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  August 30, 2004

President's Column

Image: President Philip E. Austin

I have come to believe that it is one of the great urban myths that not much happens at universities over the summer. That may be true elsewhere in America, but it is clearly not the case here.

True, not as many students are taking classes as during the academic year. But the University is increasingly active with conferences, ranging from the 27th annual "Confratute" for teachers of the gifted and talented to the Second International Conference on Advanced Technologies for Homeland Security presented by the School of Engineering. More than 3,700 incoming freshmen and transfer students were in Storrs for 20 one- or two-day orientation sessions. More than 9,000 potential applicants, parents, and others toured campus, up 18 percent from last year. The youth sports camps were busy as ever. And at the Health Center, summer began with the formal dedication of the Pat and Jim Calhoun Cardiology Center, and other activities continued at a rapid pace.

Even in the UConn context, then, the summer of 2004 was particularly noteworthy. A few events particularly stand out, each in its own way signifying the University's progress.

On June 22, the Board of Trustees approved a spending plan for Fiscal Year 2005 and a proposed budget request to the State for Fiscal Years 2006 and 2007 for the Storrs-based programs and the Health Center. As always, the budget calls for ongoing management efficiencies and reallocations, and reflects realistic expectations of State support. But it also reflects important ambitions - first, to restore equilibrium following three years of severe operating budget constraints and a State early-retirement program, and then, to enhance our investment in the core elements of our mission, research, and scholarship.

Specifically, the Board endorsed our objective of a net increase of 150 faculty at the Storrs-based programs over the next five years, with the dual objective of reducing our student-faculty ratio and building on our stature as a center of research. Consistent with a carefully-developed academic plan, which was presented in detail to the Board's Academic Affairs Committee on Aug. 3, the positions will be targeted to areas of current or potential strength, market demand, and relevance to Connecticut's need.

To provide the resources necessary to attain and maintain excellence, the Board made the difficult but essential decision to increase tuition and fees at a rate that keeps UConn affordable. As always, the budget assures adequate aid for students in need.

In an analogous vein, earlier this year the Health Center's Board of Directors approved comprehensive plans for two signature programs, Cardiology and Cancer, and a plan for the Musculoskeletal signature program is under way. These plans include a series of specific performance criteria through which progress will be systematically measured.

The day after the Board of Trustees meeting, we announced the creation of the Pfizer Distinguished Endowed Chair in Pharmaceutical Technology. This is the 60th endowed chair or named professorship created at UConn. The presence of these positions strengthens our ability to attract and retain nationally renowned scholars who, in turn, help attract outstanding junior professors and graduate students and whose own research and teaching contribute significantly to our academic vitality. Every chair is a noteworthy addition, and every distinguished professor is an important member of the community. What makes the Pfizer chair particularly significant is that it builds on a collaborative relationship with one of Connecticut's major enterprises, and puts UConn in distinguished company: Pfizer's other two endowed faculty positions are at Stanford and Brown Universities.

A different form of support was announced a few weeks later: a $2.5 million gift to the Division of Athletics from Mark R. Shenkman, '65, for an 85,000-square-foot indoor training facility at Storrs that will be used by the football program, recreational services, and other varsity sports - one more example of the breadth of private support and the range of enhanced activities it makes possible.

That theme certainly defined the message we presented when, on Aug. 11, we announced the successful completion of Campaign UConn, our six-year private fund-raising campaign. The $300 million goal set for Campaign UConn was ambitious, as the national economy slipped into recession; some thought it was overly so. Yet at the end of the day we exceeded the goal by 157 percent, raising a total of $471.1 million. (This includes the $146.1 million software gift-in-kind from UGS PLM Solutions, a subsidiary of EDS. Even without this extraordinary gift, we went above target by $25 million.) More than 115,000 donors contributed to the campaign, and the strength of our donor base bodes well for private fundraising in the years ahead.

More important than the numbers is the value of private support to our faculty, students, student life and, above all, academic programs. The phrase "margin of excellence" is truly an apt description of its significance, which is all the more important in an era of precarious state operating budget support.

Many individuals played a particularly important role, but no mention of the campaign's success would be complete without special thanks to our alumnus Ray Neag and his wife Carole, whose record-setting $23 million gift (most of it to the Neag School of Education) fueled the campaign's early stage, and whose recently-announced $10 million gift to the Health Center's signature program in cancer represents one more major contribution to the University and, beyond that, to the health and well-being of the people of our state and nation.

All in all, an eventful season - capped, as always, by our new student Convocation last Friday. This year's class of 3,200 freshmen at Storrs and another 1,000 at the regional campuses reaches new milestones in terms of academic achievement and ambition. Average SAT scores for incoming Storrs freshmen - just one among many indicators of student strength - now stand at 1176, up nine points over last fall, and 63 points over the level in 1996. Approximately 800 students of color are part of this year's freshman class, as are 100 high school valedictorians and salutatorians. One especially noteworthy subset of the new class is the 250-member freshman honors program cohort, whose average SAT of 1382 is equivalent to scores for freshmen at some of the nation's most highly selective colleges.

The University that welcomes these students, and our new faculty and staff, continues its upward progression, in many cases at an accelerated pace. If the summer of 2004 is any guide, the academic year ahead will be especially rewarding for all of us.