‘I believe in FIU. I believe in you.’

Following is the text of a speech President Modesto A. Maidique delivered to FIU’s vice presidents, deans, directors and other members of the FIU leadership team in the Graham Center Ballrooms on  Monday, February 23, 2009:

Good morning and thank you for joining me today.

Despite difficult times, Florida International University has continued to excel and succeed in achieving ambitious goals thanks to its faculty, staff and the leadership nucleus that is in this room today. Your commitment, hard work, faith, and dedication are what keep us going even as our university faces unprecedented challenges.

As all of you know, the financial environment remains troubled and uncertain. We are continuing to monitor budget developments in Tallahassee on a daily basis and we are also keeping a close eye on proposals being considered by the federal government that could alleviate some of our anticipated state shortfall.

We are pleased that Governor Crist has announced that higher education will be exempt from further cuts and we hope that his budget will come to fruition. However hopeful the governor is we need to follow the budget strategy we have put in place. We can only work based on the revenue estimates we are seeing. If it does come to pass that in some way the economic stimulus spares us from these anticipated cuts, it would be relatively easy for us to change course.

We are firmly committed to our multi-year budget strategy. Thanks to our prescient planning, we are still better off than many universities, including our sister universities in the state of Florida.  Throughout the university each of you has completed and will continue adjusting rolling three year budget plans. This broad involvement of the entire community has allowed FIU to make thoughtful, strategic decisions that bring forward creative solutions to our challenges.  Going forward, our new updated and refined strategic vision, FIU 3.0, will be important, as we seek funding through partnerships with the private sector, individuals, alumni, corporations and foundations, and enhanced efficiencies in everything we do.

In my view, we will begin, I hope, to come out of this financial trough early next year. But I am an optimist. Unfortunately, many experts believe that we may be in for not one, but two, tough years.   Based on continued reductions in the current state revenue projections, we would need to absorb additional cuts of at least 15% followed potentially by additional reductions in Fiscal Year10-11.  In other words, FIU will have lost nearly 25% of its recurring General Revenue budget in a three-year period of time!   This translates into a reduction of $50 million – or the equivalent of 500 faculty members.

In the medium term, however, there is good news.  Proposed tuition increases will provide relief to this budget crisis.  Last year we – along with the four very high research universities – received the right to charge differential tuition for two years and a current bill in the Legislature will allow for that to continue.  We will be able to increase tuition up to 15% per year until reaching the continuously rising national average for public universities.  Differential tuition will clearly not close the immediate deficit but will have a major impact for the end of FIU’s new three-year plan. This new revenue stream will initially inject $6.5 million into our budget, increasing to $15 million in five years; however these additional funds must be dedicated solely to undergraduate instructional expenses.  In addition, where possible, we plan to increase tuition for graduate programs to 10% per year.

Regarding other new revenue opportunities, the state has authorized all universities to charge a new Technology Fee.  This will provide nearly $6 million in funds dedicated to advancing critical instructional technology and overall student access to essential technology.

In the short term, our strategy is to use one-time, university reserves in a way that provides a bridge until we reap the benefits of these new revenues and the economy recovers.  We will be using all of our university carryforward funds and even dip into our statutory reserve.  This strategy significantly reduces our cushion of protection – that is, funds held for extraordinary occurrences.  This strategy, however, protects all departments from making more severe cuts – in jobs and expenses – than what would be necessary in the long term.  In other words, though the state is cutting our general revenue by 15%, we hope by these measures to reduce the one year impact to the units by half or more.

Despite this deficit, we will continue investing – investing $23 million in instructional faculty, research faculty, student advisors and critical infrastructure.  We will not allow for these cuts to deter us from making the necessary investments to improve academic quality.  We are already seeing significant yields from our critical investments in key strategic areas.

We have hired more student advisors and are implementing a new student advising system. We have a more secure campus environment with two-way emergency communications in classrooms and additional police officers.  With engineering and medicine at the forefront, we have hired some spectacular researchers and we have many exciting research candidates that could join our university in the near future.

