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Economic Club of Florida

11:30 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 3 – FSU Alumni Center Ballroom

Thank you, David. It’s such a pleasure to have the opportunity to talk about what’s ahead for Florida State University — a preeminent university on the rise.

Since becoming president a few months ago, I must say that my favorite thing has been the daily interactions I have with faculty, staff and students. I hear their pride in FSU and their eagerness to take our university to a higher level of excellence.

Florida State has a solid foundation on which to build, and we achieved much in 2014. We:

  • launched a billion-dollar capital campaign
  • set a record in research funding
  • hired key new research faculty
  • helped our students to win top national grants and scholarships
  • sailed through our SACS reaccreditation review with no required follow-up
  • and continued our tradition of competing at the highest level of intercollegiate athletics.

And we ended the year with some positive national rankings:

  • In December, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance named FSU one of the best values in the nation. We were ranked No. 15 among large colleges for combining outstanding academics with affordable cost.
  • Also in December, Military Times named Florida State No. 8 in the nation in its latest “Best Colleges for Vets” rankings. And we received a national award in November in recognition of our exceptional progress in increasing retention and graduation of veterans. Both of these recognitions show we are well on the way to achieving our goal of becoming known as the most veteran-friendly and empowering public university in the nation.

With the new year now under way, let me tell you I am so excited and optimistic about our future! In the coming months, I’m going to focus my energy on five key areas:

  • Rising in national rankings
  • Increasing faculty salaries
  • Attracting more research dollars
  • Achieving our legislative priorities
  • Raising money for the Raise the Torch campaign


First, I am committed to helping FSU to rise in the national rankings to become one of the Top 25 public universities in the country.

I am confident that we are on our way based on the strength of our academic programs, faculty and students. We’ve had success in several areas that are key to these rankings:

  • Our faculty members attract more than $200 million a year in research dollars — and this past fiscal year, we reached a record $230 million.
  • The academic quality of each incoming freshman class continues to rise every year, and along with it so do our retention and graduation rates.
  • Last fall, 93 percent of students who began their freshman year in 2013 returned for their sophomore year.
  • Our six-year graduation rate is the highest ever. It’s now 79 percent, up from 77 percent last year and 74 percent five years ago.
  • Our graduation rate is the second highest in the State University System.

Increasing the size of our faculty is critical to meeting the university’s goals, and I’m pleased to tell you that in the past two years, we have hired more than 100 new faculty members. This has given us a net increase in the number of tenured and tenure-track faculty. This is so important because improving our student/faculty ratio is a high priority.

Attaining our goal of becoming a Top 25 public university also depends on our success in STEM fields, so we are moving aggressively with several strategic hiring initiatives.

We are hiring some real stars in the fields of energy and materials; coastal and marine ecosystems; and brain health and disease.

And, while we are focused now on improving the university’s overall ranking, it’s important to note that many of our colleges and graduate programs are already recognized as the nation’s best or in the Top 10. Here’s just a sampling of those top rankings:

  • Business Insider named the FSU College of Law the No. 1 law school in Florida and No. 32 in the nation. In fact, it is the only law school in Florida ranked among the Top 50! In addition, Hispanic Business magazine ranked the law school the 2nd best in the nation for Hispanic students.

In other rankings:

  • The College of Criminology and Criminal Justice is named No.1 in the nation for its faculty research.
  • The School of Information’s graduate program in library media is No. 1 in the country.
  • The College of Education’s graduate online programs are ranked No. 2 in the country.
  • The Film School is ranked No. 5 in the country, and the College of Music is also ranked No. 5 among music programs at public universities.


With regard to faculty salaries, I am working with my team to reward faculty for their hard work and increase salaries where necessary.

Not only is increasing faculty salaries the fair and equitable thing to do, it also makes good business sense. We want to keep our stellar faculty members here at FSU, instead of investing in their success only to lose them to another institution.


Providing a top-notch education to students is the main goal of all institutions of higher education. But FSU and other research universities have a broader mission to drive society forward through research and creative activity.

As I mentioned before, FSU achieved its highest total to date in research funding, bringing in more than $230 million last year from federal, state and other funding sources. This is money that not only drives innovation and discovery but also directly impacts our local and state economies in the form of salaries and locally purchased goods and services.

