Can you believe it? 2019 – the kick-off of what we have been dreaming about as the YEAR of N150 has finally arrived – a defining moment in the history of our University, and what will undoubtedly be looked back upon as a “watershed” inflection point for generations to come.
Welcome and warmest Husker greetings to each of you gathered here in the Lied Center, and to all joining us virtually across our state-wide campus of Nebraska, throughout our nation and abroad. Together with our faculty, staff, students, and alumni, I have been eagerly looking forward to the kick-off of what is certain to be a phenomenal sesquicentennial year.
We departed from our traditional annual address in September because we intentionally wanted this to be a defining moment. An opportunity to reflect on the historic accomplishments of the past 15 decades and to take stock of the palpable momentum of our current status. Today I will ask each of you to collectively dream with me and take up the “N150 challenge” -- to reach for greater heights in UNL’s next generation through a “doubled-down” transformative, integrated three-part mission as a world-leading 21st century Land Grant University – a University truly without walls.
Marking 150 Years of Impact
150 years... spans roughly 6 generations. That is hard for us to wrap our heads around – to put ourselves into the context of our great-great-great-grandparents and the years immediately following the Civil War.
Imagine the bravado, courage, creativity, and outright grit of our founders to dream of building a University in 1869...on the wide-open prairie of a brand-new state...in a new town named for a late, great President with very few resources and even fewer people.
We can only imagine that the air sparked with the sense of opportunity. New land, new rail linking the continent east to west, and, the opening up of advanced education to the public.
Our founders, and national leaders of that time were big thinkers, especially in bringing to life the idea of publicly-accessible higher learning to the masses.
The Morrill Act, or “Land Grant” Act as it would come to be known, was truly revolutionary. Designed “to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions of life” -- it challenged all conventional thinking leading up to that time. It was bold, audacious, risky, and visionary – and imagined more prosperity and inclusivity for all through the diffusion of knowledge.
And Nebraska’s leaders knew then that establishing a university alongside the new state would be a visionary investment...not just for their lifetimes, and their children's...but for generations and centuries to come.
Robert Knoll captured the essence of this in his 1995 book “Prairie University” where he wrote: “The original charter deserves close examination, for it broadened the provisions of the Morrill Act. It specifies that the object of the University of Nebraska “shall be to afford the inhabitants of the state the means of acquiring a thorough knowledge of the various branches of literature, sciences, and the arts.” This institution was established for the “inhabitants” of Nebraska: It was to reach out to all people – not just youth or the privileged class. It was explicitly inclusive. Section 18 of the original charter reads, “No person shall because of age, sex, color, or nationality, be deprived of the privileges of this institution.”
It was left to pioneering chancellors Benton and Fairfield to chart the unconventional course of a new “three-part” mission of teaching, research and outreach. Classes were first offered in 1871 by five faculty for 130 students -- 110 matriculating in Latin preparatory school with only 20 pursuing collegiate work (including 7 women) -- all enrolled in the College of Literature, Arts and Science (the first of six colleges called for in the charter). “Campus” consisted of one building, the original University Hall, which was the center of life of the early years of the University, to be overviewed in virtual reality during the February Chancellor’s N150 Lecture by our own Kay Logan Peters.
From these humble and meager beginnings, in each of the subsequent 6 generations up to the current day, our predecessors confronted pressures, challenges and outside forces by employing vision and courage -- furthering the ongoing transformation of the University to meet the emerging needs of our state, nation and world.
We will take a deeper walk through these generations in a video that will be shared during the upcoming N150 Charter Week celebration. But for now, take a quick walk with me through some of these highlights.
... silver 25th anniversary celebrated in 1894 – Nebraska had emerged as one of the Big Four of state universities along with Michigan, Wisconsin, and California. Chancellor Canfield oversaw a growth spurt with some 40 faculty, nearly 1,500 total students and the addition of the Culver Farm on Holdrege Street. Walking the campus at this time were Nebraska luminaries such as Louise Pound, Willa Cather, future Governor George Sheldon, future dean of Harvard Law Roscoe Pound, founding botanist Charles Bessey, future chancellor Samuel Avery, and future president of Purdue William Westerman, among others. The medical college had fully taken off in the 1880s, the Agricultural Experiment Station was founded in 1887 with the implementation of the Hatch Act, and Nebraska football had arrived officially in 1890. Dorothy Canfield, precocious daughter of Chancellor Canfield and a future novelist captured the vibe of the time… “Above all it was new. It was crude because it was new. And because it was new, both town and University had the iridescent glamor of life beginning, for which almost anything is possible because little has yet been tried. The very air over the campus was glittering bright with what might be.”
