Thursday, May 8, 2014

An Early Welcome to the Class of 2018


As we say “thanks and best wishes” to the Class of 2014, the University of Rhode Island is preparing to welcome the Class of 2018 to the campus. Your Class promises to be another superb addition to our vibrant and diverse community.  I have enjoyed the opportunities to talk with many of you already during your visits to the campus, and look forward to welcoming you in September when you arrive. You will have a busy and all-too-brief summer to prepare and get organized, and I know you are excited and enthusiastic about joining the URI community. We are delighted that you have selected the University of Rhode Island.
I suspect that one element of your excitement and enthusiasm is your recognition that you will be changed, perhaps even transformed, by your experience here, and that upon graduation in 2018 you will be a different person than when you arrive this fall.  That certainly was the case for me. Allow me to share with you some of my story.
When I was born, my father was farming cotton in the Central Valley of California. Like many young men of his generation, he had left high school early to enlist in the armed forces following the attack on Pearl Harbor. No one in his or my mother’s family had been to college.  Eventually he left farming to pursue a life as a minister, and for that he felt he needed a college education.  So we left the Valley and temporarily moved near Riverside, a small, mostly agricultural town that was just beginning to experience the explosive growth that has long characterized southern California. He managed three small children and two jobs while attending college. Twice he had accidents and totaled two cars by falling asleep at the wheel. I don’t remember much about those incidents except my mother’s fear and worry. But my father was convinced that a college education was critical to our future and was determined to succeed. He did, and his graduation was a very proud moment for him and my mom – I remember that clearly, even though I had absolutely no idea at the time what a college education was.
Subsequently, my closest grandmother (my mom’s mother) decided to pursue a nursing degree. She went to Porterville Community College part time while working at a state hospital facility. By then I could read and found some of her nursing textbooks fascinating, and she encouraged my interest.  She then bought us two different sets of encyclopedias, and encouraged me to explore them, which I did, reading practically everything from A-Z. My father, mother, and grandmother insisted that “going to college” was essential and that education was the key to my future. They demanded that all other goals must be secondary.  It wasn’t really presented to me as a choice, and I am glad that it wasn’t. Very few of my extended family went to college, but it was, without any doubt whatsoever, the best course for me and my brother and sister.
You, the members of the Class of 2018, will discover at the University of Rhode Island what I discovered at University of California, San Diego: that higher education has the power to transform your life, and help you to become a different, and better, person than you otherwise would have been.  I could not have imagined, as a kid growing up in mostly small towns in rural California, that I would become a scientist, a professor, a Vice President and ultimately the President of a research university.  Even as a first-year student at UCSD, I had no firm idea of what I would do after graduation. UCSD offered what appeared to me as a universe of opportunities, just as URI does. It was the exhilarating experience of doing research as an undergraduate that set me upon the course to where I am today.
You must, of course, be willing to embrace and engage the opportunities that URI provides, just as the Class of 2014 did.  If you do, you can dispense with all the limitations that may have been imposed upon you, and create your own future.  That is both the promise of higher education and a promise you must make to yourself.  You cannot purchase your education, but we can help you create it. We are partners in this endeavor.  It will be a lot of work, and sometimes all consuming, but you need to remember that the work itself is not the goal.  The goal is to become the person you aspire to be.  Do not let yourself be distracted from this goal. We will be there to help. Welcome to the University of Rhode Island, and best wishes for your success.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Thank You to Class of 2014

It is that time of year again – our students are preparing for and taking final exams, or finishing their final papers or projects. Many are engaged in these activities for the last time as an undergraduate.  Our Class of 2014 will receive many, many congratulations from family, friends, faculty and staff, and from their fellow members of the Class.
I will add my congratulations as well, but I am really writing to say “Thank you”.  This spring, like all the springs in prior years, it was a real privilege for me to attend the Rainville Awards, the Diversity Awards, the student-athlete awards, and many other events that celebrated the contributions and achievements of our students. You are an amazing group, just like the classes that preceded you at the University of Rhode Island.  Thank you for the leadership you have provided to the campus, thank you for your service to the people and communities of Rhode Island, thank you for the new ideas you have shared, thank you for your achievements in research, scholarship and creative work, thank you for your contributions to the important discussions on arming, sustainability, and the new General Education curriculum, and thank you for just being who you are.
No graduating class is perfect because no individual is perfect. We’ve certainly had our collective ups and downs.  However, your talent, dedication, hard work, and numerous achievements inspire optimism for the future, regardless of the substantial challenges we will face together.  So thank you for that, too.
As we finalize our preparations for commencement, many of you already have your next job secured, others of you are going into some of the finest graduate programs in the world (including programs at URI), and some of you are still thinking about, or looking for, what comes next.  My hope is that the University of Rhode Island has prepared you well for success, whatever your course might be.  Over the years ahead, all of us who remain at URI will be delighted if you remember your time here and remain an engaged member of our community. And I thank you in advance for that.
While I’m at it, belated “thank you’s” to the Classes of 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013. What I wrote above is just as applicable to you. You make me proud to be a part of the University of Rhode Island.
Best wishes, and please stay in touch.

