Tuesday, January 25, 2011

It is a tremendous honor for me to join you today and speak with you about the absolute best part of my job as President of The University of Iowa. I’ve been asked to share with you some thoughts about why we raise money for public higher education. As you know, a major part of a university President’s job these days is fundraising. I enjoy this aspect of my position greatly. That joy comes not so much in the gift acquisition in and of itself (though that’s wonderful), but in what the process allows me to do—to share with people who love The University of Iowa what we are doing to educate young people, to discover new knowledge, and to make life better for people in our state, across the nation, and around the globe. The best part of my job is helping alumni and friends fire their passion for our University—which we all hope will lead to gifts—but it also lets me share the story of the remarkable things we are doing at our institution and why we are doing it. So, again, my talk today is focused on that all-important question of why we do what we do. Let me start by telling you about one of our students at The University of Iowa.

Renugan Raidoo emigrated with his family from South Africa to the plains of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, not far from the western border of Iowa. He came to The University of Iowa as a Presidential Scholar, our most prestigious scholarship award. Today, Renugan is a senior majoring in chemistry and anthropology. Listen to what Renugan has accomplished in just a little over three years at Iowa. He is a member of Amnesty International. He is the director of Intersection, a campus a capella group. He is a tutor for Iowa Biosciences Advantage, a bioscience research program preparing underrepresented minority students for PhD study. And he is a leader in the University's Global Health Club, a student group that raises awareness on campus of global health concerns and money to provide aid to organizations. As a budding scientist, Renugan was UI's Chemistry Student of the Year as both a sophomore and junior, was nationally recognized as a Goldwater Scholar, and internationally seasoned with a summer of nano-research in Germany. As an activist, his efforts enabled Bplans for Humanity—a group that facilitates social entrepreneurship project development—to help nonprofits with their science writing.

In the summer of 2008, the UI campus suffered its worst natural disaster ever—a devastating flood that damaged our entire arts campus and much more. Renugan and his classmates staged a student art contest to gain attention for the needs of our flooded arts campus. That culminated in "Art and Altruism," a show in Iowa's Old Capitol Museum, with proceeds from a silent auction going to a local shelter and helping with flood damage.

This past fall, we learned that Renugan became one of only 32 students across the country to earn the ultimate academic student prize, a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University—The University of Iowa’s first Rhodes Scholar since 1993. In October, Renugan will enter Oxford where he will seek a master of philosophy degree in social anthropology. After getting his degree at Oxford, Renugan plans to get both an M.D. and Ph.D. in chemistry, with the ultimate goal of helping those in Third World countries deal with complex medical issues.

Let me tell you about another one of our students, Alexandra Keenan, who graduated last year from The University of Iowa with a triple major in biomedical engineering, biochemistry, and international studies. Alexandra garnered many honors while a student at the UI. She was named one of the country’s Top Ten College Women by Glamour magazine. She was also named one of nine “Women of Innovation for 2009” by The Technology Association of Iowa. And in her senior year, she was named to the 2010 All-USA College Academic First Team by USA Today.

Alexandra helped lead a team of students who designed a handheld water sanitizer, a life-saver in developing countries. The project was awarded an EPA sustainable design grant and was named one of Discover magazine’s “10 Everyday Technologies That Can Change the World.” Alexandra’s recognitions come in part from work she has done in India— developing a community-based screening program for cervical cancer to help low-income women, and helping prevent the spread of a parasitic infection. During the school year, Alexandra worked in a University of Iowa medical lab that’s pursuing a vaccine for this parasitic disease, often called “black fever,” which is second only to malaria as a parasitic killer worldwide. She spent every winter and summer break in internship and research opportunities, such as working at an HIV/AIDS clinic and orphanage in Mexico, and, as I mentioned, conducting several research and service projects in India. Alexandra’s goal is to become a physician and scientist, discovering new treatments and providing them to people in underserved areas here in the U.S. and abroad.

