On Sept. 17, Michael J. Hogan became UConn’s 14th president. After just over a week on the job, he spoke about his early impressions and his aspirations for the University with Advance editor Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu.
Q You’ve had a busy first week. Have there been any surprises?
A No. I spent a lot of time reading up on the University. Nothing has been surprising, except to find out that maybe the University is just as good if not better than it said it was.
Q Have you had time to formulate any major goals for the institution yet?
A Only in the broadest sense, and I don’t think what I have in mind is in any way surprising. What I want to do for the University, where I think it needs to go, is exactly what I’m hearing from people here about what needs to be done.
The University has a tremendous student population, and very expert enrollment management. Our retention rate is terrific, our graduation rates are terrific. We need to sustain that, and continue moving forward.
And then in particular, we need to strengthen our research profile and also build more really top-notch graduate programs. Building a big presence at the graduate level and beefing up our sponsored research and other forms of research are exactly what a university needs to sustain its high position and move up from 24 into the top 20.
One word of caution. There are over 4,000 universities in this country. The overwhelming majority of them publics, and when you get into the top 25, you are already in rare air. The University now has to begin presenting itself as a major research university to the outside world, and it has to realize that every single notch upward is going to be a lot harder to make than it was to move from, say, 35 to 33. We have to be very smart and patient and persistent.
Q Is there potential for the University to grow further?
A I think the Storrs campus is just about right-sized now, but I do think there’s room to grow at the regional campuses. Plans are being put into place to strategically grow our regional campuses where appropriate. But right now, on the Storrs campus, we need to grow the faculty before we add any more students. Our student-faculty ratio has deteriorated from 15 to 1, now it’s 17 or 18 to 1, and we have to drive that back down.
Q How do you see the role of the regional campuses developing over the next few years?
A We need to make sure the regional campuses are integrated into the overall mission of the University, that there’s one University identity, and that we try to think of all these regional campuses as just different portals to the University and begin to use them very strategically in our long-range planning.
Q As a health care provider, the UConn Health Center has a mission different from the rest of the University. What are the special issues this poses?
A I see the Health Center as an advantage to the University overall, in particular the College of Medicine and the College of Dental Medicine and the basic science programs that are located over there. They’re the sources of probably half the sponsored research money that comes into the University. So if they’re not doing well, the University will not be doing well in that area. The clinical activities also are critical to innovation on the educational side. The health and well-being of the medical school and the dental school are very important to me and to the future of the University.
Q What can we learn from your experience at two major public universities in the Midwest?
A I’m a big fan of benchmarking. I think we have to look at best practices wherever they occur, and try to learn from what other people are doing more successfully.
Big public universities these days are all facing the same problems – an aging population of faculty, a very different kind of undergraduate student, the challenges of new technology, and more vigorous oversight by state and federal government. They’re also facing very serious resource problems and a demand that public universities continue, no matter how strong they become as graduate and research centers, to pay attention to what was historically their core mission – the undergraduate population. That includes access, doing whatever is possible to make sure qualified students have access to a university education.
In the past 15 years, we’re living increasingly in an era not of abundance but of scarcity. Public universities, including UConn, are facing the challenge of making strategic decisions about what to do with resources that are increasingly in short supply. I think the future really belongs to the public universities that can make these kinds of strategic investment decisions, because we’ll never have the resources to do all the wonderful things we could do.
Q Do you think there’s a tension between emphasizing quality and keeping the University accessible?
A There could be, but doesn’t have to be, any more than it’s impossible to reconcile access or excellence with diversity.
In fact, what we really know to be true is that diversity is part of what it takes to be an excellent university. We are living in a world that’s increasingly diverse, and we’re not going to be doing a good job educating our students unless we educate them about diversity. Even on the research side, increasingly we’re discovering that diversity, for example in the patient population, is absolutely essential to advance the frontier of medical science.
| President Michael J. Hogan at the William Benton Museum of Art.
|Photo by Peter Morenus
On the access side, if we’re doing our job raising funds for scholarships, setting aside a certain portion of tuition revenue for needs-based scholarships, using our regional campuses appropriately, you’ll find that it’s absolutely possible to continue the path toward excellence and at the same time fulfill our access mission. After all, you don’t have to be a wealthy kid to be smart. We want to continue to provide access to higher education in America, because that’s the democratic impulse that inspired public education in this country.
Q What do you envisage as goals for the upcoming private fund-raising campaign?
A Provost Nicholls is finishing up work on the Academic Plan, a strategic plan for the academic side of the University. It’s my resolution that we will do everything we can in a new capital campaign to mobilize our fund raising around those academic goals. We will establish fund-raising priorities for the Health Center too that are consistent with its academic and clinical priorities. I’m sure we’ll be fund raising for endowed chairs, named professorships, research start-up funds, need-based and merit-based scholarships, new buildings and facilities that we need – these will all be on the list.
I like doing fund raising. It’s fun. You get to spend time with some very smart, very successful, very cosmopolitan people who’ve done well in their life and who love the same university you love and want to help you achieve your academic goals.
Q Are there insights from your study of American diplomacy and foreign relations that you bring to the presidency?
A You learn, if you study history, to take a long view. And if you study diplomatic history, you learn the importance of compromise, of negotiation, of having clear goals in your head, and of persistence and patience. And I guess you learn that if you want to be successful, you really have to try to understand another person’s point of view.
Q What do you hope will be your stamp on the institution?
A I want to be an academic president. I want to devote my time here to making the University stronger as an academic institution: a better place for students to learn, and teachers to teach, and researchers to advance the frontiers of knowledge.
I liked being a researcher, I liked teaching. I ran a very successful graduate program and I loved working with undergraduates. I think the only reason to give all that up and be an academic administrator is so you can work with other people to create the kind of environment in which good teachers and good students excel and succeed.
On a personal note, I want to be known as a university president who’s relaxed, doesn’t stand on formality, and is accessible. I want to be a visible presence on the campus.
Q What ongoing opportunities will there be for faculty, staff, and students to interact with you?
A I was just speaking briefly with the UCPEA group, and I attended a nice lunch hosted by members of the AAUP. I had a wonderful time with honors students on a field trip. You give me the opportunity, and I’ll find a way to be there. I can’t do everything, but I’ll get my share and then some done.
Q You’ve spoken a lot about faculty and students. What message do you have for the staff who keep the University running?
A I hope they take the same pride in the University’s progress over the past 10 to 15 years as I hope faculty do, because they contributed to that success, and our ongoing success depends on their active contribution. We should celebrate the work they do, because we can’t do without them. The campus is looking better because thousands of people here over the years have paid attention to the quality of life on campus, its physical appearance and its safety, the way labs function. If you asked me to run my own Xerox machine, I’d be in deep trouble. I wouldn’t get nearly as much done if I didn’t have people in my office keeping me on schedule, fixing my cell phones when they break down, helping me with computer problems, scheduling endless meetings.
Q Will we be aware of your Irish heritage?
A Yes. The reason it’s important to me is because my mother made it important. She wanted me to feel part of a larger family and feel a sense of pride in it and a sense of responsibility for it going forward. I’m proud of all ethnic groups that make up this nation and contribute to its rich and cosmopolitan flavor. My Irish identity is really about a family that’s inspired me to do my best.