Campus News

UGA President Jere W. Morehead reports on the state of the university

Jere Morehead

Good afternoon, and thank you for being here. Thank you, Silvia, for that kind introduction and for your service as chair of the Executive Committee of University Council.

In keeping with the tradition of the State of the University address, I would like to briefly review a few of the highlights of the year, primarily since I took office July 1.

We enrolled this fall the most qualified freshman class in UGA history. Those students brought to our campus an average SAT score of 1280, an ACT score of 29, and a 3.86 grade point average. These are very bright, very ­capable young individuals, and we owe them an extraordinary ­university experience.

UGA returned to the top 20 in the U.S. News & World Report public research university ranking, at 20, up from 21 last year. We made the list of Public Ivies for the second year in a row; were 10th on Kiplinger’s 100 Best Values in Public Colleges list; and seventh on Washington Monthly’s “Best Bang for the Buck” list. 

And, we received a grade of “A” from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni for the strength of our core curriculum. Enrollment in the new College of Engineering is up 50 percent, which means we are meeting the significant demand we articulated in establishing that new College. 

We are busy educating work-ready, Georgia-trained engineers, and many qualified Georgia high school graduates are remaining in this state for their engineering degrees. This is good news for UGA and for the state’s economy.

The School of Law continued its success in placing students in significant judicial clerkships, with six U.S. Supreme Court clerks in the past nine years and an annual average of 26 federal clerkships over the past five years. Andrew Pinson, whom I had the pleasure of teaching as an undergraduate Honors student and who is also a Law School graduate, was chosen to clerk for Justice Clarence Thomas this fall.

In partnership with the Clarke County School District, we established the Experience UGA program. Developed, led and managed by the Office of Service-Learning, in partnership with the College of Education, this program will bring every Clarke County public school student to the UGA campus. This is a significant outreach effort as we introduce higher education to a new generation of aspiring students.

With the leadership of the Vice President for Public Service and Outreach, we recreated the New Faculty Tour and showcased to our faculty our commitment to serving this entire state. Our new faculty understand and appreciate our land-grant mission as the flagship institution.

We continued our progress toward reducing our energy consumption by 15 percent by the year 2020 with a number of targeted efforts. We reinsulated 150 steam vents across campus, reducing steam demand by 20 percent. We made major heating and air conditioning upgrades and window replacements at Oglethorpe House, resulting in a 50 percent energy savings there. 

We installed a wireless lighting system in the Carlton Street Parking Deck, the fifth such installation, resulting in more than 50 percent savings in electricity as we enhanced lighting and safety. Creating a more energy efficient and sustainable campus remains an important objective.

The Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs opened a Student Veterans Resource Center in the Tate Center to support our growing population of individuals who have provided extraordinary service to our country. We have a special responsibility to our veterans and look forward to serving them more effectively with this office.

Our athletic teams performed well in the classroom. The latest NCAA report shows an 83 percent graduation rate for UGA athletes, up from 81 percent the previous year. The 545 student athletes enrolled in the fall semester earned a collective grade point average of 3.01, the first time in UGA history that the combined fall score exceeded 3.0. The American Football Coaches Association presented the Academic Achievement Award to the football team-joining only Stanford, Rice, and Tulane.

This year also brought a wealth of important research and grants from UGA faculty. For example, the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, which formally joined UGA on July 1, received a grant to study black gill syndrome, a serious threat to Georgia’s wild shrimp harvest. The impact of such research on the coastal economy and the cost of shrimp is promising. A $7.4 million grant to the Complex Carbohydrate Research Center will support the ongoing study of glycans, sugar molecule chains located on the surface of every human cell. 

Glycans are thought to play a role in almost all aspects of human health and disease, and understanding glycan behavior has the potential for early transformative therapies.

We selected several new senior administrators after national searches. Dr. Pamela Whitten, currently Dean of the College of Communication Arts and Sciences at Michigan State University, will join UGA as Provost on February 1. Dr. Whitten possesses the background and ability to move the academic programs of the University of Georgia forward with a focus on excellence. She is prepared to join me in leading UGA in a collaborative process to make the difficult but necessary decisions that will assure our continued upward trajectory as a great public research university. 

