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Convocation 2010

Good afternoon, and thank you for joining us for the fall 2010 Convocation, a time for our community to reflect on the accomplishments of the past year and to identify the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. It is also a time to recommit to the core principles, values and goals that define the University of Baltimore. That last component – a discussion of who we are, what we do and how we do it – cannot begin and end today. It must be a comprehensive, inclusive and ongoing dialogue throughout this and succeeding years.

Despite the challenges UB faces – and everyone here can articulate those challenges – we are able to discuss our future from a position of strength: The University of Baltimore today is stronger than at any other time in its history. That is true because of the talent, energy and commitment of the people in this hall and your colleagues and students across campus.

You have made UB strong in both absolute and relative measures: not only is our enrollment at an all-time high, we continue to be among the leaders across the University System of Maryland in percentage growth. Despite the greatest economic uncertainty since the Great Depression, we continue to add faculty positions, launch new academic programs, expand our campus infrastructure and are on course to meet and exceed the most ambitious target of any UB capital campaign.

Can we do better? Of course – we must and we will. But we can't build our future without understanding and acknowledging the foundation upon which it will be built. I will be talking more about that future and the 21 st Century initiative later this afternoon. But thanks to all of you, the University begins this new decade with a foundation that is secure and considerable. Here are just a few examples:

We are growing. For the second consecutive year, our fall enrollment represents the highest headcount in University history. This year's total of more than 6,500 represents gains in the undergraduate and graduate populations and – unlike previous years – was achieved without law school growth; in fact, there was a planned, moderate decline in law enrollment.

This growth is tied directly to our core educational mission – to provide access to quality, professionally-focused education, especially to populations who are not well-served by traditional institutions – and is indicative of the distinct role UB plays in the region. Enrollment growth requires the contributions and collaborations of faculty and staff across multiple areas, and I congratulate all those on campus who are responsible for our continued success.

Besides contributing to a more vibrant and diverse campus, our growing student population enables the University to enhance learning and teaching in a critical way – in our ability to increase faculty size. During the past five years, we have added 32 faculty positions, with gains realized in all schools and colleges.

During a time when state funding of public education is undergoing fundamental changes, and with our current level of state support representing less than 30 percent of our total revenue (a percentage that is unlikely to increase in the foreseeable future, if ever), we must understand the role that enrollment growth plays in our future.

Of course, with growth comes challenges, including those related to class size, facilities and student services. But those challenges stand in stark contrast to those of 2002, when UB was faced with a decade of enrollment declines, continually diminished resources and an aging infrastructure. We solved those issues together; likewise, by working together I am confident we can manage a growing University.

To support our growing student and faculty populations, we are also growing our campus. On Sept. 27, we will join our Barnes & Noble partners to officially open the new campus bookstore. I invite you to participate in the week-long series of events to celebrate this major addition to our campus.

You may also have noticed some activity on the corner of Charles and Mt. Royal, the site of the new John and Frances Angelos Law Center. More than 350 guests attended last month's official groundbreaking, including the governor and First Lady; the chancellor; members of the Board of Regents; numerous local, state and federal elected officials; business and civic leaders; community neighbors; and the project's major donors, including UB law alumnus Peter Angelos. You can follow the project's progress at www.ubalt.edu/lawcam. I truly believe that when this facility opens in January 2013, it will not only be recognized as the best law school building in the country, it will be viewed as a major addition to architecture regionally, nationally and even globally.

I am also pleased to announce that we are finalizing an agreement between University Properties, Inc., part of the University Baltimore Foundation, and the Potomac Holdings Group of Bethesda to construct an 11-story, 323-bed residence hall targeted for UB students. The 124,000 square foot facility, located at the corner of Maryland Avenue and Biddle Street – the former Gunther Hardware site – will include a mix of 114 studio, two- and four-bedroom apartments (most with private bathrooms for each occupant), common spaces, a workout facility and retail space.

Similar to the Fitzgerald at UB Midtown, this $27 million project is being constructed with no University, state or Foundation funds. The agreement does not require any University risk or assurances of income or occupancy. As you look out at the southern skyline during this afternoon's reception, know that in two years the view will include a state-of-the-art student apartment building serving the University of Baltimore.

