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Convocation 2009

 

Welcome, and thank you for joining us this afternoon. Once again, because of the commitment of the UB community, we begin a new academic year with energy, momentum and promise—promise based on the past year's achievements and the coming year's possibilities. At convocation, we take the time to celebrate our successes and share ideas about our future, a future which—despite the challenges we must encounter—is the brightest it has been in my time as UB president.

This year it is especially appropriate that we pause and reflect on where we have been and what we've accomplished. Many of the major changes that we have put in place are now an established part of the University. The First and Second Year Program is entering its third year. This fall, there are 739 freshmen and sophomores at UB—that's almost 25 percent of the total undergraduate population! We now have students in the upper division who have spent their entire undergraduate career at UB.

The UB/Towson MBA program has grown to more than 650 students and has awarded 188 degrees as it enters its fourth year. The School of Law continues to raise its profile in multiple areas; just last week the Governor and former state Attorney General spoke to a capacity crowd of students, faculty and community members. UB's Criminal Justice program was certified by the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences—one of only two programs in the country to earn certification at both the graduate and undergraduate levels, further enhancing the College of Liberal Art’s distinction in applied, professional education.

We are well into our second strategic plan, with a clearly articulated vision of academic excellence and growth. This year's report card reflects our changing campus, as we have added a number of new indicators, such as freshmen enrollment and the campus’s carbon footprint. For the first time, a document compiling action items for each strategic planning objective has been published on the portal for community review and response. This comprehensive implementation plan—which includes timelines, necessary resources, and responsible departments—marks another step in the evolution of a planning culture here at UB. 

It seems as if every day you can see the progress of the campus master plan—I guess you would call that concrete evidence— a plan that will add a quarter of a billion dollars of development to our campus and to midtown Baltimore.

Last spring, the Liberal Arts and Policy building opened to house growing programs in the College of Liberal Arts and move us closer to our goal of providing high quality classroom and faculty space throughout our campus. I'm pleased to announce that this project received a merit award from the Maryland Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. And it's hard to miss the progress of the Fitzgerald at UB Midtown, which seems to rise almost like a Phoenix at Mount Royal Avenue and Oliver Street.

All of these changes have contributed to renewed understanding, appreciation and support of the University of Baltimore from alumni, the University System of Maryland, and our elected officials.

Despite the current economic climate, our capital campaign has reached 71 percent of its $40 million target in just the first year of the campaign's public phase. Planning continues for a $107 million facility for the School of Law, the first new construction of an academic building at UB in close to two decades.

We are also better understood in the region's competitive higher education marketplace by the audience that matters most— prospective students. For the past two years, UB has led the University System of Maryland in percentage of enrollment growth, and although we are not yet at the official census date, I believe that we will lead the System again this year. Three years in a row—that's a remarkable achievement, considering we had never led the System in growth before. This fall’s current headcount of 6,283 is our highest ever, and underscores the fact that a University of Baltimore education is as relevant today as it has been at any time in the University’s history.

To support this growth, we have added new faculty positions in record numbers. After welcoming 17 new faculty colleagues last year—which represented annual growth of more than ten percent—this year we have approved funding for an additional seven positions.  Growing our faculty to meet the needs of our growing student population and to contribute to the campus's intellectual vitality is critical to realizing our strategic vision of academic excellence and distinction. In these times, when most universities are downsizing or struggling to maintain existing levels of instruction, our ability to recruit from a national talent pool and add to an already excellent faculty will positively impact our future for decades.

Of course, we do not exist in isolation. Along with every other University in the country (really, every institution in the world), we must deal with an unprecedented economic downturn. We have already shared with you the details of two budget reductions that have been incurred this fiscal year.

As we have stated in numerous e-mails, budget reductions at UB will be guided by three main principles. First, we will minimize the impact that these cuts have on our core educational mission—meaning we will do everything we can to maintain and enhance the classroom experience for our students and the academic pursuits of faculty. Second, to the fullest extent possible, we will protect the jobs of current UB employees. Third, through planning and sound fiscal management, we will maintain our ability to support those initiatives that are central to the University's strategic plan.

