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University Convocation September 2010

It is once again my pleasure to welcome everyone to the Fall Convocation, especially our award recipients, and new faculty, staff and students.

The Fall Convocation was established last year to recognize our accomplishments and our excellent faculty and staff, and to look ahead to the coming year.

This occasion is of singular value, in that it is the only venue of this type 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", and to share a clear understanding of the challenges and opportunities ahead


We are coming off another excellent year at the University of Northern Iowa.

  • In some ways it was an extraordinary year for UNI with respect to bringing national and international recognition to the campus
    • In March, President Obama, in his national speech announcing the health care reform, started his speech by acknowledging the UNI basketball team, and that we busted his bracket
    • In May, his holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama gave a public lecture and participated in a panel discussion-both events, held in the McLeod Center, were sold out and national and international journalists covered the events

Given the extreme budgetary challenges we have faced over the past two years, the accomplishments of the past year become extraordinary.

Before highlighting a few of these accomplishments, I want to thank each of you for your role in helping the university address the challenges.

  • A number of very tough decisions had to be made.

  • Members of each employee group made sacrifices to help get the university through this extraordinary budget situation last year-I greatly appreciate your effort and understanding

  • The input and support that we received from faculty, staff, students and others as we addressed these challenges was critical

  • The discourse, debate and disagreements over the challenging budget situation were welcome. I respect and welcome those differing opinions.

  • Input from all areas of campus remains critical as we move forward so that our decisions will be well informed.

  • The future strength, vitality and success of this university depends upon all of us working together

HLC Self-Study and New Strategic Plan--Reflection and Direction

This past year was a time for reflection-for looking back at what we have been able to do, with the development of the Higher Learning Commission self-study, and a time for setting a new direction-to looking forward, with the development of a new strategic plan.

Many faculty, staff and students were involved in the development and completion of the self-study report for the Higher Learning Commission.

  • The review team will be here in November and a final report will be issued in the spring semester

  • This reaccreditation effort has been an on-going activity for the past two plus years under the leadership of provost Gibson and provost Lubker-and Bev Kopper and now Mike Licari and Barbara Cutter

Equally important, if not more important, was the development of a new strategic plan - which was approved by the Board of Regents on September 16

  • The new plan establishes clear priorities and will stretch us to reach the goals we have set

  • In short, the plan provides a direction and a challenge to the university

  • I thank the members of the strategic planning committee and Provost Gibson for her leadership of the development of the plan


Despite the challenges of the past few years we are still providing our students with an outstanding educational experience as evidenced by the fact that enrollment increased by nearly one percent this fall from last fall marking the 4th straight year of enrollment growth.

  • Since the fall semester of 2006, when the enrollment was 12,260 students, the enrollment has grown to 13,201 students-an increase of almost 1000 students.

  • The growth this past year includes increases in new minority students, new freshmen, new transfer, and new international students

  • In addition, the retention rate for new freshmen entering the university in 2009 is 82.5 percent, an increase from the previous year

We are achieving this constant growth rate while maintaining the 23.1 average ACT score for incoming freshmen.

This consistent growth of students reflects the work of many people across campus involved in recruiting students, especially those working in the office of Admissions.  

  • We are getting our message out.

The growth also reflects the value of our academic programs to the students.

  • The value reflects the quality of the faculty, and the relevance of the academic programs

The prospects for enrollment growth are higher for next year given the marketing and branding development that was completed this past year and will be integrated into our recruitment efforts this fall.  In addition, the admissions office has instituted new enrollment programs. 

  • We hope to see this growth continue over the next few years.

Impact of private gifts on university

We had a record breaking year in private fund raising in a very challenging financial environment. 

The UNI Foundation raised nearly $32 million in gifts and future commitments, a 50 percent increase over the previous record set in 2008m which was 21m.

  • The two largest gifts in the history of the university were received during the last academic year.

Bill Calhoun and his team at the UNI Foundation are to be commended for this effort and success-but this success involves all of us in all divisions

  • So the "thanks" goes to everyone at the University-particularly those faculty and academic programs that made a difference in the lives of these donors.

We also continue to make good progress on our comprehensive fund-raising campaign-the Imagine the Impact campaign.

