2015 State of the University address: Building the Vision

Published October 9, 2015

2015 State of the University Highlights

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“Our vision is ambitious and far-reaching, but it is also very straightforward: to make the world around us a better place through our ideas, our questions, our discoveries, and our engagement. This vision has served us well for nearly 170 years because it is both enduring and evolving.”
President Satish K. Tripathi, President

Good morning!

What an amazing place to work and learn every day. Truly, this is an exciting time to be at UB. And the world is clearly taking notice of our achievements.

So it seems only right that we, too, should pause as a university community to reflect on our collective accomplishments.

It’s wonderful to see so many faculty, staff, and students with us today, along with many members of our larger communities, including:

  • Members of the New York State Assembly Crystal Peoples-Stokes, Raymond Walter, and Victor Pichardo;                    
  • Buffalo Mayor and SUNY Trustee Byron Brown;
  • Buffalo Common Council Member Rasheed Wyatt;
  • Members of the UB Council Jon Dandes and Pam Heilman;
  • Many UB alumni and friends;
  • And our regional, civic, health science, and business partners, including Jody Lomeo, President and CEO of Kaleida Health.

I thank you all for joining me today for my fourth annual State of the University address.

I am proud to say that the state of the university is very strong. And I am very excited about our future.

Our faculty are leading major breakthroughs in areas ranging from HIV research and human rights scholarship, to climate change and educational policy.                 

They are winning national awards for their performances on and off Broadway, their mentorship in the STEM fields, and their work on the psychology of addiction.                              

And this fall, we added 86 exceptional new faculty to our ranks of leading scholars across the disciplines.

With the mentorship of our outstanding faculty, our students are also breaking new ground—earning major recognition like Goldwater and Fulbright scholarships, and having a powerful impact locally, nationally, and globally.

As just a few examples, our students expanded global access to clean drinking water; launched start-up ventures contributing to Buffalo’s renaissance; formed national social advocacy groups; and designed a cutting-edge, solar-powered home. In fact, our UB team is in Southern California now as one of 14 national finalists competing in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon.

Our students have access to a globally powered network of 240,000 UB alumni worldwide—alumni who are deeply engaged in helping our students and graduates achieve their aspirations.

Our alumni are also demonstrating the power of a UB education. In the past year, UB graduates have been named to the National Academies, and have earned the Academy Award and Pulitzer Prize.

As an institution, we are making great strides as well. We have been recognized repeatedly for our leadership in national and international higher education—from our academic excellence to our sustainable practices across our research, education, and operational enterprises.

We are proud of our continued rise in the rankings. But rankings are only one index to academic excellence. Distinguishing ourselves in the eyes of our peer institutions is an even greater testament to our stature. That stature is measured, in part, by our AAU standing, and our leadership in NSF and NIH research consortia like the BioXfel Research Center in structural biology, the Women’s Health Initiative, and our new Clinical and Translational Science Award, bringing our UB-led consortium into an elite national tier.

Last month, we also celebrated another historic milestone with the first named school in UB history—the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences—a testament to the key role of philanthropy in advancing our mission of excellence.

We continue to deepen our economic impact—contributing over $2 billion in annual economic impact to New York State; enhancing linkages with business and industry through our leadership in the START-UP NY program, and spurring entrepreneurship in our region through our technology transfer and support for local business.

And in the athletic arena, we had our most successful year in our history as a Division I program, with three MAC championships, our first trip to the Big Dance, and a national track-and-field champion.

An enduring and evolving vision

This is just a sampling of high points from the past year. All of these are great points of pride—in and of themselves. But what is truly remarkable is the bigger picture they illustrate.

That big picture is UB’s distinctive vision becoming a reality . . . and transforming not just our university but the larger communities we serve regionally, nationally, and globally.

We are a university with a proud and distinguished history and an even brighter future.

We are a university that has evolved in remarkable ways: from a small Buffalo medical college in the 19th century into a world-class research university that is truly global in scope and impact.

