Inaugural Address 2008
University of New Hampshire
September 16, 2008
Granite State Room, Memorial Union Building
Durham, New Hampshire
Chairman Dupont, Chancellor Reno, faculty, students, staff, alumni, trustees and friends. Thank you all for being here today. And thank you for giving me the opportunity to lead this extraordinary place, the University of New Hampshire.
George Washington's second inaugural address was 135 words long and I asked my staff to help me draft something equally concise. For those of you anxious to get to the picnic, I regret to say that they heard me ask for something 135 pages long. But I'll try to read fast.
As many of you know, especially those of you watching this on your computer monitors or listening on your iPods, this is an unusual inauguration ceremony. Although I respect the pomp and circumstance of academic tradition, it was very important to me that this event be both green and frugal. Thus, rather than asking people to travel to Durham, we invited everyone to witness the ceremony online. As a result, this inauguration's carbon footprint is—pretty close to nothing.
Moreover, because we piggy-backed on other events traditionally scheduled for University Day—namely this morning's Academic Convocation and the community-wide picnic this afternoon—and I want to thank the organizers of those other events for letting me partially hijack them—the incremental cost of this inauguration is—approximately nothing.
I hope the Chronicle of Higher Education is paying attention. Last June they ran a front-page story headlined “At Inaugural Galas, Nothing Succeeds Like Excess.” I'd like them to do one about UNH titled “For At Least One Inauguration, Nothing Succeeds Like Nothing.” Although that probably sounds too much like an episode of Seinfeld.
It is an honor to lead this wonderful university, a university that sometimes seems to defy the laws of economics, if not physics. UNH is thriving, when we should be only surviving given our seemingly ever-present and overwhelming challenges.
But you know, challenges are funny things. They can wear you down, to be sure. In the end, though, they are the stone against which one's edge is honed.
One of my favorite historical figures is British polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, a man who was determined to be the first to cross the continent of Antarctica sea to sea. Shackleton failed in that quest. But he succeeded in an even greater one: demonstrating how much human beings can accomplish in the face of towering adversity, given enough will, ingenuity and sheer grit.
After being trapped for nearly a year in pack ice that ultimately crushed his ship, the Endurance, Shackleton and five members of his crew sailed a frail, jury-rigged life boat for 17 days across 800 miles of the coldest and most treacherous seas on earth to the west side of South Georgia Island, an isolated speck of rock in the South Atlantic where they hoped they would find help. After reaching the island, the haggard, weather-beaten and ill-nourished men still had to traverse 22 miles of glaciers and mountain ranges to reach the small whaling station on the east shore. It then took four attempts in three different boats before Shackleton could get back to his ice-bound ship and rescue the remaining members of the crew. But he did get back. And he did rescue them. In fact, not a single member of the Endurance expedition was lost. It was an incredible feat. But Shackleton often said during that journey, as he sought to rally his men, “Difficulties are just things to overcome, after all.”
After my first year as president of UNH, that sentiment resonates. For us, too, difficulties are just things to overcome, after all. Despite scarce resources we succeed. Despite towering challenges, we excel, using what we have at hand—and our own ingenuity and determination. Let me give you some examples of UNH triumphs from the past year.
First, the last bit of ledge has been drilled and the 12.7-mile long Ecoline pipeline is complete. Beginning next semester, we will be powering most of the campus with clean, green, processed-landfill gas. It bears repeating that UNH is the first university anywhere to undertake a project of this magnitude and we are now rightly recognized as one of the most sustainable universities in the country.
Second, the campus looks great. Despite thin capital and meager R&R budgets, we've completed renovations of Fairchild Hall, put up the third residence hall in the Southeast Residential Campus, and completely rebuilt DeMeritt Hall. The new Dairy Bar is now open in the impeccably refurbished Durham-UNH train station, and work on James and New Hampshire Halls is well underway. It is hard to argue with the common observation that the University of New Hampshire has one of the most beautiful campuses in America.
