Thursday, October 1, 2009

Thank you for inviting me once again to address this impressive group of service clubs in our community. With the Flood of 2008 and our current economic challenges, the past year or two have been difficult, and service clubs have never been more important. I thank you for being there for our community members in need and for promoting the spirit of service amongst us all. Thanks to you, we are able to move forward with hope and optimism.

As we continue moving forward, I think we all agree that our economy, at all levels, will have to look different from what it did before the Great Recession in which we find ourselves. This is true of The University of Iowa as well. We are now in the midst of not just temporary budget cuts, but rather a redefinition of what a university for the people of Iowa is all about. The UI is seizing our current economic challenges as an opportunity to recast who and what we will be into the 21st century.

In any economic downturn, smart investors—large or small—do one thing above all—protect their assets. Innovative investors take their strategy one step further—they also look past current difficulties and seek opportunities for growth by investing more, and smarter, now. Iowans currently are facing decisions like this—at the kitchen table, in their businesses, in their communities, and across the state. We need to think clearly—and I would say boldly—about how we should invest in the future today. Our goals should be creating strength to weather future economic downturns and to cultivate future growth and prosperity.

Iowans believe that education is one of their greatest assets—for individuals, for families, for communities, and for the state as a whole. Especially in tough economic times, Iowans want—and need—excellent and accessible higher education. The University of Iowa is providing that, as we can see in our record enrollments in the last couple of years. But UI-educated students must not just be degree-holders with skill sets. Today, the global marketplace requires adaptability, not skills.

Here’s a great example: Recently, IBM chose to locate a new facility in Dubuque. They want a workforce that can be quickly trained to their needs and adaptable to today’s—and tomorrow’s—swiftly changing economy, technology, and knowledge. Dubuque was attractive to IBM because, within a hundred-mile radius, a number of higher-education institutions—prominent among them The University of Iowa—could provide the adaptable workforce they need.

Adaptability is not just a requirement for individual students and workers. The University of Iowa itself must adapt—not only to educate students well for the 21st century, but also to grow and prosper continuously as times change and as resources wax and wane. Business-as-usual is not acceptable for our graduates, and it is not acceptable for the institutions that educate them.

The UI has a reputation for cutting-edge innovations, whether it’s the revolutionary clubfoot treatment of Dr. Ignacio Ponseti, the invention of the workshop method of teaching creative writing, or the development of standardized testing. Such innovations must stay at the forefront of our teaching, learning, and research in order for our state to thrive into the 21st century. We need to listen to the advice of Molly Corbett Broad, an economist and current President of the American Council on Education. She says, “This is a time when the game is changing. Hunkering down is not a smart option.” Her advice to higher education: Think big.

What does “thinking big” mean? President Broad says universities should focus on their core academic values and strengths, and then focus resources on strategic areas of excellence. We can’t expand everything, but we should expand the best we have to offer. And I am happy to report that we are doing just that at The University of Iowa.

Probably the most obvious of our opportunities within challenges is the University’s campus renewal in the wake of the Flood of 2008. As you know, our biggest decision at the moment is the location of a new Hancher Auditorium/Clapp Recital Hall/Voxman Music Building complex. Soon we will host a second public forum on this important decision and will be determining a new location by the end of the year. In the meantime, our music and art programs still face great challenges, but we are doing all we can to provide the best temporary facilities we can.

The status of a Museum of Art building remains the biggest question mark for now. I have appointed a Museum of Art Envisioning Committee, chaired by our Interim Vice President for Legal Affairs and General Counsel Carroll Reasoner. This committee has begun their work of planning a new facility that honors the legacy of our renowned museum and provides for a future of new possibility.

Keeping our academic activities at full strength is our highest priority as we continue to recover from the flood. But looking forward, we have the opportunity to rebuild the University better than it ever has been, showing the world what it means to be an institution of higher education in the 21st century. As we enter this new phase of campus renewal, we will continue—and enhance—the excellence that Iowans expect of us through the most innovative new facilities as possible.

The University’s budget challenges, as I have suggested, present difficulties but also opportunities. We have this year to complete a strategic realignment that will take into account a roughly $35 million reduction in our state appropriations. But that only is the first step in preparing us for further budget reductions in the coming fiscal year, depending on the state budget situation. Throughout this process, our guiding principles will be protecting quality, protecting our people, and maintaining affordability.

