On the first day of the academic year at The University of Memphis, Monday, Aug. 26, yoga was on the schedule of the university’s interim president, Brad Martin.
Specifically it was yoga at 12:30 p.m. in the University Center with anyone who wanted to show up or happened to be walking through. At that time each weekday, a different physical activity will be held for 20 minutes at the University Center.
Martin, who became interim president in July following the retirement of Shirley Raines, also has a list of eight priorities for his tenure.
The list includes growing enrollment on the campus of approximately 22,000 students by 2,000 students through 2016 and moving the graduation rate up about 10 percentage points to 55 percent.
“We think we have an enormously powerful product here,” Martin said last week during a break in a gauntlet of meetings with faculty, trustees and visitors board members on a campus that was already showing signs of life for the new academic year. “We’ve got the capacity to serve more students than we are serving today.”
Getting to a 55 percent completion rate over six years of attendance, which is the national average for college students, still depends greatly on the drive of individual students.
Martin admits he has encountered questions about the university’s role beyond that.
“How do they do it for Memphis basketball? One hundred percent of the basketball players who play for Coach (Josh) Pastner who don’t go to the NBA early in their career graduate from The University of Memphis – some of them in three years,” Martin said. “They’re busy. They’ve got other things going on. They didn’t all come out of that most elite of private schools. They figure out ways to help those people who want to succeed, succeed. And we are going to do that for anybody at The University of Memphis, whether they are a student-athlete or in the music department.”
Martin also has a $40 million capital plan for athletic facilities that will continue the shift underway to facilities on the Park Avenue campus, with some sports, including women’s basketball and volleyball, remaining on the Central Avenue campus.
“But the bulk of our facilities will be on Park Avenue. Football, baseball obviously are already there, and terrific new track incentives,” he said. “With that campus as pretty much a greenfield with abilities for easy access, the citizens can come and go and enjoy elements of the university that are a little more difficult to access because of parking and our physical location today.”
What longtime university backers and alumni call the South campus is already undergoing a transformation, with the construction of a new building that will be anchored by the Loewenberg School of Nursing.
Look next year for a new Goodlett Road entrance to the campus and a master plan for the entire area.
On the education front, Martin wants to put new emphasis in the college of education on producing high-level teachers, as judged by student achievement, to teach in Memphis-area schools.
“I call them great teachers,” Martin said. “We’ve got a college of education with a huge amount of capacity, a lot of talent. We believe we can produce up to 500 great teachers a year for this core market. That’s transformational over 10 years if we do that.”
Martin also plans to meet with the region’s top 30 employers to seek out how the university can train workers specifically for jobs at their businesses over the next 10 years.
Under Raines’ tenure, the university was already reaching out to software manufacturers, and the university is deeply involved in software testing and development.
Martin’s goal is to keep looking years ahead for ideas and indications of what new jobs will be on the horizon.