Messages from the President - 2021

September 14, 2021

Dear USA Students, Faculty and Staff,

I’m pleased to let you know that our freshmen fall enrollment showed a significant improvement compared with recent years. New freshmen enrollment is up 13 percent for fall 2021, and summer and spring semesters also showed growth year over year.

There is a great deal to be encouraged about in our fall numbers. Transfer student enrollment is up 8 percent over last year, new international enrollment doubled, and graduate enrollment is stable. Importantly, the two cohorts that enrolled at South prior to the pandemic persisted at record rates.

Even with those successes, however, smaller classes in prior years and the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic affected our overall enrollment, which dipped 1.6 percent. We will continue to reach out to students who left South to hear why they did not remain and to invite them to re-enroll.

We know that students who are active on campus and in class generally do better academically and have the best chance at graduating on time. That is why it was critically important for us to bring our students back to campus, so we can support them with a full experience.

Part of that on-campus experience is Week of Welcome and Beyond, which kicked off our fall semester, with students meeting socially with faculty, joining clubs and Greek life, and attending sporting events. I was particularly thrilled to see our students turn out for our first full-capacity game at Hancock Whitney Stadium and a big win for the Jaguars.

South’s Student Center once again is bustling, with the addition of a colorful mural near the mall entrance. It’s a perfect location to take a photo and show off your Jaguar pride on social media.

As we continue the fall semester, please remember that we are working diligently to keep our University community healthy and safe. Masks are required in instructional settings, in USA Health facilities and in indoor settings where 6-feet social distancing cannot be maintained. This policy and other issues related to COVID-19 are reviewed weekly by the the COVID-19 Response Team (formerly the University Committee for Reopening Campus).

The University also urges students, faculty and staff to get vaccinated at the USA Health vaccine clinic at the Mobile Civic Center, the Strada Patient Care Center, or one of the daily walk-up vaccine clinics that are offered on the main campus.

My best wishes to each of you for a productive and enjoyable fall semester.

John Smith
Interim President


August 31, 2021

Dear USA Employees and Retirees,

Something we all have in common as a South Alabama family is the desire to support our community by helping those in need. Every fall we join together to do that with our contributions to the United Way of Southwest Alabama and its 46 partner agencies.

This Thursday, September 2, USA will kick-off the 2021 USA Employee/Retiree Annual Campaign for the United Way. This campaign gives you the opportunity to help provide solutions that lead to positive change in our region.

Thank you to our 170 dedicated colleagues who will serve as employee campaign representatives for this campaign. When your representative contacts you, please consider joining me and our colleagues in making a gift. Every gift is important and will make a difference.

Our continued support will improve the communities we call home. Together, we can make a lasting impact to change lives!

Thank you for your generosity.

John W. Smith
Interim President


August 26, 2021

Dear Students, Faculty and Staff,

I'm writing to let you know that the Office of Community Engagement will become part of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, effective immediately.

This change will better align our community outreach with our commitment to inclusion and cultural understanding. These collective efforts will be led by Dr. Joél Lewis Billingsley, who this summer was named Interim Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer. Dr. Billingsley, associate professor in the College of Education and Professional Studies, has skillfully adapted to her new role. I have the utmost confidence in her ability to lead this change.

As a faculty member, Dr. Billingsley has played a significant role in USA’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, including serving as a member of the University Committee on Diversity. She was an inaugural recipient of USA’s Social Justice Initiative grant program to support research in social stratification, environmental justice and racial equity.

Shannon Shelley-Tremblay, USA's first director of the Office of Community Engagement, has announced her resignation; her last day will be Friday. Shannon and her team built a strong foundation for that office, and I thank her for her service to the University. Accomplishments including the launch of the South Serves volunteer portal and Faculty Fellows program, along with successful community partnerships, will continue.

The union of community engagement and diversity, equity and inclusion is a model used by many universities. Our ability to engage in our community through service and collaboration is directly tied to our efforts to advance diversity, equity and inclusion. Dr. Billingsley and her team will lead the University’s efforts in these areas, but by no means are they solely responsible for either. A commitment to community engagement and diversity, equity and inclusion is required of all of us.

As part of our collective commitment, an administrative committee led by Interim Provost Dr. Andi Kent has been reviewing the recommendations made earlier this year to improve USA's diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. Those recommendations came from people throughout the University community and were prioritized by the University Committee on Diversity. The administrative group that includes Drs. Kent and Billingsley, along with Dr. Mike Mitchell, vice president for student affairs; Scott Weldon, vice president for finance and administration; and Kristin Dukes, general counsel; has been meeting at least twice a month – in addition to collecting feedback from stakeholders – to evaluate the recommendations. This group will provide a follow-up next week to the University community.

