A convocation on Thursday welcomed faculty and staff colleges to the “new,” Nursing-less College of Health. Without Nursing, CoH is leaner, to be sure, but remains a very strong and vibrant mix – a synergistic set of six coherent units of great capacity, and even greater potential, for fulfilling the missions of instruction, professional formation, research, and vital service to the community. Grounds for optimism are solid.
Performance is already outstanding, notably in regard to enrollment. While university enrollment as a whole dipped nearly 1%, this fall over last, College of Health enrollment is up 4%. And since enrollment-driven tuition pays an increasing share of the university’s bills, there’s no minimizing the importance of our contribution.
Promise looking forward may be even more striking. A sizable cohort of new faculty and staff brings renewed energy. Clinical programs are strong and growing. Our research support capacity has never been greater – in part owing to the addition of new players formerly part of the now-defunct Centers and Institutes. Exciting new projects – headlined by Social Work’s BP Oil settlement-funded program to enhance disaster-zone mental health resources – are cranking up. New collaborative relationships are being forged statewide and beyond. The college enjoys a balance of seasoned and fresh leadership. Recognition and reputation has never been higher. Priorities are clear and powerfully “simple” – grow with quality; expand research and competitive funding; pursue opportunities with high impact and relevance; provide excellent service and professional leadership; build community.
The only fly in the ointment is provision, in the sense of resources. The college remains badly under-resourced. Through years of damaging reductions to the “Education and General” (basic) budget, performance has been underpinned by supplementation with reserve (“Designated Account”) funds. We are now near the point of exhausting these reserves, with the rate of expenditure outrunning the rate of replenishment. To do what we do, to keep performing and to pursue our promise, we need resources to match. Resources of all types – personnel, space, administrative infrastructure – but most acutely, we need an adequate Education and General budget.
Consequently, I closed out the convocation by challenging my colleagues to master a CoH “elevator speech,” and to deliver it at every opportunity. It goes like this: CoH is the most productive college at Southern Miss, producing graduates in high demand professional fields, conducting important and valuable research, and operating vital service programs – all of which advance the critical mission of improving the health and well-being of the state, region, and nation. But to keep it up, we need money, we need people, we need facilities. And we need them urgently.