Spring 2013 Speech to Faculty

Thursday, April 25, 2013
3:15 p.m.
Campus Center Ballroom

Good afternoon, everyone.

Let me begin with a big thank you to all who have welcomed me and Lynn, to this great community. You’ve helped us feel at home over the last four months.

As I’m sure you all know, there are challenges associated with moving to a new place.

There are all the new acronyms to master –CAS, PAC. ITLAL, PDP, SPH, ASRC -- and the list goes on.

There are UAlbany’s special hidden routes to navigate – such as the underground tunnels. At least I have graduated to the point where I no longer have to leave breadcrumbs to find my way back to my office.

Thanks to my Presidential Transition Advisory Committee, I have had the opportunity to meet many faculty, staff, students and friends of the University.

This has been a wonderful way to learn firsthand about UAlbany’s strengths, challenges and the opportunities that lie ahead.

As I have traveled across the campus, I have become ever more eager to work together with you in earnest to advance this university.

When asked about my life and experiences, I often explain that I was raised and nurtured through the land-grant system, with all my degrees from land-grant Universities and 34 years of academic and administrative experience at the University of Minnesota.

As part of this upbringing, I had mentors who made a tremendous difference in my life. In fact, I would not be here without those mentors.

As a Plant scientist responsible for conducting both basic and applied research, I saw the real-world connections between my work in the laboratory and its impact on society.

As the breadth of my administrative experiences expanded, I had opportunity to think very intentionally about the roles and responsibilities of a large, complex urban research university in solving complex challenges.

Through it all, I learned about the tremendous impact a public research university can have on the world around us.

My experiences at land-grant institutions, not surprisingly, have shaped my views about the mission you and I now share.

I came to UAlbany because I was excited about the impact you are already having and the opportunity for this institution to reach even greater heights.

I believe UAlbany represents the contemporary urban land-grant institution, a place that drives cutting –edge research and discovery, advances new knowledge and learning, and participates in meaningful community engagement and service.

The task before us is to build upon these strengths and operationalize excellence across our University to best serve our students, faculty, staff as well as our surrounding communities.

Over the past few months, I have spent a great deal of time listening and learning about the rich history of this institution from its days as a normal school and teacher’s college, to its evolution as a University Center, to its emergence as an international leading research University with nine distinct colleges and schools and over 60 research centers.

Today, as I update you on the state of the University, I will also share with you my first impressions. In the months ahead, I will be working with you to more fully develop my vision and plans for our future.

Let me begin with an update on our budget situation and our NYSUNY 2020 initiative.

This year, of course, was my first experience with the New York State budget process.

I recognize that this university – like many other higher-education institutions – has had difficult budget challenges over the years.

I know it has not been easy.

Now, however, we have a more predictable future than we had in the past. State aid for the SUNY system in the foreseeable future will be stable.

As part of the NYSUNY 2020 Act passed two years ago, our state leaders have committed to providing level state funding to SUNY for five years.

At the same time, a rational tuition policy is allowing for modest and predictable tuition increases so that parents and students can plan and our University can grow.

Particularly compelling to me is our own NYSUNY 2020 plan approved by the governor.

This transformational investment plan will enable us to hire nearly 200 new faculty members and grow enrollment by 1,350 new undergraduate and graduate students over a five-year period.

In short, this will be the most significant faculty expansion at the University since the 1960s.

These new faculty positions will meet the University’s growing demand for specialized study and research in:

  • climate, environmental and economic sustainability;
  • business and entrepreneurship;
  • human health and biomedical sciences;
  • public service and policy;
  • emerging technologies;
  • and liberal arts and the sciences.

Our NYSUNY 2020 initiative also provides for a new $165 Million Emerging Technology and Entrepreneurship Complex – or as we call it – E-TEC.

E-TEC will bring together cutting-edge researchers with industry partners to accelerate cooperative R&D, technology transfer, business development and workforce training, while creating a culture of entrepreneurship across campus.

To grow enrollment as projected in our NYSUNY 2020 plan, we will need to develop new enrollment strategies.

Given the fact that the traditional college-age cohort in New York State is declining, it is becoming increasingly more important that we diversify where our students come from.

We will continue to recruit the best and brightest students from New York State.

We will continue to be accessible and affordable to low-income students from around our state.

But if we are going to provide the world-class experience that our students and parents expect and that other university centers provide, we need to change the profile of our student body in terms of bringing in more students from other parts of the country and other parts of the world.

Clearly, NYSUNY 2020 provides an historic opportunity for our University

  • to build our faculty ranks and bolster our enrollment,
  • to expand and strengthen our academic programs,
  • to strengthen our research enterprise, and
  • to build upon the excellence of our great University.

I look forward to updating you in the Fall on the progress we are making on this most exciting initiative.

While the future outlook for our operating budget remains bright, there was also some “not-so-good” news in the new state budget.

SUNY’s 5-year Capital Plan was up for renewal.

As a result, Chancellor Zimpher requested $2 billion for SUNY’s State Operated Campuses – for Critical Maintenance only.

Unfortunately, no funding was included for a new 5-year SUNY Capital Plan.