I think that's worth repeating: We will continue to support initiatives that are central to our strategic plan. That we are able to do that is a testament to the work of many people. It's the result of sound fiscal management that includes annual reserves and contingency funds. It’s made possible by an improved budget process, which has been strengthened by real collaboration with campus shared governance. It's a product of our growth: We are able to grow our faculty and support new initiatives as a direct result of meeting and exceeding our enrollment targets.

Of course, this year and the coming year will be difficult (Harry would say the next two years—but presidents can afford to be optimistic). We won’t be able to do everything we want, and some of our major initiatives may take a little longer than we planned—and certainly longer than I would like; patience is not one of my strong points. But the University of Baltimore will continue to transform itself to meet the needs of our students, faculty staff and our urban community.

Recently, we also provided notice of the state's mandatory furlough program. We will share exact details of the plan as soon as the Board of Regents finalizes guidelines for System institutions. As we did last year, UB's furlough program will seek to mitigate the effect on lower-paid employees and services to students. We will continue to explore all available means to meet this cost-cutting requirement in a way that minimizes the impact on our community.

Let me address the subject of furloughs directly. I understand the burden that UB employees face as a result of this mandate. But in a time of declining and unpredictable state revenues, the action is understandable. The support that public universities currently enjoy in Maryland from our governor and our legislature is the envy of most states. But that fact does not erase the real challenges that furloughs present to many UB employees.

The unfortunate task of implementing a campus furlough plan for the second year in a row has had an unintended, positive consequence: It has provided me with another view of our community's character. In discussions we've had with campus representatives both this year and last year, a few things stand out. There is total agreement that furloughs are preferable to the loss of jobs. And despite the fact that hundreds of our employees were furloughed last year, I received one complaint. One. That says a lot about who we are as a community, and I appreciate the understanding, professionalism and commitment that such a unified response underscores.   

I would now like to announce the recipients of this year's UB Staff Awards, each of whom will receive a $1,000 salary bonus. These awards recognize the exceptional contributions made by UB staff during the past year and throughout their UB careers.

The 2009 Staff Award winners are:

For outstanding customer service:

  • Karyn Schultz, Interim Director, Disability Support Services.
  • Valerie Brown, Housekeeper, Physical Plant

For exceptional contribution to the mission of the University:

  • David Patschke, Director of Technologies, School of Communications Design
  • Gina Brandon, Serials and Government Documents Technician, Law Library

Would those recipients in attendance please stand? Please join me in expressing our congratulations.

The recipient of this year's President's Faculty Award, an annual $5,000 award presented in recognition of outstanding teaching, research and community service, goes to Rob Rubison. Rob is a professor and director of Clinical Education in the School of Law. His scholarly focus includes the areas of family mediation and the professional regulation of lawyers, and he received the School of Law’s award for excellence in full-time teaching in 2005. During Rob's tenure as director of Clinical Education, the program has received national recognition. As proof of Rob’s success, there have been a record number of clinical applications in each of the past two semesters. Please join me in recognizing the achievements of Rob Rubison. 

It is now my pleasure to introduce and formally welcome Provost Joe Wood to the UB community. For those of you who have not yet met Joe, I know you will be impressed, as I was, by his vast experience and breadth of knowledge. He comes to us from the University of Southern Maine, where he served as provost and interim president. 

He is a leading scholar in geography, with a particular focus on North American cultural landscapes and urban architecture. His experience and commitment to the mission of urban public universities make him a great fit for UB. In the few short months I've worked with him, I know that he is and will continue to be a great asset to our faculty, deans and administration. (And, as someone who can’t find his way home without a GPS, it's great to have a geographer on the team).

Please join me in welcoming Joe Wood....

I'd like to close by following up on some of Joe’s ideas and by sharing some thoughts about our future.

With the work that we have done, and with the work that’s still ahead of us that Joe has outlined, we are continuing a transformational phase that I call "The Emerging University." What do I mean by that term?

Let's start with what I don't mean. By asking questions about what we can do better, by challenging ourselves to enhance our current offerings, by rethinking our curriculum to meet the needs of a new century and new generations of students, we aren't saying that what we're doing now isn't excellent.

