Skip to content

State of the University Address 2018

Good afternoon! Thank you, Todd, for that introduction, and thank you for your leadership and service on the Board of Trustees and as president of the Faculty Senate for these past two years. I’ve appreciated your advice and counsel.

I’d like to thank a few other people who are here today — first of all, my wife, Jean. She’s an amazing first lady, and I appreciate all she does for me and Florida State University.

I’d like to recognize FSU Trustee Mark Hillis and Trustee and Student Body President Stacey Pierre and the Student Government Association for the work that they do all year on behalf of our students and this university. I also need to thank the senior leadership team for being here today and for their guidance and stewardship all year.

And of course, I’d like to thank the Faculty Senate for inviting me to your meeting today and the College of Medicine for hosting us. It’s an honor and a privilege to have this opportunity to talk about what we’ve accomplished this past year — and what we know we can achieve in the future.

Let’s start by taking a look back at 2018.

 So, it was a quite a year. It was one of both tragedy and triumph. We were rocked by devastating events, and we celebrated momentous achievements.

The word that comes to my mind when thinking about the past year is resilience. Resilience is rooted in a tenacity of spirit — something that is in our DNA at Florida State. Our strength not only pushes us forward, it carries us through the difficult times as well.

We were all greatly troubled by the deadly mass shootings that occurred across the country this past year, including at Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Parkland and the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

And then on November 2, there was a horrific attack right here in Tallahassee that left two members of our Florida State community dead and five people, including FSU students, injured.

I am deeply saddened about the loss of Dr. Nancy Van Vessem, a professor in the College of Medicine, and Maura Binkley, a senior English and German major. But I must tell you, I’m also angry. The gunman deprived the world of two smart, kind and compassionate people, and the memory of that terrible night will always be with those who survived. The impact on our community has been profound.

I think we, as a society, need to think about how we can keep guns out of the hands of the wrong people and how we can balance the rights of gun owners with the rights of all Americans to pursue life, liberty and happiness.

People have a right to feel safe in their schools, in their places of worship, and everywhere they go — the mall, a movie theater, a yoga studio — and certainly on a college campus.

That’s why I have fought for many years to keep guns off campus — and I am going to make my annual pledge to you again today: Guns have no place on a college campus, and I will continue to fight against any effort to allow them.

You have my assurance that the safety of Florida State’s faculty, staff and students will always be my top priority. That’s why when we had a Category 4 hurricane barreling down on us in October we closed campus for several days so that students could safely return to their homes, and we could all prepare for the storm.

Fortunately, Tallahassee was mostly spared the full brunt of Hurricane Michael. But our Panama City campus was not so lucky. The campus was hit hard, forcing it to close for three weeks while its faculty, staff and students dealt with the storm’s devastating impact on their own lives.

I went to Panama City with a few others on the leadership team, and let me tell you, unless you see it for yourself, it is hard to fully grasp the full scope of the damage. But I saw the spirit of tenacity in the faces of the people of FSU-Panama City. The faculty and staff were dedicated to the mission of getting back to the business of educating students.

And students who were left literally homeless by the hurricane drove for miles to get gas and find a coffee shop with power and an internet connection so they could study and keep up with online classes until campus could reopen.

Molly King was one of those students. Many of you may have seen Molly in a video we produced in the days following the storm. As she stood in the middle of the rubble of what had been her home, she pledged to continue her studies.

She said: “I’ve never wanted anything more than I wanted a degree, and this storm will not change that. I’m going to do whatever it takes to graduate with honors.”

Dean Randy Hanna did an extraordinary job getting the campus up and running again by the end of October. And the FSU community wasted no time generously contributing money to a relief fund that allowed us to help more than 200 students and employees.

I’m pleased to tell you that Molly is on track to graduate. She was not able to join us today, but Dean Hanna is here, and he represents the resilience of the entire FSU-Panama City community. Dean Hanna, thank you for your leadership.

I want you to know that we are going to ask the Florida Legislature, the United States Congress, FEMA — and anyone who will listen — for funds to help us repair and restore our campus.

So, we’ve had some hard times in 2018. But the challenges of the past year have provided us with an opportunity to see what we are made of.

We reaffirmed our resilience, and that same strength has helped us to reach unprecedented levels of achievement. We have a lot to celebrate!

Frankly, I’m still celebrating the exciting win by our soccer team on Sunday to secure the national championship!