Dr. Libby Morris has served the university exceptionally well as Interim Provost since July 1 and beforehand as Vice Provost for Academic Affairs. Her commitment to UGA’s mission and her dedication to our students, faculty and staff are inspiring. Please join me in thanking Dr. Morris for a job well done.

Michael Raeber, a 1993 cum laude graduate of the UGA School of Law and formerly Editor in Chief of the Georgia Law Review, will also start February 1 as our new Executive Director of Legal Affairs. After completing an Eleventh Circuit Clerkship, he joined the King and Spalding law firm in 1994 and was made a partner in 2002. He is widely regarded as one of the most outstanding lawyers in the state, and I am very pleased he has accepted the offer to serve as our chief legal counsel. Please join me in welcoming him. 

Beth Bailey has served admirably as the Interim Executive Director. Moreover, her vast experience in the Legal Affairs office was extremely valuable to our institution during this transitional period. Please join me in thanking her for her excellent work.

Ryan Nesbit, our longstanding budget director, has skillfully managed the complex responsibilities of Finance and Administration over the past seven months as the Interim Vice President while the search for the permanent Vice President for Finance and Administration has been underway. Please join me in thanking Ryan for his service as well. 

Four new deans have taken office since July 1:Dr. Charles Davis in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, who came here from the University of Missouri; Dr. Don Leo in the College of Engineering, from Virginia Tech; and Dr. Stefanie Lindquist in the School of Public and International Affairs, who rejoined us from the University of Texas. We also welcomed back to full-time service, President Emeritus Charles B. Knapp as the Interim Dean of the Terry College of Business. Victor Wilson has returned to UGA as Vice President for Student Affairs from a similar position at the College of Charleston. All of our new administrators are having a great year. Please join me in welcoming them. 

Three major construction projects are underway, with one on schedule for use by our students next fall—a replacement for Bolton Dining Hall, at the corner of Lumpkin and Baxter streets in the heart of campus. Correll Hall, which constitutes Phase I of the Terry Business Learning Community, is in the initial stages of construction across the street on the north side of Baxter.

The Veterinary Medicine Learning Center on College Station Road will be nearing completion by this time next year. Phases III and IV of the Health Sciences Campus renovation are on schedule. The Health Sciences Campus, home to both the College of Public Health and the Georgia Regents University/University of Georgia Medical Partnership, is a critically important component of UGA’s academic and public service mission. We look forward to celebrating the graduation of our first class of doctors from the Medical Partnership in May. The positive impact of this joint initiative on the health and welfare of our state, as well as our economy, is profound.

We received some very good news from the Chancellor and the Board of Regents in the fall when my top capital priority, the Science Learning Center, was included in the Board’s list of recommended construction projects submitted to the Governor. I am very pleased that Governor Deal chose the Science Learning Center for inclusion in his budget recommendations to the General Assembly last week. If approved by the General Assembly, this $44.7 million classroom and laboratory facility will provide modern, efficient, and flexible space to educate our growing population of students in the STEM disciplines. 

The UGA Foundation has completed the purchase of a facility to permanently house the Washington Semester and Honors in Washington programs in the nation’s capital, and we hope to make it available to our instructional programs by early next year. This UGA house in D.C. will help ensure that these programs remain affordable for our undergraduate students, while placing us alongside other leading universities with a significant presence in Washington. 

We have, then, good reason to celebrate, as much for the collaborative nature of these many accomplishments as for the acclaim that comes from them. We work together for the common good at the University of Georgia; we elevate the institution through mutual effort.

As I have reflected over the first several months of my tenure as president, I also acknowledge that not every experience has been positive. I am reminded of the attack on our university community, when hateful comments on social media sites were posted in the fall, targeting some of our student and faculty groups. However, I also remember in the days that followed a spirit of unity as our campus came together and rejected that criminal activity. This is a better university when we foster and support a culture of openness and inclusiveness.

