UConn Advance
President Philip E. Austin
Inaugural Speech
April 17, 1997

The installation of a university president is less the inauguration of an individual than the rededication of an institution. It marks a point along the Universitys historical path. I have called the University of Connecticut home for only six months, yet I am absolutely certain of the great potential of this University.

Let me say, also, that while I am relatively new to Connecticut, we share a common heritage. My roots, like yours, are in one of the most farsighted of all the great American innovations--the land grant university. In fact, I received all of my formal higher education at land grant universities. The University of Connecticut may appear at first glance to be very different from other universities at which I have been privileged to have been employed -- at three different public universities in different parts of this country. Yet UConn, including the regional campuses, the Law School, and the Health Center in Farmington, is an institution that shares with all the great public universities across the United States a common tradition and a common set of assumptions about America's future.

That tradition--and those assumptions--embody three concepts that are as valid as they are familiar to people concerned with higher education. They stand at the heart of what this administration will represent. They define our future agenda.

The first is excellence in our academic programs -- at the undergraduate, graduate, and professional levels, in the classrooms, the laboratories, and the libraries.

The second is access for the people of Connecticut, regardless of race, gender, national origin--or economic condition.

The third is service -- to the state and beyond.

We have multiple responsibilities at the University of Connecticut. We seek to fulfill all of them. But we have no greater responsibility than to enable our students to expand their range of knowledge about the world, and their role in making that world a more tolerant, a more secure, a more productive, a more beautiful, and a more equitable place. Those goals are worth working for, worth arguing for, worth struggling for. They merit an investment of dollars; they merit moral support. And I believe that this University will use that investment and that support to make itself a model for the public universities of America.

I came to Connecticut last October firmly convinced that no public university in the United States is better positioned to improve, and improve dramatically, the level of excellence, access, and service it offers. I retain that conviction. The University of Connecticut has been an important University for many decades. Now it has the potential to become a great University--one of the handful of public institutions that define what a state can do when it makes a commitment of resources and a commitment of will.

That was a commitment that Connecticut renewed in 1995 when this state's leaders--many of whom are here today--authorized the long and ambitious journey we call UConn 2000.

Evidence of that journey's early steps surrounds us today, a silent but powerful statement of the work of the Governor, Senator Sullivan, Speaker Ritter, other state legislators, and of the leaders of business and labor who joined forces with members of the Board of Trustees, alumni, administration, faculty, staff, and students to develop an ambitious plan and turned that plan into reality. On behalf of the entire University, I express our deepest gratitude to you, the leaders who brought UConn 2000 into being.

Nothing is more important to the quality of life in this state than educational excellence. Nothing is more important to Connecticut's economic development. But even more fundamentally, nothing is more important to our sense of who we are as citizens of a human community and a democratic society. UConn 2000--like the University of Connecticut itself, and like all the great American universities--represents a commitment to the concept of education for its own sake, and on its own merits. It is in truth the foundation for all which lies ahead.

Returning to our three concepts, let me begin with the concept of excellence.

I offer today a statement of purpose and partnership. I look to the day when excellence in all programs of this institution will be widely acclaimed, the day when the outstanding students and distinguished professors from throughout the country will compete to become members of the UConn community. Achieving this goal will require careful investment, intellectual rigor, focused leadership, and above all, a partnership dedicated to the principle of excellence in all we do. And the members of this partnership are all here today.

What should the State of Connecticut expect from the University? This state has the right to expect outstanding academic programs ­ demanding and meaningful curricula offered by faculty whose members remain intellectually rigorous over the course of their careers, teaching freshmen as well as doctoral level seminars, advising undergraduates as well as engaging in research, and enriching the life of the campus outside of the classroom as well as within.

The people of Connecticut have the right to expect an efficient operation, the setting of clear priorities, and the reallocation of resources to those priorities. They have the right to expect that we will maximize other sources of revenue, whether through the aggressive competition for research grants and contracts or through private fundraising. Most of all, they have the right to expect this University to continually improve - without a pause in its quest for overall excellence.

