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State of the University Address 2019

Good afternoon! Thank you, Dr. Harper for that introduction, and thank you for your leadership and service on the Board of Trustees and as president of the Faculty Senate.

I’ve appreciated your advice and counsel, and I wish you all the best as you embark on a new adventure at the University of Copenhagen.

I’m looking forward to working with Dr. Chicken!

I’d like to thank a few other people — first of all, my wife, Jean. She has been by my side as First Lady of Florida State for the past five years, and she is here today.

I also need to thank the senior leadership team for being here today and for the extraordinary work they do every day.

And of course, I’d like to thank the Faculty Senate for inviting me to your meeting 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 hope to achieve in the future.

Let’s start by taking a look back at 2019.

It’s been quite a year! The word that comes to my mind when thinking about it is achievement.

Everywhere we look, there are students, faculty and staff who are achieving at the highest levels. This culture of excellence is the reason why Florida State University is now recognized as the 18th best public university in America.

You know, when we first starting talking about reaching the U.S. News and World Report’s Top 25, there were some people who didn’t think we could do it. And they certainly didn’t think we would break into the Top 20 — at least not this quickly.

But we did it, and we did it the right way: By developing a strategic plan that focuses on six goals that reflect the values of Florida State University.

Faculty, staff and administrators from across campus have been working hard for nearly five years to first develop a plan that would serve as our road map and then implement measurable benchmarks to ensure we are moving in the direction.

As a result, we are breaking new records and emerging as national leaders in every area of our plan: Entrepreneurship and Innovation; Academic and Research Excellence; Diversity and Inclusion; Student Success; and Excellence and Reputation.


Our focus on student success has had the biggest impact on the rankings. Nearly every member of the campus community contributes to this goal in one way or another — but it’s you, the faculty, who work most closely with our students and have the greatest and often the most lasting impact on their lives.

You are not only teaching in the classroom, many of you are helping students gain real-world, hands-on experience. You are teaching at our international study centers, overseeing internships, and directing undergraduate research and creative activity.

This past year, FSU became the largest university in the country to require students to have a transformative learning experience outside the classroom, and we couldn’t do this without you.

I want to acknowledge and thank you for your dedication to teaching and creating a learning environment where all of our students can thrive.

The fact that you do this while also conducting research and pursuing creative endeavors and providing service to the university and the community is remarkable. Thank you, again, for all you do.

I also want to thank Provost Sally McRorie and her Academic Affairs team for guiding the university in our climb in the rankings. Her team is laser-focused on student success.

This is one reason why our four-year graduation rate is among the Top 10 in the nation and higher than any other public university in Florida.

And our 93 percent freshman retention rate ranks us in the Top 20 in the country. These excellent graduation and retention rates are driving our increase in the rankings.

And that’s causing FSU to be increasingly popular among prospective students.

Applications for summer and fall admissions are already up 8 percent compared to this same point in time last year, so we might just break another record!

While another year of 60,000-plus applications speaks to the demand for an FSU education, let me reassure you that no one is looking to have another extra-large freshman class.

More and more, we are becoming the first choice for the very best students, which I hope is evident in your classrooms. We continue to adjust our admissions process to reflect this positive shift, and we are hoping to hold the line next fall at about 6,200 freshmen.

Graduate education is a hallmark of any great research university, and we are strategically growing our graduate and postgraduate populations. We have seen a 26 percent increase in the number of graduate applications since 2017, and graduate school enrollment this fall is at an all-time high.

I hope you’ve all had a chance to see the new “GradWorld FSU” website, which features videos of our graduate students and postdocs who come from all over the world to study here.

It’s a great way to demonstrate our international reach and will help us attract the best and brightest prospective grad students from around the globe.


In addition to teaching, you are also advancing our goal to strengthen FSU’s academic and research excellence through your groundbreaking studies, original scholarship and creative endeavors.

This past fiscal year, FSU faculty researchers received nearly $234 million from federal, state and private sources — a new university record.

And the research you are doing is making a difference around the globe and in our own backyard.

In February, FSU was awarded $8 million as part of a 10-year initiative to restore Apalachicola Bay and revive the region’s endangered oyster industry.

And even closer to home, the College of Medicine opened the FSU Primary Health center near Sabal Palm Elementary School where med school faculty are providing needed care and services to an underserved community.

Our faculty in the arts and humanities are also winning prestigious fellowships and awards and enriching our community with exhibitions and performances.

The work that Dr. Patrick Dunnigan and Dr. David Plack are doing with our Marching Chiefs is an excellent reflection of the College of Music and the quality of FSU’s programs in the arts.

It was a proud day in FSU history to see the Marching Chiefs participate in the 75th anniversary D-Day parade in Normandy.

