Messages from the President - 2021

USA President Tony Waldrop’s messages to the University community are posted below and on the University’s Facebook page, You can also follow him on Instagram (USA Waldrops).

May 6, 2021

Dear USA Students, Faculty and Staff,

Congratulations to our spring and summer graduates, who are being recognized at this week’s ceremonies. To our newest alumni, your final year at South was a unique one, and you finished with perseverance, flexibility and optimism that your degree, and the knowledge you earned with it, prepares you for what comes next. I look forward to attending several of the ceremonies to watch our graduates walk, and encourage you to keep in touch with your alma mater.

To our students who will be returning to South in the fall, University leadership continues to be encouraged by the relatively low number of COVID-19 cases on campus and in our region, and the success of the vaccines in reducing cases. In Alabama and across the United States, all adults are now eligible to receive the vaccine.

Our planning for the fall remains focused on returning to course offerings, class schedules and student activities that will resemble a typical fall semester on campus. We expect to be able to incorporate a more traditional slate of in-person activities and gatherings, along with appropriate health and safety protocols that will be announced later this summer. Our activities will kick off with our fall Convocation for new students at Hancock Whitney Stadium.

We will continue to take steps to mitigate the virus on campus, including on-campus vaccination clinics for our students, faculty and staff. We also will continue to monitor the health of our community and the trajectory of the virus to ensure a safe transition. Information about on-campus clinics and plans for fall semester will be communicated through email and the University website.

Stay safe this summer, and Go Jags!

John Smith
Acting President

April 20, 2021

Dear USA Students, Faculty and Staff,

I’m writing to provide you with several updates in the areas of diversity, equity and inclusion.

As many of you know, last month the University announced that there would be an investigation into the photos of business faculty members at a costume party in 2014. University leadership is in communication with the external investigator, who continues to make steady progress with the investigation. We all want to see this investigation move as quickly as possible, but it is critical that we give the investigator the time she needs to conduct a thorough and careful investigation. We will continue to monitor her progress.

Many individuals and groups have taken advantage of the invitation to provide comments, ideas and suggestions over the past 30 days about how USA can improve and enhance diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. More than 40 detailed and thoughtful proposals were received, and I have asked the University Committee on Diversity to review and discuss all of these proposals and put them into a priority list.

Once the Diversity Committee has the opportunity to discuss and prioritize the ideas, I will ask a group of our administrative leadership to review the committee’s work and identify what resources are needed and available to begin implementation. This group will include: Andi Kent, interim provost and senior vice president for academic affairs; Paul Frazier, chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer; Scott Weldon, vice president for finance and administration; Mike Mitchell; vice president for student affairs; and Kristin Dukes, general counsel.

While all of the ideas submitted will receive serious consideration, we realistically will not be able to accomplish everything we want to do immediately. The leadership group will be charged with identifying the resources required for each idea, and then deciding how to allocate resources in a manner that allows us to move forward on the initiatives that can be achieved. I will be back in touch with more information as the committee and the group carry out their work.

In the meantime, there are a number of initiatives which are already moving ahead. These include:

  • The Campus to Career Initiative, a new program designed to increase the graduation and retention rates of underrepresented students, has been funded with a $250,000 allocation from the University budget. In addition to offering support to underrepresented students in areas including academics, leadership and wellness, this program will provide renewable, $2,000 scholarships to incoming freshmen who meet the criteria. More information will be forthcoming on these scholarships and how to apply.
  • A new position has been created for a Campus to Career Initiative coordinator. This position, when hired, will be responsible for managing the program, overseeing scholarships and seeking additional external funding to support this initiative.
  • The University has created a new position for a Manager of Educational Resources and Outreach for Diversity and Inclusion. The person hired for this position will establish a vision and define strategic outcomes related to USA’s Strategic Diversity and Inclusion Plan, and will oversee the design, management, implementation and assessment of diversity and inclusion programs, partnerships and activities.

We will continue to work on these and other initiatives in the coming weeks and months, and I will provide the University community with regular updates on our progress. The thoughtful ideas and suggestions offered by our faculty, staff and students show that we, as an institution and as individuals, are committed to doing better in the future to ensure our campus is one that is diverse, inclusive, safe and welcoming to all.

