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State of the University Address, 2006

SEPTEMBER 7, 2006

Harvey Perlman, Chancellor

University of Nebraska-Lincoln

The Web

It has been reported to me that at a recent conference one university announced that it was spending more money on its Web site than on print publications. For prospective students particularly, and for many others, the Web is fast becoming the most significant source of information and is the most important way in which we can communicate to the world as an institution. We have, with your cooperation, achieved a professional approach to our printed publications and we must now turn our attention to the Web.

On August 14 , we implemented the new templates for Web sites associated with the unl.edu domain. This has been a collaborative effort led by Meg Lauerman and Bob Crisler of University Communications and involving 160 Web designers from units across the campus. The result is a clean design with clear navigational elements that will allow users to more easily obtain information from the university. Like our approach to print publications, templates have been generated that permit each unit to reflect the same theme and navigational structure while appropriately showcasing each unit's content.

Web site design can no longer be an afterthought, and Web site construction now requires the technological skills necessary to assure that our sites are accessible to diverse populations, work with a variety of different browsers, and are compatible with international standards. We will allow a reasonable time for all university units to transition their sites to the new templates and standards and we will try to provide central assistance to assure this is done appropriately. Our goal is to be in a position to require by August 2007, any page that is part of the unl.edu domain to be in compliance with universitywide guidelines.

A Dream

John Updike observed: "Dreams come true; without that possibility, nature would not incite us to have them." So let me dream a moment. On the north of our campus, the Big X intersection is taking shape and one can see the movement of earth that forms the new Antelope Creek. There are bridges constructed over solid earth, but you can start to see the path of the creek and the new roadway as it moves south through the campus. You can stand at the Beadle Center and see the long vacant but majestic structure of Whittier School and the old but expansive buildings of the former Textron manufacturing plant.

The university's research accomplishments contribute to the economic development of Nebraska. The potential of new university discoveries to improve the human condition is unlimited. To fully exploit these opportunities we will need to marry the creative output of our faculty with the entrepreneurial efforts of the private sector. This is not an easy process. With John Brasch, an unusual man with both business and academic backgrounds, as head of our Technology Development Office, our activities are expanding and we can see the potential of these efforts.

My dream is to turn the Antelope Valley corridor into an energized hotbed of innovative and commercial activity. I can envision a Nebraska Innovation Center, an area where inventive faculty from all disciplines can engage each other and, where appropriate, the private sector to create value. I see a building or set of buildings, assigned to no particular discipline, but available to teams of faculty working toward the solution to research problems. In addition, space is available for private sector companies or new start-ups to interact with faculty or to acquire the support necessary to establish themselves in the commercial sector. I see a place where graduate and undergraduate students engage in research with faculty but also experience the process through which inventions are evaluated and developed for commercial markets.

It will be 2012 at best estimate before the Textron property will be available for construction. But Whittier stands above the flood plain, a solid building with a distinguished history that deserves a better fate than its current abandonment. My short-term dream is that we find a way to make Whittier the foundation for the Nebraska Innovation Center, that we find a way to return that building to productive use. That we use it as an illustration of what is possible at a major research university committed not only to the advancement of truth but also to the economic prosperity of its community. I am mindful that someone defined a "goal" as a dream with deadlines. For now, this project will remain a dream, but I am hopeful that in the near term we will find the resources necessary to start the Nebraska Innovation Center as the capstone for this university's research and engagement enterprises.

Conclusion

Finally, I continue to sample the literature regarding the management of complex institutions like ours, and I came across the "rule of two" - that no institution can focus on more than two priority goals at the same time. So I propose that when we look back on this year we should not regard it successful unless we have accomplished the following:

  • A substantial consensus on an achievement centered education program that provides a common denominator for undergraduate education at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
  • Expanded enrollment, particularly in areas with excess capacity.
  • Sustained and improved momentum in research, and
  • Substantial progress toward a strategic plan for the life sciences.

Now you are asking what became of the rule of two? Well, all I can say is there are only three kinds of people in this world: those who can count and those who can't.

Thank you.