Sunday, December 9, 2007

Thank you, Regent Miles, Lieutenant Governor Judge, Dean Johnson, Professor Sharp, Professor and President Emeritus Boyd, as well as Barrett Anderson, Crystal Edler, and Kathy Klein. Thanks also to President Emeritus Jischke (and Patty) for braving the weather to join us today. And my very sincere and personal thanks to all of you for that overwhelming welcome.

I am truly humbled to be here today. I am pleased and amazed to share the stage with so many great and accomplished people. And I am so very gratified that you have come to share this celebration of leadership with us.

I come from a background like that of many of our students here at Iowa. My family was of very modest means, yet my parents believed in the power and value of education. They supported my desire to learn and they sacrificed so that I could go to college. I attended public universities, where I discovered my passion for learning and discovery with the encouragement of talented mentors. It was because of this passion for learning, along with hard work and the help of others, that I find myself standing here today as President of one of the world’s great universities. If my parents were still alive today, I know they would be more than proud of me. And I do feel fortunate that I am able to share my joy today with my brother, my niece, my nephew, and my life partner and husband, Ken Mason.

I thank each of you for joining us today during a very busy season of the year. During this past week especially, as I prepared for this day, I have noticed the distinct shortening of our days, the darkness that descends ever earlier each afternoon as we approach this season of light, and the many homes adorned with lights that brighten the early evening sky. The night sky on crisp, clear winter evenings is filled with the brightness of stars. And for as long as I can recall, I have looked at the stars as symbols of hope and promise and eternity.

I see The University of Iowa as a shining star that embodies the hopes and dreams of the citizens of our great state and nation. As with the North Star, those who seek a journey of discovery look to us for direction and guidance. And like the stars above us, we also represent the farthest horizon, where our vision and aspirations reside.

The University of Iowa is a star, 160 years old this year, with history, traditions, and stories that are much a part of who we are and where we have been. Our star quality is often embodied within our people, so I cannot help but reflect on one of our greatest University community members ever, someone who knew a thing or two about stars, physicist James Van Allen. I have used his inspiring words before and they again seem appropriate today: “One of the most enthralling things about human life is the recognition that we live in a universe without bounds.” It is our job as a University community to provide leadership in the exploration of that boundless universe.

As we cast our glow across society as a kind of North Star, we also strive to continue rising. Iowa has a long tradition of excellence, innovation, and world-class achievement. We must honor that tradition by building upon our strengths. And we must advance that tradition by leading the new world always unfolding before us.

To be 20th in a distinguished lineage of leaders is truly an honor, and the history of those before me bears brief mention. Please indulge me for a few moments as I chart the rising star of The University of Iowa by way of a “countdown” of what my predecessors have accomplished.

In the 1800’s, our young university began to grow and chart a course of leadership and excellence in public education in the sciences, the arts, and the humanities. Amos Dean, Silas Totten, Oliver Spencer, James Black, George Thacher, Josiah Pickard, and Charles Schaeffer all led this great university toward a 20th century that would realize ever more growth and development of facilities, faculties, interdisciplinary endeavors, curricula, and graduate as well as undergraduate educational opportunities.

For the first 40 years of the 20th century George MacLean, John Bowman, Thomas Macbride, Walter Jessup, and Eugene Gilmore all continued to shape and chart a future for the University that would include professional colleges, public engagement, continued development of interdisciplinary and creative endeavors, culminating in growing strength and breadth in the life and biomedical sciences and the birth of the Writer’s Workshop. The efforts of this august group prepared The University of Iowa for the national stage.

From 1940 through 1995, Virgil Hancher, Howard Bowen, Willard “Sandy” Boyd, James Freedman, and Hunter Rawlings all contributed in significant ways to the excellence and strong reputation that Iowa enjoys as a top 25 public research university in this country. Iowa is no longer a shining star just in Iowa, but its rings of light now shine bright across our country and around the world.

We have these many fine men to thank for igniting the original spark and growing the bright light that is The University of Iowa. I pause briefly at 1995 for an event that is significant in my mind and significant in the history of this great university. In 1995, Mary Sue Coleman blazed a trail as Iowa’s first woman President, thereby creating many more opportunities for women to advance to significant positions here, myself included. Also an advocate for developing deep connections to the state, President Coleman worked to make sure the UI served citizens from border to border and into the 21st century.

Which brings me to my immediate predecessor, David Skorton, who, as a physician himself, oversaw the continued world-class growth of innovation and excellence in medicine and the health sciences. At the same time, he advocated for the cultural and public service roles of The University of Iowa through year-long initiatives devoted to the arts and humanities and public engagement.

