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State of the University Address

Published November 2, 2012

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Excerpts of the address
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“We are fully prepared to take another big leap forward. And when we make that leap, we will be much closer to our ultimate goal: to be recognized as one of our nation’s most distinctive, and most relevant, research universities.”
Satish K. Tripathi
UB President

Good morning, and many thanks for joining me for this State of the University address.  

I want to take a moment to express our heartfelt sympathies for all those who have been impacted by Hurricane Sandy. This includes our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and our friends at our sister institutions.

In our audience today, we welcome Mayor Byron Brown, members of our UB Council, UB Foundation, UB Alumni Association, and members of our Regional Economic Development Council.

I want to thank those of you who submitted questions in advance of this event.  Throughout my remarks, I will try my best to respond.  I welcome your thoughts beyond today’s address, and I hope you will come find me during the reception afterward, or email me to continue this dialogue.

I am happy to say that the state of our university is very strong.  We have walked a difficult path over the past several years, facing major budget cuts and other challenges.  And through determination and vision, we have managed to climb to even greater heights.

I believe we have significant opportunities right now for even greater leadership and impact through our UB 2020 vision. And so today I want to talk about what I see as our critical opportunities and challenges—at UB, across the nation, and worldwide.

We cannot talk about the state of our university without talking about the state of higher education nationwide. UB’s challenges are partly determined by the larger forces that shape higher education on a national and global level. 

On the one hand, the demands on our nation’s universities and colleges have never been higher.  Collectively we face:

  • Increased questions about the relevance and value of higher education
  • Increased demand for access to an affordable, quality education
  • Related questions about new models of instruction and educational delivery, including the recent rise of massive online open courses.
  • Increased expectation of universities to drive economic growth in their home regions

And, as all these demands rise, public funding and support remain flat for many states.

The higher ed environment reflects broader economic and social challenges.  We are seeing this in the downward trends in college enrollment nationwide.  In part, this is a function of diminishing numbers of qualified high school graduates. Here in New York State, reflecting demographic trends, the total number of high school graduates is projected to decline by about 7% by 2020. 

Rising college costs are another pressing issue affecting our students and families—at UB and across the country.  In fact, one of our staff attending today submitted a question about this issue.  In 2011, the national student loan debt average rose to $26,000 for graduates of 4-year public universities. 

UB’s four-year student debt is about $17,000—the lowest in Western New York, and among the lowest in the nation.  Nonetheless, affordability remains an important issue we must address as part of our commitment to expanding opportunities for educational excellence.  We have made a commitment to growing aid for our students with financial need.

All of these challenges are very real to us at UB.  We are undeniably affected. 

But this relationship goes in both directions.  UB is not just blindly impacted by these national trends.  We can and do play an active role in shaping these forces.  We already are helping lead the national conversation about these issues, through what we do here at UB on a daily basis.  Our contributions—in the classroom, lab, and in the field—are the answer to the national questions emerging now about the value of higher education.

Our faculty and students are changing the world through their pioneering discoveries and creative activity.  Just a few timely examples in national headlines include:

  •  “Smart windows” that reduce energy use
  • Pioneering research improving how brain injuries are treate
  • New evidence for how climate change impacts Arctic wildlife 

Our students and graduates are leading change in their communities—locally as well as globally, rom the work of our engineering graduates to help Haiti rebuild after earthquake devastation, to mentoring young women pursuing careers in the STEM fields.

Our scholarly contributions shape public policy in key areas, from partnering with the Buffalo public schools to improve science education for our region’s youth, to examining the health of the Great Lakes ecosystem, to improving community access to food resources in cities across the U.S.

All this work is critical—not just to the future of our university but to the future of the world around us.  We have an opportunity, and an obligation, to lead on an even greater scale.

To do this, we need to enable our faculty and students to build even further on their pioneering contributions. And we need to foster the environment that helps them break new ground.


Recent Progress

Without question, the past few years have been difficult ones at UB, just as they have been for the rest of the country.  We all have struggled to do more with less while facing a series of budget cuts. 

Now, we have turned an important corner.  After four years that brought approximately $80 million in cuts, our budget is now in a good place, and we are beginning to build again. 

And because of our good and hard work, we aren’t just catching up—we are positioned to accelerate our progress.

This is a time of great momentum at UB, thanks to our focused UB 2020 efforts over the past several years. Consider the milestones we’ve celebrated in a little over a year: 

o   The opening of state-of-the-art facilities across all three campuses:  Greiner Residence Hall, the Solar Strand, Davis Hall, the Clinical and Translational Research Center, Kapoor Hall, and the Crossroads Culinary Center.

