Published October 13, 2023
Good morning, and greetings! I am delighted to welcome you to my 12th annual State of the University address. I would like to begin by thanking the Center for the Arts production group for capturing UB’s spirit in that terrific video. I would like to extend my appreciation, as well, to Chair Huebner and one of our newest faculty members—Professor Dunn-Danger—for that beautiful performance.
In turn, I would like to acknowledge all the faculty, students and staff joining me for our annual university tradition. We have many UB stakeholders with us today, including members of the UB Alumni Association, the UB Council, the UB Foundation, and the SUNY Board of Trustees, along with our civic and community leaders, health care partners and elected officials. We are grateful for our many partners. Thank you all for being here, and for your commitment to UB’s mission of excellence!
Because of you—our immediate scholarly community and our broader circle of friends and partners—I can declare unequivocally that not only is our flagship strong—but it is becoming more vibrant every day. And, today, in scholarly fashion, I intend to defend my thesis with compelling evidence. Although, as something of a disclaimer... I will require a bit more time than the participants in our Three-Minute Thesis competition!
Of course, if you have attended my State of the University address in years past, you already know that. Just as you know that I often use this occasion to set goals for our UB community. Whether related to our academic endeavors, economic development, or community engagement, I have always considered these challenges university-wide calls to action… Assignments on a grand scale, you might say.
Today, as I stand before you, and contemplate every facet of our enterprise, it is abundantly clear that you have taken these challenges to heart. As a result, we are achieving exactly what we set out to do.
Research Expenditures on the Rise
Because of its primacy in our mission, and our aspirations, allow me to begin by talking about research. A short year ago, we were marking a historic first for UB’s research portfolio—namely, our sponsored research expenditures exceeding $200 million.
Even as we celebrated this landmark achievement, I knew we were capable of making a greater impact. That’s why, at my 2022 address, I tasked us to put these expenditures on an even steeper upward trajectory.
In “True Blue” style, our faculty and staff not only accepted the charge... you responded with research benefiting people across the lifespan from infants to new mothers, to the elderly. You reduced disparities by improving access to Indigenous research, teaching and learning, promoting equitable grading practices, caring for patients in medically underserved areas, and improving air quality monitoring in our city.
Moreover, when it came to the environmental crisis, your expansive research had implications for the water we drink; the health of our land; and the air we breathe. Truly, your purposeful response surpassed all expectations. So much so—I am delighted to announce—that UB’s sponsored research expenditures increased 16% over the previous year—to $232 million!!
As you know, enhancing scholarly productivity and growing our research portfolio are essential to achieving UB’s Top 25 Ambition. I always emphasize that our ambition is not motivated by pride, but impact. Without a doubt, our rising research expenditures validate the deepening impact of our disciplinary expertise.
Largest New Faculty Cohort since the 1970s
In recognition, our faculty are being elevated to prestigious scholarly bodies and receiving esteemed honors for their contributions to medicine, art, linguistics, public health, anthropology, urban planning, education, social work, chemistry, pharmacy, dental medicine, law, psychology, nursing, materials science and statistics, among many other disciplines.
To amplify our faculty strengths, I have long contended that we must increase their ranks. Today, I am here to tell you we are doing just that. In January, we unveiled our plan to hire upward of 200 full-time faculty in areas of university strength and global importance. This semester, we welcomed UB’s largest cohort of new faculty in over 40 years.
We are realizing this ambitious goal, in large part, with the state’s conviction in our mission of excellence. I would like to thank Governor Hochul, and the Western New York delegation, for their strategic investment in UB. Like the rest of society, they recognize the significant ways our faculty bring their expertise to bear on the state and world.
Confronting Challenges to Free Speech, Affirmative Action
As you just saw, when confronted with consequential issues, the world turns to UB. But what happens when these issues land at UB’s doorstep? Over the past year, we have been tested on matters as old as the First Amendment and as futuristic as A.I. To the principle of free speech: Let me underscore how critical it is to uphold this constitutional right, not only in the abstract, nor when it is convenient to do so, but also when the speech in question offends our sensibilities. Heckling… shouting down our opponents… suppression… censorship... these have no place in higher education. But opposing ideas we reject with robust arguments grounded in truth, reason and justice? This is what higher education prepares us to do! Remember: Speakers will come and go. But we will always exercise our right to meet weak claims with strong ones, to counter hatred with compassion, and to champion equality and inclusivity.
On that theme, last spring saw the Supreme Court’s ruling on race-conscious admissions. What I stressed then bears repeating today: UB thrives because of our diverse perspectives, backgrounds, cultures, and lived experiences. It enriches our research, our scholarly pursuits, our academic discourse—indeed, all we endeavor to accomplish. As we consider the scope of the Supreme Court’s decision, rest assured: We are responding thoughtfully and strategically to continue cultivating an equitable and welcoming academic community.
