Delivered October 14, 2022
Good morning, and greetings! Before I begin, allow me to offer my heartfelt appreciation to UB Professor Melissa White for that beautiful performance. Thank you, Professor White!
I would also like to extend my thanks to you—our faculty, students and staff—for joining me not only this morning in Slee Hall but for always showing up to uphold UB’s mission of excellence.
That is why, I can proclaim—without hesitation—that the state of our university is strong.
And, finally, to the members of our broader UB family—our friends, alumni and community partners—I am grateful to you for your support of our university.
In particular, I am pleased to acknowledge members of the UB Alumni Association, members of the UB Council and UB Foundation, and, our valued community leaders, health care leaders, higher education leaders, and elected officials.
To set the stage for my address, I would like to share a highlight from our recent past because it has so many positive implications for UB’s future. As you saw in the video, Governor Kathy Hochul designated UB a flagship institution during her State of the State address.
Although UB has long been considered a de facto flagship, this formal distinction has brought immense pride to all of us. To extend the analogy, I would say that the flagship designation has put the wind in our sails as it underscores UB’s reputation as a premier public research university.
In the domain of higher education, a flagship refers to a public university that sets the standard for other institutions to follow.
According to the higher education scholar John Aubrey Douglass, the modern flagship university should be-and I quote-“grounded in its historical purpose, but remarkably different in its devotion to access and equity; to the quality of its teaching, research and public service mission; and, to meeting national and regional socio-economic needs.”
Everywhere I look, that is exactly what I see. And let me assure you, UB’s remarkable difference will propel us into the ranks of the nation’s Top 25 public research universities.
Allow me to break this down. Douglass asserts that a flagship university should be remarkably different in its devotion to its research mission. How does UB distinguish its research among our peers?
I would argue that we do so through the caliber, relevancy, and leading impact of our research.
By virtue of these strengths, when industry and government need software to manage high-performance computing infrastructure, the NSF calls on UB to shepherd the project. And when society faces deeply entrenched health challenges, we take them up on a global scale. Through our international partnerships—including a historic collaboration with six Indian universities—we are leveraging our expertise in fields crucial to health care and green energy.
At UB, we harness our expertise to not only respond to pressing issues, but to anticipate them.
With our depth of interdisciplinary knowledge, we are doing remarkable things—like connecting the dots between the last Ice Age and eco-systems of the future, and tracking space craft and space debris.
This is what “remarkably different” looks like.
Clearly, the nation’s most selective funding agencies are taking note.
On the whole, UB’s sponsored research expenditures rose 7% over last year—and the number of active awards is higher as well.
What’s more, for the first time in our history, these expenditures topped $200 million.
These figures demonstrate the caliber of our research and scholarship across disciplines, from STEM, where researchers are improving computer chip security to the humanities, where our scholars are sharing critical stories in the American narrative including those of Indigenous people and cultures.
Related, this year UB celebrated the launch of our Department of Indigenous Studies. At the same time, we celebrated a Native American Studies program that was among the first of its kind when it began 50 years ago.
We also recognized our librarians, who received an NEH grant to support our plan for a James Joyce Museum on the South Campus. The intention would be to improve public access to UB’s Joyce artifacts—the most comprehensive collection of its kind.
This is what it means to be a flagship. That your libraries house world-class treasures. That your departments are ahead of their time. That your work is recognized at the highest level—including by the White House.
As you know, our academic year began with Vice President Kamala Harris’ historic visit to UB.
During her visit, she met with faculty and students and laid out the Biden-Harris administration’s investments in climate action.
When some learned that the White House had selected our university for this significant visit, they asked one question: Why UB?
However, to those familiar with the depth and breadth of our climate change research and practices—there was no question.
They recognize us as higher education’s long-time leader in sustainability.
For decades, we have brought our expertise to bear on the complex challenge of climate change. And at UB, we not only study the climate—we model the most sustainable practices. From our “green” buildings to our popular bike share program, to our law school’s environmental justice clinic, to our recently completed solar strands which off-set the energy usage of 2,000 homes a year, we are recognized internationally for our climate action.
Thanks to the action we have taken, I am pleased to share that we are well ahead of schedule to achieve carbon neutrality by the year 2030.
So, whenever someone asks, Why UB? I respond: Of course, UB.
[Video of VP Harris’s visit and Climate Action at UB plays]
To further reflect on the Vice President’s time at UB, it is quite a feat to pull off such a significant visit—especially in a matter of days.
I would like to acknowledge those responsible for making Vice President Harris’ visit so memorable, including staff in University Events; the Center for the Arts; Government Relations; University Communications; University Police; Facilities; Parking and Transportation; and Student Health Services.
In so many ways, our staff—whether in admissions, student life, academic advising, facilities or in units and offices too numerous to name—make UB an exceptional place to carry out our mission—not only on special occasions, but every day. Thank you, all!
That video, created by our talented UB production staff, shows how we are confronting one of the most monumental challenges of our time.
In the process, it depicts a university remarkably different in its public service mission.
