As thousands of Middle Tennessee State University students continue moving back onto campus this week, President Sidney A. McPhee welcomed back faculty and staff with praise for their resilience the past 18 months of the pandemic while emphasizing vigilance as the campus returns to more traditional operations for the fall semester.
Signs of that vigilance were unmistakable inside the university’s Tucker Theatre on Thursday, April 19, for the traditional Fall Faculty Meeting, with all attendees complying with McPhee’s recently reinstated mask mandate indoors and applauding his commitment to follow the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state and local health official on how best to deal with the coronavirus. (See his full address and faculty award presentations above.)
As usual, the majority of McPhee’s address was filled with encouragement for the campus community, as he spotlighted several new degree programs and initiatives, notable grant awards for faculty research, national program rankings, new construction and proposed upgrades to campus facilities, and recent and pending bonuses for employees.
But with last year’s Fall Faculty Meeting forced into a virtual-only format due to COVID-19 and the recent emergence of the delta variant throughout the community and nation raising concerns, McPhee encouraged the in-person and livestream audience to take advantage of the free vaccines available on campus and elsewhere in the community.
“We are aware of multiple perspectives, sensitivities and questions about the resumption of on-campus activities this fall and also that so many of us have been yearning for a return to normal, in-person activities,” he said. “However, as the primary responsibility for protecting our health — in regard to the COVID-19 pandemic while on campus — shifts from the institution to the individual, it is our view that the single best step you can take to protect yourself from the coronavirus and its variants is to get vaccinated.”
Other highlights from McPhee’s speech:
• MTSU’s new Data Science Pipeline initiative received state funding totaling nearly $2.6 million to create a fully integrated data science model that develops a pipeline of students who can support the workforce needs of the growing technology-based industries in the Midstate.
• The Medical School Early Acceptance Program, established 2019 in partnership with Meharry Medical College, was awarded $1.2 million to provide continued financial aid for students in the fast-track program, which aims to fulfill the urgent demand for well-trained doctors to practice in rural areas throughout Tennessee.
• The university is launching several new degree programs, including physician assistant studies and bachelor’s degree programs in supply chain management, photography, and media management, and is exploring a Master of Fine Arts in independent film and television.
• On the construction front, progress continues on the $40.1 million School of Concrete and Construction Management building set to open next year. State funds were appropriated for a 90,000-square-foot, $54.9 million Applied Engineering building. The university will pursue a $50 million plan to renovate Kirksey Old Main and Rutledge Hall, with the proposed KOM project set to bring back many elements of the building’s historic beauty, including the original auditorium space, while also creating much-needed space for the growing computer science, mathematics, and data science programs housed there.
• With this year the 10th anniversary of the creation of the True Blue Pledge — a shared affirmation of the university’s core values of honesty and integrity, respect for diversity, engagement in the community, and commitment to reason, not violence — McPhee announced a fifth core value, determination and resilience, in recognition of the campus efforts during the pandemic.
“We must accept the fact that this virus will be around for some time and it is in our best interest to learn how to live with it as we move forward with the resumption of our daily lives,” McPhee said.
“We have and are continuing to experience a worldwide pandemic, so I fully understand the heightened level of anxiety that comes along with working through such major challenges and so many unknowns. I can promise you, however, that the health and safety of every member of our campus community has been and will continue to be at the very top of my priorities.”
MTSU will welcome incoming freshmen and transfer students during University Convocation, set for 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 21, in Murphy Center and featuring military veteran and author Wes Moore, followed by a President’s Welcome Bash at Floyd Stadium. MTSU’s fall 2021 semester officially begins Monday, Aug. 23.
— Jimmy Hart (Jimmy.Hart@mtsu.edu)