Campus News

State of the University Address 2012

Good afternoon. Thank you for joining me for the annual report on the state of the university. I am energized today by where UGA has been, where it is and, even more so than I have been in the past couple of years, where it is going.

The simple truth is this: Georgia’s success depends on UGA’s success. There is no way around it. We educate Georgia at UGA. We produce the leadership class for this state. We produce the producers, create the creators, energize the innovators, encourage the change agents. We send into the world people equipped for success in what has been variously called the Age of the Mind, the Intellectual Capital Era or, to quote Thomas Friedman, a Flattened World.

Willis Potts, former chair of the board of regents, has said that “in the 21st century, the world’s work requires thinking, problem solving, synthesizing, communicating, designing and developing new ideas.” The 21st century, then, needs people with a strong, rich, comprehensive broad-based education.

But before I talk at some length about what that means for us in the coming years, I would like to share a few of the highlights of 2011.

The First-Year Odyssey program was initiated in the fall, with more than 300 seminar-style classes for freshmen taught by senior, primarily tenure-track, faculty. An outgrowth of the most recent SACS reaccreditation process, the First-Year Odyssey gave UGA students an initial academic experience most people would expect to find at a first-rate liberal arts college.

The greatest benefit—and one of the goals of the program—is the establishment of a lasting personal relationship between these students and the professor teaching the class. I know I built those relationships in the Odyssey class I taught, and I hope the same is true for my colleagues. Thank you for participating.

We took full and final possession of the Navy Supply Corps School property in the spring and now refer to it as the UGA Health Sciences Campus. Work began in the fall on the initial phase of renovations to classroom and administrative spaces, and some faculty and staff have begun moving in already, with classes to begin on that campus in the fall. There are now 80 future MDs in first- and second-year classes in Athens, with third- and fourth-year classes to commence in subsequent falls.

We continue to work with the system office on the expansion of public graduate medical education in and for Georgia, and I thank Gov. Deal for his support of that program in his recently released budget. The medical partnership with Georgia Health Sciences University and the expansion of GME, primarily at the hospitals here in Athens, are but two more contributions UGA is making as a land-grant institution to serving the needs of this state.

Just this month we opened there the long-desired University Childcare Center, which we dedicated yesterday. We are serving approximately 50 children there now with capacity for about 145. We owe Tim Burgess and his staff a round of applause for the good work that brought this vision to reality.

I’ll say more about this in context later, but we enrolled the largest freshman class in UGA history while maintaining the academic quality at levels very close to last year-1,254 SAT average and a 3.83 average GPA. These are the young people who are preparing for the 21st century, and preparing to carry out Regent Potts’ charge.

Once again, UGA students fared very well in national academic scholarship competitions. In 2011, our students were awarded a Marshall Scholarship, a Gates Cambridge Scholarship, three Barry M. Goldwater Scholarships, one Morris K. Udall Scholarship, one Merage American Dream Fellowship, two NSEP/Boren Scholarships, 11 Fulbright Scholarships and 13 NSF Graduate Fellowships. This university, and particularly the Honors Program, continues to attract some of the very best and brightest students, both in this state and from across the nation.

UGA faculty were at the forefront of research findings in their disciplines, keeping the public affairs office busy with announcements that received national and international attention. Among them were:

• The development of a vaccine that dramatically reduces breast cancer in mice.
• The use of Lipitor to prevent blindness in people with diabetes.
• The impact of a decline in coastal fishery predators on the larger coastal environment.
• The role of the parathyroid gland in regulating calcium levels in the human body.
• Patterns in firefighter fatalities.
• The role of the banded tetra in nutrient recycling in certain neotropical streams.
• The impact of the European snowpack on U.S. weather patterns.
• The use of gold nanoparticles in a rapid flu diagnostic.
• A discovery about proteins in plant cell walls.
• The discovery of a strain of yeast that easily turns pine into ethanol.
• A mouse model for the study of Alzheimer’s disease.

We also launched the Obesity Initiative, an effort to address one of Georgia’s most vexing and costly long-term health issues. The initiative includes faculty from nearly every school and college on campus and is building partnerships with hospitals, schools and community groups.

