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"Ten Lessons I Learned in Higher Education about the Importance of the Secretaries and Administrative Assistants"

Fogelman Executive Center
April 24, 2002

Thank you for attending today. I am honored to have been invited to speak with you. It is a privilege to get to meet you. Many times I know your names and voices from calling your offices. It means a great deal to meet you in person.

One of the popular books a few years ago was the TEN THINGS THEY DID NOT TEACH YOU AT THE HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL. I've learned many lessons in my years of higher education administration that are not written down anywhere that I've read. As I was preparing to speak with you today, I decided to talk about those lessons based on observations of the importance of your work as secretaries and as administrative assistants.

Lesson One - As a young instructor, I was warned by some senior professors, "Don't smile until Christmas." People will think you are too easy. I realize that some of your department chairs have given new administrative assistants the same advice, "Don't smile until Christmas," or the faculty members will take advantage of your good nature.

Well, I'm here to tell you, you need to smile the first day and every day. If you follow that advice, you will never make it to Christmas. We need people who welcome our students, faculty, and employees into their office. A smile speaks volumes before a single word is ever spoken.

Lesson Two - Be a team player. Some people interpret this to mean, "Keep your opinions to yourself and go along with everyone else." As the President of The University of Memphis, I want to officially welcome you to the team. You are a member of the team and your opinions matter. "Be a team player by telling people what you think."

Lesson Three - Take pride in your space. We recently had a clean-up campaign on campus and it was wonderful to walk across campus and see no cigarette butts or loose trash. That is our outside space and we are trying to keep it as clean and neat as possible. We know that cleanliness and neatness are seen by our students and by the public as a sign of respect for the place and the work that is done there. We also need your help in keeping our inside space neat and clean, including our offices. We want to take pride in our space and make in personal and professionally presentable. Your space and how it looks is an indication of the pride you feel in working at The University of Memphis and it is an indication of your professionalism.

Lesson Four - Learn about the University. The University of Memphis is a complex organization from landscaping to research on earthquakes, from interior design to molecular biology. Whatever your employment at the University of Memphis, learn about what our faculty study, our students' majors, and the ways the university operates. When you work at The University of Memphis, you are one of the sources of information about whether or not we are a good university, which leads me to Lesson Five.

Lesson Five - Success stories. Our public, which is responsible for the funding of higher education, gauges their support of our work by our students, the quality of our professors, but they also gauge our success by what you tell. Please tell the success stories of our students, your fellow employees, and our professors. We need the public to know the good we do because any problems are small in comparison to the wonderful difference we make in people's lives, the economic development in this community, and the prospects for the future of all Tennesseans, not just our graduates. You are some of our best public relations professionals. Help us tell our success stories.

Lesson Six - Help us improve. We need to simplify some of our processes. We can communicate better, perform registration, maintenance, and contracting better. You live these processes. I want to know some of your suggestions for making this a better university. E-mail me at sraines@memphis.edu with your suggestions. Improvements often happen because someone cared enough to make a good suggestion.

Lesson Seven - We believe in the developmental model, not the deficit model. What do I mean by that? In the developmental model, no matter how good we are, we want to get better. We focus on getting better in all of our courses, majors, programs, and business practices. In the deficit model, one only focuses on what is wrong. We focus on fixing what is wrong, but we want to see improvement, even if we are considered by others to be good. We want to be great.

Lesson Eight - You are often told that you are the glue that holds the department together. You are the core of the communications between the department and its members, whether faculty, graduate students, or employees. You are the focal point for what others understand is expected of them. You may be the "glue" that holds your department together, but you are the "cement" that holds The University of Memphis together. Our University depends on you to communicate well, to know processes, to obtain and use accurate information. We need you to cement our work together, which can be fragmented without you.

Lesson Nine - Please take advantage of learning opportunities. We provide employee training in technology and other facets of our work. You also have the opportunity to take college courses for free. Do sign up for these learning opportunities. You gain and the University gains, when we have employees who are increasing what they know. If you have any difficulty with a supervisor who does not want you away for these learning opportunities, please let me know.

Lesson Ten - The 3 C's. Courtesy, Communication, and Commitment. A university is the cornerstone of a civil society. We provide the forum for differing opinions, but we operate with courtesy and respect for each other and those who are associated with our University. Communication is key to us being able to fulfill the education expectations and to operate with as much efficiency and effectiveness as possible. Help us with communications. If you or others in your offices do not understand, help us by asking questions and getting clarifications. And lastly, commitment. Many of you have shown great commitment to the University of Memphis because we are a dynamic place to work. The courtesy, responsibilities, and the feeling that you are a part of a greater good make the university a place where you can be committed. Thank you for the 3 C's.

We will become the great university that this city needs because you have helped us to make this a better University.

Thank you for your work everyday. I am honored to be able to celebrate this day honoring you and the significance of your work at The University of Memphis.

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