2010 State of the University

Posted On April 22, 2010 by Mark P. Becker
Categories Speeches

As we gathered about this time last year, for what is believed to be the first State of the University address in the history of Georgia State University, we recounted GSU through the years, from its founding in 1913 to its designation as a research institution in 1995, and beyond.

Today, I’d like to focus on the good works that have occurred at GSU over the past year, where we are today and where we’re headed in the future.

Indeed, this is a very exciting time at Georgia State University. Over the past year, we have accomplished a lot together. Our students, our faculty, our staff, our alumni and friends have done much to bring kudos and accolades to GSU.

But at the same time, we weathered an economic storm of epic proportions. In August, the Board of Regents told universities to turn in budget reduction plans with four, six and eight percent cuts for 2011. While we planned for the future, we were also required to make additional cuts to our 2010 budget year. Here at Georgia State, we took eight furlough days, with the senior administration taking 12. We also reduced our work force and made other significant cuts. We communicated in town hall meetings and through email updates. I know the furlough days were a hardship, and I appreciate your willingness to continue to help the university move forward during this time of economic difficulty.

As you know, we have continued to have discussions about further budget cuts. While the legislature has not yet approved a 2011 budget, we are making plans to absorb a modest budget cut. As in the past, we will communicate information about the budget as soon as we get it.

And as you may have seen in the media lately, state revenue for March was up slightly, for the first time since this economic crisis hit Georgia. This is an encouraging sign that the economy is improving, but we are a long way from where we need to be. We can’t say we‘ve made it through the storm yet, but we are certainly headed in the right direction.


It has been a tremendous year for our students.

I’d like to commend Greg Abt and for his leadership of the Student Government Association over the past year. You have certainly elevated the importance and relevance of SGA and we have enjoyed working together. Let’s give Greg and his team a round of applause.

At the same time, I look forward to working with SGA president-elect James Dutton. We have already met and have started to lay the ground work for another productive year with SGA and the senior leadership of the university.

James is an example of the expanding scope and impact SGA has at GSU. He is graduating in a few weeks with and heads to GSU law school in the fall. So he’ll be a first-year law student AND president of SGA. I’m not sure when he’ll have time to sleep. We look forward to working together.

James is a member of Georgia State’s Model United Nations team. This spring, he and 35 other members of the team took part in the very competitive National Model U.N. Conference held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

For the fifth consecutive year, Georgia State students took home the top prize of “Outstanding Delegation” from the largest Model U.N. simulation in the world. Many members of the team are here today. Let’s give them a round of applause.

Another student is one you may not have heard about, but you will soon. As a child in Africa, Mesfin Yana faced a multitude of health problems that threatened his life. He eventually was connected with an Atlanta doctor who sent him to the United States for life-saving surgery. Then, after Mesfin returned to Ethiopia, he got sick again. The American doctor again arranged for surgery in Atlanta. They doctor eventually adopted Mesfin, helped him learn English and graduate from high school.

Mesfin now works at Grady Memorial Hospital just down the street from here. In a few weeks, he will graduate from GSU with a degree in respiratory therapy – determined to help others like those who helped him. Mesfin is an inspiration to us all. You’ll read much more of his amazing journey from the brink of death to a lifetime of hope, in the next edition of GSU magazine.

These are just two examples. We have countless other students doing amazing work at Georgia State, in the Atlanta community, indeed, around the world.

And another highlight for our students this year – more and more of them are living on campus. In the fall, we opened our first-ever freshman-only residence hall, complete with in-house dining. That brings to about 3,000 the number of students living on campus, a number we expect to grow exponentially in coming years.


Last fall, we were delighted to welcome new senior vice president for academic affairs and provost, Risa Palm. She came to us from the State University of New York system. In her first academic year with us, she has made great strides at elevating the education and research profile of Georgia State. You’ll hear more about those initiatives later, but right now I’d like to thank Provost Palm for her hard work and dedication to Georgia State.


Our more than 6,000 staff members do an amazing job running the small city that is Georgia State, all day every day. They are people like…

We thank all of our staff members for their tireless hard work.


