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Inaugural Address

The Investiture of Satish K. Tripathi, September 23, 2011

Local Impact, Global Reach: UB’s Evolving Mission

Inaugural Week Website

Each day of inauguration week had a different theme to convey the many facets of UB’s commitment to academic excellence and the well-being of local and global communities.

“We are rightfully proud of the impact we have made and the stature we have gained. Yet we cannot stop here. We must constantly look for new ways to expand that reach.”
Satish K. Tripathi, President

Good afternoon!  I am delighted and deeply honored to share this very special occasion with all of you.

It’s an understatement to say that this is a major milestone for me—both personally and professionally.  As my sons just told you, we come from a long line of educators.  In fact, Manish now represents the fifth generation of educators in our family. 

When I was a young student in India, I hoped that one day, through hard work and dedication, I might become a high school principal.  And so, I am truly humbled by the remarkable opportunity presented to me today—an opportunity far beyond any I could have imagined when I was younger.

But this celebration today is about much more than a personal journey up the academic ranks—from student, to teacher, to university president.  It is also a celebration of our institutional journey—from a small, private school, to a large public institution, a proud flagship of the State University of New York system, and a global leader among 21st century public research universities.

More than that, it is a celebration of all that connects us with the larger communities we serve beyond UB, both in Buffalo and around the world.

And so I want to begin by recognizing and thanking everyone who has joined together today to make this a truly special and historic occasion:

Chairman Hayden, and SUNY trustees; Chancellor Zimpher; Chairman Jacobs and UB Council members; Chairman Fatta and members of the UB Foundation board; New York State Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes; the Mayor of Buffalo, Byron Brown; our honored speakers and distinguished delegates; and all of the special guests who have joined us from a great distance—and those of you who are watching this ceremony live on the World Wide Web.

I want to acknowledge the entire university family, including the faculty, staff, students, alumni, parents, and university friends, who have come from near and far to join us today.  And closest to my heart, my own immediate family—my wife Kamlesh, my sons Aashish and Manish, and my brother Anil and his wife Sushma.

I am filled with joy and gratitude to be sharing this day with you.  And I thank you all for being here.

Framing the Present Moment

I think that traditional academic gatherings like this one provide us with a special vantage point—a vantage point that helps us see clearly where we have been, and where we are going.  I would like to start by using that perspective to look at where we are right now.

To be honest, these are not easy times for higher education.  And they are not easy times for any of us.

Our global economy is challenged at a level most of us have not witnessed in our lifetimes.  Our planet’s environment is challenged by growing pressures on our natural resources, and the issue of sustainability.  Rapid changes in technology present new opportunities—and new challenges—for humanity.  Our world is divided by unequal access to basic, essential human needs—like health care and education—and these divisions are growing even sharper.

The effects of these problems can be seen around the world, and right here at home.  To take just one example, here in New York State, minority high school graduation rates remain among the lowest in the nation.  We need not look any further than our own campus to see the effects of these global challenges.  They certainly affect all of us, and especially our students, who will be graduating into a world of economic hardship and uncertain job prospects.

So what do these sweeping global problems—and their very real local impact—mean for the University at Buffalo?  The current economic climate has taken a serious toll on all public universities, including our own.  Across the nation, state investment in higher education is steadily diminishing.  At the same time, increasing demands are placed upon us.  As a result, we have a growing need to defend our social relevance and make the case for public support for higher education. 

There is no doubt that this is an incredibly challenging time to be a public research university. Yet it is also a tremendously exciting time.  And we have great reason to be hopeful.

Public research universities like UB hold the keys to providing that hope.  No other institution in our society is better equipped to answer the challenges of the present moment.  Public research universities are uniquely positioned to respond creatively and effectively to the most pressing problems of our times.

UB and the Challenge of the 21st Century

That is exactly what we do—and what we have always done—at UB.  We look clearly at the challenges facing the world around us, and we respond thoughtfully—in ways no one has ever thought of before.

Today, students, faculty, and staff across the university are working to enrich the quality of life in the communities we serve, in Buffalo, across the state, and worldwide. 

They are applying research insights to help Haiti rebuild after its devastating earthquake.  They are shaping national and global policy on health care, education, social issues, and the law. 

Closer to home, our students and faculty are helping community members in many ways.  Their work addresses social issues ranging from affordable housing and elder law, to economic development and environmental policy.  Our students and faculty are providing free health screenings and dental care in underserved communities from the Southern Tier to the Dominican Republic. 

Our artists, musicians, and writers are creating profound new works.  Our scholars are interpreting the diverse legacy of humankind, and our librarians are preserving it for future generations.  And the discoveries by our health sciences faculty continue to save literally millions of lives.  For example, a drug developed at UB has rescued some 500,000 babies born prematurely, helping them breathe in those first crucial moments.

Truly, we have many reasons to be proud of our achievements and our contributions to the world around us.  And yet as good as we are, we must not rest.  

The people we serve—locally, across the nation, and globally—need us to become even better.

UB’s Evolving Mission: Where We Must Go from Here

We will rise to this challenge to become better, just as we have done many times in the past.  Our university was established 165 years ago as a small private medical school, with a mission to provide Buffalo with well-trained physicians.  And as our community grew over the years, UB grew and evolved with it. 

Part of that evolution—for both the university and the city—was to take our place on the world stage. Today, UB remains Buffalo’s great hometown university.  We also serve the entire world as a major public research university of the 21st century—one that draws students and faculty from across the globe, and one that has many partnerships with universities around the world.

We are rightfully proud of the impact we have made and the stature we have gained.  Yet we cannot stop here.  We must constantly look for ways to expand that reach.  We must seek out new problems to solve, new horizons to explore, and new ways to change the world for the better.

