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magazine home > archives > summer 2002 > features

Since taking office 13 months ago, University of Memphis President Shirley Raines has forged a plan to take the school to new heights while doing battle with myriad challenges.

Higher Ground
by Greg Russell

Dr. Raines in presidential regalia

At 5:10 p.m. on April 16, 2002, Dr. Shirley Raines paused, just outside the Ned R. McWherter Library. Clad in blue and gray academic regalia adorned with golden trim, The University of Memphis president reached out and gently squeezed the hand of an elderly woman.

The occasion was the official investiture of Raines as the 11th president of The U of M; the woman, her mother. A poignant moment, yes, but also a defining one for Raines.

Since assuming the presidency in July of 2001, Raines has developed a plan to build upon an already strong foundation at The U of M in the midst of myriad challenges. Reaching out to people — whether faculty, staff, students, alumni or the community — is a major component to all facets of her plan to create new success stories while continuing those already in progress.

Priorities: As easy as 1, 2, 3

With an eye toward the future, Raines is quick to point to a trio of priorities on campus. Not surprising, all contain three words that resound through many of her speeches: people, data and accountability.

“We believe our future will be forged by investing in people, building productive partnerships with people in the community and creating interdisciplinary initiatives among our academic programs and people,” says the president.

Investing in people, Raines believes, is an idea that goes straight to the soul of the University. “We deal in ideas,” she says, “but our resources are our people — the faculty, students and staff. The hallmarks of a university include introducing students to new ideas and different ways of thinking, to meaningful careers and learning as
a lifetime pursuit.

Dr. Raines with mother
Dr. Raines shares a moment of happiness with her mother, Irene, outside the McWherter Library after the inauguration ceremony.

“An investment in people also means securing scholarships and paid internships for our students,” Raines continues. “Data that we have gathered indicate that more honors students would select The University of Memphis if we could provide more merit scholarships.”

Data also indicate that at least 69 percent of the University’s students work. By connecting students’ present work needs to future career opportunities through internships, co-ops and other corporate partnership arrangements, Raines believes more students will be able to remain in the Mid-South for their future careers.

The president says that she is dedicated to the idea of “investing in people” by retaining and adding other top faculty members to the campus. “We must find ways to increase the salaries of faculty and staff so that we can excel — not to just remain competitive,” she states.

Forming partnerships with civic, social and business leaders is also of great importance to The U of M.

“By building partnerships, we as educators are in a better position to judge the realities our graduates will face,” she says. “Our partners are able to affect the education of students so that we prepare them as fully as possible for their professions and their lives.”

Partnerships with FedEx Corporation, Methodist Healthcare, LeBonheur, and the Plough and Assisi foundations are already paying dividends for everyone involved. Partnerships with city and county governments are also flourishing.

“Ten years from now, when we celebrate the University’s 100th anniversary, we will have made partnerships as much a part of the University’s life as commencement, convocation and the first day of class,” Raines says.

A third priority vital to The U of M’s success is focusing on interdisciplinary work that results in stronger academic programs and nationally recognized research initiatives.

 
Raines with Charles Lee
 

Dr. Raines and Charles Lee, U of M vice president for business and finance, converse while examining one of the many exhibits set up by the colleges on campus during the weeklong Celebration of Learning.

“We are creating many interdisciplinary initiatives by taking advantage of the expertise we have in our five Centers of Excellence and our 25 Chairs of Excellence,” Raines says. “We are creating initiatives that reach across our strong departments, schools, colleges, where people from different areas research across interdisciplinary lines.”

The Memphis Joint Program in Biomedical Engineering has brought together the resources and faculty of the Herff College of Engineering at The U of M with the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. The program has become a model for interdisciplinary programming and research in the fields of biomedical engineering and technology.

Students in the School of Urban Affairs and Public Policy (SUAPP) engage in study and research that combines the fields of public administration, health administration, social work, city and regional planning, criminology, and criminal justice. A recently developed data-based, geo-mapping system extends the interdisciplinary nature of the program.

Many other interdisciplinary initiatives abound at The U of M, with more planned for the future.

Urban mission

Located in an urban setting surrounded by bountiful resources, the University has made gains as a research institute. Raines says she plans to continue that focus.

“We are the research university of the Tennessee Board of Regents system,” Raines says. “We are making strides in research and will continue that. At a time when state appropriations are diminishing in Tennessee and in other states, securing competitive funding is
paramount.”

The University received a record $27 million in grants, contracts and awards last fiscal year. Continued research productivity will depend upon increased grants, contracts and research awards.

Challenges

Anyone who has read the local newspaper in the last few months knows the answer to the question, “What is the most serious issue facing the University?” Funding.

Dr. Raines with Mayor Goldsworthy
Germantown Mayor Sharon Goldsworthy and Dr. Raines discuss issues related to higher education. A focus of Dr. Raines' is building strong bonds with community organizations.

“The biggest challenges facing the University are fiscal ones,” says Raines. “With fewer state-appropriated dollars, we must raise revenue for our operations through increased tuition and fees, more grants and contracts, and private fundraising.

“We must help the citizens of Tennessee to understand the importance of higher education in their future and in the economic development of this community,” she continues. “The data are clear. College graduates earn four to five times as much and pay back into the system three to four times as much as non-graduates. Every student, faculty and staff member must become an ambassador for higher education.”

One of the greatest challenges, according to Raines, is keeping morale high among faculty and staff while facing tough fiscal challenges. The president and members of her administrative staff have been in constant contact with legislators in Nashville, helping legislators recognize the need for more revenue sources to fund this and all aspects of higher education.

Another area the University should strive to improve concerns image, Raines says.

“We have not communicated well about our accomplishments,” she says. “As the data indicate, we are a far better university than we claim and we have higher achieving students than is known to the outside community.”

Remedying that, Raines says, will demand an effort by many.

“We need every alumnus, friend of the university, student, faculty member and staff person to tell our success stories,” she says. “We need ambassadors. I have made over 160 speeches in 11 months and every time, people tell me that they did not know about our great successes in our programs. We need to find ways to tell of our successes.”

Raines says it is important to show the community that the University is doing all it can to meet challenges.

“I have high standards of accountability for the operations of the University,” she says. “Thus, it has been a tremendous task to review the data and to select the leaders who will hold their operations accountable. The citizens of this state, our students, employees and donors deserve this high level of accountability.”

Life of a president

 
Dr. Raines reads to children
 

President Raines reads to second-graders at the McWherter Library on campus.

Raines was appointed president in January 2001, following the resignation of Dr. V. Lane Rawlins.

“Anyone who knows me understands that I am passionate about the importance of a good educational system,” says Raines, a lifelong advocate of higher education. She says the job took some getting used to.

“Being president is different than other administrative positions because some of every facet of this University, from A to Z, from athletics to zoology, comes to my desk,” Raines says.

The president is quick to note that the positive aspects far outweigh any negatives.

“Becoming the president of The University of Memphis has been a life-changing and life-enriching role,” she says. “Every day, I have the opportunities to interact with the most engaging students, the brightest professors, and enthusiastic community leaders. No day is ever dull for me. My husband, Bob, and I feel tremendous support, both on and off the campus.

“Every day, we know that we are making a difference for the citizens of the Mid-South by helping to provide better educational opportunities,” Raines says. “It is not only The University of Memphis’ mission, it is my mission in life, as well.”

 

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