This work complements an array of recent initiatives that uphold our values, like enhanced opportunities for students from diverse backgrounds to connect and bond, career fairs, professional training programs for students, and faculty recruitment initiatives, like our VITAL scholars program.
Through my President’s Advisory Council on Race, we are funding pilot projects for civic-minded research. Moreover, we have expanded mentoring programs to reach diverse and first-generation student populations, including graduate students. This is how, in light of the Students for Fair Admissions Decision, we are integrating inclusivity into every corner of our university.
Leveraging AI for the Public Good
I would argue that the final challenge I’d like to discuss today presents as many opportunities as it does concerns. On one hand, artificial intelligence, in the wrong hands, gives rise to manipulation, deception and worse—both in higher education and society at large. In equal measure, this rapidly evolving technology can engender tremendous good. To ensure that generative AI advances excellence in teaching and learning, a UB task force is drafting recommendations to promote its responsible, effective use in the classroom. Concurrently, a UB seed grant program incentivizes innovation in AI across undergraduate, graduate, and professional education.
In research, UB has been leveraging AI for the public good for decades—and, in the process, gaining renown as a pioneer of machine learning. Today, UB stands at the center of AI research and responsible application, with more than 200 UB faculty involved across disciplines. Our reputation as an AI powerhouse is cemented by our National AI Institute for Exceptional Education. This NSF Center of Excellence was created with a $20-million grant—the largest award of its kind. Moreover, it is one of just 25 institutes awarded in the past 4 years. Its work exemplifies how we are collaborating across disciplines to create solutions to significant problems—just as we set out to do.
UB Students Receive Acclaim for Societal Contributions
Even as we tackle today’s challenges, we remain keenly focused on those who will solve tomorrow’s. Whether that means offering opportunities for impactful research, entrepreneurship, or creative expression, we are providing our students a transformative education. For their part, our students are responding with a remarkable resolve to make their mark in their field—and the world! On both fronts, they are succeeding—receiving national and international acclaim as they explore ways to reduce the burden of heart disease, make computers more energy efficient, and improve ER workflow with strategies from the game of chess. Furthermore, as they work to reduce health disparities, help people disproportionately affected by climate change, and achieve narrative justice for Black communities, they are forging a more tolerant, compassionate society.
At UB, we are fortunate to have so many students who are harnessing their education for the greater good. Given the number of higher education institutions experiencing declining enrollment, we are equally fortunate to be meeting our enrollment goals.
Today, I am pleased to note, our enrollment stands at nearly 31,000 students from more than 100 countries and almost every state in the nation! While the vast majority of our students are leveraging their UB education to achieve their life goals, the data indicate that we can do much more to foster student success.
In 2021, I challenged us to work together to improve graduation and retention rates. While we have made modest recent gains in retention, and while our graduation rates remain well above the national average, we have room for ample improvement. And we will improve because our university community has joined hands in this cause.
Notably, our professional staff have responded with programs that empower students to thrive. Launched just last year, peer-assisted learning is already improving median grades in some of UB’s most rigorous courses. Likewise, our student success coaching program helps first-year undergraduates sharpen their classroom skills. During the spring semester, staff coached some 1,500 students in six different academic units. The result? The students who met regularly with their coaches had higher GPAs, and higher average credit completion rates. Although we rightly link student success to faculty mentoring, our staff also play a vital role in this regard.
Realizing Master Plan with Major Upgrades, Renovations
UB staff—particularly in capital planning and facilities—appreciate that our students flourish in environments conducive to discovery and innovation. In realizing our master plan, they have helped transform our living-learning environment. Most recently, their work has led to a welcoming exterior plaza at Capen Hall, enhancements to library study areas, classroom upgrades, the move and expansion of our student entrepreneurial hub, the renovation of Crosby Hall, and the return of residential living to our South Campus.
In addition to the ongoing renovation of Goodyear and Clement Halls, projects in the works include the expansion and redesign of Fargo Quad in the Ellicott Complex, and the rehabilitation of Foster Hall—the future home of the Graduate School of Education.
Major Gift Advances New Building for School of Engineering & Applied Sciences
In keeping with our master plan, we are moving ahead with another major university project—a new academic building for the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Over the past 10 years, student enrollment in our engineering programs has risen dramatically. In tandem, the demand for STEM professionals has increased tremendously—across the state and nation. Given this growth—along with our engineering school’s ground-breaking research and robust entrepreneurial activities—a new engineering building has been among our university’s foremost priorities.
