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OLLI at FSU: Your Alma Mater for Your Garnet and Golden Years

Noon, Tuesday, Nov. 3 – Pepper Center

Good afternoon! It’s wonderful to be here. I’d like to start by saying that I am so glad that you have chosen Florida State University to be “your alma mater for your garnet and golden years.” I kind of did the same thing!

As a two-time alumnus of Florida State University, my business and law degrees provided me with opportunities that have allowed me to serve my country, my state, and, now, it’s my honor to serve my alma mater.

Let me tell you it is the job of a lifetime. One of my favorite things to do is talk to our students. They are young, they are eager, and they are so excited about the future. Their energy is contagious.

But let’s face it — some students see education as something they need to get out of the way before their real life begins.

We know better. The need for education does not end when you receive a diploma. And a thirst for knowledge will serve you well throughout your life.

Henry Ford said that, “Anyone who stops learning is old whether at 80 or 20. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.”

At almost 72 years old, I can say that he is absolutely right.

In fact, one of the best things about being president is that I am surrounded by brilliant people every day. And one of the greatest perks of the job is the opportunity to attend lectures, plays and concerts right here on campus.

I know that many of you have taken advantage of these opportunities as well, in addition to taking classes.

I’ve taken a look at your course offerings, and they sound amazing! I hear that you have no grades, no exams and no required reading. Those sound like my kind of classes!

But, seriously, this is what “learning for the love of learning” is all about. And when you get to our age, you have a lot of wisdom and experience to contribute to class discussions.

That’s why our professors and doctoral students love to teach you. You want to be here, you ask questions, you challenge assertions, and you offer your point of view.

Your commitment to lifelong learning is inspiring, and I know the rewards are big. Research tells us that lifelong learning is associated with successful longevity. So is social activity and all of the other things that OLLI offers: field trips, travel and book clubs, to name a few.

I was a little bit surprised to learn than less than half of OLLI members had any prior affiliation with Florida State before joining this group. Whether you’ve lived in Tallahassee your whole life or just moved to the area, I’m glad that you are now part of the Florida State University family!

I know that you use the library, volunteer on campus, participate in research studies and attend cultural and athletic events. You are part of the fabric of this vibrant university, and you are valued members of our community!

So I thought you might like to hear a little bit about some of the things we are working on to move this university forward.

Next week will mark the anniversary of my first year on the job, and what a year it has been! Together with our faculty, staff, students and alumni, we have achieved so much in the past 12 months. It is amazing what all of us in the Florida State family can accomplish when we work together.


As you know, a new academic year began in August for about 42,000 students. Among them are about 6,100 freshmen, and I’m proud to say they are an exceptionally talented group.

In fact, the average GPA for students we accepted into the fall freshman class is a 4.0. Their average SAT score was 1856. That’s impressive!

These freshmen follow in the footsteps of all of the high-achieving students who have enrolled at FSU in the past few years. The success of our students is a big reason why we are poised for increased national stature in the coming years.


Last month, U.S. News and World Report ranked FSU No. 43 among all of the public universities in the country.

Many of you might know that FSU aspires to be ranked among the nation’s Top 25. That’s because, in truth, we think that is a more accurate reflection of the education we offer. In terms of the quality of our students, we are already there.

A particular point of pride is our outstanding graduation and retention rates. Our retention rate is 93 percent, and our 6-year graduation rate is 79 percent. To give you some perspective about how good that graduation rate is, it’s 9 percentage points above the graduation rate that U.S. News predicted for our 2008 cohort. Only three institutions in the Top 100 exceeded their predicted rate by more than FSU did.

We’re especially proud that we are able to do this while honoring our commitment to diversity and inclusion. This is a priority of mine.

I was pleased to provide more funding to our Center for Academic Retention and Enhancement (CARE). This additional funding allowed us to admit almost 100 more first-generation college students this year for a record of 400 new students to this phenomenal program.

So we have made significant gains as we pursue even higher levels of excellence, but moving up in these rankings will take time.

