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  April 9, 2001

President's Column
The many signs that UConn is a "winner" set the stage for optimism about the upcoming campaign.
Image: President Philip E. Austin
President Philip E. Austin

As last week's Advance reported, May 3, 2001 will be an important date in the University of Connecticut's history. After a long, intense, but relatively quiet period of preliminary effort, on that day we will announce the University's fund-raising campaign, "Campaign UConn: Countless Reasons, Endless Possibilities," and we will make the campaign's target public.

This effort will not come as news to members of the UConn community. During the past year, and in some cases long before that, people from all of our schools and colleges have played a key role in setting the campaign's goals and determining its priorities; and members of the University's several representative bodies have been kept informed of our progress.

The development of a successful fund raising effort is a collaborative process that integrates elements of strategic planning and coordination . "Campaign UConn" fits into that mold. If progress during the campaign's "quiet phase" is any indication, prospects are bright indeed; gifts thus far total nearly $140 million, exceeding earlier expectations.

In fact, one of our major challenges must be to guard against excessive optimism - or, if you will, "irrational exuberance" - in a climate so heavily shaped by the vicissitudes of the securities markets.

As I talk about the campaign, both within and outside the University, four questions frequently arise. Let me take a moment to respond briefly to each.

Why do we need a campaign? For that matter, why do we need private fund raising at all? Shouldn't state support cover our needs?
As Connecticut's flagship public university we represent a point of pride for every resident of the state. Our mission is to provide a breadth of education, research and service that enhances Connecticut's quality of life and economic climate; we fulfill that mission with distinction. The responsibility of our state government is to provide stable, predictable funding at a level that promotes access and assures quality.

Private support brings us above that high standard. By providing what we call a "margin of excellence," external giving moves UConn ever closer to a position of equity with other well endowed public and private universities, enhancing our appeal to outstanding faculty and students.

In areas ranging from the study of human rights to biotechnology research, funds raised through our development program put the University at the cutting edge of academic excellence, building on a foundation of solid state support but going well beyond what regular appropriations can provide.

Why a campaign now?
If the phrase "seize the moment" ever applied to anything, it applies to the University of Connecticut now. By chance and by design, a host of factors have come together to create the sense of an institution making phenomenal progress at a rapid pace: UConn 2000, strides in research, rising enrollment of increasingly talented and diverse students, success in athletics - and the list goes on.

The message to the external community is loud and clear: UConn is a "winner" that can put private funds to extraordinarily productive use toward academic excellence. Whether the specific target is endowment for faculty, student support, or programmatic enhancement, the donor community sees high likelihood that objectives will be realized with a high degree of success.

Many universities are engaged in fund-raising campaigns. What makes UConn's distinct?
Beyond the elements outlined above, the University of Connecticut's campaign differs to a degree from many others in that it is primarily focused on people and programs rather than on facilities. UConn 2000 did not meet all of our building needs, but it provided the bulk of support required to bring the University's infrastructure into the 21st century.

While Campaign UConn does promote some support for facilities, the bulk of the effort is devoted to endowed professorships, student scholarships, research, and implementation of academic and other initiatives.

The campaign enables us to assure that the excellence of UConn's range of programs matches the extraordinary quality of our physical plant.

What are the major challenges to the campaign's success?
I already mentioned one: the fluctuations of the stock market. Our success will not be entirely a function of the Dow Jones Industrial Average; even in turbulent times good investment prospects do well, and the external community sees UConn as a very good investment prospect indeed. But we need to understand the special difficulties created by turbulence in the securities markets.

A second challenge, which we are working hard to address, is the possibility that potential contributors may see in the state budget proposal signs of a reversal of Connecticut's commitment to its flagship university. Donors need assurance that their support supplements rather than supplants state funding and that private investment builds on a solid foundation of reliable support.

We have made this case vigorously in the halls of the General Assembly and will continue to do so as the University's budget works its way through the legislative process.

With those caveats, I reiterate the basic point. Campaign UConn comes at just the right moment in our transformation; it both responds to and helps us meet high aspirations; and in its early stages it has been remarkably successful.

There is every reason for enthusiasm as we take the next major step in this important venture.

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