In order for the University of Georgia to reach new heights, we must ask—and answer—two important questions: What is the state of the University of Georgia today? And, what do we want the University of Georgia to become in the future? 

As you might imagine, I have thought about these questions a great deal during the past seven months as President, but also for much of my 27 years on the University of Georgia campus. I have been fortunate to watch this university mature into a complex, comprehensive and vibrant institution that strives to serve the citizens of this state and beyond. 

I believe the state of the University is strong, with its best days still ahead. As the birthplace of American public higher education, we honor and respect a great tradition of instruction, research, leadership and service, but we are not constrained by that tradition. 

In fact, the University of Georgia must be more than it has ever been. It must be more to our students, more to our faculty, more to the citizens of Georgia and more to the world. Our charge today is to build on what has been done here since 1785 with a clear and unwavering focus on keeping our university competitive in the years and decades to come.

One of our greatest strengths is the quality of the undergraduate experience. The First-Year Odyssey program, the general quality of instruction, the engagement of undergraduates in research through the Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities, the reputation of our Honors Program, the commitment and dedication of our academic advisors, the scope of student affairs programming, and intercollegiate sports-all are elements of what distinguishes the University of Georgia from almost all of its public research university peers. 

Lest there be any doubt that this university is highly desirable to high school seniors seeking a quality educational experience, know this: more than 21,200 applicants have applied for the 5,100 seats in the fall 2014 class, a new record for applications. That is a tribute to the great work of our Office of Admissions and the total educational experience that we-all of us-have built at the University of Georgia.

I noted earlier that the University returned to #10 in the Kiplinger’s “Best Values in Public Colleges” ranking this year, up from #15 last year. To be consistently ranked among the best values in public higher education speaks to the quality received by students in relationship to cost, for if there is no quality in the education provided, the cost is irrelevant. 

The other top 10 institutions on that particular list are also of high quality, including the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; the University of Virginia; the University of Florida; the College of William and Mary; the University of California, Los Angeles; the University of Michigan; the University of Maryland, College Park; the University of Wisconsin, Madison; and the University of California, Berkeley. Any simple survey asking for some of the best public universities in America would produce a list quite similar to that list, I believe. We can be proud to be the 10th institution mentioned.

But we can—and should—also ask what separates UGA from the other schools ahead of us. How can we cement our role in the top 10? Or claim a place someday even higher on that list? 

Certainly, UGA earns high marks for total cost for in-state students, coming in nearly $3,000 below the average of the other top nine on the list. I have said since I became President that my guiding principle is this: Everything we do should accrue to the benefit of our students. Providing an excellent educational experience at an affordable cost is an important commitment to our students and their families. We must never forget that our tuition and fees constitute a lot of money to students and families striving to realize the dream of achieving a UGA education. ­Keeping that dream available for as many as possible should be a priority for all of us.

To that end, I am pleased to announce something rather extraordinary in my view: that University Housing and Food Service rates for the 2014-2015 academic year will be frozen at this year’s level. 

We have not made this decision lightly, for auxiliary units like Housing and Food Services are completely dependent upon their revenue streams and do not receive any direct state funding. But we have managed those units very effectively and are able to institute this one-year freeze to help keep a UGA education more affordable in the coming year.

I am also pleased to announce new financial support from the UGA Athletic Association for two key scholarship funds—first, a $1 million gift to begin endowing the Presidential Leadership Scholars, scholarships awarded to students who have demonstrated outstanding leadership potential as well as strong academic accomplishments in high school; and second, an additional $1 million gift to increase endowment support for UGA’s neediest students. We plan to make scholarship and need-based aid focal points in our upcoming campaign for the University of Georgia, and I will strongly encourage our alumni and friends to support these kinds of initiatives.

