Fall 2013 Report to the Faculty by President Robert J. Jones

Campus Center Ballroom, Thursday, November 7, 2:30 p.m.

Good afternoon! I am delighted to see everyone here and to extend a special welcome to our new faculty and staff.

Not too long ago, I was in your shoes -- the new person learning all about this remarkable academic enterprise. I know how you feel.

Like me, I hope you are successfully mastering the ways of our great university. And even more important… I hope that like me, you are excited about what you have found and what’s ahead.

This fall has been particularly exciting, starting with the arrival of an accomplished freshman class of 2,550 and 55 new full-time faculty members.

We launched a new Writing and Critical Inquiry Program to get our students off to a great start.

We celebrated the opening of the new home of our School of Business and a new stadium. And as I’m sure you have noticed, the renovation of our water tower and fountain area is nearing completion.

Our new and renovated facilities are all part of creating a 21st century campus that serves the needs of our students, faculty, staff and community and advances the mission.

UAlbany’s many strengths were showcased during a week of activities culminating in my inauguration – and the energy on campus and in our community was palpable during Homecoming weekend.

It was great to see so many proud alumni return to campus and witness their excitement about how UAlbany has changed in the last few years.

As I am reminded again and again, UAlbany is an extraordinary place. We have a gifted academic community. You are the source of our tremendous vitality and our excellence.

I know we face a challenging higher-education landscape. But because of what I have seen here and because of all of you, I am confident we can succeed in advancing this University to the next level of excellence.

At my inauguration in September, I outlined what I think we need to do to build on our excellence.

I identified four key priorities – or stakes in the ground, as I call them. Today I will talk with you in greater depth about these priorities, and about initial steps we are taking and what we see ahead.

UAlbany’s success requires our best thinking and efforts. Advancing this University to the next level is not a solo sport. I need you all to join me in realizing our great vision and potential, and that process has already begun.

Many of you came together in recent months to brainstorm around and help shape a shared vision for our future.

One outcome of these efforts led by Provost Susan Phillips was a vision statement outlining key characteristics of our University in the future.

You envision a UAlbany:

  • that is expanding knowledge and transforming minds to shape the future of our community and our world;
  • that is an increasingly attractive choice for diverse, highly qualified, and highly motivated students;
  • that provides outstanding education and an excellent student experience;
  • that sustains and grows research, discovery, and creative work;
  • that engages in strategic partnerships for educational, scholarly and societal benefit;
  • that is committed to access, diversity, inclusion, and equity in all we do;
  •  that is recognized for our many strengths and successes;
  • and that has a strong sense of community, common purpose, and lifelong pride in the University.

In addition to sketching our future in broad brush strokes, these characteristics help define our key challenges and opportunities.

And they underlie the four key priorities I have identified as essential in advancing UAlbany to the next level.

We say, for example, we want to be an increasingly attractive choice for diverse, highly qualified, and highly motivated students.

You have perhaps heard me sharpen that statement saying I want us to become the university of choice for high school juniors and seniors.

And not just for those thinking about SUNY, but also for those considering other major research universities across the country and around the world.

Either way we state it, it is a challenge we must all embrace if we are to move UAlbany to the next level.

Making UAlbany the university of choice requires a commitment by each and every one of us to create an outstanding experience for our students.

This broad charge encompasses every facet of life here from our classrooms, laboratories and residence halls to our community involvement, athletics and other extracurricular activities.

It means offering innovative programs that prepare students for the world of today and tomorrow. It means providing an experience that sets our students on the road to success.

The same commitment, focus and strategic thinking is required to grow our research and scholarship and develop the other distinguishing characteristics of a world-class research university.

To build the UAlbany of the future that we envision, I believe we need to focus on four key priorities:

  1. Expand degree-granting and research programs to meet demands in high-growth, high-needs areas, such as engineering, big data analytics, and allied health sciences;
  2. Recruit and enroll more out-of-state and international students to ensure the diversity of perspectives that equips students to succeed in today’s global society;
  3. Deepen the University’s engagement with the Capital Region, New York State and the world, forging partnerships that leverage our academic expertise to solve society’s most pressing issues; and to sustain the excellence that currently exists. And…
  4. Grow our financial resources to enable us to realize our ambitions.

Everyone here is already involved in some way in one or more of these areas. And because of your efforts, we have made progress. But there is also a lot of work ahead for us.