…both the golden anniversary in 1919 and the 75th anniversary in 1944 celebrated during difficult times for the world. Two world wars, a depression and a struggling farm economy saw significant declines in state support for the University. Buildings were described as “decrepit.” Chancellors Avery and Burnett understood the University could no longer support itself solely on state funds and took measures to preserve the financial integrity of the land grant institution. Tuition and fees began in 1923 - at $1 per credit hour and in 1936, the University of Nebraska Foundation was established to seek private and philanthropic support. We also saw our reach extend, with the genesis of Nebraska Extension in the passage of the Smith-Lever Act in 1914. In 1902, the Omaha Medical College was added to the University. In other higher education news in Nebraska during this period, voters in Omaha approved taking over the private Omaha University in 1930, creating the city’s first municipal university. And in 1903, the legislature established the State Normal College in Kearney, which became the Nebraska State Teachers College in 1921. Back at Lincoln, a year after WWII, enrollment doubled, with over two-thirds of the new students supported by the GI bill. New opportunities were on the horizon.
…the centennial mark in 1969. Under the leadership of Chancellor Hardin, no other 25-year period parallels the expansion experienced in this generation of the University’s history. Exponential growth in funding became available from the federal government for research. A booming post-war economy, a significant increase in college education enabled by the GI bill, and substantial increases in support from the state of Nebraska under Governor Frank Morrison, pushed the University enrollment to 19,000 students. In 1961, retirement benefits were first provided to faculty. Major expansion of the physical campuses occurred during this time, both in Lincoln and across the state in the Agricultural Experiment Station. The iconic Sheldon Art Museum was constructed. It also was the period where Husker athletics emerged as a pre-eminent force, with Devaney’s period of dominance soon to lead to the 1970-71 football national titles and Tom Osborne’s arrival on the scene. And, just as this generation was ending, the University of Nebraska system was created as Omaha University was brought into the University of Nebraska to join the flagship campus in Lincoln and the Medical College in Omaha – now as three independent universities under one system.
Many of you were here as the University reached its 125-year milestone in 1994, which was a time of rapid change in becoming a global university. The university system had added the UNK campus, the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources at UNL had been consolidated in to one state-wide unit in 1972, UNL’s enrollment peaked in 1981 at over 25,000 students, and the graduate program had grown substantially with a new influx of students from around the world. New research efforts had been initiated, particularly in the agricultural life sciences and biotechnology arenas. This beautiful facility, the Lied Center for the Performing Arts, was opened as a major venue for the campus and the region. Two of our senior academic leaders of the campus were for the first time outstanding women scholars – Jo-an Leitzel leading academic affairs and Priscilla Grew leading research. To the dismay of UNL faculty, salaries experienced a period of significant loss relative to peers due to budget challenges in the 1980s -- one of the most challenging times for the agricultural economy in modern history. Continuing its dominance, Husker athletics was now truly a dynasty uniting the state with pride with major national success in football, volleyball, track and field, bowling, and gymnastics.
Which brings us to the present, to 2019, and the close of this latest generation in the University’s history. Led for 16 of those 25 years by Chancellor Harvey Perlman, it was a time marked by remarkable growth in creative activity across the now 9 academic colleges of UNL. Research expenditures tripled, which led to being ranked amongst the fastest growing comprehensive research universities in the country. Significant physical expansion of the campuses occurred, with too many construction projects to list. Joining the BIG10 Athletic Conference and Academic Alliance in 2011 was a major step, becoming a part of the most prestigious conference of largely public universities in the country. And, the University brought to life Nebraska Innovation Campus on the former state fairgrounds to foster public-private partnerships.
This quick “snapshot” review of these past 6 generations reveals how intertwined the development of the great state of Nebraska and its University have been over the last 150 years. As I have said on several occasions over the past two years -- the University of Nebraska has been and will continue to be the “DNA of Nebraska and beyond” -- and yes that is something to truly celebrate!
The State of UNL in 2019
I can only imagine that our predecessors who built this great institution would be amazed – more likely blown away -- at the state of the university. Out of one institution founded in 1869, a world-leading four-campus system has grown. While we do not lack for challenges, much like our colleagues in their respective generations, our University is by all measures exceeding our genetic potential, or said another way, punching well above our weight.
UNL in 2019 is a large and complex enterprise…with a total annual operating budget of $1.3 billion and estimated direct economic impact on Nebraska in excess of $2 billion annually…three campuses in Lincoln…more than 43,000 acres of campus throughout Nebraska with programming in all of the 93 counties across the state. Our more than 6,300 world-leading faculty and staff support 9 academic colleges offering 175 undergraduate majors and 168 graduate degree programs. Our students continue to excel in national and international competition, our faculty are respected world leaders across a wide array of fields, our amazing staff provide incredible service and our over 200,000 alumni in Nebraska and around the world are leaders in every sector.
