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VOL. 129 | NO. 88 | Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Rudd Charts Path at University of Memphis

By Bill Dries

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The incoming president of the University of Memphis should name his provost or chief academic officer this week as he prepares to take office May 16.

“We certainly are going to expand efforts in terms of student retention and graduation.”

–M. David Rudd
President, University of Memphis

M. David Rudd was appointed president of the city’s largest institution of higher learning last week by the Tennessee Board of Regents.

He played a key role in the aggressive adjustments to the university’s path during Brad Martin’s tenure as interim president since president Shirley Raines retired in July.

Raines hired Rudd as provost in March 2013 from being dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Utah.

Rudd says his strategic vision will include “many of those things we’ve already started this year.”

That includes a capital campaign that is currently raising $40 million and is expanding the use of the Park Avenue campus, where a new state-funded health services building is to become the anchor.

“Over the course of the next few months, we will in some ways expand the vision that we’ve already started to implement and identify those areas that we are going to emphasize over the coming years,” he told The Daily News the day after the Regents appointment. “We certainly are going to expand efforts in terms of student retention and graduation. We are going to expand in the investment of our research mission.”

It was Raines who began the university’s move toward an emphasis on research, and Rudd said continuing that will require a national reach in terms of recruiting, as well as closer ties to Memphis corporate community and the city in general.

“We need to be at the forefront in terms of urban research universities,” he said. “We should be a national role model.”

Rudd, like Martin, wants to increase a student body that stands at 22,000 and hasn’t grown in several years.

That means keeping the commitment to no tuition increases for the coming year after campus cuts met a $20 million budget gap.

“We actually did not anticipate any additional assistance from Nashville,” he said of state funding. “We had anticipated that so we do not expect any net impact on our recommendations or our ability to move forward and continue to be aggressive about access and affordability.”

Keeping tuition stable goes toward the goal of student retention.

By preliminary counts, applications for admission to the main campus are up 26.1 percent over last year, while applications for the Lambuth campus in Jackson, Tenn., are up 47.1 percent.

“The challenge is translating admitted students to students on campus,” Rudd said.

He added that could mean a higher percentage of students living on campus at an institution with a long history as a commuter school.

“We really hope that the pricing issue we are taking – both by flattening tuition in-state and by offering a proposal for tuition reductions out of state at some level – will change the landscape for us,” he said. “And what that means is that we will have a larger number of residential students. That’s a part of the goal.”

Raines began a program of grouping students by their majors in some residence halls – a concept called “living, learning communities.” That has grown to eight such clusters on campus.

Rudd’s first four months as provost were spent living in student housing on campus, which continues to change with a $52 million new residence hall taking shape at Central Avenue and Patterson Street.

“You learn a lot when you live in student housing,” he said. “I stayed in a dorm that was not nearly as attractive as that dorm will be.”

Rudd will also be examining the university’s summer course offerings and how accessible curriculum is to students who are juggling work with school.

“Meaning that we think how we are offering courses over the course of the year,” he said. “How do we blend online availability to help make it more accessible and a little more flexible? How do we use the summer months as a part of that?”

A task force Rudd appointed earlier this year is looking at some pricing issues on the summer courses as well as publishing the summer course offerings sooner to meet competition from other local higher education institutions with similar offerings.

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