Saturday, December 26, 2009
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Some of you who read my last post might have wondered about one subject that was not addressed – the staff. That is because I wanted to comment separately about the terrific staff of the University of Rhode Island. From the day Lynn and I arrived, we have been tremendously impressed by the individuals who give so much to URI, who contribute so much to the community here, and who work so hard for the benefit of the faculty, students, and programs of the university. Whether classified or professional, union or non-union, the URI staff are exceptionally dedicated to the university. Certainly I could not be successful without the outstanding support of the staff here – folks in dining services, administration, advancement, the Foundation, and facilities have been unfailingly helpful, effective, and genuinely fun to work with. I want to especially thank Michelle and Cathy; I cannot imagine a better team for the President’s Office. Lynn and I want to thank all the staff and we hope to see you at our open house tomorrow or next week.
Monday, December 7, 2009
Friday, November 13, 2009
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Over the course of the weekend, we met many alumni, spanning several decades of URI's educational mission, all of whom were enthusiastic about the university, what it meant to them, and its future. A common element in all their testimonies was the lasting value of the relationships they had built here and the sense of community that existed during their years at URI. I have been thinking about that: how important it is for education to be centered in a community, and the value of the relationships within that community to learning and growth.
I also attended my first Faculty Senate meeting last week, and that meeting reinforced an early assessment of mine about some of the internal issues we must face at URI. Those issues also involve community - it appears to me that our sense of community has been fractured at times and that there is a lack of trust, and a lack of confidence in the institution and among ourselves. Some of the underlying events occurred years ago, and we need to let go of those. Members of a vital and supportive community must be willing to forgive and be willing to allow members of the community to make mistakes, to fail - and to learn from those mistakes and failures. The flip side is mutual accountability - we must be willing to be accountable to members of our community, willing to admit our missteps and to be corrected, regardless of our position. I see very encouraging indications that URI is moving in that direction.
If we succeed in strengthening our community, our trust in one another, and our confidence that we can resolve whatever problems and difficulties that we face by working together, the University of Rhode Island will be even more successful, and the value of an education here will be even higher.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
As I wrote this a few weeks ago, Lynn and I were flying to Minneapolis, on our way back to Rhode Island from Montana. It was a great visit to a great place and a great university, but we were happy to be headed home. As some of you know, I’ll be making regular visits to Montana State University because my research group is still located there and working hard on the continuing projects funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. My group was very supportive of the move to URI and continues to be very productive. I’ve included some pictures of them and my laboratory at MSU. Working with my research group is always energizing, frequently exhilarating, and invariably rewarding. I continue to learn a lot from them. Those pictured are (starting top left) are: Fumi Ijima; Koyu Fujita; Doreen Brown; Kim Hilmer; and Dalia Rokhsana and Alta Howells. Not pictured: John Bollinger
Teaching and research have been an important part of my life since I was an undergraduate at UCSD. In fact, the initial attraction for me to become a professor began at UCSD when I was engaged in both undergraduate research and served as a teaching assistant for a first-year laboratory in chemistry. I learned more in those settings than I did in many of my formal courses – even though those courses were taught so well and were superb learning experiences in their own right. But working on problems, or investigating phenomena, for which no one has the answer or an explanation, and developing strategies for teaching others what you think you understand, provide opportunities for learning that simply cannot be attained any other way. In brief, my undergraduate research and teaching experiences gave me the motivation and momentum for an academic career that ultimately led to my appointment as the 11th President of the University of Rhode Island. Who would have thought? Not me, certainly, but the value and impact of those experiences remain real to me every day. That is one reason why I am so passionate about expanding or creating such opportunities for our students here at URI.
I was also fortunate to attend graduate school at Caltech – one of the nation’s premier research universities. Of course, Caltech has a highly distinguished faculty and first-rate facilities. More than that, Caltech has a very student-centered culture – as a graduate student in chemistry, it was abundantly evident that the faculty regarded students as colleagues and cared deeply about our success. Caltech also had low, or nonexistent, barriers to interdisciplinary research and collaboration. As a consequence Caltech earned a very well-deserved reputation for innovative research. These are some of the reasons why I am interested in expanding interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary graduate education and research at URI, and building a strong, student-centered culture for both undergraduate and graduate education.
The economic climate creates many difficulties and challenges for URI, as it does for the great majority of universities and colleges across the country. But we can still succeed at building a culture centered on the success of our students, at creating more opportunities for undergraduates to be engaged in research and creative work, and in facilitating interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary scholarship and learning.
