Letter to the Mason Community – July 2013

Posted: July 3, 2013 at 11:42 am, Last Updated: July 3, 2013 at 2:21 pm

July 2013

Dear Fellow Patriot,

It’s been one year since I joined George Mason University, and I wanted to say thank you. Thank you for helping Beth, Alex, Emily and me feel at home from the moment we arrived. Thank you for helping us understand and appreciate this very special institution. But most importantly, thank you for all you do for Mason. As I learned about the multiple elements of the Mason community, I have been constantly impressed and inspired by the caliber of people I have encountered, their professionalism and dedication to our students and to making our university the special place it is.

This has been a very productive year for Mason. In addition to the many individual accomplishments by our faculty and students, we have also made great progress collectively. Whether the goal was to create a new vision, graduate a record number of scholars, diversify our research portfolio or increase private support for the university, we have achieved a lot together.

Here are some highlights from the past year and some thoughts about what the next year will hold.

Students

Mason students have amazed me over the past year with their creativity, ambition and academic achievement. They have won prestigious scholarships, fellowships and competitions across a number of fields. And they have shown extraordinary commitment and engagement, as well. Whether through community service projects, by lobbying Virginia and national legislators on behalf of various important causes, raising money for scholarships for fellow students, or crafting innovative solutions to tackle poverty, they have made Mason Nation very proud!

It’s no coincidence that a recent study from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia showed that Mason graduates employed in the Commonwealth earn salaries higher than other public Virginia university alums upon graduation. I’m delighted to see how employers value the talent that is coming out of this university.

A Vision and Strategic Plan

An old friend of mine liked to define vision as a dream with a deadline. That is precisely what we set ourselves to producing this year: a dream for the kind of university we want Mason to become over the next decade.

With the help of hundreds of faculty, staff, students, alumni, business and government leaders, donors and friends—we have counted more than four thousand people who participated—we wrote an inspirational and aspirational new vision.

The new vision reaffirms Mason’s commitment to freedom and learning, and reinforces our defining characteristics as a university—which we call the Mason idea. A new mission statement draws our attention to the impact we have around us by defining us as “an innovative and inclusive academic community committed to creating a more just, free, and prosperous world.”

Together we articulated the values that have made us who we are and have driven our successes; we defined what we believe being a Mason graduate should mean; and we laid out seven commitments for the future.

I was thrilled to be able to roll out our new vision on Mason Day, during a moving event, “An idea, A Vision, A Future,” that re-energized many members of our community. It was an exciting celebration of our new vision, all that the university has accomplished, and the many people who helped build this institution. It also was an opportunity to showcase Mason at its best, through music, videos and testimonials that exemplified the spirit of the Mason idea.

Laying out a vision for the future is only the beginning of a journey. Our next step is to realize the goals and aspirations outlined in the vision through our new strategic plan. The goal is to complete the strategic planning process by December 2013 so a new plan is in place by July 1, 2014. I hope you will continue to engage in this process and will use the various town hall meetings to help shape the new plan.

Tuition and Budget

In May, the Board of Visitors announced a 3 percent tuition increase for the upcoming academic year, which was the lowest in more than a decade. Given the multiple resource demands we face, it wasn’t easy to keep our tuition at this level while still investing in areas that are critical for our future, including attracting and retaining talented faculty and staff. I need to thank our faculty and staff for their hard work, dedication and commitment to act as careful stewards of our resources on behalf of our students and our community.

We remain committed to providing a transformational educational experience to our students and preparing them for meaningful and successful careers, while remaining as affordable as possible. In order to do that, we must address the resource investments we will need to continue Mason’s tradition of excellence and accessibility. That is why, this coming year, we will be reviewing our budgeting process and will identify new approaches to further align our resources with our strategic objectives. I expect that this will be an 18-24-month collaborative process with opportunities for faculty, staff and students to provide input and ideas.

Mason continues to be a good investment for students as measured by several recent surveys, including AffordableCollegesOnline.org, which included the university on its list of the top 50 schools “that are both affordable and provide students with the best bang for their buck after graduation.” The high return on investment means higher salaries for graduates throughout their careers.

Supporting Mason: Research and Development

I am pleased to report that sponsored research expenditures are projected to exceed $102 million in fiscal year 2013, up from $97 million the previous year. Our faculty continues to pursue external funding, with the number of proposal submissions expected to increase to 1,110 and $482 million, up from 1,037 and $449 million in fiscal year 2012.

We had a number of significant individual awards across the university, and we welcomed two new major research groups to the College of Science, which will bring exciting research opportunities to the university: The Center for Collision Safety and Analysis; and the combined Institute of Global Environment and Society (IGES) and the Center for Ocean-Land-Atmosphere Studies (COLA).

