Inaugural Address

President Robert J. Jones
Saturday, September 28, 2013 10:00am
Main Theatre, Performing Arts Center

I first want to thank you … Chancellor Zimpher … for placing your confidence in me. We are heading in a great direction with you as our leader.

Chairman McCall, thank you for that wonderful introduction and for your tremendous leadership of the SUNY Board.

Over the last several months I’ve seen these two leaders in action. They are not only intelligent … smart and caring … but they navigate New York’s turbulent waters like modern day Magellans.

I want to thank my wife, Lynn. My partner, my best friend, the perfect companion for our journey through life.

Now if you’ll indulge me for a moment … I have some more family to thank. Today is kind of a big deal in the Jones … Lee and Hassan families.

I am grateful that my beloved sister Mary and her husband Clifford joined us from our hometown of Dawson, Georgia.

I’m so pleased that we’re joined by three of our children -- Eric Jones and his wife Jill, Julian Hassan and his wife Martha, and our only daughter Taara Hassan.

Our other two children -- OnWar and Diaood Hassan -- and our grandsons Malik Hassan and Demetrius Jones – could not be here but we know they are with us in spirit.

And to the rest of my family … you’ll never know how good it makes me feel that you’re here.

Now to our new … UAlbany family….

To Tim, Christine, Nick and Francis … alumni, faculty, staff and students are the lifeblood of this university. Thank you for the kindnesses you have shown over the last nine months.

I want to thank our University Council Chair … Michael Castellana … who happens to have TWO degrees from UAlbany.

I also want to thank all the wonderful people who have come together to create this week of celebration and advancement.

You have my deep gratitude.

And those three people that your program says bring … “greetings from the higher education community”?

They have been friends … mentors and guiding lights for me … and for many others.

They have a sixth sense that not only sees with the eyes but feels with the heart. They hear beyond the words being spoken. They touch the world in ways not immediately felt.

They have what Plato called “the eyes of the soul.”

Bob, Nancy and Jerry – thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I am so proud that a number of our friends, neighbors and former colleagues from the Twin Cities and the University of Minnesota are with us, including Tom Sullivan, now the President of the University of Vermont, and his wife Leslie.

Last but certainly not least … Doctor Josie R Johnson … the first African American elected to the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents … and the woman who gave me my first administrative job.

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This is a gifted community. I stand before you honored … humbled and happy to be the University at Albany’s 19th President.

But what I feel inside is so much more than that. I feel invigorated.

The more I talk with our students … our faculty and our staff … and our partners in the Capital Region … the more jazzed I am about working with you.

Together we will bring this University to the next level of excellence.

This week has been about “Celebrate and Advance.” Before we talk about how we advance, I want to highlight some things that make us proud.

When Lynn and I were first introduced to this campus a year ago, the first stop was Liberty Terrace…

A state-of-the-art complex … environmentally friendly … a geo-thermal student dorm with a green roof and other innovations. We expect it to achieve LEED Gold status.

Then as we started this academic year … we were proud to welcome students to our new School of Business building.

It’s brilliant … not just because it looks great on the OUTSIDE but because what’s INSIDE opens the door to a new kind of business education.

With this new facility … we are able to launch a new undergraduate degree program in digital forensics – the first of its kind in New York and only the third in the nation.

This is a multi-disciplinary program that will leverage expertise of faculty from Criminal Justice … Public Affairs … Psychology … Sociology … the Humanities … Computer Science … Business and more.

It will help create the nation’s next generation of brilliant leaders.

So if you hear someone say “yeah yeah yeah, another business school just teaching kids how to become stock brokers” … tell them to think again. It’s that … and so much more.

And when people ask me what I did to bring that building on line … I tell them I did a heck of a job cutting the ribbon!

But I want you to know that just before I cut that ribbon … I said that within five years we’ll be one of the nation’s top 50 business schools.

My job … working with Dean Siegel and all of you … is seeing that we get there. And we will get there.
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We are also so proud of UAlbany’s one-of-a-kind … world-class RNA Institute … where we are partnering with institutions … researchers and others around the world.

We are dedicated to combating the human race’s most vexing diseases … Alzheimer’s … HIV/AIDS … Lou Gehrig’s Disease … and rare diseases like giant axonal neuropathy.

In just three years … The RNA Institute has attracted nearly $33 million in public and private sector investments … and we’re going to grow that number.

Sometime soon … scientists will have a “eureka” moment in the fight against disease.

And that game-changer may well occur right here … or be influenced by work done in The RNA Institute or our Cancer Research Center.

These are just three of the many UAlbany accomplishments worthy of pride and celebration.

I can’t POSSIBLY list them all … but let me quickly mention a few more.

• We have 19 graduate programs ranked among the nation’s top 100 … with 12 in the top 50.

• Criminal Justice is number 2. Public Affairs is 16.

• A top-ranked School of Public Health … perhaps the only one developed in partnership with a state Health Department.

• The College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering … a UAlbany big idea that’s evolved into an innovative R&D and economic development hub for the state.

