Messages from the President - 2022

June 24, 2022

Colleagues,

I am pleased to notify you that most members of the University General Division Faculty and Staff will see a pay adjustment effective next month.

This is the result of ongoing efforts by your administration, with support from the University of South Alabama Board of Trustees, to provide some relief from the record inflation and rising costs we are all experiencing, while also focusing on maintaining competitive wages for our area. The Executive Committee of the Board met briefly today to approve the following two proposals; these will be reflected in our upcoming budget which will be voted on by the full Board in September:

  • an across-the-board cost-of-living raise of 3 percent for eligible employees in the University General Division, and
  • a 2 percent one-time salary supplement for eligible employees in the University General Division who were employed on or before May 31, 2022.

As you know, the last several months have presented a challenging economic environment for our employees, making it more difficult to pay bills, gas up your vehicle or save for a rainy day.

To be clear, we had always hoped to be able to offer raises in the fiscal 2022-23 year. This proposal by your University leadership, which our Board affirmed, allows us to move more quickly to help address these challenges. It is simply not enough to just tell our faculty and staff how valuable they are to our success; it is during tough economic times like this that we owe them our very best efforts.

The cost-of-living raise will amount to a 3 percent salary increase for most eligible employees. In order to raise pay in a more meaningful way for some of our employees, the University’s minimum hourly rate is increasing to $13 an hour; this also includes all USA Health employees who were previously making below $13 an hour. This will result in a larger percentage increase in certain cases. More details about the raise and supplement can be found below.

While these salary initiatives are significant, I understand that our compensation strategy must be long-term in order to continue to attract new employees and keep those who have invested themselves and their careers here at South. As part of that effort, we were able to implement salary adjustments in the last year to certain faculty ranks.

Purposeful state appropriations in recent years reflect the Governor’s and Legislature’s support for higher education and their recognition of its importance to economic development and quality of life, but growing enrollment will be critical to sustained efforts to properly compensate our employees.

In the six months since I arrived at the University, I’ve been in awe of the commitment and knowledge our faculty and staff bring to their roles in education, research and healthcare. In addition to these salary adjustments, please know our employees have my deep respect and heartfelt gratitude.

Jo Bonner
President

Q: Who is eligible for the 3 percent salary increase?

A: Regular faculty and regular and temporary administrators and staff in the University General Division. The raise excludes temporary faculty, postdoctoral fellows, interns, language tutors, medical and nurse practitioner residents, student assistants, graduate assistants, non-reappointed faculty or other categories where an increase is determined by contract.

Q: When will the raise be reflected in my paycheck?

The salary increase is effective July 1, 2022, for monthly paid employees, reflected on August 1, 2022, paychecks, and July 3, 2022, for biweekly paid employees, reflected on July 22, 2022, paychecks.

Q: Who is eligible for the one-time salary supplement?

A: Regular faculty, staff and administrators in the University General Division, employed on or before May 31, 2022. Eligible employees will receive a 2 percent supplement based on the new rate of pay after the raise, with a minimum of $550 (prorated based on FTE).

The salary supplement will not apply to temporary employees, postdoctoral fellows, medical residents, student assistants, graduate assistants, or other categories where an increase is determined by contract.

Q: When will I receive the one-time salary supplement?

A: The supplement will be paid July 1.

Q: What about USA Health employees?

A: USA Health continues to make salary adjustments throughout the healthcare organization on an ongoing basis. It also will set its minimum hourly rate to $13/hour.


June 15, 2022

Faculty, Staff and Students,

We’re getting our first taste of fall this week, even with soaring temperatures. Campus is alive with the activity of several hundred new students participating in Southbound orientation on Tuesday and Thursday.

I’m reminded of when Janée and I took our children to their college orientations, and the excitement they had – and some nervousness by both parents and children. I look forward to seeing the new freshmen when they return to campus this fall as we all help them transition to college life.

As Sal Liberto, our interim associate vice president for enrollment services, said in his welcome, orientation at South doesn’t just mark the start of a student’s college career. It’s the beginning of a journey to graduation, and we commit to helping our new students every step of the way.