That’s not an exhaustive list, by any means, but it offers a glimpse into the active life of the research faculty on this campus.

The life of the mind was stimulated by a range of speakers who came to campus, including a Nobel laureate, poets, authors, artists, philanthropists, journalists, international and elected officials.

Equally compelling were the musical, dance and art performances presented by the Performing Arts Center, among them the Munich Symphony Orchestra, Bela Fleck, the Guitar Orchestra of Barcelona, the State Ballet Theatre of Russia and, just recently, famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

As I often tell students, at no other time and in no other place will you have ready access to the breadth and depth of free or inexpensive academic and cultural events as you will here, so take advantage of it.

Professor Han Park arranged the second round of Track II discussions in the fall, bringing together here officials from North and South Korea and the United States for high-level talks on the relationship between those countries.

UGA’s service mission has never been more vibrant. Grady County was added to the roster of Archway Partnership communities and is the latest to benefit from the work of an Archway professional living in the community, listening to the community’s needs and leveraging UGA resources and expertise to address those needs. The Vinson Institute of Government is working with Gov. Deal on four of his statewide initiatives-the Georgia Competitiveness Initiative, the Health Exchange Advisory Committee, the Water Supply Program Task Force and the OneGeorgia Rural Policy Center. When Georgia needs the broadest and deepest range of knowledge, it turns to the University of Georgia.

We filled a number of important leadership positions. Linda Fox came all the way across the country from Washington State to take her position as dean of the College of Family and Consumer Sciences. Likewise, Tim Chester came from Pepperdine to become our chief information officer-and the email system crashed on his first day. Griff Doyle, a longtime member of the government relations team, is now vice president for government relations. Longtime faculty member Jan Hathcote was named to the registrar’s post.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools gave formal approval in December to the cleanest reaccreditation report I have seen in more than 30 years in higher education administration. The NCAA also recertified the university’s athletic programs. While there was no doubt in the outcome of either of those processes, it is gratifying and affirming to receive the final word.

We commemorated the 50th anniversary of the desegregation of UGA with a month-long series of lectures, exhibits and events. We have come very far in that regard, but still have much to do. It is a journey, not a destination, in many ways. One step in that journey was the adoption last year of the diversity strategic plan, a map for how we will incorporate, integrate and celebrate diversity and inclusion as part of the mission to teach, to conduct research and to serve the people of Georgia.

Thanks to the generosity of UGA’s alumni, friends and supporters, private giving reached its all-time high last year at $126 million, the sixth consecutive year of more than $100 million in gifts and pledges. And on July 1, history was made as the UGA Foundation and the Arch Foundation for the University of Georgia merged into a new UGA Foundation with the stated goal of helping to provide financial resources in support of the university’s mission. Its first act was to allot $750,000 for scholarships, a much-needed and very tangible demonstration of that commitment.

We continued the physical development of the campus with dedications of renovations to Stegeman Coliseum and Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall. We dedicated an official university flagpole and a bust of Chappelle Matthews, whose support of higher education in the General Assembly in the 1960s and 1970s helped lay the foundation for the success we enjoy today. The construction of the Richard B. Russell Building Special Collections Libraries was completed, and we will dedicate that magnificent building next month.

But I must admit that my favorite such event was the dedication of the statue of Abraham Baldwin, author of the charter that established the University of Georgia-and first articulated the vision of public higher education in America-and the first president of the University of Georgia. I am grateful to the UGA Alumni Association for taking the leading on raising the private funding for that project.

It took a little convincing to bring me on board with the idea of such an addition to North Campus, which I consider to be one of the great university quads in this country. But once I saw him there, I knew it was right. He seems to have been there for decades already. He just looks right there-ask Tom Landrum, his close personal friend.

While policy changes at the Cabinet level do not often make it onto annual lists of highlights, the very good work of Dean Rebecca White, who led the working group asked to review the Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment policy, and the members of her committee, rises to that level. As approved by Cabinet, the policy made three significant changes to the previous policy:

• First, per the federal Department of Education, it designates that all complaints under the policy, including those made by or against students, be made to the Equal Opportunity Office. Previously, sexual harassment claims against students went to the Office of Student Conduct.

