Campus News

The 2011 State of the University

The State of the University Address by Michael F. Adams, President The University of Georgia

Good afternoon, and thank you for being here. The president of the University of Georgia is required by University Statutes to report annually to the faculty on the State of the University. I look forward to this opportunity each year to recall with you some of the most significant events of the previous year and, today, to share with you some of what I hope we can accomplish in 2011 and beyond.

The university is strong and stable, but under significant challenge. Both we and the state remain in the throes of the most gripping recession since the Great Depression. It is only through the cooperation of every university person that we have saved as many jobs as we have and have continued to do the job we are charged to do in such an admirable way.

Despite the ongoing challenge of the budget and the economy, 2010 was still a year of some signal accomplishments. I remain proud and humbled by the spirit of the people of this place who have faced these challenges with an attitude of service and commitment, who have done more work than they had in years past and with limited resources, and who have offered ideas and comments that have helped us manage the institution more effectively. I am grateful to each of you for that.

I have been encouraged by that spirit of togetherness in tough times. There is an American spirit in that-the concept embedded in the Declaration of Independence that “we the people” are responsible for what we make of the situation we are presented. I particularly regret that we are now in the third year of no state salary pool for faculty and staff and appreciate greatly that, while we have not been able to pull together the kind of salary support that I would have liked, we have kept our focus on keeping people employed. It takes but a glance at the double-digit unemployment rates to realize that it is good to have a job in times like these.

In fact, through working together and pooling our resources, by acting responsibly on water and electricity usage, by reducing travel and supply budgets all across this campus, you have helped to save hundreds of jobs. We have remarkable faculty and staff at the University of Georgia, and once again you worked together to accomplish great things.

Let’s recall some of the other important institutional events and accomplishments of the previous year.

We commemorated the 225th anniversary of the signing of the charter that created this university, the first public university in America. We celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Honors Program and the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Graduate School. (I’ll have more to say about that later.) And while it technically began this year and not last, we are in the midst of an extended recognition of the 50th anniversary of the desegregation of this university, an event which continues to have a profound impact on this institution and this state. In one of those simple acts of immense courage that shape history, Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes walked onto campus in 1961 and said, “We belong here.” They were right, and UGA has been the better for their bravery ever since.

External funding for research set a record at almost $176 million, and we topped the $100 million mark in gifts and pledges for the fifth year in a row. Both of these are indicators of the quality of this institution as seen by two separate yet equally important external constituencies. Both funding agencies and private donors put their money where they have confidence, and we are grateful to them for that expression of confidence in the mission of this place. I am also encouraged by the fact that we had approximately 800 more donors in 2010 than we had in 2009. In this economic climate, we need each and every one of those, large or small. When we approach foundations for financial support of the University of Georgia, one of the first questions is always, “How has the family given?” Individual financial support for UGA has far-reaching positive implications.

We simply need every alumnus and every friend of this great university to write a check in 2011, no matter how great or how small. We especially need support for scholarships and fellowships for students and for endowed accounts to support faculty. This is a time unlike any other in our lifetimes, a time when we must all pull together to ensure the quality of this place.

We enrolled, yet again, a highly qualified freshman class-in fact, the best class ever. These young people are not only well prepared academically, they come to us with a commitment to service and a desire to see the world-all of which gives me great hope for the future.

The first class of medical students in the MCG/UGA Medical Partnership enrolled in August, attending classes in the Partnership Building down by the river. We held a symbolic transfer ceremony with the Secretary of the Navy in October to sign documents approving the transfer of the Navy School property back to UGA for the establishment of a Health Sciences Campus; the official transfer will take place in March.

