Turpin talks imagination, collaboration, and faith
Almost a week prior to the first days of school, an assembly of USF faculty and staff reunited in the Presentation Theatre to commence the new academic year. There, Provost Jennifer Turpin delivered the 2010-11 University Convocation on Aug. 19. In the past, the speech has been usually given by USF President, Rev. Stephen A. Privett, S.J.
“I feel honored to have been asked by Father Privett to present this year’s convocation, but at first I thought he asked me to take a long vacation,” Turpin humorously said as she opened her speech. “Soon I realized he wanted me to take a ‘stay-cation’ to compose this talk.”
In Turpin’s address about her hopes for the university, she specified two priorities. The first is improving the student experience in and outside of the classroom, “so that USF becomes a high-profile and first-class destination.” Secondly, she said changes must be made to attend to USF’s “financial future.”
“If we address these priorities now we will generate better students and create an environment that energizes faculty and students alike, promoting greater excellence and our best work ever,” she said.
The second priority is in reference to USF’s rising tuition costs. Currently, all universities will face “unavoidable” changes since they must find a way to sustain themselves without raising tuition so high that students will be unable to afford college education, Turpin said.
In light of USF’s increasing tuition, Provost Turpin referred to a recent New York Times article, which reported that “under recent trends, 4 years at a top tier university will cost $330,000 in 2020; $525,000 in 2028; and $785,000 in 2035,” she said. “Here at USF, if we continue raising tuition at the rate we’ve done so over the past decade, we will be right in line with this trend.”
In fact, Turpin addressed a recent survey that illustrated the percentage of parents who were “extremely worried” about tuition increasing. The percentage of parents rose radically, from 35 percent in 2009 to 49 percent this year.
In retrospect, Turpin said USF is coming from a position of strength, since it overcame the financial crisis of 2008, thanks to the decisions and actions taken by President Privett and Vice President of Business and Finance Charlie Cross, among others in USF’s leadership team.
This year, the ways financial aid has allocated students has been refined. With the help of a consulting firm, incoming freshmen (other than University Scholars) were allocated scholarships in amounts of $5000, $7000 and $9000 based on the applicants’ GPA and SAT scores.
From the freshman class alone, the university gained an additional $4 million in net tuition revenue. “We’ve also done this without sacrificing diversity,” Turpin said. “Our students of color actually increased by nearly six percent. First generation students increased by nine percent and our international students increased by about 48 percent.”
Another precedent is expanding summer and intersession offerings. This past summer, USF discounted tuition and housing by 33 percent. As a result, the increase produced over 100 more visiting non-USF students that last year, and a 121 percent increase in student credit hours this summer.
“In other words, we improved our financial performance while also giving students a break on tuition,” she said.
To bring USF to new heights, Turpin said the university must implement imagination, collaboration, and faith (the general theme of the entire speech).
Turpin then presented initiatives that have been created over the summer. Among them is a “Stay-On-Track” program, devised to improve graduation rates by actively inspecting academic progress while enhancing orientation and advising.
Ways to enrich the student experience are also in the works, including a “first weekends” project designed to engage students while they familiarize themselves in their new environment. Another is the Student Group Rewards program, to give students incentives to “attend academic, athletic and student-run activities across campus.”
Turpin said she will meet regularly with ASUSF President Halimah Naijeb-Locke and other student leaders to stimulate decisions.
The audience of faculty and staff acknowledged Naijeb-Locke in the crowd when Turpin asked her to stand up. Naijeb-Locke “has supported the change whole-heartedly and mobilized students around this effort,” Turpin said.
Among the more noticeable changes, USF has made significant improvements to the University Center, by transforming the 4th and 5th floor. “How many people have been to UC to see the changes?” Turpin asked. “It’s fantastic!”
The 5th floor has now been renovated for student development and support offices. The cafeteria has undergone major changes as well. In October, students can anticipate a new bookstore and enlarged café. “It’s a new building on the inside and now truly serves as the heart of the campus for student services,” she said.
On the to-do list for campus renovations is still the Center for Science and Innovation (CSI), set to begin construction in May 2011. CSI will situate where Harney Plaza is now located. The project will cause disruption to lower campus, in which case Turpin asked for tolerance during that time.
Aside from the many initiatives generated over the summer, Turpin delivered the honor of USF’s first “University Professor” to Rev. Thomas Lucas S.J., professor of art and architecture and director of USF’s Thacher Gallery. “The title of University Professor is given in recognition by the university to a full-time faculty member ongoing an extraordinary achievement in the area of teaching, research and service,” Turpin said. Lucas has been a faculty member for 15 years, and he is responsible for establishing the then-Department of Fine and Performing Arts at USF. He has also contributed significantly to the campus beautification over the last ten years, including the decorative tiles that line the first floor walls of Kalmnovitz Hall and the phoenix’s mosaic background on the exterior of the university center.
Turpin’s speech lasted for an hour. Mayra Cuevas, who works for University Advancement, said she was impressed. “She delivered it with a sense of humor and with conviction,” she said. “I think she did an excellent job.”
Philosophy professor David Stump said, “Good to see that we do have areas where we can improve and I think she’s on top of a lot of that.”
During Privett’s time on stage, he relayed an African proverb that he came across over the summer. It said, “If you want to travel fast, travel alone. If you want to travel far, travel together.”
“USF has been on its journey for 156 years,” Privett said. “With luck, foresight, collaboration, humor, and hard work, that journey will continue well into the next millennium. USF is in for the long haul and so we must move together as fellow travelers on a journey.”
For a video of the Convocation speech visit USF’s Youtube page at youtube.com/usfcalifornia
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