David C. Hodge
September 29, 2011
Good afternoon. Last spring, Indra Nooyi, our commencement speaker, advised students to follow their passions, to strive to do well in everything they do, and to be optimistic in their view of the future, noting that while "optimism is not a life's plan … it is a great tailwind at your back." That is great advice for our graduates, and it is great advice for all of us at Miami. I am honored to have the opportunity today to build on that advice by sharing with you some thoughts on our deep passion for our mission, our relentless commitment to excellence, the very substantial progress we have accomplished in meeting the challenges posed by the recession, and the confident path we are on toward future success. Most importantly, I would like to reflect at some depth on the evolving entrepreneurial culture at Miami.
Before I turn specifically to those themes, I would like to take a moment to focus on an extraordinary area of achievement and importance to Miami. In August, I had the great pleasure of declaring this "The Year of the Arts at Miami University." This declaration highlights the arts as a vital part of a liberal education. It gives us the opportunity to highlight the great talent of our faculty, staff, and students; to extend Miami's reach into the surrounding communities, including the rich arts environment in Cincinnati; and to reflect on what the arts bring to our lives, from the appreciation of the aesthetic to a deeper understanding of what it means to be human. Of course, above all, the arts are to be experienced. Thus, it is with great pleasure that I ask Max Jansen to come forth and share just a moment of artistic inspiration. Max will sing a selection from this year’s opera, "Pirates of Penzance."
Max is a first-year voice major who won the Schmidt Voice Competition last May right here in Hall Auditorium. The competition offers high school singers from throughout the region the opportunity to showcase their amazing talent. All of this is made possible by the wonderful support of Bill and Casiana Schmidt, whose love of music and of students inspires the participants and all of us fortunate enough to listen to their beautiful voices, as I did. Thus it is with great personal pleasure that I introduce Max Jansen who is accompanied today by Brad Caldwell, coach and accompanist in the Department of Music.
I encourage everyone to be even more active in enjoying all of the arts this year. They play a special role on and off campus and in our personal lives. Celebrate, enjoy, and support the arts. They are indeed an essential part of our university and our lives.
Last year at this time, the Oxford campus was involved in a series of public forums exploring the draft recommendations of the Strategic Priorities Task Force (SPTF). Those discussions led to revisions and a final report that was submitted in October. In December, I presented to the Board of Trustees a complete assessment of all recommendations and work plans for advancing them. Since then, much progress has been made, and we have already benefited greatly from that progress. As a result of cost savings from increased efficiencies, for example, we were able to provide raises in July, and future efforts in cost savings are directed to continuing to provide the resources to invest in our highest priorities, most especially the faculty and staff who make Miami extraordinary. We have successfully recruited one of our best classes ever at the Oxford campus, reduced our energy use and carbon footprint, developed next steps for improving retention and graduation rates and interdisciplinary activity, and we have launched Niihka, our new collaboration and learning environment, to name just a few of the many substantial steps forward.
It is natural to focus on the specific recommendations as discrete actions that we need to undertake. While these individual actions are each important, the SPTF Report encourages us to consider the collective impact of these recommendations in shaping a more forward-looking culture. They note:
....the long-term success of the institution will require more than the “simple” implementation of the proposed changes. More important will be to build a culture that is more externally focused, one that is aware of and attentive to how we are perceived by our external stakeholders. The recommendations…are offered in the spirit of forging a new culture at Miami, one in which we continue to pursue excellence in undergraduate education while being careful stewards of our institution’s resources.
This viewpoint draws from the recognition that the environment in which we operate is changing rapidly and dramatically. For Miami to advance, we need both the understanding of those changes, and the vision to move forward. The charge to the SPTF was to build a stable, sustainable budget and more importantly, to create a sustainable budget that will result in an even stronger, more nationally prominent university.