Installation Address


Installation Address

Good morning and thank you for coming out to share this special day.

I want to begin by thanking my family and friends who are here. A special thanks to Janet for more than 35 years of support, advice and partnership. Auburn made out very well when they got her! And also a special thanks and acknowledgement to our sons Scott and Eric, and to my parents. My Dad was a great role model as I followed in his steps as a pathologist, government scientist and professor. I thank the rest of my family, my mentors, and my colleagues who are here. And I also thank leaders and members of the local community for taking time to attend. Your partnership has been and continues to be invaluable to this university.

Thank you, too, Jacqueline, Dr. Svyantek, and Beau for your kind remarks and for your dedicated service to Auburn. And thank you Trustee DeMaioribus for your support and leadership as president pro tem of the Auburn Board. And I know my longtime mentor and good friend Chancellor Harold Martin is watching somewhere out there via livestream, so I want to thank him for his guidance and support over the many years we’ve known each other.

Finally, I’d like to thank you, Governor Ivey, for your leadership and for the close partnership we’ve developed so quickly. I know our growing relationship will be a tremendous asset in building Auburn into a world class university that helps drive all the great work you are doing to take our state to new heights. It’s a great time to be at Auburn. It’s an honor to lead such a phenomenal institution, and I am excited to present to you today the ambitious vision we have for Auburn.

But first I’d like to comment on yesterday’s Student Celebration on the Campus Green. Students are my number one priority and being around students is, quite frankly, my favorite part of the job. So yesterday was beyond my expectations. The games, the music, the energy from the hundreds of students who came out to celebrate Auburn. I particularly enjoyed talking with students and learning about their views and aspirations. It was a vibrant and energizing reminder of why we’re here at Auburn. And that’s a fitting place to start my formal remarks today – why we are here.

I want to share an ambitious vision for the future of Auburn, a vision developed and embraced by our dedicated Board of Trustees, our tremendously talented leadership team, and faculty and staff from across our campus. It’s a bold vision, and I want it to be crystal clear right from the start.

Our vision for Auburn is to become a world-class academic, research, and service university in the true spirit of our land-grant heritage – and to be recognized as an undisputed go-to destination for that special caliber of student, faculty, staff and development partner driven to make a meaningful impact on the state of Alabama, the nation and the world.

Now, that may sound to some like an overly ambitious goal. But it is not. This goal is achievable. To understand what it will take to realize this vision, we need to look at where we stand today, and that begins with a reminder of the important role Auburn plays as a public land-grant university. That critical role has three key components. Our first responsibility as a land-grant university is to educate and prepare our students for life. We endeavor to expand their minds, broaden their experiences and hone their capabilities by imparting both theoretical knowledge and practical skills. Our goal is to empower and inspire our students to be the very best they can be.

A big part of our public charter – and a key part of our Auburn Creed – is to ensure that our students are also instilled with a strong work ethic, sound character traits and high values. We engage students to make valuable contributions to the world they live in and to lead their fellow citizens in creating meaningful change – particularly with respect to those most in need. This responsibility to build moral character and drive active social responsibility distinguishes the student experience at all land-grant universities – and certainly here at Auburn.

Our second responsibility is to drive the development of scholarship and research that creates and advances knowledge in the purest sense. We support, build upon and leverage the expertise of our faculty, students and partners to discover, to innovate, to create new science, new technologies, and new applications and methodologies that can directly improve the world around us.

Our third responsibility – engagement and outreach – leverages the value of the first two elements. Our duty is to engage our students, graduates, faculty and partners to transform the fruits of our scholarship and research into products, methods and services that meet our communities’ most pressing needs. Delivering real-world, practical solutions is what sets land-grants apart and is core to our foundation.

Most land-grants typically perform well in one or two of these responsibilities. But the very best land-grant universities are driven to excel in all three. Their leaders recognize and embrace the synergy found in the interplay of education, research and outreach. That’s the sweet spot the top tier land-grant universities aspire to attain – and that’s our goal for Auburn. So, how are we doing?

We’re doing well in every area, and exceptionally well in some. In terms of education, Auburn students engage, influence and lead at extraordinarily high levels. The Auburn student experience is one of the crown jewels of our performance. We owe this success to an educational and on-campus environment that welcomes and embraces the expectations and demands of today’s college-bound youth.

  • Auburn embodies an unwavering commitment to student learning that delivers an extraordinary educational experience for our students inside the classroom and beyond.

  • Our students enjoy robust faculty-student access and engagement that drives collaborative scholarship and fuels learning.

  • Our dynamic faculty, staff, partners and dedicated alumni family work together to build upon the shared principles of hard work, community outreach and meaningful societal impact.

