My Freshman Year

Many people have asked me what I learned during my “freshman year” at Clemson.

Most of what I learned confirmed what I already knew. Our University has world-class faculty, dedicated staff, smart students, loyal alumni, great traditions, a proud history and unlimited potential.

In 2014, the rest of the country caught on to this truth as Clemson rose to the rank of No. 20 among national public universities in the U.S. News Guide to America’s Best Colleges. This recognition was based on the hard work done by thousands of people and the visionary leadership of President Emeritus Jim Barker that put a singular focus on improving the quality of undergraduate education.

We did it, and we should be very proud. But we know that Top 20 is not a destination. This is not a moment to kick off our shoes, sit back and relax.

Now the question is: With Top 20 as a starting point and a launching pad, where can Clemson go from here?

This question will be asked often this spring as a review of the current strategic planning gets underway, led by our new provost, Robert Jones, and co-chaired by Brett Dalton and Ellen Granberg.

If you are not familiar with his qualifications for the job, let me introduce Bob to you. He earned B.S. and M.S. degrees in forestry and forest management from Clemson. It was here that he met his wife Jeri, also a Clemson graduate. Both hold doctorates — his in forest ecology and hers in veterinary medicine.

Bob is not only provost, but also Clemson’s first executive vice president for academic affairs. That means he will provide leadership for our undergraduate and graduate programs, academic support programs, research and public service activities.

His previous experience at Georgia, Auburn, Virginia Tech and West Virginia included leadership of very successful strategic planning efforts. They were inclusive, “bottom-up” efforts that succeeded because they had broad participation and a big vision.

At a November 19 Town Meeting in Tillman Hall — which was well attended and live-streamed to online viewers through ClemsonTV — I asked the campus to think 10, 15, even 50 years into the future. Bob and I challenged all of us to seek not only undergraduate excellence, but excellence in graduate education and research. To meet that challenge, we will be guided by four key words that we hear over and over when people talk about Clemson:

  • Quality. This has been Clemson’s mantra and rallying cry for many years, and we must continue our push for academic excellence.
  • Impact. Thomas Green Clemson founded this University to have a positive impact — on our community and our economy.
  • Distinction. Where can we be the best? What will bring us distinction? We must focus our limited resources on building areas of strength.
  • Differentiation. What sets us apart from other universities? Let’s look for the niche areas to develop where Clemson’s unique strengths match society’s need for answers and innovation.

We need to look over the horizon to what might be future opportunities to serve humanity, drive economic growth and distinguish Clemson from other research universities. And we need to do this in a way that does not de-emphasize or diminish our unshakable commitment to undergraduate excellence.

Will it be hard? Yes. Can we do it? Yes.

But it will require the best thinking and the best efforts of every constituent, every stakeholder and every member of the Clemson family. That includes you, our fantastic alumni. I invite you to be part of this process of reflection, goal-setting and planning. Visit our website at clemson.edu/strategic-plan and join the conversation.

In 2015, our focus is solidly on the future. By this time next year, we will be well on our way to building a new vision for Clemson in 2025 and beyond.

I am excited about our future!

Go Tigers!
James P. Clements
President

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