When making further comparisons with other top 10 institutions, however, we do not fare as well with our peers on four-year graduation rates. The four-year graduation rate for the top nine, according to Kiplinger’s, is 71.7 percent; for UGA, it is 62.4 percent. However, in categories not measured in this particular survey, but of great importance to the University and the Governor’s Complete College Georgia plan, we perform very well. Our five-year ­graduation rate now is 80.6 percent, and the six-year rate is 83.1 percent, which is very strong and comparable with the best large public universities in the country. We also retain 94 percent of our students from the freshman to sophomore year-again, an excellent rate.

So, we are trending well and have built a campus academic environment that enrolls very good students, challenges them academically and supports them as needed. But we can do better, and I am directing the Office of the Provost and the Office of the Vice President for Instruction to focus on new ways to raise our four-year graduation rate even higher. 

I know academic advising plays a key role in the success and graduation of our students. To that end, I am doubling a $250,000 endowed fund that supports our central advising services, first established when I served as Vice President for Instruction. Our advisors work long hours on the front lines to assist our students in planning their coursework and staying on the optimal path for degree completion. I am asking the Vice President for Instruction to place a renewed emphasis on the support provided to UGA’s academic advisors and to provide academic advisors across the campus with additional resources and professional development opportunities necessary to help ensure student success. I also encourage our deans to make academic advising a greater focus in each of the schools and colleges in this coming year. This must be a collective effort.

As we continue to assess the state of the University of Georgia, we must also recognize that there is great strength in our faculty. We have many professors who have committed their entire careers to this institution and who bring to their daily work a wealth of institutional knowledge, a vast depth of experience and a dedication to the university’s mission that is inspiring to all of us. They are joined by junior faculty who give to this place energy, innovation and vitality, and contribute to our rising academic reputation.

I believe that the most critical element in reaching new heights of excellence rests with preserving and growing the quality of the faculty. The academic core of this university depends extensively upon the faculty we are able to recruit and retain. 

Supporting our faculty in every way possible will be a top priority of my administration. I regret that in recent years we have not been able to compensate adequately our faculty for the very good work they do. It is a tribute to the faculty that the quality of the university has continued to rise despite this challenge. The University is grateful to each of you.

While financial support is crucial to the work of the faculty, graduate students are also essential to their support. Great universities are judged by the quality of their graduate and professional programs. Therefore, we must dedicate more resources in the future to increasing graduate stipends and fellowships so that we can be more competitive in the world market for the best graduate students. As Provost, I directed $2 million in funding toward two programs-the Ph.D. Scholars of Excellence, which seeks to attract highly qualified students to nationally recognized UGA programs; and a stipend enhancement program in which the deans were granted additional funds to top off existing graduate fellowship stipends to make them more competitive. I am proud of these measures, and I hope we can use them as a model for the future. 

Graduate students are equally critical to the research mission, which has long been a strength at the University of Georgia. Today we must ask how our research capacity can more directly serve the citizens of this state, this region and the world. 

We have a strong and varied research program which touches in some way all of human endeavor. Our faculty are engaged across the broad range of inquiry, exploration and discovery, from the sciences to the humanities and arts. The faculty annually publish books, author or co-author book chapters, and publish thousands of scholarly articles. The life of the mind, and the power of inquiry, are thriving here. 

While research capacity and impact are not solely about funding, funding is an important measure of our overall effectiveness. Sponsored awards for research at UGA have essentially been flat for the past several years, and the same is true for total research expenditures. We must identify the root causes of that pattern and seek to improve our performance. We must ask and answer the relevant questions. Is UGA stagnant because federal allocations are falling and all universities are having difficulty? Or is the reason specific to UGA in some way? Are there ways we can increase our institutional capacity to conduct the kind of cross-disciplinary research that attracts more federal funding? How can we incentivize our faculty sufficiently to grow the research enterprise?

Some of these questions were examined by senior administrators last summer, and that conversation has continued throughout the year. One of the steps we have taken in recent weeks is to establish the Interdisciplinary Proposal Development Program in the Office of the Vice President for Research in cooperation with the Office of the Provost. This is a new internally funded program designed to encourage competitive extramural interdisciplinary grant proposals. Up to $200,000 per fiscal year will be made available, with maximum grants of $75,000. 

