Delivered September 1, 2011
Harvey Perlman, Chancellor
This has been a year like no other. It is my privilege for the first time to address you as Chancellor of one of the 12 members of the Big Ten, rather than as one of the ten members of the Big 12 --which proves there are three kinds of athletic conferences, those who can count and those who can't.
Over the last decade we have grown from a place of modest ambitions and accomplishments to a university of energy, optimism and self-confidence. We have served our year in the wilderness and are now a full member of the Big Ten. In so many ways, we are a different university. I am frequently asked what our entry into the Big Ten means. In athletics it is a new set of peers, new rivalries, new venues, new challenges. In academics it is new colleagues, a new seat on the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, a new set of opportunities and expectations. The most important impact of our transition to the Big Ten is, however, in how we must view ourselves and what new ambitions we must embrace.
We have the opportunity to reset the table — to now start anew to reformulate our ambitions and our aspirations, to set new goals and objectives, to rise to the elevated expectations in which we have been draped, to take advantage of the opportunities that lie ahead, to learn from but also to lead our new peers, to demonstrate that while we are in a new place, there is still no place like Nebraska.
The disappointment of losing our membership in AAU remains. While membership provided a vague reputational benefit, it was neither a direct nor driving force in the pace and scope of our success. The AAU's invitation to join their association in 1909 was a recognition of our excellence and our value to the goals of the organization. In 2011 it was the organization's goals that changed, not our excellence. The AAU's decision to withdraw our membership has been widely analyzed and commonly criticized as an indication of the growing disconnect between the elites of American higher education and contemporary reality. I would not have asked any of you to diminish your focus on solving real problems in order to retain our AAU status. I would not have turned away from our commitment to access for Nebraska young people, or our dedication to serving the people of Nebraska in order to stay in the AAU. Our path is the right one for a socially relevant and forward-looking public research university. That path simply diverged from the new course that some AAU members have set. We'll let history judge which path will pay greater dividends.
In my 11 years as your Chancellor, I have never felt as challenged to do more or as confident that more can be done. Our budget condition is far superior to most other public universities. While we will miss those of our senior colleagues who took advantage of our voluntary separation program, their departure allows us to make investments in our future. We have experienced considerable growth in enrollment resulting in some strains on our facilities and our instructional capacity, and yet the quality of our undergraduate student body and the nature of their experience have never been higher. Notwithstanding budget pressures in Washington on federal agency research expenditures, we are in many ways uniquely positioned to contribute to the solution of the world's problems and the betterment of the human condition. The state's unexpected investment of $25 million and the partnership we have formed with Woodbury Corp., will jump-start Innovation Campus with its potential for generating significant private sector partnerships, economic growth for Nebraska, and new research opportunities for the university. The University of Nebraska Foundation's capital campaign continues to set records for philanthropic giving to initiatives that will provide long-term enhancements to the university. A reinvigorated Alumni Association is demonstrating the strong support we can expect from our alumni as we engage in the hard and important work of serving our students and the people of Nebraska.
In my first State of the University address I set out to detail the accomplishments of the year before. It may be some measure of our success that to do so now would far exceed your patience. Last year there were national faculty recognitions, such as Margaret Jacob's receipt of the Bancroft Prize for the best published book in American History. There were the successes of our students as they competed nationally and internationally for scholarships, awards, and recognitions. There were the growing number and scale of faculty innovations entering the marketplace. There was the decision by Bayer Crop Science, a large German company, to choose Nebraska to be its North American headquarters for wheat breeding, a decision driven by their desire to be engaged with Steve Baenziger and his team of university wheat breeders. There were innumerable instances of advice given, of studies conducted, or courses taught that resulted in a better crop yield, a more marketable animal, a more efficient or environmentally friendly practice, that fulfilled our land-grant responsibilities. And there were the individual stories of accomplishment as another class of students crossed the stage at their graduation. I urge you all to attend a commencement ceremony if for no other reason than to share in the amusement of the creativity of our graduates' footwear and robe decorations. But there is also the joy, anticipation, excitement, and pride as each student, whose talent and energy we will need to secure our own future, leaves us to forge their own life with the new skills and knowledge they have acquired at the university. They take a piece of us when they go and they gift us a piece of themselves when they leave.
These achievements, and the multitude not mentioned, form the foundation that permits us to fashion an ambitious agenda moving forward. In a few moments I will emphasize those priorities our entry into the Big Ten require. But first I want to highlight current initiatives that continue to deserve our attention. This university must continue to expand its global engagement. We must encourage our students to study abroad and insist that our own curricula and programming reflect the global environment.
We bear an extraordinary responsibility for developing the future leaders of our state and country. I am pleased that working with ASUN, the Division of Student Affairs embarked on a Character Campaign last year with our undergraduates. Further, Academic and Student Affairs have collaborated in developing a Certificate in Civic Engagement that should soon receive final approval. Supporting these efforts will be the new Center for Civic Engagement, housed in the student union.
As we move forward, we cannot lose sight of the importance of diversifying our faculty as an important element of diversifying our student body. No one should doubt that this remains an important priority as well as a prerequisite to some of the initiatives I will announce in a few moments.
There are significant opportunities for the more strategic use of information technology to advance the priorities of the university. A task force led by our CIO, Mark Askren, and co-chaired by deans Kebbel and Dickey, has focused on providing more efficiently a basic foundation of information technology services to the campus so that resources can be freed up to be applied more strategically for these advances. We need to take the Task Force recommendations seriously. Vice Chancellor Ronnie Green is leading a planning effort to address the future of rural America. This could be a major initiative, with very ambitious goals, for improving the economic viability of rural areas. We have a start with the Engler Entrepreneurship program designed to help expand agricultural business activity. The entire university has a stake in making this initiative successful.
Eleven years ago I suggested that if we were to be successful as a university we needed to focus our attention on two priorities: undergraduate education and research. These were related directly to the needs of the state of Nebraska. We recognized then that Nebraska needed to retain its young people and to attract others and that the quality of our undergraduate program was an important element in that effort. To that end, we have built an undergraduate experience that is increasingly attractive to both young Nebraskans and those from elsewhere. We recognized that they would stay in Nebraska after graduation only if the state could provide them with employment opportunities that matched their newly acquired skills. We know that in the innovative economy our research creates jobs. To that end, we greatly elevated our research profile and we expect that Innovation Campus will leverage those efforts on behalf of the Nebraska economy.
I want to suggest that as we elevate our ambitions as a Big Ten university, these same priorities remain the key to our success. I want to propose that for both undergraduate education and research, we pursue very ambitious, maybe audacious, goals for this university and that we focus our efforts on achieving them.