Please look for that email as we move forward in our commitment to community engagement and diversity, equity and inclusion.

John Smith
Interim President


August 21, 2021

Dear USA Employees,

I’m writing to tell you the sad news that Randy Moon, Associate Vice President of Finance and Administration for Facilities and Construction, passed away yesterday at his home in Elberta. The University has reached out to his family to express our condolences and offer our support.

Randy joined USA in 2010, and many of you know him from the many significant projects he has overseen during his time at USA. He has left an indelible mark on the USA campus that will last for generations, most recently through his oversight of the construction of Hancock Whitney Stadium, which would not have been possible without his leadership, and through projects that include the Simulation Building, the Jaguar Training Center, the Azalea and Camellia Residence Halls, the Mitchell Cancer Institute clinic in Fairhope, the Jon Lieber Baseball Clubhouse, the Intramural Fields and Fieldhouse, and the currently under construction Freestanding Emergency Department on Hillcrest Road.

Of equal importance to USA was Randy’s diligent monitoring and improvement of all aspects of our campus infrastructure. Things that we all take for granted – such as renovations, air conditioning, water, electricity and storm preparation – were on Randy’s mind every single day of his career at USA. His unique ability to anticipate challenges and needs, and address them before they became problematic, was a critical aspect of USA’s ability to function, operate and fulfill our education and healthcare missions.

With all of his many projects and responsibilities, a particular hallmark of Randy’s work was his can-do attitude. Randy never met a problem or challenge for which he could not find the right solution, and his customer-service focus permeated all aspects of his work and the work of his teams. Randy made himself available and accessible to every member of our campus community, and he never failed to take on every question or request, no matter how big or small, with the same solutions-oriented approach.

With the loss of Randy Moon, our campus and our community are diminished today, not just because of what Randy accomplished, but because of the outstanding and caring person that he was. We will miss him greatly. We will plan an appropriate way to recognize Randy in the near future for the tremendous impact he has had on the University of South Alabama.

Sincerely,

John Smith
Interim President


August 20, 2021

Dear Students, Faculty and Staff,

It’s good to see everyone on campus as we wrap up our first week of the fall semester. To our new students and those returning, welcome!

I want to thank our faculty and staff for stepping up, doing the work necessary to bring students back to campus, and remaining flexible over the last 18 months. Your work is noticed and appreciated.

Of course, we owe a special debt of gratitude to our USA Health employees, who are on the front lines of fighting this pandemic. Please support them by getting the vaccine if you have not done so already. The vaccine is available each Wednesday from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. at the Intramural Fieldhouse, and additional on-campus opportunities will be announced next week. Remember, students receive $25 in Jag Cash and get one of 10 opportunities for an All-Zone Parking Pass with vaccination verification by Sept. 25.

As a reminder, masks are required in instructional settings and inside where 6 feet of social distancing cannot be maintained. This policy will be reviewed on a weekly basis by the University Committee for Reopening Campus, which includes USA Health physicians and infectious disease experts, who are supportive of our current guidelines.

The academic year began with Tropical Storm Fred predicted to head for Mobile, and the threat of inclement weather forced us to adjust our Monday plans and move Convocation to a virtual event. Naturally, the storm track turned and it ended up being a blue-sky day that kicked off a big week for the University community. Week of Welcome and Beyond continues with events and activities, including Jaguar Football, into next month. Come out to Hancock Whitney Stadium to support your team, and head to The Cage and Jag Gym this fall to cheer on Jaguar soccer and volleyball.

This time of year is especially meaningful to our new students, and to those sophomores whose first-year campus experience was limited due to the pandemic. Please take advantage of all that South has to offer by staying involved, making connections and getting to know your professors.

Have a successful and safe fall semester!

John Smith
Interim President


August 3, 2021

Dear USA Students, Faculty and Staff,

The University continues to prepare to welcome back students for fall semester. While the availability of a COVID-19 vaccine has allowed us greater flexibility in returning to in-person instruction and activities, we must take reasonable and responsible steps with the safety of our University community in mind.