But this is, after all, a partnership. The University, also, has a set of legitimate expectations. We have the right to expect reasonable and stable levels of state support. We have the right to expect acknowledgment of the value of the partnership ­ that the University is not a drain on state finances, but rather an investment that reaps dividends for the entire state.

UConn graduates thoughtful, responsible, and productive citizens. Our research programs expand knowledge for their own sake and in many cases harness the power of research to the strength of this states business enterprises. Our service programs contribute heavily to the quality of life in Connecticut. Even our extracurricular programs, most notably our athletic teams, unite the state in pride and anticipation. Surely these are contributions of great value, not only to students and alumni, but also for the State of Connecticut.

But even as we concentrate on improving excellence by today's standards, we need to recognize a powerful, and at times a painful, truth. The pace of change is quickening in higher education, as it is in the rest of the world. The essential concepts of quality remain constant; they have through the centuries. But the means by which we achieve quality are being altered by a technology only a few of us fully understand--and more than a few of us misunderstand.

We will focus heavily in the coming years on the expanded use of technology to help us fulfill our mission. We will be asking our faculty throughout the University to capitalize more fully on technological advances to enhance teaching.

For increasing numbers of students in the future, technology will complement, and in some cases substitute, for the traditional classroom.

We will be asking business to work with us as we prepare our students for a technology-dominated economy-- even as we join with business to help meet their needs and prepare them to compete successfully in an increasingly globalized economy.

Let me continue with our second agenda item which is access to our academic programs.

We will seek to serve all qualified people of our state.

But we do so in the knowledge that no great university can be all things to all people, and those that have followed that route have generally found that they served no one well. Connecticut's people know that. They expect--they have every right to expect--that their public higher education system should have a place for every qualified high school graduate.

But they also have the right to expect that their state's public flagship institution have its own special identity. The University of Connecticut should be the school of preference for the most ambitious and talented young people produced by our secondary schools.

This June 27,000 students will graduate from Connecticut high schools. About 2,700 of the strongest will come here in September. Next June about 28,000 students will graduate from high school in Connecticut and I intend to see that a significantly higher proportion come here as a first choice based on the reputation of our academic programs and the quality of our campus life.

I want to emphasize that that commitment to making our campuses the place of preference for the most talented of our young people is consistent with our equally compelling commitment to extend a special welcome to students, faculty, and staff who reflect the diversity of the state--and of the world.

I believe in inclusion, and that belief will not be tailored to fit this or any year's political fashion. I have seen it work, and work well in several places, and I have seen it enrich the quality of education for all involved in every one of them. As long as I am here, this University will be committed to inclusion, to fairness, to leveling the playing field, and to reaching out to the underrepresented.

This includes a special emphasis on enhancing the economic diversity of our student body. No land grant institution should ever price itself beyond the capacity of middle income or poor families. For access to be a reality, our tuition and other costs must stay within tightly constricted bounds. And for those students whose family income lies below the middle range, we need to provide ample scholarship assistance at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. No talented individual should ever be prevented from attending this state's premier public University on the basis of economic need.

Finally, as the president of a University which also is a land grant, sea grant and space grant institution, let me address the concept of service.

Some of you may know of Clark Kerr, who was one of the great American educational leaders of this century. Kerr brought the University of California through a decade of expansion and strife, and built it into one of the first of the great multiversities.

After he left in 1967, Kerr wrote that for all great universities "the borders of the campus become the boundaries of the state." It was true in California and it is certainly true here in Connecticut. No Connecticut family--and no Connecticut business--is located scarcely more than a half-hour drive from a University of Connecticut campus. Indeed, we are so tightly integrated into the state's fabric that we run the risk of forgetting how important it is to sustain and nurture the relationship between the University and the larger community.

The concept of the University in the state's service lies at the heart of the land grant philosophy. Our capacity to translate that concept into ongoing, working, profitable partnerships with Connecticut's major public and private institutions is already beyond question. The Critical Technologies Program that links the University to more than 140 Connecticut companies is not only a significant example of the potential benefits of those collaborations; it is becoming a national model. The new downtown campus at Stamford is an even more visible example. Together with our Health Center at Farmington, the University cooperates with more than 200 companies and provides a point of service for hundreds of thousands of the state's citizens.

