As all of you are aware, the vision President Martin offered at the beginning of this academic year not only emphasized our core missions of teaching and research, but also our great need to explore and identify measureable outcomes to monitor the success of our efforts. Without measureable outcomes, it’s impossible to gauge our progress, implement and modify effective strategies, and realize our full potential. We owe it to our students, the taxpayers, and to ourselves to be able to communicate in clear and succinct fashion that we are thinking strategically, investing wisely, and effectively monitoring both our successes and challenges.
There is considerable debate across the higher education community about the utility and impact of outcomes and related metrics. Some aspects of what we do translate directly and seamlessly to outcome measures, but others are not so easily captured with metrics. Some disciplines line up nicely with this effort, others do not. Hence, the need for us to be thoughtful and thorough, but without shying away from the challenge. In response to the complexity of this effort, I have engaged the Faculty Senate, Deans, Chairs, and Program Directors in an ongoing conversation, one that has only just started. Members of the Faculty Senate will play roles in three key areas. First, Senators will be part of the “budget working group” that will begin its work on Tuesday. Second, the Faculty Senate’s Performance Committee is charged with identifying outcome metrics to gauge progress and performance in both teaching and research. Finally, members of the Senate serve on the research implementation teams charged with developing a strategic response to our recent research capacity analysis. Deans, chairs and program directors are also engaged as part of the University administrative and academic leadership team.
Although the challenge of developing and implementing performance metrics is difficult, it is arguably one of the more critical tasks in our immediate future given their important role in strategic planning and budgeting. An interesting question has quickly emerged about how we represent interdisciplinary activity, both across teaching and research. A focus on interdisciplinary collaboration is essential. Similar questions have emerged about innovation. We have some great minds on campus and I have unwavering confidence we’ll answer these questions in a creative and meaningful fashion, with consideration to the full range of nuances that emerge across a broad range of discipline-specific concerns at our comprehensive research university, where we are committed to broad exposure in the curriculum.
Recent discussions about some early figures released on costs per degree have been lively and productive. Although only a crude measure of where and how we’ve invested past funds, it’s one that has started the conversation about outcomes and performance-based metrics, a conversation that will continue indefinitely as we explore a budget model that is more flexible and responsive to the rapidly changing higher education landscape. Not only do we need to be creative, innovative and interdisciplinary in our approach, we need to be nimble in structure and more localized in decision-making, empowering our programs and faculty to strategize, invest and implement in their particular areas of expertise.
This is an exciting time to be at the University of Memphis. I am profoundly confident in our ability to be innovative and creative and to meet the needs of our students in an efficient and effective fashion. As you read in a recent Commercial Appeal article, we’ve implemented a range of empirically informed strategies to improve our retention rates and facilitate degree completion, while holding costs down, maintaining rigor, and striving for excellence. Similarly, I have no doubt that we will reach our goal of $100 million in research expenditures within the next five years. Thank you for your energy, your ideas and commitment to moving the University of Memphis forward.
M. David Rudd