First, thank you for inviting me today. I am honored to be the new chair of the FIU board. I am also thrilled to be taking over at an institution that’s already extraordinarily well run. The president has done a great job, and the team he has put together, all of you, is terrific.
Obviously, getting through this semester and perhaps year with all the complications of COVID-19 is every university’s top priority. I think today we are in the right place, and I also think the decisions that we will need to make over the next month, which appear so difficult today, will not be that difficult when the time comes to make them.
Putting COVID-19 aside, when we talk about my priorities, I would have to say that I want FIU to be focused on becoming a Top 50 public university. I say that not because there is something magic about a U.S. News & World Report ranking, but because to get there a lot of good things have to happen.
For example we can’t be a Top 50 unless:
1. We continue what has been going on for almost a decade: better grad rates, improved retention, increased NIH and NSF research funding, a better student-faculty ratio, additions to our faculty that are young stars as well as older academy members, and increased fundraising. All of you have completely changed FIU in a very short period of time. We have to continue that progress.2. Second, we also can’t be a Top 50 unless we are disciplined about centers of excellence. We need to be great in a few things. No university is great in everything. Last summer when the administration made a commitment to environmental resiliency, I was surprised but thrilled. It makes sense for the world we live in and the community we live in. We have a governor who is supportive of this issue. Great decision by all of you and I had nothing to do with it. There are other areas that we can become great in, and not all of them are expensive. Historians are not expensive, mathematicians are not expensive, artists and musicians are not expensive. It is not the trustees’ job to pick the areas, but it is our job to make sure we are spending our money strategically.
3. We can’t be a Top 50 public university unless we spend the money to market ourselves. I want our great story told to all the U.S. News & World Report voters around the country, but I also want our local media to understand how great we are so everyone in town thinks of FIU as a community treasure, which is what it is. Everyone on our campus should be so proud to say I am part of FIU. I know I am. I said the other day that I think some time in the past decade we became the engine that is driving south Florida. I believe that. If given the resources, Vice President [for the Division of External Relations, Strategic Communications & Marketing] Sandra Gonzalez-Levy and her team can forever change the reputation of FIU, and we are going to give her the resources to do it.
4. I want to get some of our building projects off the drawing board and completed. The hotel is important to our university, the first phase of the engineering building was just funded and is critical, the new dormitory is important. I have a two-year term, and we need to have groundbreakings on all these this year. I will tell you I promised the Governor’s chief of staff, the night before the Governor signed the budget, the night before the Governor didn’t veto our PECO [Public Education Capital Outlay] allocation for the engineering building, that we will break ground on the engineering building this year. I want to keep my promise.
5. To achieve our goals, we need to be a player in Tallahassee. We need money. The job our team did the past two years is unbelievable. Thirty-two million dollars of recurring money to be spent to get us into the Top 50. For that to happen, we needed a speaker who believed in us. We needed a lieutenant governor who believed in us. And we needed a governor who trusted that we would deliver on our promises. Every year is a new battle. Vice President [for Governmenta; Relations] Michelle Palacio and her team are trusted in Miami-Dade and Tallahassee. Our trustees are getting more and more engaged. Our foundation is getting more engaged. Because of our success the past two years, we have some money to hire some stars. Has there ever been a better time to be able to hire than right now when other universities around the country are struggling?
6. To make the Top 50, the money we need cannot all come from state government. We need to figure out how to raise more money. Today, Vice President [for Advancement] Howard Lipman and his team are raising a lot of money, especially for a young university. Most of our alumni are not old enough yet to be major givers. But, if we are strategic, if we develop centers of excellence, and if we market the heck out of our success, people will want to get involved with FIU, and when that happens [President] Mark [Rosenberg] and Howard will get money out of them. People want to associate with winners and FIU is a winner. I will be disappointed when I complete my term if we don’t have a name on our Honors College and a name on our new engineering building. There is money in the arts community that can be lured to FIU. The opportunity to cultivate donors in the environmental area is enormous. We should get our fair share of the charitable dollars in this town because our mission is so deserving.
7. I want the Board of Trustees at FIU to be the most-sought after seat in Miami and I think it will be very soon. The work we do is important and we can make it fun to be a trustee. I have found very few things in my life as satisfying as spending time with faculty and students.
8. To make the Top 50, we need to have the best relationship with the Board of Governors that any university in the state has. The BOG is going to be our friend because we are going to be transparent and we are going to be talking with them all the time. The BOG can’t give you money, but they can sure keep you from getting it.
Finally, I want to do all this while maintaining the same degree of access and diversity that our student body enjoys today. I want to do all this while insuring that every student who graduates leaves here with some understanding of history and civics, has read some literature, has been exposed to lots of people of different backgrounds and faiths, and has developed a sense of pride in their school, their community and country. I want to do all this while insuring that we maintain an open dialogue on the problems of racial injustice in America and in Miami, and that FIU is a problem solver and a leader in making our community a better place.
Those are my priorities, and I, perhaps naively, hope to accomplish all of them.