Wearing a dress shirt and tie and holding hands with two Student Government leaders, University of Memphis president Bill Hardgrave splashed through its signature fountains on campus Monday to kick off the fall semester.
The fun moment, promoted and captured on social media and sure to become viral, was part of a dare to Hardgrave last year when he was pitching to become the university’s next president. He earned the job in November and officially took over the post in April, but his true welcome came during that opening day soaking.
He told the Commercial Appeal after a second scamper through the fountains, “Every year, at the start of the fall semester, this oughta be a tradition,” Hardgrave said. “So we just started it today.”
Hardgrave, the former Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs at Auburn University, is one of many new presidents on campuses across the country. He took over for David Rudd, who had been in the post since 2014. One of his early goals this year, in addition to getting acclimated to Memphis and the new environment, is developing a new strategic plan for the university, a process that should be completed by next summer, along with addressing several challenges facing higher education.
“The university has advanced incredibly over the last several years,” Hardgrave said during a recent question and answer session with campus leaders. “The last strategic plan, however, was written in 2017, and the world is a very different place in just those five years. It is time for us to think about how we set this university up not just for the next couple of years, but for the next decade. This has to be a comprehensive process – our alumni, our business community, our students, our faculty, everybody will be involved in this, we as we set the, the path forward for the next several years.”
One of the parts of the plan is likely ensuring that the next generation of students is given opportunities to excel in emerging, tech-driven careers.
“One of the things that we have to do as an educational institution is make sure that we are partnering with others, to provide whatever that workforce need may be,” he said. “I’ve already had conversations with the superintendent of the Shelby County school system, with the head of our technical schools, with our community colleges. We have to all work together to create an educational ecosystem.”
Another is ensuring that his institution and others across the state of Tennessee and the nation remain affordable and cost-effective.
“The worst thing we can do is have somebody stop out because we know that the chances are really low that they come back,” Hardgave said. “We’ve got to find a way to financially support those students. If I had to look at those major initiatives that we have to have, one of them is more money to help those students beyond just a merit scholarship, to help them with food and books. I know we will rise to the challenge, but we’re going to need our alumni and friends in the business community to help us with that because we can’t do it by ourselves.”
Around the nation
- Pamela Fox, the president at 181-year-old Mary Baldwin University in Virginia, is retiring at the end of June 2023 after 20 years. Among her long list of accomplishments: increasing enrollment and students of color (now more than 50%), adding 30 new degrees and programs as well as a series of infrastructure improvements, led by its College of Health Sciences. “I have been extraordinarily honored to lead and serve alongside each of you,” Fox told the Mary Baldwin community. A plan for a successor has not been announced.
- Laura Casamento, the first woman to serve as president at Utica University in New York, will retire in May after seven years, saying that “in recent years, [my husband] Phil and I have suffered losses and faced life-threatening illness. While I am happy to share that our family is well – and as many of you know we were blessed with the addition of our sixth grandchild this summer – it is fair to say that these experiences, collectively, have made the runway to retirement a bit shorter than we may have envisioned it two or three years ago.” Casamento, who said she never desired to be president, also said she knew when she would be ready to exit. Utica’s new strategic plan will be set in motion in 2023-24.