By Greta Petry (April 20, 2007)
Herbst Highlights Excellence, Diversity, Fiscal Responsibility
Academic excellence, diversity and tolerance, and a sound budget were among the points Officer in Charge and Provost Susan Herbst highlighted in her address at the Spring Faculty Meeting April 19 in the Campus Center Ballroom.
"Let me start today by giving proper thanks. First to the faculty. You are the stability of this institution," she said. "If you do the content well, as faculty, the University will be great regardless of our triumphs or failings as administrators, and I am grateful for this." She added, "The life and driving force of this University is not in University Hall (the administration building), and never will be. It's in the labs, the classroom, faculty offices, and in your heads. This intellectual work never stops, never grinds to a halt, as long as we have a faculty who know why they are here, and you certainly do."
Next, Herbst said the University has made progress in taking pride in itself. "We are objectively an excellent research university, but we focus on what we are not, more often than what we are, and what we do well. I think we are moving past this, although it is a long road. I see pockets of tremendous pride, and even arrogance, which is fine if you are really good! I see ambition of international breadth."
She noted, "there is no fancy mission statement for us, no niche, no unique 'vision thing' for the University at Albany. Our mission and our vision are academic excellence and achievement, just like at UCLA or Michigan. A comprehensive research university strives for excellence, and that's all it does."
Turning to diversity, she said, "There is no question that we've tremendous work to do in making this University a place of tolerance, openness, and – at the risk of being melodramatic – love and understanding."
She said that while there have been excellent speakers at campus on the subject this year, "we've a long way to go in achieving the diversity we want – in terms of numbers of women, African American, Asian American, Latino, gay, bisexual and other minority students, faculty, and staff." Herbst said she is heartened by the formation of centers devoted to preventing race discrimination and poverty, by affirmative action being taken seriously, by the hiring of people of color in large numbers to teach, and by diversifying the student body. "I am enormously grateful to campus leaders, like Carson Carr, who have put in the time, the energy, the creativity and the everyday sweat it really takes – over many years – to create a diverse campus." According to the Admissions Web site, eight percent of UAlbany undergraduates are African American, seven percent are Hispanic, six percent are of Asian descent, for a total of 21 percent minority students.
The Officer in Charge then turned to the subject of money. Despite being chronically underfunded for decades, Herbst said, "our budget is in good shape this year, thanks to careful management by our Division of Business and Finance. We have no freezes on faculty or staff hiring; we start new programs, if carefully. We are able to fund vital projects like the Honors College, Go Green, our campus book, bringing great speakers to campus, securing a higher ed marketing firm, replacing disgusting carpet in the School of Criminal Justice, recruiting many faculty and staff, and building an office for sexual assault prevention. We move forward, we spend money we actually have, and we spend it well."
Herbst went on, "We've a new governor and he is wonderful. He cares deeply about education and that is clear from this year's budget with regard to K-12 and higher education. It was a terrific year for higher ed, and I do think there is much more to come next year." She said the University, and other research universities, stand to benefit from the guidance of a commission Spitzer is forming to look at the fundamental nature and structure of higher education in New York State.
Thanks to the governor and the New York State Legislature, Herbst said there is $7 million for faculty hiring across the SUNY system, and $12 million for hiring senior faculty in the sciences under the Empire innovation program. The UAlbany campus received "$6 million in deferred maintenance, $10 million for the East Campus (roads, power, fundamentals for development of a research park), $1.5 million for our Autism Center, and $2 million for NERFI, among other programs." Additional capital funding will be revealed in June in the supplemental budget.
Herbst also mentioned the search for a new University at Albany president, and said the search is "in excellent hands with George Philip and the fine committee he has assembled." She added, "In the meantime, let us make this a productive, lively, and positive campus where any president would be welcomed with warmth and kindness."
Among accomplishments, Herbst cited the many achievements of faculty and students and said selectivity has increased while total applications will top 20,000 freshmen for the first time ever, an increase of more than eight percent.
Not shying away from the challenges ahead, Herbst said the University needs to:
1. Bring more money in through tuition, state appropriations, sponsored projects
2. Encourage the creation of a diverse and respectful culture.
3. Bolster a sense of agency, and a can-do attitude.
4. Strengthen undergraduate education.
Regarding undergraduate education, Herbst said, "I ask that you keep our students front and center always. Without real commitment to them and their learning, the University is a complete and utter failure. It is as simple as that. I ask that you take up the challenge of excellence in curriculum design and the tremendous day-to-day challenge of keeping students engaged."