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Uphold goals, says Hogan in State of University address

by Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu - April 27, 2009


President Michael Hogan has reaffirmed the University’s commitment to its strategic goals despite the difficult economic climate.

Speaking to an audience of faculty, staff, and students during his first State of the University address on April 20, Hogan said, “Our first priority is to preserve the exceptional standard of education we’ve all worked so hard to achieve.”

He said the Academic Plan will guide the difficult decisions that must be made, and predicted that by adhering to the vision outlined in the plan, the University will emerge from the current financial constraints stronger.

Hogan said the University has been particularly hard hit by the state budget cuts because, by comparison with many other public universities “where tuition long ago surpassed state appropriations as the major source of revenue,” UConn receives a relatively high percentage – 34 percent – of its funding from the state.

“The generosity of the state in funding over one-third of our operation means that we feel any cut in our appropriation more deeply than most,” he said.

Thanks to the cost-saving recommendations of the CORE task force and to careful planning at the time of the 3 percent rescission in the fall, Hogan said, the University has been able to cope with the recent rescission of an additional 2 percent of the current state budget.

Although some have hoped the federal stimulus package might help the University, the package is essentially a “two-year bridging program,” he said.

“It’s not a permanent solution for state budget cuts that are basically permanent.” The stimulus funds may buy some time, but they won’t eliminate the need to make some difficult choices, he added.

He noted that other sources of revenue, such as private fund-raising and auxiliary services, have limited potential to offset cuts in state funding; research funding is growing increasingly competitive; and the 6 percent tuition increase still leaves a funding gap of $15 million for next year.

With spending reductions and a potential wage freeze, Hogan said, the University should be able to manage the gap next year; but the following year may be “very challenging,” with another budget gap of between $10 million and $15 million.

He said the University will need to be strategic in managing the deficit, and the Academic Plan will guide decision-making.

“Our goals for undergraduate, graduate, and professional education, for research, scholarship, and creative activity, for diversity and public engagement are still our goals,” he said.

“We shape the future of UConn not through financial hardship, but through a defining vision. Our fiscal constraints can help, not hurt, our efforts to sharpen that vision, if we sculpt the identity of UConn with an eye to sustaining and advancing our mission.”

As an example of turning setback into opportunity, the President spoke of undergraduate Kevin Burgio, who turned to the study of birds after having to give up his ambition to become a dentist when he was diagnosed with a neurological condition that made his hands shake. He recently won a Goldwater Scholarship to pursue his studies.

“I think Kevin epitomizes the UConn identity,” Hogan said: “Rising to a new challenge by being open to new possibilities and acting on passion and intellect.”

Hogan said the University is putting into place new organizational structures and policies to achieve its goals, and is reviewing current programs and practices. Although these steps have been a source of anxiety, “sometimes being the target of attention is a good sign,” he said.

“Achieving ambitious goals, like growing our research enterprise and developing top-ranked graduate programs, requires better ways of operating and aligning our resources, however limited, with our priorities,” he said.

“We must continue to examine programs, majors, and centers to ask if some are more than we can afford, just as we must examine how we operate and ask if there are better ways of doing business.”

Hogan pledged to continue to consult with the University community regarding the choices that must be made.

“These questions won’t be asked and answered behind closed doors,” he said.

He noted that there are many more committees in place today than a year ago, committees comprised of faculty and staff, who are wrestling with difficult issues and making concrete suggestions.

“Although we may not always agree, I appreciate their consultation with me and with you,” he said, adding that there will probably be more review committees and more people asked to serve on them, because “through that consultation, we find the best answers.

“I know that all of my decisions will be unpopular with somebody or group, but a university without debate is itself a contradiction,” he told the audience, “and I look forward to many lively conversations with you about your vision for our University.”

The full text and audio recording of the President’s speech are available on his web site: http://president.uconn.edu/

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