Just like the softball team did when they won the national championship in June — these women showed the country the heart, the grit, and the determination that represents what Florida State is all about!


While we certainly are proud of our strong athletics programs, we’re glad that sports are no longer the first thing that some people think of when you say Florida State. In fact, our academic rankings have skyrocketed. I know you all know this, but I’ll repeat it every chance I get: Florida State University is now ranked Number 26 among all public universities in the nation!

We jumped seven spots in the U.S. News and World Report rankings from Number 33 last year — that’s the biggest single-year improvement in university history!

When I became president four years ago, my Number 1 goal was to reach the Top 25. I know that rankings can never fully capture the scope of what we do here, but they are important because they provide a snapshot of our excellence. To be ranked among the most elite universities helps us attract and retain the very best students and faculty and contributes to the growth of our state.

To see how close we are now to achieving our goal is just incredible. We’ve come this far because we know where we’re going, and we know how to get there. Last year, we launched a strategic plan that provides us with a road map to our future.

With that map in hand, we’re going to continue our drive to be recognized among the top public universities in the country by doing what we do best at FSU — focusing on student success and preparing students for 21st century careers.

Those goals are at the center of our plan, and we have a committee in place to serve as our compass and a set of metrics to make sure we are going in the right direction.

We all realize that we cannot achieve our vision without investing in our faculty. That’s why we launched the largest faculty hiring initiative in school history and welcomed 240 faculty this fall, including 125 who are filling brand-new positions.

These new faculty will allow us to continue to improve our student-faculty ratio and offer more small classes, two important metrics that reflect the kind of academic experience we offer.

In the past year, we saw the new Center for Advancement of Teaching really take off, and that’s a reflection of your commitment to excellence in teaching and building learning environments where all of our students can thrive.

That’s why our four-year graduation rate is now the best among all public universities in Florida, and ranks among the Top 20 nationally. Our 93 percent freshman retention rate also ranks among the Top 20 in the country.

It’s no wonder FSU is becoming increasingly popular among parents and prospective students. Applications are already up more than 14 percent compared to this same time last year.

We expect as many as 60,000 students — a new record — will apply to FSU by the February deadline. That’s a lot of competition for about 6,200 spots in next year’s freshman class!

More importantly, we are becoming the first choice for the very best students. Our freshman class this year had an average high school GPA of an incredible 4.2!

We’ve also seen a 26 percent increase in the number of graduate applications since 2017, and Graduate School enrollment increased nearly 3 percent this fall over last year. We know that our graduate programs distinguish FSU as a top research institution, and enhancing graduate education is a key component of our strategic plan.


Private gifts also help us with our goal to ensure student success on campus and beyond. This past year we celebrated the conclusion of Raise the Torch — the most ambitious fundraising campaign in university history.

We raised nearly 1.16 BILLION dollars in gifts and pledges from donors and supporters! That’s incredible!

More than 1,300 scholarships were created or enhanced, and nearly 100 professorships were generated or supported.

I know many of you contributed to the Raise the Torch Campaign, and I want to thank you. You already do so much for the university, so it is especially meaningful when you give back in this way. It tells me you believe in our mission and our future.


Another goal in our strategic plan is to strengthen the excellence we see across our academic and research programs, and you are certainly doing that through your groundbreaking research, original scholarship and creative endeavors.

This past fiscal year, FSU faculty researchers received more than $226 million from federal, state and private sources. And a record number of FSU faculty received the National Science Foundation’s CAREER award this past year. This award recognizes researchers in the early stages of their careers.

In addition, two of our more senior faculty members — Chemistry Professor Thomas Albrecht-Schmitt and Biological Science Professor Kimberly Hughes — were named fellows by the prestigious American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Both of these professors have done incredible work in training and mentoring the next generation of scientists while also producing top-level research in their fields.

Our faculty in the arts and humanities also continue to be at the top of their game. In fact, tomorrow Professor of Art Lilian Garcia-Roig, a renowned painter, will be one of only 25 artists highlighted in a new exhibit in New York City by the Joan Mitchell Foundation as part of the organization’s 25th anniversary celebration.

This past year, the National Science Foundation granted FSU $184 million over the next five years to continue operating the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory. This is a nearly 10 percent increase over the previous five-year period.

We also continue to receive increasing support from the National Institutes of Health, and we’re adding faculty who are doing innovative work in the health fields.