• Second, the policy clearly prohibits all faculty and staff, including graduate students, from dating or engaging in sexual behavior with students whom they currently supervise or teach. Previously, the prohibition extended only to undergraduate students; it now extends to all students, including graduate and professional students.

• Third, the policy requires disclosure of consensual relationships when one party has supervisory power over the other, and removal from any decisions involving that subordinate.

Higher education’s image was tainted last year with high-profile scandals involving allegations of grossly inappropriate, and even criminal, behavior.

And while no place this large and complex can be completely immune from the bad acts of a very few, I believe that the improvements to this policy-now very progressive-put UGA in very good stead.

We have engaged in recent months in a necessary discussion about difficult and uncomfortable topics regarding interpersonal relationships on campus. And frankly, we did it very well and in a manner that resulted in improved policies and an even clearer message about what behavior is acceptable and what behavior is unquestionably unacceptable. Unfortunately, we have learned from examples on other campuses what can happen when that conversation does not take place.

That is but a sample of the accomplishments of 2011. I could go on for the remainder of my time, but let me turn your attention to the near future for the University of Georgia.

Like many of you, I taught a First-Year Odyssey class in the fall, and enjoyed it very much. And while I have taught a class on Georgia politics and presidential elections every other year or so, I decided this time to teach a class about the history and development of the University of Georgia. To do so, of course, I went to the source, and read again Tom Dyer’s definitive history of UGA, commissioned for the 1985 celebration of the bicentennial of the charter.

Every time I do so I am struck by the cyclical nature of the challenges and opportunities that this university has faced in its 227 years.

Today we seek to address Georgia’s needs through the addition of medicine and engineering to the curriculum; through the relatively recent creation of the College of Public Health, the School of Public and International Affairs, the College of Environment and Design and the Odum School of Ecology; through the Archway Partnerships and other efforts of the Office of Public Service and Outreach; through research across the range of disciplines; and, of course, through educating the next generation of leaders and citizens.

Listen, then, to this line from Dyer’s history, describing the period after the Civil War, when the university had reopened and the state was claiming its share of Morrill Act funds.

The debate at UGA and in the legislature focused on “(Chancellor Andrew) Lipscomb’s plans to make the university both more accessible and more responsive to the state’s needs” by eliminating the highly structured four-year classical curriculum in favor of a two-year foundation and the freedom for juniors and seniors to select courses in major areas. Lipscomb believed that the classical education model of Greek and Latin and rhetoric and geometry did not serve the needs of the emerging South. The faculty finally accepted Lipscomb’s recommendation, laying the foundation for the modern structure of required courses for the first two years (the liberal arts foundation) with a focus on a major course of study in the third and fourth years. That pattern was established in the late 19th century in a time of turmoil at UGA.

Together, we have engaged in a similar process to focus UGA on meeting the state’s needs. Most recently are the creation of the medical partnership with Georgia Health Sciences University and the approval by the regents of civil, mechanical and electrical engineering to the UGA curriculum, beginning this fall. While there are clear benefits to the university in taking these steps-access to a wider pool of federal research funding, an elevated student profile, the ability to recruit faculty who previously would not have considered UGA-serving this state was at the forefront of those decisions.

Georgia needs more doctors, and the only public medical school in the state is at capacity. Georgia needs more engineers, and our new engineering programs will offer options for in-state students to enroll in engineering programs in the University System while helping to meet the state’s industrial and commercial need for engineers.

And just as the process for making those decisions was not without challenge and objection for us in the 21st century, our predecessors in the 19th century faced challenges-challenges far more threatening to the health and stability of the university than any we have faced. Political, cultural, religious and curricular forces attacked UGA in the post-Civil War era, tugging and pushing and pulling it in different directions, all of which veered it off course and off mission at times.

