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2008.10.24 > For Immediate Release
contact: Wendy Townley - University Relations
phone: 402.554.2762 - email:

Chancellor John Christensen Delivers Convocation Address

Omaha - What follows is the convocation address by Chancellor John Christensen, delivered Oct. 8, 2008, inside the Strauss Performing Arts Center on the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) campus. Convocation was the official kick-off to UNO's Centennial celebration, which wraps up September 2009.

View photos
from the convocation address, as well as from the dedication ceremony for the new College of Public Affairs and Community Service Building.

“UNO 100: Central to Our City, Fulfilling the Promise”

Good morning, and welcome to UNO’s Fall Convocation and Centennial Kick-off. Many thanks to Sally Ganem and all of our Centennial Hosts, our congressional delegation, Mayor Fahey, Regent Schroeder and members of the Board of Regents, President Milliken, International guests and all of our colleagues from throughout the University of Nebraska system for joining us on this very special day.

One year ago tomorrow, during my installation ceremony as UNO chancellor, a quote from the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard provided a context for my remarks. He wrote: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forward.” UNO’s centennial offers us a time to celebrate its rich history, and all that has made this institution what it is today. But UNO has always been a university with its eye on the horizon…and a place where the accomplishments of the next 100 years will be built on the foundations we lay today. The beautiful montage we’ve just seen highlighted some of the dramatic change at UNO since its founding. Just imagine the possibilities for the future.

One hundred years ago today, UNO’s founders signed Articles of Incorporation, creating “a University for the promotion of sound learning and education. ” The university’s very existence was founded on its ability to study and respond to the “social and civic problems,” afforded by our urban location. Omaha University’s purpose was to help local students realize their higher education aspirations…to be a partner in Omaha’s continuing development and a catalyst for research, collaboration, cultural enhancement and growth. It was, and is, a partnership based largely on hopes and dreams, and grounded in a mutual desire to create a better life for all citizens.

And so, today and throughout the coming year, we celebrate not only what this institution has achieved; we also celebrate the community which is our home, extended classroom, laboratory, and partner. The link between UNO’s success and Omaha’s success is undeniable.

In the heartland of America, our city is a modern, vibrant, ethnically and economically diverse community, with a deep concern for its citizens’ quality of life. The largest city in the state and the 42nd largest in the nation, Omaha is a community on the move. Public education, economic strength, affordable housing, and job opportunities, are frequently cited as community assets. Money Magazine’s rating of Omaha as seventh on its “10 Best Big Cities” list affirms the positive course our community leaders have charted. As residents, we know first -hand that this is a great place to live, work, play, and raise our families. It is also true-- that like many other cities--Omaha faces significant challenges.

However, we trust that a dynamic university/community partnership helps provide a formula for solutions. According to Doug Henton, president of Collaborative Economics, cities are blessed or cursed with “unchanging inherited assets – geography, climate, and population.” On the other hand, he says “created assets,” can be nurtured to become resources for prosperity. Such assets include having an engaged university, research centers, talented people, an entrepreneurial culture, an active network of community services, and a vibrant business core.

In Henton’s view, this new century will be a highly competitive one, where communities willing to combine their strategic, sustained, civic efforts, with those of highly engaged universities will be the eventual victors. Or, as he says, “it’s at the intersection of disciplines and interests, where the sparks really fly.”

Metropolitan communities and their universities are well served to consider the 2007 PriceWaterHouseCoopers “Cities of the Future” report. The report highlights “mega trends” and capital assets likely to play a significant role in future success. Trends likely to be influential include globalization, new paradigms for public/private partnerships, and technological impact in our daily and professional lives. We will also need to nurture critical assets like intellectual, cultural and financial capital.

Likewise, metropolitan universities need to be well prepared to partner with their communities as new and existing challenges must be addressed for the greater good of all.