In addition, our faculty transform their knowledge into products and services that can help people, our economy and society as a whole. Last year we had 39 patents granted, 25 license deals signed and seven startup companies created based on FSU research. These commercialization efforts lead to real dollars that create jobs and circulate throughout our economy.

Some of our large research centers have had great success in forming partnerships with major industries. For example:

  • The Florida Center for Advanced Aero-Propulsion is working with major automotive, aerospace and military contractors to do a variety of testing using their advanced wind tunnels.
  • The Center for Advanced Power Systems has been working with the Navy in their efforts to build all-electric ships and has recently built a powerful new electrical testing system that will let partners test equipment in real-world conditions.
  • The National High Magnetic Field Laboratory continues to build some of the world’s most advanced magnets for partners all over the globe, in addition to building and using its own record-breaking magnets to make new discoveries.

Although our research efforts have great economic value, the true benefit of research is grounded in the people we help and the ways we make society better.

From autism to Alzheimer’s, early childhood development to aging, if there’s an issue that affects your life or someone you know, chances are we have researchers working on it.


The legislative session begins on March 3, and we are working on our priorities for 2015. I’d like to touch on our top three:

  1. We are requesting preeminence, STEM and performance funding. Our annual base budget is currently supplemented by $20 million because we have achieved preeminent status and continue to maintain those standards.
    • We are requesting an additional $5 million in preeminence funding so that we can remain competitive in our efforts to attract top-tier faculty.
    • We also are requesting an additional $5 million for STEM education. STEM programs are central to FSU’s preeminence designation and performance excellence, yet these are among the most expensive programs to administer.
    • Performance-based funding was instituted last year and allocated to state universities that exceed benchmarks established by the BOG. Last year, we received $21 million. We expect to again surpass BOG standards, and so we are pushing for an expansion of the performance-based funding model.
  2. We also will focus on ensuring that we get our share of PECO — or Public Education Capital Outlay — money to fund some of our construction projects:
    • $36 million for the Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science Building. This facility will provide classrooms, research laboratories and study space.
    • $2.2 million for the planning phase of a STEM Teaching Lab. An updated space is needed for undergraduate students in STEM majors, particularly those in chemistry and physics who are currently doing lab work in an old deficient general sciences building.
    • $5 million for the planning phase of a proposed Interdisciplinary Research and Commercialization Building. We need this building in order to facilitate collaborations across departments and colleges.
  3. Another top legislative priority is to work for the reinstatement of the Courtelis Matching Gift program. Just a little background: In 2008, the Legislature suspended payments to this program, and gifts that were qualified for a match since then were placed on a priority list. Then in 2011, the program itself was suspended. Consequently, no gifts from that point forward qualified for a match.
    • However, FSU still had more than $10.5 million in prior gifts waiting to be matched before the program was suspended. These donations are critical to the construction of facilities, and we are requesting this program be reinstated and the prior gift backlog be fully funded.

Capital Campaign

As I mentioned earlier, this past fall we launched the public phase of our $1 billion capital campaign. Called “Raise the Torch,” this is the largest fundraising campaign in university history.

With a goal of $1 billion, the campaign will allow us to implement bold ideas that will continue to distinguish Florida State as a preeminent university.

I am pleased that we are more than halfway to our $1 billion goal. With the campaign total now at more than $630 million, we are well positioned to not only reach but also exceed our goal.

So, we have a lot of work to do this year, but Florida State University is fortunate to have so many alumni and friends around the nation supporting us in our efforts. And we have the support of the state and local government, because the truth is that Florida State provides a pretty good Return On Investment.

Based on student spending, the university budget and estimated visitors’ spending at FSU, the economic impact of the university on the state economy is about $4 billion.

Directly and indirectly, FSU is responsible for about 30 percent of the employment in the Tallahassee area — or about 45,000 jobs.

If FSU were removed from Leon County today, about one-fifth (20%) of Leon County’s economic impact would be lost — and that does not include the economic value of the community outreach we sponsor for students of all ages, teachers and others.

I love Florida State University, and we have so much to be proud of. Sure, many people across the country know about our championship athletics programs, but Florida State is so much more.

It is a unique place that balances stunning achievements in both the arts and the sciences. We offer opportunities available at an elite research university but with the personal attention of a much smaller school.

We have a great story to tell, and as we continue to rise in rankings and national stature, I hope you will join me in sharing our story with the rest of the world.