Besides our faculty, staff and students, we have many alumni and friends of Georgia State who continue to help raise our profile on and off campus.

Earlier this spring, we had hosted more than 200 people at the ribbon cutting of our brand new Parker H. Petit Science Center, named after a GSU grad school alum. We had a number of dignitaries, including representatives from local, state and federal government as well as the Board of Regents. This state-of-the-art facility provides GSU with much needed teaching and research spaces for advancing our programs in the health and life sciences. We thank Pete, who has an MBA from the Robinson College of Business, for his generous support and for the gifts from many other donors who made this world-class facility a reality.

Also this year, we welcomed Christina Million, who now heads our Alumni Association. She has quickly been embraced by the GSU family, working diligently to grow the alumni association in scope and impact. Thank you, Christina.

Unfortunately, we also lost some shining stars over the past year.

Earnest G. Welch, Georgia State’s oldest alumnus and namesake of the School of Art and Design, passed away in December 2009. He was 103 years old.

A prominent businessman, Welch chose to reinvent himself – at the age of 80, mind you – by enrolling at Georgia State to study photography. He taught himself to use a computer in his 90s, and earned his bachelor of fine arts degree at age 93.

Upon his death, the estate of Ernest G. Welch made a very generous donation to the school, so that others may be enlightened by the arts. And we are grateful to the Welch family. Thank you.

In February, we were saddened to learn of the death of GSU alumnae Diane Caves.

Caves graduated from Georgia State in 2007, and she was enrolled in the master’s of public administration program at Georgia State’s Institute of Public Health. While on a three-week assignment for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to improve HIV/AIDS programs, Caves was killed in the earthquake that rocked Haiti.

Caves died while trying to make the world a better place, and we honor her life and the legacy of good work she leaves.

I’d like to hold a moment of silence now for Diane Caves, Ernest Welch and the many other members of the Georgia State community we lost this year.

Thank you.


So, we’ve covered the highlights – and some dim moments – of the past year. The question now, as always, is: Where do we go from here?

We must always be looking to the future, and indeed we are.

Last fall, under the leadership of Provost Palm and others, we announced a comprehensive strategic planning initiative. Our strategic planning committee has been hard at work since February, gathering information and asking for your input as they go forward with this important mission.

We are all charged with thinking boldly and innovatively about Georgia State as we approach our second century. You will hear much more about the strategic planning process over the next few months, and I encourage you all to participate in forums and with discussion papers. We are setting the course for the university and need everyone’s input and collaboration.

I’m also thrilled with the progress of The Second Century Initiative we announced in November. As you’ve heard, we plan to add 100 faculty members in research themes that will help propel Georgia State to national and international prominence over the next five years.

This year, faculty and deans submitted 56 proposals to recruit clusters of faculty around defined themes and individual hires with demonstrated capabilities in scholarship. Recently, those proposals were narrowed to eight in a competitive selection process for funding. They are in exciting disciplines, from Chinese studies to neuro-imaging, and will help continue to make Georgia State rise.

We’ll begin hiring these faculty members soon, and they will begin in the fall of 2011.

Earlier, we talked about the freshman residence and dining hall opening. In the fall, we will open Greek housing. These are townhouse style units adjacent to the freshman hall. They will open at 100-percent capacity, a testament to the desire of more and more of our students to immerse themselves in the complete college experience.

Of course, a major component of that also kicks off in the fall. That is Georgia State football.

We had more than 3,200 people at our spring game a few weeks ago and look forward to seeing you all at the Georgia Dome for the season opener against Shorter on September 2nd. In addition to the football team, we also have a marching band that’s playing our still-new fight song with even newer lyrics.

As we get closer to the kickoff of Panther football, the excitement only continues to build.

This truly is a time of great change and accomplishment at Georgia State. From every corner of our campus and points well beyond, faculty, staff, students and supporters are working together to create the Georgia State University of tomorrow, a place where the highest levels of research, study and discovery are complimented by traditional campus life in the heart of one of the greatest cities on Earth.

I thank you all for what you’ve done to make Georgia State great, and I look forward to the hard work ahead to make it even better.

Thank you.