I previously mentioned Peter Angelos, whose leadership gift has contributed significantly to the success of the law center project. This support exemplifies the overall success of Uniquely UB: The Campaign for the University of Baltimore. Because of the generosity of our alumni, faculty, staff and supporters, we have raised $37,110,677 of our $40 million campaign goal, with more than one year remaining.

As with enrollment, successful fundraising is a collaborative effort, and I thank and congratulate all those involved in our success. It is also a testament to the tangible energy and momentum that marks the UB of today. It is well known that donors contribute to success, and it is clear to our supporters that UB is a dynamic, forward-thinking institution worthy of their investment.

You can track additional achievements and performance measures in the strategic plan report card we've provided here this afternoon.

Of course, no discussion of the past year is complete without addressing the issue of state furloughs. It is an unavoidable and unfortunate fact that our faculty and staff have had to endure three years of furloughs, accompanied by mandatory freezes in cost of living and salary increases. Despite the fact that our situation in Maryland is better than that in most states, and while we have avoided the more difficult scenario of mandated job cuts, the continued use of furloughs and salary freezes represents a real hardship to our employees.

I deeply appreciate the understanding our faculty and staff have exhibited despite the burden these mandates have imposed. I am committed to working with my fellow presidents, the chancellor and his staff, the Board of Regents and our elected officials to eliminate the use of furloughs in the coming fiscal year.

The UB community has not allowed the economic downturn to impact our commitment to our students and to each other. As I recall the record-setting snowstorms of last winter, I remember the literal around-the-clock work of our facilities crews, the willingness of our faculty to adjust syllabi, and the work of staff to support our students' return to class. That's a tangible, specific example of what we mean when we talk about core institutional values and a commitment to our educational mission.

In that vein, 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 recipients of the 2010 UB staff awards are:

For outstanding customer service:

  • Bob Stoner, payroll manager, Office of the Comptroller
  • Michael Simmons, security officer, University of Baltimore Police Department

For exceptional contributions to the mission of the University:

  • Sean Farmer, systems administrator, Law School Library, Office of Technology Services
  • Amy Diggins, student employment coordinator, Career Center

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 Ven Sriram, professor of marketing in the Merrick School of Business. Ven's research interests include emerging markets, entrepreneurship and global strategy. He is presently a Fulbright Senior Specialist and has been a visiting fellow at Cambridge University. He is the academic advisor for Students In Free Enterprise, whose mission is to perform community service projects that teach market economics, entrepreneurship, financial literacy, personal success skills, business ethics and environmental sustainability. Please join me in congratulating Ven Sriram.

I now invite Provost Joe Wood to highlight the academic achievements of the past year and to share his thoughts on the year ahead. Joe is beginning his academic second year at UB, after a cautious first year during which he created two new colleges; oversaw the development of several new programs; spearheaded multiple campus-wide initiatives and – in his spare time – moved the Office of the Provost to a new building. Join me in welcoming Joe Wood....

In closing, I want to elaborate on an initiative that was first shared with the Cabinet last spring. This year, we will engage the full campus community in defining, developing and implementing this initiative, which focuses on the specific questions we must answer, choices we must make and actions we must take to build the competitive, distinctive and successful University of Baltimore of the future.

At a time when we have more than enough to do, and not nearly enough resources with which to do it, it's natural to ask: Why now? Why add another "new idea"? We have enough to do already! Those are all understandable responses. The fact is, higher education today is under a higher degree of scrutiny than at any time in its history. The 2008 Spellings Commission report is the beginning – not the end – of a call for increased accountability in all areas of the enterprise. The growth of the for-profit sector has introduced new models and increased student/customer expectations, while the recent challenges to its business practices will increase scrutiny for all of us.

Rising tuition rates that significantly outpace inflation have called into question the value proposition of the college degree. According to the Wall Street Journal, for the first time, national student debt now exceeds national credit card debt.

Critics within the academy decry the commoditization of education, as campus visits highlight student amenities over classroom rigor. At the same time, technology continues to transform how we access and assimilate information, in and out of the classroom. These trends, issues and critiques will impact all of higher education. How individual campuses respond and adapt will determine the success – and in some cases the very existence – of the 21 st Century University.

In addition to external forces, UB faces some critical questions related to our own evolving identity. We are no longer alone in actively recruiting community college graduates and undergraduate transfer students. Once an early adopter of distance learning, we are now compelled to define the role that online education plays in our present and our future.

