David C. Hodge
October 7, 2010
Good afternoon. It is my honor to talk with you this afternoon about Miami’s future. I believe that it is a bright future—a challenging future, but a bright future. The many positive recognitions that we have received over the past two months clearly affirm our strategic priorities and reflect the incredible dedication of our faculty and staff. To continue our trajectory of excellence, we must understand how the future will change so that we can act decisively, with forethought and confidence. My remarks today will explore that future and suggest steps that we can take to further strengthen our university.
The past two years have been very challenging. The catastrophic collapse of the US economy in 2008 posed immediate challenges to higher education everywhere and certainly here at Miami. Although we have faced many painful decisions, together we have found a way not only to adjust to the sharp decrease in our resources, but also to improve what we do on all of our campuses. We should take pride in what we have accomplished under these difficult circumstances, and draw confidence in our ability to move forward under all circumstances.
In addition to being much more severe than previous economic downturns, this recession coincides with major structural changes that are fundamentally redefining the future context for higher education. In order for us to succeed, we must understand and anticipate that different future. To this end, last April I appointed the Strategic Priorities Task Force, made up of colleagues from across the Oxford campus, and gave them a challenging charge – to look out at least five years into the future to 1) identify how the context for higher education will change, and 2) recommend, within the context of the new fiscal realities we face, the outlines of a sustainable budget that aligns with our mission and strategic goals.
Most importantly, I asked that these recommendations provide the foundation for us to become a more nationally prominent university. The Task Force was not set up to help us make easy decisions – there are no easy decisions. Rather, the Task Force was charged to set us up to make the right decisions to ensure our future, to move us to where we want to be.
The Task Force has worked incredibly hard over the past few months to produce one of the most thoughtful reports I have ever seen in higher education. Understandably, the report has produced a certain level of anxiety across the university. The changes being proposed are significant, certainly greater than any of us have ever faced in our careers in higher education, and they call on us to rethink how we go about our business. The report makes it clear that we cannot avoid the forces that are restructuring higher education. Either we seize our destiny or those forces will determine our destiny for us. Thus, there is a fundamental choice before us: we can react and follow, or we can anticipate and lead. The Task Force has provided us with the perspective that will enable us to move forward confidently and decisively, to anticipate and lead. That is the choice we must make in our relentless pursuit of excellence.
I look forward to receiving the final report and evaluating the recommendations in order to determine the best path for us to move forward. Today is not the time to review the recommendations—that will occur after I receive the final report and in consultation with appropriate university committees and administrators. The Task Force recommendations appropriately do not identify specific actions. Rather, they set out a framework of goals that reflect our priorities in light of the fiscal and restructuring reality we face. Decisions on the specific changes to be made will occur through our regular shared governance structures, with a great deal of involvement and assessment by faculty, staff, and students.
I would like to use my remarks today to further frame those decisions by focusing on three critical issues. First, I want to review the changing context for higher education. It is vital that we understand how our world is changing, and the magnitude of the changes we face, so that our decisions anticipate and build on what is to come. Second, and perhaps most importantly, I want to reflect on what it means to be an even better university. At the end of the day, where should our decisions lead? Finally, I would like to suggest a number of actions that we can take that I believe will lead us to the outcomes we desire. This will not be an exhaustive list. Rather, I have targeted selected areas that are at the core of our goal to offer one of the finest undergraduate experiences in the country, in order to stimulate fresh and creative thinking that will help us make the right decisions to propel us to ever higher levels of achievement and impact.