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  January 27, 2003

President's Column

In these times of budgetary uncertainty, a strong sense of perspective -- that recognizes the programmatic strength and public support we enjoy -- will help us face the challenges ahead.

Let me welcome back faculty, students and staff who were away for the break.

Image: President Philip E. Austin

For those of us who stayed behind, this has been a busier-than-normal intersession, as we prepare for what will be - at risk of understatemen t - a challenging few months.

There is no way to sugar-coat the budget difficulties that Connecticut faces, in common to a greater or lesser degree with almost every other state. Nor is there any point in pretending that the University will be immune from their impact.

With that said, however, it is important to keep things in perspective. On balance UConn continues to do very well indeed, and continues to make progress in every important area of activity. Our goal, clearly, is to keep that momentum going, as we deal with fiscal constraints.

I have little new to report on the budget. Before the end of the fall semester I reported to you via e-mail that as a result of the State's fiscal crisis, we were directed by the Office of Policy and Management to implement reductions in staff; in addition, we are exercising tight control over all other expenditures.

At this writing, the situation in Hartford remains fluid, and as soon as we have concrete information we will make it available.

One thing I can say is that the common perspective, both in the executive and legislative branches, continues to be pro-UConn. Even - or perhaps especially - in difficult economic times, policy-makers understand the important role a public research university plays in protecting the state's economic base and quality of life.

The perception of the University is that we are fulfilling the goals set with UConn 2000 in 1995 and reaffirmed just last year with 21st Century UConn. As detailed elsewhere in this issue of the Advance, last month, our construction program won a ringing endorsement from the bipartisan Legislative Program Review and Investigations Committee, which confirmed a record of excellent stewardship and on-time, within-budget performance.

The programmatic improvements made possible by new and renovated facilities are accelerating with each semester, and the story of UConn's transformation is reaching a national audience.

This does not mean that we are immune from cuts - those already imposed and quite possibly more yet to come.

But it does suggest that in a generally terrible budgetary climate, our own position is relatively positive.

At our most recent Board of Trustees meeting, on Jan. 14, I was reminded why. We heard three major reports:

One documented an overall increase in faculty research, as measured by criteria that prominently include but are not limited to external funding. Vice Provost Janet Greger presented to the Board several faculty members who were awarded in excess of $1 million by federal agencies in the last year.

Another outlined the success of our Division of Athletics and Recreational Services, not just in winning games (which speaks for itself), but in supporting our student-athletes' academic achievement, meeting Title IX objectives, and generating private support.

The third dealt with undergraduate student life at the University, an area where we have made vast strides and continue to look for ways to build on our progress.

Briefer presentations updated the Board on the work of the Academic Plan Task Force; the work of the Mansfield Downtown Partnership; our work to assure a safe campus; ongoing achievements at the Health Center; and Campaign UConn's success in remaining on target for our $300 million fund-raising goal.

Our budget situation is serious, and there is no point in obscuring that fact. Whatever happens in Hartford, this is sure to be a difficult semester and it will be some time before a favorable economic climate alleviates Connecticut's problems.

Nevertheless, UConn continues to be an active, exciting institution, building on a firm foundation of programmatic vitality and public support. It is important for all of us to keep that in mind - and to keep a strong sense of perspective - as we confront the challenges that lie ahead.

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