Thursday, October 25, 2007

Thank you for inviting me to speak with you today. Although it was pretty frosty this morning, I understand that in years past the joint service clubs luncheon was held in the dead of winter. So I thank you for changing this wonderful tradition to a more temperate time of year.

No matter how cold the weather is becoming, I am still warmed by the generous welcome that this University, this community, and this state have extended to me and my husband Ken. We thank you for embracing us so readily and so kindly.

We are truly feeling a part of this community. In fact, I already know how to pronounce Hotel Vetro correctly. Also, I thank all of you for the tremendous contributions you make to our community. I know that the Iowa City area makes many “best of” lists. I like to think that the University has something to do with that. But I know that business and community leaders like you definitely do.

It’s been a thrilling, whirlwind experience for me these past few months as I take up the mantle of leadership at The University of Iowa. The UI’s major accomplishments this fall have been marked by groundbreakings. I am always energized by the festive atmosphere of a groundbreaking. But I am also humbled by the day’s many meanings. Yes, we are literally breaking ground—turning over the first spades of dirt—for a new building. But more importantly, we are creating the promise of future possibilities—sometimes audacious ones. We are pursuing the mission that Iowans expect from us: innovations in education, research and creative endeavor, and service. As we push those golden shovels into the grass or dirt, we are also advancing the groundbreaking work of the University.

At this beautiful time of year, we see Iowa’s identity played out in the fields: the harvest of food, whose seeding began with the turning of topsoil. Likewise, our groundbreakings on the University campus plant the seeds of new academic growth. The harvest is new discovery for the betterment of society.

We don’t conduct these groundbreakings by ourselves. Along with University members, you also see community and business leaders, private donors, state legislators, and maybe even the Governor. So on groundbreaking day, I am also reminded that we are always partners with our community, our state, our public. And I am reminded that everything we do is really for the greater public good.

Let me share with you today some of these groundbreakings. (And I’d better move on, anyway, so I can give my metaphor a rest.)

Less than a week ago, we broke ground on the new Campus Recreation and Wellness Center. It was, I admit, an unusual event. Thanks to some unpredictable October weather, we actually broke ground inside the Field House. Nevertheless, this groundbreaking planted the seeds for an enriched campus and community life. This innovative new facility is primarily for our students. Our obligations to our students are not just intellectual. We must be dedicated to their total well-being.

We could have just built a pool, an indoor track, and an exercise equipment room. But we wanted this center to be much more—a campus and community center, dedicated to wellness for all. Classrooms, offices for University athletic and wellness programs, spa facilities, a rock-climbing wall, a leisure pool with fun features—these will all be available to students, faculty, staff, and community members.

We want to set students onto the path of career prosperity. But a wealthy life is about so much more. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The first wealth is health.” We want to ensure a rich life for our students in all its meanings—and we want to enrich the lives of our faculty, staff, and community as well.

About two weeks ago, we turned our shovels on a bluff overlooking the Iowa River. We set the College of Public Health on the path to their new—and first—building.

One of the most impressive aspects of this new building will be its green nature. As a public institution, we have a responsibility to address this world’s growing environmental problems. So we are pursuing Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification for the new College of Public Health building. I think that demonstrates our multi-faceted commitment to the well-being of the people of Iowa.

The UI College of Public Health is widely recognized for leadership in many areas, including agricultural safety and health, birth defects and cancer surveillance, clinical trials, emerging infectious diseases, tobacco control and substance abuse prevention, and nutrition and obesity prevention among many others.

As you drive, bike, or walk the country roads this time of year, you know it’s harvest time in Iowa. So it’s a good time for me to point to I-CASH as a great example of how the College of Public Health engages with our state.

I-CASH is the Iowa Center for Agricultural Health Safety, headquartered in the UI College of Public Health. The Center is an innovative cooperative venture between the UI, Iowa State University, the Iowa Department of Public Health, and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. The Center offers many programs, ranging from farm safety certifications to educational programs.

