2021 State of the University

President Tripathi gives his State of the University address.

University at Buffalo President Satish K. Tripathi delivers his 2021 State of the University address.

Published October 11, 2021

Greetings! Before I begin my address, please join me in a round of applause for our very talented UB student, Marcus Lolo. Thank you, Marcus.

And thank you all for joining me for my tenth annual State of the University address!

After all we have endured in recent months, it is delightful to be here with you: Our faculty, students, staff and alumni, including members of the UB Alumni Association, Members of the UB Council, and the UB Foundation, and, our friends and partners from Western New York, including community leaders, health care leaders, and elected officials.

In equal measure, I would like to recognize our university community—in particular, UB’s Office of Environment, Health and Safety—for a safe and successful return to campus.

The smooth resumption of in-person instruction serves as a telling indicator of the state of our university in 2021.

Let me assure you that, despite the many challenges we have faced over the past year and a half, UB is strongacross every facet of our university.

As we settle back into the rhythms and routines of a place-based institution, I think it’s safe to say that none of us is taking the status quo for granted.

"Recap: 10th Annual State of the University"

Reflections on UB's 175th Anniversary

Even in these still-uncertain times, we have many reasons to celebrate UB. This fall, we were delighted to welcome our full student body to UB, including the many international students who could not join us in person during the previous academic year.

During last weekend’s Homecoming festivities, we also welcomed UB’s Class of 2020 back to campus to enjoy the time-honored tradition of crossing our stage in their caps and gowns. And, speaking of tradition: This year, we honor the 175th anniversary of UB’s founding. As with any anniversary—be it personal, professional or institutional—the occasion finds me reflecting on the past…and pondering what lies ahead.

As I trace our university’s progression, I am struck by not only the historic events that have shaped UB, but how our university community has shaped these historic events. When I consider UB’s founders, I wonder if they could have envisioned that the institution they established to produce physicians for our region would contribute to the public health during not one, but two pandemics.

Or, with the automobile revolution still far on the horizon, that their successors would be developing autonomous vehicles and drones.

Or that UB would go from enrolling a single Canadian student to educating talented, ambitious students from 115 countries around the world.

If UB’s founders could see us now, I like to think that they would approve of how far we have come, and all that we have achieved.

As I consider our evolution into a premier public research university, I see a unifying constant across every phase of UB’s history--namely, our unwavering commitment to the greater good.

As I trace our university’s progression, I am struck by not only the historic events that have shaped UB, but how our university community has shaped these historic events. When I consider UB’s founders, I wonder if they could have envisioned that the institution they established to produce physicians for our region would contribute to the public health during not one, but two pandemics.

Or, with the automobile revolution still far on the horizon, that their successors would be developing autonomous vehicles and drones.

Or that UB would go from enrolling a single Canadian student to educating talented, ambitious students from 115 countries around the world.

If UB’s founders could see us now, I like to think that they would approve of how far we have come, and all that we have achieved.

As I consider our evolution into a premier public research university, I see a unifying constant across every phase of UB’s history--namely, our unwavering commitment to the greater good.

The video "Celebrating 175 Years of Excellence" features UB undergraduate student Marcus Lolo's original composition "Épopée impromptue," which he performed during President Tripathi's address.

Making a Local, Global Impact during the Pandemic

During UB’s very recent history, our university community redoubled our commitment to the communities we serve. In doing so, we have made a profound imprint on society during turbulent times.

Our university community has contributed to health and safety by providing evidence-based information about COVID-19. We have led the planning effort to vaccinate Western New Yorkers. We are hosting a state vaccination site. And, when the vaccine was in highest demand, our students created a website to help people find appointments.

These accomplishments did not take place in a silo. They resulted from community partnerships forged over time. These include: an alliance credited with blunting the effect of COVID on our neighbors of color, a collaborative aimed at reducing vaccine hesitancy and a summit to address pandemic-induced isolation.

At the same time that we address the pandemic in our community, we are tackling it in the lab.

