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'5 USU Qualities I Will Miss'

Former Provost Ray Coward shares his list of absolute Aggie Strengths

Prestigious graduate schools of education in the United States for the past 14 years, Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services (U.S. News and World Report, "America's Best Graduate Schools," 2014 edition).





Highest-ranked public university in the West and No.3 in the nation for lowest tuition in "America's Top Colleges" (Forbes, "Top Colleges," Aug. 2013).





Public university in the nation in "Best Online Bachelor's Programs" by U.S. News and World Report (U.S. News and World Report, "Best Online Bachelor's Programs," Jan. 2013).





"2013 Best Bang for the Buck Rankings" by Washington Monthly (Washington Monthly, "2013 Best Bang for the Buck Rankings," Aug. 2013).





In the nation among Colleges of Education for total research dollars received by a college, Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services (U.S. News and World Report, America's Best Graduate Schools, 2014 edition).





Most Social Media Friendly MBA School, Jon M. Huntsman School of Business (OnlineMBAPage.com, Jan. 2013)

“5 USU Qualities I Will Miss’

Please, PLEASE don’t tell them, but we, too, sometimes get weary of mass-market rankings organizations naming Utah State University to one more “top schools in the nation” list in this category and that. [See accompanying samples.] I say that carefully. We take pride, of course, in being listed among the nation’s best, and we do note with thanks that these rankings systems offer a glimpse of our university’s excellence to those who might not have heard about us. (Yes, USU students still send more research into space than any other university, but that doesn’t mean we’ve hit every geographical recruiting market on our planet — or in our exosphere.)

Instead of rankings, however, we as a university tend to look at the mirror a lot. We have our own measures of high quality, our own dashboards or analytical markers that tell us how we stack up to the competition: to our fellow in-state colleagues, to our fellow land grants, to our fellow Research I national institutions. FYI: the mirror-view, in addition to those high rankings, looks pretty stellar too.

USU’s Executive Vice President and Provost Raymond T. Coward retired July 1 after serving more than seven years as provost, which in lay terms is USU’s chief academic officer. The provost is the person whose charge it is to provide academic vision and to set our path to reach national and international distinction in teaching, research and engagement. That is, Dr. Coward looked into USU’s institutional mirror every day, from every angle and with a perfectionist’s microscope. As he left office, he offered a final “ranking” of his own, and it’s one you want to hear and know.

Provost Coward — Ray, by now — developed a PowerPoint presentation titled Five Qualities of USU That I Will Miss, in his mind a compilation of USU’s areas of absolute strength that define us as unique and that set us apart from any university. Keep in mind that his résumé includes leadership stints at some of this nation’s premier universities: dean and endowed chair at Penn State University, perhaps the nation’s premier land grant; dean at the University of New Hampshire; director of the University of Florida’s Institute of Gerontology; and, he is one of the nation’s leading scholars and researchers in his own area of expertise (health care of older adults). So it is no stretch to say that he has seen “excellence” with which to compare the Utah State University experience.

His presentation began as a farewell conversation with fellow administrators — department heads and deans for the most part. But as rave reviews of the talk filtered out across campus, other units began asking to hear his rousing assessment. The presentation was not a reminisce; it was a categorical analysis — a life-long social scientist’s calculated assessment — meant to put into words the soul of this place that he and we all live and breathe as students, faculty, staff and alumni. And, although the provost’s assessment is as data-driven as one might expect from a lifelong researcher, its power comes from the soft spot in a heart utterly and lovingly sold on the greatness of this place, our place.

So, here we present now-retired Provost Coward’s Five Qualities of USU I Will Miss. With one final thought added here: What Utah State University will miss about Ray Coward — passion worn every day on his sleeve and presented here one last time for all to relish.

1.USU’s Dual Commitment to Research and Instruction

Our great researchers are also our great classroom teachers, and that phenomenon is not the norm at great research universities. At one major land-grant research university (which will go unnamed, but it is considered, perhaps, the nation’s premier land grant), Provost Coward said it was standard fare for new research faculty to plead out of the “teaching” component of their role statement. Not at USU. At USU, 63 percent of classes are taught by tenured or tenure-track professors, as compared to 29 percent at other public research institutions. USU has more Carnegie Professors of the Year than any institution in the nation, and 11 of the last 15 Utah Carnegie Professors are from USU. And the future of our research-teaching paradigm looks equally bright: 12 junior faculty have received NSF Career Awards, prestigious national nods given to the best and the brightest rising stars in their fields.

2. USU’s Commitment to Access

One of the most compelling stories for Provost Coward was being part of the university’s commitment to increasing access to education — with no compromise in student quality. In 10 years, enrollment increased 18.5 percent, while average ACT scores remained a constant 23.5. The university expanded its delivery methods and delivery sites across the state, building a high-quality, statewide system that includes main campus, two comprehensive two-year colleges, three regional campuses, 21 local USU centers and 334 classrooms for delivery of interactive video conferencing. One instructor, teaching from our Brigham City campus, had 25 students in five locations throughout the state. Imagine sitting in Vernal with your guitar, taking lessons on the big screen from Carnegie Professor and nationally renowned guitar legend Mike Christiansen. 

3. USU Students

The video made international news, so it was no secret to anyone when Provost Coward introduced his comments about USU’s remarkable students by showing the clip of a burning car with a motorcyclist trapped underneath and USU students risking their lives to save the young man. Undergrad students, graduate students — grad students from around the world, mind you — campus workers and staff, and, to be fair, brave community members also. That moment of bravery, that spontaneous community action, captured the spirit that defines our student body across the board. USU students are high academic performers with strong values and a strong sense of community who travel the world as part of volunteer humanitarian efforts to make a difference. Even our student athletes — long the academic bane of other prestigious research institutions — lead our rivals in the classroom: in all-conference academic honors, in cumulative GPA, in graduation success rates. NOTE: Our football team’s on-the-field upward track (yes, we’re kicking some serious butt, that is to say) is matched equally by an upward trend in the team’s GPA since it started its winning ways in ’09. 

4. USU’s Readiness to Innovate

USU has a long history of research innovation, as evidenced by projects that have received international renown in the areas of spider silk technology, healthy aging, water sustainability, space weather forecasting, animal cloning, understanding addiction … and — you might get the point — in many, many other areas. We are taking that research success even further in an expanding number of cases by taking those technological successes and commercializing them into market-success stories. That willingness to push the envelope in the research arena also defines USU’s educational persona: we are leaders in instructional innovation too, expanding our online and distance education capabilities dramatically. We have close to 5,000 students taking online courses around the world, and we now offer seven bachelor’s degrees and seven master’s degrees fully online. That, of course, says nothing about USU’s comprehensive system of campuses and classrooms throughout the state.

5. USU’s Faculty and Academic Leadership

Point number five reiterated Provost Coward’s exclamation points about USU’s world-class faculty, and teamed those accolades with praise for the university’s educational leadership. The administration. USU faculty + USU administration = a unique combination of capable people working in tandem to continue the traditional strengths of the university and carry them forward, with new team leaders filling positions and adding vision for an even brighter future.

5. (a) I Believe!

Watch this clip of our “I Believe That We Will Win” video. (http://www.usu.edu/ibelieve). He believes:

  • That USU is a great university with the ambition to be better
  • That USU is more innovative and willing to adapt than many of our peers
  • That USU has the combination for greatness — talented and eager students; world-class faculty; and dedicated and loyal graduates
  • And, that he encountered something special here, something that changed him — for good. Which, of course, is what we promise will happen.

— Tim Vitale ’92