Thursday, October 16, 2008

Thank you, President Miles, for that very kind introduction.

I am very pleased to join you today for my second annual joint service club address. Last year I told you how quickly the Iowa City community embraced me and my husband Ken, and how that made us feel like community members immediately. Today makes me feel even more a part of this remarkable community—joining you for a second time at an annual event says, “I’m really here!”

If you’re a Hawkeye alum—and I know many of you are—you probably know that one of our school songs is “On, Iowa!,” which begins, “On, Iowa, proudly at the fore. On, Iowa, on forever more.” This is truly how I am feeling about our great institution after the challenges of the historic flooding we faced this past summer. The positives that came out of this unprecedented experience include awakening the remarkable Iowa spirit of community, of cooperation, of hard work and grit, of resilience, and of optimistic renewal. Rarely, if ever, have I seen so many come together, so well, for so much. So this is the message about the University that I want to bring to you today: “On, Iowa, proud and forever.”

As I think back on this summer, there are many moments that I recall. I still vividly remember the call from Governor Culver asking if we needed help protecting the campus. Within hours, the National Guard was at our doorstep. I remember a good laugh I had with our student body President, Maison Bleam, who looked at me while we were sandbagging together and said, “This wasn’t in my job description. Was it in yours?” I still am touched by the outpouring of concern and donations to our flood relief fund from all over the state, country, and world. We have heard from every state in the nation, and fifteen foreign countries. I’ve received emails from alumni living as far away as Japan and China asking, “What can I do to help?”

Our stories really capture our experience with the flood, but even they cannot portray what we have gone through as fully as pictures can. So please let me share with you now some compelling images of our experience during the Great Flood of 2008, prepared by our University Relations staff. [Video is shown.]

We have come an extraordinarily long way at the UI in these past months since the flood. Today, while we continue the process of reconstruction, we are halfway through a semester that enrolled over 30,000 students—an all-time record. We have the third-largest entering class in our history. Of the 5,500 incoming freshmen and transfer students we welcomed this year, only two that we are aware of canceled their registration because of the flood. We are housing all the students who need it, and we are offering all the classes we promised.

Although we have come an incredibly long way, we still have an even longer way to go. Even the buildings that we have been able to reopen will require further long-term flood mitigation. We need to examine and understand how we will live with the Iowa River. But we have the opportunity to move forward and rebuild the University better than it ever has been. We will continue—and we will work to enhance—the excellence that Iowans expect of us.

Of course, everything at the University is not about the flood. We have many exciting prospects ahead of us. I’m sure a number of you have already met one of our dynamic new leaders at the UI, Wallace Loh, who started as Executive Vice President and Provost in August. One of Provost Loh’s major tasks is overseeing the University’s strategic initiatives, and he has embraced that challenge with vigor and vision. I would like to share with you today some of these exciting areas of progress that will continue to make Iowa your University, an institution that meets the needs of our state.

Our students are our first priority. We will continue to promote the success of our students with the most vibrant and integrated academic and co-curricular experiences available in the Big 10. This will include taking a look at our general education curriculum to make sure it meets the needs of 21st-century students. And it will include continuing our commitment to a more diverse and more international campus, including more study abroad opportunities. At the same time, one of our highest priorities will remain affordability and access, and we are beginning a vision and plan to expand both.

Students can succeed, however, only in a safe and healthy environment. So student safety and well-being will also continue to be a major—and expanded—priority. We must reduce and prevent the harm caused by the culture of binge drinking—impediments to learning and to health, as well as sexual assault and other forms of violence. We must build a culture of respect—self-respect and respect for others—on our campus, which students can also then bring to the greater society when they graduate.

In terms of academic excellence, there are three major areas of strategic focus that I would like to share with you today. Our primary goal with all of these areas is to put knowledge into practice. We fulfill our mission most effectively when we apply our discoveries to make life better for all Iowans, and everyone else across the nation and globe as well.

The first is an area we are widely known for—the health sciences. Here we are focusing more on clinical and translational research. We want to improve and hasten the bench-to-bedside dynamic—to bring discoveries about treatments and cures from our research labs to the clinical setting as quickly as possible.

We recently announced a major partnership that beautifully illustrates how we will be able to do this. The Fraternal Order of Eagles has made a $25 million gift commitment to the UI Foundation that will establish the Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center in the new University of Iowa Institute for Biomedical Discovery. The Eagles gift will fund endowed chairs and fellowships for diabetes researchers, provide seed research grants, and help recruit leaders in diabetes research and translational medicine. This major gift is truly transformative—it will revolutionize diabetes research at the UI. We thank the Eagles for their tremendous vision and generosity.

