This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Questions &Answers

Published: September 2, 2004

Satish Tripathi, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, has been at UB since July 1.

What are your early impressions of UB?
As I look across the University at Buffalo, I find that this is an institution with an enviable faculty, a comprehensive research agenda, more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs, and most importantly, bright, talented, creative and ambitious undergraduate and graduate students. I also have found that UB is a very welcoming and friendly place. Over the course of the last couple of months, I have had the opportunity to meet many faculty members from across disciplines who are eager to share with me their innovative research agendas and scholarly activities and who also are eager to welcome me into the UB community. As you know, we have completed the realignment of the provostal organization. This realignment has proven to be seamless—for which I credit our entire provostal staff—and includes all the units in undergraduate affairs, graduate studies, academic planning and budget, and faculty affairs. Our staff has proven that they can respond to new challenges that come before them. From my office in Capen Hall, I have a beautiful view of campus. In the near distance, my view is framed by the Letchworth Woods. I am told that in the fall, this view turns from beautiful to spectacular as the leaves change color. I wanted to share with you these few early impressions of UB. By no means is this an exhaustive list, just a sampling of my impressions thus far, as I know that space is limited in your article.

What do you believe are UB's greatest strengths and greatest weaknesses?
Well, as you might deduce from my early impressions of UB, I believe that UB's greatest strengths are the intellectual, research, creative and teaching contributions of our faculty; the energy, focus and ambition of our undergraduate, graduate and professional students, and the groundbreaking research and scholarly activities that are evident in our laboratories and centers ranging from gene therapy to poetics. In fact, the research for the newly designed male swimsuits worn by many swimmers in the Summer Olympic Games in Athens was conducted at UB. In addition, two faculty members from the School of Architecture and Planning have been awarded prestigious visiting fellowships by the Canadian Centre for Architecture. The list of faculty research accomplishments is long and diverse, and almost every day I have the opportunity to read about new and groundbreaking research and fascinating creative activities being conducted by our faculty. In regard to the second part of your question, I think it is more productive to discuss UB's greatest challenges. Although UB is a state institution, we can no longer rely on the same level of state support that we have had in the past. As an institution, therefore, we need to shift our focus to find alternative sources of funding so we can meet our research, teaching and service objectives. This will continue to be a challenge for UB, as well as for our peer institutions. I do believe we have the will and talent to meet and overcome this continuing challenge.

What were the major lessons that you learned as a dean at the University of California, Riverside, and how will they inform your work as UB's provost and executive vice president for academic affairs?
As dean, I learned that a critical plan for success is the recruitment of excellent faculty who are well versed in not only their individual research, but who have an interest and experience in working collaboratively. I also have learned that a strategic communication plan to engage faculty at peer institutions, students and industry is necessary to attain wider institutional recognition and visibility. Additionally, I believe that as an institution, we need a creative and strong plan for development and fund raising, and we must identify additional resources to meet growing educational and research needs—this is imperative. Lastly, faculty engagement in research and interdisciplinary efforts across campus bolsters and strengthens a university.

During your introduction to the UB community in May, you said your goal would be to work with President Simpson, the faculty and the deans to identify areas of excellence and bring them to international prominence. How is that effort proceeding?
Over the past few months, President Simpson has been engaging our faculty in a university-wide assessment process with the goal of designing and initiating an academic plan and an overarching campus master strategy for UB. In your question, you correctly note that as part of this process, the deans undertook their individual school analysis to identify broader scale "strategic strengths." A university-level academic planning committee will be charged with finalizing the identification of UB's strategic strengths. These strategic strengths, in large measure, will define the University at Buffalo in the foreseeable future. Of course, the identification of strategic strengths is part of a broader institutional assessment agenda. At the end of this assessment process, UB will have an academic plan and an overarching campus master strategy that will support President Simpson's overall institutional vision of moving UB beyond the very fine institution it is today to becoming a truly great university. Our faculty members from across the disciplines are and will continue to be engaged in this process.

What are your plans for improving UB's research profile nationally?
The answer to this is connected, in part, to our university-wide assessment process and identification of strategic strengths. Additionally, as a university, we need to promote and cultivate an environment appropriate for a community of scholars. We need to recruit and retain faculty members who are pioneers in their fields of inquiry, who are artistic innovators and who are committed to academic and teaching excellence. Further, we need to embrace the comprehensiveness of UB through continuing to establish and promote multidisplinary research activities. Institutionally, we have been successful in multidisciplinary research activities as evidenced by work conducted, for example, in law and the social sciences, ethics and medicine, and environmental engineering.

Where do the humanities fit into the fabric of a "research university?"
The humanities are the foundation of the university and especially the research university. The research that we conduct in our laboratories and centers is not disconnected from the humanities. In fact, the two enterprises are intimately interwoven. With our technological and scientific capabilities, there has been an explosion of research, for example, in the life sciences. Along with these new scientific discoveries also bring many social, ethical and moral questions to contemplate. And, with this, as a research university, we rely on the humanities to assist us with connecting research to our humanity.

How do you plan to build upon and strengthen the university's relationships with the business and corporate community?
As part of UB's institutional assessment process, we are examining our business and industry partnerships. Our goal is to maximize the potential of these partnerships, which includes, for example, the broader objectives of technology transfer and the potential for regional economic impact. Upon the conclusion of our institutional assessment exercise, we will have a coordinated and integrated plan that will allow UB to realize its business and industry objectives. As you can see, we are engaged in a lot of planning. However, I believe we need to create a roadmap to chart our path toward excellence.

What question do you wish I had asked, and how would you have answered it?
Throughout our conversation, I have mentioned that I share President Simpson's vision to transform the University at Buffalo from a very good institution to a great institution. As a community of scholars, we need to consider how we can differentiate ourselves from other colleges and universities. Allow me to offer one suggestion: involving undergraduate students in our research and creative endeavors. Our faculty members are the university's most important resource and have the unique opportunity to engage our undergraduate students in these intellectual and scholarly pursuits. Furthermore, undergraduate engagement in faculty research and creative endeavors augments our undergraduate students' education by providing them with the unique experience of being a part of the intellectual process of inquiry and discovery, as well as a view of graduate education and future career possibilities.