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Text of the 2016 Fall Address by USF President Judy Genshaft on Sept. 7, 2016

Good afternoon. Thank you for joining me here today, and thank you Dr. Garey for that kind introduction.

I would like to welcome the students, faculty and staff here at the Oval Theatre, as well as those who are watching online. And thank you to members of the USF Board of Trustees, our state higher education leaders and friends from all across the Tampa Bay community for your unyielding support of the USF System.

Your presence here today, both in this room and virtually from all corners of the world, is more than a symbolic show of unity. Today I am asking you to accept a bold new charge to further define our institution’s incredible legacy – something we can only accomplish together.

The University of South Florida is on the path to be designated as a Preeminent University in the State of Florida, further positioning USF for membership in the Association of American Universities, making USF eligible for millions of dollars in additional state funding, and helping USF earn the national recognition we deserve.

The quest is not simply about earning accolades. These achievements will also provide added resources to support the excellent work we are doing, and they will also help us recruit and retain all-star students, faculty and employees across the board.

The USF System has never been stronger. Our sense of purpose has never been clearer. Our thoughtful, creative and innovative solutions to problems have never been more needed than they are today.

Now is the time to focus on the future.

Now is the time to claim our destiny.

In my inaugural presidential address of 2000, I told a story of attending a gathering of the leaders of public universities from around the country, where a colleague from a very fine institution in California said to me:

“Judy, you’ve got the best presidency of any research university in the country.”

I told him I believed that to be true, but I wondered, why did he?

He explained that the University of South Florida was still in its formative stages, but everyone could see its potential. He believed – as I and many others did – that we had a rare and unique opportunity to craft a template for one of America’s next great public research universities.

Fast-forward to this past summer when I was again at a meeting of the same group, now called the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.

The organization’s president told me he’d never seen anything like USF. He’d never seen a university go so far, so fast.

For me, his observation brought this experience full circle.

Today we’ve lived up to what we have always believed about ourselves. Even when others may have doubted our bold ambitions, we have proven that no dream or goal is too big to strive for.

In our relatively short 60 years, we’ve emerged as a leading higher education system that has devoted unprecedented resources to supporting our students so they can graduate on time with high-quality degrees and minimal debt.

We’ve eliminated the achievement gap between students based on race or family income. This is a remarkable accomplishment, and other universities are actually looking to us as a national best practice in this regard.

We’ve excelled in research, invention and innovation – producing better treatments for diseases, creating new technologies, and spurring the modernization of our regional economy.

We have approximately 300 post-doctoral students on our campus. This is outstanding and sets us apart from most of Florida’s other public institutions.

In one of my favorite traditions in the Fall Address, I am very pleased to announce that we have set another new record in sponsored research: $458,506,047.

This research number reinforces our position in the Top 25 American public research universities and is proof that we can deliver on the ambitious goals we set for ourselves.

In converting that research into new technologies, medical drugs and products, USF ranks in the top 6 percent nationally in license and option agreements.

I’m so proud of our students, and the incredible progress we’re making in raising the bar for student achievement. These undergraduate and graduate students are drawn here because of the strength of our faculty, staff and our programs – many of them can go anywhere, yet they choose the institutions of the University of South Florida System.

This year’s freshmen make up the most academically accomplished class we’ve ever enrolled, with a fall average SAT score of 1226, an ACT score of 28 and an average GPA of 4.08 for new freshmen on the Tampa campus. When it comes to student profiles, “record-breaking” has become our new norm.

USF St. Petersburg and USF Sarasota-Manatee are similarly building on their momentum in attracting higher qualified students than ever before. Each of our regional institutions offers a distinctive experience that allows us to attract a broader range of students and offer personalized learning experiences.

The USF Morsani College of Medicine has just enrolled its largest class with the strongest academic profile in the college’s history. More than 6,000 students competed for just 183 spots. This impressive group of first year students averaged a record 34 on the Medical College Admission Test exam, the highest of all Florida universities, public or private.

Our achievements have not occurred by accident. We have worked deliberately and doggedly to accomplish our goals over these many years. We’ve done this by utilizing thoughtful strategic plans, setting measurable performance objectives and continually reviewing and updating these plans.

Recognizing our accomplishments is important.

This year I want us to channel the same dedication and enthusiasm toward our new path ahead.

This past summer University of South Florida Tampa was declared an Emerging Preeminent State Research University by our state leaders.

This new designation puts USF in a position of prominence among the institutions in the State University System and makes us eligible for millions of dollars in new state funding and other rewards each year. We are now one of just three universities eligible to participate in this program at this time. And those other institutions are 100 years older than we are!

This program and its associated metrics are very important – for all of the reasons I mentioned before.

As we uplift our university, we uplift each other. As our university’s achievement and reputation grows, so too does our personal and professional stature. And as you grow in stature, so, too does the university.

Our graduates’ degrees will be worth more. We will have more resources to support students, reward faculty and staff. We’ll be able to enhance our campuses with the most state-of-the-art facilities. We’ll continue to attract and retain the very best.

The Florida Preeminence program is clearly a worthwhile aim for our university, but today I also want to focus on a broader kind of preeminence that everyone can achieve, each in his or her own way, every single day.

Preeminence is more than metrics. Preeminence is a mindset.

Preeminence is the singular expression of our collective abilities as a community of students, scholars, researchers and innovators. Preeminence should be reflected in how we think, how we act, who we associate with and how we treat each other.

Our goal is not only to be the best in Florida, but to be one of the best in the world in areas that distinguish our university. It is the power of our ideas – deeply rooted in the humanities, the physical and social sciences, mathematics and the arts – that propels us forward and gives meaning to the metrics.

