Skip Navigation

State of the University Address, 2005

SEPTEMBER 9, 2005

Harvey Perlman, Chancellor

University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Agenda For The Upcoming Year

Recognizing that we can never become content with our situation, the senior leadership has helped develop an ambitious campus agenda for next year, sparked by our strategic planning efforts. Peter Drucker once commented, "Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work." Or, as Will Rogers said, "Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there." We are well positioned to make great strides and we should continue to do so passionately. There are numerous planned initiatives to further enhance our research and graduate studies as well as our engagement efforts, but this morning I will focus primarily on those efforts directed at teaching and undergraduate education.

Enrollment

Our most immediate challenge is to stabilize our enrollment. Because of policy changes that I support, we are entering into a new era for this university in which this campus will directly benefit from enrollment increases and suffer from enrollment declines. This is a significant step that will impact the central culture of the university as well as our policies and activities. As you saw from the announcement yesterday, happily our entering student enrollment has rebounded from last year even though our total enrollment is down slightly. Even with increased numbers, entering students' average ACT score increased to 24.9, the non-resident enrollment is now 22 percent of our entering class, and the number of racial minorities in this class has increased by 25 percent to almost 10 percent of the class.

We have a number of initiatives in place to examine our policies and practices to assure they are calibrated for this new environment. But, in the end, our success rests largely in your hands. Recruitment and retention of students is everyone's responsibility and in everyone's best interest. We should all applaud Dean Alan Cerveny and his Admissions staff as well as the many faculty, staff, and administrators who gave extra effort last year to beneficial effect. But we must incorporate into our daily activities a passion for attracting students and assuring their success.

At the same time, in many ways students are our products, not our customers. We will not serve their interests or our own if we lower our standards or reduce our rigor merely to attract them. I received a spam message recently that read: "Receive University education in two weeks, chose (sic) your degree, no studying required." We must adhere to the commitment that the value of education is measured, not by what it costs in dollars or personal effort or sacrifice in the short term, but rather by the enhanced economic prospects and quality of life one enjoys over a lifetime. Every day, I see administrators, faculty and staff going out of their ways to help students achieve real success. We cannot be satisfied, however, until every student believes this is true in his or her own case.

Strategic Planning

Last year we launched a major strategic planning effort with deadlines that may have been more unrealistic than ambitious. But through the remarkable work of Senior Vice Chancellor Barbara Couture, Vice Chancellor John Owens, the academic deans, the chairs and heads of departments, and many faculty, we both constructed and implemented a planning process out of whole cloth. Because of that effort, we are now much better positioned to move forward.

Core Values

After review and involvement by many people, including those participating in public hearings, and after consideration of many excellent suggestions I believe the following core values have been embraced by the vast majority of our community.
  • We value the uncompromising pursuit of excellence,
  • We value a diversity of ideas and people,
  • We value a learning environment that prepares students for success and leadership in their lives and their careers,
  • We value research and creative activity that informs teaching, fosters discovery, and contributes to economic prosperity and quality of life in Nebraska,
  • We value engagement with academic, business, and civic communities throughout Nebraska and the world,
  • We value an institutional climate that challenges every member of the university to advance these core values and that celebrates their success.
Planning is not done for planning's sake; it should influence administrative and faculty decisions. In this sense, while we made significant progress, much refinement remains necessary. The most critical step we must now take is to link our priorities to our resources. As Albert Einstein once remarked, "Vision without resources is fantasy." If priority setting is to be meaningful it must connect to reasonably likely sources of revenue available to permit implementation. The potential sources are all too clear: (1) reallocation of our existing resources; (2) additional state or tuition revenue; (3) new revenue that we can generate by our own entrepreneurship; (4) federal or private sponsorships; or (5) private philanthropy.

In this second phase of our planning effort, we will ask each unit to identify a realistic source of funds for each priority. In some instances this may require them to tailor the proposals to enhance the likelihood of receiving funds. And, we must explicitly focus on reallocation of existing resources from lower priority programs to higher ones. This year, non-academic programs, in addition to their internal planning activities, will be asked to indicate how they can best help advance the academic priorities.

While strategic planning is critical to our success, the worst thing we could do is believe that because we have a strategic plan we are constrained to rigidly follow it. Any institution, including ours, must be prepared to take advantage of unforeseen opportunities that present themselves, even if it is a departure or even if it detracts in some way from the existing plan. Obviously no one will invest in a planning process that does not provide some guidance or direction, some restraint on ad hoc spontaneous decisions. So we need to find a balance, to in some way acknowledge, as part of our strategic plan, that we are willing to take opportunistic risks as long as they are calculated and seem reasonably consistent with our direction and our core values. As the pace of our world quickens, we will need to take more risks, without the time for full deliberation and elaborate process. This need not become our modus operandi but we should not shy from it if it seems right at the time. Accordingly while we will routinely work with the strategic plans that are presented to us, we should also respond, within core principles of shared governance, to unique opportunities that advance the core values of the university.

Another critical aspect of our planning initiative is the revision of the campus master plan, which has engaged the participation and imagination of many faculty, students, and staff across the university. The beauty and arrangement of our physical environment is an important element of our success. And good physical facilities are a prerequisite to quality programs. Our critical need for additional physical space, both for teaching and research, is the single most important restraint we face in continuing our current momentum. We will need to better manage what we have and we will need to work hard to find additional program space.