John Smith
Acting President

March 26, 2021

Dear USA Students, Faculty and Staff,

One of the difficulties of the pandemic has been the necessary limitations on in-person activities. Because of that, the usual opportunities for me to meet face-to-face with students have also diminished.

I’ve been able to host group video conferencing sessions with student groups to check in on how they’re doing and what we could be doing better. I also have monthly one-on-one meetings with the president of the Student Government Association.

But I’d also like to extend an invitation for individual dialog to all students. Those with concerns, suggestions or ideas for improving our University community can reserve a 30-minute Zoom session with me through the Office of the President website. The sessions will be scheduled in twice-monthly blocks. I look forward to meeting with you online.

I also want to update you on the investigation into faculty members from the Mitchell College of Business, who are now on administrative leave.

Suntrease Williams-Maynard, a former trial attorney for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, has been gathering and analyzing information and soon will begin interviews. While the investigation will be conducted in a timely manner, it will be thorough and the completion date will depend upon the investigating attorney's process and the time needed to ensure a complete and thorough examination of the facts.

In response to recommendations for improvements that will help us respond to complaints of bias and make all in our community feel welcomed and valued, a digital hotline to report complaints of bias is now prominently displayed on the website of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. That hotline was previously established so employees and students can report concerns anonymously, including concerns about ethics, bias and discrimination, and we are working with the vendor who manages the system to expand the existing categories to meet our needs.

You may notice the name change for the office led by Dr. Paul Frazier. Including “equity” in the office name follows a request from the Student Government Association and reflects an emphasis on ensuring that we maintain equitable practices and policies. I’ve approved a new position in that office to expand its capabilities, and we’ve expanded its advisory committee by six members to include student representatives.

Creating a culture of inclusion and equity is not something that is completed and put aside, on our campus or throughout our nation. It is an ongoing journey. We must continue to push, to progress, and to be prepared for the times when we fall behind.

During the same week that eight people, including six Asian women, were killed in shootings at three Atlanta-area spas – raising issues of xenophobia, violence and the objectification of Asian women – Congress unanimously confirmed the first Asian American to serve as U.S. Trade Representative. A historic moment, in the aftermath of tragic events.

In the last year, there has been an increase in harassment against Asians amid unfounded and unhelpful pandemic blame. We can stand against bias at the same time we endeavor to improve our own standing.

USA’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee is hosting a Courageous Conversation, #StopAsianHate, via Zoom next Friday, April 2 from 3 - 4:30 p.m. Look for more information on this soon in the daily digest email.

It is important we continue our work, here and across our communities, to recognize injustices, right our wrongs and open opportunities for all.

Tony Waldrop, Ph.D.

March 11, 2021

Dear USA Students, Faculty, Staff and Alumni,

I’m writing to update our University community on several steps that have been taken in the last 10 days following photos that surfaced of faculty members at an on-campus costume party wearing and holding symbols that are offensive and hurtful.

Last week, I asked members of our community to bring forth ideas within 30 days that will guide us in developing a clear plan and path forward for the University. I’ve been encouraged and appreciative of the excellent and constructive ideas and perspectives I’ve received to date.

Although there is still time to submit your thoughts and suggestions, we’re ready to act on a proposal offered by the Student Government Association asking that students, faculty and staff be required to complete diversity training.

We will utilize and expand on the work by the SGA and USA’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion that resulted in the creation of training modules that are offered voluntarily to the University community. For faculty and staff, this requirement will be in addition to the biannual training they complete on discrimination and harassment.

We’re also in the process of expanding the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. I’ve asked Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Dr. Paul Frazier to draft a job description for a new position in education and outreach that we are moving to fill as soon as possible. This will be in addition to diversity coordinators that are being placed in each college and school.

By the end of March, we will form a committee that will categorize and review each of the ideas that are being submitted. We will use them, along with the results of our campus climate survey, to come up with a list of proposals for strengthening diversity, inclusion and equity on campus. We can do more, and we will. The committee will be transparent in its process and proposals. You can continue to submit ideas to Dr. Frazier or myself.

The plan we put together will build upon the initiatives already begun in the last several years, including the creation of Offices of Diversity and Inclusion at the University and USA Health; the development of a Campus to Career program to assist with the graduation and retention of underrepresented student populations; and the endowment of a Leadership in Social Justice and Perseverance Scholarship in conjunction with the 100 Black Men of Greater Mobile.