We will celebrate the National Kickoff of the Imagine the Impact Campaign on October 23rd during Homecoming weekend.

  • The Imagine the Impact Campaign has exceeded the $100 million mark on the way toward its $150 million goal. 

  • While the dollars raised are important, far more important is the impact these gifts have on our students. Thus far in the Campaign, our alumni and friends have created: 

    • 206 new scholarship funds,

    • 154 new program accounts in support of such things as fellowships, professorships, undergraduate research awards, visiting artists' series and travel abroad opportunities for students and faculty.

    • And we have received gifts to build, renovate or equip many of our facilities including,

      • The Richard O. Jacobson Human Performance Complex

      • The Business and Community Services Building

      • McCollum Science Hall

      • Begeman Hall

      • The UNI Dome

      • Russell Hall

      • McLeod Center

We are deeply grateful to all of our alumni and friends who have supported the Imagine the Impact Campaign to date and who have made these wonderful opportunities available to our students and faculty and staff.

These gifts are not designed to help operate the university but to increase the excellence of the education provided and to increase the accessibility of higher education for many students


Progress on Sponsored Funding

We had another great year for sponsored funding thanks to the Office of Sponsored Funding and the work of many faculty and staff.

These resources allow us to serve more students, both graduate and undergraduate, support faculty research, and to better serve the State of Iowa and beyond

Total sponsored funding (grants and contracts only) at the University of Northern Iowa was $42 million.

  • This was a $2.25 million, or 6% increase over the previous fiscal year. Our numbers this past year demonstrate several other positive trends:

  • We have increased our competitive grant funding by 43% in the past three years.

  • Our success rate of awarded proposals remains high at 63%.

  • We had submissions by 32 first-time Principal Investigators.


Staff, Student and Faculty Recognitions-Making us Proud

Our students, faculty and staff continually make us extraordinarily proud in a number of ways-primarily with the excellence and dedication by which they approach their studies or work.   

Let me highlight one student, one staff person, and one faculty for their excellence, contributions and recognition of excellence.

Josh Mahoney, a double major in economics and English and starting linebacker for the football team for several years won a number of awards over the past several years, but winning the Walter Byers Award last academic year was the most remarkable accomplishment.

  • Only one male athlete from throughout the nation and from all three divisions of the NCAA is selected based upon academic record and potential for graduate work and future leadership success -only one male athlete nationally!!!

  • Awarded $48,000 for graduate or professional school work-

  • Josh is now studying law at the University of Chicago

Paul Sapp, Transfer Coordinator and adviser of the Student Admissions Ambassadors (SAA), won the National Adviser of the Year Award for Affiliated Student Advancement Programs, which is a program of CASE (Council of Advancement and Support of Education).

  • The students were also recognized - The UNI Student Admissions Ambassadors organization as a whole was recognized as the National Student Organization of the Year by the Affiliated Student Advancement Programs. These students do a remarkable job welcoming and recruiting new and prospective students.

Salli Forbes, faculty member in the College of Education and Director of the Reading Recovery Program here at UNI and the State of Iowa, has had a remarkable tenure here at UNI.

  • Salli Forbes, and her team, serve hundreds of teachers throughout the state of Iowa and indirectly, thousands of students who are struggling to learn to read

  • I will highlight two of her remarkable achievements this past summer 

    • Critical person in having UNI receive the largest gift in its history-a $11 million gift from Dick Jacobson for the Center for Comprehensive Literacy

      • I want to note the hard work and leadership of Bill Calhoun and the Foundation working with the College of Education and Salli-for this gift for academics

  • Salli also led the UNI team for Reading Recovery that received, as part of a consortium, a grant of $3 million from the U.S. Department of Education-just announced officially this past Monday

Before addressing several key agenda items for this coming year, I want to once again thank the entire campus community for making these and many other successful efforts possible in this very challenging time.

Key Issues for 2010-11 Academic Year

We have a number of issues that we must address this academic year but the main agenda item is to begin the implementation of the new UNI strategic plan, which as noted earlier, was approved by the Board of Regents last week.

I believe the new plan sets a clear direction, and the metrics and their targets, provide the right amount of stretch for UNI.

