Bailey addresses media on first day as UA presidentBy Stephen N. Dethrage | 09/04/2012 11:21am
Guy Bailey, The University of Alabama's new president, opened his first press conference at the helm of the University with six simple words.
"It's great to be back home," he said.
Bailey is returning to campus 40 years after earning his undergraduate and master's degree from UA in six years, which he called six of the best years of his life.
"I can't tell you how exciting it is to come back," Bailey said. "It's exciting not only because it's home, but also because of what's happened at the University in the last decade or so."
Bailey called that ten-year span a golden age at the Capstone, during which the University was under the leadership of now-Chancellor Robert Witt and provost Judy Bonner.
"We want to continue that golden age," Bailey said. "They've done a terrific job in recruiting students and making this an institution of choice for students all over the country."
Witt is widely known for his efforts to expand the University's enrollment, which under his leadership rose from about 19,000 students to nearly 32,000. When asked about his ideas about either continuing or capping that growth, Bailey said there was still room for more students and faculty at the University. Comparing campus to those of larger research-oriented universities such as Michigan and Indiana, he said the peak population for UA was probably between 36,000 and 37,000 students, but until the University runs out of space or sufficient faculty, he saw no reason to cap enrollment growth.
The new president made no pretense of having everything figured out on his first day in office.
"The first day's schedule is really just becoming acquainted with what I'm going to do for the next month," he said. "I need to figure out where I need to focus my priorities for the first 30 days."
Bailey also fielded a question about the proposed Shepherd Bend Mine near Birmingham, where The University of Alabama system owns both land and mineral rights on the grounds of the proposed mine. Opponents have asked system administrators to make a pre-emptive pledge to neither sell nor lease land to the company for development of the mine, which, if built, they say would discharge the coal mine's wastewater almost directly into a drinking water intake for customers of the Birmingham Water Works Board.
"Nobody's approached us about mining at all. We don't have any plans to do anything there," Bailey said. "I think it's just not an issue at all. I couldn't make a pledge for future presidents, I couldn't make a pledge for anything down the road, but right now there really is no issue, because there is no movement and no interest as far as we know in mining there, as far as we know."
The mine has been the center of some controversy since, in October 2010, the Alabama Surface Mining Commission issued a permit to Shepherd Bend, LLC to mine 286 acres near the Mulberry Fork of the Black Warrior River.
For other big-picture issues like financial stewardship and enrollment growth, Bailey said he would look to maintain and build on Witt's legacy. For day-to-day issues facing students, though, he asked for more time to figure things out.
"Those are things that, as I interact with students, I'll be able to come up with answers for," Bailey said. "But that's something I'll look to student government and student leaders for guidance on."
Bailey said that kind of student interaction and input was something he prided himself on during his last two presidencies, and said it was a tradition he'd maintain at UA.
"I like to get to know students, I want them to feel comfortable talking to me and getting to know me," Bailey said. "I want to be approachable. I can't solve their problems, but the person who can solve their problems reports to me, usually. I want this to be a student-centered institution. I want students to feel that it starts with me and extends to all our staff.