As I reported to the University community late last week, we have engaged outside counsel to investigate the matter of the faculty members pictured at the 2014 costume party. The investigating attorney will submit a report to the University’s Equal Employment Opportunity Committee, pursuant to the University’s policies of non-discrimination and equal opportunity/equal access.

I would like to thank everyone who is submitting ideas and engaging in this process. Together, we will make South better tomorrow than it is today.

Tony Waldrop, Ph.D.

March 8, 2021

In recognition of the dedication of our USA employees, each quarter the University recognizes the exceptional efforts of one University general staff employee for the Employee of the Quarter award.

I am very pleased to announce that Rochelle Darragh, Distance Learning Specialist II, in the Innovation in Learning Center, has been selected as USA Employee of the Quarter for the first quarter of 2021. Her nomination reads in part: “The student success mission of the University depends heavily on the quality of instruction that is offered to them. Technology can be an enhancer, but can also be a barrier for faculty to create effective learning environments for their students. Rochelle’s work in CANVAS training and troubleshooting to help faculty create easy to navigate and organized course sites has helped students succeed at South. COVID-19 presented many challenges, but Rochelle contributed long hours to teach, troubleshoot and hold many online training sessions to ensure the success of our students and faculty. It is important to note that she has completed all of the above with a smile on her face. She never hesitated to embrace these new challenges even in the wake of COVID-19. Through all of this, she remained accessible and was willing to spend the time required to make a smooth transition. Her assistance has been invaluable, lessening the burden for course faculty, while doing so with a pleasant attitude, regardless of the stress of the situation. Without question, she deserves this recognition. She has certainly enriched the team of staff and students at the ILC and will continue to do so with grace and professionalism.”

Rochelle was recognized for her commitment to excellence and presented the award at the Board of Trustees meeting on March 5, 2021.

March 5, 2021

Dear USA Students, Faculty and Staff,

In the past few days, I have heard from many of you regarding the photographs that were taken at an on-campus costume party held in 2014 at the Mitchell College of Business. These photos depict three members of our faculty wearing and holding symbols that are offensive and are contrary to our core principles of diversity and inclusion.

In my message to you earlier this week, I assured all of you that the University would address this situation in a manner that demonstrates our unwavering commitment to diversity, inclusion, and a safe and welcoming environment for every member of our community.

With that in mind, I am writing to let you know that the University has engaged the services of an independent, highly qualified external attorney to investigate this matter and submit the investigative report to University leadership for further action, pursuant to the University’s policies of non-discrimination and equal opportunity/equal access.

The investigation will be conducted by Suntrease Williams-Maynard, a former trial attorney for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in Mobile and a former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Alabama and the Southern District of Texas. We have pledged our full cooperation to Ms. Williams-Maynard in her investigation. The faculty members involved have been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation and any related proceedings.

Along with the leadership of the University, I assure you that we are treating this situation with the utmost seriousness and with a commitment to acting upon the results of the investigation. In the meantime, please join me in continuing our ongoing work to make the USA community one that proudly and steadfastly treats every person with respect and dignity.

Tony Waldrop, Ph.D.

March 2, 2021

Dear USA Students, Faculty and Staff,

Last night a local television news program released a story related to photographs that were taken at an on-campus costume party held in 2014 at the Mitchell College of Business. In these photos, members of our tenured faculty appear wearing and holding symbols that are offensive and contrary to the principles of diversity and inclusion that our University strives to incorporate into all of our decisions and actions. We condemn the use of any and all racist images or symbols, which are not acceptable in any context on our campus.

The actions taken in response to these pictures, which were brought to the attention of University leadership in 2020, should have been stronger and broader, and should have more clearly demonstrated our unwavering commitment to a safe and welcoming environment for every member of our community. We acknowledge that, in our response to this incident, we failed in our obligations and responsibilities to our students, our employees and our community. For this, we are deeply sorry to everyone who is rightfully hurt and offended by these images.

