Skip Navigation

State of the University Address 2010

SEPTEMBER 9, 2010

Harvey Perlman, Chancellor

Looking Back

Think of where we were just 10 years ago and where we are today. Ten years ago, the Omaha World-Herald ran its series labeling us "mediocre." This spring they heralded our achievements and our progress. Ten years ago our enrollment was just over 22,000 students; today it is over 24,600. Ten years ago U.S. News & World Report barely acknowledged us; today we are among the top 50 public universities and for three years in a row the magazine has designated us the "most popular public university in the country."

We are now more attractive to non-resident students, to students of color, and to students of high academic achievement. Ten years ago our graduation rate was 47 percent; today it is over 63 percent. Ten years ago we enrolled fewer than 3,900 graduate students; today it is almost 4,600 who were selected from the largest and most competitive applicant pools in our history. In research, the numbers are equally compelling. Ten years ago we received $49 million in research grants; this past year we received $139 million. One can examine the activities of each of our academic colleges and find major initiatives that are addressing important state and national issues.

Members of our faculty across all the disciplines are receiving national awards and recognitions in unprecedented numbers. We have become a frequent host for program officers from the major federal granting agencies, as well as officials from many of the federal operating departments. We are interacting with private-sector companies, large and small, local and national, who see potential value in forging partnerships with us. We acquired title to the former state fair grounds for development of our Innovation Campus and work there is under way.

After over a year of careful planning and engagement with the world community, spear-headed by President Milliken and Vice Chancellor Paul, the university received a $50 million gift in support of the Global Water for Food Institute. This initiative has caught the attention and fancy of officials and organizations around the world seeking to address the challenge of increasing the world's food supply with limited supplies of water. Indeed, we have become a global university. Our people, our programs, our partnerships, and our perspectives are international in scope and have impact around the world.

We have had similar success in serving the people of Nebraska. With a major gift from Paul Engler, we will initiate the Engler Entrepreneurship Program that will build on the work of cooperative extension and 4-H in sparking entrepreneurial talent among young people throughout Nebraska. Through the work of our extension education programs, we have improved the management of more than half the land in Nebraska under crop production and it is estimated our efforts have resulted in a 21 percent reduction in water usage by crop producers.

At the centennial celebration of the Panhandle Research and Extension Center in Scottsbluff this summer, one could see firsthand the range and importance of the science being applied by our faculty to enhance the economic success of that region. Similarly, a new DVD chronicling the tour of the Chiara String Quartet through western Nebraska illuminates how the arts at the university can enrich and uplift a community.

Important new physical facilities will help continue our momentum in undergraduate education and research. We will shortly hold a public open house to show the rebirth of the Whittier Junior High School into the Whittier Research Center.

Keim Hall on East Campus has been upgraded from one of the most antiquated science buildings into one of the most modern. The Jorgensen physics building finally brings that department under one roof in an environment that is equal to the quality of its program. Students will directly benefit from the new Jackie Gaughan Multicultural Center, the Abel-Sandoz renovation, and the new Knoll Residential Center.

For the most part, the Antelope Valley project has moved through and out of our campus, leaving a more attractive eastern border and entrance to our campus as well as additional land for development. And we can look forward to the start of construction this year of the nanoscience addition to Jorgensen, an expansion of the Ken Morrison Life Sciences Research Center, and a practice facility for our basketball and wrestling programs. The new arena, approved by Lincoln voters, will reenergize the city of Lincoln making it a more attractive place to live and thus enhancing our ability to recruit faculty and students.

For the last year, members of our staff, primarily in Student Affairs and Information Services, have met the challenge of bringing online a new student information system. The pressures they faced so that our students could apply and register for this semester were intense.

The hours they worked were unimaginable. And Vice Chancellor Franco bore considerable burden for this installation, not only for UNL, but for the system as a whole. I know of no other university that has installed such a major computer system as successfully in such a short time. We all appreciate the patience exhibited by the campus through this transition and the patience yet required until the system is perfected.

Last year I formed a Commission on Sustainability. The commission has built on the initiatives sparked by Vice Chancellor Jackson and her staff and provided us with realistic proposals for becoming more sustainable. I hope the entire campus will accept responsibility for lowering our footprint on the world's resources.

This is the first year we will enroll students from the College Preparatory Academy. These are first-generation college students from Grand Island and Omaha North who met the rigorous academic requirements of the Academy during high school and now come to us with great promise for success. My personal thanks to Amber Hunter and her staff who have made significant efforts to assure the talent these students represent will be available to us.

Statistics aside, a walk across campus confirms the growing richness of the diversity of our student body. It is our obligation, as well as an opportunity, to intensify our efforts, such as the Advance grant, to increase the diversity of our faculty.

In June, our applications to the Big Ten Conference and its affiliated Committee on Institutional Cooperation were accepted. While we do not formally become members until July 2011, on a variety of levels the Big Ten institutions have reached out to us over the summer to make us welcome, and to begin the process of integrating our athletic and academic programs. We should acknowledge that without both our history of athletic success and our upward academic trajectory, our application would not have been successful. To the extent you are known by the company you keep, we are now associated with a set of universities that are acknowledged to be among the finest assembly of research and land-grant universities in the country.

We all deserve to take pride in the incredible accomplishments we have labored together to achieve. John Gardner once said that "history never seems like history when you are living through it" but I think together we have made some history for this university.

next page