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State of the University Address, 2006

SEPTEMBER 7, 2006

Harvey Perlman, Chancellor

University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Graduation and Retention Rates

We also need to continue to build on the good work of Rita Kean and the Office of Undergraduate Studies which has produced consistently improving retention and graduation rates. Our retention rates have increased by 1 percent per year, and over the last 10 years, the rate of increase in our graduation rates has far exceeded our peers. Yet many in the broader society do not understand why 4-, 5- and 6-year graduation rates appear to be so low. Institutional research has generated some interesting numbers that show that students who take at least 12 credit hours each semester have very high rates of graduation but that 40 percent of our students, at some point in their career, either stop-out of the university for a short time or transition to part-time status.

We need to obtain better information on why these students are delaying their graduation to determine if we can influence those decisions. Finances must surely play some role, but I believe that it is not only the financial resources available to students, but also the financial decisions students make, that determine their success. We should determine if providing better financial planning advice might contribute to their success.

Research - The Life Sciences

In 2000, as interim chancellor, I was presented with the Life Science Task Force report documenting the advantages and efficiencies we could achieve by greater coordination and collaboration among life science related disciplines. There was much good in that report but, unfortunately, it also suggested a radical reorganization of the university and the elimination of the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Such a recommendation was neither a politically attainable nor, in my opinion, a desirable or wise thing to do. Further, that recommendation bred sufficient mistrust and suspicion that it became difficult to explore other important suggestions. We were able to create a Life Science Curriculum Coordinating Council which has succeeded in achieving some curricular innovations and, recently, caused us to focus on the need for renovation of our life science teaching labs. And through the more informal but important interactions among the leadership of life science units and interested faculty I think we see very solid progress.

Given our location and our comparative advantages, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln must be at the cutting edge of life science research and education. Traditional divisions of disciplines, as well as the separation of fields of study relating to production agriculture, are experiencing significant convergence because of the techniques relating to microbiology and genetics and the increasing relevance of chemistry, physics, and engineering. I continue to believe that without disrupting the organization of the university we can harness the potential of greater coordination.

Thus I propose that we make a concerted effort to further build excellence by working toward a unified strategic plan for the life sciences. This is important for the success of all three missions. Whether it is in microbiology, genetics, alternative energy, agricultural production, or water resources, we need to continue to forge alliances that further build on our existing strengths and, more importantly, to identify in a systematic way the gaps in faculty expertise we need to fill. I have asked Senior Vice Chancellor Couture and Vice Chancellor Owens to work with the appropriate deans, departmental leaders, and faculty to jump start this effort. It will be important to align strategic planning in our separate departments with this important initiative.

I am very pleased to announce that to assist in this effort, Brian Larkins, the Porterfield Professor of Plant Sciences in the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Arizona, will be joining our faculty next April. Brian is a nationally known plant scientist, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and an alumnus of this university. His appointment at UNL will be as a Distinguished University Professor of Life Sciences and Associate Vice Chancellor for Research. He will hold faculty positions in the School of Biological Sciences and the Department of Agronomy and Horticulture and his portfolio will include advising the relevant units on a unified strategic plan, enhancing life science research, and mentoring and advising younger life science faculty. This appointment creates for this university a unique opportunity to engage a person with outstanding credentials who also understands the traditions of this university. Most significant of all among his many achievements is that like me, he is a graduate of York High School. This is the beginning of the York mafia at the University of Nebraska.

Diversity

Slowly but surely this campus is beginning to look more like the people we serve. We have exceeded the average of our peers in the percentage of women faculty. Our recent recruitment efforts have demonstrated that this campus can be an attractive place for undergraduate students of color. These successes should give us confidence and renewed energy to focus on our continuing shortcomings: recruitment and retention of faculty of color in all disciplines, increasing the number of women and faculty of color in those disciplines in which they are under represented, addressing the particular difficulty of attracting graduate students to many of the science and engineering based disciplines.

The most important ingredient for success in achieving diversity is the commitment of decision-makers to make it happen. Consistent with our efforts in strategic planning, a new proposed diversity plan for the campus has been crafted and it will be made available for your comments with the hope we can arrive at a common set of objectives and priorities. The campus leadership, with the assistance of the deans, will also be reexamining how we use those funds available to us to support diversity with the hope that we can make our efforts even more effective.

I have become convinced that a new Multicultural Center would be an important step in securing and expanding the progress we have made in our diversity efforts. It has both programmatic and symbolic importance. Our student body has expressed its support for the project with a lopsided vote in favor of increasing student fees to support one-half of the $8.7 million construction cost if we could raise the other half through donations.

I am pleased to announce that the Grants Committee of the University of Nebraska Foundation has pledged from its discretionary funds $1 million over the next four years toward this project. In addition, we have received another generous gift and have hopes of yet a third donor to this project. With these gifts and prospect, I am sufficiently confident of the future that we intend to seek approval from the Board of Regents to begin the initial steps in making this project a reality. With board approval and additional success in fund raising, we hope to open the new Multicultural Center as an addition to the city campus Nebraska Union in the fall of 2008.

International Programs

This university has a remarkable history and tradition of engagement around the world. The question before us is not whether we should sustain or increase that engagement, but rather how we might do so to maximize the advantages to the university. I have had the opportunity recently to travel to Africa and to China to view firsthand some active collaborative relationships between UNL and universities in those regions. I came away impressed with what has been accomplished, but convinced that one strategy to expand our influence would be to consciously try to build upon and broaden our existing relationships. I am hopeful that without in any way infringing on the individual interests and efforts of faculty anywhere in the world, that we can develop a more focused institutional program of international involvement. Last year a Task force on international initiatives led by Ken Cassman and Harriet Turner brought some initial recommendations to the deans, and this year a small group of key faculty and administrators led by Dean David Allen will bring greater focus to this effort.

In 2004 we announced that the university was the beneficiary of the estate of Harold Lieding, a law graduate and a person who passionately believed in the value of study abroad. With the concurrence of his family, this fund of more than $4 million will be used to provide scholarships for students to study abroad in memory of Harold's son Christian. A portion of the fund will be administered by International Affairs to support current UNL students. Another portion will be administered by the Division of Student Affairs and will be available to offer incoming students the promise of support for study abroad at any point in their undergraduate careers. A third portion will support study abroad at the Law College.