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UConn's progress lauded during forum
December 14, 1998

Setting a philosophical direction, working through a series of goals and objectives, and increasing private philanthropy are helping UConn emerge as the pre-eminent public university in New England and a leading university in the Northeast, President Philip E. Austin told 200 people during a breakfast Wednesday.

"We're creating a mosaic that says we're moving in the right direction," he said at the Hartford Courant's Key Issues Forum on the topic "UCONN2000 and Beyond."

Other panelists at the breakfast included Walter Harrison, president of the University of Hartford and formerly a vice president at the University of Michigan; Laurie P. Kelch, executive assistant to the president and chief of staff at the University of Virginia; and Doug Lederman, deputy managing editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education.

UCONN2000, a 10-year $1 billion program to rebuild the University's campuses, was an "enabler" to creating change, Austin said, noting that his goals are to:

  • Attract the most competitive students.

  • Recruit more out-of-state and international students.

  • Serve as a partner to the state in economic development;.

  • Make the University both accessible and affordable.

  • Attain national recognition.

  • Unite all of the parts of the University including its various schools, campuses, and programs into one, united University.

Measuring success, he said, will depend partially on rankings, including those issued by the National Research Council and the National Science Foundation, as well as those in U.S. News and World Report and others, and on providing a nurturing undergraduate experience, turning out strong alumni and achieving excellence.

But although excellence is the goal, he said, "There is a big difference between elitism and the pursuit of excellence."

Other panelists noted that deciding which programs matter and which are truly excellent is a debate raging across the nation.

"We have to decide what excellence really means," said Lederman. "Not every school can be there. The issue for the University of Connecticut is what is the best way to serve the state."

Kelsh, who said the University of Virginia, ranked number one in the nation by U.S. News and World Report, is conducting a self examination to determine what outstanding really means. But no matter what the answer turns out to be, she said, the goal is not to privatize public universities.

"We are the guarantor of an educated citizenry," she said. "We cannot afford to privatize the system of public education."

In fact, she added, the best technology transfer a public university can offer is its alumni and the intellectual capacity they bring to the workforce.

Harrison applauded UConn's progress.

"Under Phil's leadership, UConn has come a long way in a short period of time," he said. "UConn is perched on the edge of being a great University."

Karen Grav.