Other significant milestones include:

  • We’ve made substantial progress in our plans to move the medical school downtown.
  • We’ve seen a significant rise in academic rankings—nationally and internationally.
  • And one key index of this quality is the caliber of students we attract from around the world—average SAT scores and other academic achievements are rising.
  • We’ve witnessed historic growth in philanthropy, including a $40 million gift that is the largest in UB history.
  • We’ve received designation of our second New York State Center of Excellence at UB.
  • Our international presence continues to grow—not only in enrollment but global reputation and impact
  • And, with the support of Governor Cuomo and Chancellor Zimpher, we’ve secured the passage of the historic NYSUNY 2020 legislation.  For the first time in our history as a public university, this legislation gives us five years of financial stability, allowing us to plan with confidence. 


Investing in our future:

We did all this together.  This has only been possible because of the great work of our faculty, staff, students, and university supporters.

So how are we leveraging this progress for even greater impact?  The short answer is that we are investing thoughtfully in academic excellence across the disciplines. 

Our focus is on three primary areas of investment:

  • Building faculty excellence across the disciplines
  • Creating the transformative educational environment that attracts the highest caliber students and prepares them to be global leaders
  • Providing the infrastructure and physical campus climate that enable our faculty, staff, and students to thrive

These initiatives are all closely connected.  And we are continuing to build momentum in each.


Faculty and staff excellence:

We continue to recruit star faculty as well as outstanding staff supporting our academic mission.  More and more of our recent hires tell us they were motivated to come here not just because of the reputation of UB, but because of Buffalo’s growing reputation as a city on the move.  Mayor Byron Brown has been instrumental in Buffalo’s resurgence.  And, happily, UB is a big part of that movement.

Our five-year goals include growing by approximately 250 faculty. Increasing the number of endowed positions is key to helping us attract more of the faculty who are leading the conversation in their fields.  This is a focal point for us—across the disciplines.

Last month, we created two related endowment funds focused on the arts, humanities, and social sciences, using proceeds from the recent sale of WBFO to WNED. These funds will support up to 5 new endowed faculty chairs, as well as providing $1 million in scholarship support to enhance student opportunities in the arts, culture, and social sciences.  New endowments have also helped recruit outstanding faculty in the management and medical schools.


Student excellence:

Growing our faculty has a direct impact on student excellence.

Some of you asked if UB plans to increase our enrollment, and what this would mean for our staff and faculty. The answer is, our focus is on growing in student quality, while keeping enrollment stable.  In fact, UB has held enrollment steady over the past 8 years, across the undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools.

The opportunity to work directly with cutting-edge faculty helps attract more of the world’s most intellectually ambitious students.  This first-hand involvement in high-impact research radically alters the student experience and opens up new doors beyond UB.  Today, even more of our students are competing successfully for major international honors and fellowships.

This is one of many ways UB is working to transform the educational experience for students at all levels.  We are also making new additions to our highly successful Undergraduate Academies.  The new Academy in Entrepreneurship was launched this fall.  Next fall, another new Academy in Sustainability will officially open. The University Honors College, Discovery Seminars, and the Center for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity all contribute to fostering this transformational environment as well.     

Just as we are creating faculty endowments to bring more of the world’s best scholars to UB, we are doing the same with student scholarship endowments at all levels—undergraduate, graduate, and professional. 

And we are investing to enhance student academic support.  Last spring, we launched Finish in Four, a program to help ensure our students can graduate in a timely way. This program has been extremely popular.  As our 4 and 6 year graduation rates continue to improve, this program will play a critical role in advancing this progress.

To help further support these goals, UB added over 300 course sections this fall—accommodating 12,000 more students in high demand course areas. We are also focused on enhancing access for underrepresented students through programs like the McNair Scholars, Daniel Acker Scholars, and Collegiate Science and Technology Fund.  These programs have a significant impact in preparing promising undergraduates to pursue post-baccalaureate study. Across our graduate and professional schools, we are also making key curriculum changes and other programmatic improvements.  Because of these changes, our programs are more relevant and more responsive than ever. 

These investments are focused on enhancing what is so distinctive about the UB experience.  Our students get the best of both worlds: the personal engagement of a close-knit academic community, and the world-class resources of a major research university.


Creating the physical climate for excellence:

We also continue to build upon the climate for excellence that supports our students, faculty, and staff in their extraordinary work.  Many of you have asked about progress in the physical campus master plan and how it will affect our university community.

As mentioned, we have opened six major facilities in a little over a year—all LEED designed buildings that are models of sustainable architecture. These projects cover all three campuses, along with renovations and improvements North, South, and Downtown.

And we are building the infrastructure that supports innovation and discovery.  Last spring, we received designation as a New York State Center of Excellence in Materials Informatics, positioning us for national leadership in this critical new field.

We are making great progress with the planned medical school move.  Last spring, we announced the world-renowned architectural firm HOK as the winner of the competition to design the new medical complex. 

This is a time of progress not just for UB but for also our region, and UB is playing a very important role here too.  Our new CTRC facility is part of an innovative clinical/research partnership with Kaleida Health.  This building is a key element in the growing life sciences economy downtown, as well as a cornerstone of UB’s growing downtown presence. Next spring, UB will expand our downtown impact even further with the grand opening of the Educational Opportunity Center.