Our belief in and principal core value of ACCESS to the highest quality education, as originally envisioned by our founders of the people’s university, has never been stronger.
In a time where the number of high school graduates is declining nationally, our enrollment in the past three years has been at historically high levels. This academic year, we enrolled 25,820 students pursuing undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees. This growth is even more significant when one considers that we welcomed the largest number of new alumni to our ranks ever in calendar year 2018 – 5,529 total degrees granted, including 422 doctorates, an increase of almost 10% in degrees granted in the past two-year period. This brings our total number of degrees granted to 290,102.
A quick review of our student body reflects our continued Land Grant commitment to affordable access to the highest quality public education. Our student body is the most diverse in its history, with our student scholars hailing from 136 countries around the world, nearly all U.S. states, and every county in the state of Nebraska. We enrolled the largest number of non-resident students in history this academic year, with 33% of our students now coming to us from outside of Nebraska. We continue to increase the numbers of minority students, now at 15% of our student body, and we continue to see high levels of enrollment of first-generation students to our campus, this year welcoming and supporting as “First Huskers” a total of 1,091 new first-gen students, nearly 23% of the first-year class. And, lastly, I am immensely proud that UNL ranks among the best universities for veteran and military student success in the country, led again nationally by our colleagues at UNO.
I am very pleased that we are participating in the APLU’s Center for Public University Transformation, where we are working together with seven of our BIG10 colleague institutions, to share and scale best practices to increase graduation success. Every non-completed degree is a lack of fulfilled promise – and a true economic cost, and we must keep razor sharp focus on working to reach our stated graduation rate goal of 80%.
I would like to point out several shining points of light in our efforts to grow and strengthen our student body and our partnerships across Nebraska. First, we continue to expand our reach for access to students in Nebraska through the highly successful Nebraska College Preparatory Academy and the results speak volumes – with a graduation rate of 89%. This fall, we announced a significant new partnership with Grand Island Public Schools through a $13.6 million Department of Education “Gear Up Promise” grant with 15 partners, working with the complete cohort of 6th and 7th graders to prepare them for a university education. You may have seen 14 buses of students from Grand Island converging on our campus just before the holidays to get their first taste of what can lie ahead for them. We are proud to be the primary partner in this effort and I can hardly wait to see the first outcome in the freshman class of 2024.
Secondly, we should be rightfully proud of our efforts to keep a Nebraska education affordable. Over the past 6 years our annual tuition increases have been well below the national norm. We remain, together with Iowa, the best tuition value in the BIG10 and our students have 23% less student debt than the national average.
A significant step to increasing access is the new Husker Scholars Program, enabled by $5 million in annual scholarship support from Husker Athletics for students not competing in intercollegiate athletics. I cannot begin to tell you how transformative – and unique – this program is. In this first year, Husker Scholars is providing support to 3,068 of our students under 5 new scholarship programs. 93% of these students are from Nebraska, 40% are first-generation, and 65% have identified high financial need.
We should also be proud that Husker Athletics, due to the best fan base in America and strong leadership of AD Bill Moos and his team, is one of a very select few NCAA division 1 programs that pays the full cost of attendance for all scholarship athletes without financial support from the institution, state, or students. In total, Athletics contributed more than $27 million to UNL’s academic budget this year.
And while on this subject, I’d also like to salute our amazing Husker Volleyball team. They have competed in the NCAA Final Four three out of the last four years, including a national championship in two of those four years, and are one of the best examples of grit and glory I can imagine.
I am also very pleased that President Bounds is leading exploration of new ways of bringing together public-private partnerships between philanthropy, private industry, the state, and the University to enhance our monetized student support, particularly for high-academic achieving students.
A recent example is the establishment of the NU Teacher Scholars, completely funded by private philanthropy of the Bill and Ruth Scott Foundation, enabling 40 full four-year scholarships for outstanding students to pursue degrees in elementary and secondary education. This program, and parallel programs at UNK and UNO, is intended to encourage some of our best and brightest young people from Nebraska to pursue teaching degrees. What a win-win for our students, the University, and the state.
I am excited that the University Honors program will be relocating this year to the Knoll Residential Center to allow expansion and growth – particularly fitting in that Professor Knoll was instrumental in the predecessor to the University Honors Program – Centennial College, which began in 1969.
And, the demand for the highly-acclaimed Raikes School for Computer Science and Management continues to grow. We plan to increase to 60 students per cohort from the current 40. Since its inception, the Raikes School has developed 172 real-world software solutions through its design studio, including the amazing success story of the state’s most significant new start-up venture in recent times, the impressive Hudl enterprise.
