Published October 4, 2019
Good morning! I hope you all enjoyed that wonderful video as much as I did. I would like to thank our UB production group for creating such an inspirational piece.
When I watch it, I marvel at how artfully they distilled so many UB highlights into a single, three-minute video. Given the wealth of source material, that is no small feat!
And by that, I mean you– our incredible community of faculty, students, staff and alumni—and our extended community of regional partners and health care partners, supporters and friends—who make UB the premier public research university that it is.
You are the reason why—as I deliver my eighth annual State of the University address—I can confidently report that the State of our University is strong, indeed.
I am delighted to see so many members of our UB community here today, along with many members of our extended UB family, including: Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown; Buffalo Common Council member Ulysees Wingo; Kaleida Health President and CEO Jody Lomeo; ECMC President and CEO Tom Quatroche; UB Council member June Hoeflich and; UB council emeritus member Pam Heilman; Members of the UB Foundation; many UB alumni and friends, including members of the: College of Arts and Sciences’ Dean’s Advisory Council; the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences’ Dean’s Advisory Council; the UB Alumni Association; and our Boldly Buffalo campaign volunteers.
I would also like to take a moment to acknowledge the string quintet who performed for us this morning: Professors Leanne Darling and Jonathan Golove; Undergraduate students Julia Port and Laura Zu; and UB friend Gretchen Fisher.
This quintet exemplifies the harmonious and productive collaborations that our faculty and students embark upon every day at UB.
Whether we are: creating bio-art to explore social and ethical questions; helping factories reduce carbon emissions; or analyzing court decisions;
When we harness our diversity of experience, expertise and perspective, we re-affirm our commitment to UB’s mission and vision of excellence.
In order to realize our mission, we need to be strategic in everything we do.
A recent chapter in our university’s transformation was our UB 2020 strategic plan. UB 2020 reveals what we can accomplish when we are thoughtful and strategic in planning our university’s brightest future. Because our successes provide a template for our next steps as a university, some of today’s address will be retrospective.
During my address, I would like to: first, reflect on the many accomplishments we achieved through UB 2020; and then, lay out how we can leverage these accomplishments to chart our course for the future.
When we began this chapter in our university’s history, UB was a very good institution—an institution with a rich history and great potential—but we had the potential to be much better.
So, we made it our collective imperative to help UB achieve its institutional potential as one of the premier public research universities.
We were not driven by pride or glory…but to make a profound impact on our students, and on the many communities we serve.
With the year 2020 fast approaching, something I said during last year’s address bears repeating: UB 2020 was not about a date on the calendar. It was never about a fixed point in time. It was about keeping our sights set on our goals. It was about maintaining a broad field of vision– starting with our university and extending to our communities at home, around the nation, and around the world. To advance UB’s prominence among the world’s best research universities and strengthen the impact of our mission, we focused on academic and research excellence.
Broadly speaking, we set out to transform our students’ education into a vibrant experience that prepares them to live and lead in a globalized world. To that end: we designed an innovative, student-centered general education program known as the UB Curriculum; we enhanced our Honors College; we expanded opportunities for global education, internships, entrepreneurial and clinical opportunities; and we launched “Finish in 4” to provide students the resources they need to graduate on time.
In the graduate domain, our efforts included: creating new doctoral and dual-degree programs; establishing new inter-disciplinary departments; and, in the health sciences, developing our inter-professional education curriculum, with the support of our health-care partners.
In our research domain, we focused on leveraging our strengths for the most meaningful societal impact. To that end: we constructed a research paradigm rooted in innovation in basic and applied research; we fostered an inter-disciplinary culture to solve pressing problems; and we built up our research infrastructure to support our faculty in their work.
In the realm of our campus physical environment, we set out to: modernize UB’s living-learning spaces for our students; and to provide our faculty and staff the state-of-the-art facilities that would allow them to excel in their fields and disciplines.
By its nature, our campus master plan has been the most visible manifestation of UB 2020 —particularly to members of our UB family who have been away from campus for some time.
Many of our alumni who have joined us for this weekend’s Homecoming festivities are returning to campus to find UB’s landscape dramatically transformed. If I were to summarize our campus master plan accomplishments, I could list the many projects and renovations we have completed. Instead, I’ll let the images speak for themselves.
These capital projects came to be as a result of partnerships, planning, construction, and craftsmanship. But they only came to life because of you. Our mission, our vision, our strategic planning endeavors can only be achieved with you.
Whenever I meet with faculty, drop into a student performance or cheer on our UB Bulls teams, I am reminded of how much we have achieved together.
I am inspired each time I see: members of our international community sharing their diverse cultural perspectives with their peers; our students pursuing their life’s dreams; and our faculty, our advisors and our entire UB staff supporting them in their goals.
Together, we have achieved a great deal. I would contend that we have exceeded our own high expectations. Let’s take stock.
Please allow me a moment to share some metrics that tell part of the story.
