2019 State of the University Address

State of the University Address, Sept. 27, 2019

Good morning. I am so glad to see you today at the 2019 State of the University address and I am very glad to be standing before you. 

Thanks to everyone who made this happen. This doesn’t just spring up overnight. Someone has to plan it. Someone has to order the balloons out there. The Singers, I think they’re awesome. Our ROTC Honor Guard performed well and I am very grateful to be a part of such a team of hard-working people. 

And what a year it has been aboard the good ship Argo. Like Jason and our namesake, the Argonauts, we have found our golden fleece, or maybe I should say our golden fleeces. 

We earned top rankings in the U.S. News and World Report. Our athletes have pushed us to our 101st conference championship. For three years in a row, we have welcomed a class of National Merit Finalists; and for the third time out of four years, our SGA President has been elected Chair of the Florida Student Association and appointed to a seat on the Board of Governors. 

We conferred our 100,000th degree last December, our long-awaited Lab Sciences Annex was opened this week to offer so many more opportunities for research and learning. Our downtown presence has been enhanced with our Center of Cybersecurity, we launched five new programs and seven of our programs either received continued or new professional accreditations. 

We were chosen to host the 2022 NCUR Conference that will bring 5,000 of the top students across the United States and their advisors to this campus and this community; we are by far the smallest town ever to be selected, but I think that says a lot about the reputation of this institution. 

Again, this academic year, our employees will receive a cost of living increase in March. We were named as a “Great Colleges to Work For” and we earned an all-time high of 94 of the performance-based funding metrics. You did that! Give yourselves a hand. 

Now this is a list of great accomplishments and we all take great pride in that, but they have one thing in common. And what do you think that is? “Nobody did it alone.” Say that again? “Nobody did it alone.” One more time? “Nobody did it alone.” Nobody did it alone! That is absolutely right. 

Aboard the Argo, if we are to find even more golden “fleeces” and survive the perils of the sea, we need to look to the ones who are sailing beside us. And if I were recruiting for a long and treacherous journey, some of the people I would want on my crew would include Dr. Greg Tomso and his awesome honors students who helped build and maintain a wonderful community garden on this campus for our enjoyment. 

Barbara Larson and Thomas Asmuth and their department colleagues who spearheaded intriguing STEAM art installations on campus. 

The students of the UWF nursing program, who averaged a 99% first-time pass rate on the NCLEX exam and the clinical health science students who earned a 100% pass rate.

Dr. Barbara White and her accounting students who completed nearly 500 tax returns for low-income people in our community.

Dr. Sherry Hartnett, who every year, leads a Women in Leadership Conference to a sold-out crowd. 

The Office of Equity and Diversity, Student Accessibility, International Affairs, Honors Trio, SGA, Innovation Institute, University Communications, who supported diversity and inclusion efforts that led us to a fourth HEED Award. 

Ellen Till, of Business and Auxiliary Services, for the remodeling of our food arena, our food services area, so that we could have a Chick-fil-A. 

The UWF grounds staff: Jeff Etheridge, Ron Byrd, Kyle Pruczinski, Travis Wicker and our cross country coach, Caleb Carmichael, who worked to develop the path for the first parkrun hosted by any university in North America and its become a thing on Saturday mornings and a big community event. 

Three of our faculty: Diane Scott, Bill Evans, Erin King, who serve on the Leadership Council of 

C.A. Weis Elementary School, which has improved its school grade from an F to a C. 

So what shall we do with this one wild and precious year? To be sure, there are challenges ahead for the crew of the Argo. 

Recently, I gathered the members of the President's Cabinet together in a retreat and I asked them to outline their biggest problems. I want to tell you, it was not a fun day. Our problems are real and they are big and they range from insufficient staff in some critical departments, to a space crunch, to new restrictions on budgets, to needed expansion in housing and health services, to critical deferred maintenance needs and an absolute mandate to raise the amount of students graduating in four years. 

We are faced with handling all this with limited ability to increase revenue. And in the words of one of my Cabinet members, “We need a bigger boat.” But take heart, there is hope. 

This past year, we have spent a lot of time commemorating some really historic events. Last March, the tall ship Elcano came to Pensacola in observance of the 500th anniversary of Magellan’s trip circumnavigating the globe. Now, Magellan was looking for a western route to the Spice Islands and there are so many lessons for us in that story. 

First, he knew where he wanted to be, but he didn’t have a map. He had a clear direction, but it was just West. And he was in a very, very, very small boat. They suffered stormy seas, hunger, thirst, disease, mutinies, a lot of our weekly events, deadly conflicts, and, not to be a downer, but Magellan didn’t get to finish the trip. He was killed midway, but his teammates finished his work and they made history. 

In July, a lot of us enjoyed a lot of celebration around the 50th anniversary of putting a man on the moon. And in 1962, when President Kennedy pledged to land a man on the moon, it was a crazy idea. Up until that time, all we had been able to do was watch our rockets keel over, spin out of control, or blow up. And Kennedy simply refused to let the existing reality drive his country’s future. 

I like to read Ozan Varol’s blog on innovative thinking and he encourages us to aim higher than you think is wise and to pursue an idea that others find crazy, because the day before a major breakthrough, it is just a crazy idea. What you strive for becomes your ceiling. Go for mediocrity and at best mediocrity is what you’ll get. But if you set your goals ridiculously high and it’s a failure, you will fail above everybody else’s success. 

Magellan pursued a crazy idea. Kennedy pursued a crazy idea. Jason and the Argonauts pursued a crazy idea and if you had told us four years ago that UWF could score a 94 on the metrics, we would’ve said it was “a crazy idea” but we didn’t. 

So now, let’s pause and think about a few more crazy ideas for UWF. I have three: Coach Shinnick and Dave Scott, let’s win all the games; Howard Reddy, let’s raise enough money to scholarship every student at the University of West Florida; and Provost Ellenberg, let’s raise that graduation rate to 100%. 

We’re Argos. No limits!

Thank you all for coming today, you know how much I appreciate you. You are still on the clock so enjoy the camaraderie and let’s get back to work. Thanks for coming.