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University Convocation September 2009


Thank you, Adam.

Good afternoon, everyone.

It is my pleasure to welcome all of you to the new University of Northern Iowa Fall Convocation.

I want to thank the UNI Faculty String Quartet:

Fred Halgedahl

Therese Fetter

Julia Bullard

Jonathan Chenoweth

I also want to thank you for taking time from your busy schedule to join us today.

The Fall Convocation was established to recognize our accomplishments and our excellent faculty and staff, and to look ahead to the 2009-2010 academic year.  This is an occasion of singular value, in that it is the only venue where all university stakeholders are invited to attend.  As such, Fall Convocation provides an important opportunity for us to consider the 'state of the university,' if you will, and to share a clear understanding of the challenges and opportunities ahead.

We have a fairly imposing agenda for the current academic year.  It is one that will require us to work hard, work smart, and work together.  We enter the 2009-2010 year with the knowledge that the values and principles that make this university great are intact. 

  • Our student centered focus is as strong as ever.
  • We have outstanding teacher-scholars who shape the educational experience at UNI.
  • Their dedication to student learning and scholarly engagement promotes both discovery in the classroom and adaptability for careers in a global economy.

In times when rapid change is occurring in every aspect of life, this is critical in helping students understand not only what they think, but why they think it.

This university will undergo substantial change in the next five years.  Either we can affect this change intentionally, or it will be imposed upon us.  I prefer the former.

Our future success will depend on our ability to move forward with respect to the priorities we've set for the university.  Maintaining high quality academic programs will depend on our willingness to do things differently, and on our ability to increase efficiency and effectiveness, and by being more innovative and entrepreneurial.  Most important, it will depend on our ability to maintain and strengthen our greatest asset, which is the trust placed in us by parents, students, donors, and taxpayers.

Before we delve into the challenges before us, I want to provide some context - particularly for the benefit of our new faculty, staff and administrators - by highlighting some of our accomplishments in the past year.

Benjamin Franklin said that, 'Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning."  By any measure, UNI's 2008-2009 academic year was rich with achievement.

Last spring our university, in partnership with the Iowa Department of Education, officially became the site of Iowa's first statewide Research and Development (R&D) School.  The statewide R&D School is a major step toward the improvement of teaching and learning in Iowa's schools, and will be a key resource in implementing the new Iowa Core Curriculum statewide.

The Iowa Mathematics and Science Education Partnership (IMSEP) won its first major grant, in the form of $900,000 from the National Science Foundation, to help bring more STEM-field majors and professionals into teaching careers.  In addition, IMSEP launched its Real-World Externship program for math and science teachers, and just last month staged an unprecedented gathering of faculty from 25 education colleges and universities in Iowa and around the country for the Iowa Science and Mathematics Teacher Educators Summit.

Our series of lectures on education brought U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to campus.  Secretary Duncan's articulation of the challenges and opportunities facing our educational system strengthened our resolve to achieve excellence at all levels of education.

We introduced a new Executive Vice President and Provost to campus this summer, and we appointed a new Dean to our College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

For the 12th consecutive year, U.S. News & World Report gave UNI a number two ranking among best public universities in the Midwest.

For the third year in a row, both the College of Business Administration and its MBA program were named to the list of 'Best Business Schools' by The Princeton Review.

UNI's Physics Education program was one of only 12 in the nation selected for inclusion in a "Best Practices" review by the National Taskforce on Physics Teacher Preparation.

Four statewide UNI College of Education Early Childhood Education Summits engaged current and future pre-school teachers in legislative workshops, literacy activities, and assessment and teaching techniques for science and mathematics.

Colleges and universities from Iowa and surrounding states participated in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences' Student Research Conference, which featured internationally respected researcher Carol Gilligan as its keynote speaker. 

The College of Humanities and Fine Arts produced UNI's Distinguished Scholar of the year.  Professor of Art Roy Behrens exemplifies the dedication of our faculty to student learning and scholarly engagement.

Our Graduate College further advanced its support of the Iowa Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP), which benefits graduate students from underrepresented minorities who are majoring in mathematics.