Thank you to our enrollment staff, and particularly our great student Southbound leaders, for showing our new students what they can expect this fall. In-person orientation sessions run through the summer.

Provost and Executive Vice President Dr. Andi Kent and I, along with SGA President Camille Bonura and admissions officers, recently completed a trip to Camille’s hometown of Enterprise to promote South and encourage students at Enterprise High School to visit campus. Going to Enterprise with Camille was like traveling with a rock star. I’m sure some of the students there were happy to see the University president, but they were much more interested in hearing from the SGA president!

The trip also gave us an opportunity to meet with regional community college presidents to talk about strengthening our connections and expanding access to a four-year degree. Our Enterprise visits were followed a few days later by a visit to Troy University where both Alabama Boys State and Girls State conventions were held in back-to-back weeks.

If we’re going to be the Flagship of the Gulf Coast, a top-choice institution from New Orleans to Tallahassee, we’re going to plant that flag by meeting future Jaguars in their hometowns, and we’re going to bring them here. Already in the works are plans to use our new athletics buses to help introduce people to South. More on that to come.

Of course, we’re not limiting our recruiting efforts to the Gulf Coast. Earlier today, I met with participants of this year’s Distinguished Young Women program. This is an exciting time for these amazing young women, and I made sure they knew Mobile and the University of South Alabama were special places. We’d be honored to have them back as students and help us grow South together, as so many other Distinguished Young Women have done throughout the years.

Speaking of growing, USA Health is expanding again! The Mapp Family Campus in Baldwin County held a groundbreaking last month to mark the start of construction of a freestanding ambulatory surgery center.

Plans call for six operating rooms and two procedure rooms for patient care in pediatrics, orthopaedics, urology, general surgery, gastroenterology, ear, nose and throat, and more. The ambulatory surgery center and the physician office building will give Baldwin County residents access to advanced, academic healthcare that only USA Health can provide to our region.

I’d like to end this note with recognition of Juneteenth, which the University will observe on Friday, since June 19 is a Sunday. Juneteenth, which became a federal holiday last year, commemorates the end of slavery in the United States following federal troops’ arrival in Texas on June 19, 1865, more than two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Thank you to Dr. Joél Lewis Billingsley and the Offices of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Community Engagement for their work in hosting and supporting Juneteenth activities.

I hope everyone continues to have a fruitful summer and encourage you to follow USA Health’s guidance during these hot and humid months.

Jo Bonner
President


May 19, 2022

Faculty, Staff and Students,

During my time as president, I’ve been inspired and motivated by the dedication, integrity and knowledge of our faculty and staff, who work tirelessly every day to support the mission of our University.

No one has impressed me more than Dr. Andi Kent. So, on behalf of the University, I am grateful she has accepted my offer to serve as provost and executive vice president.

This completes a national search that began in early January and culminated with three extraordinary candidates visiting our campus and participating in interviews. Each of them would have brought different strengths to this position, but Dr. Kent stood out as the right person, at the right time, to help lead our University as we begin this exciting new chapter with the goal of becoming the Flagship of the Gulf Coast.

Dr. Kent has been a vigorous advocate for public education, and she is one of South’s biggest supporters. She has had proven success in teaching and research, and has shown an authentic commitment to service. She is also an inspiration to many of our students as her life serves as a testament to the power of what is possible with a college degree.

Dr. Kent and her two siblings each earned degrees from South – as the first generation from their family to graduate from college. Their mother was a beloved LPN who left nursing to help raise the family; their father was a successful businessman, owning an auto parts store in Tillmans Corner.

At South, Dr. Kent earned a master’s and her Ph.D. She started her career in education as a teacher and then reading coach for Mobile County Public Schools before joining the faculty in what is now the College of Education and Professional Studies, where she advanced through the ranks to become dean in 2015. Following the retirement of Dr. David Johnson as provost, Dr. Tony Waldrop appointed Dr. Kent interim provost, a position she has held for nearly two years.

After I arrived, I asked Dr. Kent if she also would serve as interim executive vice president. Combining the two roles, at least in the interim, made sense as one person often wears the hat of both provost and executive vice president at other institutions.