You may recall that, in 2022, Governor Hochul approved funding for the building through a capital matching program. Today, it is my great pleasure to announce a monumental advance regarding this project. Thanks to an incredibly dedicated alumnus, we have received a transformational gift to move this building from design to concrete reality! Since he graduated, this alumnus has shown his gratitude for his UB education in many meaningful ways—including sharing in-dispensable guidance as a member of the engineering school’s Dean’s Advisory Council, among other longstanding roles. We are extremely appreciative for his loyalty to UB.
And now, he is showing his commitment with both a $20 million gift to support the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences’ education and research mission, and a $20 million gift for the new engineering building itself!! It is an honor to have this alumnus with us to acknowledge him in person. Russ, would you please stand? Russ Agrusa, on behalf of our entire university community, thank you for your philanthropic commitment to UB!
Related to this wonderful news, I have one more exciting announcement to make. In deep appreciation for Russ and his steadfast dedication to UB, we are naming our new engineering building the Russell L. Agrusa Hall!!
Boldly Buffalo Campaign Exceeds Goal
Since we embarked on our fundraising campaign five years ago, it has powered our boldest ambitions. In enabling us to build and modernize the places where our students learn, discover, and create, the Boldly Buffalo campaign has recast our academic landscape. In creating new scholarships and fellowships it is making our world-class education even more accessible. And by investing in our faculty, it inspires the next generation of change-makers to follow their lead.
Over the past five years, your gifts have gone to work on behalf of UB and the communities we serve. Truly, the difference you have made is remarkable!!
When I announced the Boldly Buffalo campaign in 2018, I maintained that we must encourage more private philanthropy if we are to meet our ambitious goals. Here again, we have done just what we set out to do. In fact, in our 2023 fiscal year, UB achieved an all-time high in fundraising! And now, I am proud to share even more exciting news! Thanks to the numerous gifts received throughout the campaign, we have not only met—but exceeded—our $1 billion goal—a year ahead of schedule!
Thank you, all, for supporting our Boldly Buffalo campaign.
Uplifting music begins and plays throughout the video.
The video opens with a blue screen. White text appears that says, “In 2018, UB launched BOLDLY BUFFALO, our most ambitious fundraising campaign to date.
White text appears on blue banner that runs along the top of the screen saying, “79,778 donors.”
Two donors appear on screen together.
An instructor points to a poster on “Rational vs. Irrational Thinking.”
A person poses in a doorway next to a sign for the UB Graduate School of Social Work.
Russell Agrusa holds up a piece of the ribbon from the ribbon cutting of Paula’s Plaza.
Two people walk down a hallway.
A person walks through UB’s South Campus on a sunny day.
Dan and Gale Alexander talk with another person.
White text appears on blue banner that runs along the top of the screen saying, “333 new fellowships and scholarships.”
A student sits at a round table and works on a laptop in Davis Hall.
A student works on a laptop outside on UB’s North Campus.
The same student walks outside on UB’s North Campus.
A person walks through UB’s Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
A person works at a table with a sign for UB’s School of Nursing in the background.
Three students smile together during UB’s Pitch for a Cause.
A person in a white lab coat walks through a building.
White text appears on blue banner that runs along the top of the screen saying, “41 new endowed chairs and professorships.”
Two people in white lab coats work with machines in a lab.
Two people walk through UB’s Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
Professor Luis Chiesa walks in front of a large lecture hall teaching a class.
A person points to a computer screen in a lab.
Professor Joseph Balthasar and a student work in a lab.
A professor talks with students in a classroom.
White text appears on blue banner that runs along the top of the screen saying, “21 new buildings and renovations.”
Aerial video of UB’s Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
Video of UB’s Lockwood Library.
A person speaks at a podium during the opening of the Buhite-Dimino Center for Implant Dentistry and Advanced Dental Education.
Dental students practice dental care methods.
Video of the exterior of UB’s Downtown Campus with a sign over a walkway that says, “innovation starts here.”
Students sit in One World Café.
People in white lab coats work in a lab.
Exterior view of UB’s South Campus building undergoing renovations. A fence stands in front saying, “Already achieving. Always improving.”
Aerial video of UB’s North Campus with Davis Hall at the center.
Students sit in Paula’s Plaza.
Aerial video of the exterior of Murchie Family Fieldhouse.
Aerial video of the interior of Murchie Family Fieldhouse.
Aerial video of UB’s South Campus with Hayes Hall at the center.
Blue banners run along the top and the bottom. The top says, “BOLDLY.” The bottom says, “Buffalo.”
The blue banners come together, making the whole screen blue. The words “BOLDLY BUFFALO” slide together to the center of the screen.