Before leaving the teaching mission, I would like to specifically applaud the establishment of the Center for Transformative Teaching by Academic Affairs. The Center will collaborate with educators across departments and programs to promote instructional strategies and pedagogical practices that enhance students’ learning and success. I would also like to applaud the work of Academic Services and Enrollment Management in reorganizing student services later this year related to course registration and financial services into a more efficient “one-stop shopping” experience for students.
And, lastly, congratulations to two of our outstanding faculty, Professor Erin Blankenship (Statistics) and Professor of Practice Jason Kautz (Chemistry) on being recognized for their exceptional excellence in teaching as recipients of the NU Outstanding Teaching and Instructional Creativity Award this past year.
As one of America’s Carnegie highest research-intensive public universities, the generation of knowledge through research, discovery, and creative activity is a key priority of our education mission.
Following a competitive national search, we were very pleased to welcome Bob Wilhelm as the University’s vice chancellor for research and economic development this past year. Bob has hit the ground running, including naming Deb Hamernik as associate vice chancellor and launching strategic planning for ORED this spring.
While federal research funding in recent years has been stagnant at best, and consequently hyper-competitive, our faculty have been successful in continuing to lead in cutting edge research and discovery across a comprehensive range of fields. This past year, we passed $308M in total research expenditures across the campus, reflecting a 25% increase over the past decade.
In 2018, UNL managed $265M in sponsored programs, including a record $171M in federal funding, which represents a 75% increase over the past decade with the strongest leadership coming from our faculty across all areas of agriculture, food and water security, early childhood education and development, physics, nano- and materials sciences, and social and behavioral sciences. And the significantly growing NU National Strategic Research Institute portfolio draws upon our research in chemistry, physics, engineering, social sciences, and space law in partnership with the Department of Defense.
Even though it is unlikely that we will see increased funding availability at the federal level in the near term, I believe there are considerable opportunities to broaden our base of research funding through the advancement of “P4 partnerships” – among public, private, and philanthropic players.
We have initiated several of these partnerships in recent years, which are poised for much success, including the Center for Brain Biology and Behavior Research; the Food Allergy Research and Resource Program; the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities; the Nebraska Center for Materials and Nanoscience in the Voelte-Keegan Center; endowed programs in wheat and soybean genetics through Bayer Crop Science (now BASF); the Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families, and Schools; the Nebraska Center for Energy Sciences Research with NPPD; the Clifton Strengths Institute; the Center for Plant Sciences Innovation with the U.S. Department of Energy and several major universities, the NU-system wide Daugherty Water for Food Global and Rural Futures Institutes and more recently the Nebraska Food for Health Center anchored at NIC with full partners at UNO and UNMC. Several innovative additional efforts are being led by Vice Chancellors Boehm and Wilhelm with Microsoft, in the areas of precision agriculture, education, and health and by NSRI with Boeing.
We continue to see successful commercialization of our research through NUtech Ventures, who together with UNeMed, was named in the top 100 entities globally for patents in 2017. Last year, UNL’s licensing income reached $5.1 million, with 5 new start-up companies formed and 31 new technology license agreements executed based upon our research enterprise.
Nebraska Innovation Campus, designed to provide a new environment for collaborative research, experiential learning, and economic growth is now 7 years in to its 25-year development. I’m pleased to report completion of the new RISE building, now being rapidly filled around anchor partner Virtual Incision – a start-up company in surgical robotics emanating from Nebraska Engineering’s Shane Farritor and partners at UNMC, and one of 15 start-ups involved at NIC since its inception. This facility brings the total NIC footprint to 454,000 ft2 and is now home to 30 partners, 16 university affiliates, and a total of 551 employees and student interns. We are also excited about the plans recently announced by the USDA to relocate two federal agricultural research agencies outside of DC – and are working aggressively with our Nebraska partners to make NIC the new home of one or both of them.
I could certainly cite numerous examples of individual excellence for the research and creative activity accomplishments of our faculty across all 9 colleges, but a few deserve special mention:
- Biological Systems Engineering Professor Angie Pannier was awarded a NIH Director’s New Innovator Award, the first UNL faculty member to receive this honor.
- Professor Margaret Jacobs, Chancellor’s Professor of History and director of Women’s and Gender Studies is one of 31 scholars and writers selected for a prestigious Carnegie Fellowship, the first ever from Nebraska.
- Professor Yongfeng Lu (Electrical and Computer Engineering) was awarded the Outstanding Research and Creative Activity Award by NU for his outstanding and prolific work in laser-based, material processing, characterization, and imaging.
