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Austin, Emmert report
on state of University
March 8, 1999

Conn's two top leaders Wednesday afternoon (March 3) offered more than 500 faculty and staff a snapshot of the University's current successes and challenges, and gave the audience an overview of work yet to come.

President Philip E. Austin and Chancellor Mark A. Emmert made their presentation in the new South Campus Ballroom, bringing the community up to date on a wide range of issues, including Gov. John G. Rowland's biennial budget proposal, the University's ongoing efforts to enhance its regional campus system, and other items. The conversation, which Austin hopes will become a regular event, was informative and, occasionally, blunt.

Austin said the governor's proposed budget, while "not an assault on the University by a long shot" is nonetheless "just minimally adequate" when set against the University's current needs. "Judged against our aspirations and our opportunities, it leaves very much to be desired," he said.

Austin applauded the inclusion of funding to settle the University's remaining liability regarding the abandoned technology park and the decision to hold tuition at current levels. But, he said, the state's failure to adequately fund maintenance of new buildings, the University's strategic initiatives and technology-ba sed student services programs was short-sighted and should be reversed. The strategic initiatives include enhanced student recruitment with a focus on diversity, and economic development issues, including the critical technologies programs.

"Except for some very welcome support for our Y2K initiative, we received not one additional dollar for these priorities and, as with our maintenance needs, we have to make some very clear and very strong arguments to see those requests met in whole or, at least, in part," he said.

Austin also discussed the governor's recommendation to increase the teaching load of the faculty, calling it a "troublesome element" of the budget. "I think we will be able to withstand the challenge imposed by what is really a relatively simplistic call for a proposed budget cut," he said.

Austin also discussed the Tri-campus initiative; progress on UConn 2000; the recent $23 million gift from alumnus Raymond Neag; the PricewaterhouseCoopers management study; and issues at the Health Center.

Emmert, who only hours before the forum began had returned from Cape Town, South Africa, where he signed an agreement between UConn and the African National Congress, set the stage for what is certain to be a key discussion of the University's future enrollment and focus.

Emmert said he shared with faculty and staff the frustrations that come with delays, battles with the bureaucracy, and working through change. But he said his encounters with South Africans were a source of inspiration. "If they're willing ... to reconstruct an entire country, then shame on us for not taking more initiative," and trying just a little bit harder, he said.

Emmert discussed the progress made in attaining goals outlined in the University's strategic plan, and also touched on challenges still ahead - implementing portions of the report prepared by the Task Force on Community and Civility and expanding its reach, and making a series of conscious decisions regarding the University's future direction.

"We face a strategic dilemma: We are a Research I University, and we want to compete with the best universities in the nation. But we also are the smallest public Research I university in America, no matter how you measure it," Emmert said. He added that a first step must involve returning UConn to its 1990 level of 25,000 students, and finding enough faculty and staff to handle that number. That, however, would still leave UConn as the smallest Research I institution.

Emmert added that the University must address how many students - undergraduate and graduate - make the proper mix; how to build a faculty and staff capable of managing the larger numbers; where to house additional students; how to assign courses and classroom space to accommodate a larger student body; and a host of other questions.

He ended with a challenge: "Let's look in the mirror and decide how we can make this University a better place for our faculty, staff, and students."

Richard Veilleux