I would like to especially acknowledge our donors and campaign volunteers, and our Advancement leadership and staff, for your commitment to our boldest goals.
I’m sure our Advancement team would want me to stress that our Boldly Buffalo campaign is not over. Far from it! Indeed, our campaign will run through next spring, solidly in step with our mission of excellence. That’s because we continue to generate incredible energy and momentum with our historic campaign.
Everywhere you look, you can see how philanthropic giving to UB is catalyzing student success, accelerating faculty research and impacting the world. And it makes our donors proud to see the very same thing!
Rankings Affirm UB's Deepening Impact
As with all of our endeavors—our campaign...our research...the achievements of our students and faculty...we are determined to elevate, and advance, our institutional mission. By many indications, our intentional planning and implementation are paying off. In terms of international education, UB maintains our longtime position among the top institutions in the nation. And we are enhancing our stature as a globalized university with resonant programs geared to the members of our scholarly community, whether domestic students seeking to study abroad during their first year, international students curious to learn more about U.S. higher education, or scholars from around the world whose academic freedom—and, sometimes, lives—are under threat.
Where international partnerships are concerned, the White House has recognized UB’s collaborations with Indian universities to advance emerging technology. The statement signed by President Biden and Prime Minister Modi also highlights the work of the AAU Task Force on Expanding US-India University Partnerships, which I am honored to co-chair.
In addition to our international reputation, UB figures prominently across a multitude of metrics. A recent New York Times’ ranking reinforces the world-class education that UB provides students from all walks of life. For the fifth time in six years, UB athletics received the Mid-American Conference Award for fostering a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion. And we were both nationally ranked and nationally honored for our excellence in entrepreneurship. These affirmations are empowering us to further expand our profile in innovation education.
At UB we are committed to offering start-up founders comprehensive support across the spectrum of entrepreneurship--from their “a-ha” moment to the marketplace. As one example, our School of Law’s Entrepreneur Law Clinic, has provided free legal services to more than 150 start-ups since its founding in 2017. And, since we introduced UB’s Cultivator last year, 73 start-ups have benefited from its early-stage investment and coaching.
To speak more broadly of UB’s evolution into a bastion of entrepreneurship, over the past two years our entrepreneurial programs have created nearly 2,000 new jobs and facilitated nearly 1,300 projects between industry and academia. And, in the last decade or so, we have supported nearly 340 start-ups. And so, as a university community, we are progressively generating more—and more robust—economic development across our city, region, and state. As we do, we keep our vision trained not on the bottom line—but the greater good.
When it comes to sustainability, we are held up as a global leader for our campus practices. Earlier in my address, I told you how our research works to mitigate the pace and severity of climate change. Complementing these scholarly contributions, we have introduced two new academic degrees to educate the next generation of climate scientists. It is inspiring to see our students, across disciplines, engaging with communities from the West Side of Buffalo to Kashmir, India, toward a more equitable, sustainable world.
And now, to our academic rankings. In the most recent rankings, our School of Public Health and Health Professions is ranked 32nd among public institutions. Our engineering school is ranked 30th. Our School of Nursing is ranked 23rd. Our School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences is ranked 14th. Our School of Social Work is ranked 10th. And our School of Dental Medicine is ranked 9th. These rankings represent, in no small measure, the powerful contributions of our faculty, and the strategic leadership of our chairs, deans and administrative leaders. I am most appreciative for all you do on behalf of UB.
Steppingstones toward UB's Brightest Future
Our rankings...our reputation...our research expenditures...our living-learning environment...the accomplishments of our students and faculty...our Boldly Buffalo campaign…the impact we are making in society—locally and globally—my thesis has covered a lot of ground. And if I have been successful in its defense, we have much to celebrate.
As we are experiencing this tremendous period in UB’s evolution as a premier public research university, I would argue one more point: namely, that we still have much to do—and even more to look forward to! So—at the risk of cutting the festivities short—I suggest that we keep our congratulations to a minimum. But then--isn’t that the UB way?? We pause to applaud our accomplishments—and then we get right back to work!!
In no time, we will back in our lab, testing out new angles to age-old problems. We will reclaim our spot in the studio to explore the human condition through dance, art, and theater. We will head to class to discuss, debate, and hone our disciplinary expertise. Believe me, it’s always gratifying to receive accolades such as those I mentioned moments ago. But they are not what motivate us. Rather, we are charged by our passion to make a difference. And we measure that difference in the prosperity and vitality of the communities we serve—in Western New York...across the country...around the world.
That is why, I prefer to view our recent accomplishments—as impressive as they are…not as milestones, but, instead, as steppingstones. Steppingstones, each one, guiding us—together—toward UB’s brightest future.