If the future advances of the University of Memphis are in any way commensurate with the salesmanship of recently named president David Rudd and his undeniable ability to articulate a progressive vision, Harvard University better get ready to move aside.
In fact, according to information imparted to members of the Memphis Rotary Club on Tuesday, Harvard already is ranked behind the U of M on at least one new evaluation of the nation's law schools — 15th in the nation, said Rudd, and 24th worldwide.
Among other nuggets shared with the Rotarians by Rudd, the university's former academic provost:
*An athletic program is of "critical importance" to public universities like the University of Memphis, particularly in the area of student retention; accordingly, the university has plans for upgrading its athletic programs.
*In an effort to curb the rate of student dropouts due to financial pressures — "The single biggest challenge to students is money," said Rudd — the university will shortly be establishing, for the first time in its history, its own means-related scholarships to augument what is available through Pell grants and other federal programs. Previously, all scholarships available from the university directly were merit-based.
*The number of first-time freshmen entering the university this fall is up 11.6 percent from the previous year — the first such increase in three years. What makes the achievement more impressive is the fact that it was achieved in the face of higher academic standards. "Our acceptance rate has actually gone down. We accepted 53 percent of applicants this year, down from 74 percent the year before," Rudd said.
*The number of entering out-of-state freshmen has risen by 46 percent — a fact sure to reinforce national awareness of the University of Memphis and its programs. "We are growing a national footprint," as Rudd put it. A related fact is that student enrollment at doctoral programs at the University of Memphis is up by 34 percent, with 44 percent of the increase coming from out of state.
*The university has shown student increases at its adjunct facilities as well: At the Lambuth campus in Jackson, the number of students has grown by 37 percent over the previous year, and the university has leased a larger facility in Collierville for its growing corps of students there.
*The university is holding the line on tuition-rate increases this year and is prepared to guarantee no change in the rates over the academic careers of students who maintain a steady path toward graduation.
*Other objectives, Rudd said, are to utilize summer sessions more fully so as to make the university a "12-month university, and to develop and publish course schedules for three years in advance."
All this planning and contemplated academic advancement is being designed to meet the specific needs of "six different student populations," ranging from on-campus freshmen students to veterans and returning adults.
Not bad. Not bad at all. And the Rotarians got a bonus. Asked about the suicide this week of actor/comedian Robin Williams, Rudd, a veteran and well-credentialed psychologist who has developed programs related to stress issues, gave a lengthy and detailed analysis of the kind of depression that may have led to Williams' apparent suicide.
Next question? This man has answers.