And yet, we have held true to the same vision that has guided us since our founding in 1846.

Our vision is ambitious and far-reaching, but it is also very straightforward: to make the world around us a better place through our ideas, our questions, our discoveries, and our engagement.

This vision has served us well for nearly 170 years because it is both enduring and evolving. And great universities like ours must have both great strength and great flexibility. At UB, we draw great strength from our identity as a public university at the heart of a vibrant city and region.

But we don’t stop here. We are always reimagining our own horizons, extending our reach, and expanding our sphere of influence as a leading university in the 21st century.

We have evolved into a global research university, where the best and brightest minds from all over the nation and world come to learn, create, and discover.

Our stature, size, and scope come with great opportunities. And they also come with unique challenges, such as: how to continue expanding our research and educational efforts in an environment of constricting resources; how to ensure our undergraduate students feel connected to the research enterprise; and how to create a sense of community that connects us across disciplinary, cultural, and ideological borders.

This past month, this last challenge in particular has been very much in our collective consciousness in the wake of the controversial student art project that has sparked debate across UB.

As a university community, we have been able to take this difficult conversation and evolve it into an opportunity for constructive and sustained dialogue.

Our faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences are discussing how to negotiate the boundaries of freedom of expression within an inclusive and intellectually open academic community.

Our students, faculty, and staff are having valuable conversations with UB law enforcement about how to foster a safe and welcoming campus climate for all.

We are all grappling together with big questions about First Amendment rights and the nature of protected speech in the academy.

And through our new general education initiative, we are exploring new ways to approach race, ethnicity, and cultural difference in the academic curriculum.

We do all of this with compassion and understanding for each other, and with a commitment to engaging head-on with challenging ideas.

As an academic community, exploring difficult topics from multiple perspectives is a key part of who we are and what we do. We are a large community of scholars and professionals from all over the world, and all walks of life. And we bring the totality of what we have learned, experienced, and lived—in all its richness and complexity—to all that we study, debate, explore, and create.

That is the core of our mission. This guiding mission has allowed us to stay on course over decades of change. We are a different institution today than we were only 10 years ago.

But as we know, that transformation did not take place overnight. Transformational change takes time to develop and realize outcomes. And it is the work of all. 

No one knows that better than you—the staff, faculty, and students who have led these transformations across the research enterprise, the educational experience, and the physical campus environment.

This work is richly rewarding, but it is never easy. It is complicated, challenging, and takes sustained focus.

Investing in our vision

Since the beginning of the UB 2020 initiative, we have invested carefully and thoughtfully in institutional transformations that allow us to expand our scope and reach even further, so we can strengthen and enrich the world around us.

We have invested in enhancing our research enterprise: by building faculty expertise and fostering a culture of scholarly collaboration so we can better address the key challenges facing our world.

We have invested in transforming the educational experience: by creating dynamic learning and research communities that bring classroom learning to life and provide a truly global perspective.

And we have invested in the physical environment: by fostering a dynamic learning landscape such as the Heart of the Campus project. This project is integrating modern library spaces with teaching, technology, and student services.

Over the past few years, with the support of our elected leadership across the region and state, the NYSUNY 2020 program has enabled UB to invest directly in our students’ education.

Through NYSUNY 2020, we have invested even further in opening the door to educational excellence—ensuring a world-class UB education is affordable for students with financial need.

I am proud to say that from 2011 to 2015, in total, over $35 million in aid was awarded to UB TAP recipients—on average, over 7,000 grants were awarded to UB students each year.                                                   

We have invested in student success through initiatives like our Finish in 4 program—ensuring our students have the courses and advisement they need to graduate on time.

In sum, we have invested in academic excellence, we have invested in educational opportunity, and we have invested in student success.

As a result, our student graduation rates are well above the national average, and UB is one of the most affordable AAU public universities, with among the lowest student debt in the nation.