This is a very serious concern for UAlbany and all SUNY State-Operated Campuses.

Our capital fund request called for $293 million over five years for critically important capital improvements, renovations, and upgrades to the University’s aging campus facilities, which spans more than 5.8 million square feet.

This request addressed only 1/4 of our overall capital needs across campus – which exceed $1.2 billion.

We will continue to partner with our Capital Region delegation, who joined us in March to advocate for a new Capital Plan.

We will also work closely with Chancellor Zimpher and other SUNY Campuses to address this issue in the future.

As we move forward I think it is clear we must be prudent, entrepreneurial and innovative in strengthening our financial situation.

We must use the resources we have more effectively and efficiently and seek ways to drive cost savings that can be directed to our academic units.

Steve Beditz, our interim vice president for finance and business and a nearly 24-year veteran of the University at Albany, has decided it is time to retire.

I want to personally thank Steve for his leadership and guidance. He is a valued colleague and certainly a very dedicated member of our campus community. I have very much appreciated his insight and counsel. I’d like to ask Steve to stand as we offer him a round of applause.

As a result of Steve’s imminent departure, I have launched a search for a new chief financial officer and vice president for finance and administration.

This is a critically important position for the University.

As such, I intend to hire an individual with a strong background in financial management and modeling, who will bring a fresh perspective to the constraints of our budget and will serve as my key fiscal advisor as it relates to administrative and operational improvement.

Over the next year, I plan to launch an operational excellence initiative with the goal of achieving a higher level of financial efficiency and management effectiveness in support of the University’s mission and goals.

The new vice president for business and administration will be critical to supporting and improving the financial health of our institution, which will be essential for all we wish to accomplish.

Fundraising will be a critical strategy, as well. How we finance the future of this University is going to be increasingly and heavily dependent on external funds:

  • funds from the private sector
  • funds from alumni
  • funds from donors.

There is no way we can finance the mission of this university moving forward without substantially increasing our fundraising and endowment program.

We bring in a lot of dollars from our sponsored research. We now have predictability in terms of our state funding and tuition revenue.

Our Development Office has worked tirelessly to grow our endowment over the last five years – but we must do more.

As a result, I have been and will continue to spend a considerable part of my time fundraising for the University.

Already, I have visited alumni, friends and prospective donors in New York City, Boston, Washington DC, Fort Lauderdale and of course the Capital Region, and will be visiting other domestic and international venues where we have a critical mass of alumni.

This is one of my top priorities and I am fully committed and engaged to making a difference in this area.

On many of these trips, I have had the opportunity to meet and get to know our alumni.

It is clear to me that many are proud of their alma mater and grateful for the foundation we provided in launching their careers.

In the months ahead, we will be tapping into this pride and reconnecting with these UAlbany ambassadors in new and exciting ways.

UAlbany is a complex entity and it is certainly impossible for me – and probably for most people – to fully understand it in just a few months. But as I mentioned earlier, I have some initial observations and let me share a few more with you.

I applaud our research enterprise. Given the number of tenured and tenure-track faculty, I am absolutely amazed at the amount of sponsored dollars we bring in. In 2012, external funding at UAlbany totaled $427 million.

I have been visiting our various research centers and institutes, and I am impressed by the range of work being done by our faculty.

For example: Bryan Early in political science literally travels the globe, providing strategic trade control assistance.

Through training and outreach activities funded by the U.S. Department of State, he assists foreign governments who want to more effectively regulate trade of items and technologies that have traditional military use or use in weapons of mass destruction, such as nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

Lebanon, the Balkans, Kazakhstan, Brazil, Oman, and Kosovo are among the places where he has shared his expertise.

Katie Gonder in biology is playing an important role in efforts to protect the rich biodiversity of Central Africa.

This region is expected to experience drastic changes as global climate continues to warm. Gonder is leading 20 U.S. and African undergraduate students in the development of conservation strategies.

The project, which is funded by the National Science Foundation, unites a total of 150 researchers and students in a common research and education plan centered in Gabon and Cameroon.

The behavioral health needs of veterans and military personnel are the focus of an upstate consortium led by our School of Social Welfare.

The goal is to increase the capacity of social workers to address the mental and behavioral health needs of veterans, military personnel and their families, and residents of medically underserved rural communities.

Lynn Warner of Social Welfare is leading UAlbany’s efforts. The project is funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

These and many other projects led by our faculty are the key to our research success thus far. But we must do even better, and it’s our responsibility to help.

Our research division has begun hosting a number of grant-writing workshops to assist investigators. We are looking at other ways to give researchers the tools to attract more external support and to advance their scholarship.

We know there are issues with pre-award and post-award processes, which we are working to address.

Our research enterprise is an area of excellence and also an area of tremendous opportunity for moving the University to the next level.

Earlier this month, I saw many of you at campus conversations we convened around the topic of community engagement. Thank you for taking part.

As I said then, community and public engagement is in my DNA. My views about the importance of community engagement were very much shaped by my experiences at land-grant institutions.

I fundamentally believe that many of the most complex economic and social issues that face our communities, our universities and our country today are too large and too complex for a single institution or a single discipline to solve in isolation.

