By SUE WUETCHER
Published September 15, 2023
UB continues to advance its Top 25 Ambition, and President Satish K. Tripathi updated members of the UB Council on the progress the university is making toward that goal at Monday’s meeting, the first of the academic year.
Tripathi’s briefing to the council focused heavily on faculty — recruiting and retaining “the best and brightest faculty across the disciplines,” including in areas of “great societal importance,” is an institutional priority, he said.
In fact, more than 150 new faculty members have joined UB for the coming year, he added.
Tripathi noted that one area in which UB is making a tremendous impact — artificial intelligence — has implications for every aspect of our lives.
“UB is truly at the center of AI research and application — and we have been for decades,” he said. “Long before AI was on everyone’s lips, UB was acclaimed as a pioneer in machine learning.”
More than 200 faculty across the university are working on large, sponsored AI projects, he told council members. He pointed in particular to UB’s National AI Institute in Exceptional Education, a National Science Foundation-funded center that is just one of 25 awarded nationwide in the past four years.
He also praised the UB|AI Chat series, a panel discussion series that will focus not only on educational issues, but also ethics, security, business, health care and more. SUNY Chancellor John B. King Jr. attended the inaugural panel last week.
“It is important to note that this series is titled ‘Harnessing AI for Public Good,’” Tripathi said. “As with all of our endeavors, our AI research is making a positive impact on society, in keeping with our Top 25 Ambition.”
Addressing research more broadly, Tripathi reported that UB’s sponsored research expenditures continue to rise, increasing by 16% to $232 million in fiscal year 2023.
“Although this news is certainly cause for celebration, I consider it less a milestone than a steppingstone,” he said.
“Yes, we have done what we set out to do — namely, we have dramatically grown UB’s research portfolio. However, I am confident that we can, and we will, put UB’s research enterprise on an even steeper upward trajectory in the coming years.”
In other business at Monday’s council meeting, Jim Jarvis, chief campus counsel, provided an update on the Supreme Court’s June decision on race-based admissions programs.
Jarvis told council members that while the court’s decision restricts the use of holistic admissions approaches that take race into consideration — approaches that, he said, have been used appropriately by UB and other universities across the country for many years — universities still can pursue their diversity objectives.
“There’s nothing in the decision that prevents that,” he said, adding that colleges and universities “can continue to articulate their missions and goals for student body diversity and to use legally permissible means to achieve diversity.”
While racial status cannot be used in making admissions decisions, life experiences related to race can still be taken into consideration, Jarvis said. He read from a portion of the decision that stated that nothing in the opinion prohibits universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race has affected his or her life when making admissions decisions.
“So when considering a student’s admission application, it remains appropriate for the university to consider an applicant’s character, credentials, experiences and contributions to society to determine the student’s potential and their likelihood for success in specific academic programs and their potential to support the university’s mission,” Jarvis said.
He noted that guidance regarding the court’s decision from the Department of Justice and the Department of Education — guidance from SUNY is expected soon — cited some examples of how this can be done. Among them: an applicant’s explanation of what it means to them to be the first Black violinist in their city’s youth orchestra, or an applicant’s account of overcoming prejudice when they transferred to a rural high school where they were the only student of South Asian descent.
Jarvis said many schools — he mentioned Harvard in particular — also have begun focusing on essay prompts that encourage students to reflect on the impact of race on their experiences.
The Supreme Court’s decision directly addresses only admissions; there are several admissions-related areas that it doesn’t expressly address, Jarvis noted, including scholarships and financial aid, outreach and recruitment, pipeline and pathway programs, and race-neutral strategies, such as consideration of a student’s socioeconomic status, geographic location and the particular high school they attended.
Regarding financial aid and scholarships, “historically the law has required us to align the legal analysis with the same standard that applies to admissions,” he said. When considering the use of race in making scholarship and financial aid decisions, “we need to look carefully at how that’s done,” he said.
Race can continue to be used to identify potential candidates for recruitment and outreach, and if race-neutral criteria are used for selection into pipeline and pathway programs, “preference for participants in those programs could be used in admissions decisions because the reason they got there was on a race-neutral basis,” he said.
Jarvis noted that institutions in Michigan and California — where state laws have prohibited the use of race in admissions decisions for many years — have developed numerous ways of increasing racial diversity without using racial status directly in admissions decisions.
“We have been working with admissions and financial aid, and other administrators — both pre-decision and post-decision — on compliance with the decision in ways that allow us to continue to pursue our diversity objectives,” he said.
The meeting concluded with a presentation by Craig Abbey, vice provost for institutional analysis and planning, on the Middle States reaccreditation process.
Abbey told council members that the reaccreditation process was “an ongoing process of self-review, reflection and improvement — so, examining what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, seeing the processes that we can improve on, having better outcomes for our students and for our mission overall.”
The reaccreditation process involves a self-study, Abbey said, prepared by five teams of more than 100 individuals from around the university who have expertise on the standards the Middle States Commission on Higher Education has established, and its criteria.
Those seven standards are:
The self-study is in its final stages of preparations, Abbey said, and will be presented to the university community for comments later this month through October. The chair of the peer evaluation team from Middle States will come to UB for a preliminary visit Oct. 2 and 3, with the visit by the full evaluation team slated for March 2024.
He expects reaccreditation at the June 2024 Middle States commission meeting.