And so, I stand before you, here, today, with expectations for continued growth and expanded greatness. Clearly, I stand on the shoulders of these great people who came before me. And we all would agree that the significant achievements of our past, our present, and our future lie in the work of the talented faculty, staff, and students of this great University. We, as leaders, are empowered to facilitate, communicate and celebrate the great accomplishments of the people of our institution. And we, as leaders, should never claim credit without acknowledging the efforts of individuals and groups who have built this fine house in which we all live.

It is my responsibility—and my privilege—to build upon the pride and accomplishment of this remarkable University community. As I have said from the beginning, there is no need to change course radically. We will continue moving forward, deliberately, strategically, and collectively. We will continue to use our established pole star of particular achievement as the guiding light for our mission and aspirations.

But, you might ask, how do we do that? How do we continue tapping into the deep wells of inspiration and nourishing our desire to be great? I believe the answer lies in always strengthening who and what we are.

Let me return to my star metaphor. Earlier I mentioned the many types of stars we see in this season. As a child, the first way I learned to draw a star was by drawing overlapping triangles. Similarly, our success is built on a series of triangles. These triads—or trios—intersect, overlap, and interweave to create a singular foundation of strength, purpose, aspiration, and direction. We see the star that guides us, and we become the star that leads our society into new voyages of knowledge and discovery.

So let’s consider these triangles, these triads or trios—what some have called three-legged stools—in the context of our daily work and success.

The first trio is fundamental to our existence as a public university: accessibility, affordability, and accountability. This is terminology embedded into higher education today as we craft budgets and agendas that engender public scrutiny.

The State of Iowa created us to educate all those who are prepared and who desire to learn. We must also always enhance the general public’s ability to take advantage of what we offer. And we must do so with the highest regard for good stewardship of our resources. We must make the education and services we provide as affordable as possible. And we must be able to demonstrate that our students learn and that we provide high value to our greater society.

Underlying our work is a trio of academic and intellectual traditions: achievement that is inspiring, innovative, and interdisciplinary. You will hear me say frequently that I want Iowa to be a university that inspires as well as educates. We inspire through innovation, by providing students with faculty who work on the cutting edge of new discovery. We also want our society to be inspired by our discovery, and we want all to benefit from our distinctive accomplishments. And many of our greatest achievements come from the groundbreaking interdisciplinary work that has been the hallmark of our academic approach for over 100 years.

This work continues and grows even today. In the four months since my arrival in Iowa City, we have already realized some stunning new examples of how we continue this work that is inspiring, innovative, and interdisciplinary.

The University of Iowa Institute for Biomedical Discovery, for which we broke ground this fall, will allow scientists from across the University to push and cross traditional boundaries in high-risk/high-yield inquiry into the treatment of diseases. This fall, we received a $33.8 million Clinical and Translational Science Award from the National Institutes of Health. This award further indicates our commitment to and success in cutting-edge biomedical research and clinical trials. It involves work that is interdisciplinary at its very core and potentially transformational in how biomedical discoveries will ultimately be conveyed to patients.

Just as our life and biomedical sciences are growing and expanding, we are also committed to the liberal arts and sciences, including and especially the creative and fine arts. We will continue to make certain they intersect, inform, and infuse all areas of the University, including the professional schools. “The Writing University,” for example, is not only about academic credit for creative work. And it is not only about the many nationally and internationally known programs focused on writing—the Writers’ Workshop, the International Writing Program, the Nonfiction Writing Program, the Translation Workshop, the Playwrights Workshop. “The Writing University” is about bringing writing to a wider public through the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. It’s about cultivating young talent through the Young Writers’ Studio. It’s about exploring the frontier of new technologies with the Virtual Writing University. It’s about writing support centers in the College of Engineering, the Tippie College of Business, the College of Education, and other units across our campus. And it’s about pioneering projects like the Patient Voice Project, which offers free creative writing classes by Writers’ Workshop students for chronically and mentally ill patients throughout the area.

These projects illustrate the intertwined nature of our tripartite mission—our third trio—-of teaching, research, and service, or, in newer parlance, learning, discovery, and engagement. Iowa has, for many years, distinguished itself from so many other institutions by exploring the interconnections between teaching, research, and service. It is part of our nature, part of the fabric of our everyday work here. It is from this tradition—the impossibility of fully separating learning from discovery, from engagement—that intellectual spirit thrives, and where you grow a Writers’ Workshop, a world-class academic health center, an Iowa Testing Programs, and so many more innovations.

