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State of the Campus 2010

The State of the Campus
Wallace D. Loh
November 11, 2010

Thank you, Professor Mabbs, for inviting me to address the University Senate. Thank you to everyone for coming. And thank you for the very warm and gracious welcome that you have extended to my wife Barbara and me. We're thrilled and proud to join the University of Maryland family and the College Park community.

I'm honored to serve as president of this great University. We all owe a debt of gratitude to those who have contributed to the University's front-rank excellence. Thank you to my predecessor, Dan Mote, who led the remarkable ascension of the University to national and global pre-eminence and impact, building upon the successes of his predecessor, our current University System of Maryland Chancellor Brit Kirwan.

Of course, it's not what presidents do that counts. It's what they inspire others to do that makes for institutional progress. I want to say thank you to all the members and supporters of the University. Thank you to our distinguished and dedicated faculty, for you are the lifeblood of the institution. Thank you to our talented and committed staff for creating an environment for excellence. Thank you to our highly accomplished and diverse students—you have such bright futures ahead and we are so proud of you. Thank you to our alumni, friends, and collaborators from the public and corporate sectors for your loyalty, generosity, and partnerships. Thank you to our elected officials in Annapolis and in our surrounding communities for your support of the flagship University of Maryland. And thank you to our exceptional team of vice presidents, deans, and staff who provide the leadership for the University. I want to especially recognize Nariman Farvardin for his outstanding leadership as provost and as acting president.

Today is Veterans Day. We have over 1,300 proud veterans on our campus among our students, faculty, and staff. We honor and thank them for their service to our nation. And at the Memorial Chapel earlier this afternoon, we also remembered and honored members of our University family who made the supreme sacrifice.

This is my 11th day on the job. I made three short visits to the campus during the transition period. It seems a bit premature, even somewhat hubristic, to deliver a traditional State of the Campus address. Instead, I would like to share with you some initial impressions and reflections based on my "listening sessions" to date, across the campus and across the State.

I've met with many faculty, staff, and students. I've attended retreats of the University System of Maryland Regents, senior leadership, and institutional presidents. I've introduced myself to the presidents of Montgomery College and Prince George's Community College, as well as to superintendents of schools. I've met with the Governor, the President of the Maryland Senate, the Speaker of the House of Delegates, various State legislators, their staffs, and State agency directors, and members of our Congressional delegation. I've begun to cultivate relationships with the Mayor and council members of the City of College Park, and I'm honored to serve as honorary co-chair of the transition team of our new Prince George's County Executive. I've had conversations with members of our University's Foundation Board of Trustees and Alumni Association here, in Baltimore, in the Washington, D.C. area, and even in Los Angeles. And I've reached out to meet with members and leaders of various minority communities in the region.

In all these listening sessions, and in additional sessions to come, my goal is to learn about the hopes and dreams and concerns of the many stakeholders of our University. Listening before acting is essential to the academic tradition of democratic and shared governance. My leadership style is not top-down and directive, nor is it bottom-up. My approach is to listen, consult, and engage all stakeholders in an open and transparent process of communication. From the pixels of information, I'm forming a composite picture of the University that will be the basis of a shared vision and a common agenda.

The principal theme I've heard from all stakeholders is their enormous pride in the ascendancy of the University to national and world standing over the past dozen years or so. The University of Maryland will continue and accelerate this upward trajectory, propelled by all the accomplishments you have achieved to date. I pledge to you my unwavering commitment to excellence in everything that we do—in academics, in research and creative work, in civic engagement, in intercollegiate athletics, and in our administrative operations.

We will continue to be guided by the University's strategic plan, "Transforming Maryland: Higher Expectations." It has bold vision, high aims, and big ideas. We will continue to implement it in creative and resourceful ways. The poet Robert Browning wrote that "a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?" We follow a shining and distant star, drawn ever upward and onward, knowing that transformative excellence is a journey, not a destination.

I believe in the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. I also believe that learning, teaching, research, and scholarship also serve purposes greater than themselves. We are a public university, rooted in the land-grant tradition of public service, and chartered for the public good.

The transformative excellence of the University of Maryland must continue to serve the American Dream: to expand opportunity; to grow the economy; and to strengthen democracy.

Horace Mann described higher education as the great equalizer of conditions in a democracy. It's a passport to social and economic opportunity. As the University becomes even more excellent, it must also keep wide the doors of opportunity for the people of Maryland.

