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State of the University Address 2010

SEPTEMBER 9, 2010

Harvey Perlman, Chancellor

Undergraduate Education

Undergraduate education is our top priority as we develop the talent and produce the leaders this state and our country require. Great teaching and great teachers must be recruited, supported and recognized. For our formal instructional program we must fully implement the Achievement Centered Education program, our program of general education that has achieved significant national recognition and has the potential to facilitate our students' path to graduation.

But activities beyond the classroom are also critical. The expansion of our learning communities, the integration of the E. N. Thompson Forum speakers into our academic enterprise, the encouragement of our students to study abroad, are among the important elements of an undergraduate experience. The Division of Student Affairs has declared this year a "Year of Civic Engagement"- a program to engage students in the broader issues that impact the communities in which they will live. I hope the academic departments will find ways to support this initiative.

We must also give priority to assuring that students who start at Nebraska, graduate from Nebraska. Our six-year graduation rate has improved significantly over the last 10 years but it still remains behind our peers. We do know that a high percentage of our students ultimately graduate, but we must work hard to shorten the time and to assure none fail to graduate. Each of us must bear the responsibility to assure our students are successful.

Our enrollment continues to increase and we are hopeful that our new Big Ten status will further encourage enrollment growth. Beyond attracting talent to Nebraska and the university, this growth has helped us moderate the impact of lean budgets. We must continue our efforts to increase enrollment.

This will require some new investments, such as a critical expansion of our life science teaching laboratory facilities. At the same time we have to be more creative in how we assure a high level of student experience given that the new resources we have to invest in teaching may be limited. Each department must take a hard look at how it utilizes its teaching resources. We might learn from our colleagues across the country who have incurred significantly greater budget challenges.

Do we have the creativity and courage to look at our teaching through a new lens, one focused on retaining a quality education in the face of a larger student body? Can we envision an environment in which teaching loads and class sizes are not static, in which the scheduling clock and calendar are not immutable, in which the curriculum is not written in stone, or in which the current teaching methodologies are not sacrosanct. Can we find permutations that retain quality but at less cost?

For example, are we fully utilizing professors of practice? Within the tenure track faculty, have we fully exploited the option of differentiated teaching loads to focus on each faculty member's individual strengths? Are we fully exploiting instructional technologies that can broaden the reach of the individual instructor? Are there elements of our curriculum that can be concentrated or expanded or outsourced in ways that retain the advantages of personal instruction? Do we have opportunities to teach across disciplines or across departments in ways that create more instructional opportunities? Should we consider a more intensified path to graduation for some students that might cost them more in tuition but would save them considerable resources on other costs of attendance?

It is, of course, easier to follow the safer and more comfortable status quo. We can celebrate our current success. But, if we can find alternative ways that free the faculty to spend more of their time doing what they do best on behalf of more students, we will be able to meet the budget challenges that face us. I believe that the single most important task facing departments and colleges in the years ahead will be to envision new ways to deliver high-quality instruction to more students with static or lessened teaching resources. I invite every academic unit on campus to design and implement innovations that can accomplish this goal. I believe that the most elegant solutions to this dilemma will also enhance the quality and satisfactions of faculty life. The "incentive" for such reinvention of our instructional system is obvious - it will allow us to retain as many of our colleagues and academic programs as possible in the complex economic environment that higher education now encounters.

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