As you know, the University has worked diligently to create a campus climate that is diverse, welcoming and inclusive. We created a position for a chief diversity and inclusion officer, who started programs such as our Courageous Conversations series on race; we enhanced our diversity training for students, faculty and staff; and we created initiatives such as Campus to Career to assist with the retention and graduation of underrepresented students. We are in the process of placing diversity coordinators in each of our schools and college, and we are continuously working on updated recruitment and hiring strategies to ensure a more diverse pool of candidates for jobs.

But we can always do better. With that in mind, I am asking every member of our University community to reflect on this incident, and to bring forth ideas within the next 30 days for concrete actions that we can take to make sure we do better in the future than we have in the past. I have asked Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Paul Frazier to collect and review your ideas, couple them with the results of the current campus climate survey, and develop a clear plan and path forward for the University. We cannot, should not and will not attempt to erase our past failings. Instead, we will acknowledge our mistakes, learn from them, and commit ourselves to creating a campus environment that is respectful to all individuals and groups, at all times, without exception.

We have accomplished a great deal as we have worked together to ensure a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion on our campus. But there is more to do. I look forward to continuing to work with you to strengthen our commitment to these principles.

Tony Waldrop, Ph.D.</ br> President

February 26, 2021

Dear USA Students, Faculty and Staff,

This week I met with our new South Strong Ambassadors, who will be using peer-to-peer influence to encourage safe practices for navigating campus life during COVID-19. These students will be out on campus, reminding us to do our part to keep our campus healthy and safe.

Each of these students, like so many of us, have faced challenges in the last year in adapting to new ways of operating. Despite those challenges, we have largely been successful at keeping campus open while limiting gatherings and shifting some coursework online. The spread of COVID-19- cases on campus remains low, vaccinations are underway and nationally we are seeing a retreat of the January peak.

It is because of our collective efforts, and the reduction in cases, that I can announce that we are planning to transition to more traditional operations this fall. By and large, courses that were moved fully or partially online due the pandemic will shift back to in-person learning, assuming we continue to see improving trends in controlling the virus. Employees who are remote will continue to transition back to offices, according to each supervisor’s schedule.

The move to remote learning and working took some adjustment and logistical considerations, and that will be true as we transition more people back to campus, as well. Additional information will be relayed as University leadership finalizes details. We also need to be mindful of virus variants and other developments that might force us to adjust our plans.

The introduction of the South Strong Ambassadors is a reminder that we must not let down our guard. Students, faculty, staff and campus visitors will need to wear masks and maintain social distancing for the foreseeable future. South Strong Ambassadors will be relaying that message to our students through social media and other avenues. You will be seeing more about this program next week on social media and on the University's homepage.

Yesterday, during my meeting with them, I asked the ambassadors when they thought we’d be back to normal. Their answers varied. The truth is, nobody knows. But I am optimistic that vaccinations and precautions to limit viral spread can get us there.

Tony Waldrop, Ph.D.

February 11, 2021

Dear University Community,

It was in Florida, during one of our morning walks, that Julee suggested I should start looking for an opening if I wanted to be a college president. That search brought us to South, and I am better for her encouragement, and grateful for yours over the past seven years.

As I noted in my inauguration speech, any success I’ve had in higher education administration has been possible because of my wife. She’s my strongest supporter, and, probably more important, my toughest critic. She has accompanied me to jobs across the country – from North Carolina to Texas to Illinois, back to North Carolina and then to Florida before we came to Mobile.

Now it’s time that I follow Julee. To do so, I will be stepping down as president later this year.

I am proud to let you know that Julee has been named assistant dean for the Duke University School of Nursing. There, she will oversee Duke’s doctor of nursing practice program, consistently a top-ranked program. This is an amazing opportunity for her, and I hope I can be as supportive of her as she has been of me.

I’m also proud of what we all have accomplished at South. Together, we’ve increased our retention and graduation rates, attracted more academically gifted students, held tuition level for two consecutive years, sent more students abroad on scholarship, raised our research profile, expanded access to healthcare, and strengthened ties between the University and the Mobile community.

We’ve established formal connections with regional community colleges, launched an adult education program, enhanced diversity and inclusion efforts, and closed out a capital campaign that raised more than $160 million for scholarships, fellowships, equipment and facilities. We created a new Honors College, and built Hancock Whitney Stadium.

All of us at the University and USA Health, including the president’s council, faculty, staff, students and alumni, are responsible for those achievements.

