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Perlman: UNL must keep moving forward
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is making vast strides and its overall momentum is unmistakable – and yet, UNL has arrived at a key point in its history where faculty and staff will almost certainly be challenged as they continue to reach toward further excellence, Chancellor Harvey Perlman told faculty and staff Sept. 30.
“Nebraska is not the university we were 15 years ago. Because of good fortune, extraordinary external support from friends and alumni, and a collective internal commitment to drive this university forward, we are now a far better university,” he said to assembled guests during his final State of the University address.
“We are a member of the Big Ten; there are issues on which we are regarded as the premier source of talent and information in the world; we are engaged in cutting-edge research that tries to solve some of the most intractable issues facing the human condition; we are actively engaged as a land-grant institution in improving the economy of our state; and, most significantly, we have an undergraduate program that is increasingly vibrant, exciting, broad and attractive to young people from Nebraska, the country and the world,” he said.
But an institution that is not moving forward is falling behind, Perlman said to assembled faculty and staff at the Lied Center for Performing Arts and others watching via live stream.
“We have achieved a plateau well above the valley we once inhabited, but well below the peaks of our potential,” he said. “As in any climb, the air becomes more rarified and the climbing becomes more difficult. We have achieved because we took calculated risks. There will always be those who seek the comfort of the present or who fear the expected reactions of those who resist change. We cannot let them fashion our future.”
Earlier this year, Perlman announced he would step down as chancellor on June 30, 2016.
There were moments of levity in Perlman’s speech. At one point, he conveyed an anecdote about people asking him how he was able to serve as chancellor for so long – when he steps down, he will be UNL’s second-longest-serving chancellor.
“I followed that sage advice: Don’t retire until you’ve irritated enough people to make it worthwhile,” he said. “I think I have satisfied that criteria.”
Rather than using the address to outline specific goals as he has in past years, Perlman emphasized the significance of a number of campus plans already in motion that are imperative to the university’s long-term success.
Colleges and programs
Perlman said there is further work to be done in the College of Architecture and the College of Engineering, as well as with UNL efforts in computer science, the humanities and the social sciences that can strengthen the university’s station.
Regarding engineering, the chancellor noted the college’s steady progress in the last three years under the guidance of Dean Tim Wei. He noted that the college is positioned to contribute even more to UNL’s enrollment growth and research momentum. The engineering college also is critical to the state’s economic advancement and its competition with other states for the brightest minds, he said.
“For Nebraska, the production of more engineering graduates is critical for its economic advancement and here we are in competition with every other state — all of whom face a critical shortage of STEM graduates,” Perlman said.
Computer science, particularly in software applications, is another field where demand for graduates exceeds supply, and where UNL is in a unique position to keep Nebraska competitive. He noted that UNL’s computer science and engineering department is developing a new software engineering program to respond to industry demand, and it attracted Steve Cooper from Stanford to build on the extraordinary success of the Jeffrey S. Raikes School of Computer Science and Engineering.
“With active computer education programs both in Lincoln, and at UNO, and the unique capabilities of the Raikes School, we must find ways to respond to the workforce needs of Nebraska companies. Needs, I should add, that are experienced by companies around the world,” he said.
The chancellor also mentioned initiatives led by Vice Chancellor of Research and Economic Development Prem Paul and Joe Francisco, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, to engage the humanities and social sciences in UNL’s institutional efforts.
“I am convinced that both humanities and the social sciences will be proven to be more and more critical to solving the problems that face the world, including food production, global climate change, early childhood education, the growing income disparity, cyber security and so many more,” Perlman said. “Even in the age of science, human interactions and human understanding will have much to say about the acceptance and translation of scientific findings into public policy. I do not think it is heresy to explore how the humanities can contribute to economic development.”
Growth, diversity and international engagement
Noting that the university’s enrollment reached an all-time high of 25,260 this fall, Perlman acknowledged his goal to raise enrollment to 30,000 within seven years.
An important part of this increase will be the concurrent growth of graduate student enrollment and increased faculty capacity, he said. UNL also has restructured its enrollment management effort under the interim leadership of Interim Dean of Enrollment Amy Goodburn and has asked James Volkmer to fill the new position of director of enrollment strategy and analytics.
“It remains critical that we meet our enrollment objectives – this state desperately needs an expanded, young, skilled workforce,” Perlman said.
Yet, if UNL does not meet the 2020 goal, he said he knew “it will not be attributable to any lack of skill or energy on our admissions staff or the full commitment of the campus community.”
The chancellor said the the university should should not underestimate the importance diversity has in enhancing its stature. He said that in the past five years the percentage of freshmen that are students of color on campus has increased from 11 to 16 percent.
In the last year, he said, UNL restructured diversity efforts. It refocused the Office of Equity and Compliance, now headed by Susan Foster, who Perlman said “is positioning us well to meet our responsibilities.”
The restructuring also considered that academic affairs, student affairs, and human resources would identify a diversity officer in each unit to be responsible for activities and programs designed to improve diversity efforts, Perlman said.
“We need to have our faculty and staff reflect, if not America, at least the diversity of our student body,” he said.
Joy Castro, professor of English and ethnic studies, was asked by academic affairs to think through UNL’s diversity efforts and to make recommendations, Perlman said. Castro’s subsequent report contains “a broad, thoughtful set of recommendations that should be considered,” he said – including some that have already been implemented. One of those recommendations seems a precursor to the others: an outside, independent diversity audit of UNL programs.
“I intend to implement that audit, and academic affairs will be moving forward to recruit a full-time assistant vice chancellor for diversity,” the chancellor said.
UNL will only reach its potential if it continues its efforts to engage globally, Perlman said. Noting that almost 10 percent of the student body now comes from abroad, he said the university also is engaged in programs to convince domestic students to study abroad. Other UNL international efforts include partnerships in India, China, Brazil, Vietnam, the Middle East and North Africa, among others.
Nebraska Innovation Campus
The chancellor continued to take the long view regarding the developing research campus, which is designed to facilitate new and in-depth partnerships between the university and the private sector. At full build-out, NIC will be a 2.2-million-square-foot campus with uniquely designed buildings and amenities that inspire creative activity and engagement, transforming ideas into global innovation.
“In studying other such developments, we know that success is best assured if there is a strong, initial university presence on the property,” Perlman said, such as the textile department at North Carolina State’s Centennial Campus.
UNL has imitated that approach with the Department of Food Science and Technology’s recent move to NIC. The fit, he said, was perfect – the department focuses on one of UNL’s comparative advantages and has a long history of engagement with businesses.
He said that he and Interim Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Ronnie Green will create an interdisciplinary task force to explore how the various disciplines can impact the production and consumption of food. His hope, he said, is that the task force could not only describe existing opportunities, but also to think creatively about how UNL might create a campuswide national center of innovation for the food industries.
“Food science is broad enough to include a wide segment of disciplines at the university. Providing food for consumption is a major industry. It is an industry, in part life-sustaining, and in part entertainment,” the chancellor said. “It is both art and science. It depends on the physical sciences for production and the human sciences for consumption. It is difficult to think of a discipline that could not participate if we set out to claim ‘food science’ as a best of class feature of this university.
“… Innovation Campus should be more than just a set of new buildings on the former state fairgrounds,” he said. “It should energize and infect the entire campus with the spirit of innovation, of risk-taking, and of entrepreneurship.”
The next 15 years mark an opportunity for UNL to build areas where it is the acknowledged leader in the world, he said.
“Innovation Campus has the potential to invigorate the economy of Nebraska. More importantly, however, I believe it has the potential to refashion the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.”