If I had to answer the question of why we raise money for public higher education as simply as possible, I would merely point to Renugan and Alexandra. They are why we do it. They represent the new discovery and new leadership that the University develops for the greater good of the world.

This applies to all of our students. At Iowa, we don’t have 30,000 Rhodes Scholars or 15,000 Top Ten College Women. In the past couple of years, for example, English graduate Ryan Venem went to work for the Internet domain company in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, as part of their technical sales and support staff. Communication studies major Shannon Kane is working as a human resources manager trainee for Hy-Vee, a major regional grocery store chain founded and headquartered in Iowa. And finance major Jon Raftis, who also earned a risk management and insurance certificate, parlayed his internship at Arthur J. Gallagher & Company Risk Management Services in West Des Moines, Iowa into a full-time job.

Whether our students are going to bring medicine or clean water to Third World countries, whether they are going to be part of emerging technologies in the private sector, or whether they are going to work for the company that provides your groceries, public education sets our students on successful career paths and community involvement, providing the public goods that drive our economy and make life better for everyone.

Last week in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the weekly journal of news and analysis for our profession, an article asked, “Is Education a Public Good or a Private Good?”Ultimately the answer was both, but it did emphasize that “society benefits when more people go to college.People with a college education earn more than others, but their higher earnings do not reflect the whole of their contribution.Others who work with them earn higher wages because of the added flexibility, innovation, and productivity of the labor force.People with a college education tend to be more active citizens, with their volunteering and other activities benefiting those around them.There are more new products and services for all of us to enjoy because of the contributions of college graduates.So the benefits of higher education are shared by the participants and the rest of society.”

I have a particular and strong belief in the power of public higher education to provide both the private and public goods that benefit society.Let me tell you about one more student.

This is a student who is much further along in a career. She was a student who was inspired to become a scientist in the 1950s and 1960s when Sputnik inspired many Americans to pursue a career in the sciences, if for no other reason than to win the space race back from the Soviet Union. This girl is the daughter of an immigrant father who had only an eighth-grade education and a mother who barely finished high school before entering the work force. But these parents knew the value of an education, and they struggled and succeeded in giving their daughter the key to opportunity—the possibility of going to college, the first in her family to do so. What made that possibility a reality was a scholarship at a public university—The University of Kentucky. There, this young girl encountered a dynamic young professor of biology who saw her passion and potential and asked her to be part of a research project with him—as a freshman and as a young woman in the 1960s, when women were not exactly seen as capable of scientific careers. This young student also went on to publish a paper with her professor as an undergraduate. And this helped set the stage for graduate school. She went on to pursue a master’s degree at Purdue University and then a Ph.D. in cellular, molecular, and developmental biology from The University of Arizona. She subsequently spent two years at Indiana University doing postdoctoral research before becoming a faculty member at The University of Kansas. She spent 21 years at Kansas, serving as a full professor in the Department of Molecular Biosciences, becoming Acting Chair of the Department of Physiology and Cell Biology, then Associate Dean and ultimately Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the largest academic unit on the University of Kansas campus. She eventually went on to become Provost at Purdue University, and—you’ve probably already figured it out—President of The University of Iowa.

This student is, of course, me.I’m pretty proud of my accomplishments and my contributions to society, and I know my parents would be, too, if they were still with us.But my ultimate point here is that I hoped you noticed that list of institutions that got me to where I am today.Every single one of them—whether it was where I pursued my education or my career—is a public university.I think I’ve demonstrated my commitment to the importance and efficacy of the public university through a lifetime career in these vital institutions of American society and culture.

At The University of Iowa, we are in the early phases of our next capital campaign.Our very talented Foundation staff, under the leadership of UIF President Lynette Marshall, have developed five themes around which we will pursue our campaign goals.Let me frame the rest of my remarks around those themes, which I will pose as questions.In a different way from the student examples I shared with you, they beautifully capture the answers to the essential question before us today—“Why do we raise money for public higher education?”