Friday, September 25, 2009
In several ways, the Wednesday Student Senate meeting and the resulting flurry of interest from the media illustrate some likely consequences of the new planning and budgeting process that is now in development for implementation this spring. A new, representative planning and budget council will hold open meetings, where anyone would be welcome to attend, including, I am sure, a reporter from the Good 5¢ Cigar, and perhaps other media. The council, composed of senior university leadership, deans, faculty, staff, and students will discuss and consider strategic priorities, possibilities, opportunities, and challenges for URI. The Council will develop the budget recommendations for my review and approval. We should anticipate that some meetings will generate debate and discussion across the campus. Honestly, I think it would be a great outcome to see students, faculty, and staff discussing the council’s meetings, sharing ideas, and providing feedback. To be sure, at times this kind of open and transparent process will generate external attention, even concern, and occasionally surprise and confusion. I think that’s ok – it can be considered the price we pay for participation and transparency. As we grow accustomed to our new approach to planning and budgeting the instances of surprise and confusion will diminish. The outcomes – the URI community will have the opportunity to share in creating our future, people at URI and across the state will know what we are doing (and planning) and, also importantly, why – will certainly be more than worth the cost.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
First, folks here seem to love Rhode Island, even though they appear to think that the state is much bigger than it truly is, and have no idea how to provide directions to someone who isn’t already intimately familiar with the history of the place. Despite their affection for Rhode Island, many Rhode Islanders seem to project what strikes me (as a newcomer) as an exaggerated sense of the state’s shortcomings. People seem to underestimate just how great a place Rhode Island is. Interestingly, this attitude seems to carry over to the University of Rhode Island. I heard on several occasions, from long-time Rhode Island residents, that they had been recently surprised to discover the degree of excellence that exists at URI. The quality of specific academic programs, the achievements of students and faculty, the prominence of URI’s reputation in particular areas, the overall value of an education here – all of these were a source of some surprise. On one hand, I enjoyed hearing such very positive comments. On the other, I was a little surprised myself by the fact that people in Rhode Island were unfamiliar with the quality of the state’s research university. During move-in weekend, Lynn and I met many parents and students from outside the state who were attracted by the quality and value of a URI education. In many disciplines, URI has a national reputation for excellence and faculty who are renowned among their peers. URI has a strong reputation for a high-quality intercollegiate athletics program – our teams compete hard and our student athletes perform well both in their classes and their sports. I could go on.
So where’s the disconnect? Let me be candid: our success and quality are not uniform - there are certainly areas in which URI should, and will, improve. As a university we should aim for excellence in everything we do. That is one reason why we should not do everything, and perhaps why we should stop doing some things. We also need to be more effective in getting our messages out. The recent efforts in branding and marketing are very positive steps, but we need to do more. If you are an alumnus or supporter of URI, well, we need your suggestions and your help with that. Most importantly, though, we need to re-emphasize our focus on what matters most – the success of our students. Their enthusiasm, their achievements, their commitment to make a difference in our world – that will be the greatest testimony, and the most remembered, to the quality and value of URI.
Friday, September 4, 2009
I am also very much looking forward to meeting our returning students, many of whom are already on campus to assist our new students and help the university get off to a great start for the 2009-10 academic year. You will undoubtedly teach me a lot. That is one of the many, many reasons I love being at a university like the University of Rhode Island - I can be a part of a close and friendly community where all those who belong are learning together.
Hope to see you on campus. Look for me, Lynn, and Rhody, our dog (although I am sure that Rhody the Ram will be much more visible) and be sure to say hi!
Friday, August 28, 2009
The University of Rhode Island deals in hope. As I mentioned previously, it is a special feeling to come to work in a place with the word “Hope” emblazoned on its seal. According to the state government web site, the word “Hope” was added to the seal for the colony in 1664 and is probably inspired by the Biblical verse: “We have this hope as an anchor of the soul, firm and secure.” (Hebrews 6:19). As a university, URI is all about hope – the hopes of our students, the hopes of their families, the hopes of the citizens of Rhode Island, indeed, the hopes of our nation and much of the world. Every day our emblem reminds me that our goal, first and foremost, is to help people realize their hopes and dreams. I think that is why Congress created the land-grant university in 1862 and that is why our role has never been more important.