The rankings formula is based on a complicated set of metrics, some of which we have little control over. We are especially challenged by budget pressures — a combination of low in-state tuition rates and state fiscal constraints.

We also need to make sure that our peer institutions across the country, as well as high school guidance counselors, know how good we are. The assessments of these two groups are completely subjective, but they are weighted quite heavily in the rankings.

We are addressing this issue, and you can help by spreading the word about the excellence of this university.

Recently, we received good news about another ranking. We were ranked No. 32 among public universities in the United States in the “Times Higher Education” World University Rankings.

This ranking looks at teaching, research, citations, international outlook and industry income. Our high ranking really is a credit to all of our faculty and researchers.

And there is another ranking that I think is undisputed: Florida State University is one of the most beautiful college campuses in America! That’s according to House Beautiful magazine, and I couldn’t agree more!

Faculty Salaries

One of my top priorities when assuming the presidency was to address salary compression and market inequities of faculty pay.

I’m pleased that I was able to accomplish that goal by working with our faculty union. The way I see it, our faculty have distinguished themselves in many disciplines and have gained the high regard of peers around the world. Their pay needed to reflect their preeminence.

Capital Campaign

In October 2014 — just a few weeks before I took office — we launched the public phase of our billion-dollar capital campaign called “Raise The Torch.” Back then, we had $610 million in gift commitments.

In the past year, I’ve traveled across the country to meet with alumni, boosters and friends. Everyone I meet is excited to make a difference in the future of Florida State University.

I know that many of you are doing your part by supporting OLLI in its quest to raise $25,000 in time for its 25th anniversary next year. Those dollars will also be counted as part of our “Raise the Torch” campaign.

Private giving will allow us to strengthen our most successful programs and lift others to even higher prominence.

That’s why I’m pleased to tell you that we have raised more than $100 million in the past year for a total of nearly $720 million. And we have a couple of big gifts in the works that will take our total even higher before the year comes to a close. We are nearly three-quarters of the way to our goal!

Year Ahead

So we have accomplished a lot this past year. As I look forward, we have an exciting year ahead of us.

National Searches

We have national searches under way for several key positions, including provost and deans for our colleges of business, engineering and law.

Legislative Session

We are preparing for the legislative session, which will begin in January this year.

As you know, FSU is already recognized as a preeminent university for meeting all 12 of the rigorous standards of excellence. That means the Legislature supplements the university’s annual budget with $25 million in preeminence funding.

This funding has allowed us to advance on several fronts. To date, we have hired 57 new faculty members in STEM fields and other disciplines and 8 entrepreneurs-in-residence to teach our students how to turn their ideas and innovations into practical enterprises.

We are asking for an additional $10 million to allow FSU to stay nationally competitive in its efforts to hire top tier faculty and move into the nation’s Top 25 public universities.

We are also requesting state funding for three facilities that are important to our academic mission:

  • Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science Building
  • Interdisciplinary Research & Commercialization Building
  • College of Business Building

Land Acquisition

One of the things I hope to continue to focus on in the coming year is acquiring land that borders our campus. With 220 buildings on 475 acres, we are just about maxed out in terms of space on our main campus.

We recently acquired four pieces of property that were of high priority to us. Not only will this allow us to expand our academic and research footprint, it also will allow us to extend and beautify the campus boundaries.

Strategic Plan

This year we are also focused on developing a strategic plan that will identify our academic priorities and goals and provide a roadmap to achieve our vision.

The Strategic Planning Committee is working with a consultant to engage all of the university stakeholders in this process through interviews and focus groups. We hope to have a final plan in May.

This is a critical piece of our ongoing accreditation and will help us shape our university initiatives for the next five years.

At its heart, Florida State University is still a liberal arts school that offers an excellent undergraduate education with meaningful coursework updated for the 21st century.

But we have grown to be a large, comprehensive, research institution that brings in more than $200 million every year in federal, state and other funding sources. This is our pride and our future.

It’s an exciting time for Florida State University. We are on the threshold of a new era, and we are so glad that you are a part of it! Thank you for all that you do to support FSU.

I’d be happy to answer your questions.