For example, UB’s Genomics and Bio-informatics Core is part of a $20 million state-wide effort to identify COVID variants. Across disciplines, researchers have created a waste-water surveillance system to monitor trends not only in COVID-19, but in many viral infections. And human trials are underway for a COVID-19 vaccine candidate created by a UB faculty start-up.

As I consider the past 22 months within the frame of our history, I am moved by the meaningful contributions of our faculty, students and staff. In meeting this defining moment with creativity, compassion and innovation, you embody the principles of service on which our great university was founded.

[Video on COVID-19 research, care and service]

It is really just so inspiring to watch that video and see our university’s remarkable response to this crisis. Thank you, all!

"University at Buffalo addresses COVID-19 in Western New York"

UB's Top 25 Ambition

By virtue of these qualities, you are driving our Ambition to situate UB among the Top 25 public research universities in the nation. As I have said before, our ambition is not about pride. It is about the positive impact we make through our research, clinical care, creative endeavors and educational excellence.

Principally, it is characterized by a university with: nationally and internationally recognized faculty; best-in-the-nation departments and programs; a diverse, welcoming, inclusive and supportive environment; the strong engagement of alumni and friends; a strategic use of resources; and innovation and entrepreneurship that spur the regional economy.

So, if our goals focus on societal impact, transformative education, equity and inclusion, and engagement with our communities…How are we achieving them?

First, to our research enterprise.

Our UB faculty count among the foremost experts and scholars in their fields. Across the disciplines, they are conducting seminal investigations into relevant, contemporary concerns.

These include: an initiative to examine factors associated with school readiness in Pre-K children; a study to improve the retention of under-represented minority librarians; a project to help veterans develop a sense of belonging; and, a collaboration between social scientists, humanities scholars and computer scientists to combat online disinformation.

Moreover, our scholars’ research is resulting in impactful breakthroughs and discoveries like: an electricity-free cooling system; identity verification using 3-D images of finger veins; the existence of pollutants in migratory birds; and technology to boost the effectiveness of the flu vaccine.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the nation’s most selective funding agencies recognize our faculty’s expertise and potential.

In the past year, UB researchers have been awarded major national grants to improve hybrid rockets in space exploration; enhance public transportation for disabled riders, advance MRI technology; and support speech and movement in Parkinson’s patients.

In terms of major grant extensions, UB has received $8.1 million from the NIH to expand our role in the ground-breaking Women’s Health Initiative.

These awards underscore the deep impact we are making on pressing issues. At the same time, they fortify our Top 25 Ambition.

Among the most telling metrics of our research productivity are annual research expenditures.

In 2020, our total research expenditures from federal and state sources, and internal research investments were $422 million

Faculty citations provide another key indicator of our university’s prominence in research. In just five years, these citations have increased 150 percent.

Like citations, the recognition our faculty receive reflects the influence they have on their fields.

In the past year, our faculty have been named fellows of: AAAS, IEEE, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the National Academy of Inventors and the American Council of Learned Societies. In addition, they have been recognized as: National Science Foundation CAREER Awardees, Fulbright Scholars and SUNY Distinguished Professors.

In equal measure, our talented, ambitious students bring distinction to UB by receiving Boren, Goldwater and Fulbright Scholarships; a National Institutes of Health D-Span Award and U.S. Presidential Management and Robert Wood Johnson Fellowships.

Likewise, our alumni’s ideas and innovations have landed them on the pages of Forbes and Fortune magazines.

Never to be outdone, our staff continue to go above and beyond in their endeavors.

This spring, UB staff received SUNY Chancellors awards for professional excellence in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, our engineering, public health and health professions, and law schools, our College of Arts and Sciences and our University Libraries.

Providing UB Students with a Transformative Education

I would like to thank our faculty and staff for supporting and enhancing our students’ educational experience.

At UB, we have always prided ourselves on the world-class educational opportunities we offer. And we continue to evolve our academic programming so it is both rigorous and relevant for 21st-century learners.

Since 2018, we have added 4 new departments covering fields from engineering education to indigenous studies.

