Dear University community,
We are headed into a fall that will be very different from any semester ever faced by educators, students or employees. As an institution of higher education, we seek to provide students with professional and personal growth opportunities that will serve them throughout their lives. We’re excited to welcome our students back to receive those opportunities in-person, but mindful that special precautions are needed to manage risk during the COVID-19 health crisis. You will be hearing more about these expectations as the semester draws closer.
In my last letter to you, I shared that the Board of Curators was reviewing the university’s governance structure. On July 28, the Board voted to merge the president and MU chancellor positions. The board’s trust and support are invaluable as I take on this role. Our university system is greatly strengthened by the distinct identities of MU, UMKC, Missouri S&T and UMSL. The plans for the Council of Chancellors include greater participation of the four chancellors in important decision-making at the UM System, greater autonomy for the individual campuses to grow their unique strengths and also higher expectations and accountability to achieve excellence.
"We’re excited to welcome our students back to receive those opportunities in-person, but mindful that special precautions are needed to manage risk during the COVID-19 health crisis."
Our most important work in the coming semester is for the health and safety of our students, staff and faculty. To increase the chances of success, we ask each member of our Tiger, Roo, Miner and Triton families to be accountable for their own health and to do their part for the benefit of those around them. We’ll continue to remind all students, faculty, staff and visitors that their individual actions affect the collective benefit of a rich campus experience with in-person teaching, research and engagement. Resources are available to support our community as we return to in-person working and learning, and systemwide training modules set to launch next week will help educate our community in safe practices and guidelines. Together, we can do what needs to be done to continue advancing student success and improving life in Missouri.
So much incredible work has continued over the summer and there are many who deserve recognition for their progress and impact. MU School of Medicine’s Dr. Hui-Ming Chang won a nearly $3.5 million grant to develop a treatment to help protect cancer patients from chemotherapy-induced heart problems. The UMKC School of Nursing and Health Studies’ national accreditation was renewed for 10 years, so the school can continue delivering high-quality education to future health care professionals. Missouri S&T graduate student Jill Davis received a major scholarship from the U.S. Department of Defense that will support her research in aerospace engineering and also provide mentorship and employment upon graduation. UMSL presented the Excellence in Civic Engagement Awards to honor faculty, staff and students who go above and beyond to promote the democratic process. We also announced the recipients of the 2020 UM System President’s Awards, which recognize faculty who have made exceptional contributions to our mission.
I’m also excited about our developing Broadband Initiative and pilot project in Bollinger County. We’re proud to partner with the state government on this multi-million dollar investment toward making high speed internet infrastructure more accessible and connecting Missourians to vital telehealth and distance learning services. As discussed in a recent panel that featured Vice Chancellor for Extension and Engagement Marshall Stewart, the events of the past several months have dramatically highlighted the critical importance of improving connectivity across the state.
Some of the most important work we’ve done recently has addressed diversity, equity and inclusion. In recent months, many students, faculty and staff at MU rightfully asked about our commitment and progress towards inclusion, diversity and equity. While there is much work ahead, I was pleased to highlight the progress since 2015 which includes:
- MU ranks #1 (for the past 10 years) in percentage of Black undergraduate students among 11 top public research universities in the Midwest
- MU ranks #4 (for the past 10 years) in percentage of Black tenured/tenure-track faculty among 11 top public research universities in the Midwest
I shared the highlights of the progress as well as new action plans during an MU forum on Inclusive Excellence, and a recording of that discussion is available online. In addition, UMKC launched a Critical Conversations Series in a town hall format, featuring UMKC faculty, staff, students and volunteers who address the topic of systemic racism in our society. At Missouri S&T, Chancellor Dehghani held a town hall dialogue about these important issues as well. The UMSL Community Psychological Service is holding sessions aimed to help community members deal with the challenges that racism creates.
Continued communication and purposeful debate regarding difficult topics is essential as we work toward inclusive excellence. My recent op-ed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch outlines the vital role that free speech has in our society. I will always support free speech, but I also have a duty to act when I believe damage to the university would result from the actions of some. I have a solemn responsibility to prevent that from happening. That is my duty to the UM System and its stakeholders, and it is also my passion, fueled by a deep appreciation for this state and its people. I ask each member of our community to join me in this commitment.
We have a lot of work ahead of us, but I am proud of and confident in our ability to come together to accomplish monumental tasks. If you have a story of people coming together in support of our mission, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.