Our graduates are sought out in business, industry, the professions, the arts, and the public sector. Everywhere I go—here in Buffalo, across the country, and overseas—top employers tell me that they love to hire UB grads because they know they bring with them the experience, expertise, and global perspective that are so valuable in the 21 century.

We can all take great pride in that. Our students’ success is a real testament to the mentorship of our outstanding faculty and the dedication of our staff—from academic advisors and financial aid staff to our IT, libraries, and laboratory personnel.

But we are not stopping here. As you know, we have embarked on a university-wide effort to revitalize the General Education curriculum. This new curriculum, which is set to launch next fall, emphasizes thematic clustering—immersing our students in the interdisciplinary research enterprise. And this curriculum directly connects classroom learning to real-world experience, including internships, clinical education, and study abroad opportunities.

I believe we have managed to create a transformational liberal arts experience for our students—an experience that is truly unique within the context of a major research university environment.

This is an incredible achievement. And it is a tribute to the dedication of our faculty and staff who have done so much to ensure that our UB students have a meaningful, distinctive, and richly rewarding education that prepares them to be global leaders in their professions and in their communities. This is a huge undertaking, and I thank each and every one of you involved.

As we have revamped General Education, we also are developing new academic programs at the graduate and professional levels—from the Law School to the Schools of Public Health and Dental Medicine.

We are expanding inter-professional education opportunities, and creating cutting-edge new departments, like the cross-disciplinary Department of Materials Design and Innovation in the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.                        

This is exactly what I mean when I say we are breaking new ground, and expanding our impact.

But again, we are not stopping here. We are pushing the boundaries further as we embark on the next phase of our interdisciplinary research paradigm. With the leadership of our Provost, Deans, and faculty across the disciplines, we have launched the Communities of Excellence initiative.     

These research and education-centric Communities bring faculty, staff, and students together in key areas of focus—revolutionizing how we think about and respond to some of the most urgent questions facing our world today.

The SMART Community will pioneer advanced manufacturing solutions, such as how we design lighter, stronger, more efficient materials. Just imagine how this work can transform modern medicine, industry, and national security.

The GEM Community will transform how we diagnose, treat, and prevent human disease based on genomic research. Imagine how patient care will change when we have the capability to tailor these discoveries to each individual.

And the Global Health community will work to expand global access to the world’s vital resources—especially healthcare, food, and water. Imagine the world of change this can create.

This is all in our reach. But if we are to tackle the biggest questions facing our world today, and if we are to prepare our students to be the next generation of global leaders in these efforts, we must provide the physical environment that supports this work.

We have set that physical transformation in motion across our three campuses—from state-of-the-art new buildings like Greiner Hall and Davis Hall on the North Campus, to the revitalization of Kapoor Hall and the restoration of our iconic Hayes Hall on the South Campus, where in just a couple of weeks we will hear the chimes ringing once again.                              

And, of course, the progress moving forward now with the construction of the state-of-the-art new home for UB’s Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. If you’ve been downtown lately, you’ve seen the exciting progress there, with cranes in the air and steel going up. We anticipate holding the topping-off ceremony this December, and we are on track to open the medical school building in 2017.

Relocating the medical school downtown has long been a key element in our campus master plan. And already, even before the new building is officially online, this project is a catalyst for the renaissance we are seeing downtown.

It is the centerpiece for an Academic Health Center that is bringing our region’s health care, clinical research, and medical education assets into alignment. It is expanding our role in addressing the health care needs of underserved populations, and addressing the regional and statewide shortage of doctors through the growth of our medical student body. And it is driving economic and workforce development in our region, and the vibrancy of our surrounding communities. Together with our health care partners, we are establishing Western New York as a global destination for the very best in patient care, research, and medical education.

Expanding our reach: Revitalizing our communities

All of this represents incredible progress. And that progress is having a profound impact, not only on our university but on our city and region. But this is not the end of the story.

Now I would like to direct your gaze farther up Main Street—to share with you what I believe can be an equally profound example of our university’s public mission coming to life. That is the revitalization of our historic South Campus and its impact on its bordering neighborhoods and communities.

How we relate to our broader communities is central to how UB thinks about campus physical planning. UB is intent on ensuring we are a good neighbor and a good citizen in our surrounding communities.

We are intent on ensuring our neighborhoods are safe and vibrant. We are intent on educating our students about their role and responsibilities as citizens in these communities. We are intent on bringing our intellectual assets to help local businesses expand and thrive. We are intent on encouraging home ownership in the University Heights with the UB Home grant program.              

These are all important steps, but we cannot stop here. With the construction of the new medical school building, about 1,300 faculty, staff, and students will be relocating downtown. This will create a significant gap on our South Campus, and will leave a population deficit in the surrounding neighborhoods.

Our long-range physical master plan seeks to fill this gap by aligning our academic programs where they have greatest impact. As part of this plan, we aim to bring the graduate schools of Education and Social Work to the South Campus—embedding 1500 engaged faculty, staff, and graduate students in the community, and liberating space on the overcrowded academic spine on the North Campus.                                                                                 

Our plan takes place in two phases. In the first phase, we plan to renovate two historic UB buildings: first Townsend Hall, and then Parker Hall, which will become home to the School of Social Work. In the second phase, it is our goal to move the Graduate School of Education as well as to create a Professional Education Center that will be home to our economic development efforts.

This is not just a UB priority. It is also a regional priority. And I am very pleased to say that the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council has endorsed this as one of its priority projects.                                

We are all seeing the tremendous economic, social, and cultural impact that the medical campus is creating downtown. Buffalo’s renaissance has made national headlines. And we at UB are deeply proud of our role in contributing to that revitalization.

But this should just be the beginning. Working together, we can continue Buffalo’s renaissance in the communities bordering our South Campus.

Imagine the transformation to the surrounding community as we establish the South Campus as a hub for professional education and economic development and embed our graduate schools of education and social work more fully into the bordering neighborhoods.

Imagine new retail businesses and restaurants coming in to support an expanding and vibrant population.

Imagine the opportunities this will bring to existing small businesses on Main Street, Bailey, and Kensington Avenues.

Imagine the arts and cultural opportunities that will come with this thriving community.

This is not just a vision for UB, but for our entire region. Bringing the resources to bear to make this vision a reality will take much work, and our continued partnership with regional and state leadership.

But working together, we can make it a reality.

Moving our university onward and upward

Four years ago, I spoke about the need to grow our faculty in order to ensure we create faculty strength across our academic programs. I also spoke about the need to provide academic and administrative support for our faculty’s scholarship. And I spoke of the need to have a physical learning landscape that supports our educational and creative activities.

Over the course of the past four years, we have been doing exactly that. We have enhanced faculty strength across the disciplines. We have built out the research enterprise—from the Communities of Excellence to the Clinical and Translational Research Center. We are designing groundbreaking new academic programs and departments, and a cutting edge general education curriculum.

And the world has taken notice. More and more of the best and brightest faculty and students want to be part of the energy and excitement we have created at the University at Buffalo. With this, we are experiencing growing demand that is translating to rising enrollment yields.

With this evolution, it only seems right and natural to consider growing our enrollment. Accordingly, we are exploring the idea of an increase of 2,000 in our university enrollment over a 5-year period.

Our plans are ambitious, and they continue to be so. As I’ve said before, realizing transformational change is never easy. And it is never the work of one.

I believe together we have achieved incredible things. We have overcome significant challenges, and undoubtedly there will be more to come. But together, we have created a bright future for ourselves.

That is no accident. We have built this future because we have a shared vision for where we want to go as an institution. We have worked tirelessly in pursuit of this vision, and now we have the great satisfaction of seeing it come to fruition.

And we are just getting started.

My thanks to each of you as we continue to move our great university onward and upward.