It’s a model for public/private partnerships that attracts global attention and investment in computer chip technology.

• We take great pride in the fact that 34 percent of our undergraduates are students of color.

• Our students and faculty come from more than 100 countries … represented by the flags on this stage.

• We offer more study abroad programs than any SUNY campus.

• We are in the midst of $330 million of long-overdue renovations to our classrooms and other parts of the academic podium.

• And how can we not be proud of the magnificent athletic complex that includes Bob Ford Field … named for a man who embodies what college athletics should be.

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This has been a time of great discovery for me. And I’ve concluded that this University … the work you all do … may be the best kept secret in ALL of higher education.

Not just in this region.

Not just in this state.

But in the entire country.

And I pledge to you today that we are going to tell the UAlbany story far and wide.

We are going to tell the story of a University that epitomizes the best of public higher education. In…
• teaching and learning,

• cutting edge research … innovation and discovery,

• sustainability … across the educational … environmental … financial … and societal spectrums,

• creating connections in the community and across the world … and

• keeping UAlbany accessible and affordable.

Look at what this University has achieved … despite severe budget cuts and a bad economy.

We have a tremendous amount to celebrate and yes … I believe … brag about.

But we cannot be satisfied with where we are. As the saying goes … if you’re not moving forward … you’re falling behind.

This week we celebrated. Now we must advance.

I am here today to lay down some challenges … for our faculty and staff … for our students and alumni … for our partners in the community … and for myself.

I love what I see at this University … and I’m proud of what we do. But we can and we must do better … even in the face of major challenges.

Funding for public universities continues to be tight. We also face shifting demographics that will challenge our enrollment goals. Competition for college-ready students is increasing.

Higher education also faces a reputational crisis. A growing number of people are asking if what we provide students is worth the money … the effort … and the time.

As I reflect on this … I am reminded of a statement Dr. King made:
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience … but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

If we are going to move beyond the joy of celebration into the challenge of advancement, we must embrace the work that advancement requires.

And we must know our destination and our path.

Because in the words of Lewis Carroll … “If you don't know where you are going … ANY road will get you there.”

My goal is for UAlbany to become THE University of choice for high school juniors and seniors.

And not just those thinking about SUNY … but also major research universities across the country and around the world.

To achieve that goal, we must enhance the student experience. We must create an environment of learning and personal growth that prepares our students to help solve humanity’s difficult problems.

Imagine what can happen when tens of thousands of students and alums tell their friends … family and neighbors about their great experiences here…

Current and former Great Danes tweeting and Facebooking … that UAlbany gave them a world-class education they could afford.

That beats any recruiters we could ever hire.

We can make this happen by focusing on four key areas. I call them stakes in the ground. They are:

1. Expanding our portfolio of degree-granting programs.

2. Recruiting more out-of-state and international students.

3. Broadening our role as a University engaged in the community.

4. Growing our resources to fulfill our ambition.

Number One: We will expand our portfolio of degree-granting programs so we’re educating students in high-need, high-growth areas upon which our economic vitality depends.

I see a day soon when we will offer degrees in engineering … Big Data analytics … and allied health sciences. Degrees that can lead to a fulfilling life’s work in medicine … law … public policy … medical research and more.

Walk around campus and you can’t miss the fact that we’re in the discovery business. Scientific and other scholarly research and innovation creates new knowledge and refines what we already know.

It is also clear that we must more effectively and intentionally connect science and the humanities … to help solve the world’s complex problems.

Einstein said "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."

The man knew what he was talking about.

Solutions to the most challenging problems of the 21st Century will require a new trans-disciplinary mindset.

Let me tell you a story about Hurricane Katrina.

We all know about the devastation that took place and how so many people didn’t or couldn’t get out in time.

What many didn’t know was the role culture played in that tragedy.

Sociologists say that people with strong family ties took their family’s advice and got out.

Many who lacked those same ties or family structures didn’t get out. And they suffered the worst.

If the sociologists and meteorologists got together to feed that information to the disaster preparedness agencies, think of the human pain and suffering that could have been avoided.

As you know, I’m a plant physiologist. I believe science can help solve life’s hardest problems.

But simply knowing how to create enough food to feed the world isn’t enough.

If we’re going to advance as a global community … the left brain and the right brain must get together.

To solve the world’s challenges … we need professionals who can master Dickens as well as those who can manage data.

I see a future … where solutions flow from the combination of natural and social sciences … public policy studies … and a deep understanding of the human condition.

This trans-disciplinary work will win the day.

UAlbany has tremendous assets in social sciences, public policy research and the humanities. And a growing strength in natural sciences and technology.

We have an opportunity not just to benefit from this future … but to create it. Let’s capture this future and blaze a trail to it.

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As we expand our degree portfolio … we must also broaden the makeup of our campus community.

Which brings me to my second stake in the ground. We must recruit and welcome more out-of-state and international students.

This will allow us to benefit from a global range of backgrounds, perspectives and insights.

Here are two startling facts that don’t square up. We have the smallest percentage of out-of-state and international students of all the SUNY research universities … only about 12 percent.