Without question, Mason has accomplished much through the generosity of our alumni and friends. All of our donors’ gifts are critical to Mason’s success and make a difference in the lives of our students and our community. Thanks to the efforts of our alumni and friends, giving to the university will exceed $42 million—an outstanding fundraising year. Some notable recent examples include the following:

  • To honor their late parents, Maggie Godbold, MS Software Systems Engineering ’92, and Tom Godbold recently completed funding the John W. Godbold Endowment in Public Administration, which will provide scholarships to both undergraduate and graduate students in the Department of Public and International Affairs. Maggie and Tom’s father, John Godbold, was one of the founding faculty members for the master’s in public administration program.
  • A $250,000 gift from Kettler Inc. established the Kettler Scholars program at the university’s Center for Regional Analysis to fund research surrounding multifamily housing in the Washington, D.C., region.
  • The work of longtime faculty member John Warfield will live on and serve future scholars through a gift from his widow, Rosamond A. Warfield. The John N. Warfield Endowment for the George Mason University Libraries will provide permanent and consistent funding for the preservation of the John N. Warfield Collection and also fund acquisitions of scholarly research materials in subject areas of greatest interest to the late professor.

New Facilities

Work has continued to further expand and upgrade our facilities in our multiple locations. A few highlights of the many projects this year follow:

  • G.T. Halpin Family Living and Learning Community residence hall and dining complex for the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation based at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute complex in Front Royal;
  • Exploratory Hall addition and renovation with all-new teaching labs for the College of Science and the first scale-up classroom for collaborative learning on the Fairfax Campus;
  • Beacon Hall, the first residential housing on the Prince William Campus;
  • Fine Arts Building (renamed Music Theater Building) renovation on the Fairfax Campus (completes in August 2013), converting the building to performance practice spaces.

You can expect cranes to be up this coming year, as we began work on various new projects including the following:

  • Campus Drive project to link the east and west sides of the Fairfax Campus, providing a safe alternative for student access to athletic fields while significantly improving traffic congestion in and around the Fairfax Campus (completion summer 2014);
  • Taylor Hall adds 295 freshmen housing beds just south of Presidents Park on the Fairfax Campus (completion summer 2014).

Looking Ahead

With the excitement of Commencement 2013 just concluded, it is time to begin welcoming our newest students to campus for orientation. The class of 2017 is academically talented and we are on target to meet our admissions goals. Retention of our current students seems very good as well.

We are also proud that at Mason we continue to have no “achievement gap” between the graduation rates of African American and Hispanic students compared to white students, which is a rare distinction among national universities, according to a study by the Education Trust.

I was pleased to welcome a number of new faculty and staff to Mason throughout the year, and I appreciated many of you accepting new roles and responsibilities as others transitioned to new opportunities. It is evident that our faculty and staff are committed to the university, as evidenced by the 105 faculty and staff members who received certificates at a recent HR recognition ceremony for participating in professional development activities. At the same time, the university is committed to you, as shown by AARP naming Mason one of the best employers for workers over 50.

Last fall, the Board of Visitors authorized the establishment of a Mason campus in Songdo, South Korea, and the university is fully engaged in the planning process. Part of the Songdo Global University Campus, Mason’s campus would offer undergraduate programs in management and economics beginning, we hope, as early as spring 2014. Korean students would spend years one, two and four in Songdo; and year three at Mason’s Fairfax Campus. American students will be able to spend a semester or a year in Songdo.

This spring we announced that the university will be joining the Atlantic 10 Conference in July. This is an exciting development for all of Mason Nation. As the premier basketball-driven conference in Division I, the A-10 placed a record nine teams in the 2013 postseason. Just as important, our partnership with the A-10 aligns with our core commitments and will help further showcase the exemplary contributions of Mason’s faculty, staff and students and all that the university has to offer to new fans and potential students. As you know, the men’s and women’s basketball season kicks off at Mason Madness, which this year will be on Friday, October 18, during the annual Family Weekend, October 18-20.

Other important dates to keep in mind for the fall are:

Welcome Week: August 24-September 2
First day of fall semester classes: August 26
Showcase of Graduate Studies: September 18
Career Fairs: October 2-3
Alumni Weekend: October 4-6
Winter Wellness Day: October 15
Outstanding Achievement Awards: October 16

It has been a privilege to have spent the last year getting to know so many members of the Mason community, on our campuses, in Northern Virginia, Washington, D.C., Richmond and many places beyond.

Thank you for everything you do to make Mason such a wonderful academic community in which to work, live and learn. I am confident that all of us working together will continue making George Mason University the best university for the world.

Ángel Cabrera

Write to David Lewis at dlewis24@gmu.edu

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