Dear Campus Community,
First let me say thank you to our faculty, staff and students for a remarkable and memorable investiture. In particular, I want to thank the committee members for doing such a wonderful job (Ellen Watson, Bobby Prince, Tammy Hedges, Loretta Rudd, Bruce Harber, Jeannie Smith, Don Wagner, Lisa Warmath, Justin Lawhead, Ladonnal Curry, Meta Laabs, Reginald Green, Ricky Kirby, Stephanie Beasley, Wade Jackson, and Jeff Wilson). We had a great showing from across campus, our City, and the state. It was indeed special to have Governor Haslam and Chancellor Morgan join us on campus. I think all would agree that our students, Mary Garcia and Johnnie Holmes, made us all proud. Several people have asked that I distribute my remarks and, accordingly, you will find the text below. I wish you all well as we wrap up another academic year, prepare for the summer, and continue the important work of the U of M. Thank you again for all you do for our University and City.
The video of the investiture can be viewed at: http://mediasite.memphis.edu/Mediasite/Catalog/Full/f88afecb74fd4ee38ca7b2b00dc33c2321
The Gift of a Great Public University
Welcome to all of our distinguished guests today, including faculty, staff, students, leaders in higher education, local and state government officials, alumni, and friends of the University of Memphis. I am grateful to all of you for taking the time to be with us today, for taking the time to travel great distances, and for recognizing and honoring the University of Memphis and the important role that it plays in our community.
I want to thank Governor Haslam for joining us today and for providing extraordinary leadership for the state of Tennessee, for advancing higher education, for recognizing its critical role in economic development and a civil society, and for thinking outside of the box in developing initiatives that expand the access, opportunity, and impact of higher education. Tennessee has not only offered a genuinely innovative approach, but also influenced the national conversation and provided much-needed positive momentum to an issue that had floundered in recent years. I want to thank Congressman Cohen for joining us today, for taking time out of a busy and demanding schedule, and for his service to Memphis and our nation. I want to thank Senator Norris, Representative White, Mayor Wharton, Mayor Luttrell and Mayor Gist for their leadership and service to our community, for tackling thorny issues, offering hope and inspiration, and shaping a vision that is moving Memphis, Jackson and Tennessee forward in decisive and exciting fashion. I want to thank Brad Martin and Sherri Lipman for their great service to our University and City.
I want to thank Chancellor Morgan and the Tennessee Board of Regents, and our Board of Visitors for the remarkable investment of time, energy and expertise they make to our great university. I want to thank our alumni for their support and passion, particularly when it comes to basketball. I want to thank our faculty and staff (both current and former) for their creativity and inspired commitment to higher education and our community, for providing an unshakable foundation for a proud institution that has served our community for one hundred and three years. At an occasion like today, it is incumbent upon all of us to recognize the sacrifices made by faculty and staff for over a century at the University of Memphis, as it is the culmination of their efforts that has created the opportunities we enjoy today. The breadth and depth of contributions from University of Memphis faculty, both in and out of the classroom, help make the world a better place, with not only local impact but global reach. The soul of any great university is its faculty and staff.
I want to thank my family, including Loretta, Nicholas and Emma for not only being here today, but for being there for over three decades, offering support, love and perspective, and for sharing a wonderful life together. Nicholas and Emma frequently remind me not only of the rapid pace of change in today’s world and the need to be get in front of the curve rather than be behind it, but that that the landscape is very different for today’s students, the challenges more complex, the competition stiffer and the consequences more costly.
Finally, I want to thank our students, both current and former, for joining us today, for their boundless energy and for serving as a constant source of inspiration through their hard work, dedication and commitment. Each and every day they evidence the very values that drive our University and strengthen our community. The greatest privilege I have is to serve our students and share in their life stories, stories that evidence great talent and resilience in the face of adversity and an unbridled optimism that fuels the ability to balance a multitude of competing demands.
