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President James Ramsey’s State of the University address

by Rushton,Jeff A last modified Jan 24, 2011 03:22 PM

Transcript of President James Ramsey’s State of the University 2010

State of the University Address

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Thank you. Would each of you join me in a moment of silence allowing us to reflect on the lives of Sam Weakley, Anne Axton and Daniel Covington.

And now, would each of you join me in thanking our outstanding provost for her daily commitment to our faculty, students and staff at the University of Louisville.

And I don’t know, what do you think? Is it good to have Phil back or not? After being selected as the 17th president of the University of Louisville in 2002, some on campus said: “When will we have a presidential inauguration?” My response was, “Some Friday afternoon we’ll grill hotdogs on the front lawn and call that our inauguration.”

But we understand the importance of academic tradition. So on Sept. 9, 2003, faculty, staff, students, alumni and members of our community came together as one as we recommitted ourselves to the statutory mandate given to us by the people of Kentucky.

Shortly thereafter, we decided that we had so much fun with the inauguration that we would begin a new tradition at UofL by holding a fall convocation to celebrate prior year’s successes and to annually reaffirm our commitment as a university.

And so, as Wally mentioned, the State of the University Convocation was born seven years ago.

Since still somewhat a new event, each year we have the opportunity to shape the State of the University program; hence each year’s program has been a little bit different than past ceremonies.

Last year we used the “State of the University” convocation to thank the two architects of the state’s “Bucks for Brains” program – former Gov. Paul Patton and Mr. Hank Wagner.

This year we say thank you to a family who has meant so much not only to the University of Louisville, but to this community – the Porter family. The naming of our College of Education and Human Development building in honor of Woodford and Harriett Porter makes this day an important milestone in the life of our university.

Would you join me one more time in saying “thank you” to the Porter family for their kindness, for their devotion.

To deviate again from past practice, this year as part of the State of the University address, we will use the electronic media to help us look back on the past academic year. So join me as we review and celebrate last year.

Last year was a “special” year. “Special” challenges –

  • The flood.
  • Continued state budget cuts – budget cuts that are now the norm and not the exception.
  • The press’s fixation on personalities and not the real work of the university.
  • The unknown impact of health reform and other public policy initiatives.


Yet, despite these challenges, we have realized many, many successes – far more than can be portrayed in a five-minute video.

More importantly, we did not back off from our commitments:

a. A commitment to Excellence in undergraduate education. A commitment to becoming the major research university expected of us by the Postsecondary Education reform of 1997.

And a commitment to making our community and state a better place through the work of our Signature Partnership Initiative, our translational research efforts and other community outreach programs.

But we have more to do – we have much more to do for our 2020 Plan sets an aggressive course of action for us.

While we cannot predict what unique challenges we will face in the future, we do know that our fiscal challenges are not going away. Economic recovery will be slow. Resources from our primary funding agency – the Commonwealth of Kentucky – will be limited.

So, can we be optimistic as we look not only to the new academic year but, more importantly, as we look toward 2020?

Maybe we can – at least guardedly so – since we’ve achieved so much in the worst of economic times.

But we recognize that with each budget cut our work becomes harder and harder. And so let’s also be candid and recognize that some of us here today will not be here in 2020.

So what’s to stop us from saying that we can always do more, and then let someone in the future explain why we may have fallen short.
But that would not be right and we cannot do that.

Thus we must be realistic in our assessments of what we can do next year and beyond.

And maybe a good way of thinking about the future is to momentarily revisit the past. During last year’s powerful State of the University address presented by the Provost, we heard a litany of the university successes from the prior year as we were reminded of the epic poem “Beowulf.”

You remember the story – Beowulf faced challenges. Beowulf knew what had to be done. Beowulf did what had to be done – face the unknown and face his fears.

And so it is with us. We must do what we must do; we must continue to do what has been mandated of us.

And we too must face our fears.

We are tired of state budget cuts! We are sick of a state budget that holds us back!

While we appreciate the efforts of Gov. Beshear and the Kentucky General Assembly to minimize education cuts, how can we ignore the impact past cuts have on our future? For example, last year we needed to hire 40 new faculty; we could fund only four new positions. We saw Yale, The Ohio State University, the University of Nebraska and even local health care providers hire away some of our best faculty.

We need more classroom space for undergraduate education, but there’s no money. We need funds to compensate our faculty and staff fairly and to recognize their efforts – for we have been unable to do so in recent years.