Our intercollegiate teams, men's and women's, were great on the field and on the ice and given the results of the fall season so far, this next year will be a winner as well: Our football team has outgunned Army and outlasted URI. Men's soccer remains unbeaten, as well—and our women have notched a win over Harvard's field hockey team. Equally important, our athletes have excelled in the classroom. Eight of our teams were honored for their high academic achievement last spring, placing us first in America East. The second best America East university, by the way, had four teams recognized.
Had you looked really closely at a clear night sky last March, you might have seen UNH alumnus and NASA astronaut Rick Linnehan pirouetting above you. Rick was part of the Discovery shuttle mission, making him the second UNH graduate to walk in space and make repairs on the International Space Station; the first was Lee Morin, by the way. How cool is that? While most colleges and universities promise a well-grounded education, UNH gives you a chance to take a leisurely stroll 200 miles ABOVE the ground.
Most of you know about the Large Hadron Collider that was activated last week, fortunately without creating a black hole that would have destroyed the earth and probably ruined this inauguration. It is the most powerful particle accelerator ever built, and it has a UNH connection. Senior Austin Purves, as part of an internship, worked alongside two physicists from the European Organization for Nuclear Research, writing computer code for a one of the collider's detecting instruments. He told a reporter last week, “I felt like I was challenged.” I'll be he did!
And of course we had a Grammy Award winner this year at UNH—and not someone from the Music department. Kevin Short, professor of mathematics, earned a Grammy for his role in developing signal processing algorithms to restore the only known recording of the late Woody Guthrie in concert. I'm told that Kevin, when he isn't off on tour, is happy to autograph his algorithms for his old friends here on campus, whom he still remembers fondly.
The University also has launched two important initiatives on the Web this year. UNHToday reaches over 40,000 people a day, enabling them to keep abreast of what is going on at UNH through what I think of as an electronic newspaper delivered on their electronic doorstep every morning. And UNH has a presence on iTunes U—essentially an Apple-UNH partnership that allows anyone in the world to download podcasts and videos that members of the campus community put on the website. It's a great instructional tool—and a terrific way for us to tell our story to prospective students and others who need to know about the exciting things that are taking place on our campus.
And then there's “the gift.” Last June we announced that Peter Paul, son of a country doctor from Troy, New Hampshire and UNH class of '67, would be making the largest single gift in UNH history—$25 million—toward a new college of business and economics. I'll never forget the collective intake of breath I heard in Richards Auditorium when we announced that number back in June. It created a partial vacuum in the back of the room that rustled my notes on the lectern. I think of it as “The Gasp Heard ‘Round the State.” I look forward to becoming so accustomed to announcing eight figure gifts at press conferences that I no longer get a tingle, but I'm not there yet.
Of course, the cost of the new facility is $50 million and the UNH Foundation hopes to close the $25 million gap within the next two years. Ushers will be moving up the aisles at the end of this service with the collection plates.
Seriously, this is a challenge, but one we will meet. We can't afford not to. Peter Paul's gift will allow us to expand our enrollment of business students by 40%, and thereby better serve New Hampshire and the nation. We will also be able to transform our programs qualitatively, allowing UNH to compete with the very best business schools nationally—at undergraduate and graduate levels. In the circumstances, deciding to ask the Board of Trustees to name the new college after Peter was easy. And it was made easier still by knowing that the Whittemore brand, a central part of the UNH story for over 40 years, will not go away, not by any means. In the coming months, I will be working with Dean Innis, the business school faculty, and the Board to name our graduate programs in honor of Laurence Whittemore.
I said that announcing Peter's gift gave me a thrill. So did walking around our undergraduate research conference this past spring. To start with, the sheer size of the conference was overwhelming. Not only was this UNH's largest undergraduate research conference to date, it was the largest such event in the nation. Let me repeat that: UNH hosts the largest undergraduate research conference in America. Yet the real “wow!” is about the quality of the work presented—from health care delivery in hospitals, to China and the World Bank, to students' knowledge, attitudes, and testing behaviors in regard to HIV/AIDS.
