We all recognize that the output of the university is generated by the faculty and staff — whether it is teaching, research, or engagement — and without their creativity and energy the university cannot be successful. At the same time, the deans and vice chancellors and others in administration make the critical decisions about when to invest and in what to invest so that the limited resources we have will maximize our collective success. We have all been blessed with very talented vice chancellors and deans who make a real difference in our trajectory. Now that I will soon transition back to the faculty, I can say this without being too self-serving.
I am particularly grateful to Ronnie Green. After the difficulties of attracting candidates for senior vice chancellor for academic affairs willing to sign on to work for a short-term chancellor, he agreed to bear the burden of holding two positions (and to being in two places at the same time). As the past several months have proven, he is up to the task.
I say all of this as context to my summary of the State of the University. Nebraska is not the university we were 15 years ago. Because of good fortune, extraordinary external support from friends and alumni, and a collective internal commitment to drive this university forward, we are now a far better university.
We are a member of the Big Ten, there are issues on which we are regarded as the premier source of talent and information in the world, we are engaged in cutting edge research that tries to solve some of the most intractable issues facing the human condition, we are actively engaged as a land-grant institution in improving the economy of our state, and, most significantly, we have an undergraduate program that is increasingly vibrant, exciting, broad and attractive to young people from Nebraska, the country and the world.
We are also at an inflection point. An institution like ours that is not moving forward is falling behind. We have achieved a plateau well above the valley we once inhabited, but well-below the peaks of our potential. As in any climb, the air becomes more rarified and the climbing becomes more difficult. We have achieved because we took calculated risks. There will always be those who seek the comfort of the present or who fear the expected reactions of those who resist change. We cannot let them fashion our future.
I remain content with the goals we set a few years ago to increase enrollment, increase research, increase faculty numbers and faculty recognition. We have made some progress, but we cannot rely alone on the units that have already demonstrated success. We must also stimulate and incentivize those units who have to this point not contributed as much as they could to our collective enterprise.
Over the course of last year I called out architecture as a college that was not reaching its full potential. Our efforts to merge the college were borne solely out of our assessment that they could do more to engage in the university’s momentum. Though the merger was not to be, I remain committed to the idea that there is potential to do something very special with that college and we will continue to engage with Interim Dean Scott Killinger and the faculty to assure they work toward that end.
Both the faculty and the discipline of architecture have very significant perspectives that can contribute well beyond the students in the professional architecture program. We need their help in achieving our objectives.
Our focus also has to be on the College of Engineering. That college has made real progress during the last three years and implementation of the strategic plan approved by the board of regents is critical not only for the university but for all of Nebraska. For the university, the college should contribute to our enrollment growth and should play an increasingly central role in sustaining our research momentum.
For Nebraska, the production of more engineering graduates is critical for its economic advancement and here we are in competition with every other state — all of whom face a critical shortage of STEM graduates.
Computer science, particularly in software applications, is another field where demand for graduates exceeds supply — and where we are in a unique position to keep Nebraska competitive. We are increasingly well-positioned to do so. Our computer science and engineering department is developing a new software engineering program to respond to industry demand. And we were fortunate to have attracted Steve Cooper from Stanford to build on the extraordinary success of the Raikes School. With active computer education programs both in Lincoln, and at UNO, and the unique capabilities of the Raikes School, we must find ways to respond to the workforce needs of Nebraska companies — needs I should add that are experienced by companies around the world.
We have also begun significant initiatives, led by Vice Chancellor Prem Paul and Dean Joe Francisco, to engage the humanities and the social sciences in our institutional efforts.
I am convinced that both humanities and the social sciences will be proven to be more and more critical to solving the problems that face the world, including food production, global climate change, early childhood education, the growing income disparity, cyber security and so many more. These disciplines must not be left out of our innovation initiatives, our economic development initiatives or our international engagements. Even in the age of science, human interactions and human understanding will have much to say about the acceptance and translation of scientific findings into public policy. I do not think it is heresy to explore how the humanities can contribute to economic development. Amazon and Google were, after all, initially built on the content of the humanities.
Our recent announcement of the Nebraska Early Childhood Research Academy, led by the College of Education and Human Sciences, illustrates how marshalling the social science and other expertise of the university has the potential to make an important difference.
We will continue to pursue our enrollment goals. We are at a record high enrollment in the history of the university, and I have full confidence we will reach our objective of 30,000 students. An important part of this increase will be the concurrent growth of graduate student enrollment and increased faculty capacity. Whether we will do so in the time frame I initially announced will remain to be seen. If we don’t, I know it will not be attributable to any lack of skill or energy on our admissions staff or the full commitment of the campus community. We have also restructured our enrollment management effort under the interim leadership of Amy Goodburn and have asked James Volkmer to fill the new position of director of enrollment management analytics. It remains critical that we meet our enrollment objectives. This state desperately needs an expanded, young, skilled workforce.