Over the past week or so, I have seen and heard the hopes expressed that URI can continue to provide the opportunities for students to pursue their goals and simultaneously to expand its research activities. As I shared with the Providence Chamber of Commerce, the South Kingstown Chamber of Commerce, and many others, fulfilling these hopes is the heart of URI’s mission and a critical contribution to building a better economic future for the people of Rhode Island. The opportunity for upward mobility, a strong basic standard of living, a compassionate and generous society, and a life lived in joy and good health, are hopes we all share. I believe, and will always believe, that a quality education is essential for these hopes to become substance. And that is what the University of Rhode Island is all about.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
We made it! Lynn and I have been looking forward to this day since May – the day not only we, but also Rhody and our moving van, arrived in Kingston. And August 13th was the day. We enjoyed our trip from Montana, with its opportunities to visit family and friends and see parts of the country that we had never visited. A few short video clips of the trip are included: the first shows Rhody leaping in the car – enthused, I think, more not to be left than about his destination, but he’s an Australian shepherd and may be smarter than I give him credit for. The second shows Rhody (and us) admiring the statue of Lewis and Clark’s dog at the visitors’ center in Sioux City, Iowa. Rhody was a little less enthused to meet the Caprio’s friendly but gigantic Saint Bernard. Rhody also stopped to admire a memorial to some of the Rhode Islanders who fought at Gettysburg (the third clip). All in all, it must have been quite a trip for a dog that in May was listed for adoption on Craig’s List. We are all settling in, and I want to take this opportunity to thank all of those who helped with the trip – our movers and the fine people from Conlon (in RI) and Mergenthalers (in MT) who actually got everything here in the same condition it left, and especially, all the great people who have worked so hard to get the house on campus ready. We appreciate it very much. One of our goals is to have the house serve as a welcoming and homey place for the entire URI community.
Finally, many people have asked us what Chris and Samantha think of our move to Rhode Island. Their views are very aptly summarized by the photo at the top of the blog, and now you know why I included it!
Thursday, August 6, 2009
It’s another 747, this time headed for Atlanta. I still possess a sense of wonder that one can cross the Pacific and then North America in approximately 13 hours, in part because our world is spherical, and not a rectangle as once imagined. International travel and international collaborations have never been easier. This is, as many have commented upon, both a challenge and an opportunity. I think the University of Rhode Island is uniquely positioned to benefit from and contribute to our increasingly globalized society.
At the 14th International Meeting on Biological Inorganic Chemistry in Nagoya, Japan, I could not help but be impressed by the international scope of scientific inquiry and the frequency of international collaboration. Very few speakers, regardless of their origin, did not acknowledge the importance of the contributions from collaborators from countries other than their own. Twenty, perhaps even ten years ago, this would not have been the case. The research I presented at the meeting would not have been possible without the participation of scientists from Japan, and was initiated by very productive collaborations with colleagues in Germany and England. While at the meeting I hosted a small dinner with students and colleagues from three continents and four nations (see photo) – all of whom are contributing to the success and productivity of research in biological inorganic chemistry. Many faculty members at URI are similarly connected, and not just in the sciences. Our students can pursue their studies across the globe and we can bring students and scholars from around the world to Rhode Island.
In many ways the world is already present in our state: Rhode Island is now, and has been for many years, a destination of choice for immigrants. I think this represents an important continuing opportunity for URI and Rhode Island. Events like the international meetings I just attended remind me that talent, inspiration, ambition, and the commitment to improve the quality of our lives are not restricted by geography, ethnicity, culture, or religion. We can both benefit from and contribute to local and global efforts to meet the challenges that are currently so evident. I think we need to continue the critical examination and enhancement of our academic programs and curricula, our research efforts, and our outreach to engage the big issues – not just in science and technology but also in building more inclusive, more understanding, and more humane societies.
The official language of both international meetings I attended in Japan was English. This is now the norm for such international gatherings, seemingly regardless of discipline or subject. But the informal discussions, the heart of meetings such as this, took place in probably at least a dozen languages. I believe it will be an enormous advantage for our students, our graduates, to be able to engage in such conversations in languages other than English. Language is an irreplaceable window into the culture and history of a country. The ability to communicate in more than one language is, I think, critical in a world that is both flat, in terms of opportunity, and round in terms of its connectivity. We already see this advantage in the International Engineering Program at URI, as well as the International Business Program and our dual degrees in Pharmacy and French, and Textiles and French. It is worth considering whether we should endeavor to create such advantages, and the accompanying opportunities, for students in additional disciplines.