Throughout the year, UNI students demonstrated outstanding scholarship and superb initiative beyond the classroom.

  • Alexa Warwick, who graduated in the spring with the Purple and Gold Award for biology, Spanish and university honors, entered Florida State University this fall as the only graduate student in biology to receive the four-year Presidential University Fellowship at Florida State University.
  • Daniel Velasco, also a senior, was awarded first prize in the 36th annual USA National Flute Association's Young Artist Competition.
  • In their first-ever appearance at the National Mediation Tournament last fall, seven UNI College of Business Administration students emerged with the title of Best New School and a National Mediation Runner-Up Championship. Two students, Pernell Cezar and Dan Miller, were named all-American Mediators.

Our students, faculty, and staff continued to reinforce the high value this university places on effective community engagement.  Eleven hundred (1,100) UNI students volunteered with the local Special Olympics program that serves more than 600 people with intellectual disabilities in the 12 counties of Northeast Iowa.

In athletic competition, the success of our Panther athletics, in particular the football, volleyball, men's basketball, and men's track teams further leveraged our university's national identity.  UNI Athletics represented this university with pride and integrity, by keeping the words 'student athlete' in priority order.  Last year, our football and track & field programs produced three Academic All-Americans.

We are particularly proud that the UNI women's tennis team received the Intercollegiate Tennis Association's All-Academic Team honor for the sixth consecutive season.  Five Panther tennis players earned ITA Scholar-Athlete status with a grade point average of 3.50 or higher.

The UNI Foundation's "Imagine the Impact" campaign to provide scholarships, recruit and retain stellar faculty, and enhance exceptional learning experiences continued its march toward a $150 million goal in 2013.  Moving toward this goal, our campus campaign drive recorded $6.9 million in pledges from faculty, emeritus faculty, and staff.

Our Sabin Hall renovation project team announced its decision to seek silver certification from the United States Green Building Council for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).  This renovation project will provide an important opportunity for students and faculty to study sustainable design practices, and advocate principles of environmental stewardship in the university environment.

UNI's campus-wide sustainability initiative gained momentum with broad input from the university community.  Our Campus Conversation on Sustainability last April helped generate goals and objectives for our Sustainability Council and our Energy Conservation Committee.

We also conducted a Green House Gas Emission Study to provide a baseline for our carbon footprint, and we purchased four electrical vehicles for use by various campus services.

In addition, our Facilities staff collaborated with county soil and water officials to achieve stream bank restoration on campus, and worked to establish energy saving plans for the Library and Wellness Recreation Center that will provide cost payback in two years.

UNI's Critical Incident Team worked with the City of Cedar Falls and Black Hawk County on emergency management planning to improve campus safety, security, and emergency preparedness.  The outdoor sirens and our UNI Alert System have already proven to be effective in severe weather.

Last spring, a well-attended Diversity Town Hall meeting strengthened our campus' commitment to diversity, and reaffirmed that appreciation for diversity is an essential component of an excellent education.  Our Student Affairs leadership collaborated with the Diversity Council, the Diversity Advisory Committee, our College Diversity Councils, and Student Affairs leadership in defining diversity and adopting a mission statement that will guide our vision for the future.  UNI also had the honor of hosting the 4th Annual Diversity Summit sponsored by Iowa Impacting Diversity through Educational Alliances (I.D.E.A.).

Clearly, though, financial issues were the overriding concern in 2008-2009.  Last academic year proved to be one of the most challenging years in the history of the University of Northern Iowa in terms of budget issues.  We did not predict the severity of the budget challenge although most of us knew the economic environment was suggesting some budget problems.

I noted in an address in August of last year, and I quote: "Given the impact of the floods and the encroachment of a weak national economy into Iowa, it will be a challenge to achieve the same level of state support for FY2010."  As it turned out, it proved to be impossible - we had a reduction in state funds of about 15 percent, which translates to about an 8 percent reduction in our overall budget. 

We had to make some tough decisions last year, all across the university, to meet this financial challenge.  Despite these challenges and as I have just outlined, we had many accomplishments to be proud of, not the least of which is providing high quality education for nearly 13,000 students.