Pulitzer Prize winning poet and critic Mark Van Doren said it best: “The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery.” This university is blessed with a faculty that is committed to precisely that art.
Which transitions perfectly to what has to be one of our most satisfying institutional achievements of the year: The administration and the UNH chapter of the AAUP signed a three-year collective bargaining agreement.
But, you know, I really need to return to our students to find the most moving examples of success in the face of great difficulty. First let me tell you about Tyler Walker. Tyler graduated this past May with a dual major in geography and international studies, along with two minors in political science and German. Born without much of his spine and then losing his legs at the age of four, Tyler, a monoskier, has captured more trophies and gold medals than Michael Phelps, including a World Cup win in 2006 in the giant slalom. Last spring, he traveled to the Middle East to present a paper at an international forum on adaptive sports. He and others from UNH's Northeast Passage introduced the country of Qatar to disability inclusion at the university level AND brought the sport of sled hockey to the region. He continues to mentor a five-year-old boy from Qatar with the same disability. For Tyler Walker, difficulties are just things to overcome, after all.
And then there is UNH senior Marie Gakuba. When Marie was eight years old and living in Rwanda, she was forced to flee marauding Hutu militia who were bent on extirpating their Tutsi neighbors. As she hid in the swamps of that central African nation, Marie had to watch helplessly as her 13-year-old brother was shot in the head just 10 feet away. She lived in those swamps with her older sister for three months and survived the genocide, but lost her parents and five other siblings. Marie moved to New Hampshire and graduated from high school in Nashua. She is an Orientation Leader at UNH and works with students of color in our CONNECT program. She is involved with a Rwandan dance team in Dover, and is a member of student grassroots efforts supporting causes in Darfur. Marie speaks at least four languages. Her GPA is 4.0. For Marie Gakuba, difficulties are just things to overcome, after all.
I'm proud of Tyler and Marie—and so many others on this campus.
In fact, before I move on and talk about the year to come, I need
to say a word about the staff at UNH. This is a group of people
that works tirelessly, with great dedication and often too little
recognition. You feed and comfort our students, tend our lawns
and gardens, clean our offices after dark and shovel our sidewalks
before dawn. You are, in a word, amazing. Any one of
you could have accompanied Shackleton on his expedition—trimming
the sails, feeding the dogs, navigating the pack ice, or pulling
on the oars. Without your unstinting efforts, there would be no UNH,
and for that the rest of us are truly grateful.
While we've celebrated some real achievements this year, we've also begun to lay the foundation for even greater success in years to come.
Last winter, for instance, I appointed a Blue Ribbon Panel on Research, co-chaired by Professors Amitava Bhattacharjee and Jan Nisbet. I asked this group to address three questions:
What does UNH need to do now to ensure the vitality of research, scholarship, and creative activity for the next ten years? What is the right mission and organizational structure for the Office of Research and, by extension, the right qualifications for a vice president for research? And how do we ensure that research activities are integrally connected to and supportive of our broader academic mission?
Jan and Amitava and their colleagues have worked more doggedly than any committee I've ever seen. In fact, almost every Wednesday morning for the last eight months I've had to push them out of my conference room so that the Cabinet could convene. I expect their report and recommendations shortly, and when I get them I will share them with the campus community, and will work with the Senate, the Deans' Council and others to see what we can implement and when.
We're also at the launch stage of a second panel, this one examining our model of funding intercollegiate athletics. As I've said in my charge to this group, two things about this matter strike me as fundamentally true. First, intercollegiate athletics are central to the life of the University of New Hampshire. Second, finding ways to pay for such a program has been challenging in recent years, and is likely to become even more challenging in the years ahead. Under the leadership of David Roselle, President Emeritus of the University of Delaware, this panel will, I believe, help us reconcile these truths.
