2017 State of the University

Published October 6, 2017

“When I consider the UB I saw when I first arrived here in 2004 – namely, a fine institution with great potential – what I see today, in 2017, is truly trans-formational: An institution – our institution – that is poised to take its place among the very best premier public research universities.”
Satish K. Tripathi, President

Good morning!

My thanks to our staff at the Center for the Arts for this beautiful video! I am so excited about what we have accomplished together. And I am so excited about our future. 

I am excited because UB is a place that attracts students, faculty and staff from every corner of the globe who have different experiences, different passions, different perspectives, different talents, but who share a common goal: to make a meaningful difference in the world—and we are doing just that, in our surrounding neighborhoods, and in our global community.

I’m delighted to see so many faculty, staff, and students with us today, along with many members of our larger communities, including New York State Assembly members Crystal Peoples-Stokes and Michael Blake; Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw; SUNY Trustees Ange Fatta and Eunice Lewin; UB Council members Pam Heilman, June Hoeflich and Michael Cropp; many UB alumni and friends, including members of the School of Engineering’s Dean’s Advisory Council; and our regional, health-science, and business partners.

Thank you all for joining me.

The video we just watched captures the momentum that I see at UB each and every day. It shows the continuing narrative of UB – a university on the move, an institution on the rise.

From groundbreaking research, to breaking ground for state-of-the-art facilities, we are evolving in remarkable ways.

When I consider the UB I saw when I first arrived here in 2004 – namely, a fine institution with great potential – what I see today, in 2017, is truly transformational: An institution – our institution – that is poised to take its place among the very best premier public research universities.

This year, in U.S. News and World Report, UB achieved its highest rank ever among the nation’s best public national universities, at number 41.

And, in the category of the nation’s best universities – public and private – we have risen 24 spots over the past decade. More than any institution in the AAU.

According to the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education college rankings, UB was 24th among U.S. public universities—up four spots from just a year ago.

In my State of the University address two years ago, I outlined a plan, in response to a steady surge in applications, to strategically increase enrollment.

This year, we welcomed the largest freshman class in UB history. The very best students are increasingly seeking us out. We continue to attract ambitious students from all corners of the country and from points all over the globe—106 countries, to be precise.

Why? Because now, more than ever, students across the state, the nation and the world recognize that a UB education will equip them with the critical thinking and global perspectives they need to contribute meaningfully in a 21st century society.

This bright, driven and engaged UB student body includes, among many others: a record number of Fulbright scholars; the winners of a prestigious national mock trial competition; a group of future nurses and dentists who provided urgently needed care to hundreds of refugees displaced by civil war.

As you can see, our students are making their mark at UB, and the many communities we serve, in profound ways. And by taking full advantage of the robust culture of mentorship that we foster at UB, they are discovering that even the loftiest goals are within grasp.

Every day, their mentors – our faculty – inspire them to excel in the classroom, in the lab, in the studio, and in the field. Our faculty are recognized nationally and internationally as thought leaders and change-makers across the disciplines.

This is evident in the prestigious awards they’ve received: among others, NEH grants, Fulbright Fellowships, and highly competitive CAREER awards, The National Science Foundation’s most significant award for early career academic researchers.

We also see our faculty’s rising influence through their election as fellows of their scholarly associations: the National Academy of Inventors, the Biomedical Engineering Society, and the Academy of Social Sciences, to name a few.

Indeed, their deep scholarly impact permeates the entire fabric of society. From developing an inexpensive method for converting saltwater into potable water to building implantable sensors to identify and monitor serious illness, from establishing a link between gum disease and cancer risk in older women to artificial-intelligence research that aims to make next-generation vehicles carbon-neutral, our faculty’s novel discoveries are enhancing our understanding of the world around us while improving lives around the world.

Because of our faculty’s scholarship, we are advancing as a premier research university. And by several different metrics, our research profile continues to expand. These include the growth of federal research expenditures, from 156 million dollars to 183 million dollars annually, a rise in scholarly citations in peer-reviewed journals, and a continued upward trend in faculty honors.

As testament to the currency and impact of their work, our UB scholars continue to compete for, and win, prestigious grants—even against the backdrop of declining federal research dollars.

Let me highlight just a few examples:

In the Department of Pediatrics, researchers are using a 2.8 million-dollar grant from the NIH to fight childhood obesity. The NSF awarded a UB-led research team 2.7 million dollars to create a software tool to catch errors that can skew datasets. And the School of Nursing received more than 2.4 million dollars to increase access to mental health care and substance abuse treatment among Native American communities.

Just as our research aims to improve people’s lives, our community outreach seeks to improve quality of life.

Serving many, and serving meaningfully, has always been a centerpiece of UB’s mission.

So, what does “True Blue” community engagement look like? It looks like law students helping low-income clients navigate the legal system. It looks like a free summer camp where girls tackle fun and creative exercises to help them achieve in math and technology. It looks like future architects and planners constructing a sustainable future in Costa Rica. And it looks like our graduate students training citizen scientists to help solve environmental problems throughout Western New York.

At any academic institution, transformation often takes place incrementally, and subtly. Other changes, however, are much more obvious.