We begin this academic year with a deeper appreciation and understanding of our budget challenges.  We begin the year with the knowledge that our enrollment is more than 13,000 -- providing needed tuition revenues; and that our share of federal stimulus funds helped us maintain our academic programs this year.  But the facts remain that federal stimulus funds are one-time funds, and the state of Iowa continues to face substantial budget problems heading into this year and Fiscal Year 2011.  Consequently, we will have to work toward an FY11 budget that will be even more challenging than the current year's budget.  It bears repeating that we will have to do things differently on several levels. 

One of the challenges of a decentralized environment is that it requires a culture of extraordinary responsibility.  I would argue that UNI has the most competent, dedicated, and conscientious employees of any university in the country.  We are designated a 'Great University to Work For" not because of our bricks and mortar, but because we have great people.  That includes everyone who has dedicated himself/herself, personally and professionally, to fulfilling expectations of public accountability at this university day-in and day-out for the past 133 years. Organizations do not thrive for 133 years unless the people entrusted with their well being have had the courage to change when circumstances called for it.

We may be faced with a different set of challenges in that the rate of change, technological and otherwise, is far more rapid, but that only adds urgency to the need for us to meet those challenges successfully.  For, as legendary basketball coach John Wooden said, "Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be."  

I would also argue that the challenges we have in front of us do not have to become crises, if we have the courage to affect substantive change.  Several issues came up this summer that revealed instances in which courage was not shown, and in which responsibility and accountability did not survive the testing point.  Such instances, few as they are in the context of time and total activity at UNI, hurt us all; they hurt the entire university.  We cannot abide actions that raise public doubt about accountability in any area of operation, including the management of financials.

It's safe to say that those of us who care about UNI - and I think that's everybody in this room -- will courageously accept new measures that strengthen our culture of accountability.  This culture includes new expectations, tighter monitoring, and structural and organizational changes that accommodate a top-to-bottom review of how we do things with respect to risk management and accountability. 

If Winston Churchill's observation is correct that "Courage is the human quality that guarantees all others," then, given the conscientious dedication of UNI employees, I have no doubt that we can achieve transformative change that guarantees the long term success of this university and greater opportunities for UNI students.

Overall, the coming year's priorities will again be based on the longer-term priorities of the university and the goals of the Board of Regents.  The longer-term priorities I have been promoting for the past two and one-half years are:

  • to be the premier undergraduate program in the state of Iowa and among the best in the Midwest,
  • to ensure that UNI is the leading academic institution in the state of Iowa for addressing Pre-K through 12 issues, and among the best in the nation,
  • and, to increase our efforts to assist the state in all three areas of economic, cultural, and social development.

Diversity and sustainability are integral to these priorities, because for this university to be successful in the long run, we must make stronger commitments in these areas, and develop more effective strategies.

Vice President for Administration and Finance Tom Schellhardt will continue to oversee the progress of our sustainability efforts and our capital projects.  In addition to the ongoing projects I've mentioned is the completion of UNI's Multi-Modal Transportation Center.  An important aspect of this project is a solar panel array that will support the Center's utility costs.

Vice President for Student Affairs Terry Hogan will continue to oversee our diversity initiative and ensure that its progress aligns with our definition, vision and mission for diversity.

The Board of Regents has yet to articulate its priorities for this year, but it is clear through actions and the creation of task forces that sustainability, as well as affordability of and accessibility to one of the Regents universities, will be among them.  Two other new Regents task forces -- one on interuniversity cooperation on academic and non-academic issues, and the other on employee benefits -- suggest additional priorities.

At the top of our UNI agenda for the coming year is to establish a strategic direction for the university.  It is time to develop a new five-year plan.  We could debate the value of such plans, but I believe the process of developing a plan has value.  A good plan provides everyone on campus a mechanism to help make difficult choices - as a faculty member, as a department head, as a provost, or as a president.  I also believe if everyone likes the plan, it is probably not going to be a useful plan. 

The plan will be short, substantive, and strategic; the process will be inclusive. 