For USF this means a purposeful focus on our key areas of distinctive excellence, as found in our new USF Research Strategic Plan, such as brain and spinal cord research, data science and analytics, heart research and care, human security and water sustainability. This means focusing on the practical application of our scholarly activities and research to benefit society and create economic prosperity.

In all of our endeavors, we must ask ourselves: “Are we regarded as a national model?” If not, what do we need to do differently? It’s not always about the resources. Many times it’s about the choices we make.

Are we following “best practices” and making smart decisions?

Are we recruiting, hiring and retaining the very best?

Are we surrounding ourselves with A-level players and A-level team members?

Do we create an atmosphere where everyone feels valued and empowered? Where we can hold each other accountable for going above and beyond?

At the same time, we must ask ourselves, what is not contributing to our goal of preeminence? What is holding us back? What we are going to stop doing?

We must challenge the status-quo. We must never become complacent.

Throughout this effort, we need to adhere to the foundational ideals of higher education – the search for new knowledge and truth is always paramount, but so too is our obligation to foster diversity and promote free and civil discourse, especially on difficult and challenging topics. Our foremost obligation is to educate our undergraduate and graduate students. An informed citizenry is the cornerstone of a successful democracy.

Our progress depends upon our willingness to stretch our minds further, to keep growing, to keep discovering.

This is the promise we have made to the world: the university – our university – uplifts its community, the nation and the human spirit itself.

This is our role. This is the standard to which we must hold ourselves.

THIS IS OUR PATH TO PREEMINENCE.

Embracing this standard with renewed vigor is the challenge I give to you today. This is the same challenge I have given to my senior leadership. I have asked them to hold our leadership team accountable to these standards as we work to raise our own performance and that of the staff around us.

You have already seen examples of this commitment in action.

This summer we merged several of our offices that interface with students into one unit with a focus on bolstering academic success, retention and improving the student experience. Enrollment Planning and Management, Student Affairs, and Undergraduate Studies now operate as one unit that can most effectively enable positive change. This change emphasizes our commitment to shared responsibility and cooperation for the benefit of the students we serve.

USF Sarasota-Manatee now recently created a new College of Science and Mathematics, aligning applied science and mathematics offerings and expanding laboratory and research space.

In addition, USF Sarasota-Manatee and the USF College of Engineering recently created a two-plus-two partnership to maximize engineering possibilities for our students all across our service region.

At USF St. Petersburg, the finishing touches are now going into the Lynn Pippenger Hall, a new building for the Kate Tiedemann College of Business, which will be opening its doors for spring semester 2017.

In the coming months, we will watch construction begin on our new footprint in Downtown Tampa, where the Morsani College of Medicine and new Heart Health Institute will help anchor a massive downtown redevelopment project, the likes of which Tampa Bay has never seen.

To enhance student success, the Tampa campus is engaged in a precedent-setting public-private partnership that will erect an historic new student housing village on campus, bringing our total number of beds to nearly 6,500. This village represents a new era for the University of South Florida Tampa, further strengthening our vibrant residential undergraduate life.

Our commitment to excellence for USF Athletics has also never been stronger, and that support can be clearly seen in the surging success of our 19 NCAA sports programs. In fact, for the first time in USF history, USF Athletics has just completed a new strategic plan that focuses the program on productive growth through key goals – (most importantly, this means WINNING! )

As you all know, the USF System is in the midst of a billion-dollar fundraising campaign. This is highly unusual for a public university founded only 60 years ago. We are well on our way to achieving this goal, with a total of $939,269,576 raised. Soon we will hit that one-billion-dollar mark.

With all of these achievements, we need to earn the national recognition we deserve. This is the time to be bold and highly visible. In the coming months, the University of South Florida System will embark upon a new branding and marketing effort, which will build our value through a disciplined focus on consistency of our brand and our messaging. We want to trumpet your accomplishments. The University of South Florida System will no longer be a “best-kept secret.”

Even my own goals reflect this forward-looking focus on preeminence. The Board of Trustees has recently approved my updated performance goals to reflect a push toward national excellence. These goals require me to continue to engage in leadership roles on the national and global levels to enhance the USF System’s reputation. The board has also asked us to undertake a new System-wide strategic plan.

This is only the beginning.

All of the institutions in the USF System, every single faculty member, every single staff member on each of our campuses, and every student – undergraduate and graduate – who comes through our doors, can contribute to this effort.

It will take hard work. It may require us to change the way we’ve always done something.

But I know we are up for the challenge.

During my very first inaugural address, I articulated my vision for this university’s future.

It was clear to me, even on day 1, that this university was capable of harnessing its incredible potential to build a powerhouse of research, innovation and national excellence. In fact, I mentioned the word, “preeminence,” several times that day.

During that inaugural speech I found great perspective in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who once observed, “The ultimate test of a man is not where he stands in time of comfort or convenience… but where he stands in time of challenge.”

This is our time of challenge.

This is the time for us to dig deeper, work smarter, and go further than ever before.

Again, this is the time we must ask ourselves:

Are we raising our own performance standards to reflect a preeminent institution?

Are we surrounding ourselves with the very best talent? Are we recruiting the highest level of people to this fine institution?

Are we positioning ourselves as the national model in our key areas of expertise?

Bolstered by the ideals of higher education, supported by our collective tenacity, challenged by the dreams of our university’s forefathers, this is how we will fulfill our destiny.

When the next generations look back on this university’s legacy, I have no doubt that they will see this moment as a turning point. When we decided, together: THIS IS OUR TIME.

I stand before you today, still privileged by the opportunity to serve as your leader and grateful for your many contributions to our incredible institutions, day after day after day.

I ask you to join me as we write the next chapter of our history, in times of triumph and especially in times of challenge. Together, boldly, we are limitless and unstoppable.

THIS IS OUR PATH TO PREEMINENCE!

Thank you.

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