In recent weeks, COVID-19-positive cases have risen sharply with the spread of the Delta variant, and while vaccination rates also have increased, they are far below what we need to help control virus spread. Therefore, we will start off the semester by requiring masks in classrooms and other instructional settings, and indoors where 6 feet of social distancing cannot be maintained. Masks also will be required on JagTran and other University vehicles, but will not be required while outdoors, actively eating or drinking, or inside residence hall rooms. USA Health will continue to operate under its own guidelines.

An email will be distributed later today by COVID-19 Response Coordinator Dr. Julie Estis detailing existing and updated guidelines. They take effect immediately.

The new masking requirement will be reviewed for its effectiveness and continued need on a weekly basis by the University Committee for Reopening Campus with the intention that it will be lifted as soon as possible.

While I understand wearing masks can be an inconvenience for some, the decision to require them by both unvaccinated and vaccinated people in certain circumstances has been made necessary by the Delta variant and our desire for a more traditional fall semester. It was done after careful consideration of current COVID-19 infection rates and hospitalizations in our region, input from USA Health physicians and infectious disease experts, and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Make no mistake: The vaccine is highly effective against serious illness and death from COVID-19, and it remains the easiest and best way out of this pandemic. The vaccine is available at no cost to you through USA Health, one of the many vaccine sites available or on-campus vaccine clinics.

Please make an appointment to get the vaccine if you haven’t already, or talk to your physician about any concerns you might have. Bringing infection rates down in our community is critical to our ability to move forward without disruptions. I’m looking forward to seeing our students back soon.

John Smith
Interim President


July 30, 2021

Dear USA Students, Faculty and Staff,

I pledged earlier this summer to keep the University community updated on the investigation into the 2014 Halloween costume contest that resulted in three Mitchell College of Business faculty members being placed on administrative leave, so I wanted to take a few moments to give you an update.

Outside counsel Suntrease Williams-Maynard has completed numerous interviews that will be part of her report that will be filed with Academic Affairs. The report is expected to look at the facts surrounding the participation of each faculty member separately. While the general facts surrounding the incident are the same, each faculty member in question played a different role.

Upon receipt of the investigator's report, Academic Affairs will make the initial determination about whether the information gathered could support a finding of a violation of the EO/EA policy by each faculty member, based on the 2014 Faculty Handbook, which states complaints may be based upon “unlawful discrimination based upon sex (including pregnancy) or sexual orientation, or unlawful discrimination or harassment based on race, religion, color, national origin, age, disability, protected veteran status or genetic information.”

If the facts presented are not adequate grounds to support a policy violation against any one of the faculty members, there will be no further proceedings involving that individual. The matter will then proceed with any of the faculty members for whom the information in the report may support a finding of a policy violation.

While much of this process has already been outlined to the University community, I thought it would be beneficial to remind our University community about the next steps. It is important that everyone understands the procedures, how we intend to handle the matters and that each gets a fair review.

John Smith
Interim President


July 22, 2021

Dear USA Students and Employees,

As we approach the fall semester, we are facing a different reality than we were at this time last year. Last fall, classes were scheduled remotely, activities and gatherings were canceled, and most meetings were held online instead of in person.

This fall, we plan to return to operations that more closely resemble a normal fall semester. The COVID-19 virus remains prevalent, but we have a vaccine. And it’s an effective one.

Our campus reopening committee continues to meet regularly to chart the course for welcoming back students. There are valid concerns about the more contagious Delta variant, and low vaccination rates in our region mean that the spread is expected to worsen in the coming weeks. Still, the chances of becoming seriously ill with COVID-19 are extremely low if you’ve received the vaccine. This is, as the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently noted, “becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

I’m asking you to do your part, and that means getting the vaccine. You have the time to receive both doses before the fall semester begins. We are making it easy for you. The vaccine is available at no cost to you through USA Health, our on-campus vaccine clinics, or one of the many vaccine sites available. The vaccine is being offered at in-person student orientations, and there are plans to make it available at residence halls on move-in days.

Getting the vaccine is a personal choice, but it is a choice that affects every one of our employees and students, along with those who have underlying health conditions and children who are not eligible to be vaccinated. Students and employees who choose not to be vaccinated also have the potential to disrupt campus operations. The CDC recommends those who are unvaccinated wear a mask, and anyone who feels more comfortable wearing a mask should do so. We all should continue to wash our hands regularly and stay home when sick.

The vaccine has allowed the campus and our country to move forward and reopen. I’m looking forward to welcoming more students back to campus. But we all have a role to play, by getting vaccinated now, to ensure that our fall semester will happen smoothly and with limited interruptions.