The application process for the first installment of grants is now underway with the awards to be announced in late March. It is my hope that this program will lead to more proposals in the pipeline. It may be expanded if the pilot proves successful.

I recognize that the University continues to face challenges regarding the operation of our research grant administration. Therefore, I plan to ask the incoming Provost to bring a fresh perspective to this issue and consider, working with the Vice President for Research and the Interim Vice President for Finance and Administration, how we can expand our efforts to better manage our research administration and maximize the level of service and efficiency we provide to our faculty. I will expect their report and recommendations later this spring. We are prepared to do more to encourage research grant success, but we will need the input of the faculty. I encourage the faculty to share your ideas or suggestions with our new Provost in the coming weeks and months. 

I also believe the University of Georgia should serve the state through research that impacts the state’s economic development activities, because a strong Georgia economy is essential to the future of this university, just as a strong University of Georgia is important to the future growth and development of the state’s economy and citizens. It was for that reason that I established a new economic development office in Atlanta in July, with the mission of linking the state’s economic development needs and goals with the resources of the flagship university. I asked our faculty to think about how their work might support this effort, and I have been pleased with the response.

We are compelled by our land-grant mission to make Georgia better for its citizens, and we are constantly striving to achieve that goal. Our public service programs in agriculture, family and consumer sciences, and environment and design, among others, are often how we are known across the state; they are the point of entry for millions of Georgians, having made an economic impact of $344 million on this state last year. Through Public Service and Outreach, we train leaders, both students and adults; we engage communities in redevelopment through the Archway Partnership and many other PSO programs; we create jobs and promote economic growth; and we annually train 22,000 elected and appointed officials who serve in public office. 

We are also fortunate to have on this campus and throughout the state many staff members whose work supports and advances the mission of the University of Georgia. This institution simply could not function, and certainly would not enjoy the accolades it receives, without their work. Many of our greatest issues and challenges are solved by our remarkable staff. I want my office to work more closely with the staff to solve problems; to find ways to carry out our mission more effectively and efficiently; and to elevate our aspirations toward new heights of excellence. We have the talent, skill and ability in the staff and faculty here, and I want to work with all of you to make the University of Georgia a better place to work and serve.

I hope that one mark of my administration will be this: I listen to as many voices as possible in the process of making the decisions I am called upon to make. That is my nature, cultivated by my time on the faculty, and it is a core belief of mine.

It is important that not one of us accepts the status quo as we strive to make this university all that it can be. I want the staff and faculty to push us for change, tell us how we can do better, think innovatively. As Richard Boyer, an expert on the academic workplace, recently stated in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Innovation requires an environment [where] employees can challenge traditional practices without fear of repercussions; those with different perspectives can come together, without individual agendas, to explore what best serves the larger good; employees are empowered to be creative and try new things; ‘mistakes’ and appropriate risk-taking are not simply tolerated but actually encouraged; and leaders and the organization as a whole understand the balance between being efficient and investing in the future.” That is the kind of environment I want for all of us at UGA.

So, with this backdrop, what do we want the University of Georgia to become? The answer is, simply, one of America’s best universities. The strengths I have discussed are the foundation of just such a university, but there are steps yet to take to achieve that objective.

We must continue to develop the support to retain our best faculty and staff while recruiting others to join us at UGA. Our top legislative priority is a salary pool for faculty and staff. I am very pleased that the Governor recommended a merit pay package in his budget proposal to the legislature, and I will continue to advocate for this recommendation with the General Assembly. Higher education, like all high-skill occupations in this global economy, is a very competitive field, and we are falling behind and losing some excellent faculty and staff. We cannot allow this to continue without jeopardizing our competitive position in higher education, something the Governor understands and that we deeply appreciate.