Budget cuts not only hurt our ability to do what we must do, but cuts also cause us to fear failure.

No one wants to fail, for by failing we disappoint.

With failure comes criticism.

And we recognize there are many, the vast majority, in our community who wish us well; those who understand the importance of our work; those who cheer for us to be successful; and those who work with us to move forward – helping us be a better university, thus improving our community and state.

But we also recognize that there are a few in our community who wish us ill. Those who say, “I went to a great university and the University of Louisville can never, will never, be great university.” And there are those who say we should be content to be good, to be okay. To be Avis.

And while we value criticism that makes us better, we know that often criticisms are based on falsehoods and misinformation not intended to be constructive, but rather to impede our progress.

Our fear of failure is further explained by the realization that to improve and do the things we must do, we must often do things differently than they’ve been done in the past.

Change is hard. Change is scary. Change brings about uncertainty. Change involves risk. But change can be transformational and help us achieve greatness.

And we, as Beowulf, fear the unknown.

Again, we do not know what unique challenges the future will bring? And while we have proven that we are resilient, and that we have dealt with the challenges of the past, we realize that in so doing our attention can be diverted from our core mission of the classroom and our students.

Last year the Provost concluded the State of the University Address by reminding us that in “Beowulf” there was also a dragon, but that dragon was a story for another day.

Maybe that dragon is that we get tired and worn down. We lose our energy, we become fatigued, and we decide that we cannot continue with the strategies and tactics outlined in the 2020 Plan; and maybe we think we should back off from that plan.

After all, can our state really expect us to meet a goal that was set in 1997 at a time when the economy was better and it was recognized, clearly understood, and articulated through the public policy of the Commonwealth of Kentucky that this journey to 2020 was the way to improve the quality of life for the people of our state.

So do we ever ask ourselves – “Can we continue to move forward?”

Why wouldn’t we ask ourselves this question?

I do. So how can I expect you to continue to do the incredible things you do every day given an uncertain future and budget constraints.’

But when I feel that way, I think back.

I think back –
Not to Aug. 4, 2009 – the day of the flood – but to Aug. 21, 2009 and our New Student Convocation and Cap Ceremony held right here in Comstock Hall just 17 days after the flood. You – you, as a campus community, did the impossible and were there to greet our new freshman – an outstanding freshman class – and you were there to begin classes three days later.

And when discouraged I think back to that day at J.B. Atkinson Elementary School when our Staff Senate, under the leadership of Tammy Lawson, presented thousands of dollars of school supplies that were on a “wish list” of the faculty and students at Atkinson. School supplies that could not be funded by Jefferson County Public Schools.

I remember the emotion as we attended the town hall meeting at Atkinson to present the “wish list” to the students and faculty; and I remember Principal Dewey Hensley opening the town hall meeting by asking,
“First graders, when are you going to college?” and as one, in a loud voice and a clear voice, they shouted, “2020.” Dr. Hensley: “Second graders, when are you going to college?” And, again, in a loud and clear voice and as one: “2019.”

I remember the commitment of the Oxley Foundation, Debby and Jack Oxley, of $1 million to our Signature Partnership Initiative at Atkinson.

And when frustrated, I think back to Nov. 21 – a Saturday morning – on my way to campus, when I received an e-mail that our Monica Marks, our Monica Marks from, as the video says, tiny Rush, Kentucky, had been selected as a Rhodes Scholar. I remember the rush of emotion; the tears of joy. Monica Marks from the University of Louisville, one of 32 students from across the United States selected as a Rhodes Scholar.

And when I think we cannot achieve the goals of the 2020 Plan I think back to April 26 and the e mail from Greg Hutcheson – Phi Beta Kappa would be coming to the University of Louisville for a visit in 2011 to consider our application for membership.

And when tired and worn down, I think back to the barrage of e-mails, over several weeks in April and May, from Seabrook Jones and Pat Condon, each saying, “You’re not going to believe this. Here we go again, another two Fulbrights.” A record 14!

And when feeling there is no way we can do more than we are doing, I think back to May 26 when, during meetings, I tried not to be impolite by constantly looking at my Blackberry as I tracked the progress of our Austen Childs, our Austen Childs, as he upset the #1 seeded tennis player in the United States, and then knocked off players from Auburn, Virginia, Texas A&M on his way to finals of the NCAA.

And when I need to be inspired I think back to May 8 – Commencement and Nicole Wilkins, our first Cardinal Covenant graduate, and I think of what this UofL initiative means to those who could not otherwise attend college.

