Skip to content

Tiger Bay

12 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 11 – Civic Center (Lower Level)

Thank you. It’s good to be here at Tiger Bay again, this time in my new role as president of Florida State University.

You know, when the FSU Board of Trustees named me president, I was thrilled. I think everyone here knows how much I love Florida State, and I was honored to have the opportunity to serve this university.

I knew it was just going to be a great job, and I was right. But I’ve also learned there are some unexpected perks, as well.

For one thing, I still get to see Bill Cotterell and the rest of the capital press corps. I thought I was going to lose those guys when I left the Senate.

And when I used to come to campus to visit — and by visit, I mean I was checking to see that my name was still on the medical school building — I used to have to drive around in circles looking for a place to park.

Now I get to park right outside the Westcott Gates and occasionally I get to see some students being tossed into the fountain.

But the best perk, seriously, is that a big part of my job is to talk about all the wonderful things that are happening at FSU. And there is a lot to talk about.

I need to start by talking about the people of Florida State. We have stellar faculty, creative and efficient staff, and some of the best and brightest students in the nation. Our alumni are incredibly successful.

And when a senseless act of violence occurred on our campus in November that left two of our students and one employee wounded, we came together as a family to support one another. Our show of unity reminded us — and demonstrated to the nation — that we are strong and together we can heal and move forward.

I’m pleased to tell you that Ronny Ahmed, who was seriously wounded in the Strozier Library shooting and is paralyzed as a result of his injuries, will be returning to campus this month. Like any family would, the FSU family has rallied behind Ronny. We will provide him with the assistance he needs as he navigates his new life on campus. And, of course we will be there to support him and cheer him on as he continues his studies in pursuit of an engineering degree.

I’ve said it publicly many times, but I would like to again commend the FSU and Tallahassee police departments for their quick and decisive action that night, which prevented further tragedy. We are thankful for the work that they do every day to keep our campus safe.

And we so appreciate all the offers of help and assistance from many in this community in the weeks after the shooting. It’s times like these that make us even more grateful for the close relationships we have.

Many have asked me about my position on guns on campus, and my position has not changed. For both personal and policy reasons, I do not believe that guns belong in a campus environment.

The shooting was one of the challenges the university faced in 2014, but we also accomplished so much. 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
  • and continued our tradition of competing at the highest level of intercollegiate athletics.

That’s a solid foundation on which to build, and 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.
  • At 79 percent, our six-year graduation rate is the highest ever and its 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 that we have hired more than 100 new faculty members. 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.
  • 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.

Besides all the recognitions for our academic programs, the university has been recognized in other ways:

  • 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.
  • Military Times named Florida State No. 8 in the nation in its latest “Best Colleges for Vets” rankings. We also received a national award for our exceptional progress in increasing retention and graduation of veterans. These recognitions show we are well on the way to achieving our goal of becoming the most veteran-friendly and empowering public university in the nation.


With regard to faculty salaries, we need to reward faculty for their hard work and increase salaries where necessary. Not only is that 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 our students is FSU’s primary goal, but we also 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.

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 o FSU research.

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 I’d like to touch on FSU’s top three priorities:

  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 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, 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:
    1. $36 million for the Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science Building. This facility will provide classrooms, research laboratories and study space.
    2. $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.
    3. $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 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 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 there. With the campaign total now at more than $630 million, we are well positioned to not only reach but also exceed our goal.

I thought you might be interested in a quick update on the Arena District, a planned mixed-use area that will complement the “Madison Mile,” Gaines Street and College Town developments.

The Arena District will center on a hotel and convention center. It also calls for a new training space for the basketball team and academic buildings, including a facility near the Civic Center for our highly regarded College of Business and its Dedman School of Hospitality.

The project is bold and far-reaching in scale and impact. The construction phase of the project is expected to create 4,000 jobs and have a $430 million economic impact.

Once completed, this project will offer a welcoming, vibrant, livable and walkable urban district. Its long-term impact will be significant:

  • Projected $100 million recurring economic impact and 1,000 annual jobs.
  • Estimated $12.5 million in new tax revenue generated annually.
  • Estimated 25,000 additional nights that visitors will spend in Tallahassee.

In addition, it will allow many of our state agencies and other businesses and associations to keep their conferences and meetings in Tallahassee, instead of sending those dollars elsewhere.

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 to take this university to an even higher level of excellence.

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.