Thursday, October 10, 2013
University Club


As always, it is a special delight and honor to speak with our community’s joint service clubs.  It’s an annual tradition that I very much look forward to and enjoy. I am proud to share some of what’s happening at the university with you, and I’m always energized and inspired by the innovation and leadership that fills this room. All of you contribute so much to making our local communities vibrant and forward-looking, and I thank you for making this such a wonderful place to live, work, create, and serve.

Last year, I talked with you at some length about our student success initiatives.  Student success remains among our very top priorities, and one of the most important projects in that effort is now open for business. If you haven’t yet had the chance to visit the new Library Commons in the university’s Main Library, I urge you to take a look.  To paraphrase the old Oldsmobile commercial, “This is not your father’s library.” We have made innovative changes that reflect the way students study and learn today, and our students have greeted the renovations with great enthusiasm. The Learning Commons features 24-hour, comfortable study space; a one-stop academic help center; new, well-equipped private and group study areas for more than 500 students; 150 desktop computers; a new innovative, interactive, and technologically sophisticated classroom; and a renovated café.

Our student success programs keep students not only learning but engaged and persistent in their education. We are very proud that these initiatives are realizing success in our graduation and retention rates. The national average for retaining students between the first and second years of college is 76.7%, and we at Iowa have raised that to over 85% for several years in a row. And thanks to our Four-Year-Graduation Plan and other programs, we are nearing our 52% goal for graduation in four years. We are also maintaining an approximately 70% six-year graduation rate, which is well above the 54% national average.

What’s even more important than statistics is the success we see in the learning and the lives of our individual students. Just one example of our successful Hometown Hawkeyes is someone whom I sure most of you have heard of or know. We were very proud earlier this year when Zach Wahls, a UI Honors student and a junior from Iowa City with an interdisciplinary major in Sustainability Studies, was among only 62 students nationally to be named a Truman Scholar. The Truman Scholarship program recognizes college juniors who have demonstrated exceptional leadership potential and a strong commitment to public service.  Zach is the university’s sixth Truman Scholar in as many years.  The UI’s record of success with the Truman program is unusual, and we’re proud that a few years ago, we were named a Truman Foundation Honor Institution. Zach’s knowledge and skills have been strengthened by his active engagement with the community and state, as well as the nation. He has been part of the student-driven initiative Iowa City Summer of Solutions, and he has worked with the Center for Energy and Environmental Education at the University of Northern Iowa as well as Iowa City’s Youth Advisory Commission. And as you no doubt know, after his speech to the Iowa Legislature, Zach contributed to the national conversation around LGBTQ rights as the founder of Scouts for Equality.

A wonderful new figure in the landscape of the University of Iowa’s public engagement that I’m thrilled about is Jim Leach. As you know, Jim Leach was a distinguished Congressman from Iowa for thirty years, and he recently stepped down from his post as Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Chairman Leach is the inaugural holder of the University of Iowa Chair in Public Affairs and is bringing his distinguished experience and knowledge to UI students by teaching in the Colleges of Law and Liberal Arts and Sciences, advising law students, and presenting campus and public lectures. He has already contributed substantially to the conversation at the UI and in the community. Just in September, now-Professor Leach spoke at a Fulbright Celebration on campus; appeared on the UI International Programs’ “World Canvass” program discussing the arts, human rights, and freedom;  and participated in a special forum on the conflict in Syria hosted by the UI Center for Human Rights. Next Tuesday, October 15, at 10:30 a.m. in the Lindquist Center’s Jones Commons, Professor Leach will serve as the first speaker in a new Distinguished Speakers Series in the UI College of Education. The talk is open to the public, and Professor Leach will speak on “STEM, the Humanities, and Global Education.”

Our good fortune in bringing Jim Leach to the University of Iowa demonstrates our profound—and growing—commitment to public engagement. And I am especially pleased at how robustly our engagement with the community-at-large is growing. In fact, one of the most impressive—and enjoyable—results of such partnerships begins today, the first day of the fifth annual Iowa City Book Festival. Not only has the festival moved from the summer to the fall, but the sponsoring organization has moved from the UI Libraries to the City of Literature. This in many ways is an expansion of the partnership nature of this remarkable event. Of course, the City of Literature organization grew out of the efforts of UI International Writing Program Director Christopher Merrill’s advocacy, leadership, and hard work to get Iowa City declared the world’s third and North America’s first City of Literature. That designation was realized thanks to the vibrant—and synergistic—literary culture that characterizes both our university and our community, and the many interactions and collaborations between them. The City of Literature organization now operates on its own but still with significant community and university participation. I’m looking forward to this weekend’s astonishing wealth of programs, readings, discussions, films, and, of course, the book fair.