- Professors Paul Black (Biochemistry), Roger Bruning (Educational Psychology), David Hage (Chemistry), Jim Lewis (Mathematics), and Jay Storz (Biological Sciences) were named AAAS Fellows.
- Biochemistry Professor Emeritus Don Weeks and his collaborators were recognized by Nature Biotechnology for their herbicide resistance patent being the most cited gene patent in the world.
The University’s outreach and engagement mission continues to be recognized as a national leader, with Nebraska Extension engaged in all 93 counties of the state in areas such as agriculture and agribusiness, natural resource stewardship, youth development, STEM education, community development and vitality, human nutrition and well-being, and manufacturing. Nebraska 4-H continues to lead the nation, where in more than ¾ of our counties, one in every two age-eligible youth are enrolled in 4-H.
Additionally, each of the academic colleges have elevated their engagement with and across the state in everything from community architecture projects to Arts Across Nebraska, from the Nebraska Center for Children, Families and the Law to the Rural Futures Institute’s community service-ship program. Numerous specialized clinical and entrepreneurship partnerships are offered across all of our academic Colleges for the state.
And turning to our physical infrastructure, we celebrated the completion of several facilities projects this past year highlighted by phase 1 of the Memorial Mall Loop project, several out-state projects, and the long planned and now celebrated Student Health Center/UNMC Nursing Complex. The stunning new exhibits from the 4th floor renovation of Morrill Hall will open next month as a part of the N150 Charter Week celebration, and renovations to the “old CBA,” now Pound Hall, are nearly complete.
We have a number of major construction projects currently underway including the new Gymnastics Training Facility addition to the Devaney Center, complete renovation of the Nebraska East Union, green space re-creation on the former Cather-Pound site, and relocation of the UNL Dairy Store in Filley Hall. The renovation of the former Nebraska Bookstore into the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts and the dance program in the Hixson-Lied College is scheduled to be completed by August - in time to welcome the Carson Center’s inaugural class.
By the end of our N150 year, several major facilities projects will be underway including:
- Conversion of the CY Thompson Library in to the East Campus Learning Commons
- Phase 1 of Nebraska Engineering’s facilities plan rebuild of the Scott Link and renovation/addition to the Scott Engineering Center
- Construction of a new Mabel Lee Hall
- Construction of a new Nebraska Food for Health Center Gnotobiotic Mouse Facility on east campus
- Renovation of organic chemistry labs in Hamilton Hall
And, we are actively fund-raising for the $85M phase 2 of the Nebraska Engineering expansion which will build a new wing to the complex east of Othmer Hall across 17th street – and I am very pleased to note that our conversations have been very well-received up to this point. It is our goal to complete the majority of the fund raising for this project in 2019 to enable it to move forward closely in parallel with the phase 1 effort. These two facilities projects are a major part of the University’s #1 prioritized significant investment in to building Nebraska Engineering to a new BIG10 level of impact, carefully partnered with private industry, and exceptionally well-led by Dean Lance Perez.
No institution can be successful without high-performing, committed people. Over the past few months, I immensely enjoyed visiting with each college and major unit – and seeing the depth and breadth of excellence on our campus. I am so proud of our hardworking and committed faculty and staff – the best anywhere, in my mind. And, equally of our exceptional UNL senior leadership team, led by EVC Donde Plowman and VCIANR/VP Mike Boehm. With a host of recent high impact senior leadership appointments and important current searches for deans of the Colleges of Arts and Sciences, Education and Human Sciences and University Libraries, we will enter the coming academic year in a very strong position.
It is particularly gratifying to see several years of work and planning coming to fruition in elevating inclusive excellence as a priority. We are eagerly looking forward to Marco Barker joining us on April 1 as the new Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion. I cannot stress how critically important this position is for our University as we move forward, nor how pleased we are to have attracted a leader of Dr. Barker’s caliber, in large part due to the hard work of the search advisory committee led by Professor Kwame Dawes. Marco will join our team, including Gwendolyn Combs in Academic Affairs, Charlie Foster in Student Affairs, and Karen Kassebaum in Business and Finance to aggressively lead our efforts to foster enhanced diversity and inclusive excellence across all aspects of UNL.
Additionally, I have charged the Chancellor’s Commissions – on the Status of People of Color, on Sustainability, and on the Status of Women to elevate their work in 2019. I also am pleased to announce that a fourth Chancellor’s Commission has been added to this group on the Status of Sexual and Gender Identities – with overall leadership facilitation being provided by Dr. Combs.
While we have much to celebrate in the momentum of the University, we must also be conscious of the larger environment around us and the considerable “headwinds” for higher education nationally and locally. Funding and budget pressures, potential federal policy changes related to immigration and Title IX, declining international enrollments across the US, increased racist behavior and additional concerns about mental health issues on campuses – all present challenges. While these headwinds have indeed been stiff at times, we have been and continue to be steadfast in our efforts to confront them, and prevent any interruption of our momentum.