Let me start with the priority at the top of the list – the expansion of our programs in high-growth, high-needs areas.

I place this at the top of the list because these new programs will be the primary strategy through which we will grow our enrollment and advance the research agenda. These are programs that align with the aspirations of our students, as well as the needs of employers.

As the traditional college-age population drops, we face increased competition for students.

To succeed in this environment, we need to offer the programs students want and deliver programs in the ways students seek. We cannot be complacent.

We know that our economy and the jobs of the future do not look like the economy and jobs of the past. As a result, students’ – and their parents’ – aspirations are shifting, and employers are looking for different talents, experience and skills than in the past.

This is a challenge we are already addressing in variety of ways.

One example is the planned new undergraduate degree program in digital forensics – the first of its kind in New York and only the third in the nation.

We announced this new major when we opened the new School of Business building in August.

While the building exemplifies the kinds of 21st century teaching and learning spaces we need to best carry out our mission, the digital forensics major exemplifies the kinds of innovative academic and research programs we need for this new era.

The program will provide students with the high-level training required to address the information forensics and security needs across all sectors of the economy.

In creating this program, we didn’t need to start from scratch. However, it did require a more multidisciplinary approach than we’ve used in the past.

We harnessed the strengths of our faculty in the School of Business, the School of Criminal Justice, the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy, the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Computing and Information.

Thanks to the NYSUNY 2020 initiative, we were also able to hire six new faculty members to teach and conduct scholarly research in this area. We expect to begin accepting students to the digital forensics program in the fall of 2014.

In other high-needs areas, we are in the early planning stages for new degree programs.

Provost Phillips has formed a project team that is developing a curriculum and associated hiring plan for a new undergraduate program in computer and network engineering. We hope to have the initial plan sketched out by mid-spring.

We want the program to meet the standards of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, and to include industry-informed curriculum development and an engaged learning strategy.

We are also strategizing about a broader engineering initiative, and I expect to receive a draft plan and budget proposal by the end of the spring semester.

And we are transforming our current Information Science undergraduate major to focus on the emerging areas of Informatics, including a fully online track in Information Technology. It will be our first fully online undergraduate program.

Allied health professions are another high-needs area where we see opportunities to expand our offerings to meet growing demands.

We have a project team that is developing a new behavioral health program.

It draws on the expertise in this area of nearly 100 UAlbany faculty across at least six of our schools and colleges. The goal is to have a program ready for review this spring.

We are also exploring the ways in which our students can follow pathways into medicine, and allied health professions, and expanding our partnerships with other institutions – including community colleges, medical schools, and out-of-state schools, which offer highly marketable majors or concentrations in allied health professions.

Through these partnerships, we want UAlbany students to easily see paths to chosen professions, such as in physical therapy, occupational therapy, and diagnostic imaging, or as a physician assistant.

These are all great steps – and I can tell you that our faculty and staff have many more ideas for how we can best prepare today’s and tomorrow’s students to achieve their goals.

They have a valuable perspective on why a certain cohort of students are not interested in enrolling here and what we must do to attract those students.

In May more than 100 faculty and staff from across our University joined with community college partners and SUNY System Administration to brainstorm around this whole issue.

They looked at our curriculum from a variety of student perspectives, including first-time, full-time freshmen, transfer students, and students seeking online courses and programs.

The importance of developing programs in high-needs areas that correspond to job opportunities of the 21st century was one major theme that emerged.

But the group also had a host of other ideas for strengthening and expanding what we offer students.

They recommended more partnerships and collaboration across the University to develop new concentrations within majors, to increase the connection between undergraduate and graduate programs, and to foster students’ career awareness and development.

Faculty and staff are off and running with some of these ideas. One example: they are working on expanding and formalizing career exploration opportunities such as co-ops, community service and internships, as well as forging stronger linkages between majors and careers.

Online learning is another important area where we are enhancing our efforts.

Our development of a fully online Information Technology track of the Informatics major is one example. We already have five fully online graduate programs in our School of Education and School of Public Health.

This fall, we teamed up with SUNY Empire State College to offer our first MOOC, otherwise known as a Massive Open Online Course.

Our campus will benefit from the “Open SUNY” initiative announced by Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, which aims to achieve better coordination and use of the online resources already developed all across the SUNY system.