Many of you may know that farming is one of our country’s most dangerous occupations. Farmers tell us that one of their biggest safety concerns is rural road safety, especially during harvest season. I suppose many of us here have felt a little frustrated at a slow-moving tractor or combine on a two-lane highway. But we also know that we need to share the road with farm machinery. Many don’t learn that lesson, as over 200 car-farm vehicle crashes per year in the state attest. I-CASH is trying to alleviate this problem by joining with yet another partner, the Iowa Department of Public Safety, in the new “It’s Preventable!” campaign. Through sharing stories with groups and the media, I-CASH hopes to raise awareness about this growing problem.

I-CASH shows that we can most effectively create solutions when we reach out in partnership. One of the most striking instances of that kind of cooperative synergy occurred just one year ago on our health sciences campus.

One year ago, Chicago Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee and his wife received unwelcome news: their three-year-old daughter Jada had Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis—LCA—a genetic retinal disease. The doctors told the Lees that there was no treatment nor cure—in other words, there was no hope. Jada would go blind.

Derrek Lee didn’t like that answer. He didn’t like that answer for Jada, and he didn’t like it for the estimated 3,000 other people in this country who suffer from LCA. The Lees certainly did have their moments of despair. But Derrek Lee reached into his own spirit of optimism, and his own spirit of giving back, to do something about what the doctors told him was hopeless.

The Lees decided to seek out the best doctor in the country, if not the world, in this area. They tracked down an internationally known vision researcher who directed one of the world’s premier centers for macular degeneration research. From this doctor, they learned that the key to an LCA cure is understanding its disease-causing genes.

In the midst of all this, Derrek Lee discovered that Boston Celtics’ co-owner Wyc Grousbeck had a son with LCA. Together, Lee, Grousbeck, and the eye researcher decided to initiate a project with the intent of curing this blinding disease. And they understood that the first step was identifying all the estimated 3000 people in our country who have it. Project 3000 was born.

Now, when Derrek Lee decided to find the best eye disease researcher in the country, do you know where he ended up? It wasn’t the Mayo Clinic. It wasn’t Johns Hopkins. It was The University of Iowa—right here in your very own back yard. We’re talking about Dr. Edwin Stone, Seamans-Hauser Chair in Molecular Ophthalmology in the UI Carver College of Medicine.

Derrek Lee is determined that we will find this cure for his daughter—and all other sufferers—through groundbreaking genetic research and testing. I know Dr. Stone and his colleagues share that determination. I had the privilege of visiting Ed Stone’s lab recently, and I cannot tell you how impressed I was. Hope, optimism, and partnership abound there.

This kind of innovation in the health sciences is at the heart of one of our most exciting new beginnings. Four weeks ago, Governor Culver, Lieutenant Governor Judge, and numerous state legislators joined us as we turned the spades to inaugurate the new University of Iowa Institute of Biomedical Discovery. In a world-class setting, scientists from across the University will collaborate to explore high-risk/high-yield scientific questions in the treatment of diseases. They will break new ground by pushing and crossing traditional disciplinary boundaries.

The Institute groundbreaking complemented an earlier announcement beautifully. In September, the National Institutes of Health announced one of the largest awards ever given to The University of Iowa—a $33.8 million grant to fund the University of Iowa Institute for Clinical and Translational Science, under the direction of Dr. Gary Hunninghake. This is a transformational award that will enable us to bring laboratory research to patients much more rapidly. The institute will work with physicians, hospitals, and community health centers across the state and nation to bring cutting-edge biomedical research and clinical trials to patients in their own communities. It is the largest and most comprehensive interdisciplinary effort ever undertaken by the University, with 39 centers and institutes and all 11 Colleges participating. Rarely have we engaged so much of the campus and so many other institutions so broadly.

Before I leave you today, I do want to share with you a few other programs that make us a groundbreaking university. As you probably know, my predecessors and our preceding provosts have worked hard to make the UI “The Writing University.” I embrace that initiative completely, as does our current interim provost Lola Lopes. Two events this year highlight our status as “The Writing University.”