Our University is a precious thing, a great gift to our community, a great opportunity for our students, and a source of new knowledge, discovery, creativity and artistic expression for our nation. It is a place of hope, optimism, and transformation. Whether a freshman transitioning to the U of M directly from high school, or a returning adult learner looking to find a new career pathway, students arrive on our campus with equal amounts of enthusiasm, hope, anxiety and apprehension, but all are looking for one thing---to be transformed. I have had the distinct privilege to share in that transformational process, along with many of you. Let me express my gratitude for the opportunity, my recognition of the importance of our work, and my commitment to expanding our reach and impact.
Few would argue against the claim that the past decade has been a difficult one for higher education. We have juggled issues including escalating costs, higher student debt loads, a rapidly shifting labor market, and the profound impact of technology in pedagogy. But despite those challenges, the University of Memphis has continued to serve our students and community with great distinction and effectiveness. The University of Memphis has distinguished itself as not only providing a high quality education for our students, but we have been recognized for impactful research with practical implications and creative contributions that enrich the quality of our lives. There are countless examples, but we are increasingly recognized for research in health and health sciences, transportation and logistics, biomedical engineering, mathematics, and ground water. Our research changes the lives of citizens and improves our community. The impact of creative work in the arts and humanities has been recognized nationally and internationally. Over the last two years I have been amazed by the work of our faculty, encouraged by their entrepreneurial spirit, and grateful for their commitment to our students, University and City. We have made a genuine commitment to expand and grow our research, scholarly and creative mission, recognizing its importance for our students, community and nation.
The work of a great university is never complete, the process of knowledge creation and dissemination unending. Today’s events provide an opportunity to reflect on our mission and embrace the reality that our work changes lives, our community and our nation. One of our greatest challenges is to provide our students with a comprehensive education, one that not only prepares them for their chosen careers and a commitment to lifelong learning, but also that we help develop citizens well prepared to engage fully in a democratic society, citizens with the capacity to think critically and embrace innovation, push intellectual and personal boundaries, and citizens that appreciate fully the arts and humanities and their importance in a vibrant and diverse society.
Access to and completion of a comprehensive, quality postsecondary degree has become essential to social and economic success today. As the benefits of a college degree have expanded, disparities and inequities have emerged, not only with respect to access and affordability, but also in retention and completion. More important than the degree and its economic impact, a college degree has less tangible but equally important impact on individual capacity to reason and analyze, the development of an ethical perspective, collaborative engagement, exposure to diverse opinions, and an appreciation for the arts, all critical to a civil and democratic society. In short, full and effective civic engagement is facilitated by post-secondary education. A strong future is undeniably linked to the strength of our public universities, particularly in metropolitan areas. Current demographics suggest that without purposeful and strategic effort, educational disparities and inequalities will only grow in the coming years, with a ripple effect reaching each and every corner of our nation. As greater numbers of non-traditional students and returning adult learners make their way to campus, the challenges will continue to grow.
The University of Memphis has never been more important, has never been more needed, nor have we every been more well-positioned to succeed. In the last several years the University of Memphis has made significant progress in closing the gap on retention and graduation for all of our students. But more important than simply helping students complete their degrees, we must provide them a strong foundation to be successful and help them develop the skills necessary in a rapidly changing world. We must help our students recognize what is possible in their lives, expand their traditional boundaries, and recognize that embedded in each and every challenge is a great opportunity. It is universities like Memphis that will move the needle on reducing educational and economic disparities and inequities. At this moment in history the role of public research universities has never been more important, nor the time for investment more critical.
Let me leave you with a strong commitment that the University of Memphis will continue to expand our national footprint, sharing the remarkable things that happen here with the wider world. Not only are we committed to the public good, we are serving the public good. What is hidden behind the physical changes underway on campus are the lives changed by our work and research.
Thank you for this opportunity and the privilege to lead the University of Memphis. It is with a shared vision of our future that we will continue the remarkable work of the past century. The University of Memphis has a very bright future. Not only can we be part of the national conversation, we can help shape it. I look forward to working with all of you to expand our reach, transform the lives of our students, create new knowledge, foster discovery, witness the joy of creative expression, and remind our world that diversity enriches all of our lives. Go Tigers.
M. David Rudd
President | Distinguished University Professor