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Writing on the Wall 

New center aids veterans

Confucius Institute to host 'Monsoon'

Profile: Dr. David Cox

Students offer new designs on campus landmark

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Profile: Dr. David Cox

In this issue of Update, we are profiling David Cox, professor and Executive Assistant to the President for Partnerships and Administration.

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Dr. David Cox

Can you describe your role as executive assistant to the president? 

My position has evolved into serving the President in three functions. One involves the cross-divisional responsibilities of the President's Office. Certain institutional tasks cross all the divisions in the University.

Another function involves representing the president with internal and external communities. For example, the president is the permanent chair of the University faculty, so one of my responsibilities has been to serve as liaison for the president in his role with the Faculty Senate.

Locally, I represent the president and University in neighborhood relations serving on the University District Inc. and University Neighborhood Development Corporation Boards. Those groups provide leadership in planning and redevelopment efforts surrounding the University.

At the national level, I have served as liaison for the University and president with groups such as the Urban Serving Universities Coalition and Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU). Outcomes have resulted in external funding and national recognition including the University's recent designation as one APLU's 16 national Innovation and Economic Development Universities.

A third role is the "other duties as assigned" category. This may include taking on special projects, assisting with presidential correspondence, responding to queries and complaints, and providing welcomes when the president is not available.

Finally, I am a faculty member and have tried to continue my teaching and research responsibilities. Up until the past semester I have taught a course every semester for the Division of Public and Nonprofit administration. In addition, I publish or write at least one article or book chapter every year.

How does being an administrator compare to teaching? 

As a student of public policy and administration, I have the blessing of doing in my administrative role what I study and teach in my faculty and discipline role. In short, I am living the mix of theory and practice. Every day I see the literature of my discipline come to life. And regularly I gain applications that I can take back to the classroom. I do what I teach, and I teach what I do.

What is the most challenging part of your role? 

Setting priorities on the use of my time is particularly challenging. On one hand, that's the appeal to the position. I have the opportunity to touch so many activities and tasks that are important to advancing the University. That's invigorating and exciting. However, if you don't focus, you don't accomplish. Making that choice is a challenge.

What do you consider major successes at the U of M?

I have been at the University for more than 30 years. Seeing the culture change as the institution has embraced and more fully understood its role as a research university is one of the most satisfying experiences of my professional life. The issue isn't whether we do research, it is where and how to do better. And doing that through scholarship that engages the community is distinguishing the University. Also, the growing recognition by the external community of the importance of a research university to the wellbeing of the region is satisfying. These include ongoing recognition by the President's Honor Role, our Carnegie Classification and the recent APLU Innovation Award.

What is the best advice you’ve ever given to a student? 

"Be willing to take risks and believe and challenge yourself." A lot of our students are local and aren't aware of how good they are. I've placed a number of students in agencies in Washington, D.C., and everyone found they were as good or better than those from other schools, and everyone has been a success.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received? 

This may surprise many. Someone told me, "You don't have to like everyone you work with. The question is, are they doing their job?" That was one of the most useful pieces of advice I've received. Don't obsess on liking or making everyone like you. Focus on what needs to get done.

What about the U of M would surprise people?

Last year we conducted a series of focus groups involving community leaders about the performance of the University in economic development activities. What surprised me is how little some community leaders knew about the range and depth of the University's degree offerings and research.

Tell us about your family

I have the great fortune of having a smart, lovely University of Memphis graduate as my wife, Pam, and both of my children, Emily and Lauren, living in Memphis. Along with my son-in-law, George, with whom I play golf every Saturday, it doesn't get any better than that.  

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