2007.10.10 > For Immediate Release
contact: Wendy Townley - University Relations
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Future UNO Successes Focus of Convocation Address
Below are the remarks delivered by UNO Chancellor John Christensen during the convocation address at the University of Nebraska at Omaha Oct. 10, 2007.
“The State of the University 2007”
Good morning, and welcome to University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Annual Fall Convocation. I am Chancellor John Christensen, and it is indeed a pleasure to provide you with an update of campus accomplishments over the past 12 months, as well as looking toward the promising future of the institution.
First, however, let me introduce the members of the platform party:
Sheri Noren-Everts, interim vice chancellor for academic and student affairs;
Harmon Maher, Interim associate vice chancellor, Research and Creative Activity;
The academic deans:
Deborah Smith-Howell, Graduate Studies,
Eric Manley, Arts and Sciences,
John Langan, Education
Hesham Ali, Information Science and Technology,
Gail Baker, Communication, Fine Arts and Media,
Steve Shorb, University Library,
And, representing student, faculty and staff constituencies:
Alex Williams, UNO Student President Regent;
Scott Tarry, president of the faculty senate; and
Charlene Wilcox, vice president of the Staff Advisory Council.
A special welcome to all students, faculty, staff, and community members who have joined us today The faculty and staff are the heart, soul and spirit of any institution, and I could not think of a finer group of men and women with whom to work.
Please accept my heartfelt thanks for your advice and counsel over the past 13 months. Also, I want to thank my wife Jan and my sons, Erik, Dana, and Anders for their unconditional support during this time of transition.
It has been an extraordinary year, for me personally, and for this university and community as well. I want to express my sincere gratitude to the NU Board of Regents, President Milliken, and to all of you, for the privilege of leading what I believe to be one of the finest metropolitan universities in the nation. It is the highest singular honor of my professional career, and quite frankly, the best job anyone could hope for.
For those of you who took part in the investiture events over the past 24 hours, thank you. And a special note of appreciation to the Investiture Committee, led by John Langan, for their work in creating a truly memorable series of events yesterday. I was deeply honored and appreciate everyone’s hard work and support.
I believe the day was as much about the resiliency, progress and momentum of this institution as it was about the formal installation of a Chancellor. I am always very proud of our university, but never more so than yesterday, as I listened to President Milliken, and others talk about the progress that has been made at UNO and its incredibly bright future. This is an institution that is making a difference, and the faculty/staff/students and alums should take pride in their many meaningful accomplishments.
For those who were in the audience to hear my investiture remarks, I want to continue that discussion today.
Yesterday, a quote from the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard provided a context for my remarks when he wrote, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” UNO, I believe, has always been a university that lives in the future, but I think it is time well spent, this morning, to reflect on a few accomplishments and the events of the past year as well.
In 2006, our Athletic Department required attention. Simply said, I believe the challenges they faced were the result of failed administration, and not a reflection of the department, coaches, staff or students, who excelled in spite of it all.
A lack of fiscal transparency created justifiable trust issues among boosters and the community at large. Adding to the concern was the pending closure of the NCC, the uncertainty of future conference affiliation, the resignation of the Athletic Director, and a significant budget deficit.
Last year at this time, I shared with you a rather lengthy action plan intended to resolve athletics related issues. I am pleased to report that all aspects of the campus plan have been implemented and considerable progress has been realized. Moreover, I have met with the community commission assembled by President Milliken and it was determined that the campus had appropriately addressed their recommendations and the Commission was dismissed.
Today, with Athletic Director David Miller at the helm, the department is on solid administrative footing, with improving ticket and revenue generation, a new organizational structure, and redesigned budget oversight.
Our entry into the Mid-American Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA) provides a stable and highly competitive DII conference affiliation for the long-term future. In fact, the addition of UNO into the MIAA clearly makes this the premier DII conference nationally.
Two athletic consultants have been working with the department during the past year. Their report which was completed this spring, outlines an overall strategy for improving departmental operations and efficiencies, and offers recommendations for best practices employed at peer institutions. Many of their suggestions have already been implemented with several others still under review.
And, plans are in place for improved marketing of our athletic programs, ensuring that as we work through our three year plan to balance the budget, new sources of external revenue are developed and realized.
Finally, in a meeting with top athletic stakeholders last week, it was gratifying to hear that donor confidence has once again been restored. I believe this will lead to increased booster support and renewed interest in our athletic programs. But their conversation also reminds us that trust can be gone in an instant, and that we must do all we can to ensure that donations are used wisely and for the purposes intended; that fiscal transparency must continue to guide our actions and there is no substitute for institutional integrity.