Discovery of knowledge is at the center of our academic enterprise. In promoting our mission at The University of Iowa, I have said to our constituents that UI discoveries “solve urgent problems, expand human knowledge, and enrich our shared experience.”These are noble—and essential—pursuits, but they’re also very expensive ones.I know that it’s not news to you that state funding for our public colleges and universities across the country is declining more than increasing, especially in the last three years due to the economic crisis.At The University of Iowa, we have lost $55 million from our state appropriation in two years—20% of our state dollars.In the most recent annual “Grapevine” study from Illinois State University, Iowa was the state that cut the most funding to higher education in one year.Today, the UI’s appropriated budget is below the level of the mid-1990s, adjusted for inflation.In essence, the cuts we experienced over 15 months wiped out the appropriation increases of the previous 15 years.

I’m not citing these statistics to complain or to tell a tale of “woe is me.”These are just facts.How we as an institution respond is what’s important—and we at Iowa have responded in an affirmative, proactive way.We have had the foresight to plan for this “new normal” for several years now.

Our budget is actually in excellent shape—it is balanced, and it is growing, not shrinking.We have accomplished this success by being entrepreneurial—by being more efficient, by raising productivity, and by attracting more students to the excellent educational opportunities we provide.One thing we cannot—and will not—do is place the burden of declining state appropriations on the backs of our students.Accessibility remains one of my very top priorities as President.We need to make sure that the Renugan Raidoos, the Alexandra Keenans, the Shannon Kanes, and even today’s Sally Masons can come to The University of Iowa, to learn and discover in the way they want, and to become those marvelous contributors to society that we want and need them to be.

So we also need to be entrepreneurial in diversifying our funding at Iowa, even as we ardently maintain our public character and public purpose.As is the case, no doubt, in your own institutions, private fundraising has never been more crucial to our mission and our aspirations.Our fundraisers, our alumni, our friends, and our donors are, more and more, crucial partners in identifying and understanding those urgent challenges I mentioned before, fueling the discoveries that will solve them, and expanding opportunities for further advancement.

So let me briefly outline these five themes we will focus on in our campaign, the five questions that we—in partnership with our private donors—are asking of our public university enterprise.

First, how can we best prepare our students—the workforce of tomorrow—to succeed in a global economy?We are addressing that question through campaign priorities likestudent success initiatives, internationalism, faculty excellence, diversity initiatives, economic outreach, and important programs like our John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center.

Let me give you an example: “Rumpelstiltskin” is a Brothers Grimm fairy tale about a young woman who can spin straw into gold. Zach Hedrington, a University of Iowa law student working with the UI’s John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center (JPEC), is spinning agricultural residue into a different kind of gold. His start-up company, 3Fueled LLC, recently won a $50,000 federal grant to develop a system for helping farmers transport biomass to utilities, large industries, and biofuel companies for conversion to electricity. The company’s goal is to transport 3.6 million tons of biomass, mostly agricultural residue, for conversion to energy by 2014. Since JPEC’s founding in 1995, the Center has played an important role in the development of Iowa-based technology and high-growth start-up companies like 3Feuled through one-on-one consulting services, directing UI students on advanced field study projects, and providing training and seminars to business executives. Among its plans for the future, JPEC seeks to create an Entrepreneurial Management Institute to significantly enhance statewide economic development.

Second question: How can UI discoveries in medicine, environmental science, and other fields contribute to a healthier world? We will answer this question by pursuing campaign priorities in areas such as biomedical discovery, children’s health, aging in the mind and body, and sustainability.

