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A Letter From the President

January 31, 2007

Dear Colleagues,

I hope the new semester is going well for you in these early weeks of classes, committee meetings, and attending to your scholarly commitments; and I hope you find yourselves energized, as I am, to embrace the opportunities that UNH has to offer. Before I write about these opportunities, as well as about the challenges ahead, I must begin by acknowledging two significant losses in the UNH family. Danielle Thompson, a speech pathology major and senior class member, died of meningitis in early January, and our beloved Don Murray died unexpectedly just before the New Year. It deeply saddens me to begin my letter with this news, but hopefully we may all take comfort in knowing that we are a better University because of Danielle and Don’s many contributions.

I spent much of the holiday break reflecting on my first six months as your interim president and gave a great deal of thought to the work we have ahead of us. As I stated in June, at the time of my appointment, the University of New Hampshire is very much a dynamic university – one that could not stand still even if it wanted to. The work of our faculty, students, and staff advances the University’s mission in a variety of exciting ways. Some of our accomplishments over the recent months attest to this:

  • The University of New Hampshire’s Crimes against Children Research Center and Verizon hosted a town hall meeting to discuss the design of a child-safe Internet. Hundreds of leaders from academia; local, state, and federal government; and the business community highlighted their partnership to meet the challenges of an increasingly hostile Internet.
  • UNH hosted an open house to showcase Project54, the voice-activated police cruiser developed by University of New Hampshire engineers. Project 54 incorporates several new innovations – including datacasting with New Hampshire Public Television – putting law enforcement in New Hampshire and across the nation on the very cutting edge.
  • Alumni, businesses and industry have contributed more than $3 million so far to the University of New Hampshire’s Kingsbury Hall renovation and expansion project, which is helping to provide our students with the very best teaching and research tools.
  • A dedication ceremony was held for the Hamel Center for Undergraduate Research. The Hamel Center makes a significant contribution to the undergraduate experience at the University. In collaboration with other academic programs, the center develops opportunities for interested, qualified students to participate in research activities with faculty members and to prepare for advanced research, senior projects, senior theses, and capstone experiences.
  • The Carsey Institute, through its extensive research, determined that in forty-one states, a higher percentage of rural children live in poverty today than they did five years ago. This kind of research has a significant impact on state and national social welfare policies.
  • As of this writing, the number of applications for next year’s entering first-year class has already exceeded the record number received at the same time last year. However, we are committed to returning to projected first-year class sizes of around 2700, to assure adequate housing and high quality classroom experiences for our first-year students.
  • And, as you all know, we won many exciting football games with record-breaking attendance. Men’s and women’s hockey continue to build on their stellar records. As of this writing, the men are ranked number one in the country.

I had the pleasure and the privilege of witnessing these and many more successes – from the opening day of the new academic year right up to the last moments before winter break, when I heard from so many of you at the holiday skating party about your work and your love for UNH. I do not take credit for any of the accomplishments; they are all yours and they are greatly admired.

This does not mean we are without our challenges – they were here when we left before the holidays and they will be with us through the spring semester. And I do take responsibility for addressing them. Knowing, and witnessing over and over last fall, the incredible resolve this community has for making this an exceptional university, I have no doubt good solutions will prevail. But we ALL are going to have to roll up our sleeves and work together in order to accomplish the tasks at hand. There are many, and I would like to summarize some of them below.

The University System will make a case for its biennial budget request before the state legislature in the coming months. The USNH request, if approved, would hold tuition increases over the biennium to 4.5 percent each year and expand need-based financial aid substantially above that rate. The System’s proposed budget is based on a request for a 7.6 percent increase in general funds for each year of the biennium.

As most of you know, the USNH Board of Trustees gave conceptual approval for an innovative pipeline project which would transport methane gas from the Turnkey Recycling and Environmental Enterprise in nearby Rochester. UNH staff and faculty are working on the feasibility of replacing commercial natural gas with processed landfill gas. If we conclude this is a viable and worthy endeavor, UNH will reduce its exposure to fluctuations in the energy market and ensure a greater measure of stability with respect to future energy costs. Our energy costs have doubled in the past five years from $6.3 million to $12.5 million annually. That’s an average annual growth rate of 18.9 percent.

Just prior to the holiday break, mediation ended between the administration and the faculty union. Both sides are now working hard to identify a fact-finder so the process can move along to what we hope will be an agreement later this spring.

The University is undertaking two significant financial reviews over the next nine months. The first completes the recommendations that resulted from the RCM review process relative to hold harmless and strategic funding. The second review requires that all units receiving funding from the general assessment assess their operations and provide justification for funding via this mechanism. My expectations are that we can reduce the rate of growth of the general assessment and provide a clear rationale to the campus for the programs and services that are funded via this mechanism. The process requires each unit to submit a report to the CBC for review and analysis. The CBC will then discuss with unit management and make recommendations to me.

Overall, the University’s financial health is good in the current fiscal year. This is partly due to the growth in enrollment in our undergraduate and graduate populations. However, significant financial challenges lie ahead in FY08 and beyond. We are hopeful that we will receive good news from the state regarding the University System of New Hampshire’s request for an increase to our operating funds. We continue to be challenged with providing need-based financial aid for our undergraduate students. We are expecting a significant decline in research funding over the next few years. We are faced with increasing medical benefits for our employees as well as funding the upkeep of our buildings and infrastructure. We also need to keep salaries competitive with the marketplace to attract and retain the best and brightest faculty and staff. To address these challenges, we are seeking to grow our research activity and revenues through competitive awards. We are working with USNH to come up with strategies to address medical benefits. And, we need to increase our income from private gifts to support the operations of the University. The work will be challenging, but I am confident we will succeed.

Finally, results of a vote of faculty and staff taken last month in the College of Life Sciences and Agriculture overwhelmingly endorsed the COLSA Strategic Plan for 2007-2012. The vote among faculty and staff was 99 in favor of the new direction, and one person opposed. The COLSA Strategic Planning Committee is to be commended for their collective due diligence in this collaborative process. Next, faculty and staff in the College will be voting from now until the end of January on a new structure to support the plan.

While this may all seem rather daunting, we are accustomed to challenges and opportunities and I am confident we will find workable solutions. But, let me assure you that when I began leading this great institution last summer, the list of challenges was as long, and perhaps longer. There were days and weeks when I wondered how we would get it all done. But again, I had the privilege of witnessing great achievements on this campus and I do know, going into this second semester, we will accomplish all that we have set out to do. And, as we have always done, we will do it together.

Best wishes to you all for a productive spring semester. Despite the winter weather, Honors and Commencement are just around the corner. As you may have heard, President George H. W. Bush and President William J. Clinton, the 41st and 42nd Presidents of the United States, have accepted our invitation to be this year’s keynote speakers. We are honored that they have agreed to share this special occasion with our University community.

J. Bonnie Newman
Interim President

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