A third initiative I'll mention is in some ways smaller and more focused, but it's one that I also think is very, very important. It's an initiative aimed at helping our friends around the state and region better understand just how important UNH is to our collective well-being. The initiative started with what philosophers call a “thought experiment. What would New Hampshire be like if UNH weren't around, I asked myself? To help answer that question, I commissioned Whittemore School Professor Ross Gittell and one of his graduate students, Ph.D. candidate Josh Stillwagon, to do some analysis. I am hopeful we can roll out their report to our stakeholders later this fall, and I can promise you that this report will transform dull numbers into a bright portrait of UNH's economic impact in the state. Here are two data points from the preliminary results:
First, by even the most conservative accounting standards, UNH annually contributes over $1.3 billion to the state's $50 billion GSP. Not a bad return for a $70 million investment of state dollars.vSecond, at least 1,000 UNH alumni have started companies in New Hampshire, employing thousands of our fellow citizens, many of them in high skill, high tech jobs. That's entrepreneurialism. That's what keeps New Hampshire strong, with one of the highest per capita incomes and lowest poverty rates in the nation. That's a return on investment.
Here's a related example hot off the press: Last week, we announced a licensing agreement with Itaconix LLC to commercialize some “green chemistry” developed by the university's Material Sciences Program. The business plan for this project was developed by UNH graduate student Ming Cao, who earned second place in this year's UNH Holloway Prize Competition. I'm really excited to see a plan in this competition come to life so quickly, especially one that so clearly embodies our commitment to sustainability and a cleaner environment. And I have to point out that I did make a prediction at the competition in May when the winners were announced that one or more of them would be the next big success story in the business community. I didn't expect it quite so soon, but thank you, Ming, for gving me some credibility as an economic forecaster.
We've also begun, as a fourth item, to pull together some people on campus, all of whom are a lot smarter and more tuned in than I am, to think about the future of information technology, including the various phenomena related to social networking, and ask how it will affect everything we do on campus—from admissions and registration through teaching and learning to alumni relations and fundraising—and ask what we need to do now to prepare for a future that none of us can fully apprehend. What we do know is that, as Yogi Berra used to say, the future ain't what it used to be. Students today are, as they say, “digital natives,” the rest of us “digital immigrants.” That's a widening divide we have to figure out how to bridge, and soon.
A fifth initiative has to do with health. The plan here is to reengineer all the vending machines on campus so that they dispense leafy green vegetables, pomegranate juice, and other healthy food instead of candy and soda. Just kidding about that one. We do have a health initiative underway, though, one designed to look comprehensively at how we deliver health care to our employees. We're calling it “Healthy UNH,” and under the able dual leadership of Barbara Arrington, Dean of the College of Health and Human Services, and Dick Cannon, Vice President for Finance and Administration, this task force will ask whether we are getting the best return on our health care dollars—and what other investments might make sense. Here's a benchmark: We are now spending $40 million a year of UNH money on health—plus all the dollars that YOU'RE out of pocket every year for co-pays and other health-related expenses. That's a lot of money. And it's not clear we are getting full value for it. This is a hard problem, to be sure. But we have a lot of expertise right here on campus and we'll make use of it.
A sixth project we have under way—and this has been the least gratifying, but in some ways the most urgent—has been the ongoing effort, anchored in the Central Budget Committee, to grapple with what I've been calling our “structural budget deficit.” You know about this one because I've sent out a string of missives over the last few months—and I don't blame you, when you see a memo from me, if you are inclined to pick it up with tongs. We still have a long way to go with this one. Between declining state support, pressures to moderate growth in tuition, rising health and energy costs, and a number of equally unpleasant variables, we've got real budget challenges, especially in the so-called “out years” of 2011 and beyond. But there is at least a little good news. Thanks to the budget discipline we've already imposed and to more robust-than-forecast revenues for the current fiscal year, I am pleased to be able to announce that, effective immediately, there will no longer be a central hiring freeze. Units in surplus and meeting reserve targets will be able to return fully to existing RCM protocols.
