Photo by Caleb Revill / MTSU Sidelines
MTSU President Sidney McPhee presented awards to professors and announced university milestones with faculty and Board of Trustees members at the fall 2018 State of the University Address on Thursday.
The address was delivered on campus in the Tucker Theatre. Some MTSU professors were presented awards for their teaching, and newly hired staff for each college department were welcomed by their respective department heads.
McPhee welcomed attendees in his introduction.
“I always take pride in highlighting the achievements of our faculty, staff and students who represent the core of our great university,” McPhee said.
McPhee explained that he sought to take a reflective look at how the university addresses ongoing challenges such as “improving retention and graduation rates, accountability, affordability and striving to become the public university that more students and parents look to for a top-rate education.”
McPhee proceeded to announce various accomplishments that the university had fulfilled over the past academic year.
He said that MTSU’s College of Behavioral and Health Sciences was given “national recognition” by the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology for its master’s degree in industrial organizational psychology that placed first in ranking overall in the nation. McPhee noted that schools.com had also rated this program “among the nations best.”
McPhee spoke about the School of Nursing’s collaboration with high schools to “build a pipeline” with students for the education of future nurses and healthcare providers.
“Students who enter as freshmen majoring in health sciences are (now) provided a direct pathway through guaranteed admission in the school of nursing,” McPhee said.
McPhee then shifted to the subject of research funding. He said that 52 principal investigators at MTSU received 69 new grants and contracts, totaling at more than $10.6 million over the past fiscal year.
“Collectively, the university managed a total of 192 grants and contracts with a total portfolio (with) a value exceeding $40.3 million,” McPhee said.
McPhee then listed several of these grants.
“In the College of Basic and Applied Sciences, the National Institutes of Health awarded $1.2 million for Dr. Jason Jessen’s study of regulation of planar cell polarity in migrating cells,” McPhee said. “The National Science Foundation has shown their vote of confidence by investing more than $1.4 million in MTeach’s Robert Noyse Teacher Scholarship Program.”
After speaking about the university’s many achievements over the past year, McPhee began to address some of the challenges that MTSU is currently facing.
“We all are familiar with the challenges that come between students and their goal of graduation,” McPhee said. “Attrition is an expense that negatively affects students, universities alike and our community.”
He explained that by using outcomes as a measurement rather than enrollment numbers, MTSU has “reshaped its approach to teaching and learning.”
“The full-time freshman retention rate has increased from 69 percent in fall of 2013, when we implemented the quest, to 76.8 percent in fall of 2017,” McPhee said. “Similar increases have occurred for all student classifications across all colleges and all schools. This kind of result from our quest have garnered national recognition and attention from the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Chronicle of Higher Education and dozens of other media outlets.”
“As I have said on many occasions, student success is the responsibility of all of us,” McPhee said. “We all should be held accountable for the progress of this important endeavor, and I want to thank every member of our faculty, our staff, administration (and) advisors for your commitment to ensuring the success of students on our campus.”
For the university’s future, McPhee projected a great deal of building.
“Construction has become a near constant on this campus,” McPhee said. “But I’m pleased just to share a few highlights. We were the only university in the state to be awarded a new fully funded academic building by the governor and the state legislature this year.”
He explained that the building will house new facilities for behavioral and health sciences and provide classroom space and labs for criminal justice, psychology and social work departments. This building is projected to be finished by 2020.
McPhee said that Peck Hall’s renovation is nearing completion with new furniture, lighting and ceilings. He said that the construction on Middle Tennessee Boulevard is also nearing its completion. Supposedly, the construction will be completed by December 2018. However, McPhee noted that it was initially supposed to be completed in December 2017, and it may take more time.
“However, the finished four-lane corridor divided by landscape median with bike lanes and pedestrian crosswalks will make it all worth the wait,” McPhee said. “Both the safety and the aesthetics of this major traffic artery will be improved with better lighting.”
McPhee also noted that the new Parking Services facility is projected to be completed by the end of 2019. He stressed the importance of having patience during this improvement to campus infrastructure.
“It’s progress that’s being made,” McPhee said.
McPhee spoke next about raises for MTSU faculty.
“I’m pleased to report to you (that) at the June quarterly meeting, our Board of Trustees, upon my recommendation, agreed and approved to allocate 1.5 percent across the board salary increases or $500, whichever is greater, for our employees.”
McPhee said that the university compensation plan has now been updated from 2011’s projected 2014 and 2015 market data to more current market data.
“This will put $3.7 million into addressing the gap between actual employee salaries and market salaries as reported by CUPA,” McPhee said.
Due to limited funding, McPhee said that these increases will not apply to adjunct faculty, temporary employees, graduate assistants or students.
McPhee briefly mentioned the possible Valparaiso University Law School transfer to MTSU, which is still under negotiation.
“It is not a purchase, we are not buying a law school,” McPhee said. “This is a gift, a gift that is valued an estimated $35 to $40 million for our university. We have engaged in a series of discussions with Valparaiso University and others exploring the proposal that aligns closely with our university mission. We are also working with the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, The American Bar Association, The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and a number of other accredited groups as we consider this transfer.”
McPhee closed his university address by thanking MTSU faculty for their work.
“I thank you for your passion, for your purpose (and) for your true blue commitment as we begin a new year and forge a bright path ahead, and I hope you have a great academic year,” McPhee said.
After McPhee’s speech, faculty members were introduced to the audience one at a time by members of their department. Although most of this went as planned, there was a moment toward the end of the event when several people who were waiting in the audience began to chant in protest of one of the newly hired professors, claiming that he was a “Koch spy.” After several chants, the protesters promptly left the room, and the event continued to its conclusion. In 2018, a campaign was launched by a group of students and faculty members against a $3.5 million grant from the Charles Koch Foundation. The grant was provided to MTSU to launch the “Political Economy Research Institute” on MTSU’s campus. It is unknown as to whether the “Koch spy” chant was related to the campaign against the Koch grant.
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