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State of the University Address, 2004

SEPTEMBER 10, 2004

Harvey Perlman, Chancellor

University of Nebraska-Lincoln

It is always my honor, as we begin another academic year, to report to you as your Chancellor on my perspective of the state of our university. These past few years have been trying times for all of us. Through the efforts of so many of you, we have persisted, and I am proud to report we have prevailed. While we are a somewhat more focused university than a few years ago, all of the signs point to the fact that we are a stronger university, poised to encourage and embrace success, prepared to expand the horizons and opportunities of our faculty, students, and staff, positioned to have our rightful place among the very best public universities.

The Daily Nebraskan has a way of annually reminding me that I officially became Chancellor on April Fool's Day, 2001. It is not clear whether the joke was on you or on me. My installation was quickly followed by the transforming events of 9/11 and the subsequent economic downturn that cost us 12 percent of our state budget. I regret the loss of some important programs and valued personnel. But throughout I have been sustained by your personal encouragement and support and by your commitment to the work of this university. That work is critically important to the future of our students, the future of our programs, and the future of the State of Nebraska.

Last year, I recounted individual successes by faculty, staff, students, and academic departments. This gave proof to our claim that notwithstanding the series of budget reductions, this university was growing stronger. That remains true today. However, rather than delay your lunch to recite the extraordinary accomplishments of the last year, a special edition of the Scarlet captures the high points. This special report notes your considerable accomplishments across the three missions of the University.

There were, however, some individual markers that help remind us of our collective accomplishments and the quality of this place, from Jim Van Etten's election to the National Academy of Science to Ted Kooser's elevation to the post of United States Poet Laureate. It is a testament to our standing as a university that over the past three years we have attracted senior faculty from such institutions as Cornell, University of Michigan, Oregon, and Kansas State. Our honors program is respected enough to cause students to turn down offers of acceptance from places like MIT and Stanford. While we are often characterized as living in an ivory tower immunized from the concerns of the general community, our faculty and staff demonstrated otherwise, by assisting in the clean up from the Southeast Nebraska tornadoes and by giving record amounts to the United Way campaign during the most difficult economic climate in recent history. I applaud you all for your generous spirit.

At this point I am pleased to introduce Barbara Couture, our new Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, and formally welcome her to the University. We can daily observe her shift from Cougar to Cornhusker. Barbara, would you stand and be recognized.

Although not present, we welcome one of our alumni, J.B. Milliken, to his new role as President of the University of Nebraska. I know J.B. will serve us well. We also salute Dennis Smith for his accomplishments as President and welcome him to his new role as a member of our faculty.

We can see forward momentum in each of our three primary missions. You successfully competed for a record $91 million in external research support last year. This is an impressive amount considering that in 2000 we were only at $49 million. This achievement is the result of the efforts of Vice Chancellor Prem Paul and his staff and of many faculty across the broad range of disciplines. It is also a direct result of putting into practice the recommendations of the Futures Task Force in the 2020 Report: more collaboration, higher ambitions, and more effective administrative support. Candid self-assessment followed by focused measures of self-improvement can indeed produce results. And I believe we are capable of much more.

While research can be measured in dollars, ultimately our teaching success is measured by how well we help our students achieve their full potential. We can all take pride in Jonathan Jones' selection as a Truman Scholar, our third in as many years, and Thomas Oldham's receipt of a Jack Kent Cooke scholarship. These are visible illustrations of the many individual success stories that collectively are our most important achievement. The tragedy of wasting even one mind should compel us to continue to devote our energies to achieve even higher levels of student learning and success.

As a land-grant university we have the special responsibility to extend our teaching and the practical application of our research to the people of Nebraska. My travels across Nebraska reaffirm the important contributions our Cooperative Extension Service makes in the lives of our citizens. In this knowledge-based economy, the importance of their work, of our initiative to more actively commercialize the products of our research, and of the accessibility of citizens to the expertise of the university will, in large measure, determine the future success and prosperity of Nebraska.

In searching for a way to summarize the past year, I am grateful to a faculty member who provided me with the annual report of the President of Harvard College in 1868. His summation, in many ways, seems applicable to us today. He reported: “This Year has been one of quietness and general industry ... It is believed that fewer votes of censure have been passed by the Faculty than during any previous year.” In an era of great change, it is somehow comforting to know that constants remain.

I prefer today to focus on the future. I hope the era of budget cuts is over so that we can now turn our attention, not to preserving the quality of the institution, but to enhancing it. In many ways this will be a more difficult challenge. In a crisis, you have no choice but to make hard decisions. As our budget stabilizes, we confront the choice between complacency and change, between engagement and smugness, between ambition and satisfaction. We have all witnessed that, even in difficult times, it is possible to accomplish great things. Now I invite you to join me in an important adventure, an adventure to carry this University to new frontiers of excellence and achievement.

I want to focus on several areas of importance to our future progress. Those areas are strategic planning, the core values of this university that seem to have evolved over the last few years, an initiative to support the teaching enterprise by emphasizing student learning, our need to restructure to further encourage collaboration, and a number of challenges we face including our enrollment, our salaries, and our physical facilities.