  • The result is a history of post-graduation student success and professional advancement second to none. Industry-leading employers seek out Auburn graduates for their professionalism, their leadership, their commitment to teamwork and for the immediate contributions they make above and beyond the job requirements.

  • And Auburn’s alumni and donor family of successful entrepreneurs, artists, entertainers and business leaders forms a highly engaged base of support for scholarships, research funding and campus growth.

    When it comes to scholarship and research, Auburn’s performance is solid, and particular sectors are world-class.

  • Auburn researchers and scientists are generating breakthroughs in cybersecurity, threat detection, next generation transportation, agriculture, health disparities, targeted gene therapy and architectural design – to name just a few.

  • Our faculty, students and partners collaborate to create extraordinary new science, new technologies and promising scholarly discoveries in the arts and humanities. Many of them have strong potential to deliver practical, life-changing solutions to regional, national and global needs.

  • And our research and development partnerships form a growing portfolio of valuable intellectual property and mission-critical science, technology and health applications that improve Auburn’s standing as an increasingly valuable "partnership university."

Auburn’s commitment to scholarship and research is sound, but … there’s room for growth and improvement.

In terms of engagement and outreach, Auburn has an impressive record of turning the fruits of scholarship and research into transformational solutions. Auburn collaborates with local communities and world-leading partners alike to address at-risk populations through initiatives that deliver life-changing products and services. For example, we’re battling obesity and chronic diseases in 14 under-resourced Alabama counties with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System and the Centers for Disease Control.

We protect citizens and first responders with our Vapor Wake detection dogs. Develop life-giving therapies and treatments for treating childhood disease. Improve crop yields in agriculture and aquaculture. Conserve and sustain life’s essential natural resources. Build cybersecurity applications for business and government. The list goes on and on.

But even these glowing descriptions fail to drive home the most impressive thing about Auburn’s engagement and outreach initiatives – that they are accomplished by a relatively small number of faculty compared to other universities. That makes the impact of our scholarship and research even more remarkable.

When it comes to fulfilling our role and responsibilities as a public land-grant university, "The State of Auburn is Strong." But "strong" isn’t enough to take Auburn to the next level.

As formidable as our research and scholarship have been, and as strong as our engagement and outreach efforts, we can do even better. We can do more. We will do more.

We need to be more efficient and more streamlined, to be great stewards of our funds, and carefully reinvest those funds in our new priorities. We will earn the reputation as the university that business, industry and governments seek.

With some changes in our organizational structure, we’re taking steps in that direction already.

  • We’ve split responsibility for research and economic development into two vice president level roles. This division of responsibilities will maximize the value of the intellectual property we develop at Auburn and accelerate engagement with business and industry.

  • This restructuring will also enable Auburn to collaborate more closely with the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama and others interested in Alabama's prosperity and growth.

    We’re looking to make additional improvements to further drive the integration of processes and procedures. We have a new appetite for urgency.

  • We will build upon our traditional strengths by adding significant new resources to our current scholarship and fundamental research footprint.

  • We will expand our partnership and engagement capabilities and operations.

  • And we’ll do all of this while paying close attention to student education and engagement – our crown jewel.

  • It won’t be easy, but here’s how we plan to do it.

Quite simply, we need to increase our faculty and give these new hires and their peers the resources they need to succeed. We intend to transform Auburn into a top-tier academic, research and service university by hiring more than 500 tenure-track, research- and scholarship-focused faculty by 2022. This transformational hiring plan will facilitate scholarship growth, improve faculty/student ratios and enhance our partnership capabilities. It’s a bold commitment, but it is achievable.

  • New research funding, competitive incentive programs, and targeted graduate student program additions will drive Auburn’s research initiatives and public/private relationships to greater levels.

  • New outreach and engagement initiatives will better position Auburn as both a go-to destination for fundamental research and a vital partner for applied science and technology transfer initiatives.

  • New faculty hires will balance student teaching responsibilities with a heightened focus on interdisciplinary research initiatives that engage major partners in large development and engagement projects.

Our strength in fundamental and applied research will launch this dramatic expansion of Auburn’s research faculty and scholarly expertise over the next five years. But it isn’t enough to develop groundbreaking intellectual property – we will implement the practices and structured processes to convert IP into marketable new products, new therapies, and new value-added services to foster the businesses that create jobs here in Alabama. So, how will we get there?