John W. Smith
Interim President


June 23, 2021

Dear USA Students, Faculty and Staff,

I’m writing to let you know that Dr. Paul Frazier has resigned from his position as Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer, effective July 1, to accept a position as vice chancellor for diversity, equity and inclusion at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

As you know, the University has made a significant commitment over the past year to expand the staff and resources dedicated to our principles of diversity and inclusion. These include two new positions in the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and a $250,000 allocation to the Campus to Career Initiative. It is our intent to continue to look for innovative and substantive ways to demonstrate USA’s commitment to treat every individual and group with respect and dignity, and to provide opportunities for every member of our community to reach their full potential.

I believe it is critical that we continue, without interruption, to build upon the work we have started in these areas. At the same time, the next president of the University should be able to choose the structure and leadership needed in the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

With this in mind, I have asked Dr. Joél Lewis Billingsley, associate professor in the College of Education and Professional Studies, to serve as the Interim Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer, and she has agreed to take on this role. As a faculty member, Dr. Billingsley has played a significant role in USA’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and discussions, including service as a member of the University Committee on Diversity and a leader in USA’s Courageous Conversations program. In addition, Dr. Billingsley is a respected community leader and advocate for equity, having co-produced the documentary “Mobile in Black and White,” which she expanded into a series of community conversations and partnerships focused on increasing opportunity and equity in the Mobile area.

Earlier this year, Dr. Billingsley was one of the inaugural recipients of USA’s Social Justice Initiative grant program, which was established to support faculty research in social stratification, environmental justice and racial equity.

I have every confidence that Dr. Billingsley will carry forward the important work of diversity, equity and inclusion on our campus.

John Smith, Acting President


June 17, 2021

Dear USA Students, Faculty and Staff,

This afternoon, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey proclaimed a state holiday to commemorate Juneteenth National Independence Day, which earlier today was declared a federal holiday by President Joe Biden. The University of South Alabama applauds the actions of the Governor and the President in recognizing the importance of commemorating this day, which celebrates the end of slavery in the United States.

Gov. Ivey has directed that the commemoration of Juneteenth be recognized as a holiday for state employees, either on Friday, June 18, or as soon as possible. Because of the many logistics associated with closing USA’s academic campuses, and to give students and employees adequate time to adjust their schedules, the University will commemorate the Juneteenth holiday on Monday, June 21. All classes and most activities on USA’s academic campuses will be canceled on Monday, June 21, and all non-essential employees will have the day off. The dining hall will be open for regular hours; other retail dining locations will be closed.

Although the academic campuses will be closed, USA Health employees will need to report to work as scheduled, and will receive a PTO day to be used at a later date in lieu of the holiday. Essential employees who are required to work at the academic campuses on Monday will receive a personal day to be used at a later date in lieu of the holiday.

The commemoration of Juneteenth marks the first new federal holiday to be declared since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was created in 1983. As a University community, we are proud to commemorate this important day in the nation’s history.

Sincerely,
Dr. John Smith, Acting President
Dr. Andi Kent, Interim Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs
Dr. John Marymont, Vice President for Medical Affairs and Dean, College of Medicine


June 7, 2021

Dear USA Students, Faculty and Staff,

Beginning July 1, face masks will be optional for all students, employees and visitors while on USA academic campuses (main campus and Baldwin County campus) or while participating in USA-sponsored activities. USA Health employees and visitors must continue to follow the directives and policies at USA Health facilities.

The University may apply additional requirements for specific settings or events, and these requirements must be followed as announced. Those who are not fully vaccinated are encouraged to continue to follow CDC guidelines for face masks.

The decision to move to a mask-optional policy for our academic campuses is due to a number of factors. We continue to see a decline in COVID-19 cases in the community and on campus. Vaccines are widely and immediately available to anyone age 12 and above, and more than 1,000 of our main campus employees have already been vaccinated.

USA continues to provide opportunities for students and employees to be vaccinated if they wish to do so. Employees may sign up to receive a vaccine on the USA website. Vaccine clinics will continue to be held on campus over the summer, and announcements about dates and times will be sent to the University community.

As an incentive, academic campus employees who accrue vacation and who are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 by July 31, 2021, are eligible to receive one day of personal leave, prorated based on FTE. University academic campus employees who do not accrue vacation may receive a $50 gift card as an incentive for getting the COVID-19 vaccine. The $50 will be reported as wages on each recipient’s W-2. Employees should email a photo or scan of their vaccine card to vaccineincentcampus@southalabama.edu to receive the incentive.