While making budget reductions from constrained state appropriations, we have been fortunate to have prevented significant elimination of core academic programs. We are now well in to the implementation of streamlining services across information technology, human resources, facilities management and planning, travel, and procurement – and I want to especially thank our staff and leadership in these areas for their hard and difficult work as we have reorganized and significantly reduced FTE.
As the state legislature has gotten to work this past week, and hearing from the Governor earlier today in his State of the State Address, I am very optimistic going in to the current and upcoming budget setting process for the next biennium. The University has forwarded a modest budget increase request that will hold spending flat but allow faculty and staff salary increases for the next two years. It has been encouraging to see the support of Governor Ricketts and legislative leadership to the budget proposal. We remain mindful of the economic impact of decline in trade of important Nebraska agricultural and other commodities important to manufacturing, as well as the state’s need to fund voter-approved Medicaid expansion.
I am eager to see us now moving forward in to the final planning for implementation of a new budget allocation model. A university committee reviewed this in 2017 and recommended that we move toward a hybrid responsibility center model. RCM-based budget allocation allows increased transparency into budget decisions, enhanced stewardship of funds at the decentralized level, incentives for academic entrepreneurship and a data-based foundation for resource allocation. The campus will be engaged as the model is developed and it will be ultimately vetted with campus leadership during the first half of the coming fiscal year, with the new model shadowing the existing incremental model during FY20. Beginning with FY21, the new model will go into full implementation. I am confident that this will be a significant move forward for the campus. I thank interim VC Nunez and the executive leadership team in advance for bringing this to fruition – I consider it to be among our highest short-term priorities.
As well documented by the press, this past year the University administration was placed on the censure list of the AAUP. While we have clearly stated that we do not agree with this assessment or the process used to reach it, I am encouraged by and support the leadership and joint engagement of the Faculty Senate, local AAUP chapter and administration in working through an ad hoc committee process to review our policies and procedures and to recommend any helpful changes to move forward.
Even in societal times of division and seemingly declining civility and decorum, we will strongly adhere to our stated core values regarding academic excellence, rigor, and freedom with dignity, respect, civility, inclusion, and freedom of expression – and we will live those values. We will not accept harassment, intimidation, racism, or hate-filled behavior or actions. Our students said it best last spring – “Hate will never win.”
And, I am very proud that we are taking a national leadership role through the creation of the Big Red Resilience program and our enhanced CAPS programming under the leadership of interim VC Laurie Bellows and the team in Student Affairs coupled with the strong leadership of ASUN in this area.
As part of the N150 year and desire to enhance our national reputation – we are significantly escalating efforts to share our University story. Front and center will be helping Nebraskans understand our commitment to and impact on our great state through the more than 6:1 return on state investment we routinely deliver. We will also be working diligently to raise national awareness of the plethora of amazing things happening at UNL every day.
Celebrating the 150th anniversary of our charter during 2019 can – and should – be a wonderful opportunity for all of us. Charter Week, beginning Feb. 11th will provide many opportunities for students, faculty and staff to re-engage with our mission and to mark the great impact of our university. I strongly urge you to participate. Those of you present today will receive a Charter Week schedule of activities and those of you joining us online, should check out our N|150 website. I hope you will each read “Dear Old Nebraska U,” the wonderful new book just published by the University of Nebraska Press in honor of our sesquicentennial.
Looking back over the last 150 years, and taking stock of where we are today – we can confidently say that UNL is in a period of sustained momentum, and is poised for a tremendous future. That sentiment is the basis for our new branding efforts, culminating in our new tagline – In our Grit, our Glory. These simple words harken to the grit of founders -- the generations of work and achievement within our university community that brought us to the tremendous place we stand today -- and the “roll up our sleeves and get it done attitude” that will propel us into continued glory in the future.
So now, let’s shift our focus and peer in to the next generation...
Imagining a Bold Future
On the occasion of the chancellor investiture, I said:
“Nebraska and the world demands that We Must be a Bold, Engaged, Audacious, Accessible, and Vibrant People’s University – student-centered, continually research innovating and developing, and never more outwardly reaching in our impacts to be Nebraska’s 21st Century PEOPLE’s university. We must be open to change and evolution as the world around us continues to change so rapidly... we need to consider unconventional ideas and not constrain ourselves and our future by being tied or wedded to the traditional norms... we must challenge ourselves and our thinking... if we can’t invent, innovate and create at a university, where can we?”