It is so gratifying to know that, increasingly, our faculty are being recognized for making that difference.
Over the past academic year, more than 20 UB faculty members received the most select scholarly honors in their field.
Our recipients include faculty in the College of Arts & Sciences, in disciplines ranging from English and History, to psychology, Gender Studies, and Geology.
Our award recipients also represent faculty in professional schools including: the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences; the School of Nursing; the Graduate School of Education; the School of Architecture and Planning; and the School of Management.
At the system level, an impressive 9 UB faculty were elevated to the rank of SUNY Distinguished Professor from the schools of Public Health and Health Professions, the Jacobs School, Engineering and Applied Sciences, and the College of Arts and Sciences.
In the same vein, our faculty’s research is increasingly cited in their peers’ scholarship.
This year, we welcomed more than 130 new full-time faculty to UB—a group of highly accomplished scholars across all decanal areas.
Of course, faculty excellence lays the foundation for the finest departments. And, as we pursue our Top 25 Ambition, UB’s highly ranked academic units are advancing us toward our goal.
To build on this excellence, we have received a $12.1 million state investment for new faculty hiring. This will bring more than 70 new faculty to UB in addition to the faculty hiring we conduct annually.
This is an unprecedented opportunity. It will allow us to grow our faculty, enhance our excellence, and deepen our impact.
Because our faculty keep our students at the heart of everything we do, their excellence mirrors itself in the future leaders we cultivate.
At Buffalo and in Singapore, we enroll a combined 32,000 students and, last year, awarded more than 9,500 academic degrees.
As a global university with students from more 100 countries, we are proud to be remarkably different in our devotion to teaching. This difference empowers our undergraduate and graduate students to shine on the national and international stage.
To give you just a glimpse of their accomplishments:
Our graduate students continue to distinguish themselves by:
Building on our commitment to recruit the very best PhD students to our programs, we are investing $1 million in a new Graduate School Fellowship. These grants will be awarded to the most talented and ambitious PhD students for their academic pursuits.
We are committed to supporting all our students, who—through their research, artistry, sportsmanship and civic mindedness—embody the UB values we hold dear.
Excelling on all these fronts requires nothing less than a progressive living-learning environment.
Guided by our master plan, we continue to refine our built environment in support of student success.
This fall, in addition to creating new learning landscapes throughout our Natural Sciences Complex, we renovated lecture halls there to include 30-foot video walls, microphones at the seats, and cameras that capture chalkboard writing in real-time—and, yes, even with all this
modern technology, we still love our chalkboards!!
At the beginning of the year, we opened the much-anticipated One World Café—a popular destination for dining, studying and collaborating.
Thanks to the generosity of UB alumnus Russ Agrusa, our students are enjoying a peaceful space and outdoor classes at the School of Management.
Recently, renovations began at Foster Hall in preparation for the Graduate School of Education’s move from the North to the South Campus.
This move enables us to further our collaborations with our community partners, with the aim of improving education outcomes.
With the exponential growth of enrollment in STEM majors, one of my foremost priorities has been a new building for our School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
When Governor Hochul announced UB’s flagship designation in January, she also announced $102 million—through a 2-to-1 capital matching program—for a new engineering building.
In keeping with our commitment to meet regional and state socio-economic needs, this building will help us prepare students for in-demand STEM careers.
Thank you, Governor Hochul, and the Western New York delegation for your enduring support of UB.
Over the past decade, we have expanded UB’s entrepreneurial culture to empower students and faculty to spark socio-economic vitality across the region, and well beyond.
This is happening not only in dedicated campus programs like Blackstone LaunchPad, but in our decanal units as well.
For example, our School of Law helps founders navigate the legal issues of starting a business.
Overall, more than 24,000 UB students have been involved in our entrepreneurial programs in just the past three and a half years alone.
That includes our new Cultivator Program, which invests in promising early-stage UB companies and mentors their founders.
At the other end of the spectrum, some of our more established UB-affiliated enterprises are experiencing landmark success.
In its push toward commercialization, a UB start-up has raised $14 million for a medical device that has received the FDA’s prestigious “breakthrough status.”
In COVID-related advances, a faculty spin-off has entered Phase 3 clinical trials of a vaccine candidate.
And, a UB partner company has launched the first-of-its kind anti-body test to detect immunity to the virus.
In total, our office of Business and Entrepreneur Partnerships has supported nearly 200 start-ups that have raised 327 million dollars and created more than 2,500 jobs.
We leverage these ambitious ventures to contribute to our knowledge economy, grow and attract industry, and create prosperity.
As we do, it is imperative that we keep our eyes trained on equity.
If we fail to promote fair and just opportunities for all to thrive, we fall woefully short of our civic duty.
This brings me to the first—but for my purposes, final—descriptor of the modern flagship, and I quote: “A modern flagship university must be remarkably different in its devotion to access and equity.”
At UB, that difference can be found in the depth of our dedication to social justice—locally and globally.
Through a fellowship just launched by our Office of International Education, UB will serve as an academic sanctuary for scholars facing threats to their lives, liberty and well-being.
