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State of the University Address, 2007

AUGUST 30, 2007

Harvey Perlman, Chancellor

University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Undergraduate Education

Undergraduate education is our most important responsibility because it is all about the future. Our recent enrollment increases impose additional responsibilities on us, individually and institutionally. We must work to assure that our teaching capacity and infrastructure are adjusted to these new numbers of students. We must enhance even more our efforts to assure that each and every student is successful, that each and every student is retained at UNL from New Student Enrollment to Commencement. We should constantly remind ourselves that enrollment numbers are not just numbers, that each enrollee has a story to tell, that most are young adults preparing themselves to be successful in their lives and their careers, that most come with a parent or guardian or friend or family member who has seen fit to entrust them to our care. Our jobs are so important and so much fun because they involve the responsibility to shape and to influence the lives of others.

For each of my daughters, one a doctor, one a lawyer, I can name the teacher or teachers whose involvement helped them identify their interests and stimulated them to pursue them. We should regard it as an institutional and individual failure if even one of the new students who joined our community this week fails to encounter someone here who pushes them toward success. While remaining skeptical of the methodology of U.S. News and World Report surveys, we can still take some pride in the dramatic rise of this university on the objective metrics that measure the success of an undergraduate program. We are firmly in the top 50 public universities. Nebraska is among 26 states that is home to a top 50 public university. Even better, Nebraskans pay less in tuition than all of the residents of these 26 states except 4. We are a great value.

We also received confirmation of our success through the results of our 10-year reaccreditation. To be reaccredited was expected. To be given a completely clean bill of health, without any further reporting requirements or follow up visitations is remarkable.

But more than rankings and accreditations, one can observe on a daily basis the energy and excitement that is available to undergraduate students.

As a faculty, you have entered the last lap of the race to implement the new Achievement-Centered Education program for our undergraduate students. It has been a slow but thoughtful process.

Curriculum is clearly the primary domain of the faculty, and it has required faculty leadership for us to get this far. You have identified the objectives and learning outcomes that all undergraduates should achieve, you have identified a process by which these requirements should be provided, and, most importantly, you have done so with the concurrence of all of the undergraduate colleges thus far. You must bring this effort home. By doing so you will reduce unnecessary costs now imposed on students who change course during their undergraduate experience, you will make our institution more accessible to students who entered higher education at other institutions, you will achieve a platform from which to engage undergraduate students and their parents about what it means to be a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. You will help to define the ingredients that confer the Power of Red, that propel students toward adult success.

A number of innovative programs are being considered within or between academic units that could enrich the undergraduate curriculum. The conversations around the formation of a University Academy to stimulate interdisciplinary teaching, the current visual literary program, the emerging effort to fashion a microbiology program among the life-science units, and the successful creation of a major in Plant Biology crossing city and east campus units, all are examples of the exciting range of interaction between colleges. Over the past three years we have invested $900,000, provided by the Grants Committee of the University of Nebraska Foundation through the Initiative for Teaching and Learning Excellence program for a variety of faculty-generated ideas to improve undergraduate education. Many of these were successful, put into practice within the departments and colleges, and shared with the university community last March in a campus-wide teaching exposition. This year we will invest $200,000 in the fourth iteration of the program for proposals with an emphasis on the improvement of student writing. No topic generates more public concern than the perceived failure of graduates to express themselves in writing. Writing is not a natural life skill, but one that must be nurtured and polished and it is one on which we should focus attention. It is also one of the sets of skills that is a part of our proposed Achievement-Centered Educational program. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is small enough and creative enough to develop an innovative and effective student writing program. I will do what I can to find the additional resources necessary to make us a leader in this area.

Engagement with the international community should also be high on our agenda as we prepare our students for their role in the global society. Through the efforts of Professor David Lou we were awarded a Confucius Institute from the Chinese ministry of Education. The Institute will open this semester. Through the Institute we will add faculty from China and other resources to expand Nebraskan's understanding of Chinese language and culture. I am very pleased that Modern Languages will reinstate Chinese language instruction. We have signed agreements with Xi'an Jiaotong University City College for a degree completion program in which Chinese students will take the first two years of their undergraduate degree in China and complete their degree here at UNL, and we are exploring similar programs with other foreign universities. Through these and other programs we can bring the world to Nebraska for the benefit of our students and all of Nebraska.

As we attract more international students we must pay attention to the reception and support they receive. We are exploring what additional student services this campus will require in order to assure that our international students are successful. We are also inaugurating a campus-wide effort to help develop a focus and vision for our international programming in both teaching and research.

As we diversify our campus internationally, we must also continue to pay attention to how our campus embraces and is perceived by domestic minorities. We are making very good progress in recruiting minority students to this campus. We will soon begin construction of the Jackie D. Gaughan Multicultural Center which we hope will become a symbol of this university's recognition of the multicultural world in which we live. Indications are that this year's freshman class will illustrate our steadily increasing attractiveness to minority students. This places additional responsibility on all of us to enhance the diversity of our faculty. We are making slow but steady progress. Over the past five years we have increased our tenure track faculty of color from 120 to 135 and we see an upward trend in the promotion and tenuring of these faculty. We should be pleased, but not satisfied, with this progress.

Last year some faculty members raised issues related to a draft diversity plan and the faculty senate appointed a committee to modify the plan. I have invited the senate to pay particular attention to elements of a diversity plan that could lead to a more diverse faculty within the legal restraints that govern our hiring practices. I am hopeful they will develop some creative mechanisms to move us forward. However, I do not believe we can pause in our efforts while awaiting a final plan. Accordingly I will be asking all academic units to report to us on what steps they are taking to assure a diverse pool of candidates for open positions and how they intend to approach the recruitment and retention of such candidates. This will provide us a list of best practices that can be more widely shared.