Despite a challenging economic climate that forecast the possibility of deep cuts to the 2011-2012 fiscal budget, The University of Southern Mississippi has not just survived but thrived in the face of adversity.
That was the message Southern Miss President Martha Saunders delivered to faculty, staff and students Thursday, Sept. 8 at Bennett Auditorium for the fall 2011 convocation, in which she also pointed to a number of achievements the university had tallied in the past year.
But first, she praised the spirit of the institution that faced down the odds with confidence in a brighter tomorrow. With a potential loss of millions in state funding for the current fiscal year, university administrators, faculty, staff and students took a hard look at potential cuts to absorb the shortfall.
However, the reduction in state funding was less than anticipated, and as a result a number of positive outcomes resulted, including $7.5 million in permanent cost savings that will be used to establish much needed reserves, repairs and renovations and raises.
“I think it’s safe to say we learned a lot about ourselves,” Saunders said about the situation. “That happens during trying times. We revealed our true selves. We were worried…but we were not afraid.
“We held fast. We weathered the storm.”
Coming into the fall semester, Southern Miss is enjoying increased enrollment and a freshman class that is not only one of the largest on record but also one of the most academically talented. In the last year, its faculty continued to secure external funding for important research in all academic areas that is significant on a national and international scale.
Saunders cited many other notable achievements over the last year, including the naming of Southern Miss as one of the Top 20 most popular universities in the country and a national ranking for its College of Business, both by U.S. News and World Report; national recognition by respective specialized professional associations for all of its educational licensure programs, a first; and a coveted Silver Anvil Award from the Public Relations Society of America for its Centennial campaign.
The College of Business received even more good news recently with a record individual donation of $5 million to the university for its “Building Better Business” campaign from alumnus Chuck Scianna.
“Southern Miss has continued to grow in size, accomplishment and prestige,” Saunders said.
She encouraged faculty, staff and students to share their time, talents, strengths and resources to advance the institution to new and greater heights. “As we move into a brand new academic year with minutes to be filled, experiences and experiments to be created and memories to be made, I am asking you to invest in Southern Miss and expect a favorable return,” she said.
Dr. Michael Forster, dean of the College of Health, said Saunders’ message was “symbolically and emotionally powerful” and effective in communicating that the university will succeed despite obstacles and constraints. “She’s a leader worthy of a dedicated following,” he said.
Student Government Association President Erick Brown concurred, saying he was moved by Saunders’ speech. “It made me swell with pride about the things this university has accomplished under her leadership,” he said. “I’m excited about where we are headed.”
Reflecting on her time at Southern Miss, both as a student and as president, Saunders said her devotion to the institution that played such an important role in shaping her life remains as strong as ever. “I pledge to you, today, to give all I have for as long as I am here: my time, my strength, my money, my influence and my heart.”