First, we are celebrating the 40th anniversary of the International Writing Program this year. This unique and innovative program brings writers from all across the globe to Iowa. While here, they learn about America and write in a congenial setting. For many writers, we provide a haven of intellectual and artistic freedom. Over 1000 international writers have brought the world to Iowa through the IWP. And after they leave, they bring Iowa to the world.

Just last night I attended—as did many of you—a reception for our visiting writers. Sadly, their time with us is coming to a close. But we have all been enriched by their presence and their talents. The IWP is central to our identity as “The Writing University,” and I thank Professor Christopher Merrill for the stellar work he does directing the Program.

I would also urge you all to take in the new exhibit at the Old Capitol Museum, "A Community of Writers: Creative Writing at the University of Iowa.” This wonderful installation shows us the history and achievements of the many writing programs over the years at the UI. These include not only the Writers’ Workshop and the International Writing Program, but also the Translation Workshop, the Playwriting Workshop, the Nonfiction Writing Program, and the Center for the Book. Curator Jennifer New has put together some fabulous information and compelling displays that tell the story of “The Writing University.” You can see Flannery O'Connor's master's thesis, a handwritten draft of Marilynne Robinson's novel Housekeeping, the 2003 National Endowment for the Humanities Medal of Honor bestowed on the Writers' Workshop, and much more. The exhibit will be here all year, and many wonderful programs will also be part of the celebration.

There are many reasons why Iowa has become “The Writing University.” But I like to think that there is something special about the rich ground here in Iowa, the ground we break to reveal creative genius. As many of you know, Paul Engle developed the Writers’ Workshop into the national treasure it is today. He also co-founded the IWP with his wife Hualing. But Paul Engle remained an Iowan through and through, understanding deeply our place and our heritage. He once said, “It is here, close to the plow, to the great power for growth of the prairies, to a feeling of equality easier to maintain in an agricultural region, art can most readily come from the plain folk.” Whether it’s the everyday Iowan or the Nobel-prize-winning Orhan Pamuk from Turkey, putting pen to paper here in Iowa plows the furrows of creativity.

I hope these stories show you that engaging with the public is in the warp and weave of what we do every day. But we always strive harder to be responsive to our citizens’ needs. I am therefore delighted that the UI’s Civic Engagement Program continues to grow. This office’s mission is to promote students' community involvement, create partnerships between the university and community organizations, and help meet community needs through service.

This year, the Program is embarking on a special theme: “Environmental Impact . . . Go Green Iowa.” The Program has already launched a website to collect local environmental events and resources for UI students and the campus community. The first events focus on our own Iowa River. Nathan Lein, a water program legal analyst for the Iowa Environmental Council, spoke this past Tuesday on why he nominated the Iowa River as one of "America's Most Endangered Rivers" by American Rivers. Last week, a bus tour demonstrated just how and why that organization said our river was the third most endangered in the country. This coming weekend, the Civic Engagement Program will celebrate Make a Difference Day with water quality "snapshot" sampling from six bridges on campus and a riverbank litter cleanup.

Our Campus Master Plan calls for both increased sustainability and building the campus relationship with the Iowa River. Thanks to Civic Engagement Program coordinator Mary Mathew Wilson and many enthusiastic faculty, staff, and students, the entire campus can join together in partnership in these institutional priorities.

I knew Iowa was a remarkable university when I sought its presidency. Every day, I learn that it is more remarkable than I had ever thought. Iowa is indeed a groundbreaking university. And in every case, we break ground in partnership with the greater public and for the greater public good. My arms are getting a little tired turning over so many spades of dirt. But I will never tire of moving this great University forward in its traditions of innovation and excellence. I am thrilled by the foundation—the groundwork—that my predecessors have laid here for continued new discovery and new opportunities for all.

In the months to come, I will be laying out a more specific vision for how we will move The University of Iowa into the future. But one thing I do know already is that we have a rich soil here in Iowa—literally and figuratively—from which we can grow greatness—greatness for the benefit of all.

I thank you for time today, for your warm welcome to Iowa, for your support of the University, and for all the remarkable work that you do to make our community and our state so remarkable.