And on those early mornings when I’m in my office alone, facing the prospect of another day of having to say, “No, we don’t have the funds.” Rather than be discouraged, I think back – not to the herculean effort of Dean Edward Halperin to rebuild our neurosurgery program in a short 43 days, but I think about our new chair of neurosurgery, Jonathan Hodes; and the work of Jonathan, Susie Harkema and Scott Whittemore and their entire team that are helping people overcome spinal cord injuries and walk again.

And when I wonder if it is all worthwhile, I think of Dec. 17, 2009, winter graduation, and the overwhelming personal pride I felt when our daughter, Jacque, joined her sister, Jenny, and my mother and father, as graduates of the University of Louisville.

And on those days when there are those who question the value of college athletes, I think back to a spring day when professor Keeling stopped me on campus and said, “I really like our new football coach.” Deb told me the story of how Coach Strong came to her class to make sure that one of his players understood that, while football is fun and a part of our campus life, every student-athlete at the University of Louisville needs a college degree. Deb said Coach Strong sat in her class to make sure that the student-player next to him understood the words of Woodford Porter – “Education is the great equalizer.”

And on those days when I begin to think that enough is enough, I don’t have the stamina to continue, I remember my first lunch with Woodford Porter and his story – a history of fighting discrimination and becoming the first African American elected to the Louisville Board of Education. I think of Woodford Porter, and his story of becoming the first African American Trustee for the university, and then becoming chair of our Board of Trustees.

I think of Harriett Porter, a devoted educator, and her struggle against cancer. And I think of this wonderful family and all they mean to our university and our community.

Back off from our 2020 Plan? Slow down? Settle for second best?

You gotta be kidding! Never! No way!

Harriett and Woodford Porter wouldn’t stand for it.

And you – each of you – can think back to those classes when your students are so engaged, excited and curious. And as you returned to your office you did so on an exhilarating high, reminded of why being a faculty member is so special.

And each of you can think back to the joy you felt with the notification that a paper had been accepted for publication; a grant had been funded; a musical score was performed for the first time; your art exhibit opened to rave reviews; or perhaps you received a thank you note from a grateful patient.

Steve Cotton, of University Planning, Design and Construction, said that his inspiration comes from having had the opportunity to work with our dedicated and passionate oncology researchers during the construction of our Clinical and Translational Research Building. Steve said that his mother passed away from cancer and his mother-in-law is a cancer survivor, and for him to be a part of our cancer research program at the University of Louisville is good for his soul.

Rhonda Buchanan, Spanish professor and director of Latin American and Latino Studies, says her inspiration comes from her Panama scholars telling her that our annual study abroad program is a life-changing, a life-changing experience. Aaron Boggs, superintendent of grounds, indicated his inspiration results from having brought the single-stream recycling program to the University of Louisville, making him feel he is making a difference at UofL.

And Clyde Paul, HVAC foreman in Physical Plant, a former UofL student and parent of three children who have attended the University of Louisville, says that even with all the challenges Mother Nature has thrown at us, this is his campus, you are his people, and it is his responsibility to keep you and our campus safe and functioning.

And so it is with each of you, for you are the University of Louisville. We, will find a way to do what we must do.

The dragon Dr. Willihnganz mentioned last year may be the test of our resolve and our willingness to keep the bar that we have set, high.

But with the start of the new year let’s not worry about dragons. For look at what we have done. We will do more. For our DNA allows us to do more than we ever thought possible.

And so it will be this year! So it will be this year:

As we embark on a major capital campaign with a goal that many say we will be unable to achieve;

As we welcome the Phi Beta Kappa’s review team to campus;

As we again seek NIH funding for our Clinical and Translational Grant proposal;

As we reaffirm our commitment to the very best in cancer care, heart care, and helping people walk again;

As we continue the work of our Signature Partnership Initiative to help those in our community who have been left behind educationally and economically; As we become this year a Steinway campus;

As we continue to provide the best – the best – educational experience to our students;

And as we continue to work tirelessly every day to improve the quality of life for all – all citizens of our community and state.

Dragon? What dragon? No dragons on this campus.

That’s an old story – we read it – we are moving on.

Because of you and who you are and what you represent, we are going to have a great fall semester and a great year!

Thank you for all that you do, and as someone said earlier today, “We know Woodford and Harriett are looking down on us saying, GO CARDS!”

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