The University also is working on the possibility of an incentive for students who choose to be vaccinated. More details about this will be announced by COVID-19 Response Coordinator Dr. Julie Estis.

Thank you for all you are doing to keep South healthy and safe.

John Smith
Acting President


May 27, 2021

Dear USA Students, Faculty and Staff,

This week, the University of South Alabama’s Committee on Diversity will forward to the administration its recommendations on strengthening diversity, equity and inclusion at the University.

The committee organized and prioritized these 51 proposals based on suggestions and recommendations it received from the University community at the request of President Dr. Tony Waldrop.

On behalf of the administration, I would like to thank everyone who submitted proposals and the committee members who thoughtfully and diligently worked through this process to produce a list of actionable items.

The standing committee is composed of student, faculty and staff representation and is chaired by Dr. Michael Mitchell, vice president for student affairs. He will communicate later today to the University community about the specifics of the report, but it contains a wide range of proposals related to everything from University policies and hiring practices to admissions and the presidential search.

I’ve appointed an administrative committee to review the proposals and put forth an implementation plan. That committee will consider factors including impact, feasibility and cost before forwarding a final set of recommendations to the president’s office. Members of the administrative committee are Dr. Mitchell; Dr. Andi Kent, interim provost; Scott Weldon, vice president for finance and administration; Dr. Paul Frazier, chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer; and Kristin Dukes, general counsel.

I will provide the University community with an update when the administrative committee has concluded its work.

I also want to provide an update on the investigation by outside counsel into the 2014 on-campus Halloween party where one faculty member wore a military uniform that included a Confederate battle flag, another dressed as a judge, and he and another faculty member held a rope fastened as a noose. Suntrease Williams-Maynard continues to make progress in the investigation. Once it is completed, she will file a report with Academic Affairs that will summarize the results of her investigation. The report will not offer opinion or determine the outcome of the case.

Rather, the outcome will be determined in accordance with the process outlined in the Equal Opportunity/Equal Access Complaint Procedures in the 2014 Faculty Handbook. Complaints under the 2014 policy may be based upon “unlawful discrimination based upon sex (including pregnancy) or sexual orientation, or unlawful discrimination or harassment based on race, religion, color, national origin, age, disability, protected veteran status or genetic information.” The policy allows for informal resolution if all parties agree, or formal resolution which involves consideration of the matter by an appointed committee.

Under the formal resolution procedure, the committee can render its decision based upon materials submitted to it, including the investigation report and written responses of the respondents or, at its discretion, the committee can require a formal hearing. At the conclusion of its proceedings, the committee can decide there was:

  • not a violation of policy;
  • not a violation of policy, but the behavior was unacceptable and should be subject to correction through remediation or discipline; or
  • a violation of policy and sanctions are recommended.

The committee's findings and recommended sanctions, if any, are delivered to the provost, who has the discretion to accept or modify recommended sanctions.

I will continue to update you on the investigation, its outcome and the steps the University is taking to foster diversity, equity and inclusion. We will approach each of these with purpose, respect and transparency.

John Smith
Acting President


May 19, 2021

Dear USA Faculty, Staff and Students,

As we move into our summer semester and prepare to fully open campus this fall, the University has updated its COVID-19 protocols and policies in accordance with new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Fully vaccinated faculty, staff and employees at our academic campuses will no longer be required to wear masks or social distance. This follows last week’s announcement from the CDC, as well as continued national and local downward trends in viral spread.

We will also open campus to more events and will no longer require employees to complete daily health screenings. We will continue to require screening for visitors, continue sanitation protocols and the utilization of plastic barriers, and encourage vaccinations. USA Health employees should continue to follow policies required at their facilities.

More information about these changes, approved by the University Reopening Committee, will be communicated later today by COVID-19 Response Coordinator Dr. Julie Estis.

Since this pandemic began over a year ago, there has always been a reliance on personal responsibility to help curb transmission and save lives. That remains true today as we advocate for our employees and students to get vaccinated and for those who are not to wear masks and social distance.

The vaccines have proven to be highly effective and are allowing us a path forward. Those who would like to receive the vaccine can schedule an appointment for themselves or eligible family members at https://c19vaccine.southalabama.edu.

Thank you for helping us stay safe and reopen campus.

John Smith
Acting President


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.
President


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.
President


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.
President


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.
President


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.
President


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.
President


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.
President

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.