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Liberal Arts in the 21st Century


A recurrent theme in the contemporary conversation about higher education is the need for more research and more graduates in disciplines associated with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Rightfully so. These are critical areas of knowledge for facing and resolving the global challenges of our time.  Furthermore, a compelling case is readily made that such disciplines are crucial to economic competitiveness and job creation.  Finally, creating the necessary understanding of the difficult challenges and choices ahead will depend upon increased scientific and quantitative literacy.
Less well understood, I think, is the equally critical importance of education in the liberal arts.  We are no longer merely a part of the global economy; we live in an increasingly global society. Thomas Friedman (of “The World is Flat” fame) makes the point that we now live in a “hyper-connected” and “interdependent” world.  Consequently, the global society thereby created is exceedingly complex. It is a shared, 24/7 society layered on an enormous and frequently incompatible array of cultures, languages, histories, religions, and governments.  In such a world, studies of history, religion, philosophy, economics, sociology, communications, languages, and numerous other subjects commonly thought of as comprising the liberal arts, are important components of higher education.  The skills of critical analysis, expository or thematic writing, presentation, research, and communication are essential for success.  Music, art, literature, and their manifestations on the global web are increasingly the means by which culture is translated, assimilated, and understood.
The ways in which we teach and engage students with the liberal arts must necessarily adapt. John Dewey presciently observed: “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.”  The global context should be at the forefront of our pedagogical strategies. Many entering students sense that a global perspective is important in areas such as economics, political science, and history, but may be less aware of the connections and impacts in other domains important to their studies, their lives, and their futures.  Uncovering and illuminating the rapidly expanding connections and relationships among cultures and nations is an important role of liberal arts education in the 21st century. To achieve this goal, education in the liberal arts needs to be both rigorous in its exposition of the nature and contributions of the various disciplines involved, and consistently interdisciplinary in its approach to the new reality of an interdependent world.
The University of Rhode Island is making excellent progress toward this global vision for liberal arts education.  For example, it is a key feature of our academic strategic plan and of much of the scholarship and creative work conducted in the humanities, the social sciences, and the arts.  The Harrington School of Communication and Media has a global orientation and emphasis for all its programs, and views communications in the 21st century as an interconnected, interdisciplinary realm of expertise and activities.  Our emphasis on the study of language in combination with other disciplines, going well beyond introductory language instruction to include literature, cultural studies, and time abroad, is an exemplary approach for students to gain true global competencies.  URI’s increasing success in bringing students from across the world to help build a diverse community on our campus is essential to develop resilient multicultural understanding.
The nations, societies, and cultures of our world are now intimately connected and mutually dependent. Misunderstanding and miscommunication can be catastrophic. Peace, health, and economic prosperity depend on people and places that were once remote, but are no longer. The study of humanity – its history, behavior, thought, and creativity – which is the focus of the liberal arts, has never been more important than in the world of the 21st century.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Focus on the Why