I am also very pleased to see another cultural collaboration that will enhance the lives of both our students and our community.  It will also further enliven the cultural life of downtown. This month, the partnership between the UI’s Bijou student film organization and the nonprofit FilmScene kicks off with the first screenings in the new theatre on the Pedestrian Mall. The collaboration allows the Bijou to sustain and enhance its programming of unique, international, and independent films. The Bijou is also seizing this opportunity to expand its work, developing new collaborations on campus. The group has ambitions, for example, to team up with academic departments to organize projects around documentaries, international cinema, and other specialty programming. Combined with FilmScene’s goals to organize community filmmaker workshops, film literacy programming, and special events, this partnership looks to enhance Iowa City’s status as a cultural center in exciting new directions.

Our town/gown partnerships go much beyond cultural programming, of course. I am proud of the spirit of cooperation between the city and the university that we continue to enjoy and advance. For example, the Partnership for Alcohol Safety has done excellent work, I believe, in its mission to identify and advocate for strategies that reduce high-risk drinking and promote a vibrant downtown. The organization is truly a partnership with a broad representation of university community members, including students; City of Iowa City elected officials and administrators; downtown Iowa City business owners, including bar owners; public health professionals; law enforcement professionals; K-12 school board members and administrators; parents; and more.

UI students and the community also benefit from continuing to have a student liaison to the Iowa City City Council. The UI Student Government has been appointing a liaison since 2005, providing an important voice for the students in city affairs and providing the city with the crucial student perspective.

Our local partnerships extend beyond the city, too, of course. Tomorrow, we will celebrate the groundbreaking of one of our most innovative collaborations.  The University of Iowa and Kirkwood Community College are joining forces on the Kirkwood Regional Center, which will be located on the UI Research Park. When completed, the Kirkwood Regional Center will bring together educators from the university, community college, and K-12 levels to coordinate research and educational improvement across the board. Students will benefit from career academies and college-level courses for area high school students.

Another wonderful partnership with Kirkwood came to fruition recently as well. With its new undergraduate and graduate programs in wind energy, the UI’s work in this area took a nice leap forward last month in cooperation with Kirkwood. We have installed wireless wind measurement sensors on a 350-foot tower near the wind turbine on the main Kirkwood campus in Cedar Rapids. The readings will be used to study the efficiency of the turbine, and the data will be made available to the public as well as to researchers and students, including undergraduates for projects and assignments.

These are only a few of the wonderful collaborations and partnerships happening between the university and our communities. We have all learned many lessons about joining together in cooperation especially since the 2008 flood.  We have seen that quite dramatically with the loss of the university’s arts buildings. The UI’s Hancher Auditorium, the School of Music, studio arts, and theater arts have all not just survived the past few years thanks to welcome cooperation with many of the city’s public, nonprofit, and business organizations.  With necessity as the mother of invention, they have also embarked on unprecedented partnerships that will certainly continue in the future as Hancher, music, and art move into their new facilities.

I know that everyone is highly anticipating the forward movement we will see this year on the renewal of our arts facilities. I’m sure you’ve all seen the impressive images of the new Hancher, School of Music, and visual arts buildings. But today I would like to share with you something new—some short video clips of moving “fly-throughs” of these innovative buildings that will grace our community for opening in 2016. [Show videos.]

We could not have realized all these remarkable achievements without our close partnership with our alumni and friends and the citizens of Iowa. We are currently moving that essential partnership forward with the most ambitious comprehensive campaign in the university’s—and the state’s—history. “For Iowa. Forever More: The Campaign for the University of Iowa” not only will benefit generations of UI students, faculty, and staff, but also people throughout the state. Our goal is ambitious—we aspire to raise $1.7 billion. And we are very pleased that, thanks to generous alumni and friends, we have already raised $1.124 billion for this historic campaign. 

I would like to wrap up my talk today by sharing with you a new video that highlights the ambitions and aspirations that we aim to realize through the “For Iowa. Forevermore” campaign. Please enjoy. [Show video.]

As always, it has been a joy and an honor to spend a little time with you, the generous and talented members of our community’s service clubs.