These challenges include:
• Migration and immigration of both people & knowledge;
• Social cohesion and equality;
• Sustainable economic growth;
• Environmental stewardship;
• Accessible social and health services;
• Crime and Safety;
• Poverty;
• And, a well educated and involved citizenry--to mention a few.

The American Association of State Colleges and Universities examined current and future roles of universities, particularly those in urban settings and said: “Every day, the nation’s state colleges and universities demonstrate, in ways large and small, the linkages with their communities and the world at large. This ‘public engagement’ is essential – embracing outreach, applied research, service learning and more. These linkages reflect a constant challenge for institutions to serve as ‘stewards of place,’ to function as learners, as well as teachers, in tackling issues facing our communities and regions.”

As Andrew Young, the former mayor of Atlanta predicted, “great cities of the future will be where great universities reside.”

UNO’s evolution from a small private college to today’s premier public metropolitan university represents an exciting transformation. Quite simply, as Omaha grew and demanded more from its university, we responded and rose to the challenge. We improved the quality of our academic core and expanded the research enterprise. We partnered more broadly and focused on preparing students not only for existing fields but also for emerging fields. So what is this place called UNO? UNO is home to a highly talented and dedicated community of faculty, staff, and students.

It is a place of outstanding teaching, research and public service, where students are offered an education that will enable them, as our motto says, “to earn a living, and live a cultured life, not as two processes, but as one.” UNO is a place that is inextricably linked to our city, its successes, opportunities, and challenges.

UNO is a place where dreams become reality and lives are changed forever. A place that owes a deep debt of gratitude to visionary leaders like Ron Roskens and Del Weber, who join us today, and generations of faculty and staff who dedicated their professional lives to advancing our campus. UNO is grounded in the belief that this institution could and would serve the greater good of the Omaha and beyond. We didn’t go it alone. Rather, we enjoy the benefit of enormous community support which can only be repaid by applying our collective expertise to the creation of a better tomorrow. UNO is Omaha’s university!

Moreover, we are a place:
- where 18,000 individuals make up our on-campus family,15,000 are students with more than 90% being Nebraskans and of those, 80% are from the metropolitan area;
-where the quality of students who choose UNO is the highest in the history of the campus, and for almost all of them we were their first or second choice;
-where graduation rates are at an institutional high, and 95% of our seniors tell us faculty provide prompt feedback on their academic performance and the institution provides support for student success; and
-where we have the most diverse student body in campus history, and more than half of the student population is comprised of 1st generation college attendees.

We are a place:
-where 91% of seniors say they are satisfied with the knowledge and skills required to earn a degree and 94% say they would recommend UNO to other family members and friends;
-where the honors program and student leadership opportunities flourish;
-where students spent 300,000 hours extending their learning in the community as part of practica, internships, service learning, and active citizenship during just the last year; and
-where UNO ranked first nationally in “value-added” education. That bears repeating.

We are a place:
-where faculty are more satisfied, than our peers, with the value UNO places on quality teaching, opportunities for scholarly pursuits, professional and social relationships with their campus colleagues and administration, partnerships with the community, and student quality;
-where results of a study with Economic Modeling Specialists tell us that UNO’s degree programs today are aligned with and preparing students for approximately 90% of the community’s newly created jobs through 2012; and
-where our highly talented student athletes have a new home in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association, elevating competition and renewing an important aspect of campus life and identity.

We are a place:
-where the campus is adding much needed capacity, including the construction of a new home for Business Administration, renovated and expanded homes for the College of Public Affairs and Community Service and the University Library, new student housing, a new parking structure, a remodeled Student Union and Durham Plaza. We are beginning renovation and expansion for Health, Physical Education, and Recreation, and Phase I of the Center Street University Life Complex is completed, with the design of Phase II approved and in process.

We are the Mavericks; and yes my friends, we are a campus on the move. Our vision for the future is to remain faithful to the early goals of our founders and the core belief that our campus must be student-centered, committed to excellence, and engaged in the community. Together our university/community partnership will ensure a bright future.