In November the board of regents approved our proposal to offer civil, mechanical and electrical engineering beginning in the fall of 2012 with full implementation by 2014. This is a very significant event in the academic history of the University of Georgia and is important first because, in the land-grant tradition, it means we will be helping Georgia meet the pressing need for more practicing engineers, and second, because it will open up, along with medicine, many new avenues for research funding. The start of medical education and the approval of a broader engineering curriculum within the span of a single season-taken together with the establishment of the School of Public and International Affairs and the College of Environment and Design in 2001, the College of Public Health in 2005 and the Odum School of Ecology in 2007; and the offering this fall of a freshman seminar taught by tenured or tenure-track faculty-may constitute the most concentrated advancement of the academic program in the history of the university.

We completed two very thorough and important decennial reviews-the NCAA certification review and the SACS reaccreditation. We all owe a debt of gratitude to Drs. Rodney Bennett and Welch Suggs for leading the NCAA effort and professors Bob Boehmer, David Shipley and Rodney Mauricio for leading the SACS process.

I would also like to take this opportunity to welcome to campus our new dean of students, Bill McDonald. Bill comes to us from Presbyterian College, but he has worked on this campus before. He has already demonstrated his commitment to being an advocate for and advisor to students, and has quickly become an important member of the Student Affairs leadership team. Please join me in welcoming him.

University Council’s work on the First-Year Odyssey QEP is a substantial step forward; there are not many comprehensive research universities that have committed to putting every first-year student in the classroom with a major professor. That is more typical of the experience at a very good liberal arts college, and I believe this is going to have a transformative effect on the academic climate of this institution. I encourage everyone on the faculty to participate in this program. I intend to do so myself.

Four members of the faculty received Fulbright Scholarships, ranking UGA fourth in the nation for the number of honorees. Please join me in recognizing Diane Edison, a professor in the Lamar Dodd School of Art; Jared Klein, Research Professor of linguistics; Peter Rutledge, an associate professor in the School of Law; and Richard Siegesmund, an associate professor and co-chair of art education in the Dodd School.

Our public service and outreach mission was recognized in December with a Community Engagement Classification by the Carnegie Foundation, putting UGA into a select group of institutions noted for “dynamic and noteworthy community engagement.” That honor capped a year of significant accomplishments in public service, in which more than 100,000 Georgians were served directly by the University of Georgia. The Vinson Institute in December hosted the 27th Biennial Institute for Georgia legislators. Dr. Wilf Nichols last fall joined the university as director of the State Botanical Garden. And the Fanning Institute assumed direction of the Georgia Leadership Institute for School Improvement, a program designed to develop the skills of Georgia’s principals and school administrators. All of these efforts and others apply the knowledge of the university to the state’s evolving needs.

UGA students continued a remarkably successful run in national academic scholarship competitions, capped in November by the announcement that Tracy Yang, a senior anthropology major from Macon, is UGA’s 22nd Rhodes Scholar and our seventh since 1996. UGA students also claimed two Goldwater Scholarships, two Truman Scholarships, one Udall Scholarship, one Mitchell Scholarship, one Merage Fellowship and 11 Fulbright Scholarships, among others. Brian Lea became the fifth law school graduate in seven years to be selected as a clerk for a U.S. Supreme Court Justice.

These qualitative indicators have impacted the various rating services. As I’ve said many times, I don’t put a lot of stock in any one ranking, but if universities are going to be ranked, I would rather be highly ranked-and maybe even respectably ranked for having fun, but not at the top of that list.

I do find satisfaction in the fact that UGA is consistently ranked highly by a broad array of publications, the most widely known of which, for better or worse, is the U.S. News & World Report “Best Colleges” issue. UGA is ranked 18th among public research universities this year, continuing a string of placements in or very near the top 20.

Forbes magazine puts UGA at 19th nationally and 10th in the Southeast among public universities. Kiplinger ranked UGA eighth among publics in its annual value report. Our efforts at sustainability were recently recognized by the Sustainable Endowments Institute, which gave us an A-minus. Multiple departments and units are ranked among the top 10 in their peer groups. This is a very good university-we have known that for some time, and now others are coming to know it as well.