That's welcome news, I know, to many of you. And it is to me, too. But I'd be less than true to my nature as a GUARDED optimist—someone who is certain that the future is bright, but is equally certain that it is incumbent on us to make it so through sober reflection and careful preparation—if I didn't say that we are going to have to monitor financial developments closely, continue our frugal husbanding of resources and redouble our efforts to chip away at structural budget challenges.
In saying this, I'm reminded again of Shackleton. Recalling what he thought was a moment of hope during their harrowing voyage in that small open boat, Shackleton wrote: “I called to the other men that the sky was clearing, and then a moment later I realized that what I had seen was not a rift in the clouds but the white crest of an enormous wave.”
Actually, I don't think we're facing any sky-obliterating rogue waves; I just like to quote Shackleton. But I do believe in being prepared, and in the hope that you don't have a fatal case of initiative fatigue yet, let me mention a seventh and final effort—an especially future-defining effort—and that is the development of a comprehensive, campus-wide strategic plan. The purpose of this effort can be stated in a simple question: What do we need to do NOW to ensure that this great university moves to the next level of excellence over the next five to ten years?
Through a highly inclusive, bottom-up process, one that will be sometimes messy but always creative and forward–looking, we will identify by the end of this academic year four or five galvanizing initiatives, bold ideas about where we want to go and how we plan to get there. Again, everyone in the extended UNH family will be drawn in—faculty, staff, students, alumni, trustees and community members, without preconceptions as to the outcome. Together we will forge a common vision, common strategy, common commitment and common enthusiasm for moving UNH forward. Not at all incidentally, the strategic plan will excite our donors and friends and, in turn, tee off our next major capital campaign.
On that note: Let me say a few words about the pending campaign and fundraising in general.
For anyone listening who has benefited from a UNH education, I want you to reflect for a minute about what made your own college experience possible. You or your parents may well have paid a hefty tuition bill. You may have worked hard and saved money during the summer, or even washed dishes in one of the dining halls. You probably took out student loans. But if you add up all those dollars—and even add in the few dollars that the State of New Hampshire kicked in—you still didn't pay in full for the invaluable experience you had on our campus. The difference between what you were out of pocket—even if you paid full tuition—and what your education actually cost was a gift from generations that preceded you—a scholarship, an endowment, the capital cost of a building, all precious dollars from dedicated alumni and friends.
For some of you, those gifts constitute what one might think of as a margin of excellence: a better equipped lab, the opportunity to study abroad, or the chance to work with a world class scholar. For others of you, though—those whose basic education was underwritten in whole or in part by donations from alumni and friends—those extra dollars weren't just the margin of excellence. They were the difference between getting a college education and not getting a college education.
Making a donation to help a young man or young woman be the first in his or her family to go to college is enormously gratifying, and clearly something worthy in and of itself. But it is also an outstanding example of a gift that keeps on giving, for what more effective way is there to change our world for the better, for all of us, than by making possible the next generation of scientists and social workers and poets and professors? I would submit that there is none. And that's what UNH does: Change the world, one educated student at a time.
And, one professor at a time. We announced last spring a new University Professorship and three Presidential Chairs—awarded to Kevin Short, physicist Marty Lee, Bill MacDowell in natural resources, and Janet Polasky in history. These are all supported through the generosity of the UNH Foundation and awarded to full professors who have demonstrated the highest levels of excellence in teaching, scholarship (including the creative arts), and service during an extended period of tenure at UNH. Private dollars help everyone.
All of our donors understand this implicitly. But I want to mention one man in particular this afternoon, a friend of UNH who not only recognizes the crucial role that education has in shaping a better world, but someone who is passionate about spreading that message to others. He is Dana A. Hamel. Dana and his late wife Kathryn Poore Hamel have been friends and benefactors of the University for many years, believing that UNH can and must play a dominant role in determining the state's political, cultural, and economic future. I am pleased to announce today that the Hamel family has given $5 million to establish The Hamel Scholars Program—an endowed scholarship to benefit high achieving New Hampshire kids in their first year at UNH, renewable for four years; and The Hamel Scholars, which consist of the best and brightest junior and senior students at UNH who have distinguished themselves academically, have demonstrated good character, and are involved in campus activities and causes.