With this as a charge, we formed the Nebraska 150 Commission to envision UNL’s boldest aspirations, and broadly determine what must occur to achieve them. I specifically charged the Commission to take a 25-year generational view in their visioning, recognizing strategy and implementation to come as subsequent steps.
It was understood at the outset, that this was certainly not the first time the University had undergone a visioning process, but it is the first effort in more than 20 years to engage the full breadth of the University’s enterprise.
I asked EVC Donde Plowman and Professor Will Thomas to co-chair the Commission made up of more than 150 faculty, staff, students, alumni, and stakeholders of the University, facilitated with leadership from Academic Leadership Associates. And, I might add, they were given a relatively short time-line to conduct their work – requiring a final report to be submitted by the end of calendar year 2018.
The Commission quickly organized itself in to a series of seven working committees along with a steering and mission committee to study and debate a broad range of issues. Throughout the nearly yearlong journey, the Commission held numerous listening sessions for the larger University and state community to participate and offer feedback hearing about values and capacities, talents and opportunities, and dreams and aspirations.
I am pleased to report to you that the Commission through exceptional hard work and commitment delivered on their charge and have now submitted their final report that is being released for the first time to the campus today. At this time, I would like for Donde and Will, all of the N150 Commission members, and our key staff who supported their work, to please stand and accept our gratitude on behalf of all of the University.
I can only begin to impart to you today a brief overview of the bold vision framework of the N150 report, but certainly encourage you all to go to read and study the full report online.
The Commission sets forth a vision where UNL is unparalleled among public research universities in access, opportunity, innovation, and life-long experiential learning. A future where we attract bold thinkers in the quest for knowledge and the search for truths greater than ourselves.
The vision is framed around a set of four core aspirations.
Nebraska students will co-create their experience. Common transformative learning experiences that equip each student for their future will distinguish a Nebraska education. Working together with faculty, staff, and community members our students will co-create experiences that spark curiosity, lead to demonstrated achievement, and deepen the capacity for analysis and reflection.
Our research and creativity will transform lives and learning. By advancing knowledge, solving the world's challenges, and deepening our understanding of humanity, we will enhance quality of life in the State of Nebraska and beyond. These innovations will shape the education we provide to undergraduate, graduate, and professional students.
Every person and every interaction will matter. UNL will lead U.S. public universities in affordability and accessibility to a world-class education. Our university community will have a deep appreciation for diversity, inclusive excellence, and the contributions of each individual - faculty, staff, and student - to the greater good. We will attract, educate, and support students whose talent and work ethic will shape their communities for decades to come.
We will build communities. By serving as a catalyst for growth, prosperity and cultural enrichment, UNL will redefine partnerships between research teams and their communities.
This vision is a clarion call for us to be a transformative world-leading 21st century mission-integrated Land Grant university WITHOUT WALLS.
Can you imagine…having in place as we approach the quarter century mark...
- Experiential cohort-based interdisciplinary learning for nearly 29,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students with an incoming first year class of 6,500 eager students unimpeded by financial accessibility under a new tuition model
- With dedicated long-term research experiences focused on the big wicked research problems of priority across the University;
- With community-based research across all colleges connecting every student to real world challenges in Nebraska;
- With connected public-private partnership internship opportunities outside the University for every student;
- With design-thinking and coding fundamentally a part of the experience emphasizing imagination, creative expression, and the convergence of disciplinary and design thinking;
- With integrated internationalization as the norm;
- Where inclusive excellence is inherent in community not aspirational;
- Where students and faculty challenge each other at equal levels of rigor and excellence;
- Where students co-create their education, but without barriers to being able to complete their high-value Nebraska degrees in 4 years or less; and
- Where we are the first comprehensive public research university to be fully developing and integrating simulated experiential learning, developed in partnership with iEXCEL at UNMC.
- A research and creative activity enterprise approaching $450 million prioritized and resource enhanced around deepening commitment to solve Wicked Problems and Challenges important to Nebraska…like feeding a growing and hungry world sustainably under climate change with less water – or – understanding and enhancing early childhood development for success – or – novelly combatting infectious disease and weapons of mass destruction – or – social and behavioral science to reduce income and health disparities – or – engineering the future enabled with artificial intelligence and data analytics.
- All seamlessly and directly tied to every student in their educational experience;
- With significantly higher levels of public-private-philanthropic partners;
- With strategic investment to interdisciplinary research directed to hiring and competitive support of doctoral students;
- With all aspects of academic, student, and business affairs aligned in support of our priority research, scholarship, and creative activity; and
- With compensation, career development, and research opportunities for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows that surpass the norms of the top 50 US research universities.