On the contrary, we know the opposite is true. The University of Baltimore is always among the top institutions in the state in surveys of student satisfaction. Our achievement is reflected by the success of our graduates, and here is just one example: the Baltimore Business Journal recently reported that 10 of the 25 largest accounting firms in the Baltimore area are headed by UB business or law graduates. And again this year, faculty publication and grant activity has increased. So we can ask these and other questions from a position of strength, because we have a solid foundation from which to build the UB of the future.

There are three requirements associated with the Emerging University, the first of which is to honor the past. This means that we understand UB's history as a University dedicated to working with populations that in many cases are not well served by more traditional institutions. With all the recent changes that have been put in place, that dedication remains firmly in place. Those of us who work here know that there is no such thing as a "typical" UB student, and hopefully that will never change. This year, I'm told our student body ranges from age 17 to 70. Think of what a rich and unique educational environment that diversity makes possible.

The Emerging University also requires us to understand our present—both the students we teach today and the larger community in which we reside. That again is an historical strength of UB, a strength that includes the practical focus of our education; the student focus of our staff; the professional experience of a faculty dedicated to student success and relevant scholarship; and community outreach efforts that have received Carnegie recognition. Our tagline sums it up well: discovering and imparting Knowledge That Works must remain at the center of what we do, both inside and outside the classroom.

The exciting and perhaps most challenging part of the Emerging University equation is the third and final component: imagining and informing the future. It is clear that this will require major discussion among faculty concerning the ongoing evolution and relevancy of all of our academic offerings. It will entail dialogue about an expanded vision of student life outside the classroom, one that includes internships, cultural opportunities and social interactions. Here is some of what we will need to ask ourselves during this inquiry process:

  • Are our current offerings broad enough, or must we expand in areas of existing strength? Are there select areas of the arts and sciences that we currently do not offer that we deem necessary to a fully-rounded undergraduate education? These questions are by no means exhaustive, but instead are meant to stimulate faculty discussion so that our most creative ideas and solutions can emerge.
  • What constitutes an effective student life program for a 21st century urban public university—one with both traditional, daytime students and part-time, working adults? Is it offering a lecture by Muhammed Yunus? A reading by Maya Angelou? Or is it, as some freshmen requested last year, a dance in the gym? It is probably all of these, and more. Again, this will require inquiry from faculty and staff.
  • How can residence halls enrich our campus environment, both by giving prospective students another option for their college experience and by expanding our current campus offerings?
  • How do we assure that our intellectual climate and balance of teaching, research and service is one that sustains and nurtures faculty in all career stages and paths? 
  • How do we make the University of Baltimore one of the region's preferred workplaces?
  • How do we make sure that the academic buildings we construct today are not limited by the experiences we had as students years ago or by our present needs as faculty and staff, but rather that we have the vision and courage to create facilities that will serve for decades into the future?

The building metaphor is especially appropriate for our campus at this time. A turning point in our recent history was the construction of the Student Center, which has not only become the signature building on campus, it was also the first signal that a shift was underway at the University of Baltimore: We would no longer settle for second-rate (or for nothing at all); today, we deserve the best that we can envision.

We have carried that philosophy forward in the renovation of the Liberal Arts and Policy Building, in our ongoing campus renovations, and in the successful international design competition for the new John and Frances Angelos Law Center. On the one hand, these are just buildings. Bricks and mortar will always be secondary to what lies at the center of what we do—the interaction between faculty and student. But our campus does speak to who we are and to the quality of what we do.

In that respect, these projects become a statement of our aspirations for the future. It's relatively easy to build a law building that will open in 2012. But it is a fascinating and much more invigorating process to build a law building that will be as functional in 2050 as it is the day it opens.

Yet that is the challenge the Emerging University must meet. The future is not static; our world is always in motion. Personally, as I grow older I've become more energized by that constant change. I find great pleasure in continuing to learn: I think that is one of the great advantages of being associated with a University—in a very real sense, we all get to be life-long students.

I continue to be stimulated by new ideas—another perk of the job. There is a real joy in discovery, and we are all fortunate to be part of an environment in which we have the opportunity and ability—I might call it a requirement—to explore new ideas. I look forward to undertaking this exploration with all of you in the coming months, and I am excited by the future University of Baltimore that we can build together.

Thank you for the work you do and for joining us this afternoon.