Truly, our university-wide imperative is designed to dismantle all structural barriers to equity.
Since I convened my President’s Advisory Council on Race two years ago, a diverse cohort of faculty, students, alumni and staff has been exploring how we can do just that.
Next month, Provost Weber will host a town hall to discuss our work in more detail.
Today, I am pleased to share that we are making strides on all fronts.
We are, for example, increasing programming to create a stronger sense of belonging for our diverse student body.
Our VITAL Scholars program is diversifying the faculty by inviting dissertation-stage scholars to campus to present their work and meet our UB community.
At UB, we are committed to doubling the number of faculty from historically underrepresented minority backgrounds by 2025.
In fact, from 2019 to this year, the percentage of new underrepresented minority faculty hires increased from under 10% to nearly 35%.
In an effort to create more inclusive campus spaces, we recently dedicated the Willie R. Evans Quad in UB’s Ellicott Complex.
In his spirit, we continue to work with our neighbors, partners and leaders in the City of Buffalo to reduce disparities and improve quality of life. Thank you, Mayor Byron Brown, for your leadership.
In the spring of 2021, UB partnered with Kaleida Health and Mission Ignite to help bridge the city’s digital divide. This partnership, with support from the NSF and Schmidt Futures, equipped more than 100 homes in the Fruit Belt with free Wi-Fi.
We are excited that our work toward digital equity is expanding in concert with partners across Western New York, including the City of Buffalo.
The Graduate School of Education’s Teacher Residency Program—a model for addressing K-12 teacher shortages—will soon be expanding its reach in Buffalo as well.
With the help of our deeply valued partners, we continue to cultivate health equity in the city.
Over the summer, we co-hosted the fifth annual “Igniting Hope” conference.
As it was held in the aftermath of the racist massacre at Tops super-market, the conference focused on maintaining resilience and reconstructing a community of care.
Among the 10 people killed in that horrific rampage was a member of UB’s class of 1981. Pearl Young attended UB in her 30s, while raising three children. Over the years, she worked with the elderly, volunteered at election polls, ran a food pantry and, at the time of her death, was substitute teaching in Buffalo public schools.
When we gathered to recognize UB’s Class of 2022—just days after the shooting—I asked our graduates to use their degrees as Pearl Young did—to serve others.
I reminded them that, as educated and engaged citizens, they must not remain silent. They must speak up. They must act. They must use their knowledge, and their expertise, to combat inequity, racism and hate.
[ social justice at UB video]
I am so heartened to see our students’ commitment to building a just community.
In doing so, they follow the inspiring example of our broader UB community, who are making an impact both locally and globally.
Like alumnus Marcus Yam, a former international student who this year won his third Pulitzer Prize in breaking news photography for documenting the fall of Kabul.
And Karen Andolina-Scott, a Law School and Social Work alumna who has dedicated her career to helping refugees create new lives in Buffalo.
Over the past year, an alumni couple whose medical practice is one of the area’s largest minority employers created a scholarship for underrepresented medical students.
Local and national foundations provided support for a fully equipped dental van for our students and faculty to travel to rural areas to care for people with disabilities.
And our former SUNY Chancellor and her wife established an endowed professorship to lead the Law School’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.
To date, our Boldly Buffalo campaign has created 380 new student scholarships, a 75% increase in endowed chairs and professorships, and $138 million in dedicated research funding.
With our campaign nearing its $1 billion goal, I would like to thank all of you for supporting our work on behalf of the greater good.
For all the accomplishments I have outlined to this point, we must also acknowledge the challenges we face in realizing our full impact.
UB must keep student success our top priority.
Student retention rates, their persistence in obtaining their degree, and their graduation rates help quantify our progress.
At last year’s State of the University address, I laid out an ambitious goal to raise our first-to second-year retention rate above 90 percent.
Due to Covid, online learning took its toll on K-12 education.
This, in turn, has impaired students’ academic preparation for higher education.
We also know that some of our students must, unfortunately, pause their UB education due to financial hardship.
Despite these factors, for our students’ sake we must get back on track.
Thanks to Governor Hochul, and the Western New York delegation, the state has ear-marked $1.7 million to enhance student success at UB through new initiatives.
We must use this investment to re-imagine our student support systems to ensure our students don’t slip through the cracks and o prepare them to lead in these complex times.
Today, I call on our university community to re-commit to student success through the arc of the student experience from the moment they step on campus as a prospect to the day they don their cap and gown as a graduate.
I also believe that, while we should applaud our research accomplishments, we can put ourselves on an even steeper upward trajectory.
Which is why I am challenging our university community to double our sponsored research expenditures from $200 million to $400 million by 2030.
Admittedly, these are bold goals.
However, they are not out of reach for a university of UB’s caliber.
And so, as my parting request, I ask you to take up these challenges.
Not as an overwhelming endeavor, but as an opportunity to realize the full sweep of UB’s mission.
With our sails up, and our vision trained on the horizon, we will—all of us—steer our beloved flagship to its brightest future.