During this time I was afforded a front-row seat to observe Dr. Kent’s many strengths and talents as an administrator who has been willing to make important decisions, as a visionary leader focused on growing our University and enhancing the student experience, and as a tireless advocate for our faculty, staff and students.

Realigning the two jobs of provost and executive vice president into one will allow our chief academic officer to have a significant role in helping to chart the direction of the University over the months and years to come as we all work together to support South’s mission of promoting discovery, health and learning.

Dr. Kent has shown herself to be committed, as am I, to growing our enrollment and putting resources and energy into initiatives that support research and education.

Our freshman and transfer enrollment increased significantly last fall, and I’ve watched her develop programs for long-term success. During the past two weeks, she and I have been on the road visiting more than a half-dozen high schools to promote the Start South program, an initiative she began that allows high school students to earn college credit – connecting hundreds of prospective students to our University and potentially reducing the time it takes for them to earn a degree.

She has also supported the expansion of scholarship programs, including those based on need and others designed for active-duty military; the creation of our School of Marine and Environmental Sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences; and the growth of research in health sciences, engineering and business.

Importantly, Dr. Kent has led our Academic Affairs team as it prepares for the decennial review by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

I fully recognize that appointing a provost and executive vice president is one of the most important decisions any president will make, and it is one to which I have given considerable thought. We all owe an extreme debt of gratitude to Dr. John Marymont and the members of the Provost Search Committee, who selected our finalists. I would like to offer special thanks to the members of our University community who participated in interviews, attended the open forums and provided me with valuable feedback.

Finally, I want to thank Dr. Kent, and the other candidates, who were willing to put themselves up to public review and questioning in order to benefit the University of South Alabama.

Dr. Kent is a dynamic leader who has exhibited success – and an unwavering dedication and loyalty to our institution and its people – in one leadership role after another. I am beyond grateful that she will be taking on this new, combined role on a permanent basis, and I hope you will join me in congratulating her.

Sincerely,

Jo Bonner
President


April 15, 2022

Faculty, Staff and Students,

The University’s search for its next provost continues to move forward with the selection of three finalists, who will visit campus at the end of the month. Dr. John Marymont, chair of the search committee, dean of medicine and vice president for medical affairs, communicated earlier this week the names of those finalists: Drs. Keith Elder, John Griffin and Andi Kent.

Each will participate in an open forum with an opportunity for questions and answers. More information, including times and dates, will be announced soon. Thank you to Dr. Marymont and the Provost Search Committee for their leadership in this effort. The three candidates have impressive credentials; I am confident that together we will select a provost who will bring experience, integrity and ingenuity to leading South’s academic initiatives and policies.

One matter the provost will help lead is our continued effort to offer competitive salary and benefits for our employees. Working closely with the Faculty Senate over the past three months, University administration recently implemented salary adjustments for faculty in professorial ranks in which the average compensation was under the 25th percentile for comparable roles at peer institutions.

These adjustments were based on a salary survey conducted at the request of the Faculty Senate Salary and Fringe Benefits Committee. They follow separate modifications that were made in the fall to address equity within our own pay structures, a recommendation prioritized by the University Committee on Diversity.

Admittedly, these were focused, yet significant steps in what I hope will be an ongoing process to evaluate faculty and staff compensation at all levels of our University to ensure we are competitive in order to recruit and retain our valued employees. I want to offer my sincere gratitude to the Faculty Senate, in particular its Salary and Fringe Benefits Committee, for working with the administration on these efforts. This is the first step on what we all know is a long-overdue journey.

As I’ve told several internal groups since I’ve arrived on campus, our financial health is tied directly to our enrollment. I remain intently focused on growing our student population through increasing enrollment and retention. Just this week I met with college counselors from high schools across the region during a reception at Hancock Whitney Stadium to thank them for their partnership with the University as we look for new ways to work together.

In another partnership, representatives from USA Health and the University recently returned from a trip to Cusco, Peru, where they provided vaccines and medical treatment for residents there. This is the second trip in recent years by our medical providers, and its success offers possibilities for additional healthcare and research initiatives in South America.

Our work in Peru is a reminder of both our impact and potential as we build on our individual skills, talents and knowledge in a shared experience. Thanks to all who represented USA as true ambassadors of our University, state and country.