Our region is also benefiting from historic levels of state investment in Buffalo and Western New York.  This gives UB a great opportunity to enhance our longstanding commitment to the communities around us. 

Many of you asked about the relationship between UB’s progress and that of our broader community. Last year, our Western New York Regional Economic Development Council, which I have the honor of co-chairing, was recognized as one of the state’s winning plans. This achievement reflects the incredible dedication of our council members, some of whom are with us today.  And the Governor’s “Billion for Buffalo” initiative is bringing incredible excitement to this region. 

These investments have great significance for UB and our partners at the Buffalo Niagara Medical Center, as well as our fellow higher education institutions across the region.


Immediate challenges for the future:

In short, we are making important progress on many fronts, and this progress is propelling us forward to take the next big leap. Taking UB 2020 to the next level will position us for even greater leadership and impact as a premier research university on a world stage.

We will continue to bring more of the world’s best faculty to UB.  This is critical to research impact, critical to providing our students with the best possible education, and critical to creating solutions for our global community.

We will continue to make UB the destination for the most intellectually passionate students. And we will work to ensure that a world-class UB education is an opportunity open to all with the dedication and talent to pursue it.

We will continue to focus on providing the supporting resources our faculty and students need to excel.  This includes our built environment as well as our administrative staff and academic support, from libraries to IT services.

As an acknowledged global leader, we will build even further on our strength in international education.  We will bring a global focus into every aspect of what we do, from curriculum to scholarly collaborations.

Our goals are worthy, and they are ambitious.  To achieve them, we will continue to reach out to our alumni, partners, and university friends in our region, across the country, and overseas. 

These partnerships, philanthropy, and support provide the margin of excellence that enables UB to lead with evengreater impact. 

Building these relationships is a key priority for me.  That is why over the past year, I have embarked on a “20 City Tour” to talk about our UB 2020 vision with alumni and university friends from coast to coast and around the world.  Our alumni and friends take an incredible interest in our recent progress and future plans.  Engaging them more meaningfully will play a key role in advancing our goals.

All of these priorities are closely connected—we cannot achieve any without the others.  We cannot attract the best students without the best faculty.  We cannot retain these faculty and students without the physical environment to support their ambitions.  We cannot realize their full impact without the stature that comes with greater global recognition and engagement.

For us to build on our momentum and take UB 2020 to the next level, we all need to have a shared sense of vision and purpose.


Realizing UB 2020: Defining the next steps

What does it really mean to take UB 2020 to the next level?

Several of you asked what is next for UB 2020—especially what kind of changes we can expect for how we organize ourselves and define our priorities. 

This is how I see the path in front of us. Our biggest opportunity is to think in new ways. At UB, we excel at thinking and partnering across the disciplines.  Now we need to go a step beyond—we need to think holistically, as one university, about our priorities and our impact.  We need to focus on what unites us under a common purpose.  And we need to consider what makes us truly distinctive, nationally and globally.

Here is how I would start to define our distinctive qualities:

  1. Our interdisciplinary mindset. We set the bar for research, discovery, and education at the intersection of disciplines. 
  2.  The experience we provide our students—the welcoming community you would find at a liberal arts college, paired with the world-class resources of a major research university.
  3. Our far-reaching expression of our public mission—from the local to the global.
  4.  Our history of leadership in shaping public policy—from healthcare and the environment, to education and the arts.
  5. Our global scope—from our large international enrollment and institutional partnerships, to the global impact of our research.

Our charge now is to think creatively about how we capture these distinctive qualities and align them for maximum impact.  To do that, we need to think not as individual units but as one university community. We areall UB.  

This is the next evolution of UB 2020.  In taking up this charge, we are building upon the collaborative, university-wide model that identified our Strategic Strengths.  But don’t worry: I am not suggesting we embark on another round of strategic planning!

What I am proposing is a process for taking our good work to the next level by defining and maximizing our distinctive qualities as a university.  When we do this, we will truly set ourselves apart from our peers.  And we will lead with even greater impact.

Over the next five months, our campus community will think together about the course of the next five years. Together, we will map our next steps to propel our vision forward.  Provost Zukoski and I will continue to lead this campus conversation in focused directions. I want to invite all of you to participate in this process. Your input and engagement will be essential—as they have been throughout this UB 2020 process. 

We have weathered several challenges together over the past few years, and we have emerged from these challenges stronger than ever.  After several difficult budget years, we finally have the resources we need to take our vision to the next level—to make our mark in truly distinctive ways.

The progress and momentum we are enjoying right now are the product of many years of thoughtful, difficult, and highly productive work—your work.

Today, we begin the next evolution of UB 2020.  We are fully prepared to take another big leap forward.  And when we make that leap, we will be much closer to our ultimate goal: to be recognized as one of our nation’s most distinctive, and most relevant, research universities.

We are already well on our way. Because of you, we are realizing the UB 2020 vision.   Thank you for all your contributions.