State of the University Address 2011 - page 3

Delivered September 1, 2011

Harvey Perlman, Chancellor


Research defines the nature of the university. It impacts the quality of our undergraduate experience. It feeds our ability to pursue our land-grant mission in service to Nebraska. Over the last decade we have grown our research faster than most public and private research universities. Your efforts in pursuit of the research agenda played a key role in our admission into the Big Ten and the public support for the university and for our initiative on Innovation Campus. Yet, here too, we have much left to accomplish.

As we move into the Big Ten, we bring some research initiatives in which we are national leaders. Overall, however, our institutional research productivity has room to grow. We come into the Big Ten with the strongest upward trajectory for increasing research expenditures but still last in total amount. What we need is an institution-wide commitment to research and to fashion an ambitious agenda for the future. I appreciate that some disciplines have greater opportunity to acquire research grants, other disciplines' research products are largely in publications or creative work. We can measure some disciplines competitiveness by the dollars they generate. In others, we can measure competitiveness by awards and invitations to membership in honorary societies. There may be other nationally recognized metrics as well. The key is that we must significantly enhance the measures of our national competitiveness.

This past year, we exceeded $100 million in federal research awards for the first time. However, a more appropriate measure for us is now not research awards but research expenditures —t he basis used for national comparisons to our peers. I propose that within the next six years we set a goal of reaching $300 million in total research expenditures of which $150 million should be from federal awards. This is an ambitious goal, but no more ambitious than what we set out to do, and did, 10 years ago. It is difficult to prescribe a numerical goal for increasing our recognitions and memberships in national honorary societies. However, each college should work with its vice chancellor to develop a strategy and realistic target for greater achievement in this area. We should double our memberships and recognitions.

We are uniquely positioned to achieve these objectives with ongoing research initiatives that form the foundation for our past success, in areas like material science, laser applications, virology, plant transformation, redox biology, transportation safety, digital humanities and educational research, among many others. More significantly we have new initiatives that carry high expectations of significant funding. The Daugherty Water for Food Institute addresses one of the most significant issues facing the world — how we are going to produce enough food to satisfy the expanding world population. Food scarcity and security are issues that will define the next three decades and this University is particularly positioned for a leadership role.

The Buffett Institute on Early Childhood Education has the potential to significantly enhance an already established reputation in this important area. In a competition for talent, the United States can not afford to waste the talent it produces and we know that the experiences of children through age eight plays a very substantial role in how their talent will develop.

The Durham School of Architectural Engineering and Construction is one of the few places in the country bringing both the design professionals and the construction professionals together in an integrated program. It is positioned to make significant contributions to the energy efficiency of the built environment — an area that could have more impact on our energy independence than transportation.

In cooperation with the Athletic Department, which is incorporating a research wing in the new stadium expansion, we are making substantial investments in faculty for the new Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior that will blend some unique talent we have in the social sciences and education with those related to human health and the life sciences. The current concern over concussions in student athletes is only one of the important issues this center will address and we have already assumed a leadership role in the Big Ten's initiative in this area.

Innovation Campus gives us a new asset to utilize to elevate the research profile of the university. There are significant research synergies to be achieved through public private partnerships.

Our Big Ten status now requires that we capitalize on these as well as other opportunities to enhance our research profile. The objectives I have proposed are ambitious but realistic. Ten years ago when Prem Paul challenged us to achieve $100 million in federal research I suspect many of us skeptically humored him. But we did it. I am asking you to do it once again.

So what does becoming a Big Ten university mean for us? I am proposing that it mean the following: That by 2017, we will be a university with:

  1. 30,000 students and 1,300 tenure track faculty
  2. A six-year graduation rate of 70 percent for our undergraduates
  3. Total research expenditures of $300 million.
  4. And twice the number of faculty receiving national recognition and awards for their research and creative activity.

I am confident that we can achieve these targets if every academic unit on the campus is involved. By the beginning of the spring semester, we expect every college, department, center and interdisciplinary program to establish in consultation with the appropriate dean and vice chancellor, a target for that unit with respect to each of these items. We recognize that academic units are differentially positioned to contribute to some of these objectives but we also expect that the summation of unit objectives will equal the institutional objectives I have proposed.

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