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VOL. 129 | NO. 54 | Wednesday, March 19, 2014

University of Memphis Provost Kicks Off President Interviews

By Bill Dries

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The University of Memphis has begun interviewing the four finalists to become the school’s next president.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

David Rudd began with the obvious this week, as the four finalists to become the next president of the University of Memphis began individual sessions with faculty, students and staff at the city’s largest institution of higher education.

“You guys know me at some level,” said the University of Memphis provost.

Rudd was to be followed Tuesday, March 18, by George W. Hynd, provost at the College of Charleston in South Carolina.

Guy Bailey, the former president of the University of Alabama, comes for his on-campus visit and interview sessions Thursday, March 20, while Sharon Gaber, provost at the University of Arkansas, is scheduled to be in Memphis Monday, March 24.

The selection of a successor to interim university president Brad Martin will be made by the Tennessee Board of Regents.

Rudd’s interview came one day short of the one-year mark for his arrival on the campus from being the dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Utah, where he also founded the National Center for Veterans Studies.

“I know the university remarkably well. … I had the enjoyable experience of living in student housing,” he said of his arrival in Memphis ahead of having permanent housing. “You learn a remarkable amount about a university when you live in student housing.”

Rudd said he would continue the university’s emphasis on being a research university, a goal of past president Shirley Raines, who hired Rudd. He also talked of continuing Martin’s initiatives aimed at a higher completion rate for students.

“Our graduation rate is unacceptable. I don’t know how else to express that,” Rudd said of the 34 percent graduation rate. “We’re not successful with more than half of our students.”

And like Martin, Rudd says the empirical evidence so far shows the affordability of completing a college education as well as support in a roadmap to graduation are the main factors.

“Almost 90 percent of our students have academic capacity, have demonstrated the ability to successfully graduate. The No. 1 reason they do not is affordability,” he said. “It’s financial challenges that involve many things, including heavy workloads outside of this environment. It includes a lack of clarity of a degree pathway – a clear pathway –when, as most of you know, when you decide to switch your major you can lose credits, and as a result, you’ve expended loan capacity and the degree becomes less affordable.”

Rudd was responding to specific questions at the session with faculty and was asked the same question at the session with students.

Rudd was also critical of the school’s use of summer courses, which he says should be managed more efficiently and thus help students complete their college educations.

Rudd has instructed the deans of all of the university’s colleges to look at making courses critical to completion available as summer courses.

“We haven’t used summer strategically in terms of what are critical courses,” he said. “That’s essential for our success.”

Another move toward a more efficient use of summer courses is to publish calendars of summer course offerings sooner. He said the current University of Memphis calendar of summer offerings now comes out about two months after competitors distribute their summer course offerings.

Rudd also talked of allowing small-business owners to audit business classes at no charge, with a cap on the amount of classes, to improve university outreach to business leaders.

Martin has made reaching out to the city’s top 30 employers a priority during the year he plans to serve as interim president of the university.

Rudd indicated Monday that he would deepen ties with those employers and others to help coordinate students’ work hours and college hours to give them more consistent schedules and help them complete their college educations while working.

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