea he could answer this rather mild criticism and, recognizing the particular importance of the growing Hispanic population, recruited with zeal.  This year, the aggregate number has jumped from 63 to 306. John, after reviewing the cost of bringing these wonderful scholars to FSU, I have learned to be careful what I wish for. Thanks to you and your colleagues for a great job.

This is a very large public research university and we run the risk of it becoming impersonal but, in the 1980s, a committee including Bob Glidden, Elizabeth Muhlenfield, Jim Smith, Ken Goldsby, Walter Moore, Rita Moser and Sherrill Ragans had the idea that we could take our renovated dormitories and turn them into living and learning centers, creating an environment where a small group of students would take classes together in their freshman year.  George Weaver moved that idea along, and it became the Bryan Hall experiment. It was so successful that we have expanded it into Broward Hall and have developed plans to create more living/learning residence halls.

One of those experiments is now being tended by this year’s Lawton Professor, Nancy Marcus. She is working with the students in the Women in Math, Science and Engineering living/learning community in Jennie Murphree. The program is designed to support and encourage women as they study for careers in the sciences, where women have too long been underrepresented. By the way, Dr. Marcus will be delivering her Lawton Lecture on November 8, and she has promised to tell us more about women in the sciences over the years at Florida State.

Years ago, when we still had the quaint notion of chaperones, Ross Oglesby was in Europe with the circus, and, observing that the students were learning a great deal from their experience, he came up with the idea for a Florence program. Look where that idea has moved:  Florence, yes, but now 18 international locations, including year-round programs in London, the Republic of Panama, Spain and a study center now being planned for Paris. Under Dr. Jim Pitts’ leadership, international programs have continued to grow. In 1996, just over 500 students participated in international programs—by 2000 the figure had more than doubled, to nearly 1,200.

John Carnaghi and his team had the idea that we could develop a smart card to facilitate administrative functions on campus, and we developed the best card on any campus … a card that serves as a residence hall key, a library card, a debit card, a phone card, a card that provides the system for operating washers and dryers and soft drink machines AND allows our students to get their financial aid without standing in line. The idea for the smart card was turned over to private enterprise and generates a small profit.

Hal Walton, the leader of our dedicated grounds maintenance team, had the idea that he could take architects’ drawings and turn them into reality if only we would give him a brick mason, a helper and some bricks.  We now have lovely benches and seating areas throughout campus, a bus stop/shelter and a gazebo.  Hal also had the idea that he could build up our campus nursery and make this campus more beautiful.  He certainly has.

Our Research Foundation had the idea that we could use some of our endowment to recruit top scholars and, thanks to Cliff Madsen’s leadership, we established the Eppes Scholar program. We have brought Charles McClure, Ellen Zwilich, Gerald Ferris, Leonard LaPointe, Robert Olen Butler, Suzanne Farrell, David Swofford and John Scholz to this campus. Each of them has ideas that move.

In the early 1990s, this university had the notion that it could put together a capital campaign and build its endowment. It succeeded, moving the total endowment from around 50 million dollars to over 300 million dollars in seven years and passing 113 other universities in total endowment since 1995.

A generous donor had the idea that FSU should have a Human Rights Center and, with a donation of three million dollars and matching state funds, allowed us to establish the first university-based center of its kind in the Southeast. That center is now led by Terry Coonan and supported by eminent scholar Barney Twiss in Religion.

Ray Bye had the idea that, by working aggressively with private firms, federal and state agencies, and pursuing research strengths that match the agendas of these firms and agencies, we could build our research base. This year, our research support has again grown by double digits, and it now exceeds $130 million. If you calculate by dividing that number by the number of faculty members, you get a dollar figure that’s about twice the average faculty salary. Taking into account the number of faculty members who are in fine arts and the humanities, where there is little opportunity for sponsored research, this is an incredible number.

When we did our first master plan, Tom Knowles, Mark Bertolami and our other facilities people began to fashion new ideas for this campus.  Working with suggestions put forward by Andy Miller and the Boosters, they came up with the concept of the University Center–480,000 square feet of academic space surrounding the football stadium.