I have asked Provost Gibson to lead this effort, and I am asking that this plan be finalized during the mid-part of the spring semester.

Second on this year's agenda, given the limited resources that we have -- and are likely to have - we will need to become much more efficient and effective in how we use those resources, and be more innovative and entrepreneurial in accessing additional resources.  This is especially critical if we are to maintain the excellence of our academic programs, and simultaneously address the intense pressures on parents and students with respect to affordability and accessibility.

Last year I created and chaired two task forces - one on Cost-Containment, and one on Revenue Enhancement.  The year before, I created the Information Technology Task Force, which was lead by Eugene Wallingford.  These task forces produced meaningful and useful recommendations.  I have assigned each of these recommendations from the Cost Containment and Revenue Enhancements Task Forces to a vice president (and I took ownership of several) for review, and for implementation if merited.  Many can be implemented this year, others next year.  The recommendations from the Information Technology Task Force were submitted late summer and are under review as well.

The bottom line is that in every area of operations, we must be more innovative and entrepreneurial by doing such things as leveraging our resources via partnerships and technology.  Simply trying to increase efficiency by doing the same things and using the same processes will not be enough.  We will need to do things differently in the future, and we must be more focused on how we allocate our resources.

Our third major agenda item for the coming year is to make sure we are accountable.  This is unquestionably an excellent university.  That truth is reflected in our history and traditions, the accomplishments of our alumni, the loyalty and support of donors and friends, and the excellence of our faculty, staff, and students.  Nevertheless, continuous maintenance of the public trust extends to everything we do at UNI and how we do it.

With respect to academic affairs, the critical questions pertain to the quality and relevance of our academic programs, and the cost of those programs.  A question we must answer to the satisfaction of all stakeholders is: "Are UNI students learning what we say they should be learning?"

The ongoing Higher Learning Commission reaccreditation process is a key part of this accountability issue, as is the academic assessment program initiated last year.  I applaud the efforts by Associate Provost Bev Kopper and the steering committee on the reaccreditation process -- as well as those by the Academic Assessment task forces headed by Professor Jerry Smith and Professor Phyllis Baker.

The academic assessment process is critical to making sure we maintain high quality programs, and in applying the right criteria with respect to decisions that will help us focus on doing fewer things, but each one better.  These processes will continue this year, with different phases, and our academic programs will benefit greatly from them.  In a very real sense, they represent a commitment to quality that's important on several levels.

It is a commitment that demonstrates public accountability.  It also strengthens internal trust - and by that I mean the investment of confidence that's made, both up and down, by the people and the leadership of an organization.  We have a significant opportunity this year to recommit ourselves to an environment of trust in the areas of shared governance, processes and communications.  It is up to all of us to make the most of that opportunity.

In addition to the three areas of concentration I've outlined, we will have many events and activities of special focus in the coming year, and I am confident we will have many more accomplishments and awards to recognize.

We will have a number of facilities-related events and project completions to celebrate, including the renovation of Maucker Union in its 40th anniversary year, and the dedication of the Richard O. Jacobson Human Performance Complex.

The team working on our Student Information System will continue to build on the substantial progress it has made toward implementation.

Campus mobility and access will greatly improve when the UNI Multimodal Transportation Center opens later this fall.

And, in an historic event, we will be honored to welcome to our campus next May, as part of the Joy Corning Distinguished Lecture Series, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet for his presentation on the importance of education.

Higher education is in greater demand than ever because of the requirements placed on our workforce in a knowledge economy.  UNI students and their parents are beginning this academic year with that reality in mind.

So in closing, I want to reiterate that we will all need to meet the challenges of the coming year with courage -to maintain our high quality, to strengthen our accountability, and to create change for the good of this university and for the success of our students, now and in the future.

The way we do things will have to change; our values should not.

Thank you.



I believe that the hiring our new Provost this year was a clear demonstration of the values that are important at UNI.

As I mentioned, Provost Gibson will be directing our five-year strategic planning process.

She is bringing experience, vitality, fresh ideas and a profound commitment to academic quality to this university.

At this time, it is my pleasure to introduce Executive Vice President and Provost, Gloria Gibson.