They were the only collegiate band in the United States to take part in these events, and they represented their country and their university well!


FSU has made a lot of progress on the other goals outlined in our strategic plan as well.

We made a big leap forward in our goal to strengthen our commitment to entrepreneurship and innovation when the Jim Moran School of Entrepreneurship became the Jim Moran College of Entrepreneurship — the nation’s first stand-alone college of entrepreneurship!

This shows how the $100 million gift from Jan Moran and The Jim Moran Foundation continues to transform our campus, and we continue to be grateful for their generosity.

That means we now have 17 colleges, and Susan Fiorito is our newest dean. And I couldn’t be happier about that. Susan has built this college from the ground up and has overseen incredible growth since it opened its doors in fall 2017 with 80 students. Now, as a college, it has 760 students, 25 faculty and 11 staff members!

Dean Fiorito and some of the faculty members from the Jim Moran College of Entrepreneurship are here today, and I would like them to stand and be recognized.


Our strategic plan recognizes the value FSU places on diversity and inclusion. I’m proud to say that we have been named a national “Diversity Champion” and have received the top diversity in higher education award for six years in a row.

Increasing participation in intercultural activities also contributes to our goal of diversity and inclusion, and we are a leader in this area as well.

This past year, nine faculty members received Fulbright awards, the second most in the nation. And we are 11th in the country for the number of students who study abroad.

Finally, the sixth goal of the strategic plan is to invest in our institution and our reputation. We have greatly increased our marketing efforts, and in the coming year, we will focus on communicating our unique strengths to a broad audience.

So, we’ve had a lot of success in 2019. But, of course, the year hasn’t been without challenges.

We are still seeing some of our fraternities and sororities in the news for all the wrong reasons.

In 2017, I suspended all Greek Life activities until we could develop new policies and procedures to support a healthier and safer environment. Those policies are now in place, and I believe a major culture shift is under way.

I can assure you, FSU will be unyielding in its efforts to punish those who cannot abide by the rules and do not put the health and safety of their members and pledges first.

I’m also very concerned about crime in Tallahassee, particularly when it affects our campus. We recently had a few robberies and other incidents that captured the attention of our students and their families.

FSU police responded by increasing officers and patrols around residence halls and other areas, and we were able to apprehend some of these suspects rather quickly.

Someone once asked me what keeps me up at night — and it’s not the football coach, believe me.

And, by the way, for those who have been following this saga — we will have some news soon, but you’re going to have to hold on a little while longer.

But, back to the question — it’s crime in our community that I worry about the most. Florida State wants to be part of the solution, but we need everyone in Tallahassee to pull together to address the issue.

Everyone deserves to feel safe, and parents want to have peace of mind when they send their kids to study at one of our city’s three institutions of higher education.

So, those are a few of the challenges we face, but the year ahead also provides us with opportunities to build on our tremendous success.

After shattering our goal of becoming a Top 25 public university, now is not the time to rest on our laurels. That’s not who we are at Florida State.

It’s been said that high achievement always takes place in the framework of high expectation.

So the Top 15 is in our sights, and the Top 10 is a long-range goal. But it’s going to take significant support from the Florida Legislature to make it happen.

That’s because the competition at this level is fierce, and many states are investing heavily in their leading institutions in order to keep them at the top. You’d better believe no one wants to backslide, and neither do we!

The fact that we have moved up faster than any other university in the Top 50 bodes well for the 2020 Legislative session, which begins January 14.

I’ve been meeting with a number of legislators already, and I’m very optimistic about this session. Our legislators understand the importance of higher education for the state, and they know FSU, in particular, provides a good return on investment.

We are asking the Legislature for funding that will allow us to continue to hire nationally recognized faculty, improve our faculty-student ratio and enrich Florida’s talent pipeline.

And we’re asking legislators to provide the resources we need to give the hard-working faculty who are already here the recognition they deserve.

One of my top priorities is to secure funding for the new College of Business Building and an Interdisciplinary Research and Commercialization Building so that we can break ground on these facilities in the coming year.

And, once again, a bill has been filed that would allow people with concealed weapons licenses to carry guns on college campuses.

I have fought against this effort for many years, and I will make my annual pledge to you that I will continue to fight against guns on campus.

Florida State University is a special place, and I will do everything I can to protect the diverse, supportive and collegial atmosphere we have here.

2019 was an especially good year for FSU. We achieved unprecedented success by moving forward together and using our strategic plan to guide our way.

From academic and research excellence to entrepreneurship and innovation, from student success to diversity and inclusion — everything we have accomplished has further enhanced our reputation of excellence.

I want to thank you all for the support you’ve shown me over the past five years. I’m looking forward to continuing to work with you to reach even higher and achieve even more in 2020. Thank you.