In their concept for this campus, the facilities team suggested that they could, simultaneously, renovate old dormitories and classrooms AND build new buildings.  In the last ten years, look at what they have wrought: Wonderful modern residence halls that retain their historic charm, as well as new or renovated facilities for Engineering, Film, Social Work, the Boosters, the Alumni Association, the Foundation, Hospitality Management, Golf Management, Criminology, the Learning Systems Institute, English, Florida High, Admissions, Financial Aid, Advising, Business Offices, Police, Student Life, Housing, the Pepper Institute, Human Sciences, Fisher Lecture Hall and Meteorology. The Mag Lab has been built, and we have constructed four research buildings at Innovation Park. Two new research buildings are under construction, and two additional buildings are in the planning phase.

Athletic facilities have been improved, and some new ones constructed.  Softball, soccer, football, volleyball, golf and tennis have all benefited from new facilities or renovations, and we are planning for improvements in baseball, basketball and general athletic facilities, such as weight and training rooms.

We have money to begin building or at least to plan for Medicine, Chemistry, Dance, an Alumni Center and finally, finally, finally Psychology.

And, though I know that it is a matter of small consequence to a faculty above such idle human considerations, we have constructed one parking garage, have another parking garage under construction and are in the planning for two additional parking facilities.

A group of faculty members had the idea that we could become a campus that was served by modern technology, and look what happened when Pat Hayward took that idea and ran with it. Today we have 100 technology-ready classrooms, dormitories with portals for every pillow, twenty-four hour computer labs, unrivaled access to databases. We rank as the 17th most wired campus in the nation, according to Yahoo! Internet Life magazine, and we have under contract the largest computer to be owned by any university in the world.

Alan Mabe has developed the idea that we could develop a strong technology support system to serve both distance learners and on campus students, and we now have an expanding program of distance learners, serving students in 14 degree areas.

We are pushing the idea of technological innovation in some uncharted directions. Starting tomorrow night, Florida State will be offering the world an opportunity to witness ideas on the move—live. Over the next three weeks, Pulitzer-Prize-winning author and Eppes Professor Robert Olen Butler will create an original short story online. Computer users all over the country and the world—along with millions of television viewers who subscribe to the DISH Network–will be able to observe every keystroke. At the end of each two-hour session, Bob will answer e-mailed questions about the creative writing process. This idea has taken audacious courage to bring to reality.

An alumnus, former Senator Bob Johnson, had the idea that, with FSU’s prominence in the arts and humanities, we ought to be given the responsibility for operating the Ringling Museum in Sarasota. That dream became reality a year ago last July. We now have a great Board at the Ringling and, through their hard work, we have recruited an excellent director in John Wetenhall.  John’s team now runs the largest museum operated by any university in the world—among the top twenty in the country–and they are continuing to build the museum through increasing private support.

Sen. John McKay, assisted by then-Speaker John Thrasher, is the person who made this happen. His legislation built on Bob Johnson’s idea. Sen. McKay’s idea led to the creation of the FSU/ Ringling Cultural Center, which is working to bring together, in one place, theatre, dance, visual arts and music to a beautiful complex that is unique in this country.

Jane Robbins and the Library Studies faculty decided to rethink what they do. They renamed themselves Information Studies and have made incredible progress in a very short time: They have instituted an undergraduate program that has grown from 19 in the first year (1996) to 726 today. Of these students, 195 undergraduates and 385 graduates are taught by distance learning.

Bob Holton had the idea that he could synthesize Taxol. His drive and focus achieved this and brought to this university many, many great benefits that have allowed many other great things to happen. More important, his idea that moves has helped thousands upon thousands of cancer patients enjoy better and longer lives.

There are so many ideas that move around here.

Our Torch winners are great examples: John Champion embraced the idea that FSU could start a college of law. Richard Fallon believed that we could develop a regional theatre program and an acting conservatory at the Asolo Theatre in Sarasota. Daisy Parker Flory believed that her teaching and writing could impact government and inspire students to lives of public service.