As you all know we have had several colleagues functioning in interim positions since the Fall semester last year. For those who have stepped up to serve in new roles, please accept our deepest gratitude.
A number of search committees have been constituted and are working hard to fill several key positions within the university. Tim Kaldahl has been named the Director of University Relations, and Deb Smith-Howell is now serving as the Dean for Graduate Studies and the Associate Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs. Dr. Harmon Maher has agreed to serve as the interim associate vice chancellor for research and creative activity, and search committees are reviewing candidates for Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs, and Vice Chancellor for Business and Finance positions. Our goal is to have new Vice Chancellors on campus no later than mid-July and sooner if possible. Also, search committees have been organized and work is underway to hire academic deans for the College of Arts and Sciences and Education. Our hope is these deans are in place by no later than mid-July as well.
If asked to characterize UNO’s physical campus in 2006-07, the phrase “a work in progress” seems particularly well-suited as construction is in various stages of completion throughout the campus on a variety of significant projects. Please know how much your patience and cooperation is appreciated and it will get better.
The CPACS remodel/expansion of the former Engineering Building will provide a state-of-the-art home for a faculty/staff that has tolerated substandard facilities since the very inception of the college. I am very excited about the prospects of the Collaborative Commons which will serve the college well and create a new and innovative gathering place for the university and its community partners.
The Criss Library continues to upgrade its infrastructure with a new foundation, improved lighting, climate controls and technology. The library and its new addition remain a vital resource to our campus and community The dramatic increase in attendance, from 2,000 to 6,000 daily visitors, is testimony to the quality of service and support provided by the faculty and staff of the Library.
The Student Center, with its redesigned Food Court, has become a popular focal point on campus for students to study, meet, and relax.
And, good progress is being made on the new 900 stall parking garage and student housing project, Maverick Village. When completed next August, we will add approximately 400 beds, which will bring our total to about 1,600 students living on campus. Furthermore, the parking garage on the west side of campus should help ease congestion, provide a better balance of parking on the Dodge Street campus, and contribute to improved intra-campus circulation.
The Center Street Campus provides a much needed opportunity to improve our athletic and student recreational facilities. Possibilities for the former Chili Greens site include a home for several of our athletic teams including softball, baseball, and soccer with a practice facility for hockey. Three multipurpose fields have been completed and the dome is being renovated to provide additional multipurpose space. And, of course, work continues on the Ak-Sar-Ben Village project which brings a new dimension of services, entertainment and business/industry to our nearby Pacific Street Campus.
Finally, we received Board of Regents and, most recently, Post Secondary Commission approval to begin renovating and expanding the Health, Physical Education and Recreation building. This three-phased project will significantly enhance campus life opportunities and student heath and wellness facilities and service, while at the same time more effectively supporting the academic mission of the School of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation. Increasingly, the quality of recreation and wellness facilities on campus is among the priorities listed by students as they make their college selection. Many thanks to student government, Faculty Senate and Staff Advisory Council for their support of this project.
Moreover, campus recreation, student services and HPER staff and faculty deserve special recognition for their tireless efforts at making this project a reality.
Each year the Convocation speech is filled with an impressive array of accomplishments by our campus community, and last year was no exception. But, rather than individually list these achievements, I’d like to share some general highlights that are a direct result of quality recruiting, advising, mentoring, teaching and research and creative activity that happens on our campus and in the community each and every day.
Our freshmen to sophomore year retention rate is now 73.7%, up from 70% last year – I believe that is a record.
Our six year graduation rate continues to climb, now reaching 41.3%, a level slightly higher than our peers.
This fall’s enrollment is the second highest since 2002, and the second highest in a decade.
Likewise, this fall we reported the highest ethnic minority enrollments in our history in both numbers and percentages of the total student population. Hispanic enrollments are at an all-time high.
95% of freshmen say that UNO is their first or second choice, while 93% of seniors say they would recommend UNO to a family member or friend seeking a college experience.
The average ACT of our entering freshmen has risen to a 23.4, among the highest in UNO history.
During the past academic year, the Honors Program, which now numbers 771 students and whose average ACT is 29.2, produced a Truman Scholar and an Honorable Mention Goldwater Scholar. Also, new curricular innovations have been implemented including the team taught Synergy linked classes, service learning opportunities, and increased volunteer and internship participation.
Research and creative activity on the campus continues to be an important and growing part of UNO’s academic agenda. In 2006-07, faculty received 117 separate research awards totaling over $8.3 million dollars. Four federal earmark proposals and six Nebraska Research Initiative core proposals were submitted, while 22 UNO faculty received nearly $90,000 dollars in URC funding.
