Satish K. Tripathi
As President Satish K. Tripathi begins his second academic year at the helm of the university, he is working with faculty, staff and students to move ahead with the next phase of the UB 2020 plan for academic excellence. With support from NYSUNY 2020, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s historic higher education bill signed into law last year, the university plans to hire 250 additional faculty over the next five years, is creating new programs to enrich students’ educational experiences and is implementing a number of efforts to transform the physical campus climate, including finalizing plans to relocate the medical school to downtown Buffalo. Tripathi took time from his busy day to answer a few questions about UB 2020 and NYSUNY 2020, and their transformative impact on the university.
There are many ways of defining the UB 2020 vision. How do you define it?
UB 2020 is our long-range vision of excellence, focused on raising the bar for UB in quality, stature and impact. We are a very fine institution with the potential to be truly great—to be recognized as one of the leading research universities in the nation and world. UB 2020 is our roadmap for getting there.
Ultimately, this vision is about unleashing the power of what our exceptional faculty and students can achieve and contribute together, given the right environment and the right opportunities. It’s about the synergy and the possibilities created when different minds and perspectives come together to tackle societal challenges, to make a positive difference for the bigger communities they share.
What will it take to make this vision a reality?
Achieving this vision really comes down to three key objectives, all very closely connected.
First, we need to focus on building faculty strength across the disciplines: attracting more of the top scholars who are leading today’s global conversations in their fields, and nurturing their discoveries and ideas.
Secondly—and strongly tied to faculty excellence—is student excellence: educating bright, globally minded leaders who are committed and prepared to make a difference.
Finally, we must work to create the 21st-century campus environment that brings these exceptional faculty and students together in powerful ways and allows their excellence to achieve its full impact.
Can you give us a quick progress report? How well is UB performing with respect to these objectives?
UB 2020 is not just a plan on paper; it’s in full motion. This is a time of tremendous momentum and energy at UB, and we are making tangible progress every day.
Our outstanding faculty body continues to grow in size and stature. This fall, 85 leading faculty joined our academic community—these are faculty at the forefront of their respective fields and they represent tremendous breadth and depth of scholarly achievement.
Bringing even more top-ranked faculty to UB will have a critical impact on our ability to recruit the best and brightest students, and we are already seeing this impact reflected in the quality of our incoming students at every level. Our students are competing with increasing success for national honors like Fulbright, Udall and Goldwater scholarships. We’re working to attract even more top students through increased support for student scholarships. And we are focused on making it easier for these students—especially undergraduates—to engage directly with our distinguished faculty. For example, Discovery Seminars allow freshmen and sophomores to work directly with leading faculty in small-seminar groups, and our Undergraduate Academies provide students an opportunity to explore timely, interdisciplinary topics in depth with leading faculty and experts in the field.
And in just over a year, UB has opened six major facilities on our three campuses. Downtown, the medical school is planning for its new home, where it will be strategically aligned with hospitals and research partners.
What do you think are the main reasons for this progress? What do you see as the major hurdles, and the major opportunities, for the success of UB 2020?
All of this progress is the outcome of our long-range, comprehensive strategic vision; none of these outcomes were achieved overnight. But we could not have achieved this success without the strong support and advocacy we have received—from our higher education partners in SUNY and across our region, our alumni and university friends around the world, local business and community organizations, and elected leadership in our region and state.
Right now, we’re fortunate to have state leadership that recognizes the vital role that research universities play in building thriving communities—and is willing to invest in this impact. While this is unquestionably a time of nationwide economic challenges, for UB and Buffalo it is also a time of unprecedented opportunity. For decades, UB and our fellow SUNY institutions have been saying that long-term state investment is critical to realizing our full potential. This principle was at the heart of the historic NYSUNY 2020 legislation that the governor signed in 2011. This legislation provides critical higher education policy reforms, including a fair and responsible tuition plan for SUNY that ensures educational quality and access for our students, while enabling students and their families to plan for the cost of higher education with confidence.
This legislation has provided a vital path forward for UB during a period of declining state funding. With the historic NYSUNY 2020 legislation and related challenge grant, we now have the ability to plan on a five-year horizon for the first time in our history as a public institution, rather than on a year-by-year budget cycle that makes long-range planning difficult. This has the potential to transform the way we plan for our collective future and invest in our academic mission.
How is UB investing the revenues from the NYSUNY 2020 legislation to advance its vision of excellence?
The NYSUNY 2020 Challenge Grant revenues are being used to advance two critical arms of the next phase of UB 2020—investing in faculty strength across the disciplines and moving the medical school downtown. We’re already making significant progress on both fronts. Plans are moving forward with the medical school move with the identification of world-class architectural firm HOK to design the facility. Over the next five years, we aim to hire 250 additional top faculty using revenues generated by this legislation, and we are already on our way. Some of this fall’s faculty hires were made possible by the NYSUNY legislation, and these revenues will play an increasingly important role in the years ahead. These investments also play a vital role in enriching the educational experience we provide our students. Since the plan was implemented, UB has added more than 300 undergraduate course sections—creating 12,000 more seats—in the highest-demand course areas than were available in the 2011-12 academic year. We’ve also been able to hire more instructors and create more graduate teaching assistant lines to teach these new course sections.
These investments are transforming academic planning across the university. Last year, I charged our deans and vice presidents with leading efforts within each of their units to develop strategic three-to-five-year plans that advance our larger institutional goals of excellence. We also initiated the “E Fund,” which uses new revenue from NYSUNY 2020’s rational tuition program to invest in interdisciplinary projects that advance our academic vision. We’ve already had two rounds of funding that generated tremendous interest from across the university. Some of the proposals selected for funding include interdisciplinary academic projects, from an energy-diversification program and a Center for Excellence in Writing to an innovative Arts and Emerging Technologies program; as well as academic support initiatives that will transform the student experience, including a diversity recruitment program, the Finish in Four program and an e-textbooks pilot program in the University Libraries. I know Provost Zukoski is very excited about the great opportunities before us, and under his leadership we will be working together as an academic community to build upon our university’s excellence and impact.
What are your goals for the future? What’s the next chapter of UB 2020?
Speaking generally, I believe we always need to be focused, as an institution, on where we want to be in five, 10, 50 years, and we need to define, collectively, what are the most effective strategies that will take us there. And that’s exactly what we’ve been doing.
We are committed to being responsive to ever-changing societal needs and challenges, and that means we always need to be examining the purpose, relevance and impact of our work in the classroom, the lab and community.
Today, we have many exciting opportunities before us, and we are actively seizing them. Downtown, the medical school is actively planning for its new home, where it will be strategically aligned with area hospitals and research partners. Just to name a few examples, we are making exciting progress with our newly designated New York State Center of Excellence in Materials Informatics, a research center that will establish UB as a worldwide hub for the discovery and commercialization of new materials. We’re launching two new Undergraduate Academies—one this fall focused on entrepreneurship and one next year in the area of sustainability. And we continue to welcome more of the best and brightest faculty, staff and students, who are increasingly drawn by all that UB has to offer.
It’s a great time to be at UB, and I truly believe the best is yet to come.