They all succeeded.

This university has long been alive with ideas and alive with movement.  I like the theme of this campaign.

But, today, it can be hard to keep focused on these ideas and to be fully optimistic. We meet at a time when our legislature is discussing retrenchment and cutbacks in the budget, and there is a sense of real crisis in the air.

This university has faced times of crisis in the past.

We have been celebrating our 150th anniversary and, throughout this year, we have been reminded of the difficult time of our beginning when political figures were convinced that even a poor frontier state needed strong education programs to succeed.

We survived even during the Civil War and that period which was called Reconstruction or the “Peace which passeth all understanding.”

We know of the challenges to the university in World War I, the demands that we not teach German, the charges that we were teaching evolution on our campus, the difficult times of the Depression.

I cringe when I think about faculty losing their jobs and enduring cuts in pay during those times, yet I treasure the story of Kitty Blood, who we know as Dr. Kitty Hoffman, coming to campus with her father during the Depression years.  The father, intent on his very bright daughter getting an education, bartered truckloads of oranges for her tuition, room and board.

We remember the Johns Commission and its intrusion into our campuses and the private lives of our citizens.

We remember the economic downturns of the seventies and the nineties.  There are faculty members, including the Provost, who remember when phones were removed from offices to save money, when there were blanket hiring freezes, bans on all travel and a block on purchasing library books. It took many years to recover from those times.

Hopefully, we have learned something from these times of crisis.  We have learned of fortitude and steadfastness, and that will serve us well.

We have learned of mistakes of those years, and that should also serve us. There are some things we should not do:

We know that blanket hiring freezes cause incredible damage to universities. We have to make the most important hires and fill the vacancies that will soon become available as some of our very top faculty enter retirement. Although hiring will be necessarily limited, we will continue hiring and, for those positions we can fill, we will aggressively recruit the top scholars.

The paradox of this time is that we do not have the resources to do the hiring that the demand for access to education dictates, yet this is one of the best possible times to be hiring. We need to exploit this paradox, hiring the largest number of the best-qualified faculty we can afford.

Across the board blockage of travel will also not work, because travel is essential if we are going to keep our research and creative engines going.

If we know the things that we ought not to do, what are the things that we should do?

Most of these ideas are commonplace, but we ought to repeat them.

We need to continue to advance research ideas and step up our contracts and grants proposals.  The support that the Research Foundation has given to the Cornerstone Projects will allow important projects to get start-up money, even in this lean time, and we are counting on the faculty members who are engaged with those projects to build solid research proposals. To date, 26 faculty members have been awarded slightly over $6 million to support their work. In addition, 78 proposals have been submitted to external funding sources, 26 have been funded and over 50 are still pending decision. Eleven new patents have come out of these awards.

We must continue with our Eppes recruitment program, which has brought us distinguished teachers and researchers.  Now is the time to press forward with that program, even though it involves fairly small numbers of faculty.

Our direct support organizations must pursue their capital campaigns.  I am very pleased that the Boosters campaign is on target and that the Alumni campaign to build an Alumni Visitor Center is also on schedule. I am particularly proud of Foundation Chair Cliff Hinkle, Vice Chair Jim Apthorp and President Jeff Robison and the foundation staff, the volunteers and the deans for taking on the new capital campaign that was announced on Friday. That campaign is targeted to raise 600 million dollars. It is exciting to know that 253 million dollars have already been raised toward that goal. Starting this campaign even during a time of economic downturn is an important statement about the confidence of our volunteers in our future.

At an event on Saturday, a group came together to begin a scholarship fund in honor of Paul Piccard, the retired government professor who touched so many lives. One of his former students, Mark Ellis, who now directs the International Bar Association from London, called in by phone, and Maryland’s Governor Parris Glendening wrote a warm letter. I was overcome by a strong feeling of confidence in this campaign, because I realize that faculty and former faculty are responsible for the success we have had. Graduates are devoted to FSU because they were treated to a faculty that has been  caring, creative and inspiring.