The plan establishes priorities that reaffirm some of the priorities we have been working with for the past several years, including:

  • offering a premier undergraduate education based upon a liberal arts core,

  • being the state and national leader in pre-k through 12 issues, and

  • enhancing the economic, social and cultural development of the State of Iowa

I want to focus my remaining remarks on why the implementation and use of this plan will be critically important, and to comment on a major component of the new plan that was not part of the last strategic plan.

Need for plan

The landscape for higher education is changing in Iowa and across the United States.  And it is changing more rapidly than most of us would like to admit or understand.

The changes in the level of state support for public higher education reflect more than the economic challenges facing the state and nation.  

  • To be sure, the recession over the last several years has had a significant impact on the ability of the state to support the Regents universities.

  • But some of the reduction in state support reflected the public commitment, the willingness, if you will, of the state to support the public universities 

    • The public and the legislators are making other areas of society a higher priority, and other types of higher education, including community colleges, a higher priority than before.

Because of changes in technology and public policy, and changing tastes for higher education by the consumer, there is much more competition in higher education today than five years ago, and the level of competition will increase over the next five years

We now have more types of competitors adding to the competitors of private colleges and community colleges, the fast emerging for-profit institutions, such as Kaplan University and University of Phoenix.

Limited time does not allow a detailed analysis of the impacts of this increase in the level of competition and types of competitors but the impacts include:

  • Competitors will "cherry pick" the most demanded areas and least costly to provide areas-often business and education-and that will diminish the ability of traditional universities to cross-subsidize the high costs areas of the campus

  • Traditional colleges and universities will lose more control of what the norms should be for higher education-in terms of quality, how courses should be delivered, and more

  • Power shifts from the provider of educational services, like UNI, to the customer, the student-raising tuition becomes less of a viable option

  • Boundary lines among the various categories of providers will become blurred

I would argue that UNI operates in a more competitive environment, and will in the future, than Iowa and Iowa State.   

UNI depends upon two major sources of revenue-state funds-where the evidence suggests less support than in the past, and tuition, which will be more difficult to increase because of additional competition  

To succeed, if not survive in this new environment, we must focus and must think differently, as individuals, and as a university on how we do things.

The new strategic plan highlights both of these actions-focus and innovation.

The plan establishes clear priorities-we must prioritize our activities - we have to focus on the most important activities.

  • We will have to stop doing certain activities that were important but less important now.


I commend the strategic planning committee for making innovation a key part of the new plan.

The words "innovative", "innovation" or "innovate" appear in the title of the plan, the vision statement, and in selected goals and objectives.

As noted by Joel Klein, head of the New York City K-12 educational system, "The words "innovation" and "education" are almost never used in the same sentence."

  • In fact, the words "innovate," "innovation" and "innovative" did not appear in the last UNI strategic plan

In an excellent publication entitled "The Times Demand Innovation:  Responding to Declining Resources and Heightened Accountability," the American Council on Education provides an excellent review of the issues surrounding innovation in higher education.    

  • It is clear that innovation will require greater communication between administrators and faculty-that focuses on transparency.

  • The trust level between faculty and administrators will have to be higher.

As noted in the report, innovation is needed for universities to remain relevant and to perform at a high level.

The challenges associated with innovation on campuses are well documented-one being how to blend the emerging social trends with higher education's traditional values of scholarship, rigor, and quality.  

We need to imagine and take risk with respect to a number of issues including how to deliver our educational services, what kind of academic structure  we have, and how do we create more revenue, among others.

The word innovation was carefully and thoughtfully added to this new strategic plan.   

  • Our responsibility and mission now is to as carefully and thoughtfully implement the plan with this new focus on innovation.

It will be difficult.

Historically, changes at universities have been incremental and some would argue virtually non-existent. 

  • Innovation can accommodate small changes but it often envisions significant changes-in terms of scope and nature.

As the old saying goes:  "Everybody loves progress but nobody likes change."

Closing comments

As noted in last year's convocation speech, the university will change substantially over the next five years.

  • Either we can affect this change intentionally, or it will be imposed upon us by the state or the market place

  • I prefer that we be in charge of the change

We enter the 2010-2011 academic year with the knowledge that the values and principles that make this university great are intact

These core values are important and should not change

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

Thank you.