In 1862, with fewer than 40 students enrolled and the nation at war with itself, Chancellor Lipscomb proposed the establishment of a new school of civil engineering predicated on the clear need for such expertise in rebuilding the state after the Civil War. The trustees agreed with his proposal but provided no funding, so the idea went dormant.

Shortly thereafter, with three trustees killed in battle and more students enlisting, even though they were exempted from the draft, the university was closed in the fall of 1863, initially for a period of four months but ultimately to remain closed for academic purposes until January of 1866. Lipscomb and some members of the faculty, many of whom lived on campus, were allowed to remain on campus as caretakers; university facilities were converted for Confederate Army use.

The nation’s first public university had become little more than a military outpost in this nation’s darkest hours.

Following the reopening of the university in 1866, and as enrollment grew steadily, Lipscomb’s focus returned to the creation of a new university, one responsive to the state’s needs rather than dependent upon a classical model of education for society’s elect.

In 1872, the Medical College of Georgia, in Augusta, was integrated into UGA’s organizational structure, and a College of Agriculture was established, giving the administration access to the federal money available through the Morrill Act, which established the land-grant universities. In fact, as Dyer points out, it was this federal money-not state support or tuition-that saved UGA during the last half of the 19th century.

The final two decades of the 19th century saw the university a “college under siege,” according to Dyer, as agricultural interests questioned the institution’s commitment to the needs of the state’s vast farming community, and denominationalists challenged the very moral core of the educational process. Regional political forces began to lobby, successfully, for branch campuses in locations like Milledgeville.

Agricultural extension campuses were established in 1872 in Cuthbert and Thomasville, although both would be shut down within 20 years. Dyer writes that these campuses had been awarded “with no regard for the difficulty in funding such operations and with little awareness of the problems of operating branch colleges at great distance from the main campus in Athens.”

Additional criticism of the university came from proponents of the New South vision, who argued that the university ought to focus on technological education, agricultural education, teacher education and agriculture. With funding decisions-ergo, curriculum decisions-being made by the legislature with no higher education oversight agency, when UGA did not bow to the desires of one interest group, funding would be appropriated for the establishment of an institution that would.

Thus, a normal school at North Georgia; the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1885; a normal and industrial college in Milledgeville; the experiment station in Griffin; and the State Normal School here in Athens.

The question, then, of what UGA should be is not a new one. It is behind the framing of the charter in the language of Abraham Baldwin, whose ideas about higher education in the 18th century were nothing short of radical. It lies beneath the surface of the criticisms and questions of the post-Civil War era, when a wounded and defeated state and region asked how things were going to get better. It drove the expansion of the university from a small college to a more modern university under the leadership of Chancellors Lipscomb and Walter Hill.

And it drives my thought processes today. What is UGA? What should it be? The simplest, most powerful answer is that UGA is Georgia’s best option in the struggle to restore the economy.

Thanks to you and your colleagues across this campus, we have done just that despite the challenges of the recession, declines in state budgets, rising energy and commodity costs and other challenges.

The road to change in Georgia leads through Athens. If we believe in the transformative power of education, and that such a transformation affects not just the individual receiving the education but the society in which he or she lives and works and plays and produces and creates, then by sheer volume the leading change agent in this state is the University of Georgia.

The freshman class we enrolled this fall was about 5,500 students-larger than we had planned for but an indication, I believe, of the value of a UGA education. Of those, about 89 percent, or 4,900, are Georgia residents.

For comparative purposes, our friends at Georgia Tech enrolled 2,650, 60 percent of whom are Georgians; at Emory, just 17 percent of the 1,356 enrolled in 2010 were Georgians. In short, we enroll at UGA almost three times as many Georgia freshmen as they do at Tech and Emory combined. The future of Georgia really does reside in Athens.

Some really great state universities, like the University of Virginia and the University of Michigan, have moved to a national model, with declining in-state enrollment and a funding model heavily dependent on tuition. It is by conscious decision that the University of Georgia has stayed at least 80 percent Georgian across all programs. If we are to be the primary agent of change in Georgia, we must continue to populate this campus with people who love Georgia, who know Georgia, who are Georgia.

