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Selective excellence planned, Emmert tells grads

Graduate students had the opportunity to hear directly from the chancellor, and to pose their questions face-to-face, at the first Graduate Student Senate meeting of the year on Monday.

Mark Emmert, chancellor and provost for university affairs, was the first in a series of guest speakers planned for the semester, including many top administrators who have a significant impact on graduate education.

GSS President Caroline Miner said she hopes the opportunity for graduate students to interact more closely with members of the administration will lead to a more productive relationship.

In an informal presentation interspersed with humor, Emmert gave an overview of many topical issues at the University, from parking to military recruitment and federal funding. Earlier the same day, he and President Philip Austin discussed many of the same issues with the University Senate.

Emmert said the Graduate Student Senate has an important role.

"The University is in the midst of a lot of change," he said. "We rely heavily on a variety of different groups that represent different constituencies. This is the only organized group that represents graduate students.

"When people look back on this era ... it will be seen as a watershed moment in the history of the University of Connecticut," Emmert said. UConn aims to compete with the best universities in the country and "we're doing all the right things to get there," he said, including building a new physical plant, attracting high quality students, and recruiting and retaining top-notch faculty.

Emmert said the University will pursue excellence in graduate education in selected fields. "The boundaries of the academy and of knowledge growth are infinite ... resources are by definition finite. Therefore we can't chase every bit of the realm of the academy. We have to bother about building selective excellence."

What this means is that the University will not try to be great in every field of a discipline, he said. He added that there are some areas that "we may not even do at the graduate level." Instead, "we will decide what aspects we can be absolutely best at, especially in graduate education."

The University will continue to provide a comprehensive education for undergraduates, he said, noting that a focus on undergraduate education is not inconsistent with an emphasis on research and graduate education. "The great research universities are also ranked very highly as undergraduate institutions."

Responding to questions, Emmert said he does not anticipate closures but "there are some departments that are not going to be as big as they used to be." He named modern and classical languages and anthropology as departments that have lost many faculty and may not hire as many replacements. He said determinations about which departments will receive additional resources are being based on the strategic plan, plans submitted by the deans for their schools and colleges, and data on performance and student demand.

On a separate issue, Emmert described attracting scholarly journals to the University as "critically important." The decisions about which particular journals the University will seek will be made by deans and department heads, under the new decentralized system of budgeting, he said. Hosting a journal may require release time for the faculty member editing the journal, hiring a part-time editorial assistant, and funding costs such as postage and phone calls.

Emmert also said the University is reviewing the allocation of support to graduate students, including the doctoral dissertation fellowships, and said that graduate student support will be one of the fund-raising priorities for the capital campaign scheduled to start next fiscal year.

Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu