Published October 7, 2016
This is what a great university looks like!
It’s the portrait of a university whose students, faculty, and staff want to make a meaningful difference in the world—and are doing just that, in our surrounding neighborhoods and in our global community.
And it’s all of you who bring this picture to life.
I’m delighted to see so many faculty, staff, and students with us today, along with many members of our larger communities, including: New York State Assemblyman Robin Schimminger; City of Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown; Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw; Buffalo Common Council President Darius Pridgen; Independent Health President and UB Council Member Michael Cropp; UB Foundation Chairman Fran Letro; many UB alumni and friends, including members of the School of Engineering Dean’s Advisory Council; and our regional and healthcare partners.
Thank you all for joining me.
Reflecting on our achievements:
This is my fifth annual State of the University address. I am proud to report, once again, that the state of our university is very strong. And our future is equally bright.
We continue to rise in the ranks of the nation’s top public universities. Our U.S. News and World Report ranking rose to #43 this year. And the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education ranking placed us even higher, at #28.
As our reputation continues to grow, we are attracting more leading scholars, artists, and innovators—change-makers who recognize the great opportunities here and want to help realize them to the fullest.
Those opportunities are transforming our larger communities as well. It’s clear by now that Buffalo’s resurgence is not just a passing trend. Our city is continuing its steady upward trajectory, and UB is proud to supply so much of the energy propelling it—through our people, our ideas, and our discoveries.
Thank you, Mayor Brown, for your inspiring leadership.
As our academic community grows even more robust, we are achieving even greater impact. In just the past four years, UB’s research profile has expanded by several significant measures, including: growth of federal research expenditures—from $156 million to $184 million annually; a steep rise in scholarly citations; and a marked upward trend in faculty national honors, including multiple NSF Career Awards, major national honors and fellowships, and top honors for literary achievement, scholarship, education, and mentorship in the STEM fields.
Our faculty’s academic leadership has clear, direct outcomes. In the arena of graduate education, we are seeing a significant increase in degrees earned; progress with our plans to grow medical education; as well as an expansion of our graduate curricular portfolio.
Our faculty have an equally profound impact on undergraduates. This is one of the great distinguishing hallmarks of a UB education—that our students at all levels have the opportunity to work closely with faculty at the vanguard of their fields.
These opportunities prepare UB graduates to compete and contribute at an exceptional level. A case in point: 94% of UB grads from the Class of 2015 are employed or pursuing graduate degrees.
And because of these opportunities, our students are already making a name for themselves on a national and global stage. Just in the last year, UB students have been awarded the Truman Scholarship, the Marshall Scholarship, two Fulbright Student Grants, and a record eight NSF graduate research fellowships—more than the total awarded to all the other SUNY campuses combined! Our UB student athletes also achieved great success, including our women’s and men’s basketball teams, who both brought home MAC Championships and competed with the best in the nation at the NCAA tournament last March.
As you can see, today’s UB students are blazing an exciting trail. They are also building on a long and proud tradition. Since our founding 170 years ago, UB has been a welcome home for students who aspire to make a difference in the world around them—leaders, dreamers, and innovators who are intellectually curious, and passionate about sharing their knowledge with others.
Top students come here from around the world because they know that at UB, they will have the educational experiences that enable them to realize their aspirations.
And across the globe, our graduates are the living proof of this—like Marc Edwards, a prominent civil engineer who helped uncover the water crisis in Flint, Michigan; Terry Gross, one of the nation’s most respected voices in radio, who just received the National Humanities Medal; Tom Toles, a Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist who challenges how we see key issues like climate change and social inequality; and Robin Li, founder of one of the world’s leading internet search engines.
Today’s UB students will soon join over 245,000 graduates worldwide, using their UB education to achieve and contribute in incredible ways. So to all the alumni who have joined us here today—including those with us for the special 1960s reunion—welcome home!
As you reconnect with old friends and rediscover favorite campus spots, you’ll also see many changes. Some of you joined us for the grand re-opening of Hayes Hall—celebrating the restoration of a beloved campus icon. Elsewhere on our historic South campus, we are renovating other classic buildings, while making 21st century innovations to enhance research and education. And progress moves forward with the initial design phases for the Main Street Campus Revitalization project, which I unveiled at my State of the University address last year.
Here on the North Campus—the heart of undergraduate education—UB is creating a dynamic learning landscape. This fall, we celebrated the transformation of the third floor of the Silverman Library—a vibrant intellectual hub for students to connect, discover, and create. Together with the Abbott Hall library renovation on the South Campus, these transformations are key milestones of UB’s Heart of the Campus project.
Across UB, we are enriching the educational experience with digitally enhanced classrooms and other upgrades, and building a better wi-fi network across all three campuses. And downtown, a third UB campus continues to expand: from our Clinical and Translational Research Center and the state-of-the-art new home we are building for the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences—in close proximity to our health care and research partners including Kaleida, Roswell Park, and Hauptman-Woodward Institute—to the new home for the Arthur Eve Educational Opportunity Center.
We could not have achieved all this without the dedication of our entire university community. And we could not have done it without the support and engagement of our alumni, university friends, and community partners.
For example, the School of Law is celebrating the success of its most ambitious fundraising campaign in school history—reaching its $30 million goal. And with the Build the Vision campaign, we have raised $175 million of our $200 million goal for the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
An evolving vision
When you stop to think about how much we’ve done together in just a few years, it’s truly incredible. So many of our alumni visiting for Homecoming have told me they are amazed by how much has changed since their student days, but they are just as excited by what has not changed—the UB spirit they know and love.
We are shaped by our history, and we draw strength from our roots. And we are true to our mission and the core values that define us as a great public research university—namely, our commitment to fostering an inclusive and welcoming campus community where all feel safe, respected, and valued; upholding the principles of equity and fairness in every aspect of the university enterprise; and ensuring that everything we do as an academic community is undertaken with integrity.
These are enduring UB principles, and they are the bedrock beneath everything we do and achieve. At the same time, building on this strong foundation, we never stop evolving and reaching toward the next horizon.
As we all know, evolution doesn’t take place overnight. It develops slowly, incrementally, over many years. With our mission and core values as our guideposts, UB’s evolution has taken shape through the efforts of many hands, many voices, and many points of view coming together.
And we have thousands of faculty, staff, and students to thank for the incredible progress we have made together—including everyone here in this room: from facilities and planning staff who have worked together to build a world-class physical environment; and communications professionals across the units who have collaborated to launch a major branding initiative; to the faculty and students reaching beyond the boundaries of their fields to imagine new research communities; to the hundreds of staff, students, and faculty who have joined forces to reimagine the UB curriculum into an innovative model of rigorous, relevant experiential education.
Thank you all for these great contributions.
More than a decade ago, we launched the UB 2020 strategic vision, setting in motion an institutional transformation that continues today. In the research arena, we imagined a new paradigm to tackle urgent challenges—complex problems facing health care, our climate, and social justice.
And we set to work building that vision. We identified cross-disciplinary research and scholarly areas where existing strengths aligned with great societal need. We framed a faculty hiring strategy to advance this strategic strengths initiative. We developed the 3 E-Fund to invest in academic and research excellence. Taking this model to the next level, we launched RENEW, and then Communities of Excellence, which are focused on the big issues that impact our world, including the environment, global health, and personalized medicine.
And every day, our scholars put this model to the test by tackling these issues head-on—in our backyard and on a global scale. Let me highlight just a few timely examples. Faculty in Chemistry, Environmental Health, and Pharmacology are partnering on an $11.4 million multi-year study to analyze the public health impact of Tonawanda Coke Plant emissions. Recently, UB pediatric researchers earned an $8.8 million National Institutes of Health award to expand family-based weight-loss treatment programs—impacting more than 500 families and 1,000 patients in Western New York and nationwide. And another inter-disciplinary team recently received a $2.9 million National Science Foundation Award to hasten the discovery of new critical materials.
These are just a few examples of how a big idea has evolved into powerful impact locally, nationally, and globally.
Transforming the undergraduate experience has followed the same deliberate path. Over a decade ago, we imagined a unique educational experience that brings the research enterprise close to our students and offers them relevant first-hand experiences in their chosen fields. We took the Honors College—now celebrating its 35th year—and we shaped it to ensure our students have the benefit of a small, superb college environment within a large research university setting.
We launched our Undergraduate Academies , where students explore timely, interdisciplinary topics with leading experts. We introduced Discovery Seminars, led by our distinguished faculty, for our freshmen and sophomores. We expanded study abroad, internship, and clinical opportunities. We introduced the Finish in Four program to provide students with the support they need to graduate on time. We enhanced curricular opportunities through a new Winter Session.
These programs, along with our Heart of the Campus renovations and our new UB Curriculum, have all come together to form a truly vibrant undergraduate universe with endless possibilities for exploration. And these investments are yielding tangible outcomes. UB’s four-year graduation rate rose from 35% in 2005 to 55% in 2015—well above the national average of 34%. That rate is even higher among our Finish in 4 participants: 63% among our first cohort, who graduated last spring.
And this environment is attracting more of the world’s best students. In my address last year, I mentioned we were exploring plans for gradual growth in our enrollment to meet growing demand. We are well on our way. Applications rose 10% last year. This fall, we welcomed the Class of 2020—
the largest in UB history, with just under 4,000 students. Incidentally, nearly 80% are participating in Finish in 4, so this promising group is already on track to graduate on time, in the year 2020!
Even more importantly, this gradual growth in enrollment is accompanied by a steady upward trajectory in the quality, diversity, and academic achievements of our students. A case in point: as I mentioned earlier, growing numbers of UB students are competing at the highest level for the most prestigious national and international awards and honors.
These trends reflect UB’s growing reputation and stature as we have become widely known for offering a transformative educational experience.
From the outset, we recognized that to fully realize our vision, we would need to build its foundation—a 21st century physical landscape supporting world-class research and education. We imagined three distinct, vibrant UB campuses—seamlessly connected to each other, and deeply embedded in their communities.
Patiently, we built to achieve this vision. And all around us, we see our vision being realized, in living color. Even more importantly, we see the clear impact of this vision. When we embarked on UB 2020 over a decade ago, we imagined not just our future as a great university, but the impact of our greatness—how we could further contribute to the public good in a lasting and meaningful way.
We knew that realizing this vision would take the commitment and collaboration of many. So we worked to engage our stakeholders and partners to ensure that strengthening our communities and improving the quality of life are key principles embedded in our research enterprise, in our educational experience, and in our physical campus plan.
And today, we see students actively engaging with our surrounding communities—from internships and clinical experience, to service to our local K-12 schools.We are working with state, city, and community-based organizations to expand our service efforts in our surrounding neighborhoods: from programs to enhance employment and entrepreneurial opportunities; and a program to encourage employee home ownership in our neighborhoods; to initiatives to enhance student and employee volunteerism, improve safety, and help community gardens and green spaces flourish.
Defining our next steps
So the scope of UB’s evolution expands across our tripartite mission. But every element stems from a single organizing principle. That principle is about collaboration toward a common purpose—toward a shared vision for enhancing the public good.
This principle is both the essence of our mission and the means by which we pursue it. We know that to realize this vision fully, it must be more than an abstract ideal. We have to live it every day. And we have to model it for our students—so they have the foundation to create their own profound impact in the world around them.
As we stop and look around at what we have built together, it is deeply gratifying to see our vision come to life—and to see it have a positive impact in the lives of others.
At the start of UB 2020 we said that our strategic vision is guided by two inter-related objectives: advancing research and discovery with profound societal impact; and creating relevant, transformative educational experiences that prepare leaders for the 21st century world.
With this vision as our guide, we committed ourselves to a set of mission-driven priorities.
We committed ourselves to building innovation and rigor throughout the undergraduate and graduate curriculum. And we are doing just that.
We committed ourselves to fostering translational and trans-disciplinary innovation across the research enterprise. And we committed to growing our faculty, and fostering a diverse and inclusive academic community. And we are doing just that—in part, with hiring over 335 faculty from all over the world.
We committed ourselves to engaging more effectively within our communities. And we committed ourselves to creating a world-class physical environment to support 21st century learners, educators, and researchers. And we are doing just that.
These aren’t one-time achievements. Realizing our strategic vision involves ongoing, evolving commitments, and we must reaffirm them every day. To make good on our commitments, we must be nimble and responsive in an evolving world.
Like all public universities, UB continues to be challenged by a nationwide trend of declining state support in the face of growing public need. At the same time, the national narrative about the cost and value of higher education has shifted dramatically.
At UB we have been intentional in providing our students with an exceptional education so they can achieve their personal and professional aspirations. At UB, we understand that our graduates will have a profound impact on the future of our nation and world. They will enhance the cultural vibrancy of our communities. They will help create a global economy in which everyone can participate. They will be the core of an educated citizenry that is critical to a strong and healthy democracy.
Imagining the next horizon
So together, let’s imagine where we can go from here. We don’t have to look far into the future to imagine our possibilities. Imagine how the Class of 2020 will see their alma mater when they graduate four years from now. Imagine the possibilities that new faculty, staff, and scholars will see in tomorrow’s UB, and imagine how they will build on those possibilities.
Here’s what I imagine.
I believe that UB can and will lead the way in framing the national conversation about the value and relevance of higher education, with the liberal arts occupying a central place in preparing an educated and socially minded citizenry.
We can and will continue to break important ground through our trans-disciplinary research efforts that bring faculty, students, and staff together to develop pioneering solutions and new artistic approaches that make our world stronger, healthier, and more vibrant for all.
With a thriving medical campus, UB can and will play a leadership role in fighting life-threatening diseases like cancer and M.S., and in preventing future health risks we can only imagine.
I believe we can and will do all this because we have amply proven our ability to make big ideas a reality.
I believe this because I have seen it for myself, every day: every time I walk across campus and chat with staff; every time I drop in on a class to talk with students; every time I speak with faculty about their research projects; every time I visit one of our galleries, take in a student performance, or cheer our athletes from the stands.
That’s the UB I see, and each of you is a vital part of that picture. Now, let’s take inspiration from the road we have traveled. Let’s focus our sights on the path in front of us. And let’s keep our mind’s eye on the next frontier.
Thank you all.