The student body is one of the factors that make this place strong. We have extraordinary students both undergraduate and graduate. There have been significant improvements in undergraduate academic life, spurred primarily by the excellent work of Provost Jere Morehead and his colleagues on the undergraduate experience task force several years ago. Co-chaired by then-Vice President for Instruction Del Dunn, that committee took seriously the charge to take a critical look at the undergraduate experience here and make it better-more rigorous, more challenging, more relevant, more meaningful. By all indicators, they were successful. The feedback from the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) tells us that our undergraduates feel more connected to the academic mission of the university because of these efforts. That, my friends, is real academic progress.

The evidence of an improved undergraduate experience is almost tangible. This place has a different academic feel than it did 10 or 12 years ago. One of the themes of the 2000 strategic plan was “Building the New Learning Environment,” with a deliberate double meaning. We have indeed added to the physical environment in ways that support learning, but the environment of academic rigor, of high expectations, of intellectual challenge, of student engagement is a much more challenging one to create. But thanks to many of you and the dedication and hard work of the faculty, we have done just that at the University of Georgia.

Many of you know that there has been commensurate progress in graduate and professional education, but that progress is not yet as visible or as obvious as the progress on the undergraduate side. One of the next great challenges of this university will be to enhance even further our efforts in graduate education.

For a number of reasons, some political, some historical, some sociological, this state has not valued graduate and professional education to the extent that it does undergraduate education, and not to the extent that some of our neighboring states, most notably North Carolina, have done. Graduate students are the workforce of research intensive universities-and I speak from experience. The three years I spent studying political communications at The Ohio State University were among the most robust intellectual periods of my life. I can still feel the sting of the cold winter air and smell the peculiar aroma of freshly plowed snow as I trudged 1.1 miles from my parking spot near the stadium to Derby Hall to teach. I can close my eyes and picture those first- and second-year students, eyes wide with the anticipation of the greatness that was about to spout from the mouth of someone maybe three years their senior. I can recall with pleasure the conversations with Dr. James Golden, my advisor and mentor, on late afternoons in Columbus.

Those are the experiences that build strong and lasting universities. Those are the moments that collectively move states forward and strengthen them economically, civically and in quality of life. Those are the opportunities that education beyond the bachelor’s degree provides, and those are the benefits that we are obligated to provide for our students and our state.

It is important to remember here that we cannot decouple graduate education from the research mission of the university. One cannot flourish without the other; UGA cannot be a great graduate institution with a weak research agenda, and it cannot be a great research institution if the graduate programs are not strong.

The very best research universities are at the forefront of innovation and discovery, processes which are fueled by their graduate programs. Entities like the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and the ­National Endowment for the Humanities are increasingly of the correct mind that the best work is done collaboratively; is interdisciplinary; and that the easy sharing of ideas across department, college and even institutional lines leads to 21st century solutions.

There are different processes and different ways of doing the business of research inherent in this new model of the research university. To be successful in attracting funding and in meeting the needs of society, we must be broader in the scope of what we do and more varied in the ways we are willing to do it. Only in that way will we be truly successful in developing a new body of information to reach solutions for this century.

Unfortunately, when you walk or drive around this campus, you do not see graduate education. One of the decisions I regret the most, although I can still argue the case for making it, was to move the offices of the graduate dean and her staff off campus. The symbolic effect of that decision has troubled me since the day it was implemented, and while the office space downtown may function very well, we need those offices on campus, physically integrated as part of what we do here every day. The simple reality is that you can’t build a great graduate program with its offices over a noodle bar.

Let me take this opportunity to thank publicly Dean Maureen Grasso and her staff for their attitude and understanding in this process.

We have taken actions to improve and support graduate education recently. One of the intents of the faculty hiring initiatives was to take some of the pressure off undergraduate courses by hiring faculty for the express purpose of teaching those courses, thus freeing up senior faculty for the important work of teaching graduate students. I am pleased to announce today a commitment to fund at least 40 additional Ph.D. fellowships to bolster efforts to recruit top students to UGA’s graduate programs.

