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).

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.