State of the U

November 30, 2011 — University of Miami —

Faculty, Administrators, Deans, Staff, and most importantly, students—thank you for coming.

When Ashley, Jake, our team and I stood here about 10 months ago, we made a commitment to ourselves, to all of you, and to this University.  That commitment went further than platforms on a palm card and into the true value of our name—Taking U Forward.  We realized that our team wasn’t the three people on the ticket or the thirty or so people on our campaign team—but that our team was the 10,000 students at this great University.

It was for that reason that when the news surrounding our Athletic teams broke when we arrived back to campus we were all slightly disillusioned.  Throughout our day to day lives of going to classes, organization meetings, and intramural games, the allegations reminded us that each of us is a part of something greater — something more consequential than FEC vs. ACS or Hecht vs. Stanford.  We were tested—tested by the media, tested by opposing fans, and tested by ourselves.  The world, as they often do, looked to the students at how we would respond and we responded.

We responded by kicking off the first day of classes with an orange-out of campus.  We responded by a student creating a twitter hashtag, ‘I Stand By the U’ that began trending—nationally.  We responded by having the largest pep rally in the history of the University for Ohio State and then capping that off with a convincing victory giving Coach Al Golden his first Hurricane win in front of a sold out student section.

We responded and we passed the test.  That commitment to being a Miami Hurricane—through the good times and bad—is one of the things that set us apart from any other University.

What we already knew to be an incredible year was made even better as we woke up one October morning to find that we, as a University, had moved up—to 38th in the US News and World Report and all signs point to us not stopping any time soon.  Last year, the University had a record 28,000 applicants for a class of 2,000—7% higher than the year before.  This year, from what I’m told, we’re on pace for 5% higher than that, hopefully reaching the 30,000 mark.  The unending drive and determination to improve as a University is yet another thing that sets us apart from anyone else.

Clearly, the University is moving forward.  And as we promised last year, student government and most importantly, the students have not and will not be left behind.  We had a platform that we called ‘Spirit the U.’ It was more than an idea—we wanted it to become a tangible way of life on campus.  We realized that the UC wasn’t quite right.  One student made the remark that if you picked it up and dropped it in the middle of any other campus, it would blend in.  As we’ve seen, that’s not quite the case anymore.  Ashley Taggart and Robby Chiste worked tirelessly over the summer with the administration to completely redesign the UC including the unveiling of the student life mural at Homecoming—a symbol to all students—past, current, and future of why it is great to be a Miami Hurricane.

And it is because of all of those students that we’ve seen tremendous change.  We knew we wanted change in dining because there were no late night options on campus.  We worked over the summer with Auxiliary Services and now every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, the Hecht/Stanford Dining Hall is open until 2AM and this semester, the Rat has been open 7 days a week—until midnight.  We didn’t stop there.  Students wanted guest passes into the dining hall for visiting friends and family.  Thanks to a tremendous relationship with Chartwells and Dining Services, students can now use some of their meals for their friends. I firmly believe that there is truly no school in the country that is as student-centered as the University of Miami.  That, too, is what sets us apart as one of the best schools in the country.

Another key component to our goals and to our vision was improvements in our courses.  We wanted to make it so that students could truly take charge of their experience at the University of Miami.  To that end, we said we wanted the implementation of a create-your-own-major idea, an idea that was the brainchild of Michael Kaplan the Speaker of our Senate, as well as the development of a design-a-course program.  Both of which would take the University of Miami to new heights in terms of the quality of education.  That is why I’m pleased to announce that as of this morning, thanks to a collaborative team effort between Student Government, the Office of Undergraduate Education, and many of the deans here today, effective in the Spring of 2012, a pilot program for students to design their own courses will be effective and the planning process of creating your own major will be underway.  This will be yet another way that the University of Miami goes above and beyond to set us apart.

I’ve talked now at length about some of the things we’ve done.  And as we continue to talk to students and as students continue to come to us, we keep adding more things to the list.  Whether it’s as small as removing Gatorade bottles from the C-Store that say ‘Go Gators’ on them or something as largely demanded as takeout dining, we aren’t going to stop working until students are happy.  We said that we didn’t want students to have just a seat at the table, but also a voice in the conversation and that voice has never been louder than now.

I’ve said multiple times so far that the University of Miami is setting itself apart.  And now, for the next semester and for the rest of your time at the University, I’d ask everyone—students, faculty, staff, and administrators to strive to set yourself apart individually in everything you do—whether it’s running a student organization or running a team practice, teaching a class or hiring a professor—do what you can to help take the University of Miami, your home, forward.

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