And—in that time—we have added more than 100 new degree programs including: undergraduate degrees in global affairs, and materials design and innovation; master’s degrees in Genetic Counseling, Sustainability Leadership, and Socially Engaged Graphic Design; and Doctoral degrees in Nutrition Science, and Water Resources Engineering.

Across the disciplines, UB’s nationally ranked schools, departments and programs range from: architecture, comparative literature, and finance to geography, oral biology, and social work.

And we continue to work tirelessly to provide our students with meaningful academic experiences.

Here is how we know we are on the right track.

Our retention rates, and our 4- and 6-year graduation rates, are strong. But we can do better. And, in service to our students, we will.

Today, our first- to second-year retention rate is 86%. By 2025, we plan to increase it to 93%By 2025, we also want to increase our 4-year graduation rate to 65%and our 6-year graduation rate to 80%

We want our students not only to experience an exceptional education—but also advance toward degree completion in a timely manner.

With respect to our graduate students, in 2019 we launched UB’s PhD Excellence Initiative to recruit outstanding PhD students to work with our distinguished faculty. The same year, as part of this initiative, we increased stipends for full-time, fully-funded PhD students to a level that places UB in the top five of public AAU institutions. And this year, we are covering the cost of broad-based fees for these students.

As a place-based institution, we recognize that our physical environment must support this academic, scholarly and professional excellence.

To that end, we are enhancing Lockwood Library on our North Campus and, we expect to open One World Café this spring.

On our South Campus, we have renovated Townsend Hall as the new home of our Human Resources department. And, on our downtown biomedical campus, we have built a business incubator within our Center of Excellence for Bioinformatics and Life Sciences to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship.

Looking to the future, we will soon begin renovating Foster Hall to move the Graduate School of Education to the South Campus, in accordance with our master plan.

From our university’s origins, we have always met the needs of our faculty, students and staff by reimagining, repurposing and reinventing the places where we learn, work and create.

[Video on UB's enhancements to its physical infrastructure]

"Still Moving Forward"

Committed to Equity, Diversity and Social Justice

These physical enhancements foster an environment for 21st-century inquiry and discovery.

However, they would amount to nothing more than bricks and mortar were we not also building a university culture in harmony with our values of social justice.

We appreciate that structural change requires a holistic approach. Therefore, this work permeates every aspect of our enterprise.

Allow me to emphasize: We are engaged in a comprehensive process. It is an enduring process meant to have enduring impact.

As I mentioned during last year’s address: In June of 2020, I formed my President’s Advisory Council on Race to explore how we can live our social justice values in UB’s programs, policies, activities and traditions.

With the Council’s recommendations in hand, and under Provost Weber’s leadership, today, we are working to operationalize these recommendations.

These recommendations cover areas ranging from curriculum and pedagogy, to faculty hiring, retention and promotion. More than 135 faculty, students and staff are involved in this effort.

It includes a steering committee guiding seven working groups, as well as undergraduate and graduate student committees. Our goal is to ensure that we are purposefully aligning everything we do with values and practices of diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice.

And that extends to the work of my University Police Advisory Committee. We are making a deliberate and concerted effort to implement change across our university from operations, to our built environment, to our student experience, to our curriculum, to our engagement with the community.

That is why, when our Boldly Buffalo campaign received a $10 million gift resulting from the entrepreneurial success of the late faculty member Dr. Carl Granger, I purposefully designated it for university-wide diversity initiatives, scholarships for underrepresented minority students and endowed faculty positions for underrepresented minority scholars.

Working Toward a Sustainable Future

At this point, I would like to touch upon the issue of sustainability.

I am proud of UB’s long-standing commitment to reduce our environmental impact. I am equally proud of the measurable steps we are taking to respond to the increasing pace and intensity of climate change.

Indeed, we have reduced our carbon foot-print 33% over the past three years. And with the installation of our solar panel arrays nearly complete, we will be producing 2.9 million kilowatt hours in our first year. This is equivalent to off-setting the energy use of nearly 500 homes a year.

