University of Alabama System Interim Chancellor Finis St. John IV on Friday presented a set of core principles to help guide the actions of the three-campus system.

“After years as a trustee and a few months as interim chancellor, I believe the university system is at a crossroads,” St. John said. “I think we have a choice. We have a choice to sustain the status quo, and the status quo has been pretty good. We have a lot to be proud of, but the alternative choice is to aspire to our full potential.”

St. John, who was appointed as the interim chancellor by his fellow trustees in July, recommended six core principles as part of his report to the board of trustees, which met for its regular November meeting Friday on the UA campus. The board did not vote on the principles, though it could choose later to formalize them if it wishes, St. John said.

“It is up to the board to adopt a vision statement for the system, but this is what I am proposing that it be,” St. John said. “This is how we will be functioning as a system as long as they want me to do it. I don’t think anyone wants to sit still.”

St. John’s core principles begin with assuring that everything the system does is for the purpose of improving the lives and health of the citizens of the state of Alabama.

The second is making higher education accessible and diverse, preparing students for success and meeting the workforce needs of the state.

“This is our core mission and should guide every action,” St. John said.

The system should be accountable for every dollar it receives while maintaining the highest standards of excellence in every program and endeavor.

“We must respect the hard work people do and the money we receive from them,” he said.

The system will work to lead a unified approach to improving education at every level in Alabama.

“We want every pre-K, primary and secondary, two-year, and higher education institution in the state to be the best it can,” St. John said.

The system will work to help lead a unified approach to improving the economy, opportunities and comprehensive health care for all citizens of Alabama.

“We need to join with, communicate with, and help lead the dozens of entities and scores of people who care about this vital and important part of our state’s life,” he said.

St. John believes the system and its partners statewide can communicate better.

“I think we can ask more questions. I think we can ask for more advice. We don’t need to be limited in who all we talk about these issues with,” St. John said. “We to communicate with all kinds of folks. It is one thing to say we want to speak with them. It is another thing to say what can we do better to help prepare our people for what you need?”

The system will work to elevate the status, stature and influence of the UA System so that we can call on all people devoted to the University of Alabama, UAB, UAH, and UAB Health System to unite for common purposes.

The principles presented to trustees on Friday expanded upon St. John’s introductory comments in September when he made the case for the system to take a greater leadership role in education, healthcare and the state economy.

“What I said in September, I believe. That is we have a great opportunity to do good for the state of Alabama. I think we have untapped potential to lead on issues and in big areas that we have not fully tapped,” St. John said.

When asked how the six principles related to the system’s mission statement, St. John said the principles were more of a vision statement about how the system could carry out its operations.

Board President pro tempore Ron Gray said the trustees had discussed the principles with St. John.

“He is using those to execute the day-to-day operations,” Gray said.

St. John said the principles were a useful tools for measuring progress and assessing if the system was achieving its goals. As the system evaluates its performance, St. John said he wants the system to be unafraid of asking tough questions such as the impact of student debt or whether the earning potential of degrees merited the cost of the education.

“I want to get just as good at asking the tough questions and facing the problems and the issues we have and talking about them and being accountable about them,” St. John said. “We have plenty to boast about across the board. But if that is all you do, you are not going to improve as much as you can.”

 

Reach Ed Enoch at ed.enoch@tuscaloosanews.com or 205-722-0209.