But we need to do more. It is time to make a significant, visible, tangible statement about the central role of graduate and professional education at the University of Georgia. Over the next six months I will work with the dean of the Graduate School and the vice president for research to design a graduate studies and research center to be located on a prominent plot of land on Lumpkin Street that is now occupied by the Chi Phi fraternity. This facility will house the Graduate School and the Office of the Vice President for Research and their attendant staffs, as well as provide a locus of gathering and support for the almost 9,000 graduate and professional students who have chosen this university to further their education.

The development office will take the lead in securing commitments of private funding to make this much-needed facility a reality. The finance office will also play a significant role in developing a plan that will, I hope, allow us to move forward on this in late summer or early fall of this year.

But this is about more than merely a building, important as such a structure will be as a statement of the importance of graduate and professional education. This is about a commitment to the students who populate our graduate classrooms, who help to teach undergraduate classes, who drive the research agenda. We have already taken steps to improve the recruitment and retention of graduate and professional students here and will continue to do so.

One of the most important professional opportunities that graduate students have is the chance to present at professional conferences. To date, we have made available some $50,000 to support travel for graduate students who were presenting papers or posters at conferences or pursuing other means of professional development. Such opportunities to meet with and share newfound knowledge and expertise with their peers in the academy world-wide are invaluable, and I remain committed to providing funding for such travel.

A competitive, affordable, viable health insurance program for graduate students and their families is an important service we provide. Tom Gausvik in Human Resources, Dean Grasso and others have worked very hard to establish such a program, because we know that it helps attract the best students and allows them to focus on their studies and not be distracted about the physical well-being of their families and themselves.

With significant input and participation from the graduate student leadership over the years, we have worked with the regents on developing a competitive health insurance program for graduate students on assistantships. Even during the economic downturn, the university has remained committed to this plan, dividing the premiums into periodic payments, so as not to devastate the finances of the graduate students, and UGA has subsidized the premiums by 40 percent.

We have now received authorization from the regents to develop our own UGA specific plan, with which we believe we have the capacity to deliver an even better health insurance program to support our students. We will be working very closely with the graduate student leadership to ensure that we prepare a program that makes sense for the students at the best costs.

This is not only appropriate; it is long overdue. I am not recommending, despite my nostalgia, that we model this place after Ohio State; I have great appreciation for what is arguably the richest history of any public university in America here in Athens. What we do going forward must resonate with that history, with the unique and passionate relationship we enjoy with the people of this state, and with the financial realities of this time.

Let me be clear: We are not walking away from our long-standing commitment to undergraduate education, but simply making a statement of clear and compelling support for graduate education as an equally important component of a comprehensive research university.

But we must also position this institution to strengthen the state’s economy when we are fully out of this recession. Consider for a moment the combined impact of the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech and Emory in the biosciences, bioengineering, biomedicine and biotechnology. The models are out there and well known-Route 128 in Boston, Silicon Valley, Austin, Texas. What we have in common with them is the close proximity of very good public and private higher education; what we do not yet have is a full commitment at the governmental and societal level to the transformative power of graduate and professional education. That power extends beyond the person who earns a degree-it reaches society as a whole.

A recent Jay Bookman column in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution column put it this way: “The data are conclusive: The best jobs program in the world is a good education. If you are a leader looking to put more of your citizens to work, educate them. If you want a healthy economy, teach your children to create a healthy economy. If you live in a state where education is known to be valued, you attract outsiders who value education. That too creates a vibrant economy and the jobs that come with it.”

None of those well-educated, high-wage, high-tech areas I cited have had the rate of unemployment that Georgia has seen precisely, I believe, because of the collaborative work that was done decades ago in support of a vision for intellectual innovation.

The benefit to the community, the region and the state is clear: Innovation brings products and processes to market, it creates jobs, it generates taxable revenue and it boosts local economies through the ripple effect of the support industries that want to be located close to areas of innovation.

Only universities can provide the level of innovation, and only the state can provide the level of infrastructure to support it. It has to be a partnership, and we must each do our part-universities and colleges, the state, the business community and foundations.