- With a completely integrated engagement mission as a Carnegie Community Engagement designated leading university
- Where every community across Nebraska is viewed as a key part of the University’s extended campus for learning and research opportunities;
- Where engagement is a fundamental part of every UNL community member’s ethos;
- Where the capstone experience of every student is aligned to a community partner and problem;
- Where engagement is also defined by partnership with private industry; and
- Where Nebraska students define engagement with their University through a plugged in lifetime of continual learning.
And can we all imagine and dream of a 2025...
- When the operations and infrastructure of the University are dynamically aligned and optimized without walls in support of the transformative integrated three part mission
- With a transparent budget resource allocation model and process that incentivizes excellence, smart growth, interdisciplinarity and power to deliver on mission;
- With empowered decision-making and shared governance through an enhanced University Faculty and Staff Council;
- With family-friendly policies and programs that ensure UNL continues to be the best place to work in higher education;
- With a culture that builds a more sustainable and resilient community for all citizens; and
- With a highly respected talent management program for professional development and engagement.
While this future may seem bold, perhaps audacious in some spots, and stretch beyond 2025, now is our time to lead to new heights and I sense that the UNL community is extraordinarily eager for the challenge.
In early February, I will be drawing together an “N150 Strategy Team” to roll up their sleeves to develop the initial 5-year implementation of the N150 Vision. I will ask the team to complete the strategy by October 15th, to enable it to be vetted through the campus and in place prior to our next State of the University Address during Charter Week in February, 2020.
Imagine...two children born tomorrow – a baby girl in rural Nebraska, and a baby boy in urban Mumbai...
...Both are able to access early powerful early childhood education shaped by methods utilizing the discoveries and learnings of UNL, sparking their early curiosity and inquisitiveness.
...As the girl grows, her farming family begins to utilize drones to plant precise crops for each inch of land, accessing the unique nourishment of the soil, and where diverse plants invigorate each other for maximum potential – taught by UNL experts. Her 4-H club works with UNL’s College of Business to create a start-up company, which ultimately takes root and employs 10 people in her rural community.
...The young boy grows up in a world free from the worry of mosquito-borne diseases such as Zika and Dengue fever, aided by the inspired research of UNL microbiologists. His school utilizes programming on food science and nutrition from UNL’s Global Extension Network, which has been tailored to reflect Indian diets and food staples.
...Imagine their time at UNL...
...The young man pursues studies with a core emphasis in music, robotics and food science. Through the application of principles of harmony, he works with a global team of UNL researchers to advance AI, with application for food manufacturing. He interns for a company developing systems to deliver infant nutrition derived from fresh produce into the heart of urban mega-cities.
...The young woman seeks to be an advocate for human rights. Through a global partnership initiated by UNL’s College of Law, she takes virtual undergraduate courses with students around the world from judicial clerks in The Hague. What began as the drone journalism lab at UNL has grown in the use of AI, and our young woman from rural Nebraska is part of a cohort of students who unearth the rich history of a native Amazonian tribe, bringing their story to life for the first time.
...In January of 2044, when they are 25 -- when our university celebrates its 175th anniversary, and our football team has just added yet another national championship to Coach Frost’s long list of accomplishments - our young people are back on campus to receive honors based on their gritty efforts at UNL. Our young man is part of a group of UNL researchers awarded the Nobel Prize, the first time an undergraduate student is recognized for this glorious pinnacle of scientific research. Our young woman and her cohort of fellow students is awarded a Pulitzer Prize.
...Both continue to engage in a micro-class or two each year through the University, as they will throughout their lives – accessing the latest discoveries, or satiating their curiosity on a new topic.
...and perhaps...in 2069, one of them will stand on this stage as Chancellor, projected out to our global university and speak about the vision set in 2019 and how that propelled the continued glory of UNL uttering words similar to these in describing our time: “...the University had the iridescent glamor of life beginning, for which almost anything is possible...The very air over the campus was glittering bright with what might be.”
Inscribed on Memorial Stadium is a quote from one of the most famous of all Nebraskans, William Jennings Bryan, from over 100 years ago:
“Destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice.”
The choices we make today – like those made by our predecessors in the previous 15 decades -- impact not just the generations represented in this room...or the young generation that is in our lecture halls, laboratories, recital halls and the field today...but for the generations to come. Just as we stand on the shoulders of those who came before, they will stand on ours. That is an awesome responsibility and opportunity!
I hope to be fortunate enough to still be around 25 years from now – and to those of you that just had a heart palpitation -- you can relax -- it will be as a cheering alum and grandparent of hopefully a gaggle of Husker students – when our successors upon our quartoseptennial will look back on this inflection point moment and say, wow they were not only thinking, they were truly IMAGINING!
There truly in no place like dear old Nebraska U. Thanks for everything you do to make that true now and in to the bold future. Have a great N150!