Chancellor Cheek Investiture Remarks,  May 1, 2009

 

On April 12th, 1945, Vice President Harry Truman was called to the White House. When he arrived in Eleanor Roosevelt's sitting room, Truman was told that the President had died.

Concerned, Truman asked Mrs. Roosevelt, "Is there anything I can do for you?" 

"Is there anything you can do for me?" she replied. "You're the one in trouble now!"

When Chancellor Cheek assumed his duties in February, my thought was exactly that:  You’re the one in trouble now.

There had been and still was administrative instability, and the new Chancellor walked right into the worst budget crisis in memory.  The state was facing a billion dollar shortfall, utility costs were skyrocketing, and the campus was projecting a loss of over 300 positions.

Trouble.

I’d like to say that Jimmy Cheek has fixed all these things, but he hasn’t—at least not yet.

The situation is, however, much improved. 

Part of the improvement is not the Chancellor’s doing.  He got two good breaks.  The first was the Trustees’ appointment of a superb acting President:  Jan Simek.  The second was the influx of temporary stimulus money from the federal government.

Yet to a large extent the fact that things are better today than they were two months ago is Jimmy Cheek’s doing. 

When he arrived on campus, he did a number of things that were exactly right.

The first thing he did right was to listen.  He made the rounds, and—after reassuring us that he really had gotten rid of his Florida Gators license tag—he gave people a chance to talk and paid close attention to what they said.

The pace at which he absorbed information was astonishing.  Within five or six weeks, he knew fine details of the University’s many complex operations.  You could talk with him—in depth— about almost anything.

The second thing he did right was to appreciate.  And the appreciation was genuine.  At the Chancellor’s Honors Banquet, a few weeks ago, he positively glowed with pride—and for days afterwards he was still spontaneously exclaiming about the quality of the talent at this University.

The third thing he did right was to prioritize.  All university operations were facing severe budget reductions, but he saw immediately that the top priority had to be serving students and that the most important way to do that was to keep teachers in the classroom.  He consistently made decisions with those priorities in view.

And the fourth thing he did right was not to be overwhelmed by current demands, but to take the long view.  The Chancellor has consistently emphasized the importance of making this a sustainable campus—for financial reasons, of course, but also because it’s the right thing to do. 

Last week, for example, he announced an 11 million dollar stimulus-funded initiative for energy-saving improvements across the campus.  The upshot will be reduced energy costs for decades to come. 

That’s the long view.

Chancellor Cheek came to us from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at the University of Florida.  I confess that there was some doubt among the faculty—particularly on what many of us somewhat arrogantly call the “main” campus—regarding the ability of someone from an agriculture campus—in Florida, of all places—to fit into the culture and manage the complexities of our full-service university.

For myself I can say—and among the faculty nearly everyone I talk with shares this view—that Jimmy Cheek has fit in, he is managing the complexities, and, furthermore, that he has in a short time won our admiration, respect and good will. 

Chancellor Cheek, we’re glad you’re here.  We hope you’ll stay awhile.