There are some good efforts under way. The Georgia Research Alliance is a highly successful program attracting researchers in targeted economic development fields to Georgia. The Georgia Cancer Coalition is another example of state support for targeted bioscience research. And there are other targeted economic development issues on which we have worked collaboratively; and I expect that cooperation to continue under the leadership of Chris Cummiskey, the new commissioner of economic development for the state. Chris is an alumnus and has served as director of state relations for UGA for the past several years, and I look forward to working with him in this new role.

But the exceptions prove the rule; there is not yet enough broad support for the societal benefits of graduate and professional education and the research enterprise it supports. We simply have to tell our story better.

What does this mean for us? Each year, the entire senior administrative team-from the president to the vice presidents to the deans to the associate provosts-takes a two-day retreat. This year’s may have been the most productive yet. We spent much of that time in breakout groups engaged in intensive discussion about the strategic plan for the next 10 years. And, hard as it may be to believe, there was virtual unanimity on the key elements of focus going forward in the next decade:
• Hiring and supporting tenure-track faculty;
• Enhancing and improving graduate and professional education;
• Preparing and equipping students to succeed in a global economy;
• Fostering a culture of discovery, with particular emphasis on medicine and engineering;
• Preparing leaders; and
• Re-energizing the land- and sea-grant missions.

Now that’s a pretty good vision for a world-class comprehensive public research university that is poised to lead in the 21st century. But it also comes with a price tag. In addition to the level of state support necessary to build that kind of university for Georgia, it will take at least $1 billion in private support. While this may not be the best time to launch a capital campaign of that magnitude, it is the time to begin preparations for just such a campaign. The people of Georgia showed us during the Archway to Excellence campaign that they get it-they understand that great public universities are made great by private and public support. Public support is the foundation on which great universities are built, and the people of Georgia deserve a flagship university every bit as good as do people in Michigan or Virginia or California. To accomplish that we must leverage public support with even greater levels of private support.

Two hundred twenty-six years ago, the founders of this state put on paper a bold, even radical, idea-the idea that higher education is a public, not just a private good, the idea that the benefits of higher education inure not just to the individual but to society the idea that government owed its very existence to an educated populace. That idea had never been posited before 1785, and it was born in this state, our state.

We today are the stewards of that idea, and we honor that legacy by asking and answering this question: What form does the University of Georgia take in the second decade of the 21st century?

I see a university that, while not by its own choice, has undertaken a long, hard, detailed looked at its financial structure and made some difficult choices that have led to greater efficiencies while maintaining service levels. One of the most remarkable statistics I have seen in the past few years is that we produced virtually the same number of credit hours in the 2009-2010 academic year as the year before-with significantly reduced faculty numbers. I have said it before but I will say it again, because there are people who need to hear it: The people of this university have rallied to the cause of education which we hold dear by doing more with less, by offering creative ideas about saving money and with a spirit that has moved me deeply.

I see a university that is ever more in tune with the needs of its home state. Georgia needs the University of Georgia now and going forward, and we must respond. The expansions of the curriculum I mentioned earlier-public health, SPIA, environment and design, ecology, medicine and engineering-have all been driven by a desire to position the academic structure of the university in ways that will align with the needs of the state. The shadow of the Arch is long and the presence of this university permeates the fabric and substance of Georgia.

I see a university with a different mix of students who bring a high measure of quality to the campus. The graduate population will increase while the undergraduate population will remain relatively stable. You will see a more diverse campus, rich in racial and ethnic diversity, in geographic diversity, in linguistic diversity and in experiential diversity, as defined by Council in 2004.

The 21st century demands an appreciation for those who are not like us, and part of a UGA education should be the opportunity to meet and befriend and study with and learn from other people.

I see a university that not only fulfills the promise of the charter, but exceeds it. A university that continues to break new ground and make history. A university whose people have a positive impact in everything they do.

I see a university that matters; a university that serves its primary constituent, the state of Georgia, better than ever before.

Thank you.