We must determine the place of the M.B.A. in a time when trust in our business institutions and the individuals who lead them is seriously diminished. As we grow the quality of our law school, we must address our ability to fulfill the access mission that is a central component of the School of Law's legacy.

Finally, we must develop a general education curriculum that answers the central question: What does it mean to be an educated, engaged citizen? What distinguishes a University of Baltimore education and the University of Baltimore graduate?

To focus our efforts in answering these essential questions, we have created the 21 st Century Initiative. First, a word about the name – it's a working title, subject to change. Some would say that using "21 st Century" is inaccurate because we're already a decade into it. Others, particularly those critics I alluded to earlier, would say that universities are still following models and practices that are decades – sometimes centuries – old. For these critics, the 21 st Century University hasn't been created yet.

Interestingly, when I introduced this concept to the University of Baltimore Foundation last week, they were overwhelmingly supportive. For many board members, who are accustomed to the business practice of research and development, it is exactly what they believe UB should be doing.

There must be dedicated funding to support this work. The UB 21 st Century Fund will support initiatives that advance the development and distinction of the University of Baltimore as a 21 st-century urban University. The fund will be available on a competitive basis for targeted academic hires and for curricular or co-curricular proposals that add new expertise and introduce innovation to the UB community.

Successful proposals will:

  • position UB as a leader in advancing higher education in the 21st century.
  • distinguish the University in the marketplace.
  • relate to documented or projected external demand.
  • support academic quality and enrollment growth objectives.
  • contain specific timelines and outcomes.

Awards can take the form of base budget adjustments or one-time funding. Details on the proposal process will be developed and shared during the academic year.

In addition, a position in the Office of the Provost will be dedicated to coordinate this effort from the academic perspective. As a result of previous restructuring and office downsizing, there will be no net increase in administrative positions as a result of this initiative.

The provostal position will be responsible for generating creative, inclusive faculty dialogue about our future academic growth and direction. Through collaborative dialogue, we must ask and answer the following questions: What is happening at the leading edge of our disciplines? How can the best of current practices inform our aspirations? How can the University of Baltimore achieve distinction in the dynamic environment of 21st century higher education?

The primary focus of this initiative will be on learning. We are a University whose core mission is teaching and learning, and everything we do must rigorously adhere to that mission. Our discussions must address faculty growth and development; new program creation; writing across the curriculum; quantitative and technical literacies; emerging pedagogies, teaching and learning styles; the role of technology in the classroom; and the academic support services that current and future students will require.

But to be successful, we must also focus on support services, including:

Student Life. What is the new paradigm for the urban, mixed commuter/residential, nontraditional student experience outside the classroom? What can make the UB experience distinct, relevant and valuable to our students? Given available resources and a realistic assessment of our present environment, how do we best meet the needs of our student population?

Technology. We must utilize technology to support learning and teaching and efficient, seamless administration. How do we identify the best and most critical of emerging trends? How do we support faculty in the use of technology in and out of the classroom? What technical competencies must be maintained for staff? What is the place of online learning at UB – now and in the coming decades?

Facilities. Our physical infrastructure must support growth, contribute to our competitive advantage and increase campus awareness and distinction. What are the essential attributes of the 21st century learning environment? What does the 21st century library and learning commons look like? How do we best prioritize campus renovation, renewal and new project initiatives? How can we maximize support from the state, the foundation and private partners?

Administration. Our administration works to support the educational mission. There is much public criticism about the administrative growth, even as our institutions become more burdened with increased reporting requirements and complex technology needs. How do we know we have the correct balance? Let's re-look at the administrative cost analysis we performed in 2008 to answer that valid question. How can we streamline processes across administrative and academic units? What will make UB a preferred place to work? How can shared governance support the changing University? How do we strengthen our culture of customer service? What does it mean – and what will it take – to achieve 24/7 administrative and academic support services?

We will raise these questions and others throughout the year, and we need your help to address them. I ask you to bring three things to this discussion. The first two are enthusiasm and creativity. Both are essential when envisioning the future, and both qualities are contagious in a positive way. I hope that the excitement that is inherent in imagining our future will naturally encourage these attributes of inquiry.

Finally, I welcome something that I probably don't have to ask for: a healthy skepticism. Ask questions. Challenge assumptions. Take nothing for granted or at face value. But do so in the spirit of moving the University of Baltimore forward, as you have throughout these years of change, growth and achievement.

Thank you again for everything you do, and best wishes for a productive year.