In every vibrant region of the country, there is certain to be a great research university, because it's a force for economic vitality. At the University of Maryland, every $1 in State-funded faculty salaries generates $3 in external research funding. Every $1 in State funding generates $8 in economic activity in the State. The University is a $3.4 billion economic engine for the State. I salute the faculty, staff, and students for their vital contribution to our State's economic growth. In fact, the greatest transfer of innovation and ideas occurs every June when the University confers degrees to thousands of students, the next generation workforce of the State. The success of the University of Maryland is truly the future of the State of Maryland.

Thomas Jefferson said that a nation that expects to be free and ignorant expects what never was and never will be. Democracy requires broadly educated citizens who are responsible and can live rightly in a free society. The poet Yeats wrote that "Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a flame." Our task as educators is not only to transmit knowledge and skills to our students so that they can make a living. It's also to ignite in our students a passion for learning that lasts a lifetime, to enable them to become fuller human beings, and to awaken in them capacities that make their lives more meaningful and worth living. The term university derives from "universitas," meaning all together. A university is a holistic institution of diversity and universality. This is why the arts, the humanities, and the social sciences are integral to the excellence of a university as are the sciences, engineering, and other professional fields.

In the 21st century, our country faces what the National Academy of Engineering calls "grand challenges." They include environmental sustainability, climate change, renewable energy, poverty, health and wellness, and national security. These are not only scientific and technical issues. To address effectively these global challenges, our students must also have an understanding of cultures, languages, history, economics, and politics; they must have developed critical and contextual thinking skills; and they must be able to consider questions of ethics, meaning, and social justice.

A second theme I heard repeatedly in the listening sessions is that the University should continue to work to enhance the quality of life of the surrounding neighborhoods. Graduate students expressed concern about affordable housing and perceived safety. Younger families would like to see expanded partnerships between the University and local schools to enhance K-12 education. Everyone is concerned about traffic congestion.

A vibrant University needs a vibrant local community, and vice-versa. As we continue our trajectory of transformative excellence, we will press ahead with the East Campus redevelopment project to create a vibrant college town. We will work closely and collaboratively with residents and elected officials of the City of College Park and of Prince George's County to realize our mutual aspirations.

The proposed new Purple Line for light rail is essential to the future of the University and the region. Its planning has been going on for some 20 years. To say that there are strongly competing views about its alignment is an understatement. In the coming weeks, I'll be performing my due diligence, studying the many reports that have been done and listening to the multiple perspectives on this issue.

The presidency of a public university is said to be the most political non-political position in the public sector. I will work closely with campus stakeholders, the Chancellor and the Regents, and State government officials. Ultimately, of course, it's the decision of the Governor. He has said that he will address the Purple Line after the election. The election is now over and we have to move forward with the process in order to compete successfully for federal funding.

A third and overriding concern I heard from faculty and staff is about their morale. The years of furloughs, salary freezes, and staff lay-offs have taken a toll. People are what make an organization great. You are our most important human asset. We are losing some of our best people to other universities and to federal agencies.

I will fight against further furloughs. I will advocate relentlessly for institutional flexibility so that we can retain, support, and recruit the best faculty and staff that we need to continue our upward trajectory of transformative excellence.

We're living in a time of epochal economic distress. Our State faces, as do most other states in the country, a significant budget shortfall next year. Budget challenges are both a fiscal and a political reality. We must all work together to move forward. Ahead, there will be tough days and good days, but every day, I will be inspired by your dedication and service to the University and I will be uplifted by the values that make this university great.

The University is a sanctuary for learning and scholarship, but it's not an island that's immune to the long-term tidal forces that are impacting every aspect of our society. I want to focus on some of these forces because they will shape the future of the University.

Demography is destiny. And demography is changing the face of America. When I first immigrated to this country in the 1960s, people of color were 1 in 10. Today, they are 1 in 4. By 2040, they will be 1 in 2. There will be no more "minorities" because we will all be in a minority. Diversity will be the rule, not the exception. America is becoming a microcosm of the world—a nation of nations, the first multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and universal nation in history. The universalizing of America will strengthen our country's economic and geo-political power. Many other countries, such as Japan, Russia, and Western European nations have stagnant or diminishing populations and labor forces. But America continues to grow and renew itself by the talent and energy of immigrants from around the world.

In Maryland, about 60% of all post-secondary education students are projected to be minorities by 2020, up from the current 40%. This development sets the backdrop for the future of the University System of Maryland and for its flagship University.

