Editor's Note: On August 27, JSU's faculty and staff gathered in Leone Cole Auditorium for fall convocation. Below is the transcript of University President Dr. William A. Meehan's address to the assembly.
August 27, 2012
It is so good to look at this great assembly of this university and think of what you mean to this community, our region, our state, as well as this nation. We are beginning our 130th year and as Dr. Turner has stated you are inspirational. I am very pleased to see so many new faculty and staff join us as we begin this new academic year.
Mr. Whitmore, I appreciate your reminder of all the good that United Way does for our community. It was on this date in 2005 that Katrina hit our state. We also remember how much the United Way and this campus, its faculty, staff and students helped in the recovery of the tornadoes of April 27, 2011.
Dr. Simmons has outlined our Strategic Plan and it is obvious that we are in full preparation for our SACS reaffirmation and the Quality Enhancement Plan, which will occur in 2014. I will be sending letters of appointment to many of you asking that you be involved in the Compliance Certification Committee, the Quality Enhancement Committee and/or the Faculty Compliance Committee. Each of these committees is of great importance to our university in preparing for this milestone of accreditation. You set a high standard when our SACS Review Committee joined us this last spring to review JSU for our new Level V accreditation in offering the Doctorate of Emergency Management. Not only was this program approved with No Recommendations, the university now has a clear runway to launch two additional doctoral programs. As we move toward reaffirmation of our university in 2014, let us make Zero Recommendations our goal. I believe that through the pursuit of perfection we will find excellence.
You have accomplished much in the past year and we have many good things to look forward to in this next year. Our campus looks better than ever. Our Physical Plant staff has added new landscaping and by doing small things such as painting our fences, an even better image is achieved. These small things are noticed by many and sometimes in a big way. This last year we were recognized as a Tree USA Campus, one of only three in our state. Our University Advancement Division has continued to brand our image in all our publications. This year they did an excellent job with our new Mimosa. Although not a small task, our Information Technology Division has ensured that all buildings on our campus have WI-FI connectivity. Our Athletics Division is off to a great start with victories in soccer and volleyball. If the rain from Isaac continues to Arkansas, our football team will have a better chance of winning. We remember that JSU was beating Florida State University until the rain stopped in the last three minutes of the game.
Through contracts and grants you have distinguished yourselves and brought hundreds of thousands of dollars to our campus, competing with many prestigious institutions and achieving awards from outstanding funding sources such as the National Science Foundation, which granted Dr. Triplett in our Biology Department almost $400,000 for the JSU Herbarium.
Dr. Turner has already spoken about how you have inspired her by learning new ways to engage your students and redefine the way you teach. In doing so you have made use of new technology to develop tools such as our English faculty have done in creating their "E-thology," an electronic anthology of American literature that will be an asset easily accessible to our students. In collaboration with local school systems you have worked to use the new technology for instruction of our future teachers. In doing so you have new models of teacher education that have gained national exposure so much so that a team of faculty from Metropolitan State University in Denver Col. will visit our campus to learn from our faculty in the College of Education.
You have even redesigned classrooms to accommodate the new models of collaborative learning, like the new classroom in Physical and Earth Sciences that, in Dr. Reinisch's own words, has the look of a "sports bar"without the bar, right, Dr. Reinisch? By the way, that unit will be on display for all to see this afternoon if you want to drop by and take a look.
Thanks to all your efforts and those of admissions counselors, Gamecock Orientation leaders and Student Life staff, we have accepted the second highest number of new students in the university's history. Again we had record numbers attend Orientation as our peer counselors and faculty mentors transformed this auditorium into a version of Grauman's Chinese Theater. Our admissions counselors and staff have worked very hard this year to attract a large pool of accepted applicants. The good news is not just numbers; we expect that, just as last year's freshman class raised the average ACT score of entering freshman, we will again see that the new average will mean even more of the brightest students will be entering our classrooms. The good news is that these students are being retained and will be alumni.