Although we and other universities across the nation are facing extraordinary financial challenges, we will not give up on our dream of making FIU one of our nation’s top urban public research universities. This crisis is forcing us to transform ourselves as an institution. Change motivates us to develop and grow. These are tough times, but we have a job to do and we will do it. This is the time to find innovative ways to replace the resources we have lost and rethink the way we operate as a university without sacrificing our core and the quality of the education we offer our students.

We are planting the seeds of the great university we lead in one of America’s most dynamic cities. We are blessed that Miami is part of the greatest country in the world. Despite all the doom and gloom about our country’s financial situation, we still have, by far, the strongest military, the most advanced technology and the largest economy in the world. Our GDP is larger than the combined GDP of the European Union, or that of Japan combined with the rising nations:  Brazil, Russia, India, China, and Korea.

Ours is a nation with a tradition of welcoming people from different cultures. We speak different languages and blend different cultures. I know many of us in this room left our homelands and seized the opportunities that this country offered to us. For those who come from countries where political institutions are fragile, where the rule of law is routinely ignored, and where human rights violations go unpunished, and even for those who have never lived under such conditions, we can be proud to live in a country where our political institutions are centuries old, where we follow the rule of law, and where our civil rights are protected by the same 222-year-old constitution.

This is a country that just a few months ago wrote a brand new chapter in its history by electing its first African-American president, the son of a Midwestern American mother and an immigrant Kenyan father. In what other nation is that even imaginable? And, perhaps more remarkably, despite a bitterly contested election, our citizens, as always, put aside their differences to come together and ensure a peaceful transition for our new president – a remarkable feat when you think of all of the countries where divisive electoral contests end in chaos and bloodshed.

And it is in this nation of opportunities, of hope and attainable dreams, a nation that allowed a two-year institution founded on an abandoned airfield to grow into an internationally recognized very high research activity university, that FIU will surmount its challenges, forge ahead, and thrive.

FIU has all the components in place to join the ranks of our country’s top universities – a solid Arts and Sciences core, 30 doctoral programs, three accredited professional schools — a School of Architecture, College of Law, and College of Medicine – along with a College of Business, College of Engineering, and other first-class educational programs. Although we still have a long way to go before we emerge from this crisis, as we recover we will continue to have the necessary elements upon which to build on.

But it is not just these accomplishments that give me the confidence that FIU will one day be one of our nation’s great universities. It is not just our educational programs and buildings that feed my faith in FIU.

I believe in FIU because of the people who are working to make this institution great.

I believe in FIU because of the students who are the heart of this university, who, through their hard work, have reached tremendous academic heights and will carry on FIU’s legacy wherever they go.

I believe in FIU because of the extraordinary administrators, faculty and staff who are the soul of our university, all of the people who have devoted themselves to this institution and have contributed to its success.

I believe in FIU because of our trustees, who are governing us in these tough times. Our chairman, David Parker, is following in the footsteps of the other outstanding chairs of our board – Armando Codina and Adolfo Henriques – and he is joined by a stellar group of trustees, each of them doing their part to lead FIU to greatness.

I believe in FIU because of Professor Girma Bitsuamlak, from Civil and Environmental Engineering, who recently won the prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER Award, an honor that distinguishes him as one of the top junior faculty members in our nation. This award recognizes the incredible research he is doing right here at FIU that will one day lead to the creation of safer, hurricane-resistant buildings. He joins another FIU CAREER recipient, Craig Layman, from our Biology department, and they represent the talented, up-and-coming faculty that is helping FIU gain national and international recognition through their extraordinary achievements.

I believe in FIU because of Associate Dean Barry Rosen from the College of Medicine, who came to FIU three weeks ago after 22 years at Wayne State University. He came with his life’s work – research that could improve the safety of food supplies around the world by reducing heavy metal contamination. He came with seven members of his research team. He came with two NIH grants, including the prestigious MERIT award, given to less than one percent of NIH grant recipients. At FIU, he joins another MERIT award winner, College of Medicine, Professor Madhavan Nair. And Barry Rosen came to FIU because here he had the opportunity of a lifetime to help build a medical school from scratch – a medical school that will revolutionize the way we train doctors in our country. He is proof that despite difficult times we continue to attract outstanding senior faculty and extraordinary research talent to our university.

