University of Nebraska at Omaha
2006 Convocation Address
Interim Chancellor John Christensen
October 11, 2006
"A Snapshot in Time: The State of the University, October 2006"
Ninety-eight years ago, citizens of our community came together to build a new educational institution – Omaha University, later to become the Municipal University of Omaha, and finally, the University of Nebraska at Omaha. On October 8th, 1908, they signed the Articles of Incorporation, officially creating the university and providing us with a backdrop for today's Convocation.
As a result of this community collaboration, these founders set in motion a series of events which would:
The challenges ahead of these founders were many and complex:
Now, fast-forward to 2006, and while the context of the questions is different, for those of us who care deeply about this institution, they remain fundamentally the same.
The events of the past several months have tested the mettle of the campus community:
Publicity surrounding those controversies shifted the focus from the core business of teaching, learning, and discovery, to how resources have been used in support of the "greater good" of the campus.
The financial health and future direction of our Athletic Department was called into question as was the lack of administrative transparency.
And, many expressed concern, both publicly and privately, as to the extent public trust in UNO had been harmed, and what course of action could restore it.
Since my appointment as interim chancellor, one month ago, I have sought out citizens and leaders across this community and the region for their advice. I have heard the disappointment, frustration and concern in their voices. Clearly, UNO is this community's university and many felt somewhat betrayed.
But I have also heard genuine and unwavering support for UNO, and countless offers of help to set us sailing into a bright future.
I am here today to tell you that the UNO we love, serve and care about remains strong and vital. The university that so many have dedicated their lives to build has never wavered in its commitment to students, the community it serves, or expanding the boundaries of knowledge and scholarship. It is important to recognize that what has happened is in no way pervasive or reflective of the campus culture or values.
Our commitment to UNO's Strategic Planning remains unchanged. And, I'm excited about UNO's future opportunities including:
This morning, I want to celebrate UNO's many academic and outreach achievements. And, I want to share the mechanisms that have been put in place to improve fiscal oversight across campus, and to address the issues brought forward in the Karnes report.
Over the past decade, our campus has made significant progress on its strategic goal of helping students succeed and graduate. And, last year was no exception:
The quality of incoming students and persistence to graduation is the highest in UNO's history and increasing. A safe, welcoming, and supportive campus for all students is not only an expectation, it's a reality. Students find a mature, technologically rich campus with support provided by redesigned orientation, First Year Experience, Writing and Speech Centers offering individualized tutorial service, the soon-to-be established Math and Science Learning Center, and a faculty and staff that is genuinely dedicated to their success.
Additionally, the Goodrich Program, Project Achieve, Multicultural Affairs, and a broad array of student organizations all make significant contributions to sharpening the student focus. Finally, as we dedicate the University Library addition immediately following Convocation, you'll see how new innovations, expanded hours of operation, and student-centered designs are changing the way students use this modern learning facility.
Special commendation to Steve Shorb and all the faculty and staff for the fine work they have done in bringing the addition on line. Media coverage this morning was spectacular.
Academic excellence, UNO's second strategic goal, was reflected in variety of campus activities and UNO's inclusion in highly visible national rankings:
For the first time in its history, UNO moved into the top-level Midwest Regional Tier in the U.S. News 2007 edition of America's Best Colleges. This is particularly gratifying because the peer evaluation component suggests we are highly regarded among our professional colleagues.
Several UNO programs were also recognized in U.S. News including Public Administration, the Criminal Justice Doctoral Program, Social Work, Speech-Language Pathology, Teacher Preparation, the undergraduate Business Program, and Industrial-Organizational Psychology.
UNO's Service Learning Academy was cited as a Program to Look For among 42 programs listed nationally by US News ; the only program in the Plains States with this distinction. Certainly, another important recognition is our second-year-in-a-row inclusion on the Princeton Review's 2007 Best Midwestern College guide. The rankings are based on surveys of college students and recent graduates, further evidence that our students and alumni speak for us, and they speak very well of us.
UNO's research agenda is being conducted in laboratories, classrooms, throughout the community and in the field from Afghanistan to Australia to South America. A significant contributor to the academic excellence priority, this research continues to attract external support from a variety of sources signaling the quality of work being done.
Other excellence indicators include the increasing student research profile, growing honors program participation, UNO's national leadership in the developing on-line faculty and student portfolios, and innovative independent and collaborative on-line academic programs.
UNO's impact in the community, our third strategic goal, characterizes our overall metropolitan mission. It remains a strong component of our outreach, with benefits to both the university and its community.
One measure is the university's economic impact on the Omaha metropolitan region. According to a recent study, UNO's economic activity and the value of our graduates' degrees added $1.6 billion to the regional economy. Furthermore,
the Nebraska Business Development Center's economic impact of $324 million created or retained nearly 4,000 jobs in the state.
Perhaps the hallmark of UNO's engagement with the community is its rapidly expanding Service Learning Academy. More than 40 courses this fall have service learning components, making meaningful contributions to community organizations, while enabling student learning in real-life contexts. Hundreds of students, faculty and staff have committed their fall and spring breaks to participate in three and seven Days of Service, resulting in tangible community benefits.
Finally, all colleges will contribute to the new Collaborative Science Institute, in partnership with the community. This Institute places UNO at the forefront of this emerging discipline with far-reaching benefits for business, industry, government and not-for-profit organizations. It will be an important complement to the innovative partnerships being created locally, nationally, and internationally by the Peter Kiewit Institute, the campus Colleges, and International Studies and Programs.
Now, let's move on to the significant action steps that are a result of recommendations from the campus community, constituents and the Karnes Report regarding stabilizing the Athletics budget, improving communications and conference affiliations. I also want to share measures that have been or will be implemented to improve fiscal oversight across campus.
Before we proceed, however, I want to publicly state that we have an exemplary Athletic program, a high-quality coaching and support staff, and student-athletes who have been blessed with both athletic and academic talent. This summer's storm was about fiscal and administrative issues; not the value of athletics on this campus.
An insert highlighting action steps (see attachment). All of these actions reflect our commitment to transparency and accountability. For example:
Among the new financial reporting mechanisms:
Taken together, these action steps will achieve a three-fold purpose:
Ninety-eight years ago, UNO was dedicated to the education of its students, so that they might "earn a living and live a cultured life, not as two processes but as one." As members of the UNO family, I call upon each of us to rededicate our energies to this important task.
As we look at our progress, we realize that in great measure, good things have happened at UNO as a result of the public confidence and trust placed in us. The maturation of the Dodge campus, the development of the Peter Kiewit Institute and the Pacific campus and soon, the Center Street campus, all reflect the investment of taxpayers, donors and the community at large. We will do everything in our power to earn that confidence in our daily actions and in planning for the future.
My optimism about UNO's future stems, in large measure, from my enormous respect for the quality and dedication of our students, faculty and staff, who have always demonstrated that: if we can dream it; we can do it.
In my role as interim chancellor, I pledge my full energies and commitment to lead in a manner that makes the campus proud.
This is our moment in UNO's distinguished history to make a difference, to set a course and to determine its future. Thank you for joining me in this journey.