None of these triads is possible without the interwoven triangle of our people—our faculty, staff, and students. We are a community of people, not programs, not buildings. I know that Sandy Boyd has often said, “People, not structures, make a great university.” How true that is. And how primary that will remain in my priorities as President.

The students often say, “The University wouldn’t be here without the students.” That’s true. The faculty often say, “The University wouldn’t exist without the faculty.” That’s true. The staff often say, “The University wouldn’t function without the staff.” That’s true, too. That’s all true. Our existence, our identity, our accomplishment—they are the results of all parts of the University community working together. The people of the University are the energy source that makes our star shine brightly. The more people of exceptional talent we have, the more distinction our University will achieve.

So today I want to say that my first steps on our new path together will be about people.

One of the first initiatives of my Presidency will focus on students. Our commitment to removing financial barriers to attending the UI runs deep. We have maintained tuition lower than our peers. We reinvest a significant portion of our tuition in student financial aid. And we offer a variety of programs to support access to the education we offer. But we can do more. I want to be certain we are reaching students who may never have imagined attending the UI.

Governor Culver actually set the stage for this initiative, and I applaud his leadership and the foresight of the state legislature in the last session with the creation of the All Iowa Opportunity Scholarship. This program serves high-financial-need students who have faced and continue to face significant challenges in their lives, financial hardship being one of those challenges. The All Iowa Opportunity Scholarship is a one-year scholarship that pays for full tuition and fees.

Our goal is to make certain that these students not only enter The University of Iowa, but also graduate. So I am pleased to announce today the Iowa Promise Scholarship. The Iowa Promise Scholarship will pay for the tuition and fees of our All Iowa Opportunity Scholars for their second, third, and fourth years of undergraduate study, as long as they maintain a 3.0 grade point average and continue to demonstrate financial need. Our current strategic plan is called “The Iowa Promise.” And I believe we need to help keep that promise to the citizens of our state through accessibility in education.

When Iowa Promise Scholarship students come here—indeed, when all students come here—they fully expect the best faculty possible: teachers and scholars who are inspiring and innovative, academics who are second to none on the world stage. And what a joy it is to have my job and witness the talent and imagination that our Iowa faculty demonstrate every day.

I also see that we are challenged at times to fulfill our aspirations toward greatness and serve our students as fully as we would like. Over the last decade, our student body has grown, to more than 30,000. Over that same time, our faculty has shrunk, by about 100 tenure-track lines. So while the demand for the education we provide continues to increase, we are stretching the limits of our resources to maintain rigor and quality. We must reverse the backward slide in faculty numbers. We need to grow those numbers back and then go beyond where we were a decade ago. The new world before us is more complex, and our ability to explore, understand, and create the wonders of that world must grow stronger, not atrophy. As we develop new priorities for the University in the coming months, more faculty of the highest caliber must be at the center of our goals and strategies.

And finally, our staff must be of equally high quality as our faculty. The University’s staff is perhaps our most diverse population. Thousands of staff members conduct complex research, program and repair our computers, envision and implement health programs, cook nutritious and delicious food, design and build 21st-century facilities, counsel those who are troubled, make sure our entire campus is clean and beautiful, advise students in their academic programs and in their career preparation, bring world-class arts programs to communities and schoolchildren throughout the state, care for patients with skill and compassion, make sure our departments and units operate efficiently, and on and on. Indeed, where would we be without our staff?

Just as we need to respond to a 21st-century world for our faculty and students, we must do so for our staff. We have long been focused on the internal equity of how we compensate and classify our staff. But we must also regard the external market for the talents of these essential community members. The world is increasingly competitive for excellent staff, as it is for excellent faculty. Therefore, we are embarking upon initiatives to calibrate our compensation more toward the external talent market. As well, we are looking to revise our classification system so that we more accurately describe the increasingly diverse tasks our staff perform and skills they bring to our University community.

Our star shines with a bright light—on Iowa, but also on the world. We wish to remain Iowa’s reliable pole star in the 21st century world of learning, discovery, and engagement. Like Shakespeare’s Julius Ceasar, we aspire to be “constant as the northern star,/Of whose true-fix’d and resting quality/There is no fellow in the firmament.” Yet as we aim to be stars, we must always remember we are people—people working together, people working for each other. We can only guide ourselves and others through humanity and humility. While we aim to excel, we also desire to serve. Our star shines brightly, but it does so to teach, share, and care. I am honored—and humbled—to join hands with you today as a member of this most remarkable University of Iowa community.