Community Engagement continues to thrive with students spending approximately 300,000 hours during the past year in community settings as part of internships, practica, and service learning. Additionally, a record number of students gave up their spring break to participate in service learning housing rehab projects in South Omaha.
And finally, we are again included among U.S. News and World Report’s Best Midwestern Colleges.
These achievements reflect a campus philosophy that is student centered, excellence driven, and sustained by a long term commitment of faculty and staff to help students succeed and meet their higher education goals. Yet, if we are to continue to serve students to the best of our ability, if we are to “live forward” as Kierkegaard suggested, we must pay attention to five critical areas within the scope of our control. We must embrace an operational model where constructive change is a part of our on-going agenda, decisions are strategic, resources are used efficiently, and excellence is the coin of the realm.
First, we must commit our energies to create a genuine calendar year operation, breaking away from the old agrarian-based nine month academic calendar, as befits a modern and responsive metropolitan university. I believe a calendar year model will create greater teaching, research, and creative flexibility for faculty, address the needs of a 21st century student more effectively, allow for increased campus capacity and efficiency, and create a model which facilitates a more seamless interface with community partners. An operational model such as this would not be withou challenges, but the potential benefits warrant our careful consideration. To aid in this endeavor, a task force has been convened to consider this notion and related issues
Second, we must actively seek out opportunities to expand and develop public private partnerships and collaborative relationships that define us as a metropolitan university. Moreover, we must be engaged in the business of broadening those currently in place. Clearly, every college is involved in a variety of community collaborations and/or partnerships, and the value of this type engagement is obvious. However, I believe that opportunities abound, and I will be asking Academic and Student Affairs to inventory our current activities and make recommendations about a strategy for moving the campus forward in this regard.
Third, we must deepen our relationship with PK-12 partners, so that the road from elementary to middle school, and middle to high school and on to college is paved with initiatives that address these transitions, the achievement gap, poverty, family involvement and support, and issues of access.
I am very proud of the many accomplishment of Metropolitan Omaha Educational Consortium (MOEC) which is a twenty year plus formal partnership with the metropolitan area school districts and UNO. Given changes in the educational landscape this organization has now been expanded to include all the Douglas/Sarpy county school districts and Educational Service Units.
I am also proud of UNO’s strong presence within Omaha’s Building Bright Futures initiative. Our campus faculty and staff have much to offer regarding the education of children and youth in this community, and many of these same students will be our students in the future. Please join me making this a priority.
Fourth, as we seek to expand the horizons for traditional age students, we must also put programs in place that ensure the success of other populations we serve, such as transfer, minority, international, non-traditional, and first generation students.
In other words, we must make an absolute commitment to maintain an inclusive campus which reaches beyond demographic difference and is sensitive to diversity of experience, and values.
I’m currently redesigning the Chancellor’s Commission on Multicultural Affairs. The redesigned commission will advise me on issues of diversity and inclusiveness. Also, we will review support available to the aforementioned populations of students. Our campus provides a variety of support for students; however, a review may assist in identifying any gaps in service or areas needing additional assistance.
Finally, we must remain vigilant and aggressive, pursuing continuous academic improvement, maintaining quality faculty and staff, and creating and maintaining state-of-the-art facilities, equipment, and technology. As I said yesterday, this will support academic and athletic excellence and research and creativity while providing for a rich campus life and college experience.
UNO is a remarkably talented campus, populated with students who invite challenge, a dedicated faculty on the cutting edge of their respective disciplines, and a caring staff on the front lines of our support and service mission. I believe our campus has the desire and talent to contribute to creating efficiencies, improving our effectiveness, or simply, to making UNO a better place at which to teach, learn and serve. To this end, we will be engaging in a continuous campus dialogue intended to embrace constructive change and foster new ideas.
On behalf of myself, and the entire campus community, thank you for your service to UNO, the energy you bring each day, and for the exemplary role you play in making UNO a truly great university. My optimism for the future, which I hope you share, is based upon the outstanding students, faculty and staff who work at, and more importantly, for UNO. This is an exciting time to be a Maverick and I encourage all of you to become fully involved in every aspect of our campus, from attending athletic and performing arts events, to taking part in University committees, new initiatives, and sharing your thoughts on ways we can improve.
I believe strongly in the power of one person to change the direction of the future. The combined power of the nearly 17,000 individuals who learn, teach and serve here is an awe inspiring imagine. Let’s begin today creating the UNO for the future.
Thank you. Please remain seated until the stage party has recessed, and I invite all of you to join us at the reception in the Milo Bail Student Center Ballroom, immediately following.
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