This year, we were grateful to receive $35 million in federal stimulus money. We used $20 million of those funds to plug holes in our budget and prevent campus-wide layoffs and furloughs. But we designated $15 million for competitive grants that would enhance new innovations in education, research, and creative activity at the University while reducing recurring costs or increasing revenue streams in the coming years. We received more than 200 proposals from our campus community, demonstrating the remarkable originality of our faculty and staff. We were able to fund about 18 of those proposals.

Let me outline a few of these winning proposals that will not just save money in the long run, but advance our work with students and for the people of Iowa, creating a brighter future for all.

We will create new College of Liberal Arts and Science “active learning center” classrooms, which will be geared toward self-paced, independent learning in skills courses or small group learning in problem-solving courses. These classrooms will support interactive pedagogy in a technologically sophisticated environment.

A cluster of projects will enhance our research capabilities and advanced education—through enhanced cyber-infrastructure, new medical labs in the UI Institute for Biomedical Discovery, and advanced instrumentation such as nano-scale devices in Engineering or DNA-sequencing robots.

We also will be addressing changing student demographics and increasing diversity on campus. As the traditional high-school-age population declines, we are putting stimulus resources into recruiting Iowa’s new immigrants, students in states beyond those contiguous to Iowa, and international students from emerging economies of the world. Already this year, we have benefited from the largest international student entering class in the UI’s history.

Several projects also move forward our commitment to sustainability, itself one of our most important areas of 21st-century innovation. These projects focus on continued energy savings, as well as standardization of virtual servers and printers. We know we’re making good progress on energy savings through our designation by the EPA as one of the top 20 on-site green power users in the country. But we’re not leaving our educational mission out of the sustainability projects—we are also funding renovations and additions to student learning and faculty research labs in the UI Water Plant, enhancing knowledge of water quality and sustainability as well as cleaner water for the campus itself.

I have been discussing with you some of the ways in which The University of Iowa is strategically planning for future excellence amidst the challenges we face. But I do want to share with you some of the recent achievements of our talented University community and their commitment to excellence.

David Gompper, professor of composition in the UI School of Music and director of the UI Center for New Music, was one of four composers selected by the American Academy of Arts and Letters for the organization's 2009 "Academy Award” for outstanding artistic achievement.

Historian Linda Kerber, May Brodbeck Professor in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, was inducted into the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame, honoring her foundational work in American women’s history and her national leadership in the top professional organizations in her field.

And just last week, we received the thrilling and remarkable news that Timothy Barrett, research scientist and adjunct professor of papermaking in the UI Center for the Book, has won one of 24 MacArthur Foundation Fellowships, know generally as the MacArthur “genius” grants. You may remember that Mr. Barrett and his co-workers received national attention in 2002 when they developed the archival paper used to re-house the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution as part of the "Charters of Freedom Re-encasement Project.”

Our achievements at the UI are collective as well as individual.

Twenty-one of our graduate programs rank in the top 10 among public universities according to U.S. News & World Report.

Entrepreneur Magazine recently ranked the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center’s undergraduate program in the Tippie College of Business 23rd in the country—the only school in Iowa to be ranked in the top 25 and one of only two Big 10 schools, along with UW-Madison.

UI Hospitals and Clinics is ranked among America’s Best Hospitals for the 20th year. As well, the UI Children’s Hospital has been ranked the 20th best children’s hospital in the nation by Parents magazine.

Despite the current economic downturn, we shattered a research funding record this past year, posting a 10% increase over last year at $429.5 million. That places us in the top 20 among public universities, and we rank 13th in National Institutes of Health funding.

We also were very grateful to see over $200 million in gifts to the UI last fiscal year—the second-best fundraising effort in our history. Many thanks go to the incredible staff of the UI Foundation!

And one designation of which we’re most proud, the 2010Fiske Guide to Colleges has named The University of Iowa one of its 44 "Best Buy" universities, recognizing the high value of our academic excellence for an affordable cost.

Thank you for inviting me to speak with you today. We at The University of Iowa appreciate all you have done for us and the partnerships we share with you in this wonderful community. Friends and colleagues like you help us be not just a very good institution, but an excellent one.