With leadership provided by the Interim Provost and the Deans, we announced a $2.2 million Interdisciplinary Hiring Initiative in November. The University created 16 new faculty positions that, by definition, are crossing college, school and departmental lines. It is a new way of thinking about faculty hiring that did not exist here even five years ago, and one which now puts the University of Georgia in a leadership position nationally. Our strategic plan defines the world that the University inhabits both today and in the future-a world which not only rewards but requires interdisciplinary, collaborative and inclusive thinking and action. Our faculty and their research will need to cross disciplinary lines, departmental lines, institutional lines and state and national borders to solve the problems of this state, the region, the nation and the world. These new positions are directly responsive to that strategic direction.

This interdisciplinary hiring initiative is the fourth in a series of Presidential hiring initiatives that began in 2010 when I was Provost, with two additional phases in 2011 and 2012. Since the Great Recession ended, we have added more than 100 new tenured or tenure-track faculty positions by the careful and thoughtful application of limited resources to building academic strength for the future.

It is equally imperative that we become more ­aggressive in endowing professorships with private funds. This is the most viable path toward significant additional financial support for our faculty, and I am confident that we can be successful. As of today, there are 229 endowed faculty positions at the University of Georgia, benefitting slightly more than 10 percent of the total faculty. 

By comparison, the University of Florida has 380 endowed positions with the stated goal of 500 in a new campaign just launched by that institution. I don’t like trailing Florida in anything.

I am pleased to announce today that the UGA Athletic Association, which has already created 21 Georgia Athletic Association Professorships, has provided new funding to add four more this spring. I will ask the new Provost to place these professorships in areas of greatest need. I am grateful to Athletic Director Greg McGarity and the Athletic ­Association Board of Directors for their ongoing support of academic priorities at the University of Georgia. 

As I said at my investiture in November, the citizens of Georgia and the 283,000 living alumni who have walked beneath the Arch love the University of Georgia. They care, and care deeply, about the University of Georgia. 

Our alumni, friends and supporters were once again generous to this institution last year, and we recorded the eighth consecutive year of giving that topped $100 million. But as we continue the quiet phase of our comprehensive campaign, it is important for us to be honest about the support base and alumni participation rates in giving to the University. The percentage of alumni who give to the University has been on a downward trajectory for several years, falling from 71st nationally in 2004 to 112th last year. This concerns me very much. Our students and families are already paying more out of their own pockets for a UGA education than in the past. We must seek new ways to encourage more of our alumni to make annual gifts-and to make, in some cases, large and transformative gifts that can make this institution stronger and more affordable.

None of us would say that UGA is the 98th best university in America, but that is precisely where our endowment is ranked. For comparison, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is 30th, Georgia Tech is 43rd, Florida is 56th, and Kentucky is 83rd. I cannot help wondering what more we could accomplish if more of our alumni were giving and our endowment were ranked higher. What a difference those additional funds could make for our students, our faculty and what we could do at the University of Georgia.

The University has benefitted in recent years from increasing levels of fundraising support from its alumni and friends. Our restricted and unrestricted fundraising has been increasing, but the concern is that this increased giving is coming from fewer donors. While this is a national trend, it is one we must reverse for the future benefit of the University. In particular, we must do everything possible to encourage our alumni to make gifts to their alma mater. The time is never more relevant than now as we take steps to execute a new comprehensive campaign for the University of Georgia.

That campaign, built on the framework of the UGA strategic plan, will seek in the coming years the private resources to grow the endowment to support our students, faculty and staff. Endowment funding is our most critical fundraising need; endowment funding not only provides resources for specified usage, but is ultimately how the long-term strength of this institution will be secured. 

We are obligated to those who came before us, the results of whose work we now enjoy, and we owe to them a University of Georgia that will stand the ages. In the coming years, we will remain focused on creating positive and lasting change for the flagship university that leads us to new heights of greatness. 

We are perfectly positioned to excel. We have an academically strong student body; a respected and talented faculty; a dedicated and energetic staff; and an economically growing state. Working collectively, along with the ardent support of loyal alumni and friends, we can become one of America’s greatest public universities. It is indeed an exciting time to be at the University of Georgia. 

Thank you for this opportunity to serve with you.