Harvey Perlman, Chancellor
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
I have a confession. Even though I begin my sixth year as your chancellor I occasionally wander around campus in disbelief that I am charged with the responsibility for this entire institution. Disbelief usually fades to wonder as I review the progress we have made in so many areas. Then, embarrassment as I think of how much credit is accorded a chancellor for the efforts of others. Except for the chicken dinners, you have made this a perfect job!
Of course I am not unmindful of one of my mentors equating an academic administrator to a keeper of thoroughbred horses. Every morning you pass through the stalls with feed and every evening you clean up the mess. Or the equating of the chancellor to a caretaker in a cemetery: You are above everyone else but no one is listening.
My most persistent feeling, however, is one of pride. This university has reached a new level of achievement - one that places us squarely among the top public research universities. We are attracting more and better-prepared students and they, in turn, are experiencing greater success. Our average ACT scores continue to set records and, more importantly, over the last 10 years the rate of improvement in our graduation rate has surpassed all of our peers. For the first time in history our funded research exceeded $100 million generating new discoveries, increased potential for economic development, and more jobs for Nebraska. While our extension responsibilities are not easily quantifiable, you cannot travel anywhere in Nebraska without seeing first-hand the impact this university has on the lives of this state's citizens.
Preparing this annual state of the university address is a growing challenge. In the past I have reviewed the previous year's successes and tried to suggest an agenda for the coming year. I can no longer do justice to your accomplishments, and even the special edition of the Scarlet becomes illustrative rather than complete. Proposing a future agenda is equally challenging. Our progress is exceeded only by our potential. For me, the most important and comprehensive of our core values is "excellence pursued without compromise." In each of our missions, teaching, research, and engagement, we have excelled; yet we can do better. We are a relatively small university so we must always look for ways to work harder and smarter and to be certain we have maximized all of the talent in our community. We should all sympathize with Bill Callahan. Just as three late-season wins by the football team have some fans expecting a national championship, your considerable academic achievements have created enhanced expectations as well. We do not have the luxury to relax on our laurels, to forego the contributions of any member or any department of the university, or to take our future accomplishments for granted.
Today I want to do three things. First, to articulate again our general priorities and the strategies we have adopted to achieve them. Second, to mention a few of the high points of last year, guaranteeing as I do so, to make a few close friends and to spread disappointment elsewhere. I promise I cherish each and every one of your accomplishments. And, third, to propose selected areas that should capture our attention during this academic year. I will do so mindful of the comment attributed to a French playwright: "When I speak, I accept that people will look at their watches, but what I want to avoid is when they look at it and shake it to find out if it has stopped."
For six years, through good budgets and bad, we have consistently followed two overarching priorities designed to address the comparative advantages of the university and the critical needs of the state of Nebraska.
One of Nebraska's primary challenges is to retain its young people and to attract young people from other states. A competitive undergraduate program at this state's only comprehensive research institution, is a critical priority both for the university and the state of Nebraska.
The economy of Nebraska, like the economy of the world, is quickly becoming idea-based, whether it is in "high tech" industries or in agriculture. A strong university research enterprise has driven economic growth across the country, and it is essential Nebraskans have access to such an enterprise in order to remain competitive. We have worked hard to build our research activities and, consistent with our land-grant heritage, to extend the benefits of that research to the people of Nebraska.
In pursuit of these two priorities - enhancing undergraduate education and research - we have employed a number of strategies with good success.
First, we have focused on a mix of programs for undergraduate education - those that will attract highly talented students to the university and those that maximizes every student's potential for success. The University Honors Program and the J.D. Edwards Honors Program compete favorably against any university in attracting highly credentialed students, and the Pepsi UCARE program, the many programs of the Office of Undergraduate Studies and the Office of Student Involvement, and the potential from the many ideas funded by the University of Nebraska Foundation through the Initiative for Teaching and Learning Excellence grants speak to our commitment to engage the special talents of every student, regardless of their entering credentials or their future aspirations.
Our second strategy has been to allocate resources through the Programs of Excellence to build "spires of excellence" - focused programs that compete with the best in the country and enhance the reputation of the entire university. We have major federally funded centers of excellence in virology, redox biology, nanomaterials, and most recently transportation. We have the exciting potential of the Diocles Laser, the expanding reputation of our Digital Research In Humanities Program, and the emergence of the Durham School of Architectural Engineering and Construction on both the Lincoln and Omaha campuses. These and many others have achieved national recognition.
Third, we have supported programs that serve the particular economic needs of Nebraska and contribute to our quality of life. Through a broad array of field research conducted across the state we have contributed to the welfare of contemporary agriculture while continuing to harness the potential of biotechnology to preserve its future. Our professional schools train this state's future leaders, and our humanities and fine arts units contribute significantly to this state's quality of life.
Fourth we must invest, where we have a comparative advantage, in programs that contribute to solving the challenges that face Nebraska, the nation and the world. The Water Initiative, the new Nebraska Center for Energy Science Research, the Transportation Center, and the Center for Children, Youth, Families, and Schools name just a few.
Even with our disciplined and focused approach, this creates for us a full menu of objectives, a menu more extensive and complex than any other educational institution in Nebraska because of the scope of our responsibilities and the range of our opportunities to serve this state's interests.