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  October 16, 2000

Petersen Outlines Academic Agenda

Chancellor John D. Petersen has vowed to move research up on UConn's agenda and to identify areas in which the University can achieve excellence that will distinguish it from others.

Petersen, who was introduced by President Philip E. Austin to an audience of about 150 faculty, staff and students, was speaking during a forum Tuesday.

His address, which may be considered his inaugural speech as chancellor of UConn, focused on the twin themes of the student experience and the faculty enterprise. "We must ensure that the experience for students while they are here is unprecedented, so that when they leave here, they will make an imprint on the world," he said. "And we must invest in what we can do in a creative interdisciplinary way to distinguish this university from others ... reaching out to the state, the nation, and the world.

"There are many things you and I must accomplish together," he told the audience. "We must move quickly to define and live by our core values."

He said that, thanks to UConn 2000, the University's report card shows progress on infrastructure as "very good." He said the physical plant "is making us more competitive in the higher education community." UConn 2000 has also boosted the University's efforts to recruit outstanding faculty and students, he added.

But, as with all good students, he said, "our goal should be for the programmatic section of our next report card to read 'excellent'. We must identify where we are excellent now and where we can be in the future." In the words of hockey great Wayne Gretsky, he added, "Skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been."

Commenting on the upcoming fund raising campaign, which will include raising money for endowed chairs and scholarships, he said it is in the schools and colleges where campaign success will be achieved and most felt.

Still, in order to achieve excellence with relatively limited resources, money will be reallocated away from areas that have lost potency and invested in programs with promise and programs that are successful. "The achievement of quality will be the criterion of success," he said.

He vowed to support leaders within the University with the ability to make tough strategic decisions. "Our eyes must be on the greater good, that is, the University, not on a discipline or department or any of the parts," he said.

Petersen underscored the importance of UConn's status as a research university.

"The research descriptor is a significant distinguisher," he said, and he undertook to "put research back on the University's agenda - and high on the agenda."

He said the national search for a vice provost for research and graduate education is one of the most important tasks he faces. In the meantime, he has asked Ian Hart, the interim vice provost, "not to be custodial" but to address critical issues such as the growth of research funding, the need to focus and expand research efforts, and the topic of animal care. He said he will engage consultants to review the research administration and make recommendations to ensure it works well for those it serves.

At the same time, Petersen also promised to pay more attention to general education, citing the ongoing work of the committee reviewing the general education requirements. "UConn wants its students to be more successful than students coming from other institutions," he said.

He noted the rapidly changing environment and the "timeless, placeless" world that information technology has created. The new general education requirements include expectations about students' ability to write and be analytical and critical in their thinking, he said. But there is also an emphasis on ensuring that students gain a global perspective and develop the capability to compete in the global marketplace.

The new curriculum must include and encourage interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary study, he said, not only across departments and schools, but across campuses, with the Health Center, and between the University and industry. "These will not simply evolve," he said. "We must be aggressive in identifying the opportunities."

On the topic of diversity, Petersen said it is a hallmark of the university. "We seek to weave diversity of thought and diversity of experience into the tapestry of university life," he said. "It enables us to learn one from the other."

He said the number of minority students and faculty is insufficient in higher education everywhere, but the goal should be for faculty and staff to complement the student body. In recruiting, UConn must continue to make quality paramount, he said, but must also be proactive in seeking to promote diversity.

Petersen said the University's core values must include treating each other in a civil and tolerant manner. "We must not be satisfied with either overt or covert hostility," he said. "There must be empathy here and not indifference."

He recalled a 1999 Commencement speech given at UConn by David McCullough, noting the need, as never before, for the capacity to think with the heart as well as the mind. "That's our capacity, to shape hearts and minds," he said.

Petersen promised that his management style will be consultative and described his approach as: consult, decide, communicate, and move on. "Difficult decisions will be necessary but they will be made in a consultative manner," he said. "Join me on the road to excellence."

Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu