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State of the University Address 2002

FSU President Talbot D'Alemberte
FSU President Talbot D’Alemberte

Remarks by President Talbot D’Alemberte.

For some months I had contemplated coming to this event to tell you that I intend to step down as president of this university, but I fear that this is now old news.

I am glad that the process of transition is under way, but I am sorry that I did not have the opportunity to first tell the faculty about my decision, because it has been the faculty who have made this experience-now almost nine years-such a wonderful period of my life.

I leave this job at a time when I am still enjoying it immensely. Surprisingly, I am in good health, although I have read frightful newspaper reports of my medical procedures.

Neither bad health, flagging energy nor reduced enthusiasm have brought me to this decision, but rather, a sense that after almost nine years, this is a good time in the history of this university to bring in new leadership, and it is a good time for Patsy and me to take stock and assess what we should do in the next phase of our lives.

I did have advice: Several months ago, while I was thinking on this subject, I had a Chinese meal and then opened a fortune cookie that said, “Now is the time to try something new.”

Several weeks earlier, I had a fortune cookie that said, “You could be a good lawyer,” and although there are some who see the phrase “good lawyer” as a contradiction in terms, I will give some thought to that career opportunity. I hope, however, that my future will in some way continue to be connected to this university.

The Board of Trustees recently completed my evaluation, and they indicated their pleasure with the direction the university is going. Since this evaluation comes as I am planning to step down as president, I want to say that the most important measure of any accomplishment in the years that I have served this university will be the quality of the person who is chosen to replace me.

The greatest compliment I could receive will be the selection of a successor who is capable of carrying this university forward to places I could never take it.

If I have done my job, the search should attract someone with far better credentials than mine to lead us to much higher levels of achievement.

The Trustees plan a national search and, if they do their job, they will recruit someone who has the skills and the respect of the national academic world, someone who can deal with the heads of scientific agencies and foundations as a peer, someone who values the arts and is committed to the humanities.

Florida State University is now at a tipping point in its history-on the very edge of entering the ranks of the great research universities in this country– and the search process that is about to begin is critical to its future. The search should attract very talented candidates, including, I hope, people at this university who have earned national recognition for leadership of our academic programs.

I believe the opportunity to lead Florida State University is one of the greatest opportunities in American higher education.

What other university has a museum of the size and prestige of the Ringling and so many top-rated arts programs? Where else is the cultural life on campus as rich as that at FSU?

How many other universities have such a wide array of excellent international programs?

What other university has the opportunity to build a new medical school and to blaze a new path for health care education and health care delivery?

How many other places do you find a culture of community service so embedded in the daily life of students and faculty?

What other universities are more engaged with efforts to improve K-12 education?

The new president will arrive on a campus with a diverse student body, students with excellent academic credentials and many with real interests in public life and world affairs-students who are willing to live for days in a tent city to draw attention to their cause and students who volunteer to help in their community and even travel to distant places to intern with human rights organizations.

The new president will have a chance to see the construction of the new concert hall, the new medical building, the new psychology building, a new chemistry building, a new biological sciences building and the completion of the FSU arts complex at Ringling an arts venue that will take its place alongside the Lincoln Center and the Kennedy Center in the ranks of great places for art in this country.

The new president will come to a university that has first-rate technology infrastructure, a demonstrated capacity to deliver high-quality distance learning, that serves as host to a national laboratory and is the owner of the largest computer installation owned by any university, opening tremendous potential for new research.

There is a successful athletic program with up-to-date facilities, a dedicated and professional athletic director, excellent, hard-working coaches, a tradition of academic oversight of athletics, and a Booster organization that is simply the best in the country. And, if the next president has a reasonable tenure in office, there is that upcoming milestone relating to our head football coach-the celebration of Bobby Bowden’s 35th year as head football coach in 2011.

One of the most important and, I believe, enjoyable tasks for the new president will be the recruitment of new faculty, and many of these can be distinguished senior faculty with the resources we have assembled for Eppes Professors and eminent scholars. The new president should be in a position to continue with the named professorship program that has allowed us to designate 59 named professors in the last three years.

The new president will come to a university that has had an excellent record in fund raising, and has already raised $346 million toward its $600 million record capital campaign goal. Last year this university raised $107 million, and our endowment, ranked 256th in the country in 1994, is very near to being among the top 100 in the country. A truly professional foundation president and staff and fully engaged volunteers give us every indication of continued success.

Research achievement should be particularly impressive to potential candidates, for we have now finished the fourth year of a five-year program to double the contract and grant funding. Since 1998, we have grown in contract and grant funding from $88 million to $147 million, and we expect to bring in about $175 million next year.

This has been done without any real increase in faculty numbers and in the face of an increasing teaching mission.

As the faculty grows in numbers and we fully realize the potential of the new medical school, we expect research activity to continue this dramatic growth.

The single most important factor that will attract great candidates to this university is the quality, dedication and civility of this faculty.

I believe that the quality and support of our Board of Trustees is another very positive feature of Florida State University.

John Thrasher, who gave such historic support to this university during his legislative service, has set a tone for constructive involvement of our trustees. Everyone who has observed our trustees has been impressed with their intelligence and commitment. The trustees are inclusive, and they have shown particular interest in hearing from FSU’s faculty.

There are some who have worried that this will all be disrupted if the Graham amendment relating to university governance passes in November. I do not share that fear. Although I do not support the Graham amendment, its adoption will not very much change the view from the president’s office. There will still be a board of trustees, and there will still be a board to address statewide issues of education.

My principal concern with the Graham amendment is that governance issues are a distraction from the core issue of Florida education, and that issue is resources.

I am proud of what we have been able to accomplish at this university, and we ought to note that a great deal of this has been in areas where we had the least legislative interference-fund raising, athletics, international programs, continuing education, contract and grant activity.

The promise of the new governance system was that our trustees would have the flexibility and the authority to set policy and, for this system to work, the trustees must be empowered to set tuition and fees.

With those new resources, I hope that we will address the critical issues confronting this university and those issues are the size of faculty, faculty salaries and support for graduate education.

You may remember that I have been reluctant to talk about my vision for Florida State University, and this reluctance has been born, not from my lack of ideas or suggestions for our future, but, rather, from a realization that, if this university community adopts the vision of only one of its members, that vision cannot be an enduring one.

Only by developing a consensus of faculty, staff, administrators, donors and, yes, students, are we likely to advance in any significant way.

So our vision has been set through discussion and debate, by weighing alternatives and measuring the costs. If we judge our success by the standard we set for ourselves in the Commissions on the Future, we have achieved a great deal.

The vision of this faculty has already produced some incredible results, and I want to particularly recognize the achievement of individual faculty by drawing on only a few of many possible illustrations.

Well over a decade ago, before I came as president, Jack Crow decided that we could enter the competition for the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory. In the same general time period, Bob Holton, Marie Krafft and their research team were pushing to perfect their development of Taxol.

Each of these efforts matured after I came, and each has had incalculable benefits to society. Each has also brought profound benefits to this university, and the success in each case has not dampened the eagerness of Jack Crow or Bob Holton to pursue new projects, to open new avenues of discovery.

The same intensity I see in the eyes of Jack and Bob are in the eyes of Bob Butler and Suzanne Farrell, of Jim Smith and Kurt Hofer, Terry Coonan and Barney Twiss. I hear that intensity when Nancy de Grummond tells Patsy and me that she is the luckiest person in the world to be paid for doing what she loves, and when Nancy Smith Fichter says that theatre can achieve what she already achieved in dance-the best program in the country.

It is the passion of our faculty for excellence that makes this university great.

Now, as I prepare to leave a place that Patsy and I have learned to love and appreciate more each year, I hope that the future will continue to support the shared vision and that we can create a place where faculty and students will not be content with what we have already gained.

My hope for the future is that we will continue to be that unique place that was specially stamped by the great convergence of 1947, when the culture, the civility and the appreciation for liberal arts that characterized FSCW merged with the can-do, conquer-the-world spirit of the returning World War II veterans.

As this university enters the sixteenth decade of its existence, I believe that its greatest years lie ahead, and I look forward to watching your success with pride at having been your colleague in these exciting years.