And here’s an example: Maeve is an active Iowa City sixth-grader who enjoys science and art. She wants to be a veterinarian when she grows up. Maeve also has type 1 diabetes, but that doesn't hinder her plans, in part because a continuous glucose monitor and insulin pump help manage her disease. Thanks to private support, new technology like Maeve's can be loaned to UI Children's Hospital patients so their families can see how the equipment works at home before purchasing their own. Helping diabetes patients like Maeve by funding research that leads to more effective treatments—and ultimately a cure—is the vision behind The Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center, to be housed within the UI’s new Pappajohn Biomedical Discovery Institute. Like the Eagles, John and Mary Pappajohn—Iowa venture capitalists and among our greatest friends to the University—know that today’s most exciting medical breakthroughs happen when scientists from many fields are brought together under one roof to solve our most stubborn medical challenges, from diabetes to cancer to blinding eye disease. And that’s the broader vision for UI Health Care as a whole: to make the world a healthier place for all.

Third, how can the UI help enrich Iowans’ quality of life—making our state attractive for newcomers and natives—by tapping the University’s strengths in the arts, humanities, social sciences, and more?To answer this question, we are focusing campaign priorities on the arts, our international renown as the Writing University, the humanities, athletics, diversity initiatives, and public engagement.

My example: When it opened in 1972, the University of Iowa’s Hancher Auditorium quickly established itself not only as the state of Iowa’s premier performing arts venue, but as an internationally acclaimed presenter and commissioner of new works. At the same time, Hancher made statewide educational outreach among its highest priorities, bringing busloads of Iowa schoolchildren to matinee performances and master classes with world-renowned artists, and sponsoring tours of those artists across the state. The flood of 2008, which I mentioned earlier, took away Hancher’s stage, but not its mission. Even without a physical facility, Hancher has continued to sponsor events in nearby venues. And when the curtain rises in a few years on a new Hancher Auditorium—designed by world-renowned architects Pelli Clarke Pelli—all of Iowa, and the nation, will share in the limelight, as Hancher renews its commitment to bringing the very best in music, dance, and theatre to audiences across the state, keeping Iowa center-stage as a world-class center for the arts.

Fourth question: How can we contribute to a better-informed and engaged citizenry, which is essential to our civil society and a functioning democracy that serves as a model for other nations?Our campaign priorities in this area will focus on many of the areas I’ve already mentioned, incorporating the all-important public engagement aspect of these pursuits.

Example:The University of Iowa is becoming a national leader in the growing field of “digital public humanities,” which involves using technology to engage individuals and communities with UI faculty and students in fields such as history, literature, philosophy, languages, and other disciplines.We have been a leader in this field for quite some time, actually.One of the world’s most renowned scholars of the poet Walt Whitman is at Iowa—Ed Folsom.Professor Folsom and a colleague, Kenneth Price, at The University of Nebraska-Lincoln (another public institution, of course)—have been working on the digital Whitman Archive, which is making the writer’s massive collection of documents available to the world, for 15 years.

Over the next two years, the UI will hire at least six new faculty members who will collaborate on new and existing projects in the digital public humanities.“Humanities faculty study how and what people think, act, and create. The humanities help us understand ourselves and our communities,” says Teresa Mangum, associate professor of English in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and director of the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, which fosters interdisciplinary scholarship.Professor Mangum says the public humanities are about engaging community partners—including schools, public libraries, and local nonprofits—in collaborative projects that encourage such understanding.“In today’s digital world,” she continues, “we can create more and more exciting ways to promote those opportunities.”For example, this year, the UI plans to incorporate online communications into its emerging Spanish creative writing program.The new digital component will enhance student skills in technology and cultural competency while enriching the UI’s engagement with the growing number of Spanish-speaking communities in Iowa.

Our fifth and final thematic question: How can we empower UI students and faculty to share their ideas and innovations with the nation and world? Again, I’ve mostly mentioned the specific programmatic areas we’re focusing on in other questions. But the ultimate goal of our learning and discovery as a public institution is sharing it with and disseminating it to the public. So we always need to develop our methods of bringing the knowledge we create to our state, the nation, and the world.