I owe a particular debt of gratitude to South’s Board of Trustees for selecting me as the University of South Alabama’s third president, and for its leadership and counsel over the years. The board soon will begin a search for my replacement. I will remain as president until July 1.

My successor will inherit a University that has positioned itself for even greater success, and a University community that I know will warmly embrace her or him. Being president of the University of South Alabama has been a great honor, and Julee and I are indebted for that opportunity.

Thank you for all you have done for me, and for our University.

Tony Waldrop, Ph.D.

February 5, 2021

Dear USA Faculty, Staff and Students,

Today we honor the birthday of Hank Aaron, a Mobilian and champion of civil rights and home runs. Aaron died late last month at the age of 86. I was fortunate to have met him a few years back and was humbled by his modesty. His perseverance on and off the field will stay with me, and is an inspiration to all those who are working to create a more just world.

February is Black History Month, and our Office of Multicultural Student Affairs is hosting a series of virtual events that all are welcome to attend. USA Health kicked off the month with a forum featuring Brandon Fleming, CEO of the Harvard Diversity Project.

With spring around the corner, COVID-19 cases continue to fall nationwide, as do the number of hospitalized patients, and USA Health is working diligently to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible.

This good news comes along with a reminder that we must continue to do our part and focus on ending this pandemic. Until we are able to control the virus and determine if those vaccinated can still host it, we need to continue following social distancing and masking guidelines.

As of this week, USA Health has administered more than 10,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine. The focal point of its operations is the drive-through clinic at the Mobile Civic Center, where our healthcare providers are vaccinating close to 1,000 people each day. The vaccination effort is contiguous with, but separate from, the drive-through COVID-19 testing site in the Civic Center complex. If you would like to help, USA Health is looking for medical and non-medical volunteers for a Saturday event on Feb. 13.

The quickest way for you and your family members to get your vaccine through USA Health is to put your name on the registry for an appointment. You do not need to be a USA Health patient or a University employee or student in order to sign up. This is open to anyone, and we will be following state eligibility guidelines as we work down the list to get everyone vaccinated.

On behalf of the University and the larger community, I want to thank everyone involved in these efforts, including staff volunteers directing traffic and nursing students who are helping vaccinate patients.

Tony Waldrop, Ph.D.

January 22, 2021

Dear USA Students, Faculty and Staff,

This week we welcomed back students for the spring semester under the same COVID-19 operating guidelines as the fall. While holding classes during a pandemic presents challenges, our community came together to limit exposures by masking and maintaining social distancing on campus.

South administered more than 6,700 tests to students in the fall. Contact tracing during that time suggests the risk of exposure inside classrooms with precautions is extremely low and that we successfully contained the spread from some small clusters not linked to classrooms.

Testing continues this semester. This week, students who live on campus are being tested, and we also are increasing the volume of random, sentinel testing of students to identify any increase in asymptomatic cases. As before, students who are exhibiting symptoms can be immediately tested, and there are private rooms available for residential students who need to quarantine or isolate.

The fight against COVID-19 continues to require every one of us doing our part. President Joe Biden called attention to our responsibilities to each other during his Wednesday inauguration at the United States Capitol.

It was on the steps of the very same building that violent rioters, just days before, failed in their attempt to disrupt democracy. This attack was the subject of an online conversation earlier this week with South students and faculty, who talked about ways to have civil, civic conversations and find solutions rooted in academic disciplines.

The Capitol has been attacked before, notably in 1814 when the British set fire to the building and other structures in Washington, D.C. That, of course, was an attack from the outside. This time was different and profoundly disturbing.

I’d like to remind you of another day when the Capitol was threatened: September 11, 2001. Terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. A fourth plane, United Airlines flight 93, was headed in the direction of Washington – possibly the Capitol – when passengers fought back and the plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. I don’t know the political leanings of those brave passengers. That didn't matter. They joined together and thwarted an attack.

We advance democracy and preserve our security when we are united. As inaugural poet Amanda Gorman so powerfully said, “And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us, but what stands before us. We close the divide because we know, to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside.”

Let’s come together with purpose, keep each other safe and have a productive spring semester.

Tony Waldrop, Ph.D.

P.S. Please be aware that MLK 2021 Week of Unity & Service is under way. I encourage you to participate and thank all those who contributed to organizing this year’s events.