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We should beware of taking
UConn 2000 for granted
January 25, 1999

President Philip E. Austin
President Philip E. Austin

For the past three and a half years - longer than my time at the University and longer than the time of all but a handful of our students - UConn 2000 has been a central fact of life at the University of Connecticut.

With more or less good cheer, we accept the challenges posed by massive construction projects going on simultaneously at multiple locations; we acknowledge and embrace the transformation UConn 2000 is making possible. And, much more than we should, we tend to take this extraordinary initiative for granted. So great was the University's need and so logical was the State's response that we tend not even to imagine what the University would be like today were it not for the work now in progress.

For that reason among many others, it is fortunate that the law that created UConn 2000 mandates that we look carefully at just what it is we are accomplishing and to measure how well we are meeting our goals. The legislation signed by Governor Rowland on June 22, 1995, in front of Babbidge Library requires that the University submit a performance review report on progress and expenditures in the first phase of the program to the Governor and relevant committees of the General Assembly.

On January 15 we met that requirement by submitting a 110-page document, "UCONN 2000 Four Year Progress Report to the General Assembly." The key elements of the report are outlined in this issue of the Advance, and copies of the document and its appendices will be available in every department office. I urge every member of the community to review it. (If 110 pages seems daunting, try the nine-page executive summary.)

It is important to remember that the 148 construction projects completed since 1995 and the 51 now underway are means to an end. The statement of purpose that accompanied the UConn 2000 legislation made it clear that the intent of the University of Connecticut 2000 Act is to "support the financing of the acquisition, construction, reconstruction, improvement and equipping of facilities, structures and related systems for the benefit of the educational and economic development needs of the state and the University of Connecticut, all to the public benefit and good."

UConn 2000 is designed to enable the University to attract Connecticut' s most highly motivated students, offer a curriculum characterized by rigor and depth, promote the expansion of knowledge, and serve all the people of the state.

We are achieving those objectives. Clearly, UConn 2000 is good for Connecticut's economy in an immediate sense: 93 percent of the contracts have been awarded to in-state vendors from more than 40 towns and more than 20 percent of our construction expenditures have gone to minority-owned, woman-owned or small business enterprises.

But UConn 2000's economic impact transcends immediate expenditures on construction. The University is itself mandated by law and by its land-grant tradition to be a major contributor to Connecticut's economy, and that mission can only be implemented effectively if we maintain facilities appropriate to 21st-century needs. At Stamford, Avery Point, Storrs, and at all points in between, UConn 2000 is enabling us to forge relationships with corporate partners, support research with commercial applications, and, above all, attract strongly motivated students who will stay in the state after graduation and whose talents will be a major state asset for decades to come. Billion-dollar investments deserve economic rationales and it is gratifying to be able to offer compelling evidence.

But the numbers, positive as they are, tell an incomplete story. At the heart of UConn 2000 is a commitment by Connecticut's elected leaders to excellence in public higher education that goes beyond quantitative measurement.

The major UConn 2000 projects - the Chemistry Building, the South Campus residence and dining halls, the downtown Stamford campus, and so many others - stand as evidence of Connecticut's recognition that a flagship institution of the first rank is appropriate to a state that ranks near the top of virtually every national measure of performance.

Here in Connecticut, these buildings say, intellectual achievement is valued on its own terms. The infrastructure resources provided by UConn 2000 help make quality instruction possible and accessible to students from all economic backgrounds. The fact that this investment is more than a safe bet in economic terms does not diminish the force of the commitment that lies behind it.

On time and within its budget, UConn 2000 is a classic example of an ambitious public investment that meets its goals. The people of the state and particularly the members of the University community have every right to be proud of the transformation it is helping us to achieve.