Last year, alone, we offered more than over 275 courses online — an increase of 40 percent over just two years ago.

We know there are both increasing demands from students for online delivery of courses and programs, and opportunities for us in this area to expand access to a UAlbany education.

As we move forward, we want to ensure that the online UAlbany experience reflects and reinforces our commitment to the highest-quality experience for our students. For this is the way we will make UAlbany THE university of choice and advance it to the next level of excellence as a world-class research university.

And that brings me to my second priority:

We must recruit and welcome more out-of-state and international students.

There are two key reasons.

First, a global range of backgrounds, perspectives and insights adds rich texture to the learning here and helps prepare UAlbany students to become citizens in today’s interconnected global society.

And secondly, shifting demographics dictate that we look beyond our borders to meet our enrollment goals.

As we expand our programs and our faculty ranks, we will be able to enroll more students. Our NYSUNY 2020 plan calls for increasing the number of undergraduate and graduate students by more than 1,300 over five years.

Increasing the competition for these new students are the growth plans of other campuses within the SUNY system.

This suggests that an additional 1,300 students is a good start, but we should probably be looking at a goal of 2,000 to 2,500 new students in the next five years. And more of these new students must be non-resident (including international students).

Currently UAlbany has the smallest percentage of out-of-state and international students of all the SUNY research universities … only about 12 percent.

We can and must do better. My goal is that within five years … UAlbany will have the highest percentage of international and out-of-state students of any SUNY research university … instead of the lowest.

We have developed a multi-faceted strategy to achieve these enrollment goals.

To increase UAlbany’s footprint out of state, we have added admissions staff.

They are expanding our recruitment efforts in New England states, in New Jersey (which happens to be our largest out-of-state exporter of students to UAlbany), in the mid-Atlantic states of Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland, and in Florida, Illinois, the Pacific Northwest and California.

We are harnessing technology to extend our reach, such as through online chats between admissions staff members and prospective students.

We are expanding off-campus receptions in which our alumni are involved. And, of course, we continue to host our campus information sessions and tours and our open houses.

At our admissions open house during Homecoming weekend, we hosted more than 1,000 prospective students, as well as another 2,000 family members. It was a great weekend to show off our University. We hope many will return as students.

On the international front… the three offices most deeply involved in international recruitment have all been reviewing and rethinking their efforts and taking new steps.

The Office of Undergraduate Admissions has reorganized to include a unit directly responsible for the recruitment, admission and enrollment of new international freshmen and transfers.

Staff members have increased their international recruitment travel. Over the last three weeks, they have been participating in a SUNY recruiting road show in nine Chinese cities.

Graduate Admissions has a new assistant director, who devotes 70 percent of her time to international graduate admissions.

The Office of International Education has taken some initial steps toward the establishment of new dual diploma programs, both graduate and undergraduate.

In collaboration, the three units have worked to identify and recruit sponsored international students to study at UAlbany. More than 100 applications were received from sponsored students from Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

As we step up our recruitment of international students, we also want to make sure our campus environment is welcoming to all.

We already attract a broad range of students. At UAlbany today, 34 percent of our undergraduates are students of color. Our students and faculty come from more than 100 countries.

We are making concerted efforts to further diversify our faculty. One quarter of our newest faculty appointees are faculty of color.

Our diversity is a great strength, and we want to build on this strength and link diversity and inclusion even closer to our academic mission.

In September, Chief Diversity Officer Tamra Minor and I launched a new initiative designed to foster greater success across our UAlbany community.

It is called UACCESS – which stands for UAlbany Collaboratively Creating Excellence, Scholarship and Success.

Simply put, the aim is to make UAlbany the kind of university where all are respected, supported and expected to be successful.

We have begun charting specific steps on the road to creating an environment of inclusive excellence.

Our work in this area is all part of creating an outstanding experience for our students, faculty and staff …an experience that makes us the university of choice for all members of our community from across our nation and around the world.

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My third stake in the ground relates to better defining and expanding our role as a university that’s engaged in the community and with the world.

We must bring the community in … open the arms of this great campus to our neighbors so we can build partnerships. …So we can learn from each other and work effectively together.

This is what I mean by engagement.

Together we create reciprocal partnerships to tackle what matters to the community. Society’s problems are too big to solve alone.