What else might this mean for the University of Rhode Island? I would like us to increase our efforts to build a more welcoming and inclusive community on campus and in the state. And I would like us to increase our engagement with the world outside of the United States. The partnership with Central Falls High School in a very diverse community and the Honors Colloquium on India are two notable examples of URI’s involvement in these areas. Based on what I have observed so far, I think our campus climate is an excellent one: welcoming, intimate, with great faculty-student interaction, and a commitment to embracing and affirming both what we have in common and our differences. If this impression is accurate, then we have a great foundation to engage the world and to build on the successes from that engagement. During my first year at URI, I will be actively seeking to identify and develop opportunities to globalize our campus on one hand and to deepen our local engagement on the other. I don’t regard these as competing priorities but as mutually reinforcing endeavors.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
One of the great advantages of URI is that it is a close-knit, caring community in an environment where relationships and personal connections are important. I will always be grateful for the hospitality and generosity of Judge Frank Caprio and Joyce Caprio, Tom and Cathy Ryan, Ed Quinlan and Lisa Pelosi, Al and Gerri Verrecchia, and Victor and Gussie Baxt. I very much appreciate the willingness of our South County representatives Sam Azzinaro, David Caprio, Ken Carter, Rod Driver, Brian Kennedy, Donald Lally, Jr., and Mike Rice to take time out of their busy schedules to meet with me and begin a dialog about how we can work together to enhance URI and its contributions to the state’s vitality. Thanks also to Senator Bill Walaska, Judge Bob Flanders, Jr., and Christine Smith for their enthusiastic interest in working with URI to enhance research and technology transfer at URI.
Last Tuesday evening provided another window on what the University of Rhode Island means to the state. The opening of the Kingston Chamber Music Festival was truly a special, and for me very memorable, occasion. The sense of community so apparent among everyone there, the joy and pride of the volunteers who make this outstanding series possible, and the talent and enthusiasm of the performers was inspiring and uplifting. The creation of moments like that is an important part of the mission of URI. In a world that is simultaneously more integrated (at one level) and factionalized (on another) the arts have a unique capability to bring us together, to illuminate our common humanity, and to create a lasting sense of joy and wonder about the good we can accomplish. The evening began with a delightful dinner at the University Club on campus (a tremendous asset to URI). Thank you, Dean Winnie Brownell, Dick and Ann Beaupre, Jim Hopkins, Susan Hammen-Winn, Enrico Garzilli, Ron Lee and Marie Bender Lee for the warmth of your welcome to the life of the arts at URI. To Rob and Lynn Manning, Ginny Kenney, and many others I met – thank you for your enthusiastic support of the arts at URI.
Finally, I would like to share my admiration for one of URI’s defining attributes – its willingness to honestly and constructively engage the issues our country and our world face concerning diversity. Indeed, this was an important part of the university’s attraction for Lynn and me. Two events stand out from my first days at URI. First, was the celebration of the completion of the summer workshop on peace and non-violence. The commitment of the participants to make a difference, to do good works among us, will extend URI’s impact across the globe for the good of humanity. Second was my meeting with the Equity Council, volunteers all, committed to building a more inclusive, a more welcoming, and a more vibrant community at URI. I believe this is important to providing all our students the kind of education that will help them fulfill their dreams.
There is just something special about coming to work at a place that has the word “Hope” emblazoned on its seal – but more about that in a subsequent post.
Thursday, July 2, 2009
July 1, 2009 did not appear to me to be a significant date at the beginning of the year. Now it is certainly one of the most important days in my life. It is not truly equivalent to November 24, 1978 (marriage to Lynn), or to the days on which Christopher and Samantha were born -- but it must be in the top ten. I am very honored and excited to assume the position of President of the University of Rhode Island. Lynn and I are both deeply appreciative of the warm welcome we received during our visit in June and increasingly eager to join the URI community.
Although I will be assisting in the transition at Montana State University for a few more days, the leadership team at URI has already begun to work with me on our URI priorities. During the next few weeks we will be reviewing the planning and budget development processes (as well as the budget for FY 2011) and assessing the key opportunities and challenges for the University. In addition, the calendar is filling rapidly with events and meetings to help us get to know all of you, plus talking with you about your vision for URI, your aspirations, and expectations.
I will be on campus July 16-23 and then off to Japan to speak at two scientific meetings, engagements that were scheduled several months ago; these will be the first meetings where I will be representing URI. Afterward, I will return to Montana to join Lynn and our new Australian shepherd ("Rhody") for the drive to Kingston.
In the meantime you can reach me by calling the President's Office or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.