MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee applauded university faculty and staff Thursday (Aug. 24) during his annual fall address, praising them for significant progress in student achievement and new academic programs amid a new governance structure, ongoing budgetary challenges and the need to improve facilities and salaries.
Now in his 17th year leading the Blue Raider campus, McPhee gave his traditional State of the University address before a capacity crowd at the Fall Faculty Meeting inside Tucker Theatre as the campus prepares to welcome back returning students who will be moving in to campus housing this weekend for the first day of fall classes on Monday.
It was McPhee's first such address under the governance of the new 10-member MTSU Board of Trustees that began university oversight earlier this year. Board Chairman Steve Smith joined McPhee, top university executives and academic college deans on the Tucker Theatre stage for Thursday's gathering.
"I think it is fair to say that the creation of the new board and our newfound independence as an institution is the second most important event behind our founding in the history of the University in 1911," McPhee said. "It represents a new era for the university."
McPhee also announced that he would be recommending to the Board of Trustees Thursday that interim University Provost Mark Byrnes be permanently appointed to the position of provost and chief academic officer. An MTSU alumnus, Byrnes is former dean of the College of Liberal Arts and has served as interim provost since April 2016.
In discussing the university's budget, McPhee applauded the support of Rutherford County's state legislative delegation, several of whom were in attendance Thursday. But he noted that the continuing decline in state funding for higher education required the university to enact a 3.9 percent tuition increase this year, which helped partly fund a 3 percent cost-of-living raise for most employees but will require reallocation of existing funds.
"I remain deeply concerned about the university budget challenges, particularly the growing disparity in our faculty and staff salaries in relation to our peer institutions," McPhee said. "Please know that we continue to examine strategies to address this issue.
Part of the tuition increase also will go toward rising utility costs, faculty promotions, new facilities and technology needed to support the university's ongoing student success initiative to improve retention and graduation rates.
"This will again require tough choices to ensure our continue success," he said of the fiscal constraints. "Because of our vigilance and sound management practices, we remain the state's most efficient producer of university graduates, helping more students reach their educational goals for less tax dollars per-pupil from the state."
McPhee also noted that in addition to MTSU's $1 billion annual statewide economic impact, a recent study by MTSU's Business and Economic Research Center also showed that 78 percent of the university's alumni live in Tennessee.
While final fall enrollment numbers won't be known for a few weeks, McPhee noted that "we are seeing an increase in first-time freshmen, new transfers, international students and graduate students" and that the university was poised to set a new record average ACT score for freshmen students.
Thursday's meeting also included the traditional presentation of the MTSU Foundation Awards, which recognize, celebrate and reward university faculty members for their accomplishments inside and outside the classroom.
This year's recipient of the foundation's Career Achievement Award, considered the pinnacle of recognition for stellar MTSU professors, is Kevin E. Smith, a nationally recognized professor of anthropology at MTSU since 1994 and the founder and director of MTSU's anthropology program in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology in the College of Liberal Arts.
Other highlights from McPhee's remarks:
• The Political Economy Research Institute, a joint venture between the Jennings A. Jones College of Business and the University Honors College, will be funded by a $3.5 million, four-year start-up grant from the Charles Koch Foundation. The institute will allow students to follow in the academic footsteps of the late MTSU graduate and Nobel laureate James Buchanan by exploring the impact of public policy on the economy.
• The Board of Trustees Finance Committee authorized pursuit of plans for a new building for the College of Behavioral and Health Sciences. Design work is underway on the three-story building, which would likely be located in the campus core, east of the McFarland Building. It would contain flexible classrooms and labs serving the Psychology, Criminal Justice, and Social Work Departments.
• New bachelor's degree programs to launch this fall: Fermentation Science; Religious Studies; Africana Studies; Dance; and degree programs from existing concentrations in Audio Production; Journalism; and Video and Film Production.
• Free tutoring was available during the Fall 2016 semester for more than 200 courses, a record level of support. Students spent almost 9,000 hours in tutoring sessions last fall, with spring 2017 semester sessions up 64 percent.
• The True Blue Tour to recruit prospective students continues this fall, expanding to for the 12th stop on the multi-state tour. Last year's tour allowed the university to present information about admissions, scholarships, financial aid and academic programs to nearly 3,000 prospective students and family members.
You can read a copy of McPhee's full remarks at http://ow.ly/RAsp30eExR8.