I believe in FIU because of Dean Amir Mirmiran from our College of Engineering, who was officially appointed to that post last week after more than a year of serving on an interim basis. Despite these difficult times, times in which others may have hesitated to take the reins of leadership, Dean Mirmiran has stepped up to the challenge. And he has succeeded, leading a college that has seen its research expenditures, research awards and Ph.D. production grow dramatically. Dean Mirmiran is an example of how even in these tough times we are retaining our leadership, those whose belief in FIU’s mission has led them to remain here and contribute to making this a great university.

I believe in FIU because of our extraordinary support staff who constantly search for ways to improve our infrastructure in the most efficient and cost effective approach possible. One of them is Christopher Mootoo who has been a driving force in helping us resolve the increasing challenges in our IT security. In addition, he has proactively identified ways to reduce our costs on current computer hardware and software purchases that allow for recurring savings into the future. Another example of our “can do” attitude is Eduardo Ayala-Maura in Key Control. He has implemented a new electronic door lock technology throughout the University that better protects our physical assets, specifically our research infrastructure. Not only is Mr. Ayala-Maura a point of light employee, he recently joined FIU’s law school evening program.

I believe in FIU because of Ashley Vandercar, an FIU law student from Tampa and Nicole Grimal, an FIU law student from Miami and FIU alumna, who teamed up to take third place out of 224 in the American Bar Association National Negotiation Competition Finals two weekends ago. With top-notch coaching from FIU law professor Brian Spector and assistance from Professor David Walter, they pulled off the best showing of any FIU negotiation team in this type of competition. The competition involved 224 teams from 114 schools. They sliced their way through a competition filled with students from more established law schools. They finished ahead of the likes of Tulane, Washington University, the University of North Carolina, University of Texas, UC-Berkley, Ohio State, Boston College, Georgetown and, yes, Harvard. And, for good measure, on their way to the championship round, they defeated our cross-town neighbors. For the naysayers who once said FIU did not deserve a law school, who wanted us to curb our ambitions, I would like to introduce them to Ashley and Nicole.

I believe in FIU because freshman All American wide receiver TY Hilton, a student dedicated to excellence and an all-around wonderful young man, will continue to break records until he graduates from FIU in 2013.

I believe in FIU because this community needs us. FIU graduates account for the majority of the college graduates in our community and our university has a $3 billion economic impact on South Florida. We employ thousands of people and educate our community’s teachers, lawyers, journalists, accountants, entrepreneurs, engineers, scientists and architects. Soon, doctors will join that list. Our graduates also are the engine driving our businesses, and our health, tourism and hospitality management industries. We must continue moving forward as a university – growing, building – to supply the needs of our community.

And that is why we will never, ever give up.

FIU is strong. It is resilient. It will be here longer than all of us in this room. Together, we will surmount our current challenges of dwindling state support.

We will never give up because I believe that one day FIU will be one of our country’s major public urban research universities.

I can visualize the day when FIU is not just one of the top 100 universities in our nation, but one of the top 25. I can visualize the day when sponsored research at our university is not just over $100 million, but is pushing the $300 or $400 million mark. I can visualize the day when someone mentions the words “Miami” and “university” and the first name to come to mind is “Florida International University”.

I know FIU will one day take its rightful place as one of a handful of top urban public research universities in our nation, that Miami’s only public university will be one of the nation’s greatest public universities.

And I know that all of you have the drive, dedication and determination to see us through this crisis and help make FIU the institution it deserves to be. When we achieve greatness it will be thanks to the strength and leadership of the 300 people in this room and the 8,000 people behind you. FIU will be here forever, thanks to your hard work and perseverance.

I believe in FIU.

I believe in you.