State of the University Address 2014 - Other Highlights

Before I conclude there are several other matters I want to highlight:

The Daugherty Water for Food Institute is now well established and increasingly well-respected both in Nebraska and around the world. It has allowed us to bring renewed attention to the issues associated with Nebraska’s greatest natural resource, its water. At the same time Nebraska’s management of water is a model for the world. The Institute has ongoing engagements in among other places, India, the Middle-East, China, and Brazil.

The Buffett Early Childhood Education Institute leverages the considerable strength of our faculty in the College of Education and Human Sciences. Again, in addition to active programs across the state of Nebraska, the Institute has growing engagements in Turkey and China and other international venues.

The National Strategic Research Institute has resulted in the formation of a University Affiliated Research Center – or UARC – with StratCom that opens up the potential for significant research activities with the Department of Defense. We must continue to build our capacities in areas related to the UARC as we renovate the Behlen building to increase our ability to perform defense related research.

To celebrate its 100th anniversary at the University, Cooperative Extension’s Ag Water Demonstration Network led by Professor Suat Irmak was recognized by USDA as the outstanding outreach program in the country. In that tradition, there is probably no more daring initiative than the Rural Futures Institute which seeks to address sustainability of rural communities in the context of depopulation brought about by modern agriculture. We should take considerable pride that the University is committed to address this issue—one thought by many as intractable.

We are pursuing the consolidation of the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts with the College of Architecture into a new college that enhances the opportunities for both. The faculties of the two colleges are working hard to flesh out the proposal, which we hope to present to the Board of Regents for their approval later this Fall. At its core, this consolidation can focus the faculty talent of both Colleges on the discipline of design, whether for the built environment, for products, for art, or the urban or rural environment. This can leverage the existing programs to provide additional offerings in areas for which professionals are in high demand.

While technology enhanced instruction for our residential students remains increasingly important, we must attach renewed focus on incentives for building and marketing on-line credentials that attract new students not otherwise enrolled at the University. Marjorie Kostelnik, dean of CEHS and Brad Sheriff, assistant vice-chancellor for academic affairs, will co-chair a dean’s council working group charged with designing market strategies and an incentive structure that allows colleges to attract new distance students to UNL. We need to expand these programs, both for the revenue they provide as well as the diversity of new students they connect to our campus.

The renewal of our institutional accreditation from the Higher Education Commission lies ahead of us in two short years. Fortunately, we have taken a more authentic and more proactive approach to this process, and several individuals, including Joan Geiseke, Dean of Libraries Emeritus and Laurie Bellows, associate dean of graduate studies, have been working well in advance to prepare us for this effort. We believe this will be an opportunity for us to assess critical components of the Achievement-Centered General education program implemented in 2009 – an exercise that is both timely and important to our ongoing efforts to continually examine and assess what all undergraduate students should know or be able to do upon graduation – irrespective of their majors or career aspirations.

No one has brought a sharper focus to advancing our key priorities than Ellen Weissinger.

For the last five years she has served thoughtfully and creatively to improve the processes that impact our undergraduate program and our undergraduate recruitment efforts. She has had a singular focus on making us more efficient so we can generate resources to invest in core academic programs. Indeed she has been a vigorous, determined, champion of the paramount importance of the academic enterprise.

Ellen has informed me that she wants to return to the faculty at the end of this academic year. I reluctantly agreed. I am grateful that she served longer than she originally intended. She has accomplished a great deal in a short time.

One of her legacies will be the talent she has been able to attract to the deanships of our colleges and the support she gave them in order to make them successful. When the history of this time at the university is written, Ellen will surely deserve a significant share of the credit for our success.

I have discussed with the deans the continuing challenge of conducting a national search for this position, given my own longevity and likely retirement at some time in the near future. But of course I said this five years ago and I’m still here. I do know my runway to retirement is shorter now than it was then but others have convinced me that a national search is important to the campus. There is considerable optimism that it will be successful. Shortly, I will form a search committee for a national search.

The Lord’s Prayer is 66 words, the Gettysburg Address is 286 words, and there are 1,322 words in the Declaration of Independence. After about 4,500 words, I hope you will permit me a few moments of personal reflection. As I look back over the last few years I have, among the glow of your accomplishments, one significant regret. I refer, of course, to the loss of our membership in AAU. But since then, our enrollment has grown, we have become more attractive to non-resident and international students, our research trajectory has continued to exceed the pace of most AAU institutions, we competed for and won designation as a UARC, one of only 14 in the country, we have tripled our national academy memberships, and our rankings, for what they are worth, in U.S. News and World Report have steadily improved, now being at the highest in the history of the university. I guess my regret is that our expulsion from AAU didn’t come sooner.

I am told the range of emotions I display openly is rather narrow. It was not, alas, difficult to embrace my character in the Perls of Knowledge videos. And I don’t sing and dance. Sometimes, I find that these character flaws prevent me from expressing my true feelings about the state of the university. So I have invited others to capture how I hope we all feel about where we are and where we are heading.