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State of the University Address, 2008

SEPTEMBER 4, 2008

Harvey Perlman, Chancellor

University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Looking Back

This university is fortunate to have a pool of individuals with institutional loyalty to turn to in emergencies. Tom Osborne came out of retirement, hung up his fly-fishing poles, and restored peace and promise to our athletic department. Jim O'Hanlon agreed to leave the comfort of the classroom to assume responsibility for our Alumni Association in very difficult times. His quiet leadership moved us toward a reenergized association with a clear mission of engaging alumni on behalf of the university. Both responded in almost identical language to my call for help: "The university is important to me and I'll do what I can." We were also fortunate to have Ann Chang Barnes available to become interim director of the Lied Center and Dick Hoffmann to become interim director of the Sheldon Museum. Both Lied and Sheldon play such a significant role in the quality of life we enjoy at this university.

The tragic death of our friend and colleague Kent Hendrickson was the occasion for Gary Aerts and the other leaders in Information Services to continue to pursue, without interruption, a number of initiatives involving information technology. With considerable effort on their part, we entered a partnership with Microsoft to provide free e-mail to our students that they can continue to use, with the same "huskers.edu" address, throughout their lives. And in a remarkable concurrence of ideas, we received two reports on the future organization of our information technology services, one from an outside consulting firm, and one from the Computational Facilities and Services Committee of the Faculty Senate chaired by Professor David Brooks. They came to remarkably similar conclusions: That we have a good system of information technology services that could be made better by greater attention to the proper allocation of responsibilities between individual units and campus-wide organizations. Last week we initiated a survey of campus stakeholders to solicit ideas on how to move forward, and we will soon advertise for a new Chief Information Officer for the campus.

In addition to information services, individuals across the campus, under the leadership of Vice Chancellor Juan Franco, have spent considerable effort preparing us for a new student information system. This will be a major transition for us once the vendor is chosen, and as with the installation of any enterprise computing system, will generate more work, consume more resources, and ruffle more feathers than we have planned for. So be tolerant of those of us who display various levels of patience, perspiration or petulance as progress proceeds apace.

Beyond the challenges, you have also accomplished more than a mere year's worth of successes. The recent Scarlet again serves to document many of those achievements. I wish time permitted highlighting each and every achievement, those large and small, those that attracted public notoriety and those that did not. Beyond the extraordinary individual achievements of our students, faculty and staff, consider what as a university we have done collectively. We have been focused on our two priorities: Undergraduate education and research. And in both we have had successes that could transform the university in the future.

The progress in undergraduate education is clear. Our students are more numerous, more qualified, more accomplished, and more diverse. They are a source of alternative energy that drives the programs, the ambiance, the vibrancy and the culture of the campus. Helping them fulfill their potential infuses considerable significance to our work. The institutional principles that influence and support the undergraduate experience in the various majors and programs help define and distinguish us as a university. During the past year, our faculty collectively and within their colleges adopted the Achievement Centered Education program - a general education program based on assessment of student outcomes. This innovative program could transform undergraduate education both here and elsewhere. Our achievement is the envy of many of our peers across the country. The hard work of implementing this program for the fall of 2009 is upon us and it is critical to our continued success.

For sponsored research we set a new record for the university of $105.7 million. Thanks to Vice Chancellor Paul's leadership and the efforts of deans, chairs and faculty across the university, we have become a known player among the funding agencies and we have initiatives to address some of the most critical needs of Nebraska and the nation. However, it is only Prem who could convince several Washington-based program officers and numerous campus faculty to spend a week in North Platte talking about water and climate change!

The opportunity to develop Innovation Campus on the former State Fair Park could transform our research efforts and our relationship to the people of Nebraska. With the strong leadership of the governor, President Milliken, and senators Phil Erdman and Mike Flood, we achieved an agreement with the Fair Board and Grand Island, and an almost unanimous vote in the Legislature. The potential for us as a university and for the state of Nebraska is substantial. Our concept, to attract private sector companies to locate in Lincoln to engage with us in the research enterprise, should spur economic development, provide internships and jobs for our students, enrich and energize our own research activities, and substantially enhance our reputation as a research university.

The name "Innovation Campus" was not chosen lightly. "Innovation" is the university's mission - whether it is opening the eyes of students to new paths to success, or pursuing new technological discoveries, or using our creative energies to find a new way to look at the human condition. We pursue talent in our faculty and our student body with innovation in mind. For those of you old enough to remember the early days of television, it might be said that "Talent is our name, innovation is our game." We used the word "campus" because we want it to be an integral part of the university, with its vision of innovation and collaboration driving what we do, wherever we do it from our 500-mile-long campus across Nebraska.

Innovation Campus demands of us that we reassess our evaluation of research leading to commercial application. We must avoid what is described as the "traditional resistance" within universities to engage with private sector companies. We conduct research, largely at public expense, because it allows us to better understand and to adjust to the world we inhabit and the worlds we can only see or imagine. We do not expect that every research project will lead to commercial application or even directly to a solution to a known problem. Basic research, research driven by the curiosity of the faculty rather than the prospect of profit, is critical to our society's advancement. At the same time, we must not shrink from the application of our research; we should be prepared to applaud both the useful outcome as well as the transformative insight. We should regard the work that passes the rigors of the patent office and the discipline of the marketplace just as valuable as that which passes the review of our peers.

The hard work to bring Innovation Campus to life is before us. I fear that the expectations of our friends and the patience of our critics may share a timeline more ambitious than we can achieve. This is an investment for the long term, and it is important that we maximize the potential of this campus. We are making good progress toward our possession of the property in 2010. We have sought, through a request for information, the best advice we could find from across the nation on how to develop Innovation Campus to assure its success. We have received suggestions from some of the best planners and developers in the country. We are exploring the best method and means of financing the development and we are initiating contacts with private sector companies who already have relationships with the university about their interests in having a presence on the campus. I remain confident that if we prepare well, Innovation Campus will be one of the most significant achievements in the history of the university.

So, all things considered, I think we should have considerable pride in what we have together accomplished and considerable excitement about our future prospects.