As we pass 100 days since I’ve been at South, we’re wrapping up the “listening tours” at our colleges, schools and administrative units at the University and at our USA Health facilities. It is hard to put into words how much the warm welcome, heartfelt suggestions and strong support for our collective efforts has meant.

In closing, this evening marks the beginning of Passover, the halfway point of Ramadan and the start of Easter weekend. Three different observances for three different religions, each with timely opportunities for liberation, reflection and renewal. Janée and I wish you and yours peace and hope during this special time of the year.

Jo Bonner
President


March 15, 2022

Dear USA Students, Faculty and Staff,

I am writing to provide you with information about the mistaken activation of the main campus emergency alert speaker system that occurred yesterday morning.

First, I want to express my regret and concern for all those who were impacted by the inadvertent broadcast message, which indicated there was an unknown intruder situation on campus. Hearing this message was no doubt frightening and difficult, and something that none of us wants to experience. If you need any assistance as a result of this situation, please reach out to our Counseling and Testing Center or our Office of Human Resources for help.

Second, I want you to know that we are committed to gaining a complete understanding of what occurred, and to follow up and take corrective action as appropriate. We are continuing to look into what happened, but for now I can tell you that the emergency broadcast system was activated as a technician was working on routine maintenance of the system. Such maintenance happens regularly and has never previously caused the system to activate. We will continue to explore ways in which we can safeguard against this type of false alarm in the future.

I am pleased that our University Police Department, as soon as they became aware of the mistaken alert, quickly activated our Everbridge Emergency Notification System and sent an “all clear” message via email and text to the campus community. In the event of an actual emergency, the Everbridge messaging system as well as our LiveSafe mobile app would be used in addition to the speaker system, which is designed only to notify those who are outside on campus. This redundancy ensures that emergency situations are quickly communicated as widely as possible.

Finally, while we are all relieved that there was no emergency, this situation points out the need for each of us to be aware of what to do in case of an emergency. The USA Police Department offers active shooter training during new faculty orientation and First Year Experience classes, and to individual departments on request. If you’d like to request training for your department or office, please contact USAPD at police@southalabama.edu.

I want to assure you that the safety and security of our campus is a top priority of University leadership. We will learn from this situation and strive to improve our processes so that we can all feel safe and secure on our campus.

Sincerely,

Jo Bonner
President


March 11, 2022

Dear USA Faculty, Staff and Students,

We’re pleased to report that the expansion and renovation of the University of South Alabama College of Medicine building is one large step closer to reality thanks to a $60 million appropriation from U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby. The appropriations bill, approved by both the Senate and the House of Representatives, now goes to President Joe Biden for his signature.

This allocation follows a $50 million earmark from Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey and a $30 million gift from the University of South Alabama Foundation. We hope to break ground in the next year on this project, which will include new construction and an extensive renovation of the existing structure to greatly enhance our education and research capabilities.

These investments are more than just commitments of financial support. They are commitments to our faculty, staff and students, as well as to the communities that our graduates serve.

Sen. Shelby again has demonstrated his desire to improve conditions within Alabama now and into the future. His efforts to secure this funding for a modern College of Medicine that matches the world-class education and research that takes place will impact future generations.

New facilities will enable our recruitment of high-quality faculty and students as the leading academic health system along the Gulf Coast, and it will ensure our continued ability to provide top-level education and research for the next generations of physicians and scientists for the state of Alabama.

We are profoundly grateful to Sen. Shelby, and to the governor and the USA Foundation, for their support of the College of Medicine and the University of South Alabama.

Jo Bonner
President

Dr. John Marymont
Vice President for Medical Affairs, Dean of the College of Medicine


February 25, 2022

During the interview process that brought me to South, I made a commitment to get to know our students, faculty, staff and administrators by visiting each area of our University.

I’ve had a number of group meetings already. Last week, I visited USA Health Children’s & Women’s Hospital, and earlier this week, I met with students and colleagues at the Mitchell of College of Business. I’ll continue these visits through April.

I was humbled as I visited Children’s & Women’s Hospital, witnessing the commitment of an extraordinary group of professionals who create miracles for the tiniest babies and provide specialty care to women in our region.