With those new faculty comes a need for additional space. This spring, we plan to break ground on the Interdisciplinary Research and Commercialization Building on our southwest campus.

This new building will house faculty from a number of different disciplines who will tackle issues in biomedical engineering, health and other areas, while the commercialization team develops opportunities to bring products created at FSU to market.


The Research and Commercialization Building is just one way the look of the campus will continue to grow and change as we pursue our strategic goals. Construction of the new Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science Building is another example. When complete, this facility will bring together all of the department’s disciplines in a collaborative environment.

Across Woodward Street, we’ve begun a major renovation of Oglesby Union that will greatly expand its size and its offerings to meet the needs of today’s students. We also opened the doors to our new Black Student Union — a much-needed gathering place that also houses our African-American Studies program.

And we cut the ribbon on a child care center that will help us meet the needs of our students and employees who are parents and help us to recruit top scholars and retain faculty.

We also made a big leap forward in our goal to deepen our commitment to innovation when the Jim Moran School of Entrepreneurship moved into its spectacular new headquarters on North Monroe Street.

  • As the campus changes physically, we also continue to focus on the environment in which we work and learn.


We are committed to educating students in a diverse and multicultural atmosphere and preparing them for 21st century jobs — just as we have outlined in our strategic plan.

That’s why we were so pleased when Insight into Diversity magazine named us a Diversity Champion for the third consecutive year. FSU is one of only 13 colleges and universities nationwide to receive the honor.

And last month, the APLU presented Florida State with the only platinum award in the nation for Global Learning, Research and Engagement. The award recognizes our excellence in integrating global education throughout the university.

And by the way, more students at FSU study abroad than at any other university in Florida, and we are among the Top 10 public universities in the country.

Our commitment to a positive learning environment also includes helping students develop the kind of flexibility and strength we embrace at FSU. This fall the College of Social Work led the creation of the Student Resilience Project to help students adjust to campus life and learn important coping skills.

The initiative has been so well-received that plans are in the works to transform the program into a national resource that will help college students across the country.

Overall, it’s been an amazing year for Florida State. From academic and research excellence to entrepreneurship and innovation, from student success to diversity and inclusion — everything we have done this year is contributing to our reputation of excellence.

We accomplished so much by using our plan to guide our way, and every member of our FSU community contributed to our success in the past year.

I’d like to take a moment to thank you — the faculty — for your ongoing support. I just began my fifth year as your president, and we’ve really come a long way together. I’ve come to know many of you personally, and I appreciate your friendship, your advice and your encouragement.

You are a big reason why, when I look back at 2018, I can tell you the state of the university is strong. Now we need to build on this momentum to keep moving forward.


The 2019 Legislative Session begins in March, and we are asking for funding in recognition of our preeminence and our performance. These funds will support our continued efforts to hire world-class faculty and scholars, advance our professional and graduate degree programs, support our academic excellence and maintain our facilities.

We are asking the Legislature to provide additional funding for:

  • the College of Business Legacy Hall
  • the Interdisciplinary Research and Commercialization Building
  • and a new STEM Teaching Lab.

And we are asking for increased program and building funds for our FAMU-FSU College of Engineering.

We truly could not have come so far without the support of the Florida Legislature, the Florida Board of Governors and our own Board of Trustees, and I’m optimistic about the upcoming Session.

Our lawmakers know that Florida State is one of the most efficient universities in the country, and they understand that supporting Florida State students and faculty is a wise investment in the future.

As we continue our journey of excellence, we’re focusing on the sixth goal of our plan: to invest strategically in our institution and our reputation. What we have here at FSU is pretty special. That’s why we’ve greatly increased our marketing efforts, and we’re working with a national firm to help us communicate our unique strengths to a broad audience.

I opened this address by talking about the resilience of Florida State. It’s been said that when we have a clear sense of identity and purpose, we are more resilient because we can hold fast to our dream of an even better tomorrow.

The source of our strength comes from the fact that we know who we are at Florida State, and we know what we aspire to be.

We are a caring, close-knit community that also happens to be brave and ambitious. We offer a world-class academic experience in a diverse and supportive environment. We celebrate our liberal arts tradition while conducting cutting-edge research.

We have established our rightful place on the national and international stage, and others are now looking to us to lead the way. We have the strength, the courage and the vision, and, together, we are guiding Florida State toward a bold and bright future.