State of the University Address 2007 - page 3

Harvey Perlman, Chancellor

University of Nebraska-Lincoln


Research is our second priority. We have had a remarkable five years in addressing our research priorities. Our competitive research has doubled and our overall grants and contracts remain at historic highs.

Research plays an important role in how we define ourselves as a University and it affects the quality and nature of our educational programs as well as our relationship to the citizens of Nebraska. Our research is one basis on which we distinguish ourselves from other institutions of higher education, and it is what, I believe, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly, attracts prospective students and political support.

While our total sponsored programs increased last year, our pure research grants leveled off. The stagnation in federal funds for research in most federal agencies means we will have to work harder and smarter to continue our progress. Research success is not measured alone in dollars or grants awarded, but these are important metrics that measure the activity of many of our academic units. We have the talent and the ambition within the faculty to succeed.

We also need a broader engagement in research activity. Every academic unit with research responsibilities and opportunities should examine within its own planning efforts whether it is meeting its research obligations or taking advantage of the opportunities it has to generate research. I speak in terms of obligation because I believe that is something imposed on us by being a research university. Research can also be a source of additional resources for support of faculty and programs. Each dean and each department chair or head should provide leadership in this area. We have not yet fully realized our potential as a research university.

The life sciences are critical to our research agenda. With Nebraska's economy so heavily dependent on agriculture, this university must be strong in life science research. I am reminded of the observation that "despite his artistic pretensions, his sophistication, and his many accomplishments, man owes his existence to a six-inch layer of topsoil and the fact that it rains." We have a strong base on which to build with traditional research strength at the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources as well as among the city campus life science units. We have high expectations for the School of Natural Resources, now that its faculty is largely contained in a single building with the synergies that should provide. In this era of restrained resources, we will only succeed if we have a more integrated plan and vision for the life sciences, across our traditional organizational boundaries. We must plan wisely so that this university can continue to support both the applied research that our agricultural producers need currently, as well as research with more significant long-term potential. We have given Brian Larkins the responsibility to work with our life science leadership in fashioning a plan, and I believe we are making good progress.

There are many examples of how collaboration sparks innovation. Last year the University's Center for Energy Sciences Research held a retreat with over 100 faculty in attendance to stimulate new thinking in this important field. The process generated over 40, mostly collaborative proposals, for funding by the center from funds provided by the Nebraska Public Power District. We have just begun to tap the synergies lying dormant and undiscovered within our faculty.

Our prior success in research has made some of our faculty more visible to other universities and we sense a greater challenge in retention of faculty. To be sure faculty have nomadic tendencies. We have achieved a status where we are recruiting faculty laterally from other distinguished institutions. We should not be surprised when these other institutions reciprocate, but we must engage in intensive efforts to retain our successful faculty here. Again, the leadership in colleges and departments plays a critical role here and those of us at the campus level stand ready to provide you as much assistance as possible to be successful in this endeavor.

Our research success continues to be restrained in some disciplines by the inadequacy of our physical facilities. The good news is that the flood control aspects of the Antelope Valley project will, it appears, be completed in 2009, a full two years early. This will free approximately 60 acres of university land from the restrictions of the flood plain and open them for construction of the university's research corridor. Our master plan shows the build out of research facilities along Antelope Creek from R Street on the south to beyond Vine Street on the north. Phase 1 of that corridor includes over $80 million of construction, with the new physical sciences building, the renovation of Whittier, a nanoscience building, and an additional life science research facility. The renovation of Whittier, approved by the Board of Regents in June, also revives our longstanding effort to have campus-based child care. We will soon open the Ken Morrison Life Sciences Research Center on East Campus for our Virology Center and we are hopeful that a $2 million planning grant obtained by Senator Nelson in the Senate Ag Appropriations bill will be signed by the President. This ultimately could result in a $50 million federal agricultural research facility with space for some of our own collaborating scientists. You are all aware of the 2015 Vision group, a group of Lincoln business leaders, who have placed their support behind 10 projects that are proposed for downtown Lincoln. Both in the public response to its proposals and within the 2015 Vision group, development of the research corridor has been the top priority. In late July, 2015 announced almost $10 million of private philanthropy directed to research corridor projects. I am hopeful that additional private funds will be identified to help make this a reality. Phase 1 of the corridor is not an optional project for us; it is a necessity if we are to have any chance of sustaining our research growth.

It is possible that the research corridor could become the research 'crescent.' From its early history as a university, the city and east campuses have been separated by geography, as well as by tradition and culture. In the last few years the programmatic linkages have been strengthened and we are starting to see the potential of a strong Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources working collaboratively with the other academic colleges. At this point in time we have a unique opportunity to link our campuses geographically as well. University acquisition of State Fair Park could serve as a bridge that connects the campuses. It would provide space for a unique public and private sector research development effort as well as economic growth for Nebraska. This expansion of the university need not come at the expense of the State Fair. The future success of the State Fair is better assured if it were located at a different location because the scarcity of land and the aging infrastructure at its current site limits its potential.

The 2015 movement has energized and engaged the Lincoln community. While we are a state-wide university, our success in terms of recruitment of students and faculty depends heavily on the success of Lincoln in becoming an exciting community for young people. As I believe the university is poised for its greatest decade of success, with 2015, I believe Lincoln now has opportunities to grow and prosper as never before. The other pillars of 2015 - the new hotel, conference center, arena, and arts and humanities facilities in the Haymarket, the expansion of Haymarket Park to include an expansive recreation and sports complex, the private development of P and Q streets into a vibrant shopping district, the creation of the downtown plaza and the potential for a university-linked retirement center on R Street - all foretell an exciting community as well as opening an array of opportunities for us, in research, in teaching, and in serving Nebraska.