This past year saw numerous—and dramatic—enhancements to our physical landscape across all three campuses.

Over the summer, we completed the second phase of our Heart of the Campus project, with 1 Capen and 1 Diefendorf.

In these new spaces, I’m always impressed with the excellence and efficiency of our UB staff as they help students with everything from parking passes to financial aid packages to transcripts. Because these new hubs consolidate many services into a central space, our students spend less time taking care of the business side of being a student, so they can spend more time focusing on academics.

On the South Campus, the School of Dental Medicine is undergoing a remarkable transformation. Once completed, the multimillion-dollar renovation will enhance students’ education and patients’ treatment.

And tomorrow, a short walk from where we are gathered today, we will break ground for our UB fieldhouse. Thanks to a generous donor—former UB student-athlete Tunney Murchie–this facility will build upon our tradition of developing student-athletes who succeed in the classroom and on the field.

Over the past four years, we have all been watching a major capital project rising up on our downtown campus. I speak, of course, about the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. A decade ago, as part of our UB2020 plan, we envisioned moving our medical school downtown.

Today, we have realized that vision.

Faculty and staff are moving into the new building this semester. And classes will begin there in January.

With the move of our medical school downtown, our students, our university, and our region will reap enormous benefits, among them: enhanced collaborations between UB and our hospital partners, including Roswell Park and Kaleida Health; an academic, research and clinical care experience that prepares UB students to succeed in an evolving health care landscape; an environment that helps us recruit top faculty, staff and students; and medical research innovations and improved clinical care for our Western New York Community.

In August, we welcomed the Jacobs medical school class of 2021. At 180 aspiring physicians, this class is the school’s largest ever. Expanding class size by 25 percent helps us in filling the physician shortage in the nation, and right here in Western New York.

By helping to fill critical health care fields, UB medicine is building on the Jacobs School’s established tradition of caring for those most in need. And now, we can dig even deeper into that commitment.

With each year, UB’s impact on our nation and our world is greater than ever before. This, of course, is a tribute to the collective accomplishments of our students, our faculty, our staff, and our graduates. As a community, we have dedicated our lives to bringing the benefits of our teaching, research, and creative activities to our local and global communities.

Through the collective efforts of many—whether lab technicians, IT specialists, admissions counselors, librarians or construction coordinators— we have focused our sights on positively changing the world. Every member of our university community, through their life’s work, contributes to the fullness of our mission.

It is also why we felt a collective sense of betrayal with the news that trusted employees had abused their role as public servants.

Their actions demonstrated a brazen disregard for our university, our students, our faculty, our employees, our alumni, and all the communities we serve.

But we will not allow the actions of those who betray us to define who we are. Their actions are completely contrary to who we are as a university community.

When I first learned of potential financial mismanagement in our university, I immediately called for an internal audit and, from there, took prompt action to tighten financial controls. This included assigning authority for all financial decisions and transactions in the Faculty Student Association and the former University Life and Services organization to the Vice President for Finance and Administration. I also expanded our university’s internal control system with the implementation of additional policies and procedures.

Regarding the FSA: We worked to ensure that it is in compliance with all state policies, regulations and requirements. This included re-constituting the FSA board and remedying any financial irregularities.

As I have stated before—and it is important for me to re-state here: When the public trust is betrayed, we must all ensure that policies are in place, and are followed, so we can prevent such acts from occurring again.

As president, every day I have the honor of talking with, and meeting with, incredibly talented and dedicated students, faculty, and staff from all over the world.

It is you who define us as a university community.

We recognize that, for each member of our university community to reach their potential, we must ensure that all are able to learn, work, and conduct research and scholarship in an environment free of harassment and discrimination.

And, equally important, an environment where we listen closely to one another, even when we do not share another’s point of view.

We know that our strength as a welcoming university lies in our commitment to fostering an inclusive campus community—a place where global perspectives enrich discussions and create opportunities to explore issues from new angles.

It is within this inclusive and welcoming environment that we uphold freedom of expression as a strongly held core value.

I applaud our campus community for respecting each other’s right to express their viewpoints, just as I respect our graduate students’ right to speak up, and speak openly, about their concerns regarding TA stipends.

We are listening to our graduate students’ concerns.

And the Dean of the College, the Dean of the Graduate School, and department chairs are having discussions with them about the issues they have presented.

We value the talent, dedication and intellectual rigor that our graduate students—and all of our students—bring to our university community every day.

As a community, we have gathered today at a particularly exciting moment in UB’s evolution.

Over the past six years, we have built our reputation and impact as one of the leading public research universities in the nation.

We have done this by: strengthening our undergraduate, graduate and professional programs; dramatically enhancing UB’s undergraduate curriculum; growing our research portfolio to further our scholarly impact; engaging in inter-disciplinary research that develops strengths in key fields; building faculty expertise across disciplines; and by improving the physical environment—across all three campuses.

Alone, each of these achievements is significant. Each has had a major impact on our educational and research mission. In total, these achievements have truly transformed the University at Buffalo. And everyone—from prospective students and faculty recruits—to alumni and staff—to our regional partners and neighbors—is taking notice.