So my final example: A trip to Guatemala—with its poverty, scarcity of drinking water, and unsafe living conditions—inspired Craig Just, an associate research scientist in the UI College of Engineering, to create a service-learning course called Design for the Developing World. His course, in turn, has inspired UI students from engineering and other fields to devote their talents to improving water, sanitation, energy, shelter, and food in developing nations. Professor Just’s students have cooked with solar ovens, designed easily assembled refugee shelters, and developed a handheld water sanitizer that can be used to disinfect drinking water for impoverished communities around the world—which student Alexandra Keenan was involved in, as I mentioned before. In fact, the handheld water sanitizer that emerged from Professor Just’s course won an EPA-sponsored competition and additional funding to help students further develop the project. “We have some of the best students on the planet here at Iowa, and winning the competition was only the beginning,” Professor Just has said. “We hope to multiply the $75,000 first-place award tenfold in the coming year so that we can make a substantial human health impact in our target countries.”

Honestly, I could talk with you for hours—if not days—about the remarkable ways in which The University of Iowa is making the world a better place for all. I could tell you more about how our UI Institute for Public Affairs is overseeing a project that is helping eight Iowa towns find new ways to create community-wide economic development plans that can be used as models for other small towns in our state—and elsewhere.

I could tell you more about how our Carver College of Medicine is in the top ten medical schools nationally for its social mission, not only for the excellent medical education we provide our future doctors, but also for providing so many physicians in the much-needed family medicine field and to rural communities.

I could tell you more about how the UI was named Public University of the Year by the Washington Center for Internships and Academic Programs for the robust way in which we provide opportunities for students to work and learn in the nation’s capital.

And I could tell you more about how a group of UI engineering students in our Continental Crossings organization went to Zambia to build a bridge so a village could access the only school in the area without having to walk several miles around a dangerous river—and how last Thanksgiving they went to Nicaragua to design another bridge, which they will build this summer.

I’m not really bragging here—well, maybe I am just a little. I know that you have many, many similar stories to tell about your own institutions. But we always need to remind ourselves about why we do what we do. In recent weeks, there have been several articles in The Chronicle of Higher Education, which I mentioned before, about the public and social purposes of higher education. Again just last week, members of the Talloires Network, an international association of institutions committed to strengthening the civic role of higher education, made an important statement in the title of their article: “A University’s Calling: To Repair the Social Fabric.” They said, “We believe that a university is not an ivory tower. It is a social enterprise, with obligations to the society that supports it. Scholarship need not be carried out in splendid isolation. Universities themselves will benefit if they work on crucial issues affecting their local communities, such as public health and education, challenges of urban or rural living, climate change and agricultural production, and the development of civil society.”

The public purpose of a public university is a great task, accomplished in an innovative enterprise and fueled by an inspiring vision. Our private donors are only becoming more and more central to this great task and the exciting challenges before us. For me, as an educator and a University leader, the lofty goals and expansive ambitions we set out for ourselves always come down to two essential things: our students and our faculty.

Last week, I attended a meeting with our University communicators, where we were also talking, in part, about the capital campaign before us. I was asked by one of the group’s members what I saw as the top campaign priorities among all the various threads we talked about. I said that no matter what specific programs or buildings or initiatives are part of a campaign—all of which are very important—the most important thing to do is provide resources to our students and faculty. Most importantly, we need scholarships for our students and research funds and endowed chairs for our best teachers, researchers, scholars, and creative artists. We need to be able to bring Renugan Raidoo and Alexandra Keenan to The University of Iowa, and we need to provide them with the highly talented Professors Folsom, Mangum, Just, and many more.

This brings me back to the public university in particular. Our greatest impact on the world is providing a high-quality educational opportunity to all students who want to learn and discover with us—including, and especially, those who might not otherwise have that opportunity. To do that, we need the best faculty possible, those not only with the greatest talent and most innovative vision, but also those who deeply feel the calling of making the world a better place through the mission of public higher education. And—it can’t be said enough—our private partners in this magnificent enterprise will become only more and more important in the years to come.

Thank you for your attention, for sharing this time today, and for all you do in enhancing the mission and impact of your own institutions, no matter what type they are.