In this issue of Update, we are profiling David Cox, professor and Executive Assistant to the President for
Partnerships and Administration.
Dr. David Cox
Can you describe your role as executive assistant to the president?
My position has evolved into serving the President in three functions. One involves
the cross-divisional responsibilities of the President's Office. Certain institutional
tasks cross all the divisions in the University.
Another function involves representing the president with internal and external communities.
For example, the president is the permanent chair of the University faculty, so one
of my responsibilities has been to serve as liaison for the president in his role
with the Faculty Senate.
Locally, I represent the president and University in neighborhood relations serving
on the University District Inc. and University Neighborhood Development Corporation
Boards. Those groups provide leadership in planning and redevelopment efforts surrounding
At the national level, I have served as liaison for the University and president with
groups such as the Urban Serving Universities Coalition and Association of Public
and Land-grant Universities (APLU). Outcomes have resulted in external funding and
national recognition including the University's recent designation as one APLU's 16
national Innovation and Economic Development Universities.
A third role is the "other duties as assigned" category. This may include taking on
special projects, assisting with presidential correspondence, responding to queries
and complaints, and providing welcomes when the president is not available.
Finally, I am a faculty member and have tried to continue my teaching and research
responsibilities. Up until the past semester I have taught a course every semester
for the Division of Public and Nonprofit administration. In addition, I publish or
write at least one article or book chapter every year.
How does being an administrator compare to teaching?
As a student of public policy and administration, I have the blessing of doing in
my administrative role what I study and teach in my faculty and discipline role. In
short, I am living the mix of theory and practice. Every day I see the literature
of my discipline come to life. And regularly I gain applications that I can take back
to the classroom. I do what I teach, and I teach what I do.
What is the most challenging part of your role?
Setting priorities on the use of my time is particularly challenging. On one hand,
that's the appeal to the position. I have the opportunity to touch so many activities
and tasks that are important to advancing the University. That's invigorating and
exciting. However, if you don't focus, you don't accomplish. Making that choice is
What do you consider major successes at the U of M?
I have been at the University for more than 30 years. Seeing the culture change as
the institution has embraced and more fully understood its role as a research university
is one of the most satisfying experiences of my professional life. The issue isn't
whether we do research, it is where and how to do better. And doing that through scholarship
that engages the community is distinguishing the University. Also, the growing recognition
by the external community of the importance of a research university to the wellbeing
of the region is satisfying. These include ongoing recognition by the President's
Honor Role, our Carnegie Classification and the recent APLU Innovation Award.
What is the best advice you’ve ever given to a student?
"Be willing to take risks and believe and challenge yourself." A lot of our students
are local and aren't aware of how good they are. I've placed a number of students
in agencies in Washington, D.C., and everyone found they were as good or better than
those from other schools, and everyone has been a success.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
This may surprise many. Someone told me, "You don't have to like everyone you work
with. The question is, are they doing their job?" That was one of the most useful
pieces of advice I've received. Don't obsess on liking or making everyone like you.
Focus on what needs to get done.
What about the U of M would surprise people?
Last year we conducted a series of focus groups involving community leaders about
the performance of the University in economic development activities. What surprised
me is how little some community leaders knew about the range and depth of the University's
degree offerings and research.
Tell us about your family
I have the great fortune of having a smart, lovely University of Memphis graduate
as my wife, Pam, and both of my children, Emily and Lauren, living in Memphis. Along
with my son-in-law, George, with whom I play golf every Saturday, it doesn't get any
better than that.