The Albany Promise Cradle to Career network is an example. It brings hundreds of leaders and citizens together to help children in three disadvantaged Albany neighborhoods succeed in school and life.

School of Social Welfare researchers play an important role in this effort.

Community engagement helps our students apply their studies to real-life issues.
Community engagement addresses critical needs of our region. Our University in the High School Program, for example, provides college-level courses with over 11,000 registrations each year from more than 200 high schools in over 30 New York counties.

And annually the program is cultivating high school student interest in research through a statewide research conference.

Our faculty, students and staff are involved in hundreds of meaningful ways to address public needs.

As we move forward, I want us to build on these efforts and embed community engagement even more deeply in our culture.

That is why I have put forth a challenge to the UAlbany community, calling for all faculty, students, and staff to invest 2.5 million hours in community engagement annually.

Even as we increase our engagement, we also need to establish systems to evaluate our impact and the return on investment.

We need to effectively communicate that ROI to show how our partnerships are meeting the challenges of complex problems.

Community engagement is critical to our future and our future resources. Funders, whether in the public or private sector, are demanding to know how we contribute to our communities and address the challenges of our times.

We have much to do but we are working from a foundation of strength that so many of you have created.

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Now, my fourth key priority: Resources to realize our ambitions – or how we will finance the vision.

Also known as: how are we going to find the money for all we want to accomplish?

First is our NYSUNY 2020 plan … which opens the door to the second-largest academic expansion in University history.

It is allowing us to add nearly 200 new faculty over the course of five years.

And this is allowing us to develop those new programs in high-growth, high-needs areas that you heard about earlier -- and to capitalize on existing areas of strength.

New faculty additions will make UAlbany home to one of the largest concentrations of atmospheric and environmental scientists in the nation.

The new positions will also strengthen programs in business and entrepreneurship, human health and biomedical sciences, public service and policy, emerging technologies and liberal arts and sciences.

One feature of our NYSUNY 2020 plan is the Emerging Technology and Entrepreneurship Complex – E-TEC.

E-TEC is intended to bring together researchers, industry partners, entrepreneurs and investors to drive economic growth, create jobs and enhance New York’s competitiveness in key areas.

We have begun the design of the E-TEC facility where researchers and businesses will be co-located with technology transfer, business development and workforce training programs.

I have included this in my discussion of resources because E-TEC – and another economic development initiative – START-UP NY – create tremendous opportunities for us.

We expect both will yield real benefits for our region and state. We also expect increased support for UAlbany through mutually beneficial relationships with companies and industry-sponsored research.

I am pleased to report that we just hired an associate vice president for business partnerships and economic development -- Mike Shimazu.

His top priority will be to manage the E-TEC and START-UP NY initiatives to realize their great potential.

Our START-UP NY initiative must include a strategy to provide jobs in economically depressed communities through propagating small businesses.

NYSUNY 2020, E-TEC, START-UP NY – these are visionary initiatives. I applaud Governor Cuomo for advancing them and appreciate the support of our state legislators in making them possible.

These programs are part of the resource puzzle. Two other critical parts are external funding for research and private philanthropy.

When it comes to externally funded research and workforce development, we do a good job. In the last year, we had about $100 million in external sponsored expenditures, supporting the work of 171 principal investigators. That work – your work – has a wide-ranging impact.

But we can and must do even better.

As I mentioned, I see the E-TEC initiative as one way of increasing industry-sponsored research funding.

Also designed to increase research funding are a number of collaborative ventures already under way, such as the SUNY Networks of Excellence and the NYCAP Research Alliance.

A key goal of these ventures is to build collaborative teams, which are then better positioned to compete for new grant dollars. Many UAlbany faculty are involved in these efforts.

Especially in competing for large multi-disciplinary grants, teams are essential. So too are the strategies involved in identifying grant opportunities and structuring successful proposals.

We want to go after more of these large grants across all disciplines, and we are working to identify people with the expertise to assist us, particularly in seeking federal grants.

Right here on campus, it is very important that we provide the best possible support to faculty in seeking and administering grants.

We need to better prepare faculty across all disciplines – the sciences, social sciences and the humanities -- to be successful in seeking grant support.

The Division for Research Office for Sponsored Programs provides a full range of pre-award services, including training in preparation of grant proposals and identification of funding opportunities. It is exploring training approaches focused on new faculty to get them off to a good start.