This is our time to invest in innovation. Many of you have accepted Dr. Turner's and the deans' invitation to participate in finding solutions that will make JSU better and stronger by participating in the new technology. You have asked for new I-Pads to assist in your efforts. I am very happy to announce that Dr. Turner ordered and has received 100 of these to distribute to you so you can continue to engage our students in new learning techniques.
I want to thank you again for your perseverance in the face of a poor economy that has caused decreased funding to our university. You have continued to serve our students, make tough budget decisions and find ways to do more with less. We were grateful that the trustees approved our recommendation for a raise last year. Although the State Legislature hopes to eliminate proration in the future, it has not been able to stem the ebb of our economy. Our appropriation from the state for this year will be 4% less than last year. This means that our state appropriation has been reduced by 24%, more than $14.5 million since 2008. The good news on this front is that the fiscal year 2013-14 is projected to bring increased revenues to the State Education Trust Fund. If our budget does increase we will be sure to remember that our faculty and staff have earned an increase.
I want to remind you that we have three important elections facing us this semester. Tomorrow our City of Jacksonville will elect its mayor, city council and some members of its school board. On Tuesday September 18, there will be a state referendum for a state constitutional amendment to provide a one-time financial boost for the General Fund, which has been reduced more than our budgets in education. These funds will not come from the Education Trust Fund but from oil and gas funds currently held in reserve. I ask you to review this carefully. I have decided to support this funding, which will help our courts, law enforcement, correctional programs, Medicaid and our graduates who work in these fields. If these programs are not supported by this referendum the legislature may again attempt to reduce or merge the Education Trust Fund to solve this problem. The third election is our national election and you have until the first Tuesday in November to make your mind up. But in all three remember to vote.
There is one statistic that I saw this summer that I want to share with you because it bothers me. On July 17, the COUNTRY (a registered corporate name) Financial Security Index survey was released and indicated that the number of adults who think college is a good investment dropped to 57 percent, down from 81percent in 2008.1 This is the lowest in four years of decline. This is troublesome because at first reading it appears that what we do in higher education might be losing traction with the public we serve. But also included in this survey was the fact that these same respondents believe that $20,000 is an acceptable amount of student loan debt to incur in pursuit of a college degree. So Americans are willing to shoulder more debt despite questioning the value of a college degree. Why? Because earning a baccalaureate degree is still the best defense against unemployment.
The unemployment rate for all four-year graduates is 4.5 percent. For recent graduates it's 6.8 percent. For recent graduates trying to work with only high school diplomas unemployment is nearly 24 percent.2 The Lumina Foundation has reported that jobs that require a bachelor's degree have increased by 2.2 million since the recession began.3 So a college degree does make a difference and continues to have great value.
Early in August, I had a long conversation with a man whose son had just completed his first year of college and was entering his sophomore year. The father had taken a second job driving for a limousine service on weekends and evenings in order to help pay for his son's education. In fact, he was saving all his tips for the summer to give to his son Jeremy as a surprise. He didn't want Jeremy to work so he could study hard to make his grades and gain admission to medical school in the next three years.
You see, you are making a difference every day for the dreams of the Jeremys and the Jeremyettes and all the young men and women of Jacksonville State University as well as for the dreams of their parents. It is our privilege to serve these students and help prepare them as the next generation of this state and nation. Tonight we will welcome our new students at Freshman Convocation in JSU Stadium at 6:30 p.m. Please come. It is important to have our students see you there. We will have a cookout on Dillon Field afterwards so be sure to bring your family.
Thank you for all the work you do for our students and this university. It is a pleasure and my privilege to work with you as your president. Have a great year.
1. Country Financial Security Index. "Americans Willing to Shoulder More Debt Despite Questioning the Value of a College Degree." http://countryfinancialsecurityindex.com/trendrelease.php?tid=34.
2. Pope, Justin. "Analysis: New Studies Weigh College Value and Cost."http://finance.yahoo.com/news/analysis-studies-weigh-college-value-cost-185539095.html. C.2012 Associated Press
3. Lumina Foundation. www.luminafoundation.org/newsroom/news_releases/2012-08-15.html