Two of those stellar faculty members working on diabetes are Dr. Eva Tsalikian and Dr. Michael Tansey in Pediatric Endocrinology. They are working on several National Institutes of Health-funded projects to help children with juvenile diabetes cope with this serious disease. In one of these projects, they are testing the use of tiny devices, placed just under the skin, that continuously monitor glucose levels. And, by the way, our Department of Pediatrics is one of only five clinical centers in the country that have been designated and funded by the Diabetes Research in Children Network.

A second area of special strategic focus is in the letters and the arts. Through the arts and letters, we develop the capacity to illuminate how we understand the world, how we can view new possibilities, and how we can transform our lives.

As I’m sure you know, our Writers’ Workshop is world-renowned—the first and still the best in the world. And I’m sure you’ve all heard of Workshop faculty member Marilynne Robinson, who won the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Critics Circle Award, and numerous other awards and accolades for her 2005 novel Gilead. Her new novel, Home—which returns to the setting of Gilead, Iowa—is receiving wonderful notice as well. I find something else especially inspiring about Marilynne Robinson, though, besides her world-class talent. If you go to a page featuring her on the UI Admissions website, her quotation there is simply, “I love teaching.” I think that says it all about why our faculty are so spectacular.

Of course we have great strength across the entire spectrum of letters and arts. Let me just give you a flavor of our arts faculty, who continue to accomplish remarkable things even as their work is challenged by the lack of a central home this year due to the flood.

In the School of Music, the Maia Quartet is celebrating their tenth anniversary this year. They will be performing a series of Haydn quartets in celebration of that composer’s 200th birthday.

Chunghi Choo is a renowned metal and fabric sculptor in our School of Art and Art History who has exhibited in such monumental institutions as the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. What makes her an especially great faculty member is that she doesn’t accept offers to showcase her work unless the offer also extends to her students.

UI alumna and professor of directing and theatre history Tisch Jones combines drama and activism. She expanded the former Black Action Theatre into the Darwin Turner Action Theater, an outreach program that tackles social problems and involves the community as well as students. As Professor Jones says, “We open our doors. Our audition process is not about your acting ability, but your social commitment.”

Dedicated teachers, artists, performers, and scholars enrich our lives through the arts and letters at the UI—and it is crucial to the future of the University and the future of our society that we continue to support them as a central strategic priority.

A third area of special strategic focus is sustainability. Sustainability is a defining issue of our age. As the creator of new knowledge, the University must remain at the forefront of the extraordinary changes that we all face. Therefore, this past spring, as many of you know, I announced a sustainable university initiative at the UI

A major aspect of our sustainability commitment is to sustainable practices throughout our campus facilities—in saving energy and in recycling, for example.

But sustainability extends into our academic mission as well. We plan on including sustainability in the general education curriculum for all UI undergraduates, and we hope to have an undergraduate sustainability certificate in place by next academic year.

We are also very excited about our proposed new Iowa Institute on Sustainable Water and Energy. This Institute will focus on research, education, and service in water resources, renewable energy, green engineering, and other emerging technologies, as well as social issues regarding the protection of our environment. As well, the new Institute will involve partnerships with business and industry and state government in order to bring our expertise to the people of Iowa.

All of our academic developments are not in the future, however. One great example is the new Wind Power Management Program, consisting of senior undergraduate and graduate-level courses in wind turbine design and wind power management in the College of Engineering’s Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering. As Engineering Professor Andrew Kusiak, who teaches our first course in wind power management, says, "It is envisioned that as much as 20 percent of the nation's energy needs will be met by wind generated power. . . . The Wind Power Management Program at the UI is intended to educate professionals for design, operations, and management of wind farms deployed in massive numbers all over the country.” Our state is at the forefront of this emerging industry with five new wind power companies. We will help provide the expertise and talent necessary to ensure Iowa’s future as a wind energy leader.

The challenges we face in our flood recovery and mitigation themselves are important issues in sustainability. We have one of the premier hydraulics research and education programs in the College of Engineering. The expertise of folks like Witek Krajewski and Larry Weber was instrumental—and remains so—in our efforts to understand what happened during the flood, as well as to communicate our situation and needs to the outside and governmental agencies with whom we are working in our recovery. We are also very proud of the National Science Foundation grant that Keri Hornbuckle and Thanos Papanicolaou have received as principal investigators for a study in cooperation with the Linn County Board of Supervisors on pollutants that the flood left in Cedar Rapids. The imaginative research that these talented faculty members are doing and proposing in the wake of the flood beautifully demonstrates how we can put our knowledge into practice.

These are the kinds of things that keep me excited and make me appreciate every day how good it is to be the President of this great University. We are always trying to make the UI better, and we are always trying to serve Iowans more effectively. I thank you for your attention today and for your continued support of The University of Iowa. We couldn’t do it without you.