At this year’s ACE national conference an interesting question came up, which (paraphrased) was: How can universities make the changes required to adapt to a rapidly changing (and increasing) set of challenges and opportunities?  The answer provided: “focus on the why”. 
This could mean a lot of different things, depending on precisely which “why?” question is posed.  There are several relevant and important questions in this category. To name a few: Why should students and their families pay the current tuition to attend URI? Or: Why should the state legislature and the Governor provide additional support to URI? Or: Why would faculty and staff want to work for URI now, and in the future?  Here’s one I deal with very frequently: Why should alumni and other potential supporters give to URI?  These questions, and the associated answers, are clearly central to the vitality, quality, and future of the University of Rhode Island.
As important as they are, not one of these is the most important question.  That question is: Why are we here?  The answer is known to all of us: To educate students. It is, ultimately, about them, and not about us – the faculty and staff. The University of Rhode Island has multiple important missions, but education at the undergraduate and graduate levels is the heart and soul of the university and the foundation of all of our missions and endeavors.  In the midst of everything we are involved in, it is both good and necessary to remind ourselves frequently about why we actually exist. 
Certainly, the University of Rhode Island exists to conduct research, scholarship, and creative work. However, we do these things, at least in part, to provide new knowledge to our students, and to engage them in these very activities.  URI is very service oriented, but, again, we serve the people of the state, our nation, and the world to create a better environment for our students, our graduates, their families, and the societies in which they live.  We focus on economic development for the same reasons.  The phrase “student-centered” is not a slogan, a marketing strategy, or camouflage.  It is the essence of why we exist.
Accordingly, we should test all of our decisions, and assess all of our priorities, in light of what would be in the best interests – both short- and long-term – of our students.  Indeed, it is in the best interests of the university and its faculty and staff to do so.  This does not mean providing students with all that they desire, reducing the rigor or demands of our curricula, or having low standards for their academic work or behavior.  Just the opposite.
The relationship is reciprocal. If we – the faculty, administration, and staff  – have high expectations for our students, it is fair and right for the students to have high expectations of us.  Based on what I observe around campus and hear from students and alumni, I think the University of Rhode Island has long exemplified both a broad understanding of why URI is here, and the benefits of mutual high expectations.
The University of Rhode Island is moving assertively to provide an even better education for its students at the graduate and undergraduate levels.  For example, the Academic Strategic Plan, with its emphases on experiential learning, internships, research and scholarship, globalization, diversity, and community provides an outstanding framework for the future.  The faculty has been working diligently and productively to frame and implement a much needed new general education program.  There is an intensifying focus on what knowledge, competencies, and experiences our students need to be competitive and successful in the 21st century. 
In the end, all that we are and all we do at URI benefits from an unrelenting focus on why we are here. Universities with such a focus will attract talented and committed people  (students, faculty and staff), new resources, and the gratitude of those we serve.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Injustice and Justice

At an event of Martin Luther King, Jr. Week last evening, the following quote of Dr. King appeared: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  This is a true statement, I believe. Injustice is certainly the enemy of justice; it is also the enemy of peace, community, equality, and even sustained prosperity. 
There is another way to look at this, however, which is (I think) fully consistent with the leadership provided by Dr. King. It is equally true, I think, that justice anywhere is a threat to injustice everywhere.  Acts of injustice may be deflected or defeated by acting justly. Institutions and societies that perpetuate or promote injustice cannot permanently withstand the comparison to institutions and societies that embody a commitment to justice.  In essence, darkness cannot withstand the light, and light anywhere, if replicated, has the potential to dispel darkness everywhere.
Consequently, in addition to combating injustice, which we must, we need to focus on building more just institutions and societies.  And that is a priority for the University of Rhode Island, as reflected in our commitment to building a diverse community here that is devoted to equity.  “Equity” is an interesting word. Its definition in the American Heritage College Dictionary, 3rd Edition (the one we have on hand in the Office of the President) is “the state, quality, or ideal of being just, impartial, and fair”.  I believe that articulating this as a priority for our university, and every step we take towards achieving that goal, can, in some small way, contribute to building a more just society in America and a world where justice is the norm.



Sunday, February 2, 2014

2014 is Off to a Fast Start

Beginning with the University of Rhode Island’s first January term, continuing with the Governor’s State of the State address, and warming up in February, Spring Semester 2014 promises to be truly “up tempo”.  There is a lot to do, much to discuss, multiple opportunities, and a few key challenges – all of which must be priorities for the University community between now and commencement.  There will be many occasions for us to work together as a community in public forums, in committee or council meetings, in small group discussions, and via technology.  There are significant issues to address: the question of arming the URI police; evaluation, prioritization, and implementation of recommendations from the Administration and Management Review Committee; the budget; collective bargaining; and more.  Moreover, there is just a lot going on at URI, as one would (and should) expect from a research-intensive, globally engaged university.

Let’s begin with just the next two weeks, which reflect URI’s continuing commitment to building community, equity, and diversity. Starting on the 3rd, the University of Rhode Island celebrates Martin Luther King, Jr. Week, in recognition of one of America’s greatest and most influential leaders.  The week is part of Black History Month at the University, based on the theme of African American Progress in the 21st Century. It all begins with a lecture by Earl “Butch” Graves Jr., the CEO of Black Enterprise magazine, who will speak on the subject of Economic Development, Law, and Education.  On Wednesday the 5th, the Unity Luncheon will be held, which features the presentation of the Peacemaker award(s) by the URI Chaplains Association, and a speech by Martha Yager, Program Coordinator of the American Friends Service Committee.  There is much more – just check out the URI homepage to access a complete list of all the great events scheduled over this week and the rest of the month.

