There is sentiment for University of Memphis interim president Brad Martin to drop the “interim” part of the title and become the next permanent leader of the city’s largest higher education institution.
Mike Rose, the namesake of an on-campus theater and a soccer complex used by the university’s men’s and women’s soccer teams, mentioned the idea in introducing Martin Tuesday, Oct. 29, to the Memphis Rotary Club.
“The university has needed leadership,” said Rose, the former CEO of Promus Cos. and a former board chairman of First Horizon National Corp. “I hope he isn’t too committed to the interim title.”
Martin didn’t address the possibility as he talked to the group of 110 about his aggressive plans for the university over a short period of time.
The only reference was as Martin talked about his goal of raising $40 million in a capital campaign for wider access to and new facilities on the university’s Park Avenue campus, a plan he described as “ambitious” with its goal of raising the money by next May or June, “or whenever my theoretical term expires.”
Martin was appointed the university’s interim president in April by Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor John Morgan, as president Shirley Raines announced her retirement effective at the end of June.
He set an immediate goal of further expanding the university’s connection to the city at large.
“I thought that perhaps in this role for a year we might indeed cement that relationship and even drive more value than we have between the community and the university,” he said, as he talked of the primary goals of growing enrollment as well as the school’s completion rate, which is 10 percentage points below the national college completion rate.
“Not only is it critical to our economic viability, but that’s what we are here for,” Martin said. “The moral responsibility we have is to share what we have with the broader community.”
Upon formally taking office in July, Martin said his view of what was possible in shifting and expanding university priorities changed as he realized the school has more autonomy than he once believed.
Asked about the idea of an independent governing board for the school instead of control by the Tennessee Board of Regents as part of a statewide system, Martin said he no longer sees that as a necessity, although he once did.
“It is our university. No one says up in Nashville, ‘We want you to spend this amount of money on physics and this amount of money on math.’ Nobody,” he said. “It all happens here. … We have a $500 million budget, and we basically get to decide how much we spend and where. Trust me, there is a big opportunity for reallocation of the existing resources we have based upon what we’ve got to get done.”
One of those priorities is Martin’s talks with 30 leaders of Memphis-based corporations about how the university can meet their hiring needs. Martin said the talks have yielded immediate commitments from the start because, “No one had asked.”
He also talked of his goal of applying the programs the university uses to help student-athletes complete their college educations to the larger group of students who aren’t athletes.
And Martin signaled again the university’s College of Education intends to become an integral part of an education reform environment he termed “the hotbed of K-12 education reform in the United States.”
Martin said the College of Education already turns out the bulk of teachers in local schools and will likely continue to do so. “That’s just the math,” he added.
But he sees local education breaking up into numerous smaller systems, with the result being attractive to students who want to teach in a reform environment – be it private, public, charter, Achievement School District, Innovation Zone, suburban or Shelby County Schools.
“We have raised our hand and said the College of Education at the University of Memphis will be the principal provider of great teachers for this community for the next decade at least,” Martin told the Rotarians. “We intend to produce thousands of great teachers.”