We’re poised to begin a strategic planning process led by Dr. Beth Guertal from the College of Agriculture and Dr. Bruce Tatarchuk from The Samuel Ginn College of Engineering. It will include an assessment of critical requirements such as new facilities, equipment, housing, labs, as well as operational and administrative needs for recruiting and on-boarding graduate students. In keeping with Auburn’s commitment to shared governance, this team is enlisting insight and experience from faculty, administrators, development partners and others.

We will leverage our strengths in STEM and agriculture, but we will also expand into disciplines with clearly identified promise. No area will be overlooked. We’ll also identify initiatives for increasing the number of doctoral graduate students to support faculty research and outreach engagement. But we’re not starting this research expansion from scratch.

Late last year we announced our Presidential Awards for Interdisciplinary Research Initiative to foster creativity, facilitate collaboration, and assist Auburn in reaching new levels of research and development distinction. More than 100 proposals were submitted earlier this month.

And earlier this year we announced our new Graduate Research Fellowship program designed to support research and innovation by Auburn doctoral students while enhancing their careers as academic and societal leaders.

Our ongoing expansion of facilities and support services at the Auburn Research Park – including the three new buildings soon-to-be under construction for administration, health sciences and the childcare center – also signals our commitment.

And there’s the new Gogue Performing Arts Center, scheduled for completion late next year. This state-of-the-art center will connect the campus community with world-class performing artists and experiences that foster innovation, outreach, and research across the entire campus.

Other lifestyle and cultural additions in the surrounding area will turn the Auburn Research Park into an Arts and Innovation District -- a go-to destination for start-ups and new business enterprise collaboration. On campus, we plan to add new dining options, more parking and additional residence hall capacity to accommodate every freshman who wants to live near their classrooms, labs and study areas.

You may be wondering how we will pay for these new faculty, facilities and support programs. I believe we are well-positioned to achieve our ambitious goals.

  • We recently completed the most successful funding campaign in the history of the State of Alabama – 16 months ahead of schedule! Thank you to all who made this landmark achievement possible.

  • Sources of funding for new facilities and expansions of existing facilities will be considered in collaboration with Governor Ivey and our development partners as we flesh out our needs.

  • And we’ve just wrapped up our most successful legislative session in decades. We’re thankful for the commitment of our public officials as we all work together for a better Alabama.

I want to mention another key component of our vision: raising the awareness of Auburn on the national stage. We want others to know about Auburn’s commitment to excellence. We want others to know about Auburn students who inspire, engage and lead. We want others to know about Auburn’s research and scholarship that delivers real-world benefits. And we want others to know about Auburn’s outreach and engagement that serve the social good.

It’s important that we raise Auburn’s profile because we’ll need that higher visibility as we work to add 500 new tenure-track faculty over the next five years. It’s also absolutely necessary to raise our profile if we are going to attract new partners in business, industry and government and expand our existing development and outreach relationships.

I’m not advocating we brag or boast. That’s not the Auburn way. But there’s nothing wrong with Auburn getting its fair share of well-deserved recognition for our tremendous abilities and accomplishments. And here is my challenge to you today. Promoting the unique value and promise of Auburn to key stakeholders is everybody’s job – from students, faculty and staff to alumni and partners, every member of the Auburn Family has a role to play.

  • To our students – Tell your friends about the big plans we have, invite them to join us, give them a tour of our campus.

  • To our faculty – Embrace and help lead the transformation of Auburn into a premier research- and scholarship-driven institute that fosters a uniquely compelling student experience. We need your help on both fronts.

  • To our staff – We cannot achieve our aspirations without the expert skills, hard work, and unwavering commitment you bring to your vitally important roles in keeping Auburn operating efficiently and moving forward.

  • To our loyal Auburn Family – I know you realize the important role you can play in helping identify promising faculty, potential research engagement partners and high caliber prospective students. We invite your continued and much appreciated help.

  • To our business partners – There’s no limit to the innovative ways Auburn can help you grow your business and fuel your need for top quality talent. Bring us your opportunities and needs, and we will deliver.

We are embarking on a bold adventure. I hope you share my excitement at the extraordinary wealth of opportunity we have before us.

Auburn is on the move. A colleague of mine recently described where we stand today as: "The train is leaving the station. It’s time to get on board…"

But I think there’s a better analogy, one much more fitting to the rich, storied legacy of Auburn’s pivotal role in America’s successful race to the moon.

Decades ago, President John F. Kennedy stood before an audience of educators and researchers to launch that adventure. The words he spoke ring true today as they did then, and I’d like to close with them here.

"We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things…Not because they are easy, but because they are hard…Because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills…Because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win…"

Ladies and gentlemen, I urge you to accept this challenge with me. Together, we can achieve it. Thank you. And War Eagle!