We have an incredibly talented faculty and staff and they will need the freedom and support to create and innovate on campus and in the community. New and better ways to engage our students and the community will result from eliminating barriers and bureaucracy, and empowering the faculty.

Tomorrow’s UNO must be prepared to adapt to an ever changing landscape. Although our core mission will remain stable, our strategies and tactics will require flexibility. Students, both traditional and nontraditional, will bring a variety of skills, needs, and experiences to the academy and our policies and practices, pedagogies, and programs need to be readily available to change.

More than ever, we will need to be creative and flexible in providing quality learning experiences for students--in place and at a distance--life-long learners or those seeking professional development, minorities, 1st generation, transfers, and international students as well as those transitioning from our high schools. Our academic delivery methods will necessarily change, use of our human and physical resources must be maximized, course scheduling must accommodate student need and demand, and we must expand opportunities for valued added student engagement in the community.

Tomorrow’s UNO will need to stay relevant. Faculty must be supported to so they are current in their respective disciplines and knowledgeable about the community in which they practice. Academic programs need to align with future talent demands while providing a broad liberal arts foundation that supports discipline expertise and critical thinking skills required in a knowledgebased world. UNO’s research and development, and community engagement agendas should parallel the educational, social, cultural, and economic challenges and opportunities facing cities in the future.

We will need to continue to build people, place, and program capacity. Mammel Hall creates significant capacity for the College of Business, but it also triggers opportunities across campus. Roskens’ Hall will be retrofitted to house the College of Education adding much needed space. Kayser Hall is being considered as a Community Engagement Center, including additional learning and meeting spaces. Longer term capacity building will require strategic consideration regarding the build out of Pacific and Center locations, needs for core science lab and performing arts space, and new locations for Radio/TV, child care, Student Services and Buildings and Grounds.

People and program capacity critical for the future includes significantly expanded support for student assistantships and fellowships, need and merit based aid, new faculty and staff positions toparallel campus growth, professorships and chairs to attract and retain the best and brightest, and excellence funding to provide start up support for new initiatives, and programs of promise.

For the past 100 years UNO has been evolving into what we now call a metropolitan university. We struggled, persevered, and took hard times in stride, with the spirit of progress always prevailing. UNO has been resource poor, people rich, and community nurtured. We have listened, learned, and experienced institutional and life lessons. The time is now for UNO to accept theresponsibility and opportunity of being a national leader among metropolitan universities. As John Fitzgerald Kennedy once said, “we choose these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” I know our best is yet to come, and so I ask each of you to join us in realizing that dream.

This is a time of gratitude for all that has been given us, for the generosity of our community and the tenacity of our founders whose vision lives on in each of us.

- A time of pride—in our students, faculty, staff, alumni and community – and for the privilege of doing what we love, every day.
- A time of celebration and joy, for having come so far.
- And a time of looking to tomorrow…and imagining how we will build on yesterday and today.

We are Central to our City, and we will keep the Promise! Please join me in wishing UNO a Happy Anniversary—Thank you.

Before we adjourn I am pleased and priviledged to announce that Senator Hagel has designated UNO, his alma mater, as the home for his Congressional Archives. Senator Hagel’s archives will be located in the Criss library and we appreciate the work of Dean Shorb and his staff in preparing appropriate accommodations.

Heartfelt thanks to the Senator for his extraordinary gift as part of our anniversary celebration. We are indeed humbled by his generosity which will contribute immeasurably to the rich academic resources we offer our students, faculty and community. His archives will be a window to government and governance for generations to come.

* *

UNO will celebrate its 100th anniversary beginning October 8, 2008. This celebration will recognize the partnership among the City of Omaha, its citizens and UNO to build a vibrant and dynamic community. The centennial theme is “UNO: Central To Our City Since 1908.” This theme acknowledges the past contributions of UNO to the community and sets the stage for great things to come.

UNO, inaugurated in 1968, emerged from the Municipal University of Omaha, established in 1931, which grew out of the University of Omaha founded in 1908. For Centennial information, go to


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