For those who came out on Monday at the Mitchell College of Business, I enjoyed meeting with each of you and listening to what you had to say. I would also like to extend my heartfelt appreciation to the interim dean, Dr. Alvin Williams, and his team for their warm welcome.

This is the beginning of a conversation. I want to hear more about your challenges and concerns, as well as talk about opportunities where we can grow – with additional students, investments and research. How do we position ourselves to become the Flagship of the Gulf Coast?

As I make my way around the University, I’ll be meeting with senior leadership of each college and school, as well as Faculty Senate representation. There also will be an open forum to gather with faculty, staff and students. While I’ll say a few words, this is mostly an opportunity to meet one-on-one and hear from you. In addition, I will be making my way to our USA Health locations and administrative units to visit with you where you work. Throughout my career, I have found listening and learning go hand-in-hand with leading. Details of each visit will be communicated by the leadership of your unit.

I’d also like to take a moment today to reflect briefly on the events unfolding around the world as well as closer to home.

Obviously, in Eastern Europe, a very serious and disturbing situation is occurring which is the cause of much uncertainty and anxiety. As you know, events are transpiring at a rapid pace. My thoughts are with members of our University community who have family and friends in Ukraine.

Closer to home, the University was well-represented during Thursday’s Higher Education Day in Montgomery. University leadership was joined by about 40 students as we met with legislators and state officials to talk about the importance of our University to the state and region. Simply put: There’s not a single problem we face as a nation, state or in our communities for which higher education cannot be part of the solution.

Lastly, as our University family joins so many others throughout the state and nation in welcoming a significant decline in the Omicron variant, I would be remiss in not thanking everyone – both on our campus and throughout USA Health – for what you have done to help us get where we are in this ongoing struggle against COVID-19. I offer special thanks to members of our COVID-19 Response Team, led by Dr. Julie Estis; they have been tireless in their efforts to keep us safe and healthy.

As we prepare for the celebration of Mobile Mardi Gras and Spring Break, please know Janée and I are most grateful for this incredible opportunity to help you take our University of South Alabama to the next level. Go Jags!

Jo Bonner
President


February 21, 2022

Dear USA Faculty, Staff and Students,

Please join me in congratulating Mike Haskins, vice president for marketing and communications, who has accepted a job leading the marketing efforts for Elon University in North Carolina. While I am sad to see Mike leave, we are excited for his opportunity and grateful for his work on behalf of South.

During Mike’s more than seven years at the University, he elevated efforts that prior to his arrival had relied heavily on legacy media and others to shape South’s image. Today, the University tells its own story using branding, design, videography, narrative storytelling, social media, publications and our website, in addition to outreach efforts through media and public relations. Under Mike’s leadership, the University launched its first strategic advertising campaign. His team and the Division of Enrollment Services work more closely than ever before on marketing at the college level and on paid and organic digital campaigns to reach prospective students and their families.

We soon will begin a national search to fill Mike’s position. That person will take over leadership of a talented and skilled staff that will ensure a smooth transition. Mike’s last day will be March 23.

I know there is understandable interest in the status of some other positions. Importantly, the search for a provost and chief academic officer continues. The Provost Search Committee has met with a recruiting firm, which has advertised the position and is engaging with potential candidates in advance of the March 15 date set for submissions.

As you are aware, Dr. Andrea Kent has admirably filled that role on an interim basis since the departure of Dr. David Johnson in 2020. Without a permanent person in that spot, other subsequent vacancies on the academic side have been filled on an interim basis. I am grateful for the leadership of those individuals, but I know this is not sustainable. The selection of a provost will allow us to address many of those other positions. It is a priority.

There also are non-Academic Affairs positions we will address in the near future.

When I took the job of president, I noted that the University’s success was built on the many who came before us. Our ability to evolve and thrive now is not the responsibility of a few, but will be the result of the work so many of you do to advance the University. Thank you for that commitment.

Jo Bonner
President


February 2, 2022

I am pleased to let you know that Dr. Andrea Kent has agreed to take on the responsibilities of interim executive vice president in addition to continuing in her role as interim provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. Dr. Kent has stepped into this new role following Dr. John Smith’s retirement.