UB is fortunate to have so many excellent faculty, dedicated staff, and outstanding students.  Indeed, UB’s people are its greatest asset.  To fully realize the university’s potential, and to fulfill our public mission, we must attract even more talented people to join us here in Buffalo.

We must recruit more of the brightest students.  We must attract and retain the next generation of talented faculty.  And we must build even further on the strength of our dedicated staff. 

UB must do this to be stronger as an institution.  And our communities—local and global—need our strength to thrive in the 21st century.  That is why, as president, I will focus my energy on expanding opportunities for our university’s people, and providing them with the environment they need to thrive—both inside, and outside, the classroom.  

I believe we have the potential to transform UB in significant and lasting ways.  But to do that, we need to challenge ourselves to be truly transformational in our thinking.

We are a recognized leader among public universities, and one of the 61 leading research institutions in the prestigious Association of American Universities.  However, we must challenge ourselves to rise even higher in these ranks. 

We are competing successfully for the best students—not only in New York State, but nationally, and internationally.  But we must do even better in this regard.

We have a strong faculty, with some of the world’s best teachers and researchers in a broad range of disciplines.  Yet we must build even further on these strengths.  

Therefore, I have set a goal of growing our faculty, adding 300 new professors over the next 5 years.  And to attract even more top-ranked scholars, I want 100 of those new positions to be endowed.

In addition, we plan to raise $200 million in endowments for student scholarships.

When we achieve all of these objectives, we will provide our students with an even better education—and we will have an even greater impact on our communities.

We cannot achieve this excellence alone.  I will turn to UB’s loyal alumni and friends, and invite them to help UB to realize its full potential to change the world.  To that end, I will invest a great deal of my time and energy.  I have been meeting with alumni and university supporters, and I will continue to do so.  

Beginning in October, I plan to visit 20 cities over the next 20 months, meeting alumni, sharing our vision, and enlisting their support.  I will also go abroad to visit many of our international alumni chapters.  To all the alumni who are watching this on the World Wide Web – I am looking forward to meeting you in person!

A Transformational Vision for the Future

I want to engage you—and the entire UB community—in a conversation about transforming our institution.  I hope we can discuss not only what UB has been and what is now, but also what it can become. 

Throughout history, UB presidents have carried out exactly this conversation with the university family.  And as a result, UB has transformed itself many times. 

In 1849, UB’s first chancellor, Millard Fillmore dreamed that a small medical school would someday become a large, comprehensive university.

In the early decades of the 20th century, Chancellor Samuel Capen transformed a handful of small autonomous schools into a modern university with 14 divisions located together on one campus. 

And in the 1960s, as the college-bound population surged, Robert Ketter, who would become UB’s 11th president, recognized the need to expand the university even further.  

These leaders all recognized the challenges of their times and spurred the university to respond.  Indeed, over the last 165 years, each of my 14 distinguished predecessors brought this kind of far-reaching vision to their leadership of UB.

And indeed, every member of the university family can share in the power of a transformational vision.

Consider the exciting news we announced earlier this week—a truly historic $40 million gift to the medical school.  This gift was from a physician who attended UB during World War II.  This individual recognized UB’s impact, and saw the potential to increase it. 

This doctor, who wished to remain anonymous, made a personal, lifelong commitment to helping realize that vision.  He invested carefully and wisely over the years, building a considerable fortune, which he left to the university. 

His generosity and devotion will have a truly transforming impact on UB by helping us bring some of the best faculty in the world here to Buffalo.  Indeed, a stronger medical school will help us transform the quality of education and patient care.  This gift comes at a tremendously exciting time for UB as we prepare to move the medical school downtown as part of the next phase of UB 2020.

Some might say we have come full circle in bringing the medical school back downtown, where UB originated.  But this is far from the end of the story.  This is just the first layer of what we envision as a much broader revitalization for UB and the communities we serve. 

As UB builds its excellence, we will build stronger, healthier communities, here at home, across the state, and around the globe.  We will attract more of the best faculty—and the brightest students, strengthening our university across the disciplines.  We will advance UB’s reputation as an international center of excellence in research, education, and innovation.  And as a result, we will raise Buffalo’s stature in the eyes of the world.

Looking Forward

I believe we will succeed in all of these ambitions.  But we will not, and we cannot, do so alone.

UB has come this far because of the strength of our university, and also because of the strength of our partnerships with our larger communities—our partnerships with our alumni and friends; with our partners across SUNY and in K-12 education; with the business and labor communities; with our elected officials and civic leaders; and with the regional, national and international higher education community.

Together, we have truly come a very long way since our foundation 165 years ago—and since we first became a public institution as a proud member of the SUNY system nearly 50 years ago.  Now, we must keep expanding our vision in ways that respond to the changing world around us—seeing clearly both what we are, and what we can and must become in the future. 

More than ever, the 21st century world needs our ideas.  Our best thinking.  Our willingness to ask difficult questions.  Our ability to look through multiple lenses, to think creatively, and to partner across borders of all kinds: geographic, disciplinary, ideological.

This is who we are.  It is our history.  It is our present.  And it is our future.

Today, we re-affirm our commitment to making the world a better place through our pursuit of academic excellence.  Today, we begin the exciting work of expanding our reach, strengthening our impact, and setting our sights even higher. 

I call upon the extended UB family here in Buffalo and worldwide, to unite in our pursuit of excellence. I invite you to join me on this journey.  Now, more than ever, the world needs hope for the future.  The world needs the very best UB can give it. 

Working together, I truly believe there is nothing beyond our reach.