Yet we place more students in international programs than any other SUNY campus.

So we do a great job of putting the world within reach of our students. But for some reason we’re not within reach of the world’s students.

This must change. Shifting demographics dictate that we look beyond our borders to meet our enrollment goals.

Just as importantly … having more students from other countries and states diversifies the experiences and viewpoints on our campus. It expands our worldview.

Students who learn in that environment are better equipped to thrive in today’s global society.

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.

That can only succeed if we are a university that welcomes everyone … recognizes their talents … and provides everyone with the opportunity to succeed.

The world our students will enter is diverse and must be inclusive if society is to advance. Our university must embody those attributes as well.

And we must reaffirm diversity and inclusive excellence as core values.

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The 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.

Thinking locally … we must remember that simply being situated in a community does not mean we’re adding value that benefits our neighbors.

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.

We must better understand the community’s assets and match those with our own.

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

You see … our students can learn how their studies are applied to real-life issues. They can grow from the experience of others.

That’s why we must increase engaged learning opportunities for our students.

But it goes beyond students … to our faculty … our staff … to all of us. And it goes beyond just “volunteering” or simply performing service for credit.

To make this work … we need full-bodied engagement … a two-way street that builds understanding and knowledge … and leads to real solutions.

My goal is for this campus to log at least
two-and-a-half million community engagement hours every year.

Let’s flood the area with purple shirts that show our engagement with the community … and our recognition that learning takes place in many venues.

If we are going to advance … we must bring the campus and the community together.

Just as we must unite the sciences and the humanities.

Just as we must link the public and the private sectors.

It’s not one or the other folks … it’s both.

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Now, my fourth stake in the ground: Resources to realize our ambitions.

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

Good question … and it brings to mind an old Pentagon saying: “A vision without resources is a hallucination.”

Well … some of this funding comes from two state programs.

First is our NYSUNY 2020 plan … which opens the door to the most ambitious and far-reaching academic expansion in decades.

It will let us add 200 new faculty over the next five years … a dramatic increase in educators and researchers in cutting-edge fields.

Under NYSUNY 2020 … UAlbany will be home to one of the largest concentrations of atmospheric and environmental scientists in the nation.

Their work on weather … climate and green energy will help the world address issues of extreme weather … helping to transfer that knowledge to benefit society.

In addition … the START-UP NY program helps connect our campus with businesses whose missions align with ours. This will create opportunities for our campus and our community.

Those opportunities won’t just be for businesses … but also for students and our faculty.

I’d like to take a moment to thank Governor Cuomo for advancing these visionary initiatives … and to thank our state legislators who are working to make it all possible.

Their steadfast commitment to public higher education was one of the most compelling reasons I joined this university.

These state programs are just part of the resource puzzle. Other parts are externally funded research and our endowment.

When it comes to externally funded research, we do a good job of that now … better than most people realize. But we can and must do better.

We are in the discovery business and are poised to make an even bigger mark. Let’s triple our externally funded research to $300 million within the next decade.

We must also strengthen connections with alumni and others who support our work. We need to help them understand the financial resources necessary to realize our vision.

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 scholarship and faculty research. And it will make a UAlbany education even more life-changing.

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All our efforts at building partnerships … creating programs … generating resources … everything we do always comes back to students.

As you heard earlier, I loved being a student. Learning energized me. It tickled my brain. It made me want more.

And as a student, I was supported from Day One … starting at home. Our parents made sure that when it came time to choose … studying won out over almost everything else.

And educators mentored me … steered me and guided me. Their example helped me decide to become an educator myself.

And now I’m here, on this campus that’s busting with potential, part of a team ready to make the potential a reality.

This week we have celebrated just a few of UAlbany’s many points of tremendous pride.

Now we move forward. I’ve laid out ambitious goals in four areas … not just to regain some past glory ... but to capture the future.

This truly is a great place. A lot of people may not know just how great.

We’re going to tell them. Loudly and clearly. And not just where we are today but where we’re going tomorrow.

Will you help me tell that story?

Will you tell everyone that after state government … we are the single largest enterprise in the Capital Region – with 23,000 students, faculty and staff?

Because I will.

Will you also tell them our students are worth $120 million to the local economy every year?

Because I will.

Will you make sure everyone knows we have 12 graduate programs ranked among the nation’s top 50 … with more to follow.

Because I will.

Will you tell everyone that we’re developing new programs that will catapult UAlbany … to the top ranks of public higher education?

Because I will.

Will you tell your friends that UAlbany will redefine community engagement so dramatically … that it will be hard to tell where the campus ends and the rest of our region begins?

Because I will.

Will you tell them that as our faculty teach and do great research … they also see the spark in the eyes of their students.

And they fan that spark into a flame.

And then they build that flame into a fire.

Will you tell them that?

Because I will.

And when you talk to your colleagues at schools ranked ahead of us … tell them not to relax or get complacent.

BECAUSE WE’RE COMING.

Will you join me in this effort?

Will you join me?

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

Thank you and God bless.