The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Murfin reviews his time as provost

The SMU community gathered last Thursday to congratulate Ross Murfin on his nine years serving as provost for the university. The Board of Trustees and President R. Gerald Turner hosted the reception inside the Umphrey Lee Ballroom. Well-wishers thanked Murfin for his service and wished him luck in his new role in the Department of English.

Murfin took the time to answer the following questions during an email interview last week:

1.) For what reasons have you decided to step down from your current position as provost?

Nine years is a long time to do any one job — unless you own the company or are the chief executive. Imagine being an SMU undergraduate for nine years. I’ve loved being provost, but I’m ready to do different things, lead a different sort of life. I intend to teach full-time for quite awhile, but it’s always wise to keep your options open.

2.) You have said that you will continue teaching English at SMU, what classes in particular?

I’ve regularly taught a course on “The Literature of Religious Reflection.” It’s a subject I’m well prepared to teach and a course I will probably continue to offer.. But I also want the challenge of teaching new things — texts I’ve never taught, perhaps never studied before. I will gladly teach what the Department of English needs me to; I don’t want any favors, in part because I know I will grow by engaging new and different subjects.

3.) Most memorable moment during your time as provost?

Some of the most memorable moments were tough and unpleasant; the job can entail firing people, cutting budgets and legal challenges. (Just wanted to say that, as it is relevant to question one.) But there are many more positive memories — of breaking ground on and cutting the ribbons to open fantastic new academic facilities; of giving what I hope were inspiring, challenging addresses at one Opening Convocation, several December commencements, and, most recently, on Honors Day; and of working trustees like Bobby Lyle and, more recently, Caren Prothro, to ensure that the meetings of the Board’s Academic Affairs Committee are interesting and productive. It’s also been a treat to representing the University around the country and overseas to important constituent groups.

4.) What were your greatest accomplishment(s) as provost?

Forming a new academic leadership team: I have recruited all our current deans except Dean Brandt (who’s great, by the way!). Establishing the Honors Day Convocation. Developing the SMU-in-Legacy campus, creating the new School of Education and Human Development, and establishing a number of new majors, master’s degrees, and even Ph.D, programs. I’ve also worked hard and, I like to think creatively, to find ways of recruiting and retaining superb new faculty who will move the institution forward.

5.) Any unfinished business that you would like to see incoming provost Robert Blocker finish?

I think there’s a general consensus that it’s time to look again at our General Education Curriculum, and I think there are some real opportunities to develop undergraduate student quality by honing and refining our honors program, making it even more distinctive and rewarding. The challenge to generate and allocate or reallocate fiscal resources to meet the need for new faculty and to better support our faculty’s research efforts is going to continue for as long as we remain ambitious as a university. We need continue to improve financial aid for undergraduates so that we can continue to attract better students, and we also need to focus serious attention on graduate student support — so that we are competitive for the best graduate students as well.

6.) From one to the next: Words of advice for Robert Blocker.

Robert Blocker is a wise and experienced university leader. Still, recognizing that advice can always be helpful, I would just say that it would be important to always remember that you have been brought here from Yale because SMU truly and deeply wants to be an absolutely first-rate academic institution. That makes the achievement of the goal possible, even probable. Also, I’d advise him quickly to become attuned to the ways in which SMU is a unique institution with unique traditions and a unique student body and a uniquely beautiful campus. And to always consider the ways in which Dallas is a one-of-a-kind city. These differences are not only impediments to our advancements as a university, they are the keys to moving forward.

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