What we bring to these relationships is clear: expertise, commitment, and experience. What we receive is equally clear, and not measured merely in the external funding that comes from industry and government. Out of collaborations like these comes a mutual understanding, a mutual respect and--for this University--a basis for ongoing political support.

We intend to expand our engagement with business-- and with state and local government and the major nonprofit organizations. We intend to be a significant participant in Connecticut's public and private investment in technology-intensive economic development. We intend to do this because it is part of our mission as a land grant university, because we have a great deal to offer, and because a stronger, healthier Connecticut can support a stronger, healthier University. But no matter how important the collaborations--or how exciting the projects--they will not cause us to ignore academic freedom or transform our internally developed academic priorities.

Our priorities are outlined in the strategic plans for both the Health Center in Farmington and the Storrs-based programs. Just as we are transforming our campuses physically, we are also working to transform our academic programs. The changes may be less immediately visible than the progress on the chemistry building in Storrs or the basic science building at the Health Center, but they are in many ways more important to our long-term success. We have taken steps to enhance the undergraduate educational experience, integrate technology into the classroom, create new living and learning options, and strengthen research experiences for undergraduates. We continue to strengthen our graduate programs, and are identifying and working to increase support for those Ph.D. and professional programs which hold the most immediate promise for achieving distinction. I applaud the hundreds of faculty and staff involved in this important effort.

As I said at the outset, this is a center of teaching and learning. Our primary contribution to the state is the preparation of a significant number of the state's citizens who contribute to the state through their work--and through their lives. When students graduate from UConn they will be able to:

  • think clearly and analytically
  • express themselves clearly and persuasively, orally and in writing
  • understand the historical evolution of our social, cultural, political, religious and business institutions
  • understand the evolution of these institutions in other parts of the world
  • have the ability to appreciate the products of artistic and creative expression
  • understand relationships in the natural world
  • provide community leadership, and
  • lead lives of integrity and appreciate others who are different and hold different views

Through our graduates we make our imprint in every aspect of Connecticut's economic and social and civic activity--whether in the professions or in business or in politics or in the arts. To celebrate learning for its own sake--as I do--is not to diminish its economic value. An educated workforce brings companies to this state and keeps those that are here from leaving. A University that assures business and government that there will always be a ready supply of men and women capable of filling their needs repays its support many times over. We are already strong, by that measure of success. My goal is to make us even stronger by moving one or two or three steps ahead of the curve--preparing students not just for tomorrow's needs, but for the requirements of the next generation.

These, then, are our goals for the University of Connecticut as I see them, as we move toward a new millennium--and a new era.

  • a University recognized across the nation for the excellence of our programs, the commitment of our faculty, and our dedication to our students
  • a University that serves as Connecticut's prime resource of excellence in a wide range of areas--from fine arts to the liberal arts, from social sciences to basic sciences
  • a University open to individuals of talent and aspiration who will, with the education they receive here, help build a better Connecticut
  • a University that stands as the willing partner to the major institutions and enterprises of this state as we help Connecticut move into the next chapter of a long and proud history.

I am honored that the Trustees asked me to lead that effort--especially at a moment of such great importance.

I expect to ask each of you for your help as we move ahead to reach our common goals. We must focus our efforts on excellence, access and service. We must become the institution of choice for Connecticuts most competitive students, the nations most distinguished and productive faculty, and the most innovative and respected researchers. We must be widely recognized for our outstanding instructional and research programs and for an environment congenial to people of different backgrounds with different ideas. And we must seek even more ways to be the states partner as Connecticut ­ and its flagship public University ­ together enter the next chapter in their long and proud histories. I know that if we work together, when this 116-year old institution celebrates its 125th anniversary it will have fulfilled its promise and met the legitimate expectations that the people of Connecticut have for this great University.

Thank you.

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