We must continue to reward our top teachers and scholars. In the last several years, we have been able to add to the number of professorships. The Provost will shortly announce plans to add twenty additional named professorships, providing new competitive opportunities for departments that have not had named professorships in the past.

The most important step, in my judgment, is something that is beyond the power of the faculty but, hopefully, will lie within the power of our Board of Trustees.

We have been blessed with the appointment of an unusually competent and influential Board with its membership of Erich Bloch, June Duda, David Ford, Dr. Jessie Furlow, Manny Garcia, Lee Hinkle, Harold Knowles, Stan Marshall, Dr. Ann McGee, Alan Sundberg, John Thrasher, Steve Uhlfelder and our FSU student representative, Delmar Johnson.

We have known many of these members in other roles, and we count ourselves very fortunate as we watch them come together and act in the interest of this university.

The abilities of these trustees will count for nothing, however, if they are not given the authority to set a course for the university and provide the resources it needs.  The powers that were promised and that are essential have not yet been given to our Board of Trustees by the Legislature. I do not doubt the sincerity of Board of Education Chairman Phil Handy or Secretary Jim Horne or the commitment of Chancellor Carl Blackwell. I am confident of the support of the Governor. I do fear, however, that this issue will be lost or muddled in the legislative process, and I hope that everyone who cares about higher education will press for the completion of the plan.

If we are to be a university with ideas that move, we must have the resources to fulfill our mission.

Florida, as we all know, has been a state with one of the lowest tuition rates in the country. We also rank very low in terms of state support for higher education.

As we look at the possibilities for our future, we can hope someday to have low tuition and high state support.  Some states, even in the South, like North Carolina and Georgia, provide high quality support for their universities.

But, without a great deal of shift in political opinion, Florida will not have the tax structure to provide significant state support, and we will not be able to match Georgia or North Carolina.

If we want to continue to move, we must begin to shift toward the median in tuition and fees. We do not have to be at the highest level, but we do need to move toward the national average.  If we were able to achieve the national average in tuition and fees, we would add over $1,400 per in-state undergraduate student to the resources of this university.  If we can do that, a substantial amount of that money would have to be used for scholarship aid, but, still, there would be resources available to address the most critical issues.  What are those issues?

Certainly we want to continue to develop our technology, build improved classrooms, support the individual learning opportunities that come from our one-on-one teaching, expand on our course offerings–but I would like to advance what I believe to be the three top priorities for this university: 1) additional faculty lines; 2) improved faculty salaries; and 3) support for graduate students.

In my judgment, these are critical issues for the near future. We have too few faculty resources for the students who are enrolled. Happily, we have been able to hold down class size, but we have done this only by engaging part time, adjunct help.  As we look at the universities that are regarded as the truly great public universities, we are struck by the fact that there is a critical mass of faculty and graduate students at these places, and we have not yet achieved that mass in most of our departments. Our faculty must be larger to serve the greater number of students we are called on to serve and to allow time for research and creative activity.

Of equal importance is faculty compensation. We began to address faculty salaries when we had control over the way increased tuition was to be spent.  It is an incredible compliment to this faculty that it was the student members of our tuition expenditure committee who recommended that a substantial portion of the increases for two years be spent for merit raises for faculty and staff.

We need to address faculty salaries, not only to reward faculty who have worked extremely hard and demonstrated their productivity through excellent teaching, rigorous research and creation of new works of art.  We also need to do it so that we can continue to attract the scholars who have great ideas.

We need to move great scholars in increasing numbers to our campus.  As a research university, this means recruitment of great faculty, but it also means recruitment of excellent graduate students. We need to move the ideas to this place that has already shown it has both a culture of innovation and a tradition of civility.

These are difficult times for this country and for this state—but this university has been able to advance throughout its 150 years, and we will continue to advance today.

When the legislative promise of real flexibility is fulfilled, hopefully at the regular legislative session, our Board will be able to consider the direction it wants this university to take. Hopefully, the Board will have the authority to command resources that will drive us into the ranks of the very top public research universities.  THIS is an idea that can move the entire university.