The Division has already offered grant-writing workshops and will organize additional workshops that bring together faculty with an interest in specific topics, such as big data and data analytics in the health field, meteorology, forensics, transportation and smart cities.

Once faculty are successful, we need to provide excellent support in the administration of their grants.

We are aware that a tighter regulatory atmosphere and well-intentioned policies of leveling the procurement playing field have resulted in frustration and concerns.

We are working to revamp and streamline post-award processes. We have added six post-award specialists to assist investigators in navigating post-award issues.

Our goal is to provide highly responsive, effective support to principal investigators.

We have outstanding faculty at UAlbany and we are adding impressive new faculty members to our community.

By capitalizing on the exceptional opportunities before us, and with the right research support infrastructure, I am confident that we can grow the size and impact of our research enterprise to $300 million within the next decade.

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Private philanthropy is another critical source of funding to advance our university.

Our endowment currently stands at $40 million, far below endowments at other major public research universities.

My goal is to increase our endowment to more than $100 million during the next five years.

A larger endowment means more leverage to support student scholarships and faculty research. It means the financial resources necessary to realize our vision.

This is a message I bring when I meet with alumni around the country and with other UAlbany friends and supporters – and it is starting to resonate with them.

Two of UAlbany’s great friends, J. Spencer and Patricia Standish, clearly understand this message.

Last month, they made a $1.5 million dollar gift to UAlbany to endow a professorship in our School of Business.

The endowment will propel the entrepreneurship track in our nationally-ranked School of Business and attract renowned scholar-teachers in the emerging field. We are grateful to the Standishes for their support of UAlbany.

The University at Albany Foundation Board also knows well the importance of growing our resources to realize our ambitions.

To help grow scholarship support in particular, the board created the President Robert Jones and Dr. Lynn Hassan Jones Presidential Inauguration Scholarship Fund.

My wife Lynn and I decided to start building the new scholarship fund right away by donating $100,000.

It was the largest gift we have given to any institution, organization or cause.

We gave the gift because we have seen how lives are changed when students are given access to an education they might not otherwise afford. And we believe we must model the commitment we expect of others.

We stressed this during the Citizen Laureate Dinner a couple of weeks ago and within five minutes the Massry family and Foundation President George Hearst – all great UAlbany friends -- added gifts of $100,000 each to the fund, bringing it more than halfway to its goal of $1 million.

And today I am happy to announce that the Alumni Association has pledged a $100,000 matching gift. If you donate soon, your gift will have double the impact through the Alumni Association’s match.

Clearly, this is what is possible when a compelling and exciting vision for UAlbany is shared across the region, the nation and the world.

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In strengthening our financial situation, we can also make progress by using the resources we have more effectively and efficiently to drive cost savings that can be directed to our academic units.

We recently formalized an agreement with Hudson Valley Community College to share information technology services and facilities. We will serve as each other’s secondary data centers.

We will move our back-up physical and virtual servers and network equipment to Hudson Valley by the end of this year. When our new data center opens next year, we will provide reciprocal services to Hudson Valley.

This is a win-win for both institutions. And it is an example of what Chancellor Zimpher envisioned when she launched a shared services initiative two years ago with a goal of generating savings. UAlbany and Hudson Valley are the first two of SUNY's 64 campuses to share IT facilities.

To advance each of the priorities I have just discussed, I will be launching President’s Councils and leveraging existing committees.

Their charge will be to:

  • develop new pathways,
  • implement critical strategies, and
  • establish key metrics and milestones to measure our success.

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At the outset I warned you I would be talking in some depth about our priorities and what we need to do. And I thank you for listening patiently.

But even as I talked in considerable depth about priorities and new directions, I left out a lot.

After all, we are a university with 118 undergraduate majors and minors; and 138 master's, doctoral, and graduate certificate programs.

We have more than 17,000 students. We have a $100 million research enterprise. How can I possibly cover everything?

One thing I know for sure is that each and every one of you is important in keeping this amazing community running.

And it is the efforts of each and every one that will advance us forward … that will make UAlbany the university of choice… that will move us to the next level of excellence.

I thank you for all you have done to create our outstanding University.

Now I ask you all to join me in realizing our great potential.

I am proud to be your president. We are going great places together. So let’s go!