Both of these jobs are critically important to the operations of our University. As you may be aware, a search committee is in the process of reviewing candidates for the position of provost.

As I complete my first month in office, I want to thank the members of our University community for the warm welcome and tremendous support Janée and I have received. We remain so very humbled, grateful and excited for the opportunities that lie ahead.

Please join me in thanking Dr. Smith for his remarkable service and dedication to USA, while also thanking Dr. Kent for, once again, answering the call to serve and lead.

Jo Bonner
President


January 13, 2022

Dear USA Faculty and Staff,

After 14 years with the University of South Alabama, Executive Vice President Dr. John Smith will retire Feb. 1.

Dr. Smith came to the University of South Alabama in 2008 as Vice President of Student Affairs. He was appointed Special Assistant to the President in 2010, appointed Executive Vice President in 2014 and has twice served as Interim President.

The University will host a reception in Dr. Smith’s honor on Wednesday, Jan. 26, from 3:30-5:30 p.m. at the Hargrove Club in Hancock Whitney Stadium. This drop-in reception is open to the entire University community.

Parking for the event will be in Lot 105, adjacent to the stadium. There will be blue signs with arrows directing attendees to the Hargrove Club Entrance, which is at Gate 4.

Please make plans to stop by to wish Dr. Smith the very best in his retirement and help us thank both him and his wife, Jeanne, for their devotion to the University of South Alabama.

Jo Bonner
President


January 10, 2022

Dear Students and Colleagues,

For faculty, staff and students returning to campus, and to those starting their first semester, I know what it’s like to welcome a new beginning. The opportunities are exciting. The unfamiliar can be daunting.

There are new classes, ambitious projects and goals that you’ve set. There’s unfinished business from last semester, and unexpected challenges to tackle during this one. A pandemic stretches into yet another year, while we remain hopeful an end is near and in awe of those on the front lines.

As I begin my presidency at the University of South Alabama, I arrive with both a sense of pride and humility. I’m proud to represent each of you and the work that you do – our students who are chasing dreams, our faculty whose research and scholarly activity gives new insights, and our healthcare professionals who cure and care for us. I’m proud of the University’s staff, who support South’s missions, and the nearly 90,000 alumni who are an example of its promise. I’m proud of how our collective efforts impact our region and state.

I’m also humbled to be chosen for this job. Being the president is an awesome responsibility, and I commit to doing everything I can to live up to your high expectations. Over the holidays, I looked back on the promises I made to the Board of Trustees, our students and our employees – to faithfully represent the University community, to support its members and to be inclusive in our journey. Now it’s time to put in the hard work.

Part of that is listening to you, and meeting you where you work, where you study and where you dine. I’ll also be inviting people to meet with me in my office and at my home. I want to build on South’s impressive successes – the legacy of your predecessors and the results of your efforts – but I do not have a predetermined route for getting there. That path will be defined by what we can accomplish together.

With the pandemic, many of those initial meetings will be one-on-one or in small groups. While evidence suggests that the Omicron variant is causing more mild illnesses than previous variants of COVID-19, transmissions are surging in our community and I want to be respectful of your comfort level and the tireless work of our healthcare providers. As you know, South’s mask requirement was temporarily reinstated. The University COVID-19 Response Committee is meeting weekly and will be communicating any updates through email and on the coronavirus website.

In those meetings, and here, I want to re-introduce myself. I know most of you are aware of my professional life – U.S. Representative for Alabama’s First District, vice chancellor for economic development for the University of Alabama System and chief of staff to Gov. Kay Ivey. My job as president is an extension of that commitment to public service.

I’m also a husband to Janée Bonner, who will work alongside me in this role. I can’t wait for you to get to meet her. Together, we have two grown children, Lee and Robins.

While I’m currently commuting to campus, we’ll soon move into the University-owned president’s house and look forward to being even closer to our South family. Janée and I plan on immersing ourselves in University life. We’ve already been to a basketball game. You’ll also see us at other sporting events, concerts and theatrical performances.

Mostly, you’ll see me around campus. Please stop to say hello.

Jo Bonner
President