The evolution that is taking place, right here, is unmistakable.

We see it in our results.

For example, our ever-growing role in Western New York’s knowledge economy and its resurgence. This includes: faculty and students leading entrepreneurship across the region; UB’s investment of talent and innovation into our growing biomedical and IT sectors; local business and industry sectors seeking to hire our graduates; and, our faculty, staff and students joining in the excitement happening throughout Western New York.

We also see it in our faculty’s research, which is resulting in new start-ups across the region. We see it in our students’ meaningful engagement with our community. And we see it in our global community of 250,000 alumni, who are distinguishing themselves in the arts, the sciences, business, medicine, law, and many other fields.

Yet, this is no time to rest.

Institutional evolution, by definition, requires us to always move forward.

And UB never stands still.

We are driven to examine and re-examine our institutional progress.

We are called to constantly ask ourselves: How can we bring the full benefit of our research and our scholarly and creative activity to local and global communities so we are positively changing the world?

To do that, we must continue to forge our bold path toward enduring excellence.

And then, we must be efficient and strategic in the investment of our resources.

We have a history of doing just that.

As a result of strategic planning and strategic investment, we have defined new interdisciplinary programs and research. At the intersection of these disciplines, we are discovering novel ways
to approach and solve problems.

We know that successful interdisciplinary work can only stand on the foundation of strong academic departments. And with that, we must further strengthen our departments so they can be more competitive than they are today.

We want our academic departments to be known nationally as the very best.

The very best departments draw the attention of the finest students, and drive the recruitment of the finest faculty.

The very best departments generate the very best interdisciplinary research, scholarship and creative work, and produce the most sought after graduates. Further, having the best departments elevates the reputation of our entire university.

As we continue our pursuit toward a vision of enduring excellence, we must understand that we cannot rely on the state’s investment in public higher education.

Nationally, state investment in public higher education has been trending downward for well over a decade.

This trend certainly holds true for New York State.

And, while state investment in public higher education has substantially decreased, overall institutional costs have risen—and will continue to rise.

At the same time, our competition to attract the very best faculty and students continues to increase.

So, what do these financial constraints mean for our ability to invest in our academic mission?

It means we have to think strategically, examine our priorities, and make strong, data-driven cases for investment. It means we have to make smart decisions. And it means we have to be pragmatic in executing our plan.

Today, more than ever, it means that philanthropy is critical.

If we are to join the ranks of the very best public research universities, we must encourage and inspire more private philanthropy. We want to inspire our alumni to give back because they recognize the profound impact that their UB education has had on their lives. We want our faculty and staff to see the great potential in our university. And, we want all of our university friends to support our students’ dreams and our faculty’s bold pursuit of life-changing research.  

Philanthropic giving, then, becomes the great differentiator.

It means the difference between being very good and being in the highest tier of research universities.

To accomplish this, we must harness the power of philanthropy from every corner of our community – near and far.

And so, next spring, we will formally announce a comprehensive campaign.

This campaign will focus on supporting faculty through endowed professorships; increasing student scholarships; and improving the physical environment for teaching and research.

This will allow us to attract the finest faculty and students, and build the very best departments.

I am excited to note that our campaign has already attracted a number of private commitments. Gifts from bold, forward-thinking donors who have put their faith in UB, our aspirations, and our plans.

For UB, the utmost example of how private philanthropy and support can transform a university is the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.  

Thanks to Jeremy Jacobs and his family, UB, as I mentioned earlier, is weeks away from opening the doors to the new home of the Jacobs School. A magnificent, 21st century medical school in the heart of the Buffalo Medical Corridor.

Many other individuals have already stepped forward in support of our ambition.

This includes alumnus Stephen Still, a 1976 engineering graduate who is with us today. Just yesterday, we announced a major gift commitment from Stephen to name a new institute at the Schools of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and Management. 

We are also grateful for campaign commitments like those from Lucky Davis. Lucky funded a gift so returning veterans can smoothly transition to college life. He represents the foresight and compassion of so many of our donors.

When they see our students, they see hope for a better tomorrow.

The promise of philanthropy brings us closer to realizing the brilliance of our mission.

And we will see this brilliance in the impact of our collective work on our world.

It is our mission that unites us as a university community.

We recognize that building a great university hinges not on the work of one—or a few.          

By coming together as a community of staff, students, faculty, alumni, UB friends and community partners, we gather the momentum to act upon our boldest and brightest ideas. To lead the way in public higher education and to better the world around us.

Over the past six years, we have seen how our creativity, our hard work, and our innovation reverberate.

The impact we are making together is being felt near and far.

But bold ambitions and bold aspirations are not for the faint of heart.

As always, they entail hard work.

But then, we have never chosen the easy path.

We have always been committed to making our mark in a big, transformative way.

As I look out across the audience, and across this university, I see individuals brimming with bold ideas.

Always remember, each of your ideas brings our mission into sharper focus. And each of your actions – big, small, incremental, strategic, visionary – brings our mission to life.

Your ideas, and your actions, inspire me.

You are why, as I look toward the horizon.

This is what I clearly see: a university on the move, an institution on the rise.

Thank you.