That commitment is embedded in our past, is part of our present and must remain so in the future. It is part of our DNA here.

That is our charge and our mission, and we take it very seriously. In the best of times, it is a daunting obligation; in difficult financial times, it becomes quite challenging.

We exist-by charter, by legislation, by mandate and by mission-to serve Georgia. And we will never run from that mission, never stand down from that charge, never abandon the people of this state who need us.

While the challenges we face do not threaten the existence of the university as did the challenges faced by Lipscomb in the latter years of the 19th century, they are serious nonetheless.
We have endured the most difficult two years for the university’s budget since the Great Depression, but beyond that, there are several serious issues for which we will need help from our funding partners, public and private, lest we slip back to being merely a good university, not great.

First, the formula must be funded fully and fairly. While I am sympathetic to the legislature in its efforts to prioritize the allocation of scarce resources, another year without funding the formula will do significant damage to UGA and the system as a whole. We owe the governor another round of thanks for including the system’s formula funding request in its full amount in his budget proposal. I assure you that we will play strong defense to protect that effort throughout the legislative session. When the increase in the formula was not funded at all last year, it meant the loss of some $15 million at UGA. That pattern is clearly not sustainable.

Second, we must-absolutely must-have help on faculty and staff salaries. I have made the case in Atlanta to the point that some members of the legislature turn away when they see me coming-but I chase them down!

They need to know that we have lost ground to our peer institutions, our aspirational institutions and our competitors, both domestic and global. And when UGA loses ground, Georgia loses ground, and none of us can afford that.

One of the strongest statements of the commitment of UGA’s faculty and staff to the mission of this place is the continued high level of productivity despite the recession, despite the lack of a salary increase pool, despite the increased work load as a result of unfilled positions. I am deeply grateful for that.

Some may say it is a good time to be thankful to have a job, and there is truth in that. But the University of Georgia operates in a global market for faculty and staff positions, and that market is not satisfied to stand stable.

Third, as successful as we have been, we need yet more help from our alumni-now 280,000 strong, with thousands added each year-and friends. Our most pressing need is a significant infusion of current and endowed funds to support faculty positions, with an equal commitment to student scholarships and fellowships.

I am proud that over the past 15 years we have moved from 92 endowed positions to 219, but that is not enough. In fact, we could use twice that many.

The number of student aid applications we receive has increased 34 percent in the past five years, with two-thirds of that growth occurring in the past two years. UGA families are hurting, and we need help in helping them achieve the dream of a University of Georgia education.

Our friends, alumni, the UGA Foundation and the governor have come together to provide what should be the signal capital accomplishment of the coming year-the Veterinary Medicine Teaching Hospital. Contributions from many friends who support this project and its importance to Georgia; a significant grant from the Woodruff Foundation; and the governor’s inclusion of $52.3 million in his capital budget recommendation mean that 2012 should see the groundbreaking for that $80 million facility at the corner of College Station and Barnett Shoals.

Fourth, we must remain diligent in self-examination. While a flagship should provide the broadest curriculum in the state-the full symphony-we do not fulfill our obligation to the state if we do not ask the necessary, and often difficult, questions about what we do and how we do it.

Those questions should include but are not limited to enrollment and admissions; placement of students; the quality and qualities of the student body; student satisfaction; scholarly production; teaching effectiveness and proficiency; meaningful service to the state; and research productivity. That is what mature, confident institutions do.

Finally, we must remain true to our roots and to our heritage as the first state-chartered university in America. Out-of-state and international students will always be welcome and will always be an important part of the UGA family.

But the flagship institution is supposed to be reflective of its home state. It is supposed to be the place that sets the academic standard for the state, a standard that demands strong college preparatory curricula in Georgia’s high schools.

It should say to the people of the state that it will not tolerate the existence of any program that is not first class.

These are tall challenges in tough times. But the University of Georgia has faced more difficult challenges in its 227 years, and has overcome them all-the Civil War, societal change, World Wars, the Great Depression, desegregation and this latest recession. So, too, will we not simply overcome what faces us—we will thrive. The best for this place is ahead of us, not behind us.