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State of the University Address 2010

SEPTEMBER 9, 2010

Harvey Perlman, Chancellor

Budget Issues

I recently delivered a keynote address at a conference at the University of Kansas. I entitled my remarks: "Lingchi and the Modern Research University." For those of you not fluent in Mandarin, "Lingchi" is an ancient form of Chinese torture in which small pieces of flesh are slowly cut from a person's body over an extended period of time.

"Lingchi" is the source of the phrase "death from a thousand cuts." I can't help but reflect on this as I look forward to what is predicted to be in the next biennium a requirement that we reduce our budget for the 8th time in 11 years. It is true that throughout this period we have made significant progress. However, I do not think a university can constantly "cut its way to greatness." Lingchi is not a recipe for success.

The temptation, of course, is to be resigned to a decline in our fortunes. As Paul Newman once said: "It's always darkest before it turns absolutely pitch black." Or for you younger folks, the line from Metallica's "No Leaf Clover": "Then it comes to be that the soothing light at the end of your tunnel, was just a freight train coming your way." However, in philosophical matters I prefer Dr. Seuss:

  • "I've heard there are troubles of more than one kind,
  • some come from ahead and some come from behind.
  • But I've brought a big bat. I'm all ready you see,
  • Now my troubles are going to have troubles with me."

Our "big bat" is that we are essential to the future prosperity of Nebraska. Nothing has demonstrated this more than your work over the last decade to enhance the teaching, research, and service of this university and nothing will drive our future success more than your continued effort. As Thomas Edison said: "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work."

The 2020 Report was what is called in the business world a "BHAG": A Big Hairy Audacious Goal. That is still our mantra. We aspire to be a great university. We are on our way to becoming a great university. Nebraska needs a great university in order to prosper.

We can neither be oblivious to nor discouraged by our economic circumstances. We must continue to find creative ways to advance the mission of the university with fewer resources or to generate more revenue. We must explore every way of extracting dollars from peripheral or support programs to invest in our priorities.

As one example, I have asked our Chief Information Officer, Mark Askren, to lead an "Information Technology Cost Reducing Task Force" comprised primarily of IT consumers to find efficiencies. We are cooperating with the university system in exploring how collaboration with our sister campuses can produce benefits. We will explore other ideas for structural and process changes, both in academic and administrative areas. I will need your support and your ideas as we proceed.

There are few recorded instances where the victim ever survived Lingchi, although one can hypothesize that those who did were left badly scarred. The Chinese abandoned Lingchi as an official form of execution in 1905. Since then, China has grown and prospered. One hopes that Nebraskans quickly learn this valuable lesson with respect to the investments they make in their university. This university is poised to bring considerable value to this state and its people. We can only pledge to do our part, and we so pledge.

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