Next, starting on February 9th, we mark the 20th anniversary of the LGBTQ Center Symposium – an important benchmark for URI.  The week is packed with a wide variety of events; it begins with a lecture by Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop of the Episcopal Church, and includes a community breakfast on the 14th. The theme for the week is “Seeking Spiritual Joy: Our Sacred Quest”.   Follow the link in the article at http://www.uri.edu/news/releases/?id=6925 for a complete listing of symposium events.

And that’s not all. On February 7th everyone is invited to celebrate the Chinese New Year. Join students, faculty, and members of the Chinese community in Rhode Island in welcoming the Year of the Horse. The celebration begins at 6:30 p.m. in Edwards Hall and should be a lot of fun.

Collectively, these events illustrate the diversity, community, and international scope of the University of Rhode Island. These are the kind of occasions that help define a university, and help shape its influence and impact. Please join me in thanking the members of our community who worked so hard to organize and plan all of the events. The best way to do that: participate!

Monday, December 2, 2013

A Global University


What does it mean to be a global university?  The answer depends on the institution to which the question is directed, and the responses will likely vary substantially.  Multiple campuses located in different countries, significant enrollments of international students, numerous partnerships and exchange agreements, or multinational research collaborations may all be defining elements of a “global” university.
There’s another way to assess a university’s global status and impact.  Specifically, we can examine what members of the University of Rhode Island community – faculty, students, and (importantly) alumni – are actually doing across the world. A selection of recent events provides some powerful examples of the scope and impact of the University of Rhode Island’s global engagement.
One of highlights of this year’s Distinguished Achievement Awards ceremony on October 25th was the presentation to Toray Plastics (America) of the President’s Corporate Award.  This award was created to honor exceptional corporate partners of the University of Rhode Island. TPA is a major Rhode Island manufacturer, a major supporter of URI, and a company that annually provides numerous internships for our students and has many URI alumni within its ranks.  TPA is a subsidiary of Toray – a Japan based global manufacturing company. The current chairman of Toray, Dr. Sadayuki Sakakibara was awarded an honorary degree from URI in 2010.  Now we are working with Rick Schloesser (CEO of TPA) and Dr. Sakakibara to explore the possibility of a Japanese International Engineering Program.  Toray has made substantial investments in the University of Rhode Island and its students. At the Distinguished Achievement Awards ceremony, Mr. Schloesser announced a $2 million gift to support the College of Engineering.

Also honored that night with Presidential or Deans’ Awards (among many others, see http://www.advance.uri.edu/programming/daa/2013/) were: Eric Ryan, ’96, co-founder of Method Products, a global company and previous recipient of the Clinton Global Citizenship Award; James Clappin. ’80, President of Corning Glass Technologies, a division of Corning based in Japan and South Korea; Gellwynn D. H. Jusuf (MS ’89, PhD ’97), Director General of Capture Fisheries, Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, Republic of Indonesia; and Mohammed Al-Sultan (PhD ’03), Director of Pharmacoeconomics and Outcomes Research, King Saud University, Saudi Arabia.

URI students certainly have a remarkable global presence as well.  Just check out the story on the University of Rhode Island home page entitled “Put Languages to Work”. As a further example, this fall I enjoyed meeting with four URI students studying at the Hochschule for Angewandte Wissenschaften Hamburg (Hamburg University of Applied Sciences): Nick Smith, Sara Watson, and Pat Mullen (all students in our International Business Program) and Dan Belbey ’13, who received a Fulbright Scholarship to pursue his Master’s in Business Administration and Logistics at Hamburg.  And we should not forget Megan O’Brien ’12, who is finishing up her Master’s at URI and received a Fulbright Scholarship to pursue a second graduate degree at the University Centre of the Westfjords in Iceland, or Eily Cournoyer ’13, who won a Fulbright to study at the Cancer Institute of University College, London.  There are dozens and dozens of more examples.
Of course, these outstanding global achievements by our alumni and students are facilitated and empowered by the faculty of the University of Rhode Island, whose impact, influence, and contributions truly span the globe.  When I mention this to members of our external constituencies and partners, the research and outreach of the Graduate School of Oceanography, the Coastal Resources Center, and the Coastal Institute typically come immediately to mind, but the faculties of all URI’s colleges and departments are globally engaged – in research and scholarship, education, and service.  In recognition of this fact, we have added a new link to our navigation bar – GLOBAL – just above the featured image on URI’s homepage. Check it out; what you will find there is a great demonstration of what it means to be a global university.