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Prior to his inauguration, President Philip E. Austin sat down with Advance editor Thomas Becher to talk about his vision and the University's direction. Here's what he had to say:
What is Philip Austin's vision for UConn - and where do you want UConn to be in the future?
We must take advantage of our potential as the state's premier public research university - that means the pursuit of excellence in everything we do at UConn.
We must continue to pursue high-quality instructional, research and service programs, while at the same time being attentive to the fact that the University has to be responsive to the needs of all the state's citizens. It must strive to be increasingly diverse in both student body and faculty representation. And we must make certain that students are not excluded from this University because of their economic circumstances.
We must also fulfill our responsibilities to the state of Connecticut. The mission of the institution is teaching and learning, but when public research universities pursue their teaching and learning missions with an eye toward excellence, it has the secondary effect of attracting new companies, expanding employment opportunities and stimulating the economy.
You've had the chance to assess the opportunities at UConn. What is your overall impression of the University?
The potential is enormous. Most of the limiting factors have to do with the budgetary environment this University has operated under for the past decade. It continues to be a barrier. Great opportunities arise from UConn 2000 and the matching grant program to enhance endowments. Still, we must do something to increase the state's investment in our academic programs. With appropriate state support, the opportunities for improvement and expansion increase dramatically.
What messages do you expect to give through your inaugural speech?
The speech has three themes: the pursuit of excellence; access for students with different backgrounds and ideas; and service to our state and nation. I also believe that the University must make a renewed commitment to our land-grant philosophy. This calls for providing high quality educational opportunities at affordable prices to students from all backgrounds - economic, racial and geographic.
I also reiterate our commitment and promise to those whom we educate. When our students leave UConn, they must leave with an appetite to continue learning over a lifetime. They will know how to learn on their own, think clearly, communicate persuasively, and have an understanding and acceptance of people who are different.
You've taken on the role of being the University's primary contact with donors and policy makers. How do you feel about that role?
My role as president is a dramatic change from that of previous UConn presidents. The Board of Trustees has made a strategic decision that the president will lead the effort to represent the University to elected officials, business leaders and major donors. I'm quite comfortable with that assignment. I understand fully that there is a cost and a discomfort that's always incurred during a period of change.
Where do the regional campuses fit into your vision for the University?
Storrs will always be the home of the main campus. But we must recognize that, as a land-grant institution, we have a philosophical imperative and also political and pragmatic reasons to take programs to people in other parts of the state who cannot come to Storrs. I'm talking about our campuses at Stamford and Avery Point, Hartford and Farmington, Waterbury and Torrington, and also about reaching every corner of the state through the use of technology.
What other steps are you taking to make UConn a truly statewide university?
Because of resource constraints, we can't offer everything to everybody in every place. But we should make it easier for students to begin their college careers at a UConn campus and, in certain cases, to complete their degree at a regional campus. It is part of the outreach that is consistent with the original land-grant philosophy. If we want to be a statewide university and we want a broad coalition of support in the legislature, it's also a political requirement. The regional campuses must be strengthened, beginning with our new downtown Stamford campus, and our marine sciences campus at Avery Point.
If we don't get the budget you've requested, how can we truly achieve those goals and become a world-class university?
Under any circumstances - whether or not we get the budget I've requested - it is necessary for us to change the way we do business. It's absolutely essential that UConn be more heavily invested in helping the state achieve its goals and improve its quality of life. And we must focus on programs that have the potential to achieve our objective.