In the early days of UB 2020, our 4-year graduation rate stood at 35 percent. Today, it is at 60 percent—nearly double the national average. The graduation rate for participants in our Finish in Four program is higher still—at 63 percent.
In enrollment, just last year we received 31,000 applications for freshman admission – more than at any point in our history. Since 2013, applications to UB have risen nearly 40 percent.
We are also experiencing an increase in our selectivity, and an increase in the number of under-represented minority students in our classes.
And, because our students take advantage of UB’s robust educational opportunities, they are receiving some of the most prestigious awards and honors. These include: Fulbright Awards; NSF and NIH research fellowships; and Marshall, Udall, Truman and Goldwater Scholarships.
From the view of the graduate domain, as a result of our strategic efforts: we are awarding 23 percent more graduate degrees; and the reputation of our programs and schools are rising. In fact, our Schools of Dental Medicine; Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences; Social Work; and Public Health and Health Professions are all ranked in the top 35 in the nation.
Moving to the sponsored research domain: over the past 15 years, our sponsored research expenditures have risen from 129 million dollars to 178 million dollars. Our scholarly citations—an important measure of our disciplinary impact—increased nearly 50 percent in just a six-year period.
We also received several large center awards. They include: a 15-million dollar Clinical and Translational Science Award from the NIH; three extensions of the land-mark Women’s Health Initiative totaling nearly 16 million dollars; and a 25 million-dollar Science and Technology Award from the NSF—which was renewed last year with a 22.5 million-dollar grant.
Just as these selective research awards attest to our faculty’s impact, so do the prestigious honors they receive.
In recent years our faculty have been recognized by: the National Humanities Center; the American Council of Learned Societies; the American Psychological Association; and the Smithsonian Institution.
And our faculty have been receiving these honors with increasing frequency—from CAREER awards to membership in the academies. In fact, this past year UB faculty members received a record-number 11 CAREER awards, which are the NSF’s most prestigious award for early-career teacher-scholars.
Our faculty’s distinctions do not end there. The number of UB faculty appointed to SUNY’s distinguished ranks—the highest rank in the system—has risen dramatically. Over the past dozen years, 74 UB faculty were appointed to these ranks.
These numbers speak to our faculty’s influence as leading scholars, artists and innovators. They underscore the contributions our faculty are making to the public conversation, for the public good. And today—more than ever—the world is taking notice.
Because of our strategic focus on excellence, society turns to UB for answers. In fact, last year, 407 faculty members were quoted in 11,039 news stories. And with our enhanced profile, national media seek out our faculty with increasing frequency.
As we saw in that short video, our faculty are extending their disciplinary expertise beyond the walls of the academy to advance the narrative on relevant contemporary issues – issues such as health equity in our local community… artificial Intelligence…school bullying…the opioid epidemic…climate change.
As you know, UB has an extensive history of leadership in environmental responsibility and climate change mitigation. Our commitment dates back four decades, to the environmental movement at Love Canal.
Today, UB researchers are exploring solutions to the most pressing environmental topics of our time—rising sea levels, soil erosion, suburban sprawl and extinction, among them.
And with our newly launched Department of Environment and Sustainability we are encouraging the next generation of scholars to follow their lead.
At the same time, we are taking clear action to decrease our own carbon footprint. More than a decade ago, UB was among the charter signatories on the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. This commitment puts us on the path to carbon neutrality by the year 2030.
To get there, we determined that we would reduce our overall energy usage 20 percent by the year 2020.
I am proud to report that, today, we have already surpassed that mark. In fact, our energy usage is down 35 percent. And, of the electricity we use, one-hundred percent comes from clean, renewable sources.
Moving forward, we will install solar panels on our grounds and rooftops across all three campuses by the end of 2020.
Our work in this regard has not gone unnoticed: Among 250 universities worldwide, we are ranked third for our climate action.
So, how do we know we are making an impact?
We know because, through our partnerships, more Buffalo Public students are applying to—and gaining acceptance to—college and university.
We know because existing businesses seek out our UB graduates—and new companies are established in Western New York because of our graduates.
We know because, as a result of our collaborations with our health-care partners, our communities are healthier.
We know because both the MAC and the NCAA recognized UB for establishing an inclusive environment in athletics, on campus and in the community.
By multiple measures, we know we are making an impact.
We continue to move in the right direction with our mission-driven priorities.
And from an external vantage point, UB has been rising in the ranks of the best public research universities over the past eight years. By two external measures, UB is now ranked 31st in this category.
When we excel across our academic priorities, and when we push the disciplinary boundaries in our scholarship, our research and our creative work, our national reputation grows stronger.
Clearly, we articulated a bold vision, we set our plan in motion and—as a result—we have accomplished much.
But, as I have said before—great universities never stand still. So, the obvious question is: What’s next?
When we began the conversation about UB 2020, we determined that we wanted to become one of our nation’s premier public research universities.
Today, we are. Clearly, our guiding principles steered us well. So, as we look to the future, we will stay the course.