Has this been a meaningful gift? Well, because we just launched it, it should be hard to say. In fact, though, I can tell you this: When the academic year began, I posed with more than 2,700 new students for the annual “class photo” on T-Hall lawn. When we were finished, one young man walked up to me and introduced himself as a recipient of a Hamel Scholarship, noting how great he thought it was that I had called him personally last spring to tell him of the award. He shook my hand, thanked me, and told me what a huge difference it made to him and his family. As much as I've practiced telling you this story, I still get a little choked up. I think about the “what-if.” What if that endowed scholarship had not been available? Or from my own experience as an undergraduate: What if someone had not made a scholarship possible for my college education? I can assure you, I would not be standing before you today.
There are hundreds of what-ifs at UNH…what if UNH did not have a world-renowned Earth, Oceans and Space institute? What if our business school could not expand and dramatically improve its facility and curriculum? What if we didn't have the Whitt? What if there was no Office of Sustainability? What if we did not have private support to attract top-notch faculty like Amitava Bhattacharjee, Mil Duncan, David Pillemer, Bob Woodward, Corrina Tucker, and Kelley Thomas?
When I arrived at UNH a little more than a year ago, I heard phrases like, “We need to change the culture of philanthropy,” or “We have to expand the culture of philanthropy.” Let me be blunt: UNH needs to create a culture of philanthropy. Although UNH concluded a $100 million capital campaign in 2002 and although some far-sighted people like Dana Hamel and Peter Paul have exhibited extraordinary generosity, we have not had a sustained history of significant private giving. UNH is ranked only 11th in the value of its endowment out of our standard comparator group of 14 public universities. In fact, six of those comparators institutions with which we like to think we are fully competitive, have endowments at least twice as large as ours. At least two of them have endowments in excess of a billion dollars.
That's where we have to head, and to do so it is essential that we create a culture of philanthropy, one rooted in the recognition that no one has paid their tuition in full. We all need to give back.
As some of you know, one of my extra-curricular interests is aviation. Often, when I'm not pressed to get someplace in particular, I find myself flying lazy circles around the UNH campus. I often wonder when I'm up there what our first benefactor, Benjamin Thompson, thought about down here when he willed his Durham farm to what would become the University of New Hampshire. What did he imagine when he stood in his fields so long ago? Prescient fellow though he was, surely he could not have seen that ice cores bored from glaciers in Greenland would one day be housed in a Morse Hall. Or that his farm would nurture a national Poet Laureate. Or that it would house a Carsey Institute known around the country as “the rural Brookings.” He might not be surprised by the Organic Dairy or our commitment to local agriculture, but he might wonder what the fuss was about and why it took us so long.
I don't know, of course, what Ben Thompson thought about all those years ago. Nor can I stand here today and tell you what our heirs a century on will think that we imagined. I can tell you what I want them to think, what I will work to have them think: That those of our generation took Ben Thompson's inheritance and made it strong for the 21st century. We secured our ship for the heaviest of seas and set it on the right course. We made it a place of opportunity for all eager to learn, regardless of means. We made it a place that pushed the frontiers of knowledge and human awareness, by supporting research and creative endeavor. We made it a place that served the people of our state, our region, our nation, our world by translating what we learn in our laboratories and our libraries, on our farms and in our classrooms into richer lives for all.
Though mindful of the difficulties, I am glad to be here at this pivotal time in our common history and I thank you for the honor and privilege you have bestowed on me. Public higher education is beleagured today, to be sure. New Hampshire may well be the proverbial canary in the academic coalmine. But to paraphrase a thought from another of my favorite historical figures, Winston Churchill, “We shall draw from the heart of difficulty itself the means of our inspiration and survival.”
My assurance to all of you is that we will see our challenges through, with confidence and resolution, and come out on the other side stronger and more vital than ever before. Difficulties are just things to overcome, after all.