As a result of our stewardship, we are recognized as higher education’s global leader in this area.

In fact, according to the 2021 Times Higher Education Impact Rankings, UB is number one in the world for climate action.

As we are well on our way to achieving climate neutrality by 2030, I would like to again thank the UB Foundation for aligning their investment decisions with our sustainability goals.

Earlier this year, the Foundation announced that it is divesting holdings from companies that derive revenues from fossil fuel.

Contributing to Economic Development, Vibrancy

As you can see, we take our commitment to the environment very seriously.

As engaged university citizens, this is our responsibility to the region, and to our world.

And this responsibility extends to our role in the economic and cultural vibrancy of our great city and region.

Over the past five years, we have significantly expanded our campus support system for faculty and student entrepreneurship.

As a result, more than 17,000 UB students participated in internships and other experiential learning programs in that time. We are also helping researchers transition technology from the lab to the marketplace. And, we are building bridges between academia and industry.

Since 2017, more than 300 industry partners from the City of Buffalo and across the region have worked with UB’s Business and Entrepreneur Partnerships. This has led to the creation of more than 1,700 new jobs. And, from 2019 to 2020 alone, the number of active start-ups formed by UB faculty and students more than tripled.

As I mentioned earlier, UB and our partners have advanced our regional ecosystem for entrepreneurship with the opening of a 42,000-square-foot business incubator on our downtown medical campus.

The incubator at CBLS is part of the larger Innovation Hub,
an initiative funded by New York State to support start-up formation and growth. At the new incubator, UB staff and entrepreneurs-in-residence provide mentorship, training and connections to our faculty experts and student talent.

In other news of our regional economic impact, we announced in July that UB’s Buffalo Institute of Genomics and Data Analytics helped create 530 jobs at high-tech companies.

Achieving Bold Goals through Comprehensive Campaign

Clearly, UB is growing our standing among the top public research universities.

This momentum has energized our alumni, our friends and our partners. They share our excitement for UB’s present—and they see our potential for even greater impact into the future.

This excitement has translated into generous, and much appreciated, support of our Boldly Buffalo campaign.

To tell some of the story with numbers: Since the start of the campaign, donors have supported: 29 new endowed chairs and professorships; 319 new scholarships and fellowships; and they have contributed to the renovation or construction of 19 campus buildings and spaces.

Without a doubt, it is critical that we continue to propel UB forward. Because now, more than ever, the public research university is being called upon to solve the most complex issues of our time.

And we know that—with the support of our donors, alumni and friends—we can set our sights higher still. That is why, last spring, I announced that we have extended our campaign goal to $1 billion.

A billion dollars is a bold goal. But it is an achievable goal.

I am pleased to share that, to date, nearly $797 million has been committed to our campaign.

Like our Top 25 Ambition, our campaign’s billion-dollar goal has everything to do with impact: with accelerating the pace of discovery, making our world-class education more accessible, preparing our students to solve pressing problems and, ultimately, through all our efforts, contributing meaningfully to an ever-changing world.

Stronger in Service to UB's Mission of Excellence

As I have said before, transformative work is not the job of one, or a few.

It is our collective responsibility.

And if we are to achieve our ambition, it will not be for our self-interests. It will be in the interest of our students. It will be in the interest of enhancing the quality of life for all people—in our community, and our world.

Over the past year and half, we have weathered a tremendous crisis. It has tried us, personally, professionally—on every front.

But, we have persevered—and today, we are more resilient for the experience. Because we never lost sight of our mission of excellence, we have emerged stronger—individually, and collectively.

For the past 175 years, this mission has been intrinsic to everything we do.

Thus, if past is prologue, I have every confidence we will achieve all of our ambitions for our great university.

From UB’s founding, society has relied on our disciplinary expertise, our deep well of creativity, and our ground-breaking innovations to solve the most vexing problems of the day.

It is our mission—and our privilege—to answer the call.

Thank you.

Watch the full video of President Tripathi's State of the University address.