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magazine home > archives > spring 2001 > features

Faculty and staff members erupted with applause when Dr. Shirley Raines was chosen as The University of Memphis' 11th president. A charismatic and self-described "people-person," Raines is a champion of higher education, and her vision for the University will be far-reaching.

A New Reign
by Greg Russell

Dr. Shirley Raines grew up on a farm 70 miles from Memphis, often driving a tractor through the fertile brown dirt fields of West Tennessee. But it is several years later that Raines is breaking real ground. On July 1, Raines will become the first female president of The University of Memphis and the 11th president overall.

 
Dr. Raines
 

Dr. Shirley Raines becomes the 11th president of The University of Memphis on July 1, 2001

 

"I am excited about joining you, the faculty and staff, to work together for The University of Memphis, the citizens of Tennessee and the Mid-South," says Raines.

Raines has been hired to replace Dr. V. Lane Rawlins who left the University to assume the presidency at Washington State University. Raines had been dean of education and vice chancellor of academic services at the University of Kentucky since 1995. She was chosen from three finalists for The U of M presidency.

"Given the challenges facing The University of Memphis, it is apparent that Dr. Raines has the mix of experience and personality required to take the University to the next level," says Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor Charles Manning. "Her demonstrated ability to create enthusiasm in all segments of the community, her achievements in raising funds and her success in working with the legislature make her very well suited for the University's needs."

U of M Alumni Association president Patrick Lloyd (BBA '76) says, "Nothing about her seems rehearsed; it was her charisma that set her apart from the other finalists."

Success Through Problem-Solving

Raines, a self-proclaimed "people person," wooed faculty and staff with a warm personality and exuberant smile during her visit to campus prior to her selection. Several dozen faculty and staff members applauded enthusiastically when Raines was named president via a teleconference.

"My best achievements in higher education have involved bringing people together around projects to solve problems," says Raines. "Bringing significant people who are invested in that problem to work on it means we can usually accomplish what we need."

To tackle low literacy and graduation rates in Kentucky, Raines orchestrated a statewide educational initiative by bringing together legislators and other state universities. She says this is one of her proudest accomplishments. "I worked with legislators to get a literacy bill written that could make a significant difference in literacy rates and graduation rates," says Raines. Through the statewide literacy initiative, schools with low literacy and graduation rates could apply for funding that would enable teachers at these schools to train at state universities in programs designed to eradicate the problem. The initiative was expanded to include adult education.

"To be part of the knowledge and information society, we must have high literacy rates," adds Raines.

Moving Toward Memphis

Raines grew up on a farm in the rural community of Bells, Tenn. "I had some very good teachers who encouraged me, and being part of a small town gave me the opportunity to be in some leadership positions," recalls Raines. Her parents still live on the farm near Bells.

Raines ventured to another rural community to continue her education, receiving her Bachelor of Science from the University of Tennessee, Martin. She then traveled to the east end of the state for her master's (1972) and doctoral (1979) degrees, both from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Her career in academia has included stops at the University of Alabama as an assistant professor and as chair of elementary and early education; at North Carolina Wesleyan as coordinator of early education; and George Mason University as an associate professor. From 1992 to 1995, she served as department chair and professor at the University of South Florida before moving to the University of Kentucky.

Dr. Raines and Dr. Canady  

Dr. Raines and husband, Dr. Robert J. Canady

 

Her husband, Dr. Robert J. Canady, is a retired university education professor. "It is wonderful to have a supportive husband who understands the demands and the dynamics of the university environment," says Raines. Since retiring, Canady has established a highly regarded reputation creating stained glass windows for churches and Victorian homes. "He was the only art major on his football team at Western New Mexico University," Raines says with a laugh. "He now is a wonderful artist."

Raines says the pair enjoy the "richness" of university life, taking in lectures, sporting events and concerts. "There is always something to do at a university," she says.

Raines says her selection as the first female president of The U of M was gratifying. "I really see this as a statement that women should expect to have these leadership opportunities," she says.

Identifying Challenges

At The U of M, Raines is quick to describe what she considers to be the University's biggest challenge. "Resources, resources, resources," she emphatically points out. "We have to be good stewards of the resources we already have and to convince others to contribute to our causes, whether it is though appropriations or through donors. We must have an endless source of resources to succeed."

She says for the University to prosper, it must offer time-honored programs that will always be of interest to students, but also cutting-edge kinds of technology-based programs that will attract students.

Faculty, Raines says, are key to our success. "We must have superior faculty who are devoted to making sure that our students learn," she says. "Their research should inform their teaching and should lead to answering questions that matter in our society, whether for the business world or for society in general.

"And I am very excited about the number of endowed Chairs of Excellence we have and also the number of named programs - these are indicators of a great deal of community support. Chairs of Excellence build our reputation and help the University in the recruitment of research opportunities and outstanding students.

"For our University to flourish, it must remain true to its mission of teaching, research and service," she continues. "We have to teach, research and provide service. We achieve our mission by investing in people who have already accomplished a great deal or through people who have those capacities that can be developed in a supportive environment like the university."

Raines emphasizes the importance of increasing the University's donor base. "When we increase our donor base, we also increase the number of people who feel they have an investment in the success of the University," she says. "The more people who are engaged with us, the greater the support."

 
Dr. Raines at bookstore site
 

Dr. Raines takes time from her busy schedule to visit the new bookstore construction site

 

Growth Through Partnerships

Community involvement is also important in the University's success formula, notes Raines. "We must form community partnerships, where we are the experts-on-tap. We must be experts who can be tapped to work as partners, who also recognize the expertise that already exists in the community. True partnerships flourish when we are learners together.

"We must reach out to our neighbors around the University, while finding ways to connect to our global community. For some, the steps from Orange Mound to the McWherter Library may feel as distant as Memphis is to China."

Raines says the most important component of the University is people. "It is all about investing in people," she explains. Raines points to a quote from Albert Schweitzer to illustrate her point: "Sometimes our light goes out but is blown again into flame by an encounter with another human being. Each of us owesthe deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this inner light."

For Raines, keeping the flame of higher education glowing at The University of Memphis will be her passion.

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