Today, no country can expect to lead the world unless it leads in the number of college graduates and, especially, in the number of graduates in the sciences, engineering, and mathematics. Higher education is the key to our nation's ability to compete successfully in the global knowledge economy. Our quality of life and our standard of living depend more than ever on innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurial initiative that are nurtured in research universities and in university partnerships with the public and private sectors. American research universities still lead the world in education and research. Because talent and knowledge know no national boundaries, we still draw the best minds from all corners of the earth.

But our global competitiveness is at risk. For years, our nation ranked number one in the production of college graduates. Today, we have slipped to 10th among the industrialized nations of the world. We rank even lower in the production of high school graduates, in the production of graduates in STEM disciplines, and in the proportion of students who complete their college degrees. Other nations are creating new world-class universities to turbo-charge their economic growth.

President Obama has challenged our country to regain world leadership in the proportion of college graduates. He has set the high goal of 55% graduates of two-year and four-year institutions by 2020. He has called for the largest funding ever for the U.S. Department of Education to achieve this goal. His challenge in 2010 that we achieve a 55% college completion rate in 10 years is today's equivalent of President Kennedy's challenge in 1960 that we put a person on the moon in 10 years.

Governor O'Malley has set the same stretch goal of 55% college completion for Maryland by 2020 so that our state can remain highly competitive. Presently, about 44% of Marylanders have college degrees. The State has to expand access to post-secondary education and improve degree completion to meet this goal.

While the number of high school graduates in the State will decline over the next decade, the pipeline for higher education in Maryland is expected to grow significantly. The increased demand will reflect a different demographic profile: older, non-traditional students; more minorities and first-generation college students; more community college transfers. Most of the growth will occur in two counties where one-fifth of the State population resides, and which include one-half of the Hispanic population.

Our challenge today is: how does the University of Maryland—the University of and for the people of Maryland, in service to the State, the nation, and the world—rise to respond to this great challenge and also great opportunity? The State cannot reach the 55% goal unless the flagship institution of the University System of Maryland helps lead the way. The aspiration of transformative excellence and the national imperative of expanding opportunity are complementary strategic goals in the globalized world of the 21st century.

In 1862, at the time of our nation's greatest existential crisis, President Lincoln signed the Morrill Act that created a whole new kind of university. The land-grant university broadened educational opportunity beyond the privileged few and served the needs of an industrializing nation by emphasizing agriculture, the "mechanical arts" of science and technology, and military training. It was the catalyst for 150 years of American prosperity and progress.

At the end of World War II, Congress enacted the G.I. Bill of Rights, which made higher education available on an unprecedented scale. An entire generation—what Tom Brokaw has called "the Greatest Generation"—came back after defeating fascism across the Atlantic and the Pacific, had the opportunity to go to college, and they built better futures for themselves, their families, their communities, and the nation. The federal government also partnered with universities to fund research and create the modern research university, thereby ushering in the Golden Age of higher education.

Today, we face another great challenge and opportunity: regaining America's global leadership in educational competitiveness and, hence, in economic competitiveness. As other nations rise and assert themselves confidently on the global stage, public polls show that two-thirds of Americans believe our nation is in decline. I believe that our best days are ahead of us. The 21st century will be the American century. The public research university is our state's, and our nation's, best hope for the future.

Challenges remain: we're in the greatest recession since the Great Depression. Legions of Americans have lost jobs, lost homes, lost health care, and lost hope. States and the nation are staggering under enormous deficits and long-term deficits, which impact state and federal funding for higher education. You and I may not be able to change the economy. But we will not change our course as we move forward.

Shakespeare wrote in "All's Well That Ends Well" that "Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie, which we ascribe to Heaven." With scrappy determination, we will work harder and smarter. We will draw on our strengths of innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurial spirit. We will diversify and expand our partnerships and collaborations at home and abroad, with industry, governments, and non-profits. We will make maximum use of our strategic location inside the Beltway. We will complete our $1 billion capital campaign of "Great Expectations."

And we will work with the University System of Maryland and the State of Maryland so that the flagship University has the resources to realize transformative excellence in service of the American dream: to expand opportunity, to grow the economy, and to support democracy.

Today, the University is better and stronger than it was ten or twenty years ago. Ten years hence, it will be better and stronger than today. I conclude by, again, thanking all of you, and thanking all our friends and supporters, for making the great success story that is, and will always be, the University of Maryland.

Go Terps!