I believe it takes the leverage of expertise from the academy, from practitioners and from community stakeholders in order to create the reciprocal partnerships to solve these complex issues.

In truly reciprocal partnerships, we combine strengths and that enables us to have a greater impact through our work.

There are hundreds of ways UAlbany is already engaged with our communities. Our excellent work in this area earned national recognition recently when we were named to the 2013 President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll.

As we move forward, we want to build on and strengthen these efforts. We are committed to being active partners in community-building.

In the weeks and months ahead, we will be mapping plans to advance UAlbany’s progress as a community-engaged institution.

On Wednesday, May 8, I hope you will join me when we celebrate the recipients of the 2013 President’s Awards for Exemplary Community Engagement.

We will honor UAlbany individuals and partnerships that are enhancing public well-being in the Capital Region and beyond. The event begins at 5 p.m. in the SEFCU Arena Hall of Fame room. All are invited.

UAlbany is a university with many areas of excellence. Additional national recognition of our excellence came in the latest U.S. News and World Report rankings of graduate programs.

In thoserankings, 19 of our programs are ranked among the top 100 in the nation, with 12 in the top 50.

  • Our School of Criminal Justice is #2 in the U.S.
  • Rockefeller College ranked #16 among the nation’s best public affairs schools.
  • Our School of Public Health is #25. Our School of Education is #47.
  • Our School of Business ranked 86th in the U.S. among 450 MBA-granting institutions.
    Our outstanding job placement track record for MBA students helped earn this ranking, which according to Yahoo ties our School of Business for #1 in the country.

Speaking of excellence and recognition, I want to emphasize the importance of telling the University story in the most compelling way possible.

Given the competitiveness of the higher education landscape, it is incumbent upon all of us to be ambassadors for the University and to communicate our message effectively to all of our key audiences. These collective efforts will help promote and strengthen pride in UAlbany.

On the topic of bolstering pride, I applaud the efforts of our basketball teams. As you probably know, they made SUNY history this year. For the first time, both our women and men in the same season won their conference championships and qualified for the NCAA tournament.

Their NCAA appearances garnered the University unprecedented positive publicity.

All around the country UAlbany alums gathered to support our Great Danes.

We are proud of our student athletes, our coaches and our athletics staff. Teams in other sports also excel and deserve congratulations.

Since 1999, UAlbany teams have won 63 conference championships and advanced to 26 NCAA tournaments – more than any other Division I program in SUNY’s history.

We can take great pride in our student athletes. Their success engages our campus community, inspires our alumni and friends, as well as excites the greater Capital Region.

No area of this University has gained greater national and international recognition than the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering.

A global center for research and development in nanotechnology, it has had a major impact in our state and nation and beyond.

In recent weeks there’s been speculation and debate in the media about the college splitting off.

We have been in conversations with Chancellor Zimpher about a new relationship between the University and the Nanocollege.

My primary objective is to ensure that if a new relationship emerges, the University is positioned for success in the future and the University’s interests are protected.

I am confident we can find a mutually agreeable outcome that will be in the best interests of both the University and the NanoCollege.

I will be sharing more with you in the future.

Having lived in Albany for four months now, I feel great excitement about my new home, the new bonds I’m forming and the many opportunities I see ahead. I am very grateful to all who have helped with my transition to give me an outstanding introduction to UAlbany.

In the months ahead, I will be working with you to more fully develop the vision and plans that will guide our future actions. I look forward to hearing from those of you who have been making progress implementing the strategic plan. I’m interested in learning your views about what should come next.

Always at the heart of our excellence are our people -- our students, faculty, staff and alumni.

Working together, I am confident we will position the University for even greater success.

Let me mention just two more things before I conclude.

One… Two outstanding faculty members have been selected as our newest Collins Fellows.

  • They are John Delano of the Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences and
  • Teresa Harrison of the Department of Communication.

This award recognizes faculty who have exhibited extraordinary devotion to this University and the people in it over a sustained period of time.

John and Teresa are exemplars of the highest levels of institutional commitment and service. Let’s recognize them with a round of applause.

Secondly, Commencement Weekend is May 18 and 19. I look forward to seeing you there as we celebrate our graduates. Our commencement speakers come to us from our accomplished legion of UAlbany alumni.

For the undergraduate ceremony we will have the President and CEOs of one of the world’s most influential recording labels, Republic Records, brothers Monte and Avery Lipman, Class of ’86 and ‘88.

The Graduate Ceremony speaker will be Dr. Jack Henion, Class of 1972, and Co-Founder and Chief Scientific Officer of the Advion Company.

Jack is a leading scientist in the field of toxicology. He is recognized by the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists for his contributions to analytical chemistry.

I want to encourage our faculty – who have helped shape the minds of this year’s graduating class – to be a part of these ceremonies.

It means a great deal to our soon-to-be-graduates as they leave the University for the last time to make their mark on the world.

In closing, let me simply say how delighted I am for the opportunity to be your 19th president.

Thank you again, one and all, for all you have done to help get me off to good start.

I am enormously optimistic about the future and look forward to the next chapter in this great University’s history.