We know we are on the right course. We know it by our research and scholarship. We know it by our student outcomes. And we see it reflected in our institutional ranking.
But if past is prologue, we also know we can make an even greater impact across our local and global communities.
Indeed, I believe that the University at Buffalo can rise even further in the ranks of the AAU. I believe that we can cross a new threshold. I believe that, in the next decade, we can situate the University at Buffalo in the Top 25 public research universities in the nation.
To be sure, a Top 25 ambition is a bold ambition. But it is an achievable ambition.
Let me be clear: In this endeavor, we are not motivated by pride. It is about excelling in our mission-driven priorities. Meaning: our academic departments are among the very best in the nation….we are innovating in our undergraduate, graduate and professional education…our creative work inspires others and our discoveries improve lives…we are attracting the best, most ambitious students…our faculty, students and alumni are engaged with their communities…and we are known—nationally and globally—for excellence across all of our enterprises.
Already, we have begun to position ourselves in this regard. With the leadership of our deans, we are focused on enhancing innovation and excellence across our PhD programs. With the leadership of our faculty, our goal is to improve scholarship, teaching and career outcomes for our current and future PhD students.
As we survey UB’s trajectory to date, it’s clear that our Top 25 ambition is the next natural phase of our evolution. To earn our place in the nation’s Top 25 public research universities, we will continue to follow the guiding principles of UB 2020. But for our next evolutionary phase, we will hone the articulation of our university’s goals.
We will achieve greater societal impact by enhancing our scholarly productivity and growing our research portfolio.
We will provide our undergraduate and graduate students with innovative, research-grounded educational experiences that prepare them to live and lead in a global world.
We will build upon our university-wide culture of equity and inclusion by further integrating inclusiveness into all aspects of our university.
And we will deepen our engagement in the region by strengthening our partnerships to contribute to positive health outcomes and economic vitality.
As we pursue our bold ambition, we will encounter challenges.
For example, we have been contending with a state level of appropriations that has not only remained flat for some time, but is compounded by the budget cuts of the Great Recession.
Across the higher education landscape, the finest colleges and universities are vying for the very best students, while the number of high school graduates in the Northeast continues to decline.
So when it comes to enhancing our selectivity, we are drawing from a narrowed pipe line. Also, the uncertainty around national policy has made some international students and scholars hesitant about pursuing their education in the U.S.
Last but not least, colleges and universities across the nation face persistent questions about the value of higher education and one’s return on investment.
At the University at Buffalo, we confidently respond that higher education not only delivers a powerful individual return, but extends to a critical societal benefit as well.
While challenges are inevitable, they must not deter us from our goals. We simply have too much to achieve.
And so, we will pursue our Top 25 ambition with the determination and resolve that have emboldened us throughout our institutional history.
We will continue to advocate for the public good that our great public university serves.
We will continue to share the inspiring story of the University at Buffalo with our partners and our elected officials.
And as we continue to move closer to realizing our Boldly Buffalo campaign goals, we will work with our friends, our supporters and our world-wide alumni community to: make our transformative education even more accessible through increased scholarships and fellowships—as alumnae Greer Hamilton and Danise Wilson have done with their gift to the schools of Social Work and Public Health and Health Professions.
Invest in our faculty through increased endowed chairs and professorships—as alumnus David Pfeil has done with a gift to the School of Management, in honor of his longtime friend and former classmate Kenneth Colwell.
And promote discovery and innovation—as alumnus Atif Zafar has done with his gift to the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
In my reflection at the beginning of my address, I noted that the University at Buffalo of 15 years ago was a very good institution with great potential.
But today, when I look out across our university, I see an institution transformed. Transformed in our research enterprise. Transformed in our academic enterprise. Transformed in our built environment. And I see an institution that is contributing meaningfully to Western New York’s renaissance, and more deeply engaged with our local and global communities than ever before.
What this tells me is this: the potential of our university is limitless.
We tapped that potential when we expressed our UB 2020 strategic vision. We tapped it further back—in 1989—when we became the first public university in the Northeast admitted to the A-A-U. We tapped it again, in 1962, when we joined SUNY and became the largest, most comprehensive university in the system. We have tapped it at many points in our story – indeed, from the very start, when a group of aspiring physicians walked into a leased Baptist church to report for class in our newly chartered university.
Today—some two years from UB’s 175th anniversary— we are poised to tap that limitless potential yet again.
As always, we keep our sights clearly set on our mission-based priority: our imperative to harness our intellectual and creative capacities to positively change the world.
And so today, we begin a new chapter in the evolving story of the University at Buffalo.
An exciting chapter. A chapter filled with promise and potential.
As our success hinges on all of you, I look forward to pursuing our Top 25 Ambition with all of you—united in our commitment to enhance our excellence, innovation and engagement.
If we pursue our goals together—with the thoughtful and clear-eyed determination that has characterized our pursuits from the time of our university’s founding—I believe there is nothing we cannot achieve for UB, and for our world.